The Legislature’s budget proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed last week was based on the premise that government regulatory agencies don’t do much that’s worthwhile. How else to explain the fact that the proposal would gut the work force of these agencies by forcing them to shrink by 15 percent?
This anti-regulatory ideology is not only flawed, it is dangerous. Minnesota’s regulatory system may not run perfectly; no bureaucracy does. But the work of these agencies is vital to Minnesota’s health, safety and general well-being.
Consider just a few examples from recent headlines.
This year 3M plans to remove tons of toxic-laced sediment from the Mississippi River cove that lies near the company’s plant. The sediment is contaminated because for years 3M has discharged PFCs — perfluorochemicals — into the river.
Action by MPCA
Why is 3M removing the chemicals? It’s not because of altruism. It’s because the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency pressured the company to do so.
Without the regulatory agency’s efforts, far more toxic chemicals would be floating through the Twin Cities for years to come.
In other news, Minnesota’s Department of Health recently announced that some skin-cream products popular in parts of the Twin Cities are laced with mercury.
Mercury can disrupt the nervous system and is particularly harmful to pregnant women and young children. Without state-funded lab work from the Health Department, this danger may not have been discovered.
Team responds after tornado
Finally, consider the tragedy of the tornado that destroyed homes throughout north Minneapolis. Minnesota’s Department of Commerce consumer response team has been fielding phone calls and walking the streets to help the victims pick up the pieces after the disaster.
During and immediately after emergencies like the tornado, it becomes more apparent how much government can and should provide to its citizens.
Without government there to help, post-emergency situations can devolve into an “every man for himself” mentality that not only leaves people insecure but also undermines the neighborly ethos that is fundamental to a strong community.
Plan goes too far
These are tough times, and everyone has to be prepared to take some economic hit. State agencies are no exception. But the legislature’s proposal goes too far. By eviscerating funding for state agencies, the plan would make it far more difficult for the hard-working experts that staff these agencies to protect and assist Minnesotans.
Gov. Dayton was right to veto the budget proposal. Let’s hope that, during the ongoing negotiations to reach a compromise on the budget, the majority of legislators will show a greater willingness to fund the important work that these agencies do.
In the end, eliminating toxins from our natural resources, protecting consumers from dangerous chemicals that they themselves cannot detect, and aiding Minnesotans victimized by disasters are the sorts of goals that any reasonable legislator, regardless of his or her political party, should be able to support.
Jason Marisam is a research fellow at Harvard Law School. This summer he will join the faculty at Hamline University School of Law as a visiting assistant professor.