WILLMAR -- Minnesota legislators are asking citizens to stuff the suggestion box with ideas for solving the state's $4.8 billion deficit.
Meetings will be conducted around the state this winter and an on-line suggestion box is already up and running for people to submit ideas on ways to save money and improve the state's system for delivering services, said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.
"We're sincere," said Juhnke about the House of Representatives' desire to get ideas from people that could make real budget-cutting measures.
Suggestions can be made by going to www.house.mn.
A paragraph at the top of the Web page provides a place to click and "have a say" in how legislators deal with the deficit.
"We really need to engage the citizens around the state to assist us," Juhnke said.
The ideas will be read.
"We will have real legislative eyes on them," he said. "Nothing is too dumb to recommend or too silly to recommend."
The site has already had "thousands" of hits, Juhnke said, and has generated some plausible ideas.
Someone suggested that people who inspect dairy operations and grocery stores and locker plants be cross-trained so that they can do a variety of inspections. That would reduce the cost of state employees crossing paths, especially in sparsely populated areas in northwestern Minnesota where there are few businesses that require inspections.
Another suggestion was that farmers be allowed to take chemical applicator testing online instead of at regional meetings that require the presence of state employees.
Besides getting advice from the general public, Juhnke said he hopes government employees who are on the "front line" will use the Web page to submit their ideas. "We're encouraging them to come forward."
While the Web page suggestion box was an effort started by House leadership, Juhnke said the ideas will be shared with Senate members as well.
"We want people involved more than they ever have been before," he said, adding that it will "take every nickel and dime" to resolve the state's financial problems.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to present his budget recommendations next week and the Senate and House will then present their plans.
Seeking input and action from outside the walls of the Capitol is the kind of thing President Obama called for in his inauguration speech, Juhnke said.
It's also an answer to citizens who are asking, "Please, tell us what we can do to help," he said. "They want to feel a part of this. It's affecting their lives."