The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 4, 2013

Cut number of state boards, commissions

Why it matters: Reports show Minnesota has many outdated and obsolete boards and commissions that cost taxpayers millions


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Minnesota taxpayers could save millions of dollars if state leaders would simply do same painless housecleaning of outdated and obsolete boards and commissions that have been draining nearly $160 million a year from state coffers.

A recent report by the Star Tribune highlighted millions of dollars in government waste on boards and commissions once set up with good intentions but now useless, obsolete or just plain dormant.

The newspaper reported a nuclear waste commission that hasn’t met since 1986, an architectural board that illegally collected $800,000 in fees and dozens of boards and commissions have be unable to fill vacancies by the hundreds. The Board of Invention has never been able to fill any of its positions after being created in the 1990s.

Many of the boards and commissions were established with good intentions. We’re sure many have experts in their fields that provide timely advice on policy issues facing the Legislature. Minnesota’s government has always been responsive to the people and boards and commissions are one way for average citizens to have input on their government.

But there appears to be little management or oversight of some of these boards. They’re not evaluated regularly to determine if they are needed or if they are meeting goals.

The Legislative Auditor had conducted reviews of about 50 of these boards and commissions over the years and found various problems with accountability. One didn’t get a report of spending when it awarded a grant of about $200,000. Another lost tract of $10,000 in receipts. Even the Governor’s Residence Council didn’t keep a required list of receipts of gifts and assets of the governor’s mansion for about three years in the late 1990s.

The Legislature attempted a few years ago to evaluate the effectiveness and need for some boards and commissions. The Republican-led Legislature of 2010 organized a Sunset Commission to do away with some of the boards if there use could not be justified. The bipartisan commission reviewed 40 boards, agencies and commissions but only discontinued one – the Combative Sports Commission -- according to the Star Tribune report.

Legislators noted the difficulty in eliminating boards and commissions with resistance often coming from those who came up with these great ideas and other constituencies who apparently vigorously defended the boards.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he sees the problem with boards and commissions as a way for the Legislature to micromanage what should be the duties of the executive branch. It’s gotten to a point where it appears the executive branch cannot carry out some necessary functions because some board is in the way.

Others point to problems filling the boards with qualified applicants. There are currently some 375 open seats on boards and commissions, according to the Star Tribune report.

When Democrats gained control of the 2012 Legislature, they resurrected a form of the Sunset Commission and will soon recommend some 40 boards, commissions or agencies be scrapped.

This is an action that is probably long past due. The point is not that citizen input is important, but board and commissions, like other state agencies, should have to prove their worth by either the value of their recommendations or their ability to suggest efficiencies in state government or improved outcomes. A scorecard of such success of any and all board does not appear to be available.

Board and commissions are only as good as the advice they provide. Citizen or industry input may be important, but if reports from advisory groups continuously sit on a shelf somewhere, one has to question the value of the input.

At some point, the legislative hearing process has to be seen as an equally effective way to get citizen and expert input on policy issues. Creating lots of boards and commissions seems to duplicate that process and muddy the result.

Gov. Dayton has suggested the upcoming legislative session be an “Unsession” – one in which the Legislature find ways to streamline state government and do away with wasteful programs.

Winnowing the number of boards and commissions would be an excellent place to start.