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Counties’ plan: They’ll patrol roads, maintain highways in return for half-cent sales tax replacing state aid to counties

Figuring the state’s 87 counties should be part of the state budget solution rather than continuing to take it on the chin with budget cuts, the Association of Minnesota Counties today revealed a plan to save the state $1 billion in the next bienniu

Figuring the state’s 87 counties should be part of the state budget solution rather than continuing to take it on the chin with budget cuts, the Association of Minnesota Counties today revealed a plan to save the state $1 billion in the next biennium.

The group says its 10 savings opportunities would streamline services, reduce waste and improve efficiencies to create ongoing cost savings for the state.

A big part of the plan: Counties and cities would take over road-patrol responsibilities from the state highway patrol. The state highway patrol would be charged with accident reconstruction services, investigation of major crimes and management of the state weight standards. This would cut the state highway patrol in half and save the state an estimated $75 million in the next biennium.

The group also proposes that counties maintain all state highways, except freeways. In exchange, counties are asking the Legislature for some flexibility in using part-time works for conducting summer maintenance and snowplowing. This change would save the state at least $200 million in the next biennium.

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In return, AMC called for replacing County Program Aid and other funding to counties with a statewide county sales tax of a half (.5) percent. Under this proposal, county governments would retain a vast majority of the revenue generated in their county, with a percentage going into a disparities fund to help smaller counties. If a county chose not to participate in the sales tax, the county board could vote to “opt-out” and not receive any funds from the state or sales tax. The cost savings from this proposal would save the state an estimated $600 million per biennium.

In a statement about the plan, AMC President and Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert said:

“Replacing County Program Aid with a county sales tax restores local control to county governments. Counties could decide to reject the tax and operate with little to no state funding, or they could choose to lower property taxes or restore essential services. Most importantly, counties become more accountable to taxpayers for the services they provide and the decisions they make.”

Other items in the group’s plan:

  • Allowing a new, expedited process for counties to adopt Home Rule Charters at the discretion of each county. This would allow counties to share, merge or consolidate services more easily. It also would give counties the authority to choose to merge.
  • Consolidating the three state probation systems into a single, statewide Community Corrections and Probations Services program that allows counties to share services. This would save the state $20 million in the next biennium.
  • Enacting a moratorium on new state mandates; suspend all county maintenance of efforts for three years and implement a five-year sunset review on all existing mandates. This would save the state $5 million.
  • Placing a five-year moratorium on implementing new state rules or commissioner order unless they are subject to federal rule making and federal law conformity. This would save the state another $5 million.
  • Redesigning the state’s court system.
  • Adopting a uniform statewide planning and zone law.
  • Allowing counties to start redesigning their chemical dependency programs based upon the success for the existing Chemical Dependency Response pilot programs already in place.

The House Tax Committee’s Property and Sales Tax Division is scheduled to hear the plan Wednesday.