Jack McHugh spoke to members of the Association for Capital Growth in Farmington Hills this week, and the following is an edited excerpt from the text of that speech.
In too many categories, Michigan residents just pay too much for the government services we receive. We pay $5,447 more per prisoner than the average for other Midwest states. We pay teachers $5,713 more than the national average — and seventh most in the nation — even though this state has fallen to 37th place in personal income. Michigan state and local governments provide employee benefits whose cost exceeds private-sector averages by $5.7 billion.
And our legislators have the nation’s second highest pay — less a fiscal irritation than a political one, but still.
There is nothing “liberal” — as opposed to partisan — about defending the perks of a privileged class of government and school employees over the interests of taxpaying families and business owners. Perhaps some on the left are confused and swayed by a notion that outsized benefits make public employees a “vanguard of labor,” paving the way for comparable rewards for private-sector workers.
Instead, the burdens a privileged government class imposes contribute to the "Detroitification" of Michigan: Hollowing out the private economy to prop up an unsustainable government structure. It's a vicious cycle that has brought us to the edge of an economic death spiral, where declining incomes, employment and property values generate depopulation, leaving a state inhabited by an impoverished, alienated remainder.
Not surprisingly, all this creates a lot of frustration, and some people start looking around for “magic bullet” institutional reforms, like a part-time legislature, changing term limits, or others. But I don’t think those things are the real source of what’s broken here. A number of other states share Michigan’s dysfunctions and yet have different institutional arrangements.
Others look at our political class and say we need to “throw them all out” and then — and then what, exactly? Replace them with a bunch of virtuous paragons immune to the same incentives? That’s not likely.
So how do we fix it?
Changing the incentives that make members of the political class behave in ways that accelerate the Detroitification of Michigan is key.
The hope for doing so lies in these two realities: First, members of the political class — I’m focusing on the Legislature — are extremely sensitive and responsive to the fear that some primary voter back in their district doesn’t like them.
Second, when those citizens back in the districts are able to see past the distractions thrown out by the politicians and discover that their own legislators are serving the political system rather than the people, it makes them angry.
The mainstream media doesn’t connect these dots, and certainly the members of the political class themselves don’t — just the opposite — so finding a way to get that information out to the voters is the key.