Its tough to get your arms around a city, county, or state budget. The Mackinac
Center for Public Policy recently released a study that lets citizens and officials
examine the current budget for the state of Michigan to identify ways to help state
government better serve the people.
The Center viewed the state budget through the lens of civil society. In a civil
society, needs are met by a full range of private institutions, plus government, each
acting in their most effective role. A civil society does not tend to rely solely on
government to meet needs.
The Center study recommended program changes and spending reductions of over $2.1
billion, or 7.5 percent of the total budget.
The report, Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture,
examines nearly every department of state government. Many of the recommendations involve
eliminating programs or subsidies, or privatizing services. Below are some of the
highlights of the study and the amount appropriated for select programs in FY 1995-96.
Boiler and Elevator Inspection Programs ($2.8 million). Approximately 45 percent
of Michigans 68,000 registered boilers are already inspected privately by insurance
companies. The state currently inspects uninsured boilers, while insurance companies
inspect insured boilers. The Centers report recommends that boiler owners be
responsible for their own insurance and inspections.
MacMullan Conference Center ($1.1 million). This hotel/lodge located on Higgins
Lake is used by a wide range of governmental agencies for overnight training sessions and
conferences. The Michigan Department of Management and Budget has recommended that this
facility be sold to the private sector.
Michigan Wine Country Magazine (exact appropriation unknown). This publication
of the Michigan Department of Agriculture promotes the Michigan wine industry. The study
recommends the immediate elimination of the Department of Agricultures "press
and public affairs division," which publishes the magazine, for a total savings of
Fish Production ($6.8 million). Several states contract for the operation of
fish hatcheries. Other states neither own nor operate hatcheries, relying instead on
private hatcheries. The study recommends selling all state-owned hatcheries, and using the
savings to purchase fish from private providers.
State Fair, Upper Peninsula State Fair ($5.3 million). The Mackinac Center study
recommends that these popular events become fully independent, self-supporting programs.
Liquor Merchandising and Warehousing ($25.5 million). The state operates three
liquor warehouses and 76 state stores selling spirits to retail licensees. This program
has been cited for elimination by analysts and legislators for many years. The function
may be eliminated entirely, allowing spirits to be distributed through private channels as
are other commodities, or the management of the system may be contracted out.
Letting business merchandise and warehouse their own liquor would save the
state budget over $25 million annually.
Michigan Library Historical Center ($2 million). The Mackinac Center report
recommends that the Historical Center, a museum housed inside the Library of Michigan, be
transferred to a university, foundation, or other private owner.
Natural Resources Magazine ($52,200). The printing of this Department of Natural
Resources publication is now done privately; the study recommends that the publication be
sold to the private sector.
Freight Property Management ($2.6 million). The state of Michigan owns more than
700 miles of operational railroad track, which requires over $2.6 million each year to
manage. The Mackinac Center recommends that the track be sold to private firms, which the
Michigan Department of Transportation now plans to do.
State sponsorship of the preceding programs shows that Michigan asks government to do
many things that could be done by the private sector. Michigan has faced this situation
before. After the costly failures of state-owned railroad and canal companies in the early
1800s, Michigan citizens actually amended the state constitution in 1850 to explicitly
prohibit the state from assuming any ownership of any "company, association, or
corporation," and from being involved in "internal improvement" projects.
With state government limited to its core roles, Michigans citizens made the Great
Lakes State a world-class industrial powerhouse.
Today Michigan is dominated by political institutions on which its citizens
have become increasingly reliant, but which have failed to strengthen our culture,
especially in our inner cities.
For decades, Michigan has advanced a more politicized, government-focused society at
the expense of its civil society. Today Michigan is dominated by political institutions on
which its citizens have become increasingly reliant, but which have failed to strengthen
our culture, especially in our inner cities.
Michigans state budget is not just about numbers and money, it is about people
and how their society is organized to meet needs. It is time for Michigan leaders to
consider a flourishing civil, rather than a stifling political, society.