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Reducing regulations costs nothing

These are still tough times in St. Paul, even though the budget picture has improved slightly and the days of massive deficit holes to plug are hopefully behind us for a while. During times like this, if legislators and the governor really want to help businesses, they can do it without imperiling the budget. They can cut regulations.

The annual fight at the Legislature always seems to be investment vs. tax cuts. The DFL wants to invest -- or "spend," as the GOP would say -- tax dollars for some future benefit, such as keeping tuition reasonable at colleges or building a road that can help residents and businesses. The GOP seeks to reduce the tax burden -- especially on businesses -- in order to spur economic growth, with the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Neither plan is particularly flawed. We need investment. We would be better off with fewer taxes. But doing either is going to throw the budget out of whack, and we probably can't afford significant levels of either.

There is a third way to make government work better for the people, even if it only takes the form of getting out of the way of businesspeople. The legislature could review every law on the books and remove the ones that no longer make sense.

Anyone who has owned or run a business knows there are a lot of hoops to jump through just to comply with state and federal laws. There are hiring laws, environmental laws, building codes and countless other measures, which, at the time, were probably very common sense measures. Many of them still are. But almost no one would suggest that every law on the books is still needed or productive.

The Legislature and the governor demonstrated that when their parties don't have entrenched ideological views on certain aspects of common sense reform, they can get things done. Take, for instance, the quick agreement the two sides reached on reducing the length of some state permitting processes.

They could do the same with reviewing -- and removing -- outdated regulations.

The best part is it doesn't cost anything to take a law off the books.

It would take the two parties putting aside their pet partisan projects, from gay marriage to unionization. But they could produce changes that could have real and immediate effects in spurring the Minnesota economy.

That's worth exploring.

The Pioneer Journal editorial represents the collective voice of the paper's editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.