PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: State boards, agencies multiplying too rapidly
Thursday, December 05, 2013 3:23 AM
In my years serving in various capacities in local volunteer groups, I've seen committees come and go. Often, they disappear or are terminated because their usefulness is outlived, members become disinterested or they are just forgotten. Because our scale is small, life goes on and there are few consequences since most people in the overseeing organization know the situation.
At the state level, where the scale is much larger, there are consequences. A Star Tribune report found a complex web underneath Minnesota's elected government that includes more than 160 boards and commissions.
Minnesota Management and Budget estimates the costs are $321 million over a two-year budget cycle, not including legislative or judicial commissions and a number of lesser-known boards.
A state board on nuclear waste hasn't met since Rudy Perpich was governor in the 1980s. The Board of Invention, created in the early 1990s, has never had a member appointed or held a meeting.
The Star Tribune report also found that the Minnesota Legislative Auditor has uncovered sloppy finances. For example, in one review, auditors noted that the Board of Barber and Cosmetologist Examiners couldn't account for $10,000 of license fee receipts. Around 2005, an architecture and engineering board was late paying bills and broke state law by collecting $883,000 more in fees from members than was necessary to cover costs.
The Minnesota Humanities Center never got a final report from an organization that failed to adequately show how it used $206,700 in grants, according to the Star Tribune.
Others have positions almost impossible to fill. It takes 250 words to explain precisely who can serve on the State Interagency Coordinating Council. Among the requirements explained in those 250 words is that three members must have disabled children under the age of 7. The network of groups is so vast that there are 375 unfilled seats total.
Gov. Mark Dayton and several legislators of both parties are on board to take a close look at the situation. Whether there will be results is another matter.
Republicans that controlled both bodies of the Legislature in 2010 formed a Sunset Commission, which was supposed to force state boards and commissions to prove their merit or be disbanded. The bipartisan group reviewed about 40 agencies, boards and commissions, but in the end, did away with just one, the Combative Sports Commission, whose duties were folded into another agency.
Like the local committees or boards that get started, there are often good reasons for creating a body that interacts with state government. Unlike local groups, the state groups don't have the close oversight to determine when they are doing their job or even if they are still needed.
The list of boards and commissions has been growing over time as leaders at the state level change and focus on issues shift. Those already in existence are largely ignored.
"It's always more fun for legislators to pick something shiny to work on then take a look at what is already there," State Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, the lead Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told the Star Tribune.
In a recent interview, Dayton said he isn't against boards and commissions, but is against "the micromanaging that gets to be absurd."
Perhaps Dayton could weave this issue into his earlier announced goal of making consumers' interaction with state government more efficient and satisfying by offering things such as shorter, simpler state tax forms for individuals, faster permitting for businesses and less paperwork for teachers.
These are worthy goals that shouldn't be forgotten when the new legislative session begins next month. New projects will undoubtedly get the headlines, but a thorough review of existing policies - along with meaningful action - can make our government work better, save money in the budget and give residents a better interaction with the state.