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Legislation would shift streamlining job to employees

ST. PAUL -- The Senate leader's proposal to abolish two state departments and trim another, while also cutting the number of political appointees throughout state government, met opposition from within his own party.

However, it gained support from unions that would not be affected.

The bill by Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, also would turn over most reorganization duties to employees. Governors now are responsible for major changes.

New governors "get caught up in the struggles between finance committees and departments and commissioners that make it hard to move the ball during their short times in office," Pogemiller said. "Real change only takes place if the people doing the work create the change."

Among the bill's provisions is one that orders the governor to reduce the number of deputy commissioners, assistant commissioner and other political employees.

That did not set well with Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. "I am not a fan of micromanagement, telling the governor that he or she must reduce so many positions."

Sen. Thomas Bakk, DFL-Cook, expressed concern about getting rid of agencies. In the past, smaller agencies consumed by larger ones sometimes have their efforts diluted in the process, he said.

And Gov. Tim Pawlenty did not like the concept: "I just don't think it is a good idea to turn over the keys of state government to unelected bureaucrats."

The Pogemiller bill would abolish the Department of Employment and Economic Development and Labor and Industry Department. It also would eliminate part of the Commerce Department's duties.

While the bill passed one committee Wednesday, it has more committee stops to make before reaching a full Senate vote.

Budget moving

The first phase of a legislative budget-cutting effort comes up for votes next week.

Chairman Loren Solberg of the House Ways and Means Committee said each budget committee is to have its budget plans done by Friday, at which time the individual budget proposals will be combined into one bill that cuts the budget of every part of state government other than health and human services and public school education.

The Senate is taking similar action.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty need to fill a state budget deficit of $994 million. Pawlenty wants to do it all with cuts, while many Democrats hope to raise taxes to help the process.

By combining most budget areas into one budget-cutting bill, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said, the non-controversial changes can be made at once. That leaves the more controversial health and education programs for future bills.

Pawlenty says that he prefers to deal with the budget as a whole, not phasing in the cuts, but will consider the legislative timeline.

Advance disaster aid

A state disaster assistance program should be established before flooding this year, a state lawmaker says.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, said the program is needed to help communities along the Red and Minnesota rivers that are not covered by a presidential disaster declaration. His bill also would allow the state to match any federal aid that is available.

"Now is the time to act," Morrow said. "We know that the conditions are set for serious floods in Minnesota. It's better to prepare now than to scramble in the aftermath."

Morrow said the bill is needed because communities often wait for months before getting aid.

Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this report. Tellijohn and Don Davis report for Forum Communications, which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.