(Permission to rebroadcast in whole or in part is hereby granted. A courtesy super or CG crediting the Mackinac Center would be appreciated.)

Imagine a government agency has its funding eliminated, yet it continues to operate.

According to Rep. Dudley Spade, D-Tipton: "We did defund the council. We cut the entire amount of the funding."

Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, "In Appropriations, we defunded that in an attempt to try to eliminate that organization."

Reps. Dave Agema and Dudley Spade are referring to the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council. The council is a government agency created by the Michigan Department of Human Services and Mott Community College to act as a so-called employer of the state's 40,000 home-based child care providers and business owners. The council has since signed a contract with a controversial government employee union called Child Care Providers Together Michigan. This contract has allowed the union to collect union dues from these home-based workers and employers.  

Reps. Spade and Agema are chair and vice chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services. Both tell the Mackinac Center the committee began taking a hard look at the council last fall, for a number of reasons.

"One, there is some uncertainty amongst many people, including myself, as to just how this whole council and arrangement was established," Rep. Spade said. "The second piece is: In these very difficult budget times, I was having a hard time seeing why taxpayers should be paying for the funding to this council."

Rep. Agema said: "So what we really have here is, we have an organization, paid for by the state, that's really a unionization group, to get more members. I don't think that's what our taxpayer money should go for."

The Appropriations Subcommittee requested the council's presence at an October 2009 hearing. No one from the council showed up, and no reason was given.

Rep. Spade said: "They just didn't come. There just wasn't anyone that came. We didn't receive any communications explaining why they weren't going to come."

Lawmakers eliminated the council's $400,000 budget from the DHS in the fiscal 2010 budget, expecting the council to close its doors Nov. 1, 2009.

However, the council held a board meeting on Dec. 4, and the Mackinac Center has received written correspondence from the council's executive director as recently as Feb. 5 of this year.

Neither the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council nor the governor's office has responded to our request for comment. The Michigan Department of Human Services simply referred us to the governor's office, and the department told Rep. Spade's subcommittee it could not answer questions about the council's funding because of a pending Mackinac Center lawsuit concerning the DHS' role in the union arrangement.

Lawmakers plan to ask the council once again to a committee hearing.

"Given the fact that the Legislature cut 100 percent of the funding for it," Rep. Spade said, "where are they getting the money from? We'll be asking those questions."

Rep. Agema said: "If it's still operating, I want to know why, how, and where it gets its money from."

In the meantime, Michigan legislators can only speculate about how the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council continues to function, and how the state Department of Human Services, as well as the state's executive branch, may be spending taxpayer money.

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Kathy Hoekstra is a communications specialist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited. Click here for more on the Mackinac Center lawsuit, Loar v. DHS.