Editorial: It’s time to rethink government“We like lots of government in Minnesota,” even if our government is outdated, costly to run, and far too focused on following processes rather than positive outcomes.
“We like lots of government in Minnesota,” even if our government is outdated, costly to run, and far too focused on following processes rather than positive outcomes.
So says Jim Mulder of Roseville, Minn., a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010 as Tom Horner’s running mate and a longtime Association of Minnesota Counties executive director before retiring two years ago. Mulder is traveling the state as a speaker, and offered easy-to-agree-with and hard-to-argue-with insights at one such event recently.
With so much bureaucracy, so many layers of government, so many bodies of government and so many government agencies it’s amazing government can be helpful or make decisions at all, he said. Sometimes it’s hard to even know who’s supposed to be making the decisions.
Seriously, does Minnesota need 3,500 different local bodies of government? Or 100 different economic development agencies? Or, please, 94 different soil and water conservation districts? Taxpayers are picking up the tab, but how many even know what a soil and water conservation district does?
Government doesn’t change to meet the times. Borders and jurisdictions have changed little since the 1850s when Minnesota won statehood. Think the world hasn’t changed much since then? More recently, in the 1960s, Minnesota counties devoted 60 percent of their budgets to roads and bridges and 20 percent to health care. Today those numbers are flipped with baby boomers aging and government being reactive rather than proactive.
To pay for other things, we underfund education. We shouldn’t, Mulder said. Young people are the ones who spend the money that stimulates economies and communities. The less they earn as a result of shoddy education the less they spend.
The answer? The public has to demand it. We have to insist on government that works more cooperatively and regionally rather than independently, which is far more expensive and far less efficient. Let public-safety districts replace police departments found in every city. Combine IT, HR, accounting and other back-office services into regional pods. Create library systems so cities, school districts and colleges don’t all have to maintain their own collections of books and other media. Move county social workers and public health officials into schools. And share county engineering with cities and townships. Mulder offered those as just a few ideas.
“How do we fix government? How do we redesign government? How do we reform government?” Mulder asked, rhetorically, because they’re questions we all ought to be asking.
“I believe in government. I believe government does good stuff. And I really believe in local government,” Mulder said. “The answers we need are going to be found in local government. And the changes we have to make will make a difference in our children’s lives.”
Duluth News Tribune editorial