Let's face the facts. Minnesota's budget deficit is growing faster than any economist, public policy expert or elected official could have predicted. What we are doing today is not sustainable. It is time for state officials to stop with the Band-Aids and pothole fillers and rethink and redesign state and local government business models.
First, Minnesota needs to set priorities. Minnesota must identify the core functions of state and local government. Minnesota must determine what it is that government must do; what it is we want to do; and what it is that we simply like to do. Redesigning Minnesota's government to be sustainable requires that we focus on setting achievable, sustainable priorities.
Second, Minnesota needs to challenge assumptions and long-held beliefs of what is the role of state and local government and who pays for it. The business models and program structures created in the 1960s and '70s are obsolete and in need of reform. Some public services rise to the level of state authority and responsibility. Those programs should be paid for and administered by the state. Other services should be dealt with by local governments, giving control and accountability back to the body of government closest to the people who pay for the service. If the state can no longer afford to provide a service or program, then it should be dismantled, retooled or reprioritized.
Third, reliance on the Legislature to fix or solve community problems isn't practical. Change driven from the Capitol is slow at best and its one-size-fits-all solutions have contributed to state-mandated and locally provided services becoming unsustainable. It fails the reality test that solutions that work in urban Ramsey County are the best fit for Roseau County. Instead, allow counties to find new and innovative ways to deliver essential public services. Innovative service delivery can improve the return on public investment.
The Minnesota county redesign initiative is about achieving better results. The best government programs are not measured on money spent, but are flexible in how the service is delivered and focus on results and performance outcomes.
Minnesota's county officials invite legislators to work with us to highlight policies that have outlived their usefulness and change the way we collectively approach the implementation and funding of those policies. It is the counties' vision for Minnesota that each level of government should work together to bring efficiency to a system layered in bureaucracy and noted for a lack of efficiency. An efficient, targeted delivery of services to those most in need of them should be the goal of every elected official in the state. Eliminating duplication and making the best use of every tax dollar not only benefits recipients of state services but the state and local taxpayers who pay for those services.
The facts are the facts. It is time to rethink, restructure and redesign government in Minnesota.
Jon Evert is president of the Association of Minnesota Counties and a Clay County commissioner.