The Growth of Michigan's 'Shadow Government'

Pseudo-government authorities exploding

Some refer to them as “shadow government” — the pseudo-government associations and authorities that run in conjunction with traditional forms of government.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines them as “Special District Governments” and reports that they are growing at a fast rate. From 2002 to 2012, special district governments in Michigan have jumped 33 percent from 332 to 443.

Some special district governments are well publicized.

For years, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority — whose board members are appointed by the city council —has sparred with the City of Ann Arbor over how to spend millions in parking revenue.

Others are much more obscure, such as the Michigan State Police’s Automobile Theft Prevention Authority. Its board of directors includes law enforcement and automobile insurers. The ATPA board awards grants to police agencies, prosecutors’ offices and nonprofits. It is funded by an annual $1 tax on each insured non-commercial passenger vehicle.

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Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said it is nearly impossible for taxpayers to keep track of how the traditional forms of government are spending tax dollars. An added layer of bureaucracy has Drolet wondering if even a full-time accountant could track all the different pots of taxpayers’ money being spent.

“When it becomes more obscure, I’m not sure anyone knows how much is being spent,” Drolet said. “It makes it even harder for the average citizen.”

James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said there could be good reasons to have some special district governments.

“Some of them are just another way to tax and borrow because you can’t go through the normal channels,” Hohman said.

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See also:

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