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GOP: Meeks would redesign government

Annette Meeks, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer's running mate, would redesign state government.

While the race for lieutenant governor isn't as visible as it is for their bosses, each has been tasked with a duty if the team is elected.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Democrat Mark Dayton's running mate, would establish an office of senior services within the lieutenant governor's office. Jim Mulder, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's running mate, would create a task force to find better state-local government relationships.

"We still have a business plan in Minnesota that's probably 50 years old in the way we deliver goods and services to our clients," says Meeks. "That's what we have to peel back and figure out what is the better way. What is the 21st century way of doing business as a state, rethinking all of our delivery systems."

Meeks and husband, Jack, a Walker native, spent several days in the region last week meeting with party people and learning more about area business and government. She also helped John Carlson in his campaign against Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

Tasked to "redesign" government by Emmer, Meeks said that "some of it will save money, some of it will cost us money initially."

Meeks look a leave of absence from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a non-profit educational organization that actively advocates the principles of individual freedom and limited government, to run with Emmer. Previously she spent nine years at the Center of the American Experiment. She also represents Minneapolis on the Metropolitan Council.

"We have a lot of modernization to do, and some of it is pretty straight-forward and pretty easy," Meeks said in an interview. "Ideas are all over the place. Crow Wing County is doing a lot of breaking down the funding silos to try and service people better."

But it's Beltrami County that has Meeks' attention. She spent time with County Administrator Tony Murphy to learn about the county's Strategy Aligned Management system, on which county services are based on desired outcomes.

"I told Tony, I said you're going to be one of the first people I call to help me put together a framework," Meeks said. "There are some terrifically smart people working these systems right now."

As lieutenant governor, she would pull together ideas from her own research, a task force to be set up and from people in the field like Beltrami's Murphy. She would hope for a bipartisan effort.

"Other states are doing budgeting that make so much more sense than how we do it in Minnesota," she said. "Tony said that's what they're actually working on here in Beltrami County. We need to get the best and the brightest minds together on a bipartisan or non-partisan way and put together a package of recommendations."

Meeks cites one example already in state government, information technology.

In state government, each department has its own IT department, yet the Legislature cannot determine how many IT workers there are in state government. A study last year examined some options for IT.

The state would save about $25 million a year combining all IT workers into one department, outsourcing some of it would save a little more, and outsourcing all of state government IT would save $41 million a year.

"The end of the report showed the biggest benefit to state government would be better service," Meeks said. "Right now, they all have outdated software, they all have IT departments that don't have the technical skills and talents necessary to do some of the things we should be doing -- that North Dakota is doing, for goodness sakes."

Meeks says that in North Dakota, people can apply for any of an array of social service benefits online. In Minnesota, it must be done by hand on paperwork, with the paperwork going back and forth several times to correct errors.

"We've got a lot of work to do," she said.

The whole idea of government redesign fits into the Emmer administration's budget plans, as well, which call for no tax increases to balance the budget and its $6 billion budget hole.

Rather than cutting spending, a government redesign would help run government more efficiently at less cost.

A series of tax cuts and tax credits done immediately after Emmer takes office will help small businesses create the jobs necessary to kick start the economy, Meeks said. More jobs, more tax revenues.

"We get the economy going by helping those people who create jobs," she said. "We have a lot of high taxes still in the state of Minnesota and we think we'd be better served and create a lot more jobs if we could be more competitive, especially with our corporate income tax."

There are also a lot of entrepreneurs who need venture capital but can't find it. Minnesota had the first research and development tax credit 30 years ago, and it needs to be brought back bolder, she said.

"Let's get the economy humming along so we can get more revenues" is a first step, Meeks said. "We still will have a budget deficit we have to deal with. If we do nothing in the next legislative session, the state will still take in $3 billion more in revenue than we did in the current biennium."

Emmer would hold the K-12 budget harmless with a modest increase and an even more modest increase in health and human services spending, Meeks said.

"The projected deficit is a projected deficit on how much government plans to spend," said. For instance, health and human services spending is projected to rise 17 percent without any policy and budget changes. "I don't know anyone whose salaries have gone up 17 percent. How can state government grow at that rate?"

They would be scaled back, and make sure the programs are effective and working well, she said. Those that aren't can wait until the state is on firmer financial footing.

She notes that all three gubernatorial candidates call for paying back a $1.7 billion shift from school districts in the next biennium.

"Schools are coming along OK, we haven't heard a lot of complaints from them," she said. "They really don't want a cut in the per pupil formula."

Politically, Meeks said internal polling show Emmer continuing to rise while Dayton is stagnating, not moving since the State Fair.

Horner's support is eroding, she said.

She admits an early misstep was Emmer's proposal to end the tip credit, but she believes that controversy is over.

"No one mentions that," Meeks said. "People talk about jobs."