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​To fix a broken system

News | August 13th, 2018

Kylie Oversen, Democratic candidate for Tax Commissioner, and Josh Boschee, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, announce their plans to modernize state government services - photograph by C.S. Hagen

FARGO – While on the road campaigning for political office one of the most frequent complaints Josh Boschee and Kylie Oversen hear from North Dakotans is how backward the state government is when it comes to the legalities behind setting up and maintaining a business.

In many cases, fax machines are still used to send information to the current North Dakota Secretary of State’s office, attorney Katie Perleberg of Fredrikson & Byron Law Firm said.

“In North Dakota it’s a long process,” Perleberg said. “There is no online filing mechanism in North Dakota so we have to mail in the documents, which takes a few days to get to Bismarck, so we fax them. It’s 2018 and we’re still operating primarily by fax, which is kind of funny.”

Part of Perleberg’s job is to help business owners renew annual reports, or assist investors setup new companies. Sometimes, she personally walks paperwork to the appropriate offices to save time.

“We generally tell our clients that it will take four to six weeks, which is different than Minnesota, which takes one day,” Perleberg said.

The contrast between Minnesota and North Dakota is striking, she said. Already, 30 states across America use electronic filing systems and new business owners can setup a company in one day. In North Dakota, however, which ranks the 46th slowest state for business applications, a simple renewal can take up to six weeks, unless an owner has a relationship with someone from the Secretary of State’s office.

Boschee, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, and Oversen, who is running for tax commissioner, have been traveling the state talking to business and community leaders, and announced their plans to develop the ND Hub, a user friendly, business friendly, centralized online platform for setting up new businesses, renewing a business license, paying taxes, and simplifying compliance. The ND Hub would incorporate all relative agencies including the Department of Health, Department of Safety, job services, insurance companies, and more.

Currently, an applicant must utilize each available service separately, and the process can be tedious.

“We began talking about the idea of the Hub, which would be a centralized one-stop shop for business, employers, and organizations that would create efficiencies for how these agencies react with government and hopefully save money, which would reduce the costs for our taxpayers,” Oversen said.

“There would be one portal where you can accomplish all of the tasks required of you as a business owner.”

Boschee promised the one-stop shop would be cost effective for the user and for government agencies, would reduce barriers, and eliminate the silos or licensing boards’ internal databases, thereby increasing transparency.

Costs of such an endeavor were not yet calculated; Boschee and Oversen need to get elected first, they said.

During a time when Governor Doug Burgum is calling for cuts to health and education, the idea may be a hard sell as the current Secretary of State’s office has spent $9 million over 13 years on attempting to modernize its office, Boschee said. He believes that theirs is a plan that state government can support, however, and in the long term save taxpayers money through collective cost savings, elimination of duplicitous filings, and ensuring better compliance at the same time.

Many state employees work double duties, Oversen said, and there are many businesses reported to be in good standing, but actually are not.

“When they engage with state government there seems to be a lot of friction as it relates to implementing technology,” Boschee said. “The Secretary of State’s office is the front door of businesses to our state.”

There are more than 72,000 small businesses that have registered or are renewing licenses in North Dakota, Boschee said.

“Currently the North Dakota Secretary of State and other state agencies aren’t partnering with these business owners and industry leaders to develop a platform that engages them and works for them,” Boschee said.

“If any of you have been to a government website you will realize that often it is created for the people who use the system behind the scenes versus the people who need to get information, whether its small business owners or taxpayers. We should make sure that it is cost effective and makes compliance easier and more business friendly, if we require businesses to report information we should be able to do that in a way that has the least amount of friction as possible.”

Bosche is running against incumbent Al Jaeger, who has held the position of Secretary of State for more than 25 years.

“The failures of the incumbent is the reason he lost the endorsement of his own party,” Boschee said.

Since losing the endorsement at the North Dakota GOP Convention, Jaeger has since collected enough signatures to be put his name back on the ballot for the midterm elections. Will Gardner was the Republican endorsed candidate to run against Boschee, but Gardner dropped out of the race after news broke that he pleaded guilty to peeping through girl dorm windows at NDSU in 2006.

Ryan Rauschenberger, the current Tax Commissioner, is running for re-election, but pleaded guilty to a DUI in September 2017.

“While my opponent has been bogged down dealing with personal issues he hasn’t been able to think big in his office,” Oversen said. 

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