Business group wants to see better state efficiency

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 1, 2002

A statewide coalition of businesses is pressing politicians to fix the state’s budget crisis, at least in part, through a solution that doesn’t require spending cuts or tax increases. Instead, they want to see state government find ways to do its job more efficiently.

&uot;We would very much like to get citizens and others to ask candidates how they would restructure and change the way the state operates and how it funds state operations and local governments, so that we get more bang for our buck,&uot; said Bill Blazar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who was in Albert Lea last week.

Some candidates for governor and the legislature are in favor of spending cuts as the main source of funds to make up the state’s projected $3 billion budget deficit, and others would rely on tax increases or a mix of both. Blazar said the Chamber and the Coalition of Minnesota Business instead propose more competitive bidding for state services, changing the way grants are handed down, and reorganizing some state agencies, Blazar said.

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– Instead of automatically letting state agencies do state work, the coalition would like to see more bidding for state services. Non-profit groups as well as for-profit private companies or even other units of government may be able to provide a service at less cost, and the need to have the lowest bid could drive costs down, Blazar said.

&uot;You will get the best possible program and probably save a little money,&uot; he said.

Bidding would make the most sense for services provided by agencies like the transportation department and DNR, Blazar said. Even park services and state prisons could be run by contractors; he cited Indianapolis, Ind. as a city that has employed that kind of strategy to save money.

– The coalition thinks the state can save money if it changes higher-education funding so state grants follow the student instead of going to the college or university.

Currently, the state subsidizes colleges directly, so all students, regardless of need, see the benefit of lower costs. If the state attached the money to students, those who needed the money would be helped, and the state wouldn’t spend money on students who already have financial means to pay for college, Blazar said.

&uot;I think this would make higher-education institutions work harder to attract students,&uot; Blazar said.

– Some state agencies, Blazar said, could be reorganized or merged to save money.

For example, at least four state agencies &045; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the DNR and the Environmental Quality Board &045; have some control over the environment. The coalition thinks the state can save money by merging some of those operations.

&uot;Let’s protect the environment, let’s do a good job, but let’s see if we can’t do it more efficiently,&uot; Blazar said.

These solutions probably couldn’t account for $3 billion, but Blazar said such ideas can be part of the budget answer.

&uot;I can’t for the life of me think of a reason why our candidates for the legislature and our candidates for governor wouldn’t embrace this strategy, at least initially,&uot; Blazar said.