In January, 2007, I asked Tarryl Clark if the DFL would conduct oversight hearings to locate the wasteful spending. She said that they would. I asked her that question because the first six DFL bills submitted that year included tax increases. I wanted to know why these bills included tax increases considering the fact that we had a $2,200,000,000 surplus at the time.

When I asked her this question, I didn’t give her wiggle room on whether there was wasteful spending. Instead, I framed it as to whether or not the DFL legislature would find the wasteful spending that we knew existed.

In the summer of 2008, after a townhall at Whitney Senior Center, I asked why the DFL hadn’t held the proper oversight hearings. Tarryl insisted that they had. Based on this article, I’ll respectfully disagree:

The big screen, flat panel TVs that so recently hung on the walls of the Moose Lake sex offender program will soon be enjoyed by patients at veterans homes across the state.

In a move designed to put an end to an embarrassing episode for a cost-conscious administration, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday that at least 14 of the two dozen sets will go to veterans homes in Minneapolis, Fergus Falls, Hastings and Silver Bay.

Clearly, this purchase wasn’t signed off on by the Pawlenty administration. When they learned about this purchase, they immediately corrected the situation. While it’s true that chief executives like Gov. Pawlenty are held accountable for everything done by bureaucrats in the various bureaucracies, it’s equally true that bureaucrats make decisions that aren’t justifiable.

More important than just the event is the money in the budget that was needed to purchase these TV sets:

The televisions, nearly $60,000 worth, had been purchased to help occupy the patients at the state’s sex offender lockup and provide a possible clinical benefit.

Why didn’t the DFL legislature consider the possibility that spending $60,000 on flat screen TVs for sex offenders in lockup wasn’t a high priority? Shouldn’t they have questioned that line item before approving the budget?

Let’s look at this from the perspective that we faced a $6,400,000,000 deficit last year. It’s not like we had lots of leftover money that we could just throw around. Let’s also remember the DFL told us again and again that we didn’t have a spending problem, that we had a revenue problem. Forgive me if I don’t believe that, especially after reading this article. (For some reason, I can’t help thinking that we haven’t found the other egregious expenditures in the budgets.)

There’s another problem here that needs highlighting, namely the purchasing practices of the various departments. How many times do state employees purchase things without checking if they’re getting a great deal? Since I’m a firm believer that people don’t pay nearly as much attention if they’re spending OPM (other people’s money) on other people, I’m betting that government purchasing agents aren’t the biggest bargain shoppers.

I think we all agree that these TVs shouldn’t have been bought. Just for the sake of this post, though, let’s use this transaction as an example. According to a website I just visted, you can purchase 50″ flat screen TVs for as little as $700. (I’m sure you can do even better but I didn’t spend alot of time doing an exhaustive search.) Had the purchasing agent done even a little bit of shopping, they could’ve reduced the bill by more than $40,000. My Minnesota math says that comes out to a savings of almost 75% (73.3% but let’s not quibble amongst friends).

This leads me to wondering if legislative oversight would change the habits of purchasing agents. If purchasing agents knew that they’d be called on the carpet from time to time, would their habits change? Quite possible but possibly not. The upshot, though, is that if purchasing agents remain recalcitrant, then the legislature can pass legislation or the governor can give instruction changing their habits.

Had the legislature done its oversight job, we might’ve budgeted differently. More importantly, if we’d adopted zero-based budgeting as our budgeting system, we’d force department managers justify their budgets every two years.

The ideal system would start with ZBB, then be followed up by aggressive legislative oversight. That would produce the tightest budgets and the best oversight. Apparently, the DFL hasn’t adopted this even though a number of people have asked them to. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that they’ll change that habit.

That’s why it’s time we restructured the legislature. It’s time we elected a reform-minded legislature that will tighten up the budgeting and the oversight processes. That won’t happen with a DFL legislature. There’s zero chance of that change happening. Leopards don’t change their spots that dramatically.

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