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Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, left, and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin sign executive orders that require their aides to look into ways the states can cooperate to save money. An example if Wisconsin using a Minnesota helicopter to check on deer herds. (Don Davis/St. Paul Bureau)

Minnesota, Wisconsin consider sharing

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota and Wisconsin can save millions of dollars if they work closer together - on things such as bulk purchases of salt for roads and food for prisoners - the states' governors said Tuesday.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed executive orders requiring their staffs to work together hunting for ways to save money.

"We can be more efficient buyers if we work together," Doyle said during an announcement in Pawlenty's office.

Later, the governors made the same announcement in Madison.

The two could provide no specifics about how the states will cooperate, but said they expect to be able eventually to save money by doing things such as:

-- Combining purchase of the 600,000 tons of road salt the two states use a year.

-- Purchasing large pieces of equipment, such as bulldozers, in one order - or sharing them if neither state needs the equipment all the time.

-- Making big buys of food for institutions such as prisons.

-- Licensing computer software together to get volume discounts.

-- Using one state's bureaucracy to handle similar programs in both states, such as some health and human services programs.

-- Sharing specialized equipment such as helicopters and patrol boats.

-- Combining licensing functions such as hunting and plumbing.

A western Wisconsin senator said the concept of sharing is a good one.

"If you live where we live, you quickly realize how our area operates as a region," Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said. "We should not be constrained in our problem-solving by state lines when opportunities exist to maximize our resources. I believe state and local governments could serve the taxpayer better if we can partner with Minnesota on operations, training, and resources."

Doyle, a Democrat, and Pawlenty, a Republican, said if this cooperative proposal works, it could expand to other states.

Both states face historically large budget deficits - Minnesota $4.85 billion and Wisconsin $5.4 billion for the next two years.

The governors ordered their staffs to report about how they can cooperate by Feb. 27.

Neither governor knew how much money could be saved, but they agreed it could be in the millions.

"It may be as routine as jointly purchasing road salt," Pawlenty said, which in itself could save $1 million.

Wisconsin has a good computer system to operate its health programs, Pawlenty added, and Minnesota could consider using that resource.

Doyle suggested that the states could consider their lottery operations working together and perhaps fish hatcheries and tree nurseries could be combined.

Pawlenty said some of the ideas might need to be approved by lawmakers and others could be part of union negotiations.

The Minnesota chief executive said that he did not expect many jobs to be lost, especially since half of his state's workers will be eligible for retirement in the next few years.

Doyle said that a 10th of his state's positions are being held open to save costs, so getting work done without hiring more employees would help.

The governors said they know of no other states cooperating on the level they suggest.

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The governors said they could consider sharing work in the Duluth-Superior port operations, although neither governor could give specifics about what would be shared.

Doyle said both states have inspectors in the ports, so they could work together.

"We shouldn't have Superior and Duluth competing with against each other," Doyle said.

Doyle said the two states should not look at themselves as competitors.

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