Cutting spending requires choices

A private commission could study government programs closely to reduce waste.

by Mickey Rush

This summerâÄôs political gridlock brought to attention the rampant debt plaguing budgets at all levels of government. The next step for Minnesota ought to be prioritizing programs and eliminating waste, a solution which is neither quick nor simple.

I had a very enlightening experience working on a University of Minnesota project funded indirectly by the Minnesota state government. In short, we traveled around Minnesota with all expenses paid, doing work contributing to a larger survey project. As we filled out our expense reports at the end of the week, we were informed that we could add in extra expenses so the project would receive more funding for the next fiscal year and so we could make some extra money on the side. Since we did not have to provide receipts, we had a free pass to take as much as we wanted.

While Gov. Mark Dayton was agreeing to borrow from kindergartners, I could enjoy unlimited burritos and hotel hot tubs courtesy of the taxpayers of Minnesota, all in the name of research. No individual is responsible for this procedural flaw; rather, we need a broad restructuring of our oversight policies concerning allocations of taxpayer dollars for individual projects.

This is not to say we should add yet another government regulatory department âÄî more officials sitting at desks struggling to communicate would only clog the government toilet further. Rather, it might be time to dismantle the administration in order to streamline the government and increase transparency and efficiency âÄî to implement the figurative plunger.

We must also prioritize government programs. Prioritization first requires us to realize that we cannot pay for everything âÄî to assume we can continue the borrowing game only strangles the economy and relinquishes responsibility.

Second, prioritization involves evaluating the importance of every government program and making tough choices. Our legislators tend to look for simple solutions to our budget woes without taking a look at every individual recipient of funding, dealing only in percentages spent on major areas.

The existence of our project itself indicates a lack of prioritization. I know plenty of Minnesotans who would be displeased to hear that our project was quietly enjoying precedence over K-12 funding. We live in a time of austerity; sacrifice is necessary. While research is a great investment in the future, public education is an investment in people âÄî future Minnesotans.

It appears that our legislators have run out of innovative ways to reduce government waste. ItâÄôs time to bring in an independent commission from the private sector which would assess every budget item, recommend procedural changes to reduce waste and use experience with economically sound business models to create incentives for state employees to be frugal with shared fiscal resources.

This commission could force lawmakers to take more than just a macroscopic glance at our budget. Instead of arguing over funding for major government areas like education, lawmakers must take a microscopic look at every single government program and discern whether it is indeed worthy of support.

It is frustrating that our generation will soon inherit the debt problems caused by a broken system of dishonesty and excess, a system which grows unchecked under the guises of progress, research and charity. There is no incentive to economize, to improve efficiency like there is within the private sector. Before we start cutting our health and human services and K-12 funding, shouldnâÄôt we actually look where our money goes?