MADISON, Wis. - As it turns out, mating gophers and badgers isn't so easy. Just ask the bureaucrats in Wisconsin and Minnesota, who are trying to find efficiencies and save money on everything from sharing amusement ride inspectors to buying ammunition and tires.
Four months after Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty released a plan outlining areas where the border states could work together, many of the ideas have been scrapped as unworkable, delayed or are still being worked out.
The governors originally put the savings at $10 million apiece, but Doyle's office estimated Wisconsin's savings to date at just $74,313, mainly from getting a better price on software from a Minnesota contract and piggybacking on a Minnesota transportation study. Pawlenty's office refused to offer a comparable estimate, but of 17 Minnesota agencies surveyed by the AP, only the Revenue Department quantified a benefit from the collaboration: $2,565.88 in outstanding debt collected from Wisconsin tax refunds. Most others said they anticipated savings but couldn't say how much.
Tax collectors in both states also reached across the border to garnish nearly $200,000 from debtors' tax refunds in other states, with most of that going to Wisconsin.
"So far I don't think there's been anything that regular people at the grocery store would be interested in," said Wisconsin state Rep. Kitty Rhoades, a Republican who lives in Hudson just across the border from Minnesota.
The collaboration idea was hatched by Pawlenty in January as both states were dealing with massive budget shortfalls. It was quickly dubbed "Minnesconsin," and Pawlenty joked that the state's mascots — the gopher and badger — would lie down together.
The Associated Press requested updates from the state agencies and governors' offices in both states detailing the status of projects and how much money had been saved to date. That survey the states have agreed to join together in a number of ways.
Wisconsin joined Minnesota contracts for package delivery, software and institutional food. Minnesota joined Wisconsin's fleet fuel card program. They're working together to fight pests including the emerald ash borer. Explore Minnesota Tourism will air radio spots highlighting both sides of the border next month. The neighbors will have adjoining booths at a biotechnology show in Chicago in May.
Not everything was as simple.
Take a plan to swap young walleye of different sizes to stock lakes. Minnesota has extra fingerlings, while Wisconsin has the infrastructure that Minnesota doesn't to produce frylings, which are a bit smaller. Natural resources staff for both states got into some of the hurdles when they sat down together in July.
To move fish across the state border, they need an array of tests and documentation for health reasons. Those include certification that the walleye don't have a deadly virus called viral hemorrhagic septicemia; genetic testing before the populations can be mixed; annual tests of the water and even the ovarian fluids from spawning runs; and more paperwork for out-of-state trips to move the fish.
While the states still aim to start trading fish next year, they've given up on other ideas.
Wisconsin forecasters won't predict the air quality for Twin Cities residents, because Minnesota wasn't willing to give up extra detail about the air quality index included in its daily forecasts. The information is followed closely by people with respiratory conditions. Instead, Minnesota renewed a consulting contract. That meant as much as $30,000 in savings went by the boards.
"We'd lose too much. We'd take a step back," said Rick Strassman, supervisor of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's air monitoring unit.
Amusement ride inspections will continue on separate tracks.
The thought was inspections of rides in eastern Minnesota wouldn't have to be repeated when the same rides cross to fairs in western Wisconsin. But Wisconsin inspects more parts of the ride than Minnesota does, so the inspection in Wisconsin would still have to be done, said Zach Brandon, executive secretary of Wisconsin's Commerce Department.
"What we were looking for were areas where we were duplicating effort," Brandon said. "But because we inspect different things, there would be no savings for Wisconsin."
Spokesmen for both governors said the collaboration is just getting started.
"Every taxpayer dollar counts," said Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner. "The savings so far are real and they are just the beginning to more savings and better services for Wisconsin and Minnesota."
"This is a long-term project that will change, fundamentally, the way the two states work together," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung.
Minnesota state Sen. Linda Berglin said collaboration is easier said than done. In the massive Minnesota Human Services Department she oversees as head of a Senate budget panel, it's tough enough getting the state to work with the Minnesota counties that administer health and welfare programs — let alone cooperating with Wisconsin.
While there are many similarities between the states in both culture and history, there are also many bureaucratic obstacles, said Todd Berry, president of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
"The hurdle is implementation," Berry said. "It's about turf."
On the Net:
Wisconsin Minnesota Collaboration Report:
Associated Press Writer Martiga Lohn reported from St. Paul, Minn.