ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota's public safety chief has canceled an upcoming trooper training school and will decide this week whether more should be cut because of budget constraints.
Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver canceled the January 2001 class of 30 recruits, which was intended to fill some projected openings. The patrol is currently 26 troopers short of its authorized strength of 550, and 64 troopers will reach retirement age by the end of the year.
"If we're down roughly 20 percent of our force, then our ability to respond to accidents, to assist local law enforcement, our ability to monitor drunks and aggressive drivers would significantly suffer," Weaver said.
Weaver blames the budget crunch on unexpected expenses and underfunding by the Legislature. He pointed to a 20 percent increase in the cost of health insurance for troopers; increases in the cost of gasoline; visits to Minnesota by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, and unbudgeted items such as the $165,000 spent on security for an animal genetics conference in Minneapolis.
A few state lawmakers are looking for answers.
State Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said troopers have told him the shortage might be the result of overtime and personnel devoted to protecting Gov. Jesse Ventura. And state Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Chaska, said Weaver and the governor didn't ask for more money last year.
Johnson said some troopers, in letters sent to him, "lay some of the blame on the chief executive (Ventura) for the amount of overtime and the amount of travel that is needed for executive protection."
Weaver dismissed that, noting that three of the past four governors -- Wendell Anderson, Al Quie and Rudy Perpich -- had more troopers assigned to them.
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