Local Commentary: Does government need to change -- or has it?
By Blaine Hill
There has been an ongoing battle in the Minnesota Legislature between no tax increases and spending cuts. It is an important battle. As an accountant by training, I can tell you that a budget is balanced by increasing revenues or decreasing spending--or a combination of both. It is far too easy to say we won't raise taxes and then cut everything. It isn't just a spending problem. There needs to be more work done and it should come in the form of compromise and finding solutions together, not divided. Now there is a new battle--or at least an old one with a new face--that places the blame on government itself. Cities, counties and school districts are being thrown under the bus because they can't seem to find a way to change, and apparently, their only goal is self-preservation. The solution to all of our problems is to "re-invent" government. I hear people say that the private sector has had to make tough decisions over the years to downsize and reorganize because business as usual wasn't working. They ask why government hasn't done the same. Well, don't believe what you've heard. Government has changed considerably over the years. You simply need to look at the City of Morris. I have a very good perspective on this issue since I started working for the city back in the 80's and I can tell you our operation has changed considerably. Gone is the full-time planner, the full-time engineering staff and office, the full-time building inspector, one of the two major department head positions in public works and utilities (now combined), all of the foreman positions and some of the laborer positions. Why? Because of downsizing, reorganization and the need to become more efficient in how services are provided. Sound familiar? We did that on our own because resources became harder to find. We didn't just raise taxes to pay for the same old things. The Legislature has cut resources over the years and it appears we are still on the chopping block moving forward. There is very little room left to cut. Will they be able to agree on a solution to "re-invent" government in the future? I doubt it. It is easier to say government is the problem and cut its resources. Government, at least on the local level, is doing the best it can with the resources it has and I hope people understand that and work with us. The preliminary budget to be released by the city will reflect the need to be flexible moving forward, because it is a sure bet we will lose more resources. I can tell you it is also a sure bet that we can't tax our way out of it.
Blaine Hill is Morris City Manager, and this commentary is part of his blog on Area Voices on the Sun Tribune Web site. Area Voices gives readers an opportunity to start their own blogs or to comment about other blog postings and stories on the newpaper's Web site. Starting an Area Voices blog is easy, it's not edited by the newspaper, and you can begin and add to the blog at any time. Visit www.morrissuntribune.com to read Area Voices and Our Voices blogs, or to start your own. Contact the Sun Tribune at (320) 589-2525 if you have any questions.