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GOP offers plans for reforms

Minnesota's governor and legislators leaders meet the media Thursday, talking about the legislative session that begins Tuesday. From left are House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis; House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton; Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester; and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. DON DAVIS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

ST. PAUL - Republican legislators hope to use the upcoming Minnesota legislative session to bring state government reform ideas to fruition.

In what they are calling Reform 2.0, GOP leaders announced a set of proposals Thursday to reduce the size of government, cut back on business regulations and revamp education and health care.

"Some of the things in the past were nibbling around the edges," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said at a news conference. "This is actually reform for the sake of reform."

The ideas are not necessarily all new, Republicans said, but without the need to balance a state budget in the session that begins Tuesday, the Legislature will have more time to address reforms and hash out details.

"This is a good year to do that," Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle agreed jobs, stimulating the economy and government reforms were key goals for the session.

Republicans said they hope to collaborate with Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton on reform ideas. He has agreed it is time for some changes, especially to make government more efficient.

"We made some progress on reforms last year," he said during a pre-session media briefing Thursday.

But while other Democrat leaders said they also would like to address reforms, they criticized pieces of the Republican plan.

"There are some things in there that we are unlikely to accomplish and are divisive," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said at Thursday's briefing.

House and Senate Republicans announced plans to pare down government by cutting the number of jobs, reducing pay and reigning executive power.

They said they want to bring state workers' benefits and salaries more in line with the private sector. As employees retire, positions could be left open.

The lawmakers also were interested in trimming the executive branch.

"We do want to check the executive overreach, especially in the area of rulemaking," House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.

GOP leaders also focused on improving the business climate by decreasing regulations and adjusting the tax code.

"We want to reduce the regulations to offer some stability to businesses," Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, said.

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the reforms should focus less on businesses and more on the middle class, addressing residential and agricultural property tax increases.

"There is nothing in this plan to help middle class families get ahead, and some things that will hurt them," Thissen said. "Reduced wages and job cuts for middle class workers are not a recipe for broad economic success."

Reform 2.0 also includes proposed education changes, including granting mayors control of their city's school districts and linking educators' pay to teacher and student performance.

The plan aims to cut down on Medicaid fraud and enhance privatized health care.

Senjem said while the House and Senate might differ on specifics, they plan to work together toward making the changes.