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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 09 2011

Minnesota legislative notebook: Effort afoot to pare down government

ST. PAUL – Minnesota state boards, commissions and even entire agencies could begin disappearing if legislators agree to bills making their way through the Legislature.

The House State Government Finance Committee approved one bill Tuesday and considered a second to create a “sunset commission” charged with determining whether parts of state government deserve to continue.

“It is a commission to do away with other commissions, agencies and boards,” said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers.

With the Minnesota House and Senate now in the hands of Republicans, many bills are being considered that would shrink government, including cutting spending. Texas Republicans used a sunset commission to reduce the budget by $1 billion, and Peppin modeled her bill after Texas.

Nothing is now in place to avoid Minnesota government duplication and make sure agencies are run efficiently, Peppin said.

The bill, which could be folded into a larger state-government measure, would establish a 12-member sunset commission, with no legislators allowed. A sunset commission in another bill would be made up mostly of lawmakers.

The second bill, offered by Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, includes more examination than in a sunset commission. The bill, which the government committee sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, features provisions to require the Legislature to look at every agency’s budget much more closely.

Banaian said that instead of making decisions on future budgets based on what an agency currently receives, his bill requires the Legislature to look at every bit of spending every four years. It is called “zero-based budgeting.”

Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, joined other Democrats in questioning the Peppin-Banaian approach.

“Why do we need another layer of government?” Gauthier asked.

The representative said he fears agencies will spend time and money “on self-preservation.”

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said she welcomed discussion on the topic but wondered why a new commission is needed since the Legislature is in place to make such decisions.

Peppin said lawmakers have too little time to examine individual agencies closely enough.

Commissioners picked

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed his final three commissioners Tuesday, filling out his Cabinet.

Minnesota native Spencer Cronk will lead the Administration Department, which serves other state agencies with management and professional services and resources. He is leaving a New York job, where he was leader of organizational development and senior adviser for the Small Business Services Department.

Kevin Lindsey takes over as human rights commissioner. He is a University of Iowa graduate who has worked in private practice and for Ramsey County.

Josh Tilsen becomes the new Bureau of Medication Services commissioner. He has spent 30 years dealing with issues the bureau handles. The bureau works to resolve state labor contract and grievance disputes.

The Senate must confirm the appointments.

Ritchie against ID

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie came out strongly against a Republican plan to require Minnesota voters to present photo identification before voting.

Ritchie told a House committee Tuesday that he foresees federal intervention in Minnesota, as well as lawsuits, if the bill passes.

The bill could create a different class of voters, he said, because some people do not have IDs.

Ritchie said requiring a photo ID would stop the common practice of mail-only ballots in some rural areas as well as threaten absentee voting.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com