COLUMN: Missouri should form Futures Commission with eyes on 2030

Thursday, March 25, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:23 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 25, 2010

While the proof will be in actual budget-cutting and program-improving results, the Missouri Senate’s Rebooting Government project was time and effort well spent.

The four working groups (out of eight) that I briefly observed on Tuesday differed in format, tone, audience and outcome, but all changed the usual dynamics of legislative deliberation. State Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said, “This process was such a good idea, it makes you wonder why we didn’t do it sooner?”

Most ideas were old concerns made more urgent due to the budget shortfall. The governor’s office and executive agencies explained their ideas, the senators came with ideas of their own and some audience members suggested changes in a more informal setting than a legislative hearing that focuses on a specific bill. While each work group received pages of e-mailed suggestions, many were from state employees with relatively minor improvements, often suggesting a less top-heavy administration. The working groups were attended by the same agency representatives and lobbyists found at regular committee meetings.

Identifying a way to save a million dollars is a big deal. Finding a way to reduce next year’s state budget by $500 million is 500 big deals. It is unlikely these savings will come from improving organizational efficiencies–but good management should always be looking for ways to be more efficient.

Missouri has a record of financial responsibility (e.g. a AAA bond rating) for the past 50 years. The Pew Center on the States’ Government Performance Project gives Missouri a B+ and ranks it as seventh best in the nation on governance issues. That’s No. 7. On what else is Missouri in the top 10 in the nation?

The two biggest Rebooting Government ideas reported in the news media so far – drastically reducing tax credits and reducing prison costs – are promising proposals already developed by government decision-makers using Tuesday’s work groups to promote their ideas.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields has been a visionary in arguing the need for longer-term planning in the legislature. The challenge will now be how to sift through the over 1,000 ideas and $1 billion in proposed budget cuts.

This challenge is made more difficult in that Shields, Bartle and other senior Senate leaders will be termed out of the legislature this year. At a minimum, the Senate should see that the top ideas are considered in next year’s legislative priorities. Perhaps the Senate’s Economic 2020, Education 2020 and Health 2020 committees could be the immediate vehicles for continuing the energy and ideas of the Rebooting Government work sessions.

A more ambitious alternative is to create a Missouri Futures Commission charged with anticipating Missouri’s budget needs over the next 20 years. One model used in the past is the Missouri Opportunity 2000 Commission that issued its report in 1987. That commission was appointed by then-Governor John Ashcroftand was charged with thinking about Missouri’s needs in 2000. Congressman Roy Blunt was a co-chair of the 28 member commission that solicited nine background papers on Missouri’s condition and needs, conducted a citizen survey and held meetings around the state seeking citizen input on how Missouri could prepare for the year 2000.

A history and the 55 recommendations of the commission are available in the 1987-88 Official Manual of the State of Missouri (pp. 34-47). The commission’s final report focused on themes that sound familiar today: supporting and ensuring employment growth; providing opportunity for economic development; investing in human resource (schools, vocational and career training, colleges and universities) and enhancing the quality of life (health care, child care, older persons and low-income housing).

The Reboot Missouri process should call for establishing a Missouri Futures Commission as a high profile, bipartisan commission similar to the Missouri Opportunity Commission to anticipate the Missouri of 2030. Gov. Jay Nixon, Sen. Shields and House Speaker Ron Richard should appoint members and integrate it with interim legislative committees and the budget process.

Because of legislative term limits, there are lots of former Missouri legislators who would be ideal for such a commission. Add in some private sector leaders, a few League of Women Voters representatives, some P-20 education leaders, some agriculture and health specialists, fund it with a 50-50 public-private match and the commission can get to work. The Show-Me Institute, the Missouri Budget Project, higher education, the Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau and similar groups should be incited as active attendees but should not be allowed to push their pet interests.

The commission should issue an interim report this December to inform the budget progress. After a year of receiving policy reports describing Missouri’s needs, considering citizen opinion and holding public meetings, the commission should issue a final report in December 2011. For starters, the Missouri Futures Commission should consider the work of Tuesday’s Rebooting Government project.

Figuring out how best to coordinate Missouri’s economic development, education, environmental protection, health care and transportation needs in a rapidly changing global environment is more complicated than rocket science.

David Webber is an associate professor of political science at MU. This article is presented courtesy of The Missouri Record, which carries Webber’s column each Tuesday.

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