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Minnesota, Wisconsin join forces to catch tax cheats

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Tax collectors in Minnesota and Wisconsin are already sharing records to catch cheaters, and child support enforcers may soon be, too, as the Midwestern neighbors try to save together.

Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin joined Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday to outline the first steps of a collaboration they announced in January. Doyle’s office produced a 130-page document detailing more than 80 projects with potential to save the states roughly $10 million each.

With both states facing deficits in the $5 billion range, every little bit helps.

The two states are aiming to trade off inspections of border bridges, milk tankers and amusement park rides and combine their bulk to get better prices on everything from tires to ammunition. Minnesota prisoners could be drinking milk from a Wisconsin prison dairy next year, fortifying them as they make license plates for a Wisconsin conservation program.

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"Perhaps more than anything, this work has revealed how much more we have to do," Doyle said at a Capitol news conference in St. Paul. "There are real opportunities here, and I think what Wisconsin and Minnesota are doing is unprecedented."

Cooperation between the sometime rivals could span the gamut of state government.

Pawlenty and Doyle said they’re talking about working together to draw federal money for a high-speed rail line from Chicago to the Twin Cities.

Other steps would be more mundane, such as swapping young walleye of different sizes to stock lakes or having Wisconsin forecasters preview Twin Cities air quality instead of paying a consultant.

One Wisconsin lawmaker said she wished the effort would focus more on easing bureaucracy for residents, such as offering professional licenses that would count in both states.

"This is much more about making governments’ life easier than it is focused on delivery of service to residents or making real people’s lives more efficient," said Wisconsin state Rep. Kitty Rhoades, who lives in Hudson, Wis., just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota.

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said the effort to collaborate was worthwhile even if the savings weren’t large. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said it was smart to look for savings when both states face significant budget shortfalls.

Actual savings won’t be known for a while, even though the potential is great under cooperative agreements like the Wisconsin-Minnesota collaboration, said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan taxpayer watchdog group.

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"Like the many failed corporate mergers in the auto industry, cultural and operational differences between large organizations can sidetrack what initially seemed so promising," Berry said.

Doyle pinpointed information technology as an area that could yield significant savings. He said each state is now required to have redundant backup systems, but if the two states could serve that function for each other, both would save.

In the shorter term, Wisconsin aims to shave its costs by at least $130,000 by getting Minnesota’s terms on purchases from a software vendor.

The states’ revenue departments made a pact in February allowing Wisconsin to capture Minnesota tax refunds to pay off unpaid taxes, and vice versa.

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On the Net:

Wisconsin Minnesota Collaboration Report:

http://www.wisgov.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid16272

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