Reporting Pat Kessler
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Republicans produced a policy agenda Thursday full of familiar ideas for reshaping state government that they plan to push in the session that starts next week.
Priorities outlined by leaders of the House and Senate GOP majorities include reductions to business property taxes, scaled-back regulations in the construction sector, curbs on lawsuits, changes to teacher job security, stricter requirements for people on public assistance and the specter of public payroll cuts.
Most of the proposals have been pursued before, and some are certain to again run into resistance from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers said the overall goal is to modernize the government.
“This is the government that time forgot. We’re a two-cans-and-string type of government,” he said.
The proposals are phrased in glossy terms, such as “curtail lawsuit abuse,” as well as “equalizing government pay and benefits with the private sector” and “remove barriers to eliminate ineffective teachers including Last In, First Out.”
Democrats described the proposals as public-employee pay cuts and attacks on teacher tenure, issues they said would be nonstarters.
“There are some things in there that we’re unlikely to accomplish that are very divisive to the process,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said at a session-preview event staged by Forum Communications and ECM newspapers.
Republicans declined to elaborate on possible workforce or pay cuts, but said they want greater reliance on technology for things currently done by public workers. They said a rush of retirements by state workers presents opportunities to trim the payroll without depending on large-scale layoffs.
“If we stay where we are, if we backfill all those jobs with just warm bodies instead of technology, we’re going to be left behind by our peer states around us,” Zellers said.
The school measures are among the furthest-reaching proposals. GOP leaders are reviving an old push to give big-city mayors more control over school districts. They also want to let charter schools tap into money raised through local tax levies, diverting dollars from traditional schools. They also proposed giving parents the power to turn struggling public schools into charter schools.
On the health and welfare front, the Republican proposal calls for screening more aid recipients upfront to head off fraud as well as raising welfare eligibility to mirror standards of Minnesota’s neighboring states. A proposed change to insurance laws would let older Minnesotans convert death benefits in life insurance policies into long-term care insurance.
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