ST. PAUL -- Some state agency heads will be out of a job if a budget bill that trims the governor's cabinet from 27 to eight gets through.
The House State Government Finance Committee approved the executive branch reorganization Wednesday as part of a broader proposal to cut $39 million from the state budget.
"This is something that has been kicked around the Legislature for some time," said Rep. Phil Krinkie, the committee chairman and chief sponsor of the bill.
Krinkie, R-Shoreview, said streamlining makes sense as leaders cope with a remaining $439 million deficit for 2002-03 and look ahead to bigger budget problems in 2004-05.
Under the proposal, there would be eight agencies: Administration; Commerce and Trade; Education; Finance; Health and Human Services; Natural Resources; Public Safety; and Transportation. Their leaders would go by secretary, rather than the commissioner title now used.
The action won't save much in the short-run -- perhaps $2 million --because it would cost money to roll departments together. But by 2004-05, Krinkie expects savings to rise to $10 million.
Gov. Jesse Ventura considers it "certainly something worth discussing," his spokesman John Wodele said.
"It's not without merit, but we haven't had a chance to review all the details or the ramifications," Wodele said.
The overhaul was overshadowed by discussion of other items in the bill.
It seeks $20 million in additional savings from a state employee hiring freeze and a moratorium on consulting contracts.
Elizabeth Coover, a lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors, warned that too broad a moratorium could slow road work.
She said consulting contract limits from the first round of budget cuts has already caused some delays, including work on Highway 52 in Rochester, Highway 14 around New Ulm and several metro-area projects. Consultants do environmental studies, right-of-way reviews and other tasks state workers don't undertake.
"If this moratorium goes forward, it will bring highway construction in the state to a virtual standstill," Coover said.
Another flashpoint was over a provision that would free classified workers who don't want to join a union from having to pay dues anyway. Employees who refuse to join a union must now pay a "fair share fee" of 85 percent of union dues charged to members.
The bill takes $10.6 million from the Legislature's operating budget.
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