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March Mania

OUR OPINION: Attention, lawmakers: Minnesota boards need cutting back

Few political feuds seem as deep or as intense as the one between Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Minnesota. The quarrel brought about the shutdown of state government twice in the past 10 years; and to this day, party leaders seem barely able to talk sometimes, stuck as they are in their competing worldviews.

So, when the 2014 legislative session gets off the ground in February, Minnesotans would be both surprised and impressed if the parties' working relationship got off to a good start.

A Senate Republican leader has a great idea on how to do just that:

Lawmakers should work together to streamline Minnesota's boards and commissions, the list of which begs for healthy pruning and consolidation.

The project "would be perfect" for the upcoming session, said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, in a Star Tribune story the other day.

And judging by the evidence presented in the story, she's right.

"Underneath Minnesota's elected government is an ever-growing roster of more than 160 boards and commissions," the newspaper reported.

"Some are so obscure that they appear to exist in name only. Others are so powerful they dole out millions in grants and can make or break careers.

"Now, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators are taking a fresh look at a level of government that has received little scrutiny in the past, eyeing the scope of the boards' duties and the accompanying $321 million in costs over a two-year budget cycle. ...

"'I am not against the boards and commissions,' Dayton said in a recent interview. 'I am against the micromanaging that gets to be absurd.'"

The story describes entities such as the Board of Invention, which was created in the 1990s but "has never had a member appointed, a single dollar allocated to run it or held a meeting."

Likewise, "a state board on nuclear waste has not met since Rudy Perpich was governor in the 1980s."

Those two boards don't involve much money. But many others do, because they collect tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Make no mistake: "Despite years of tough talk by members of both parties, boards can be remarkably difficult to do away with," the Star Tribune reports. Sunset Commissions come and go, but the long list of boards that each Sunset Commission is meant to scrutinize stays pretty much the same.

The North Dakota Legislature faced the same issue in 1997. "The state Outdoor Recreation Interagency Council has not met since 1992," a news story at the time reported. "The Water Pollution Control Board has not had a meeting in four years."

Lawmakers took note, and as a result, the Outdoor Recreation Interagency Council, the Poultry Advisory Board, the Wetlands Mediation Advisory Council and several other boards were eliminated.

Now, Minnesota should prune its own list. It's a challenging job, given that each board or commission has its own constituency. But it's not an impossible one, because each lawmaker -- Republican or Democrat -- has an even stronger interest in good government.

The parties should tackle this job together as 2014 begins. Their success would be a terrific omen for the legislative session.