Recently, an energy consultant asked the MN Pollution Control Agency about air permitting for a potential new business. MPCA staff walked him through the general timelines and process.
Staff also offered to meet with the company in advance to help improve the proposal and provided a pre-application checklist.
This consultant said he helps businesses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, South Carolina and California; he had never heard of another state providing this kind of service. And our 150 day turnaround seemed shorter than other states.
I also received a note from a businessman whom I met at the MN Chamber dinner. His wood products company employs 140 people in Northern Minnesota. Last year his company invested about $4 million to improve its Minnesota facility, with the possibility of another $5 million in this year.
He said, “None of this would have been possible without the cooperation of Commissioner Aasen and his department.” DEED Commissioner Phillips’ “Business First-Stop” is another step in the right direction.
It is a one-stop shop, where new and expanding businesses can make one call and get whatever help they need. Under the expert tutelage of companies like General Mills, state agencies are implementing “LEAN” practices of continuous improvement, which are saving taxpayers’ money and improving services.
Commissioner Cronk and his Department of Administration saved $3 million in six months by revamping contracts with suppliers. The Department of Revenue, under Commissioner Frans’ leadership, saved $1 million by implementing electronic check processing, and greatly reduced the turn-around time for tax refunds.
At the Department of Agriculture, Commissioner Frederickson and Supervisor Harley Olinske saved taxpayers $300,000 a year, while also shortening the time for most grain and produce license renewals to less than 30 days.
Mr. Olinske epitomizes the dedicated state employees, who work hard every day, and get little credit. He deserves some tonight.
Finally, Commissioner Parnell and her team are working hard to implement the legislature’s decision last year to consolidate the state’s many IT functions. Anything that gets Representatives Kahn and Downey hugging on the House floor deserves a lasting legacy, and this will have one.
The key to our future, as we all know, is education. As President Obama says, “We can’t out-compete other countries, if we don’t out-educate them.”
That means we must develop the best educational systems in the world.
Despite our other difficulties last session, we agreed upon many significant education innovations. We enacted an Alternative Licensure path for teachers. We expanded Early Childhood Education, and our doing so was crucial to Minnesota’s winning the federal “Race to the Top” competition against 34 other states.
We established evaluation requirements for both teachers and principals. We increased the per-pupil aid formula by $50 per student in each year of this biennium, the first real increase since 2003. We enacted “Read by Third Grade,” which will be a priceless gift to the children of Minnesota, and their parents, from a wonderful legislative leader.
In fact, two outstanding leaders of improving the quality of education in Minnesota are retiring after this year: Senator Gen Olson and Representative Mindy Greiling. Let’s pay tribute to them now. We accomplished a great deal last year, by working together.
The US Department of Education’s approval of our No Child Left Behind wavier, along with our afore-mentioned Race to the Top success, is testimony to their confidence in the positive direction of Minnesota’s education innovation. That tremendous progress is a tribute to the excellent leadership of Commissioner Cassellius and legislators of both parties.
Our challenge this year is to put all of it to work for the schoolchildren, parents, teachers, and administrators throughout Minnesota. Already, however, some legislators are advancing even more new proposals.
I have a novel idea. Let’s develop any education initiatives this year in cooperation with teachers, rather than in conflict with them. The best education for all Minnesota students should not be a political ploy; and I will not support anything, which is.
We face similar challenges to improve our colleges and universities throughout Minnesota. Unfortunately, unlike K-12 education, where we increased funding last session, the University of Minnesota and MnSCU were each cut by almost 15 percent.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.