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Government streamlining given green light

ST. PAUL - Aspiring restaurateurs wouldn't have to jump through as many hoops to get licensed. Insurance agents and construction crews would see faster turnaround times in their dealings with government, too.

ST. PAUL - Aspiring restaurateurs wouldn't have to jump through as many hoops to get licensed. Insurance agents and construction crews would see faster turnaround times in their dealings with government, too.

And government itself would pursue more bulk discounts on everything from computers to cell phone plans by centralizing purchasing more often.

Those were the selling points Gov. Tim Pawlenty praised Monday as he and other state leaders laid out a government streamlining plan that will be phased in throughout this decade.

"State government has been a little bit behind the curve in deploying these types of strategies and now we're going to catch up," Pawlenty said of the proposal to automate more government functions and more effectively harness state purchasing power.

Advocates said the proposal carries $216 million in front-end costs, but could yield more than $570 million in savings.

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The initiative deals mostly with behind-the-scenes aspects of state government, which backers of the "Drive to Excellence" approach say are in great need of updating. More than 1,200 jobs would be eliminated by not replacing retiring workers.

Pawlenty signed executive orders clearing the way for some of the changes; others require legislative approval. Legislators from the Republican, DFL and Independence parties flanked him at a news conference as did representatives from organized labor and business groups.

Jim Monroe, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, wasn't present and said the union's leadership isn't ready to endorse the changes. While MAPE members have been involved with the planning and agree with various recommendations, Monroe said there are concerns about the upfront costs and whether employees rolled into a new technology office would keep union-eligible status.

Under the plan, government would implement more online transactions and construction regulation would move from five agencies to one.

Pawlenty used restaurants as an example. Those looking to open one now have to seek at least 11 licenses from multiple agencies. As envisioned, the new system would allow restaurant operators to fill out a single form.

Across state government, there are currently 40 agencies that handle 1 billion business and professional license transactions a year.

The "Drive to Excellence" initiative is only the latest government reform plan to surface. Governors traditionally pursue them; Gov. Jesse Ventura, for example, had "The Big Plan."

"Some of us who have been here for a long time have gotten a little bit cynical" about the effect of such plans, said Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, IP-Rochester, who is helping carry out Pawlenty's plan.

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Noting the governor's orders putting some of the ideas into action, she added, "This isn't a set of proposals that will sit on a shelf."

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