Minnesota Sunset Commission begins with problems


Today was the first meeting of the Minnesota Sunset Commission. The Commission was an initiative of the GOP reform efforts at the 2011 Legislature. The Commission was a topic between the GOP Leadership and the Governor. A compromise was reached in the secret “away from the public” discussions that occurred during the shutdown.

Problems exist as the Sunset Commission meeting brought out today.

Discussion right out of the shoot was over whether or not there was enough time for those agencies that are slated for bye-bye on June 30, 2012 to be able to do their report with the “statutorily specified information” To add on the timeline problems the Commission must review the agency slated to disappear by January 1, 2012, and hold public hearings and give recommendations to the Legislature by February 1, 2012. Is there fair process for the agencies slated for disappearing to be heard with the time issues for 2012?

As part of the agenda, William D. Eggers, testified, “one of the country’s best known authorities on government reform” which a Commission handout described him. He emphasized for a Sunset Commission to be successful a number of points to meet are necessary. Some of them are:

  • Strong staff capabilities
  • Strong legislative support
  • Time and space for substantive work, and
  • Strong legislative support

Discussion centered for a time on whether or not there was enough resources for the Sunset Commission to be able to do a thorough job in reviewing an agency. The set up as I stated is that the agency slated for bye-bye is responsible for the “statutorily specified information” report. Can the Commission do its due diligence with no staff specifically tied to it? It seems that the members are relying on the agency report with current legislative staff who with other duties review the agency report.

It was emphasized that it’s important for input by the various stakeholders and customers of that agency slated for disappearing to be a part of the “sunset” process. Where that process begins is a question waiting to be answered. Is it when the agency is doing it’s evaluation before it submits its report or at the public hearings held before February 1st of the even year?

With the Sunset Commission being “created/compromised” as part of the closed budget talks and away from public scrutiny in July there are some weaknesses in the law. It is not clear to me if the Sunset Commission is under the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Hopefully the points raised by discussion at the Commission and ones I raise can be corrected and addressed. If not, there will be less accountability and transparency for the public in this effort.

Note: There was a handout to members of the Commission and the public entitled, “Chapter 4. Case Study: Shining Light on Sunset. I would encourage people to review this chapter. The chapter is part of a bigger report entitled:

Executing Government Transformation

This report is from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.