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Minnesotans offer thousands of budget-balancing suggestions

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - When Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked for help balancing the budget, Minnesotans responded with gusto. In just seven weeks, more than 3,700 suggestions bombarded the simple Internet link the administration had set up.

Some were serious, others comical. The state suggestion box yielded no magic bullet for shedding the $4.56 billion shortfall, but officials say it's been a useful barometer of public feeling.

Among the most common proposals were charging tolls on major interstates, permitting state employees to retire earlier and allowing the state to cash in on gambling.

"Casinos. Lots and lots of casinos. And hookers. Don't forget the hookers," one person wrote.

Dozens recommended charging more tax on cigarettes or alcohol or legalizing marijuana. "Legalize pot, tax it, budget crisis is POOF gone. You would only have to worry about how to spend all the extra money."

Pawlenty has pledged not to raise taxes and will release his budget plan on Tuesday - a week later than originally scheduled. It's sure to clash with those who believe the state should solve at least part of the fiscal crisis through tax hikes.

"I would say raise taxes," someone wrote to Pawlenty. "A friend of mine, a financial planner, once said to me: if you can't live within your means, don't lower your living standard, go out and raise your means. Sounds like good advice to me."

Of the responses, about 20 percent suggested raising taxes and roughly 50 percent offered ideas for cutting government spending such as "require state government offices and agencies to print documents, memos, etc. on both sides of paper."

Some overlapped and some were "garbage" such as racist comments, said John Doan, assistant to Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy.

And, he added, "We a handful that were more complaints or whining."

But for the most part, the comments were sincere and many were submitted by state workers, he said. A Finance Department employee is separating the suggestions into specific categories and forwarding them to budget officers in the state agencies that would be affected.

"They're good suggestions, too," said Pawlenty's chief of staff, Charlie Weaver. "We don't have a corner on good ideas."

Other states have taken similar measures, such as in Maine, where Gov. John Baldacci encouraged citizens to submit their ideas and even set up a Web-based game people can use to virtually move state money around.

In Minnesota, about 529 suggestions came in per week until the link was taken down Jan. 24. A few have dribbled in to the administration via e-mail or mail since then, Doan said.

"People are very interested in helping to balance the budget," he said. "The only way a democracy truly works is when everyone gets involved."

One person even sent an anonymous cashier's check for $50 to the Department of Finance and signed it "a concerned Minnesotan." The gesture was largely symbolic as it would take about $1,000 per person living in Minnesota to balance the budget - an idea that also made it onto the list. "If everyone in Minnesota could donate $1000 towards the deficit that would about cover it and would that be tax deductible :)" "I think for many folks, it's hard to grasp the magnitude of $4.5 billion," Doan said. "But ... each suggestion counts - whether it's saving a few thousand dollars or saving a few million."

A sampling of budget-balancing suggestions as submitted on the state Web site, typographical and grammatical errors and all:

-Raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes.

-One suggestion is to reduce the amount of lighting on Minnesota highways and freeways, like back in the late 70s and early 80s, I think.

-Open 3 state casino's. One at Canterbury Park, one at the Met Center site, and one somewhere in the north metro. Dedicate the Canterbury Site to continue to finance the horse racing industry and to help pay for the two stadiums (Twins and the Viking/Gopher). Dedicate all proceeds from the other two casino's to the state deficit. One could be set for education, and the other for healthcare.

-How much do we spend on a toll-free number for road conditions? When I watch the news most of the regional states do *not* have toll-free numbers - many of us use cell phones anyway for accessing road conditions so the toll-free number isn't an issue.

-I just started working in a state agency commissioner's office and I noticed that they have a commissioner, a deputy commissioner, two assistant commissioners, and then each division has a director and an assistant director. Why do the divisions need a director and an assistant director? Why not just have managers under the directors?

-Raise the gas tax 8 cents.

-Casinos. Lots and lots of casinos. And hookers. Don't forget the hookers.

-User fees...such as toll roads.

-I think there should be a serious attempt made to look at a 4-day school week. (There was an attempt made here last year, but that was something pretty much out of the blue without any community involvement or warning.) There is a solid pool of research that shows no loss of student acheivment (and perhaps gains in some areas) while reaping significant savings.

-State owned casino on the river in downtown St Paul. Use the revenue to help balance the budget. Once that has been accomplished, improve the area's infrastructure. Then, build a retail/resort/entertainment complex followed by a stadium. I do not gamble, but I would if I knew that the money was voluntarily going to help the state.

-Property taxes on large non-profits that look and behave like for-profits. The criteria? If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.


-1. Could each Minnesotan who received Jessie's rebate send all or half of it back to the state? 2. It's becoming increasingly clear that the casinos will need to cough up part of their profits.

-Allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays. By doing so the state can generate sales tax money without having to raise taxes on liquor.

-Offer early retirement (Rule of 85) to state workers. If there are going to be layoffs, it seems to make more sense offering an incentive to veteran state workers to retire.

-Put an immediate moratorium on all light rail spending.

-Raise income taxes, put a tax on clothing, and tax services equally. The Pawlenty administration's approach will result in raising taxes - property taxes, which is the least fair because it is not based on the individual's ability to pay. For example, my parents live on the farm my dad was born on. Property values have soared in the ensuing 70+ years, but they live on a fixed retirement income.

-Allow keno and video poker machines in the bars...

-Tax the churches.

-Require state government offices and agencies to print documents, memos, etc. on both sides of paper. This will reduce paper costs by 50% and help the environment.

-Allow one traffic warning per year. A second violation would result in a $500 fine. A third violation would result in a $1000 fine, revocation of driving privileges until driving education refresher course is completed, at violator's total expense. We need a restoration of discipline to our transportation system and what better enhancement than to substantially penalize abusers of the same. We spend tremendous monies for our transportation and still never have enough.
-Charge sales tax on clothing. It would be a fair tax, because if someone can afford to buy a $500 pair of Prada sandals, they could well afford the additional $35; likewise, people who pay $30 for shoes would only pay 1.95 in tax.

-I would say raise taxes. A friend of mine, a financial planner, once said to me: if you can't live within your means, don't lower your living standard, go out and raise your means. Sounds like good advise to me.

-If everyone in Minnesota COULD donate $1000 towards the deficit that would about cover it and would that be tax deductable :)

-1.Early Retirement Incentives 2.Extented Hiring and Travel Freezes 3.No Raises for State Employees for one year. 4.Increase Gas,Food,Cigarette,Liquor,& Cigar taxes. 5.Hold off on Highway & Bridge Constructions for 2 to 5 years. 6.Cut down Aids to City and County Offices. 7.Charge Tolls on Mn FreeWays on Heavy Trucks.

-PLEASE allow the bars in MN to stay open until 2AM Sunday-Thursday and 2:30AM on Friday and Saturday! These hours will match the hours of the WI bars.

-DO NOT RAISE TAXES! The 4.5 billion dollar forecast assumes everyone gets to spend more in '03. Substantially cut funding for the arts, public radio & public televsion. No free state money to the Vikings or Twins for stadiums. Trim down our current Welfare system to match it more closely to that of other states. Ours is way too generous and is being taken advantage of by people from out of state. Change our State Legislature from full-time to part-time. We do not have a need for a full-time system in this state. Maybe LESS laws will be enacted because of it. Keep state spending on education flat. Don't cut, but don't increase it either. Real businesses have had to make concessions in a struggling economy, let the public schools (along with Education Minnesota) do the same.

-Ask all state employees to take a 2-week unpaid furlough. As a state employee, I think many - maybe the majority - would do this voluntarily to avoid layoffs. Allow employees to take more if they so desire and their managers agree.

-Every other year car tab renewals.

-Stop funding Planned Parenthood. Let them use their own money to promote their pro-abortion agenda.

-Give state employee unions a choice of either 10% paycut or 10% cut in hours or 10% of staff layoffs. Borrow money from state employee pension funds.

-Legalizing all forms of hemp and marijhuana use (by adults) would bring in plenty of money to cover the projected deficit.
-Discontinue in elementary schools: Free breakfasts. Free daycare after school. Free childcare for student's children(like Champlin Park). Bussing 3 blocks.

-Turn off all ramp meters. Stop calling so many prospective jurors in, paying their parking, and having them wait around only to find the case was settled out of court or postponed, etc.

-Legalize pot, tax it, budget crisis is POOF gone. You would only have to worry about how to spend all the extra money.

-Impose an additional $3-a-pack excise tax on cigarettes.

-As was done during the "energy crisis" of the 1970's, lower and maintain occupied building temperatures to 68 degrees Farenheit (or lower). Employees can wear sweaters or jackets to remain comfortable if they perform sedentary work. It worked then, it should work now.

-Empty the prisons and jails of all non-violent prisoners. Put them all on parole.

-We should confiscate the Powerball lottery. Or, when the jackpot gets to be above $100m, we, the state, should start buying tickets.

-Get rid of some of the middle management.

-Trash the adopt-a-highway program.

-Get tougher on individuals choosing not to carpool in a state vehicle. Too many times there will be several individuals who are going to the same location but end up taking their vehicles because they want to smoke.

-Did the entire salt budget get used on the last big 3/4 inch snowstorm? During the windy days of last week, it appeared we were in a salt blizzard. It is all piled up by the side of the roads. Maybe it could be picked up and used for the next "big storm."

-1. put a 5%tax on all non-nutritious drinks(pop,water,etc.) 2. put a 5%tax on all junk food and fast food. clothing 4. cut the alcohol tax because it is beneficial.

-It is time to look at closing some of the MnSCU campuses. ... If closing a facility, look at seeing if it can be turned over to a school district needing more buildings or renovated for a prison.

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