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Smaller state government

Published (1/21/2011)
By Nick Busse
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As Rep. Keith Downey, sponsor of HF4 listens, Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, testifies before the House Government Operations and Elections Committee Jan. 19 against a bill that would require a reduction in the state workforce and create an early retirement program. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)The state’s government would get a lot smaller if a bill approved by a House committee becomes law.

Sponsored by Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina), HF4 would require a 15 percent reduction in the size and associated costs of the state’s executive branch workforce by 2015.

Members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee voted to approve the bill Jan. 19 on a split voice vote and referred it to the House State Government Finance Committee.

The bill would establish an early retirement incentive program, and would further authorize layoffs, a hiring freeze and other measures necessary to achieve the reduction. Downey said the bill is less a budget solution than it is an attempt to redesign government services.

“I think most people will look at this as some kind of budget-balancing technique, and frankly the real intent of this bill is to balance government,” he said.

Downey presented charts showing that growth in state spending has outpaced combined growth in population and inflation over the last 20 years. He noted that public-sector employment in the state grew during the recent recession, even as private-sector employment declined. He said that growth is unsustainable.

“I really think it’s time for us to let go of the status quo and the jobs of the past,” Downey said.

Some DFL committee members argued he was only presenting half the story.

“I think it’s a little disingenuous to say that we’re on this unsustainable path,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park), who noted that the cost of government compared to personal income had not increased over that time period.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) worried the bill could result in the loss of essential workers like law enforcement, emergency services and snowplow drivers.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that we have too many snowplow drivers,” he said.

Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) argued lawmakers should address what state services are going to be cut before they start cutting employees.

“It seems like you’ve kind of got the cart before the horse,” Nelson said. “We’re going to have less employees doing more.”

A companion, SF81, sponsored by Sen. Ted Daley (R-Eagan), awaits action by the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee.

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