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Evaluation of Minnesota state website

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State.mn.us is the website for the state of Minnesota.

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngC
Budget
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Usability P
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Elected Officials
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Administrative Officials
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Ethics
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Audits
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Contracts P
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Lobbying P
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Public records P
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Taxes
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Transparency grading process


This website was reviewed on January 18, 2012.

The good

  • The state has a transparency page, which has a database of the state's payments.[1] Transparency contact forms are provided for each agency.[2]
  • Elected officials are listed with contact information.[3]
  • A state directory is posted.[4]
  • Internal audits are posted,[5] along with statewide single audits of federally assisted programs.[6] Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports are also posted.[7]
  • Budgets are posted.[8]
  • Tax information is available.[9]
  • Information is posted for vendors.[10]
  • The state's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has lobbyist lists and reports.[11]

The bad

  • The site is difficult to navigate and the search function does not bring up the most relevant results first.
  • State contracts are not available.
  • No information is available on state Taxpayer-funded lobbying.
  • While some agencies have posted procedures for public records requests, comprehensive information and contacts are not available.

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "C+" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 78 out of 100.[12]

The scorecard that U.S. PIRG uses has 13 items and focuses on a separate state website that is searchable at the checkbook level. Sunshine Review, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of separate spending-related items; they do not need to be in a central database.

Item Possible points Notes
Checkbook-level website 30 Detailed expenditure information, including individual payments made to vendors.
Search by vendor 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by contractor or vendor name.
Search by keyword of activity 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by type of service or item purchased, category, or government fund.
Search by agency or departments 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by branch of government.
Contract or summary information 10 A copy of the contract or detailed summary information is included for the expenditures.
Historical expenditures 5 Checkbook-level expenditure data from previous fiscal years.
Grants and economic development incentives information 10 Awardee-specific grants and/or economic development incentives are included in the checkbook tool or elsewhere with specific award amounts.
Downloadable 3 Information can be downloaded for data analysis.
Tax expenditure reports 10 The state's tax expenditure report is linked on the website.
Off-budget agencies 2 Expenditures from quasi-public agencies are included on the website.
City and county budgets 2 Financial information for some local governments is accessible.
ARRA Funding 2 A link is provided to the state's website that tracks funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Feedback 2 Website users are capable and encouraged to give feedback about the site.

There are several similarities between the checklists. For both checklists, the searchability of information factors in to how usability is rated. Both checklists have an item relating to contracts, tax information, and the budget. The U.S. PIRG requires information for quasi public entities; Sunshine Review requires information on lobbying, which includes quasi public entities' lobbying activity.

Unlike the Sunshine Review checklist with each check worth one point, different items on the U.S. PIRG checklist merit more or fewer points, depending on the item.

State Integrity Investigation

The 2012 State Integrity Investigation graded state ethics laws according to an "Integrity Index." The index was created by researching 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government. The report assigned grades based on what laws are on the books, and whether or not they were effectively enforced. The report was a project of The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.[13]

Minnesota received an overall grade of D+, or 69%. It ranked 25 out of the 50 states.[14]

Category Grade
Public Access to Information C
Political Financing D
Executive Accountability C
Legislative Accountability D-
Judicial Accountability F
State Budget Processes A
State Civil Service Management C
Procurement B+
Internal Auditing A
Lobbying Disclosure F
State Pension Fund Management B-
Ethics Enforcement Agencies F
State Insurance Commissions D-
Redistricting F

Transparency Legislation

Resources

Resource Compiled by Includes Year URL
Recovery State Tracks federal stimulus funds 2011 http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/recovery/
Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board State PACs, lobbyists, and campaign finance 2011 http://www.cfboard.state.mn.us/
Comparison of Local Government Financial Data State Auditor Search for and compare revenue and expenditure data for towns, cities, and counties 2009 http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=ComparisonTools
Accountability Minnesota State Helps citizens follow the progress of state agencies toward specific goals 2011 http://www.accountability.state.mn.us/
TAP Minnesota State State expenditures and contractors 2011 http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/tap
Minnesota City Budgets State Auditor Summary of Cities' Budgeted Revenues and Expenditures and Summary Budget Information 2011 http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/list.aspx?get=4
Minnesota County Budgets State Auditor Summary of Counties' Budgeted Revenues and Expenditures and Summary Budget Information 2011 http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/list.aspx?get=8
Analysis of Municipal Liquor Store Operations State Auditor Comparative data on liquor operations owned and operated by Minnesota cities 2009 http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=municipalLiquorStoreOperations
Local Government Lobbying Services State Auditor Expenditures by local governments and their associations for lobbyists and lobbying 2010 http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=LocalGovernmentLobbyingServices
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=MN
Open Government Minnesota NAIOP Minnesota Pensions, taxes http://www.opengovernmentmn.com/

Salaries

State and Local Employees

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Minnesota and local governments in the state employed a total of 360,790 people.[15] Of those employees, 232,388 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $1,043,514,803 per month and 128,402 were part-time employees paid $143,995,658 per month.[15] More than 54% of those employees, or 196,977 employees, were in education or higher education.[15]

State Employee Benefits

Employees of the state of Minnesota receive many benefits.

Insurance

Health Under a single plan design, the Advantage Plan, eligible employees and their dependents may choose among three health insurance carriers: Blue Cross Blue Shield, HealthPartners, and Preferred One. The plan includes a first dollar-deductible, co-pay for all visits except preventive, prescription drug program, and clinic locations throughout the state and bordering communities.[16] The approximate monthly cost for full-time employees is $0 single and $130 for family.[17]

Dental Eligible employees and their dependents may choose between two dental carriers; HealthPartners and the State Dental Plan. Each plan provides comprehensive coverage for most conditions requiring dental diagnosis and treatment, including orthodontic treatment for children. Both plans also cover a broad range of preventive services.[16] The approximate monthly cost for full-time employees is $5 single and $30 for family.[17]

Life The state offers basic term life insurance based upon an employee's annual salary at no cost to insurance eligible employees, and to managers the life insurance offered is equal to 1.5 or 2 times annual salary.[16]

Additional Insurance Options Additional term life insurance is available to employees, spouses and eligible dependents at a minimal cost. Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance provides coverage in the event of an accident. This optional benefit is available to both employees and spouses. Two optional disability plans are available: Short Term and Long Term Disability Insurance provides you with income protection if you become disabled from a covered accident, sickness or pregnancy. Long term care insurance is also available.[16][18]

Vacation Full-time permanent employees accrue 13 vacation days each year through the first five years of employment. As an employee's length of service with the state increases, so does the amount of vacation time accrued. Part-time employees receive vacation leave based on hours worked.[18]

Sick Full-time employees receive 13 days per year. Part-time employees receive sick leave based on hours worked.[18]

Holidays There are 10 paid holidays and one personal holiday each year.[18]

Other Benefits

Pretax Accounts The following benefits allow employees to pay for certain expenses with money deducted before tax from their paycheck. If enrolled in a pre-tax account, employees are taxed less and take-home pay may be more.[16] Dependent Day Care Expense Account Medical/Dental Expense Account Transit Expense Account Medical premiums Dental premiums Payroll parking premiums

State Employees, Inc.(SEI) is a non-profit organization that offers State of Minnesota employee members entertainment and other valuable discounts. An SEI membership includes a membership in the Minnesota Employee Recreation and Services Council (MERSC). There are many discounts on various services, event tickets, recreation, restaurants, travel, and more.[19]

Minnesota Life offers three value-added benefits to employees at no cost.

'Will Preparation and Legal Services - Phone access to a national network of accredited attorneys for consultation on simple wills, estate planning documents, and other legal issues.[18]

Travel Assistance– Available 24/7 when traveling more than 100 miles from home for business or pleasure. Includes assistance to locate and access physicians, dentists, medical facilities, and pharmacies; arrange and pay for a medical evacuation or return of mortal remains; and provides interpreters.[20]

Beneficiary Financial Counseling – Beneficiaries who receive at least $25,000 in policy benefits may use an independent beneficiary counseling service through Pricewaterhouse Coopers. They offer advice and counsel with the beneficiary's written consent.[18]

Pensions

Minnesota state employees participate in the Minnesota State Retirement System. Teachers participate in Minnesota Teachers Retirement Association.

The state increased contribution amounts for various Minnesota state and local government retirement plans. The State Patrol Retirement Plan employer contribution went up by 2 percent of salary; employee contribution increased by 3 percent of salary. The Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) General Employee Plan: employer contribution increased from 6 percent to 6.25 percent; employee contribution from 6 percent to 6.25 percent. The PERA Police and Fire Plan: employer contribution increased from 14.1 percent to 14.4 percent; employee contribution increased from 9.4 percent to 9.6 percent. The automatic PERA-General contribution adjustment provision enacted in 2006 is modified to cover larger potential contribution increases in the event of large contribution deficiencies. Teachers Retirement Association (TRA): Employing unit contribution rates will increase 0.5% a year for four years beginning July 1, 2011, as will member contribution rates which were 5.5% in 2010. Duluth Teachers Retirement Fund Association (DTRFA): employer contribution rate will go up from 5.79% to 6.79%, with the member rate rising from 5.5% to 6.5%. The St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA) basic program member contribution rate will increased from 8.0% to 9.0%, with the coordinated program member contribution rising from 5.5% to 6.5% over four years. The basic program employer contribution is increased from 8.0% to 9.0%, and the coordinated program employer contribution is increased from 4.5% to 5.5% in four steps.[21][22]

The Office of the State Auditor oversees local public pension plans. The Office issues two pension-related reports each year, the "Large Public Pension Plan Investment Report" and the "Financial and Investment Report of Volunteer Fire Relief Associations." The reports are available on the Pension Forms page of the Office of the State Auditor's website.

Retirement Age

The Minnesota legislature increased the penalty for early retirement for state patrol and correctional workers.[23]

Cost of Living Adjustments

Some organizations have predicted that pension funds are $1 trillion or closer to $8 trillion under funded.[24] Minnesota is one of three states, the others being Colorado and South Dakota, to lower its current cost of living increases (COLA). According to Watchdog, "Minnesota lowered its 2.5 percent COLA to a rate ranging from 1 to 2 percent, depending on the plan, for the majority of the 65,000 retirees, and suspended COLA for retirees in the Teachers Retirement Association for two years, according to the lawsuit. Plans are scheduled to resume the 2.5 percent rate once they are 90 percent funded."[24][25][26]

As a result, the state is being sued by members of the retiree plans, and will go to trial on September 15, 2010. The court recently deferred judgement on the lawsuit, with plaintiffs demanding access to internal state documents and state employee depositions.[27]

Public Records

The Minnesota Data Practices Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Open Meeting Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Minnesota FOIA procedures.

External links

References

  1. Minnesota website "TAP," accessed January 18, 2012
  2. Minnesota website "Transparency Contacts," accessed January 18, 2012
  3. Minnesota website "Elected Officials," accessed January 18, 2012
  4. Minnesota website "Directory," accessed January 18, 2012
  5. Minnesota website "Audit Reports," accessed January 18, 2012
  6. Minnesota website "Single Statewide Audits," accessed January 18, 2012
  7. Minnesota website "Accounting," accessed January 18, 2012
  8. Minnesota website "Budget," accessed January 18, 2012
  9. Minnesota website "Department of Revenue," accessed January 18, 2012
  10. Minnesota website "Vendor Resources," accessed January 18, 2012
  11. Minnesota website "CFBoard," accessed January 18, 2012
  12. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  13. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  14. Minnesota Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 2008 Minnesota Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 [1]
  17. 17.0 17.1 Rates
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 Benefits Explanation
  19. Minnesota Employee Recreation and Services Council
  20. Travel Assistance
  21. Minnesota Senate File 2918
  22. National Conference of State Legislators "Pensions and Retirement Plan Enactments in 2010 State Legislatures" July 19, 2010
  23. The Wall Street Journal “Stressed States Are Forcing Workers to Retire Later“ August 2, 2010
  24. 24.0 24.1 Watchdog, States eye MN pension lawsuit, Aug. 24, 2010
  25. [2]
  26. The Associated Press "A look at state pension changes" Sept. 15, 2010
  27. Watchdog, Minnesota judge Ok’s discovery in pension suit, Sept. 15, 2010