The state could save more than $60 million by switching state police patrol duties to local sheriff’s deputies.
Just before proposing the largest budget in the history of the
state — and a new service excise tax of almost $1.5 billion to pay for it —
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm wrote the following in a public letter to state
"It is a bitter irony that many of the critics who say we aren’t
doing enough are the same ones to suggest we can continue to make cuts. They are wrong. If we are to maintain our standing as one of the best-run states in the nation, then a funded, effective, and committed team of public servants is
The yearly cost of policing the state’s highways could be reduced by more than $60 million by switching state police patrol duties to local sheriff’s deputies.
The implicit assumption in this statement is that vital services
will vanish if the overwhelmingly unionized government workforce were made
smaller. The governor’s remarks are part of a campaign to convince the public
that state government has been "cut to the bone." In fact, it’s barely been
scratched, and many opportunities to realize huge savings have been ignored.
Among these is the option to pay someone besides government employees to do the
For example, the corrections budget accounts for about 30
percent of state government workers. Privatized prisons save money in other
states, but they have never housed more than 1 percent of Michigan’s inmates.
The Rio Grande Foundation in New Mexico examined that state’s prisons in 2001
and found that private guards were watching more than 45 percent of the inmates. New Mexico’s annual cost per prisoner was 32 percent lower than the national median and $9,600 per prisoner less than states with no prison privatization.
Numerous other studies have demonstrated that prison
privatization nets savings of between 5 percent and 15 percent. Nearly $1.3
billion has been appropriated for Michigan’s prison facility operations in 2007. Cutting that figure by just 5 percent through competitive contracting would save more than $63 million annually (before a single felon is released under a plan proposed by the governor). Furthermore, private prisons would pay tax dollars, like all other business, rather than spend them.
Outsourcing can yield significant savings even when a service is
shifted to a less costly level of government, rather than to the private sector. When the city of Mount Clemens closed its 118-year-old police department and hired the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office to do the work, the city realized annual savings of 38 percent, or about $1.4 million.
Likewise, the yearly cost of policing the state’s highways could
be reduced by more than $60 million by switching state police patrol duties to
local sheriff’s deputies. Motorists would scarcely notice that the color of the
highway patrol’s uniforms had changed; only the state employee union would. The
state police troopers union recently denounced this idea as "foolish" and
predicted that it would be "extremely unpopular" with voters.
Public school districts should contract out costly
noninstructional services, including transportation, food service and custodial
work. The decision by the Jackson Public Schools to switch to a private
custodial company is expected to save the district $193 per pupil each year.
Mackinac Center research shows savings from custodial outsourcing ranging
between $100 and $200 per pupil for other schools that have taken this step, but
only 63 of 552 school districts now report doing so.
Cutting annual noninstructional costs by just $150 per-pupil at
all public schools would save $255 million per year. Why wouldn’t one of the
"best-run states in the nation" encourage — indeed, demand — this reform? Part
of the answer is suggested by Gov. Granholm’s response when Michigan’s largest
public school employee union asked for her opinion on privatizing services:
"I have urged other units of government to think twice before
they jump on the privatization bandwagon — the public sector can outperform the
private sector with the right supports and management."
But no one is suggesting that government employees shouldn’t be
allowed to show they can "outperform" private contractors in a competitive
contracting process. If government workers submit the lowest price and provide
quality service, they will win the contract — and taxpayers will win the best
Given this, and given the successful record of privatization in
Michigan and elsewhere, it’s hard to agree with the governor’s claims. State
policy should not set up government workers as a privileged class — especially
when so many residents are struggling to keep their own jobs in a private-sector
economy that foots the bill for government spending.
Kenneth M. Braun is a policy analyst specializing in fiscal and
budgetary issues 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.