Lack of funding could mean end of the Sunset Commission

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Among the provisions in the omnibus state government finance bill, a somewhat unexpected provision to end the Sunset Commission has caused the biggest stir.

The goal of the commission, established in 2011, is to review agencies and departments for efficiency and possibly discontinue those that aren’t needed. The only problem is there’s no funding for staff to do that work, according to Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), who sponsors HF1184. She chairs the House State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee, which reviewed its omnibus bill Monday.

After Republicans argued against the provision last week, Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) successfully offered an amendment Monday to appropriate $139,000 each year from the General Fund to the Legislative Audit Commission to assume some of the Sunset Commission’s duties.

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus state government finance bill:
HF45 Mullery
HF88 Dettmer
HF279 Simon
HF576 Bernardy
HF651 Persell
HF1291 Kahn

Under the amendment the audit commission would use the funds to conduct additional evaluations of the executive branch state agencies to determine efficiency and effectiveness just as the Sunset Commission might.

“(The amendment) asks them to use this money for a staff person to deal with the things the Sunset Commission has dealt with,” he said. “Currently, the legislative auditor does this stuff already if we direct him to do it.”

Overall, the omnibus bill spends over $921 million from the General Fund on 28 different agencies and accounts. The committee expects to take a vote on the bill Wednesday, and move it to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill’s companion, SF1154, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans are concerned about the level of spending proposed in the bill.

For example, Rep. Anna Wills (R-Apple Valley) said at an earlier meeting that there are more important things to focus on than the $30,000 matching grant dedicated to a Capitol bust or statue for Nellie Stone Johnson, a Minnesota political leader and civil rights activist. Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) questioned several funding increases, specifically the 1 percent increase for employee compensation across all departments each year.

Murphy defended the provision, saying that many of the government’s trained and skilled workers are leaving. She added that one person who left doubled their pay.

“How long can we go without changing the circumstances under which they’re working?” Murphy said.

The bill also includes provisions for the Office of Enterprise Technology, now called MN.IT, which would offer Minnesotans the choice to use more government services online. A convenience fee not to exceed $2 charged by MN.IT to use new “e-government services” would be charged.

Prompted by the 2011 government shutdown, the bill includes a provision whereby if major appropriation bills are not enacted by July 1 of an odd-numbered year, existing appropriations would continue at the base level for one year.

“The time to do this is not to end an argument from going on, but to prevent an argument from happening,” Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls) said at an earlier meeting.