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Dayton seeks better results in government reform efforts

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton said his efforts to reform state government are saving money, but Republican plans to "gouge" government are "idiotic."

The Democratic governor and some leaders of his reform movement updated reporters Thursday on their progress, claiming to save $242 million in health-care expenses alone.

Dayton and his chief of staff, Tina Smith, said their efforts are aimed at providing better results, not just cutting government.

"For some, cutting is reforming," Smith said, a reference to how Democrats see many Republican reform proposals.

Her boss complained about Republican plans that include a proposal to require votes from a super majority of legislators before a tax can increase. Dayton called it a "protect-the-rich" plan that "is absolutely idiotic."

"They are not off to a good start," he said about Republican reforms. "I hope we can get a more thoughtful approach to it."

Dayton's comments did not please the top Republican House reformer, Rep. Keith Downey of Edina. "It's pretty disappointing."

Downey said he still hopes to find a way for Democrats and Republicans to work together on reform issues.

The Dayton administration rolled out health-care savings as a way the state needs to change. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said her department will save $242 million annually by putting two health-care programs out for competitive bids.

The Human Services Department sought bids for the state and federally funded Medical Assistance program and MinnesotaCare, a state-run insurance plan that requires patients to pay a premium based on their income.

Jesson said the bidding process, so far confined to the Twin Cities, will not cut any services, but it forces insurance companies to be more competitive in seeking state business.

The bidding program was a pilot project that will spread to other parts of the state, she said. While not all regions have enough health-care plans to institute competitive bidding, Jesson said larger communities such as Duluth will be included.

"We want to be a smarter purchaser of health care," the commissioner added.

Dayton's website includes a link for people to submit ideas to improve government. A new website is planned.

State workers are being asked to provide ideas to save money and produce better results, Smith said. They "know better than anyone about what works and what doesn't."

Dayton said he thinks the state awards too many contracts in cases where there is no competitive bidding. Often, he said, it appears a request for bids is written so only one company would qualify.

On Aug. 18, Republicans launched what they call "Reform 2.0," a tour designed to build a proposal of government reform initiatives for the 2012 legislative session.

Even before the tour, GOP leaders said they will push for lower taxes and fewer regulations. Many of their proposals are aimed at helping businesses lower costs with the theory they then could hire more Minnesotans.

Overall, Downey said, he is optimistic that Republicans can work with Dayton in light of many reforms the governor and GOP agreed to include in budget bills passed in July.

In their tour of the state, Republicans have found little new from the public, Downey said. Much of what Republican hear matches what the party has pushed for years, such as reducing mandates on local governments and businesses.

Downey said state government operation is up to 20 years behind private business innovations.

Dayton said he is taking ideas from businesses, such as General Mills, to improve government efficiency.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.