How governors employ annual State of the State addresses to set agendas for the coming year is the topic of many political science papers and countless discussions. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has reviewed 38 such addresses from four Michigan governors going back to 1969 and tallied the proposed initiatives that would either expand or limit government.

For those intrigued by the role that state government plays in the lives of its citizens, such numbers are instructive as they offer a measure — however unscientific — of how much enthusiasm officials have for expanding or limiting the reach of the state to solve perceived or real problems. On Wednesday, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed 20 expansions and one limitation of government.

Tallying such numbers is an inexact science, as speeches often lack details about increases in spending or government employment, but it is usually not too hard to tell if an initiative would result in more or less government.

Since 1969, the average State of the State address has contained 8.2 proposals to expand government and 3.1 to limit its reach. On average, Gov. William Milliken proposed fewer expansions of state government with 5.6 per speech during his 14-year tenure than did any other governor. The record for the fewest expansion proposals in any four-year term also goes to Gov. Milliken with a total of 18. In 1974 he offered zero new expansions of government, a feat that has gone unmatched.

Since 1969 there have been a total of 119 limitations of government offered by four governors. A record 21 such limitations were offered by Gov. John Engler between 1995 and 1998. Both Milliken and Engler tied for the single-year proposed limitation record of 11 in 1981 and 1995, respectively.

These numbers might lead one to believe that they reflect a governor’s political philosophy — whether or not they had more or less faith in government to solve societal problems. But that is not necessarily so. Gov. Engler was considered to be in favor of limiting government’s role, but during his last term he offered 53 proposals to expand government, which was one more than all of the limitations he recommended during 12 years in office — but still less than Gov. Granholm’s record-setting 62.

Whether a governor supports expanding or limiting government may depend less on political philosophy than it does on length of tenure. Studies show that the longer members of Congress hold office, the more likely they are to vote for increased spending. The same incentives that lead to greater spending in Washington probably apply in Lansing.

It is as if all of the marble dust floating around capital buildings gets into the nostrils of lawmakers, chemically inducing them to make government bigger and more expensive. State of the State addresses by both Milliken and Gov. James Blanchard contained more proposed expansion increases with each succeeding term. Engler’s proposed expansion count dipped in the middle term to 20 from 28 but came back strong, setting a one-term record that was not broken until last night.

The expansions and limitations highlighted above are not evaluated for the quality of the proposal but merely to record possible trends and encourage discussion. Do State of the State addresses offer insight into philosophical beliefs? Is there a trend toward greater calls for state intervention or for greater reliance on free markets and free people?

The following statistics represent 38 years of State of the State addresses.

Gov. Milliken, 1969-1982

Avg.  

High

Low

    

Proposed expansions

5.6

12 (’71, 80)

0 (’74)

    

Proposed limitations

2.9

8 (’73)

0 (’70, ’79, ’82)

 

Gov. Blanchard, 1983-1990

Avg.  

High

Low

    

Proposed expansions

8.6

19 (’89, '90)

1 (’85)

    

Proposed limitations

2.1

7 (’84)

0 (’87, ’88)

 

Gov. Engler, 1991-2002

Avg.  

High

Low

    

Proposed expansions

8.4

18 (’00)

3 (’91)

    

Proposed limitations

4.3

11 (’95)

1 (’02, '97, '03)

 

Gov. Granholm, 2003-2006

Avg.  

High

Low

    

Proposed expansions

15.5

22 (’04)

7 (’05)

    

Proposed limitations

2.5

6 (’03)

1 (’05, ’06)

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Gov. Granholm’s 2006 State of the State Address

Proposed Expansions/Limitations of Government

Limitations:

  1. "Tonight, I am asking you … to remove the limits on stem cell research in Michigan, and do it now."

Expansions:

  1. "We’ll create a new insurance product in this state: the Michigan First Health Care Plan."

  2. "In Michigan we’ll help our health care industry stop depending on your memory and their paper records as databanks. We are going to use technology to vastly improve the system … This investment in information technology will reduce errors, reduce duplication, reduce insurance costs, and increase your medical privacy."

  3. "Our new Merit Award Scholarship will create a Michigan Promise right now. A promise that every [Governor’s emphasis] child in Michigan will — for the first time in this state’s history — have the financial means to go to college."

  4. "In the budget I’ll introduce next month, I’ll call for a significant new investment in education, and I’ll focus that investment on student learning."

  5. "So even in these tight budget times, we’ll increase the size of our pre-school program for four year olds significantly."

  6. "In the year ahead, we’ll ask our school districts to give prompt notification to parents whenever a child’s grades dip or attendance slips. And I’ll ask this Legislature to write these requirements into law."

  7. "That’s why, tonight, I am urging this Legislature to require every school district in Michigan to have tough and effective anti-bullying policies."

  8. "I’ve also asked Superintendent Flanagan to require that Michigan’s teachers learn how to run disciplined, orderly classrooms before they even leave their teacher training programs."

  9. "First, let us increase the minimum wage in Michigan."

  10. "Second, we’ll make it more affordable for you to pay your heating bills. We have set aside money for emergency assistance for those struggling to pay their bills this season."

  11. "I urge the Legislature to protect our seniors by passing legislation requiring criminal background checks for those who provide elder care and employees of nursing homes in our state."

  12. "But pilot programs aren’t enough — we have to reduce the cost of insurance in every city, and frankly, in every driveway across the state." Democrats introduced a package of bills that would roll back insurance rates by 20 percent." "Pass that package ..."

  13. "I urge this legislature to enact new protections against identity theft in Michigan."

  14. [Regarding mandated notification of personal information in corporate computer systems being compromised] "That is why I am asking you to enact the strongest notification law in the country."

  15. "I call on you to pass legislation that has been introduced by both Senator Jacobs and Rep. Angerer that will give consumers the power to freeze their credit report in the event of identity theft."

  16. "And let us also pass tough new penalties for criminals who perpetrate this high-tech crime."

  17. "I ask you to protect the children of Michigan by enacting legislation that will allow us to crack down on those who expose them to the production of life-threatening methamphetamines."

  18. "I strongly support new legislation that would increase penalties on businesses that refuse to give our service members their old jobs when they return from duty."

  19. "Join my call for a national cap on exorbitant oil company profits."

  20. "My administration will design and open a 401(k) plan, like the state’s plan, for those workers of small companies who don’t offer a pension plan."

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Michael D. LaFaive is director of fiscal policy for 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.