Schultz Op-Ed: Let’s ‘reimagine’ a functional Minnesota government

April 13, 2023

“Reimagining” has become all the rage lately from Minnesota’s political left. We have been told that we need to reimagine our downtowns, reimagine our state flag, reimagine education, and even reimagine democracy .

The term came to prominence in Minnesota in 2020 after we were told it was time to “reimagine” public safety. That came to mean for Minnesota’s “progressives” defunding the police and excusing violent crime, and the result was more death and violence than Minnesota has seen in a generation.

With that connection to defunding the police, many of us have been hostile to “reimagining” anything.

But key Minnesota institutions have in recent years demonstrated a remarkable pattern of failure, and some fundamental reimagining is necessary, though not of the far-left variety.

Minnesota needs to reimagine what a functional and responsible government looks like.

Let’s start with the Metropolitan Council and the Southwest light rail project that (as of now) is set to cost $2.77 billion. Minnesota’s share of that amount is about $1.84 billion. It should be noted that this is a heck of a lot of money. With the amount we are spending on a 14-mile track of rail, we could double the St. Paul Police budget for 15 years, cut checks to every county in the state for over $20 million, or give bonuses of $32,000 to every teacher in the state. Or we could leave the amount in the private sector for families and businesses to put to work as they see fit (I know, I’m a dreamer).

The extraordinary cost overruns and the 10-year delay of the Southwest LRT, combined with clear governance catastrophes , make clear the Met Council needs reforms that require some imagination. Many have argued that the body—appointed exclusively by DFL governors now for over 12 years—should be elected. We could do that, but we should do something more fundamental: abolish the Met Council and set up a freestanding new body comprised of a cross-section of elected leaders of the Minnesota cities and counties that are affected by large infrastructure projects in and adjacent to the metro. Major projects would require up front agreed upon responsibilities for cost overruns, a key lapse in the management of Southwest LRT. Elected leaders making decisions for—and accountable to—the communities they represent. It’s a novel idea but it just might work.

Minnesota has seen a series of similar scandals in the use of public funds by state agencies over the past decade. Most recently, there was the Feeding Our Future fraud in which the Department of Education (advised by the Attorney General’s office) gave away $250 million to fraudsters despite many red flags.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services by itself has had a cascade of catastrophes, including overpaying two Minnesota tribes by $29 million, overpaying chemical treatment providers by $48 million, neglecting to collect more than $30 million in premiums through MNSure, and losing tens of millions in connection with a housing assistance program. We had the MNLARs debacle in which Minnesota paid $100 million for a drivers’ licensing system that didn’t work. And we had the daycare fraud scandal, in which monumental mistakes allowed up to $100 million to be stolen.

Minnesota is living through the worst period of financial mismanagement in its history. The mismanagement is so pervasive that the question must be asked whether we aren’t just looking at official incompetence but at official corruption.

Whatever the causes, it is disturbing that in our current moment those governing our state have refused to implement the institutional reforms necessary to deal with serious governance and policy failure. They instead have elected to flood our government with additional money, spending the entirety of the state’s $19-billion surplus in an effort to paper over the challenges our state faces and secure future constituencies.

But eventually the money runs out, and our state’s institutions require deep reforms and, yes, reimagination, to deal with the problems in front of us.

Jim Schultz of Plymouth, Minnesota, was the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2022. He wrote this exclusively for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Read Jim’s commentary on The Forum.

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