What do "they" have that "we" don't?
Governing Magazine, a subsidiary of Congressional Quarterly, recently graded the 50states on present approaches to management quality. Denver Post columnist Fred Brown did a summary view of where Colorado stood among the states and he reiterated criticisms leveled by the magazine regarding Colorado. However, his space for in-depth coverage was severely limited.
Governing Magazine did hundreds of interviews and surveys but still resorted to using grade school report card numbers to make any distinction. One of many states tied with a C-plus average, Colorado is, thus, either the sixth worst state or the 26th best state.
The standings become clear when each of the four major categories (1) money, (2) people, (3) infrastructure, and (4) information, are broken down into five separate subdivisions. That gives the reader 20 grades for each state, using the color blue for strength, the color white for mid-level quality, and the color red for weakness.
Colorado had one blue, 14 whites, and five reds.
The top four states based on my breakdown of the color scheme were Utah, Virginia, Minnesota, and Washington. Combined the four had 51 blues, 28 whites, and one red.
All four states had one common benefit: no term limits for legislators.
This means their future could be adequately measured by experience from their past, something Colorado has lost because of term limits.
In spending, the four states weren't big spenders. Virginia ranked 14th, Washington 12th, Utah 34th and Minnesota 16th. Colorado ranked 28th.
The following are quotes from reviews of each of the four states.
Washington: "We just tore up the rule book and changed the way we do budgeting here, called Priorities of Government. It begins with a top-down approach establishing results for the state to achieve.
"Agencies with similar goals are grouped to determine which activities are most clearly aligned with desired results. Government activities are ranked in priority order. The state funds the most important and moves down the list until it runs out of cash."
Utah: "Compared with budget debates in other places, those in Utah have been laced with hard statistics, not just anecdotes. Spending reductions have been painful, but they have been made with the help of a precise program-by-program analysis that is simply unavailable to many legislatures. Utah did not have to resort to clumsy across-the-board reductions to reach the numbers it needed."
Virginia: "Their planning effort called the Council of Virginia's Future, manned by legislative, executive branch and private sector leaders, creates powerful long-term goals, coupled with specific indicators to make sure goals are being met. And managers are held accountable if goals are not met. Their audit commission is a national leader in performance auditing.
"Virginia has implemented one of the strongest work force planning efforts in the country and is a leader in solid succession planning. It identifies the knowedge needed to be transferred as leaders retire. Looking at agency turnover of 76 percent every four years (one term for governor) forces you to have successive planning.
"Raising taxes by a sufficient amount to stabilize the state's fiscal condition wasn't a choice the Legislature made easily, or even, for many members, willingly. But they did it."
Minnesota: "The state's personnel systems are solid. Particularly noteworthy is a Yahoo-based resume system which has made it dramatically easier to post, recruit for, and fill positions.
"Three years ago applicants had to muck their way through six-page handwritten applications. Now they can finish in minutes. Posting a job used to take three weeks. Now it's done in hours. Hiring time has been cut by more than half.
"Online applicants, who now make up more than 80 percent of the state's pool, can establish personal job searches, receiving e-mail notification whenever a job matching their e-search criteria opens up, regardless of what department the job is in."
Minnesota however, is going through a major partisan crisis, following the Jesse Ventura years. So today, according to interviews, "decisions have been made more on politics than they have been based on what is best for Minnesota."
Deferred maintenance is a critical issue at the moment. Some of the problems facing Colorado seem to be wending their way east to Minnesota.
Minnesota may be on the road down. Let's hope Colorado is on the road up.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House)
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