Local leaders ask state for more flexibility

Leaders from Minnesota’s cities, counties and school districts have banded together to plead for more flexibility from the state to let them try new ways of delivering local services.

The three main organizations that represent local governments in the state released a report today that health and human services, education, transportation, public safety and government operations and boundaries all can improve if state leaders take a number of steps to let local leaders do more to collaborate and come up with innovations.

The three — the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Minnesota School Boards Association — held six forums last fall that involved some 400 local leaders, and the report coming out today was a result.

The report is being introduced this morning with bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature. Taking part in announcing it are GOPers Rep. Carol McFarlane, White Bear Lake, Sen. John Carlson, Bemidji and Sen. Michelle Benson, Ham Lake, and DFLers Rep. Paul Marquart, Dilworth, and Sen. Terri Bonoff, Minnetonka.

It urges the Legislature first of all to pass the MAGIC Act, a proposal from last year’s session to let counties experiment with a variety of pilot projects. It also recommends the state create a task force to guide local government redesign efforts.

The organizations offer a critique of how they think the state can get in the way of innovation and thinking differently. Too often, they say, the state demands how services should be delivered instead of focusing on whether they actually get the job done. At the same time, they say, the relationship between the state and local governments has deteriorated, and the state has failed to create a vision that lets local governments see better what changes are in store for them.

They also note that turf concerns can cause divides among local governments, causing, for example, divisions between large and small communities.

The report and its recommendations are some of the fallout from increasing pressure in recent years on local governments. State aid has declined for some and local elected officials have faced difficult choices among services and property tax increases. At the same time, demographic and economic changes are affecting the kinds of demands on those governments. (For more on this, see our Forced to Choose coverage.)

Many have searched for ways to collaborate with neighbors and find other ways to streamline what they do.

“Cities, counties and school boards all understand that . . . our long-term financial picture for state and local governments is grim,” said Randy Maluchnik, Carver County Commissioner and president of the counties association. “We need the flexibility to innovate, not just the handcuffs of decreased funding, if we’re going to make redesign a reality.”

You can find a pdf file of the full report from this page.

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