Nearly a year into office, Gov. Mark Dayton is embarking on a new phase of his administration to reform the way state government operates.
“Our state government must provide better services, more efficiently, and at lower costs,” he said Thursday.
For 10 months, Dayton has been operating in a vast state government structure created by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Now he’s ready to overhaul state operations to give it a look and feel that reflects his politics and values.
In the first big reform news conference of his administration, Dayton and his top commissioners rolled out a new competitive-bidding process for one of the state’s largest budget items: the state’s health insurance programs for low-income Minnesotans. The changes are expected to log giant savings for Minnesota and U.S. taxpayers, nearly $500 million. Much of that savings, however, has already been booked in the current two-year budget.
Daytons said he expects to unveil more significant reforms in coming weeks. The governor directed his chief of staff, Tina Smith, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, and his top commissioners to lead what he called a “comprehensive reform effort.”
“Our work is just beginning,” Dayton said.
Republicans have their own plans to streamline government, and for months have been talking to Minnesotans about what they call their “Reform 2.0” initiative.
In August, House Speaker Kurt Zellers said the effort was designed to seek new, fresh ideas to help make government more accountable and efficient.
As part of the effort, Republicans are also pushing a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a super majority of legislators to pass tax hikes.
Dayton blasted the idea as "absolutely idiotic," saying if Republicans are serious about cutting taxes, then they should have the courage to do it without the political cover of an amendment.
Republicans have said the DFL governor has resisted an idea they favor, dramatically paring the state workforce, because he is beholden to state employee labor unions.
Dayton said Thursday that Republicans just want to set arbitrary reduction numbers without actually learning to see what agencies do, what works and what doesn't.
Dayton said he's open to new government efficiencies, so long as they improve services. He won't, he said, just cut for the sake of cutting.
The bipartisan drive for government reform is driven in part by political appetite but also years of back-to-back, multibillion-dollar budget deficits. Now legislators and state leaders are taking a harder look at the state’s more than $34 billion, two-year budget.
Dayton said he wanted to make reform and change part of the “DNA” of his leadership team.
“People who live and do business in Minnesota rightly expect government to work faster, better, and more efficiently,” Dayton said. “Government needs to work at the speed of commerce.”
The governor also announced a new website where Minnesotans can track reforms, which can be found here.