The governor's proposal to end the Department of History, Arts and Libraries is consistent with her recommendation regarding arts grants. Beyond ending the state arts grants discussed above, the most significant impact of this proposal would be the elimination of more than a dozen employees and other administrative expenses that currently consume $1.8 million.
Beyond that, however, not much will change. It appears that only one program overseen by HAL would be completely eliminated: a book distribution center program, for a savings of $360,000. The remainder of the department's $39.7 million in spending from state revenue sources would be reassigned to other state departments and agencies. When the small program cuts are added to the administrative savings and the art subsidy cuts described above, the net savings from eliminating the department amount to less than $10 million, leaving more than $30 million in state taxpayer funding.
Like the previous three recommendations, ending this department and reducing the state government's remaining involvement in cultural programs represents a needed prioritization of state activities. Indeed, it would probably be better to eliminate or privatize all of the department's current programs. For example, the Michigan Historical Program has 83 employees, more than half of whom work in the Michigan History Museum. As the Mackinac Center's 2004 budget study explained, these functions "may be worthy and important; however, it does not follow that the state should assume all the costs associated with owning and operating them. Museums funded entirely through private philanthropy and attendance fees exist throughout the country."
Supporters of this spending may argue that it would be difficult for them to replace taxpayer dollars with voluntary contributions and attendance fees. In a state facing severe economic challenges, that's an insufficient rationale for continued government spending on what ultimately is a luxury.
As with other proposals in this list, eliminating this department — even if parts of it remain in other forms — is a step forward. It may be that in the future, when a governor or legislature is prepared to further prioritize, the governor's current recommendation to farm out the various HAL programs to departments that provide competing government services will make it easier to distinguish the "nice to haves" from the "need to haves."