Stateline Story

Ventura, Other Govs Sing Red Ink Blues

Gov. Jesse Ventura, Minnesota's outspoken chief executive, is feuding with the legislature over his decision to close the governor's mansion as a cost-cutting move. But even governors with more sympathetic legislatures are enduring cuts in office salaries and travel expenses in the face of budget crunches.

Besides closing the governor's mansion a move that is still not a done deal -- Ventura quit the National Governors' Association, which lobbies the U.S. Congress on behalf of governors, to save $120,000 in dues.

He also closed the state's Washington D.C. office, which looks after state interests in the federal capital -- a move that will save an additional $206,000 and result in two layoffs.

Minnesota's unusual money-savers result from legislators' 15 percent cut to the governor's office budget, and symbolize the thorny relationship Ventura, an Independent, maintains with the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led Senate.

The legislature is considering a plan to reopen the mansion by moving its budget to another agency.

With nearly every state running a budget deficit, the total budget shortfall across all the states is roughly $40 billion. More than three-quarters of states have implemented budget cuts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ventura is not the only governor taking extraordinary steps to save money. Washington Gov. Gary Locke also ordered his state's Washington, D.C. office closed, eliminating one job.

"We had a lot of tough decisions to make," Locke spokesman Pearse Edwards told Stateline.org . Closing the Washington, D.C. office will save about $500,000, less than one percent of the state's $1.6 billion budget gap, Edwards said.

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns must cut another $30,000 from his office budget by July 1, and one layoff among his 11 staffers is likely. Attrition in the office has left one position unfilled.

Johanns' travel, including use of the state plane, has not been curtailed -- the governor has visited all 93 counties twice since taking office. But staff members' out-of-state travel, such as to the summer NGA meeting in Boise, is being eliminated.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating's office, like every other state agency, expects a five to 10 percent budget cut, but it's unlikely to have a noticeable impact on the 35-person staff because of attrition as the governor's term concludes, said Dan Mahoney, Keating's spokesman.

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves' office expects budget cuts of between four and 10 percent. That could mean a hiring freeze in the governor's office, a downsizing of intern programs or a cut in transition services when Graves leaves office this year, said Dan Brown, the governor's communications director. No layoffs are planned among the governor's 18 staff members, Brown said.

"Gov. Graves has been clear that the pain shared by state agencies over our budget crunch will be shared equally by the governor's office," Brown said.

Not every governor is scaling back the office staff.

Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes sought to add 25 employees under his own office budget including many for a homeland defense program.

Sen. Rusty Paul, R-Atlanta, opposed the move.

"One of the ironies is that everybody had to tighten their belt this year but the governor," Paul said.