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Will serious lawmakers please step up?

To avoid a lengthy and economically devastating government shutdown, Minnesota needs  thoughtful elected officials who can set aside party dogma in favor of the greater good. Those incapable of such big-picture thinking should at least refrain from pouring gasoline onto the already-hot partisan fires.

For example, we'd politely ask Sen. Mike Parry, a Republican from Waseca, to go to some remote cabin in northern Minnesota, turn off his phone and spend the next several weeks fishing, water skiing or counting trees. Any pastime he prefers would be more useful than his comment that he government shutdown will be resolved "the day the governor resigns and (lieutenant governor) Yvonne Prettner Solon, with some common sense, comes to the governor's office."

Great statesmanship, that.

Sen. John Howe offered a more meaningful and productive plan in Saturday's Post-Bulletin. The first-term Republican and former mayor of Red Wing suggested that now is the time to overhaul Minnesota's tax system. His ideas include a flat income-tax rate for all Minnesotans and an expansion of the sales tax to include clothing and perhaps food and certain services.

To avoid having this be too "regressive" — hitting the poor harder than it hits the rich —  some money would be rebated back to lower-income households.

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Howe's proposal contained few hard numbers, but he later provided us with some interesting estimates on the possible impact of a change in the sales tax.

• Taxing clothing and shoes would raise $586 million for the 2012-13 biennium.

• Taxing food would raise $1.37 billion for the 2012-13 biennium.

• Taxing auto repair services would raise $304 million.

Howe supports making these changes "revenue-neutral." To do that, Minnesota would lower its overall sales tax in direct proportion to the expected new revenues. If food and clothing were taxed, for example, the overall rate would be cut from 6.875 percent to about 5.5 percent. In other words, we'd pay more for food and apparel, but less for everything else.

So what's the net gain for the state?

Howe argued Saturday that an expanded income tax would provide a more predictable stream of revenue into the state coffers, preventing the yo-yo effect that takes place when the economy surges, then sputters.

When we pressed him on the possibility of an increase in revenue through his tax proposal, he surprised us.

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"What I believe one would find is that, not only would it be more stable and predictable, you will have more revenue," he said. "It would reduce tax avoidance and tax evasion. Our current system punishes earnings, savings, and investing. We should tax consumption and encourage the production of wealth."

We're not ready to endorse Howe's plan just yet. And the fact is that if it remained true to its "revenue-neutral" packaging, it wouldn't help bridge the gap between Gov. Dayton's latest budget proposal and the GOP's.

But in serious times such as these, we need serious people who are ready to offer serious ideas that might place them at odds with their own party's doctrines. Howe has put his plan out there for everyone to see.

Anyone else care to stop shouting and join the real conversation?

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