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Minnesota's fiscal crisis bringing forth ideas to improve government efficiency

While it's not good news that the state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall in the current biennium, the crisis forces all of us to scrutinize government services and expenditures more closely than ever.

Already, individuals and organizations are contacting legislators with their own ideas. Among them:

• Save $80 million by reducing outsourced work that could be performed by existing state employees

• Freeze out-of-state travel for state agencies

• Reduce the number of politically appointed management positions at state agencies. In just the past year, 65 new managers were hired at a cost of $8.5 million.

According to the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, there's nearly one manager for every two supervisors at state agencies. If that number is true, that's sounds like an awful lot of people in charge of supervising those -- who are supervising those -- who are doing the work.

This legislative session, there will be substantial cuts made to state government -- the size of the deficit and the current recession means that there is simply no way around that. But we can reduce the effect on citizens by taking a hard look at the way state government goes about providing services.

The guiding principle should be that the greatest percentage of tax dollars spent to perform a service should go to that purpose -- not the administration of delivering that service. In other words, as much money as possible spent on education ought to go to learning. As much money as possible spent on health care should go to patient care and therapy, and so on.

The Senate has begun pre-session hearings on efficiency initiatives. This week, the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee held a hearing on ideas for finding efficiencies and improving natural resources management. Later in the month, two Senate committees will review the state's economic development agencies and determine if there are better ways the state can deliver assistance to businesses, while creating more jobs throughout the state.

And it won't stop there. If you have ideas you'd like to share, I'd appreciate hearing about them. While the coming budget cuts will be hard for many, finding and implementing better ways to operate state government will be beneficial to everyone for years to come.