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“Beyond the Bottom Line” and the split-screen analogy

Date Published: 03/14/2011

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Lori Sturdevant in the Sunday STrib offers a positive review of some of the best efforts now underway toward redesigning our governmental systems, focusing particularly on the extensive new "Beyond the Bottom Line'' report.  BBL is a project of Minnesota's blue-chip charitable foundations (Bush, Blandin, Minneapolis, Minnesota Community, Northwest Area, and St. Paul), and it's actually a new and improved rendition of a similar effort two years ago.  The highly regarded Public Strategies Group and the venerable Citizens League are key shapers of the report, and Growth & Justice was part of a recent citizens listening project called Common Cents, the results of which hopefully will help shape further redesign work for our state and local governments.  Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson, who has spent decades working on reinventing public systems, is a key advocate for the BBL work.

The BBL report does not piddle with some of the attention-getting but mostly inconsequential ideas for reform and cost-savings, such as rearranging state agencies, or cutting legislative per diem allowances. Rather, BBL drives toward big-system ideas that could save tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, with concepts such as paying health care providers a lump sum for broad health outcomes, rather than for specific services rendered.  The report also calls for strong consideration of removal or reduction of our tax expenditures -- various tax breaks, credits or deductions that now cost the state some $11 billion annually.

These recommendations are heavy lifts, politically.  And we can virtually guarantee that in this legislative session neither the Legislature nor Gov. Dayton, committed as both might be (see House Redesign Caucus) to redesign and good-government principles, will arrive at a significant and sweeping remake of our public investment structures.

But all parties can and should commit to a long-term persistent effort in that direction.  Former Citizens League leader and education reformer Ted Kolderie, who has spent a lifetime studying governmental and school systems, is trying to popularize the idea of a permanent "split screen'' mentality for our elected leaders.  The basic idea: on one "screen," do what you can with what you have and political realities, try to improve and compromise and balance budgets in the usual ways.  That's fine.  But on another "screen," as a separate and ongoing enterprise at all levels of government, keep working on the grand, innovative, sweeping structural reforms, such as the "Human Capital Performance Bonds" concept proposed last week at the capitol.  For a more detailed outline of the "split screen" or "Continuous Improvement + Continuous Innovation" strategy, check out the recent discussion and statement on the  Civic Caucus website.

Patience and hard work have paid off for Minnesota over the decades.  We achieved a more progressive tax structure under Farmer-Labor Gov. Floyd B. Olson in the 1930s, reformed our civil service system under Republican Gov. Harold Stassen, worked a "Minnesota Miracle" in school-finance reform under DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson, and advanced beyond most other states with health care for working families and MinnesotaCare under Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.

Each of those efforts demanded sacrifice and compromise and hard work and wrenching changes.  But we can and will have better governments in Minnesota.  It's our way.

Dane Smith 

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