Minnesota-Wisconsin sharing to save $10M eachby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio,
Martiga Lohn, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — The governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin say after looking at ways the two states can work together to save money, they've identified about $10 million in savings for each state.
Republican Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Democrat Jim Doyle of Wisconsin announced the findings in St. Paul, and then went to Wisconsin to talk about the plan there.
Savings could come from working together on border issues including controlling invasive species, comparing notes before buying software and other technology, and crosschecking records to increase collections of child support and income taxes.
Pawlenty says the initial stages of working together have been valuable for both states.
"Neither state is perfect. One state perhaps does some things better or differently than the other," said Pawlenty. "Through the process of sitting down and learning how the other state does it, we have found some things that we think we can improve."
Gov. Doyle said the two states will initially save $10 million each, but he hopes the plan saves more money as time goes on.
"This is a process that is going to go on for -- that should probably go on indefinitely," said Doyle.
Doyle said some of the proposals could be implemented in a matter of months.
The two governors say they also want to work together on a plan to leverage federal money for a high-speed rail line from the Twin Cities to Chicago that would go through Wisconsin.
One Wisconsin lawmaker said she wished the effort would focus more on easing bureaucracy for residents, such as offering professional licenses that would count in both states.
"This is much more about making governments' life easier than it is focused on delivery of service to residents or making real people's lives more efficient," said Wisconsin state Rep. Kitty Rhoades, who lives in Hudson, Wis., just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota.
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said the effort to collaborate was worthwhile even if the savings weren't large.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said it was smart to look for savings when both states face significant budget shortfalls.
Actual savings won't be known for a while, even though the potential is great under cooperative agreements like the Wisconsin-Minnesota collaboration, said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog group.
"Like the many failed corporate mergers in the auto industry, cultural and operational differences between large organizations can sidetrack what initially seemed so promising," Berry said.
Doyle pinpointed information technology as an area that could yield significant savings. He said each state is now required to have redundant backup systems, but if the two states could serve that function for each other, both would save.
In the shorter term, Wisconsin aims to shave its costs by at least $130,000 by getting Minnesota's terms on purchases from a software vendor.
The states' revenue departments made a pact in February allowing Wisconsin to capture Minnesota tax refunds to pay off unpaid taxes, and vice versa.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)