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DFL legislators propose reforms

ST. PAUL - Minnesotans would have more faith in state government if it was held more accountable, a group of lawmakers said.

Democratic legislators on Tuesday introduced a series of proposals they say increase accountability in government and shed more light on how tax dollars are spent.

"For us the bottom line is taxpayer value," Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park. "If taxpayers are confident that their money is being spent wisely and well, then all the better. People will be a lot happier in general with how the state is run."

The proposals - more than a dozen in all - could be controversial, and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty previously has rejected one of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party items.

The legislators want inflation to be automatically included in state revenue and spending forecasts, arguing that would provide fiscal stability to the state.

Pawlenty vetoed a tax bill last year largely because it included an inflation measure, arguing it puts government spending on autopilot.

Another proposal would create a process for legislators to appeal state officials' predictions on what tax-funded programs would cost. Their estimates can influence what lawmakers decide to fund.

"This is not sexy work," admitted DFL Rep. Sandy Wollschlager of Cannon Falls, who supports the reform package. "But that's what government reform is."

Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said she encountered problems with those program cost estimates last year.

She proposed toughening penalties for people who burglarize religious buildings, historic sites, schools or government centers. Fiscal analysts predicted it would dramatically increase incarceration costs, Bigham said.

"I knew that it wasn't that big of a bed impact," she said, referring to the added cost to correctional facilities.

Bigham said when she questioned officials about the impact of her proposal, the estimate was lowered and her bill became law.

Rep. Larry Howes of Walker, the top Republican on a government reform committee, said his party raised similar government reform issues when it controlled the House.

Most Minnesotans would not know if the Democrats' plan passed, but he said some of the proposals are worth considering.

"It's an attempt to try to make government work better," Howes said, "and we've been doing that since Rome burnt."