Gov. Mark Dayton celebrated his efforts to streamline government Tuesday, highlighting nearly 1,200 measures he said should bring improved services to many Minnesotans, including campers, anglers and taxpayers.
“Things don’t get undone in government very readily,” the DFL governor said of the changes approved by legislators this spring. “I think we are off to a very good start.”
Dayton began the year by trying to capture momentum on a comprehensive effort to eliminate antiquated laws and make programs more efficient, but critics say the results are lackluster and that Dayton failed to take on more meaningful problems facing state government.
Republicans were especially critical, complaining that the effort focused on sometimes silly and otherwise common-sense reforms rather than taking on a serious rethinking of the state’s troubled health insurance exchange and the new $77 million office building for state senators and staff.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Democrats should have stopped the new office building. “Minnesotans are unimpressed,” he said, of the efforts that did eliminate laws that made it illegal to carry fruit in the wrong-sized container or drive a car in neutral.
Dayton’s signature streamlining initiative was to be a centerpiece of the last legislative session, but a surprisingly large budget surplus and other attention-grabbing issues, like medical marijuana, pushed the effort to the side.
The governor’s team leading the initiative quietly pressed streamlining measures while other political battles flared overhead, shepherding more than 1,000 proposals through the committee process. Armed with a database that tracked each measure, Dayton’s team ditched some that became controversial and took on others offered by legislators.
Wild boars still an issue
“The one thing that can unite us all, that we should agree upon, is that government should run better,” said Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, who led Dayton’s initiative. “That has a hallmark of the Dayton administration and a hallmark of this initiative.”
Dayton and his team did find some frustrations along the way. Some proposed rule-making reforms died in the face of steady resistance. Perhaps the most-mocked law that Dayton showcased at the beginning of the effort remains on the books — a law requiring the agriculture commissioner to personally hunt down any wild boars running loose in the Twin Cities.
In the end, legislators decided there is still some value in requiring the agriculture department to be notified in the rare instance a wild boar gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
Dayton said the changes will make the average citizen’s interactions with government faster and less aggravating.
The more than 1 million Minnesotans who file taxes, for instance, will see more streamlined forms that eliminate some confusing and tedious processes, like the 14 steps needed to calculate the student loan interest deduction.
The governor even signed an executive order that requires state agencies to do something seemingly simple, but which has proved difficult: communicate with the public in a way that’s clear, concise and easy to understand.
As part of the effort, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has converted 92 dense pages of fishing regulations into a slick and easy-to-use computer app that works on mobile phones. Campers will find it much simpler to book campsites at state parks online. Veterans will see a vastly improved website when they need government services.
Legislators wiped out scores of obsolete and downright puzzling laws that often generated a chuckle around the Capitol. Gone, for instance, are regulations that once controlled telegraphs.
But many of the changes were serious and substantive, such as shortening the time it takes to process business permit applications to 90 days — a dramatic drop from the current 150-day target.
“This is going to save Minnesotans and businesses a lot of time when they interact with government,” Sertich said.