Dreaming of the One-Stop Shop

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By Merilee Dannemann

Think New Mexico, the well-known Santa Fe public policy think tank, is tackling the issue of economic development, yet another of New Mexico’s perpetual weak spots. One recommendation is that the state should develop a single online portal for all business taxes, licenses and registrations, as an essential step in economic development and economic competitiveness.
Oh, that again. The mythical One-Stop Shop.
This has been batted around before, but not accomplished. However, Think New Mexico is pretty good at getting its proposals enacted. So let’s take it seriously and consider what would be necessary to do it right. This is a particularly touchy subject at the moment because of the embarrassing problems of the Affordable Care Act website.
During my years in state government, I observed repeatedly that New Mexico state agencies are generally terrible at communicating with business. Really. Terrible. They also are usually lousy at communicating with each other. So agencies don’t know what other agencies do, or how they affect the businesses they regulate, in part because employees aren’t trained on these issues, in part because many top managers don’t understand the need.
I advocated (without success) for an interagency council, to be composed of middle- to high-level state agency employees who could explore ways to simplify regulatory processes, for the public’s benefit as well as their own. A working group like that would be an essential first step in developing a multi-agency portal.
Active participation by business people, from the beginning, is necessary. They must be invited to participate in every meeting, to read all the memos and to have approval rights for every decision. Without their participation it’s difficult to imagine the state getting it right. The business participants should not necessarily be owners, but should be those who have experience struggling with the paperwork, or its electronic equivalent, including a heavy presence of bookkeepers and accountants.
I wrote a column in 2011 about a little commission called the Small Business Regulatory Advisory Commission, created by legislation several years ago and dead shortly after it started, because it was structured to be ineffective. A commission like this, appropriately restructured, would be exactly what’s needed to ensure that a portal was business-friendly and easy to use.
A consultant would be needed as coordinator and technical expert. But the consultant should not be relied upon for the regulatory nuances. The agencies and the business community are necessary for that.
The project would present a one-time opportunity to make substantive improvements in the regulatory processes themselves.
It might be a chance to get rid of stupid or obsolete requirements. A favorite example of mine is the workers’ compensation mandatory poster and Notice of Accident forms. The forms are impractical and obsolete and their use is rarely enforced. Wherever you work, I can almost guarantee that there are no Notice of Accident forms posted on your walls, even though the law requires them. You probably do not know what they are. (If you have a favorite stupid statute, please tell me about it and I’ll collect them.)
It could be an opportunity to coordinate filing schedules of different agencies for different reports, which are now inconsistent and sometimes confusing.
Then there’s the updating issue. We’ve all seen websites where somebody forgot to replace last year’s calendar of events or other obsolete information. This happens often enough in New Mexico state government. Regular updating has to be designed into the system.
Other ideas for substantive process improvement should be sought from the business community.
This is potentially a huge project. Getting it right could give New Mexico a significant advantage in being business friendly.
It’s also fraught with politics. Remember, we’re the state that couldn’t ban fireworks in a drought. It will take a mighty act of political will to accomplish this and do it well.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.