Cutting NGA membership hurts state efforts

The state is in dire need of money; all expenditures are under scrutiny, and every penny counts. But the state Legislature’s most recent cuts will likely hurt Minnesotans and further complicate state funding problems much more than the small amount of money they saved will help.

A bill passed last month designed to balance the state budget included cuts that would drop Minnesota’s membership in the National Governors Association. Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who proposed the cut, along with closing the governor’s Washington office, claimed the approximately $120,000 in annual expenses associated with the office and NGA membership were not justified. In a related move, the Government Finance Committee, of which Cohen is chairman, determined both the Washington, D.C., office and NGA membership were expendable.

Although money is desperately needed in the state, removing the governor’s Washington connections will be detrimental to Minnesotans’ efforts to procure federal funding and influence federal legislation. Currently all 50 states, three territories and two commonwealths participate in the NGA; if Minnesota withdraws, it will be the only state not represented. Unless the Legislature knows something the governor and all other states do not, membership in the NGA is not frivolous.

A recent Fortune magazine report named the NGA the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington, D.C. It allows governors to form a bipartisan front that plays an integral role in appropriation of federal funds and demands attention from those who dole out those funds. The NGA gives governors a platform from which to ensure state concerns are represented in public policy issues and federal legislation. Without participation in this organization, Minnesota will lack a discernable voice in federal politics. And given Minnesota’s history as a politically progressive state, that cannot be allowed to happen.

The NGA not only provides states with a voice on Capitol Hill but affords governors a forum in which to discuss state problems and policy reform from both a federal and state perspective. Additionally, it is a resource to access other governors’ support and advice on implementing policies. In the past the NGA has made monumental progress in welfare reform. It is currently working on homeland security, Medicaid reform and state sales tax simplification. Choosing to withdraw from this group will slight policy growth and keep the state from congruent economic advance other states might be making. The current tax simplification program is working to save states money – an estimated $12 billion in tax revenue annually – by implementing a uniform system. If Minnesota is not involved, the state could continue to lose this money, making the amount saved through the cut comparatively trivial and rendering the cut itself counterproductive.

Although the Legislature is trying to best serve the state, its aim is misguided. This cut will cost the state much more than the money it initially saves and will obstruct Minnesota’s resources for procuring federal representation and funding. To ensure Minnesota’s future representation and participation on a federal level, the Legislature must rescind the cut.