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Arts Take Hit in Ventura Vetoes
by Amy Radil
May 16, 2000
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Governor Ventura made selective use of his veto pen while signing four major spending bills into law Monday. He eliminated funding for about $12 million in projects from the four bills, in contrast to vetoes totaling $140 million last year. But legislators are protesting what they say is Ventura's bias against the arts, and rural Minnesota.

VENTURA VETOED FUNDING for purchase of drug-detection dogs by the Department of Public Safety, for a cold weather testing station in International Falls, and for an "organ donor vehicle" for the Department of Health. But compared to last year, he kept a light touch with his vetoes while signing the state government, bonding, transportation and education spending bills. Legislators would likely have overridden any major vetoes upon their return to the House and Senate Wednesday. But Ventura's spokesman John Wodele says the governor was largely pleased with the content of the bills.

"He looked for projects that were duplicative, something the private sector was already doing, and he found some and sticking to his principles he vetoed them, but there were not very many as you can see," Wodele said.

Out of the nearly $12 million in vetoed projects, $9 million came from the state bonding bill. Those legislators whose projects were singled out by Ventura complained he used a tougher standard in rural Minnesota than in the Twin Cities.

DFL Senator Keith Langseth of Glyndon sought $1.5 million for public libraries in the towns of Pelican Rapids and St. James to offer more services for immigrants in the area. He questioned why Ventura eliminated funding for the libraries, while leaving intact funds for a similar center in Minneapolis.

"That's very typical," he said. "If they're in the Twin Cities, they're not local, if they're rural then they're local. That's the way he thinks."

Ventura also eliminated funding for the Guthrie Theater Foundation, which had received $3 million toward its $25 million request to build a new theater complex. Ventura spokesman John Wodele says Ventura believes arts projects should be privately funded, and not included in the state bonding bill.

"He thought it would be a bad precedent to start funding capital projects in the area of arts where in the past historically the state has only funded art projects and not capital projects," Wodele said.

But DFL Senator Richard Cohen of St. Paul, who backed the Guthrie funding, says the state has historically included cultural projects in the bonding bill. Cohen says the Guthrie proposal meets the standard of statewide significance and even, he says, national significance.

"Joe Dowling's vision for the Guthrie will reestablish Minnesota as the theater capital of the United States outside of New York City, and any involvement from the state would have made a significant difference," Cohen said.

Cohen says state funding would help arts organizations bring in money from private sources such as foundations. Ventura also cut $1 million for the Lanesboro Center for the Arts, a project supported by Republican Representative Greg Davids of Preston. Davids says the money was intended to build a new home for two respected arts groups, the Commonweal Theatre and the Cornucopia Arts Center and he hopes the House will override Ventura's decision.

"This group has put together a tremendous theater company, a tremendous arts center, and they have tremendous support down here and they're ready to expand and go to the next level," said Davids. "I am hoping that the Legislature will override the governor's veto on Wednesday of this appropriation and get this very worthy project back on track."

While all the spending bills passed overwhelmingly, House leaders say they're not enthusiastic about overriding vetoes in order to increase state spending. But Davids says he'll ask his caucus for help in keeping the arts funding intact.

In a letter accompanying his vetoes, Ventura said his main disappointment was with the transportation bill, which did not include his requested funding for mass transit. He passed the education funding bill intact, in accordance with the budget deal agreed to with the House and Senate. Education funds came from the Senate's third of the permanent surplus.