Center of the American Experiment
Dear Mitch and Sean,
1967 is one of my favorite years, best remembered as the “summer of love” in San Francisco. The culture and pop music scene featured releases from the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Small Faces, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and Procol Harum, to mention a few. To dwell on these names a bit is to bring back fond memories that none of us want to share with our children.
But to Gov. Mark Dayton, age 20 at the time, it was the year that the 7-Up Company launched the “Uncola” campaign. And citing that as inspiration, Gov. Dayton has suggested what we earnestly hope will become a biannual event: an Unsession of the Legislature. The basic idea is to devote a legislative session to repealing or deleting various parts of our statutory and regulatory thicket that stand in the way of effective governance. The Center of the American Experiment (americanexperiment.org) and the Citizens League (citizensleague.org) are two organizations that frequently look at Minnesota state government. So both organizations are policy shops that should not let this opportunity go unused.
To pick up the challenge of uncoupling Minnesota from unnecessary laws and regulations, Gov. Dayton has already circulated a letter to state employees (the people who work the closest to the thicket) soliciting suggestions to be introduced during the upcoming Unsession of our Legislature. He also established Unsession suggestion boxes at the State Fair. Additionally, the governor’s Unsession suggestion website (mn.gov/governor/unsession) was set up (not to be confused with the MNsure Exchange website, which went live October 1).
These efforts have already resulted in a large number of suggestions. Matt Swenson, Gov. Dayton’s press secretary, recently noted that handwritten suggestions from the State Fair totaled more than 200. Ideas from state employees have topped 860, and 520 have emerged from the public at large. Ideas are still flowing; both of your organizations, the Citizens League and the Center of the American Experiment, should start working on this immediately.
But to get in on the act, we also have some suggestions for the Unsession. Let’s start with taxation. If the state repealed its entire tax code and the regulatory morass that accompanies that code, a large part of the government thicket would disappear. Because the state needfully requires revenue, this entire government apparatus could be replaced by a simple percentage of the amount each individual and corporation pays to the federal government. That percentage could be calculated so this suggestion would be revenue-neutral.
Many of the political subdivisions of the state reflect 19th century concerns and political bargains. A cursory review of joint power agreements, home-rule charter regulations, and overlapping political subdivision jurisdictional issues will reveal a large amount of political encrustation that should be pared away. The Unsession is the place to start this process.
The two biggest expenditures of state government are education and health care in all of their various forms. The Unsession of the Legislature is not for the purpose of making policy changes in these highly sensitive areas. However, such a session should certainly look at the ways in which revenue is distributed and shared among local taxing and spending authorities and the state government. In particular, trying to understand local aid formulas, welfare reimbursement at the county level, and other “sharing” arrangements has generated a huge quagmire of unnecessary regulation and administrative process. Again, not to make a policy change, the Legislature could easily rationalize these payments and boil them down in each instance to a block grant for the receiving political subdivision. Transparency and accountability would be the happy consequence of this Unsession accomplishment.
The Unsession should also look at simplifying governance of the metropolitan area. It is rife with conflicting sports authorities’ jurisdictions, city boundaries, county agency overlap, and a host of special interest fiefdoms. The Twin Cities metropolitan area is another way to say government inefficiency is opaque to the taxpayers. The Unsession could start the process of reducing and eliminating many of these overlapping governmental units.
When a citizen applies for any registration, from a driver’s license to voter registration, this should include fishing, hunting, or other license submissions—one-stop registration!
Readers of this column are not shy about emailing us, either. If you’ve ever had a thought about how government could be more efficient, or at least more accountable, this is your opportunity to suggest ideas for the Unsession. You can send them to the government website, or if you send them here (email@example.com), we will make sure they get forwarded.
Gov. Dayton’s suggestion has already brought one totally unexpected and happy result; we can all look forward to the next Unsession of the Legislature!
Vance K. Opperman
A Fan of the Unsession
Vance K. Opperman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.