The panel assembled Thursday night at the Minneapolis Hilton to discuss ethical leadership, sponsored by the business-based Collaborative, focused on leadership in the private sector, not the public. But one of the themes discussed -- sustainability -- seemed to fit the leadership challenge that confronts the governor and the Legislature this year as they close a massive state budget deficit.
Ignore the long-range consequences of one's actions, said panelist Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair of Carlson, and it's easy for an executive to look good. "We see examples of great success in a point in time. You can change the numbers," she said.
But optimizing the appearance of success, with accounting gimmicks or expenditure of one-time money on recurring expenditures, is akin to an athlete who uses steroids, she said. "Ultimately the steroids destroy the body. Some of our financial institutions pushed the performances to a point, then wanted more. It was like they were on steroids. There was money made for some period . . . but undermine their success in the long run."
Nelson may not have meant to apply that lesson to state government. Nevertheless, it's apt. Federal stimulus money is available on a one-time basis, The school aid payment delay and a $1 billion bonding proposal from Gov. Tim Pawlenty would also be one-shot, quick fixes to the budget deficit. They would ease the pain of state budget cuts in the short term. But those fiscal measures would not build a state budget to last.