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Attention set to turn to state government reform

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ST. PAUL -- The new year could be one of government reform.

Minnesota legislative Republicans and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton agree reforming is a top priority, but they may differ on just what that means and how to get there.

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A year ago, the two sides said the same thing, but a big money debate got in the way. By necessity, legislators and Dayton had to concentrate on plugging a $5 billion hole in the state budget.

With a slight budget surplus heading into the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 24, state leaders hope they can find ways to make government more efficient.

"We can actually reform for the sake of reform and not reform for the sake of balancing the budget," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

An outside observer thinks it can happen. "I think they are more likely to than they did last year," Professor Paula O'Loughlin of the University of Minnesota Morris said.

Dayton fears that Republicans define government reform only as "cutting state spending," so appears somewhat reserved in his optimism.

It is not clear what reforms could come forward, but both sides like to point to a couple of agreements early last year: speeding environmental permits and making it easier for mid-career professionals to get teacher licenses.

If tax reform is to be part of the mix, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it is so complex that work needs to begin now.

"If they are at all interested in doing anything on tax reform ... I don't believe you can wait until Jan. 24 to have your first hearing," Bakk said. "There are quite a few things that have to be done."

He said a Vikings football stadium hearing took a month to organize, and changing tax laws would be even more complex.

"There is only so much you can do in a 10-week session," Bakk said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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