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In Minnesota it is a crime to sell fruit in a container that is the wrong size. Statutes are still on the books that govern gas lamps with three inverted mantels. The Minnesota agriculture commissioner, by law, must personally capture any wild boars spotted in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
These are among the 1,000 antiquated, redundant or useless laws that Gov. Mark Dayton's administration is determined to eliminate as part of a wide-ranging, government-streamlining initiative rolled out Tuesday.
Dayton is scrutinizing every area of state government that aggravates or confuses consumers, whether it involves paying a past-due tax bill or locating a campsite on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' website.
Highlighting his determination, Dayton issued an executive order Tuesday for something that seems so simple but has bedeviled some of the state's most entrenched bureaucracies — ensuring that all communication with the public is in plain, easy-to-understand language. He also is proposing changes to would have more than 11,000 environmental permit requests reviewed in 90 days rather than 150 days.
"Some people like to talk about reform," Dayton said. "We really mean it."
The governor is asking legislators to spend a significant share of this legislative session plowing through these proposals and adding their own, like whittling down dozens of boards and commissioners that no longer serve a purpose.
The effort stands to make it easier and less confusing for consumers who need government services while also fortifying Dayton's reformer credentials as he begins to make his case for a second term.
"Governor Dayton has rightly put a focus on ways we can make our government work better for the people of Minnesota," said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
"The governor's proposals go beyond cleaning out old statute books and provide a whole host of ways we can deliver a more citizen-centered government for Minnesotans," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
Some Republicans are skeptical of Dayton's commitment, saying many of the suggestions are relatively simple changes and that the governor appears unwilling to tackle the larger problems facing the state.
"Let's be honest, when the governor isn't running for re-election, he wants to raise taxes and add more red tape," said Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River. "Now that he is running again, all the tax increases he signed into law last year are bad and he wants to make government more streamlined."
Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, who is leading the streamlining effort for the administration, has already been meeting with Republican leaders to gauge their interest in contributing.
Republicans are trying to win control of the House and the governor's office, which can infuse election-year politics in even the most mundane issue or debate.
As a former DFL House majority leader, Sertich told them he knows the two paths this could take: They could quietly work together to make some significant improvements or Republicans could turn the governor's effort into a political "food fight," providing a stage for both sides to test their campaign messages.
The political issue cuts several ways for Republicans.
DFLers control the House and the Senate, so they could pass the streamlining measures alone and then bash Republicans for rejecting what appear to be common-sense initiatives. Or Republicans could support with the changes and hand Dayton a significant election-year victory.
At least for now, Senate Minority Leader David Hann supports the governor's effort.
"Everything that we have heard are things that obviously have broad agreement and that everybody favors," said Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Hann criticized Dayton for not seeking more ambitious moves, such as changes to the state's troubled health insurance exchange, MNsure, or what Hann sees as loopholes in basic-skills testing in schools.
"It seems to me there are much higher priorities," Hann said.
Saving time, saving money
Departments across state government are looking at ways to improve their interactions with Minnesotans.
At the Revenue Department, officials found it took consumers 12 minutes to cancel a payment in the system. That same task now takes 45 seconds. The Department of Veterans Affairs has already streamlined its website, making it easier and faster for veterans to get services. Other departments are following suit.
Dayton's proposals also extend to tax laws. He would bring more state tax laws into line with federal tax laws, eliminating such things as the so-called marriage penalty. Changing state tax law to conform to federal tax law also will save money businesses, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said. Now, he said, businesses suffer needless burden and expense by having to deal with two sets of tax laws.
"It's a major step in simplification," Frans said.
Dayton is not the first governor to try to streamline government, but his is more high-profile and focused than other recent efforts. That also ups the stakes for the governor.
As the proposal moves through the Legislature, it will become vulnerable to arguments from activist groups that oppose the changes. Even seemingly innocuous changes have allies and advocates, groups that spent dearly to etch those changes into state law.
Sertich and Dayton's policy team share a digital spreadsheet that offers detailed tracking of all 1,000 initiatives as they make their way through the legislative process. Dayton's policy team has already reached out to committee leaders and are watching closely as proposals start turning up in hearings this week.
They are prepared to see big proposals get chopped into smaller ones, freeing provisions with wide support from those that could become more controversial.
Anything that does not get done this year, Sertich said, can be done next year.
"There is no expiration date on good ideas," he said.