10 ideas to make the Michigan government more transparent and responsive

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Ja few moments after the affair As the day ended on a Wednesday in mid-September, Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature issued a press release announcing they had reached a deal on the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget. with the administration of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The joint statement by the state budget director and the chairmen of the Senate and House appropriations committees contained no details, not even a total dollar figure for how much taxpayer money they had. ‘intention to spend over the next 12 months.

Six days passed before most lawmakers and anyone in the public had their eyes on what actually lay within the 387 pages of budget bills. The next day, lawmakers voted to send Whitmer a record $ 53 billion in state agency and program funding, which is chock-full of legislative orders and spending increases.

That’s what passes for government transparency in Michigan these days: The most public of public documents – the state’s operating budget – is largely chopped up behind closed doors by three people in power. huge on the process.

These negotiations between the appropriation committee chairs and the budget manager have long been referred to in the Lansing language as “target” meetings – where they set spending targets for the appropriation subcommittee chairs to meet for various government agencies. .

In difficult times, targets take on a different meaning: targeted cuts.

Now, with state coffers filled with federal stimulus packages and higher than expected tax revenues, an increasingly small group of leaders are drafting entire sections of the budget, with almost no sunshine on the process.

This is not how your state government worked before term limits sent budget experts – those chairpersons of subcommittees who knew inside and out of state agency operations – into a retreat. mandated by the Constitution. Not even close.

It is only one aspect of the functioning of state government that is ripe for reform.

As 2022 approaches, Michigan voters are poised to see the byproduct of government reform on their own: new limits for Michigan’s 13 congressional seats and the 148 legislative constituencies in Michigan. State defined by an independent citizens’ commission.

The cutting commission, established by a constitutional amendment that voters passed by a two-to-one margin in 2018, is one of the most sweeping reforms to the way state government works since voters set the limits mandates in the constitution in 1992.

From its inception, redistribution reform aimed to end the practice of politicians drawing their own district maps after each decennial census – and trimming voter blocks to ensure an easier chance of keeping their political party in power. .

The movement behind putting the redistribution pen in the hands of voters was rooted in addressing a perceived problem with the way Lansing operates.

But changing the way district boundaries are drawn is unlikely to change the way Lansing actually operates once a new generation of lawmakers arrive after the November 2022 election.

There will always be only a small group of officials who will decide how to spend billions of dollars of your money.

For Crain’s forum this month, we’re exploring 10 ways to change how Michigan state government works, breaking down the pros and cons of each problem:


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