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Our View: Have a little extra money? Just send it to the state

Date Published: 06/27/2006



Governor's challene to tax petition from rich echoes administration's bail out schemes

A call by some of Minnesota's better-heeled residents to raise taxes on the rich seemed worthy of little more response than a "so noted" when it appeared in a full page Minneapolis Star Tribune advertisement last week. No tax bill is pending, the Legislature isn't in session and neither Republican nor DFL nor even Independence Party office seekers are likely to expend too much effort stumping for new taxes less than six months before an election.

But for whatever reason, Gov. Tim Pawlenty extended diplomatic recognition to the idea from the Growth and Justice group, challenging the petitioners not to wait for tax law changes and to send their extra big bucks to the state right now. He even gave the address of the Department of Finance, where the money should be sent.

Though any response by Pawlenty was as big a waste of time as the Growth and Justice suggestion itself, it's possible the governor may not have been kidding: His send-in-your-money-today pitch echoes two other ideas from his administration for taxpayers and corporations to foot the government's bills out of the kindness of their hearts.

The first, as previously discussed on this page, was a funding strategy by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for highway contractors to pony up their own money to build a road project until the state received federal money to pay them back. Not surprisingly, construction companies passed on the wrong-way plan.

That bright idea was followed last week with a Pawlenty administration brainstorm for brainpower, asking high-tech firms and large corporations to lend their computer experts -- while on the private companies' payroll -- to the state's Office of Enterprise Technology. For a year, the experts would reinvent the government's computer network, revamping things such as cyber security, systems development and government Web site design.

Don't be too shocked to find the technology firms reacting to the idea the same way the construction companies did, with one information-technology vendor, Richard Winkelmann of New York-based CA International, saying that lending out a professional who can bill as much as $250 an hour is a tough sell to his corporate bosses. No kidding.

Pawlenty's innovation adviser, Dan McElroy, maintains the companies would get something out of it because the private sector would learn from an up-close view of government operations. Well, maybe they would, but in the age of rampant identity fraud and already-compromised public data systems, do we really want to give private individuals and entities access to government hard drives with gigabytes of data on every Minnesotan? Or how about inside information on state contracts those firms may bid on in the future?

Maybe this scenario is too gloom-and-doom, and maybe private businesses would be willing to come in and take over government operations. If so, why stop at information technology? Perhaps bookkeeping and snowplowing companies could be convinced to do the state's work for free. How about city and county cops -- or even better, private security guards -- filling the shifts of state troopers?

Too risky? Well, then it's back to Plan B: Send in your extra money to the state today. Department of Finance operators standing by.

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