In the realm of politics, it seems as if the word 'transparency' has lost its meaning. It is certainly a popular campaign buzzword and politicians call for more transparency with stunning regularity. It is not until you get into the nitty-gritty details of legislation and appropriations that you see these individuals are all talk.
Take, for example, the Michigan Senate's General Government Appropriation budget. This budget funds all state departments and the Legislature, provides state revenue sharing dollars for local municipalities and funds the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF), which is the revenue source for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The MEDC typically draws from line items for administration, job creation services, the Michigan Film Office, Pure Michigan, the Land Bank Fast Track Authority, and other business attraction and community revitalization projects.
Traditionally, the Legislature assigns funding based on each individual program run by the MEDC, effectively setting limits on spending for its various activities. This ensures that spending decisions will be made responsibly and in the light of day through the appropriations process.
This year, in an unprecedented shift away from transparency, the General Government budget legislation allots two bulk sums of money, totaling nearly $240 million, to the MEDC. This move will allow the unelected, unaccountable gubernatorial appointees that make up the MSF board free reign to spend almost a quarter billion in taxpayer dollars without any input from the Legislature or the citizens whose money they are spending.
As a legislator, I am not in the business of micromanaging executive departments. It is not my responsibility, nor my area of expertise, to for instance, tell the Michigan Film Office which movies to offer incentives to. Their experts can figure that out and bring the best and most profitable ones to film here in Michigan.
It is, however, my constitutional obligation to make decisions regarding how much money will be spent on the film office and its incentive program. Evidently, though, Republicans are willing to hand over hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to unelected bureaucrats to determine, without public scrutiny, a major component of our state's budget.
I believe this is not only bad governance, but a slap in the face to Michigan taxpayers who, in my estimation, deserve full disclosure of how their hard-earned dollars are being spent.
I have recognized for some time that the creeping reach of the MEDC's money spending authority must be reined in. This was particularly clear when a six-figure ad was taken out in the Wall Street Journal promoting our state's newest legislative folly, passage of Right to Work legislation. This was done under the banner of our Pure Michigan tourism campaign, which has won multiple national awards for state tourism promotion.
This is why, several months ago, I introduced Senate Bill 217, which would require further transparency of the MEDC and its spending. The MEDC operates as both a government entity and a corporation. My proposal would declare that all money and assets of the MSF are public and must be appropriated in a manner consistent with the processes for other departments.
It is always unnerving to me when a governmental entity or individual prefers to operate in the dark rather than in the light of the sun. It is my hope that Michigan Republicans will reverse this disturbing trend of handing bags of taxpayer cash to bureaucrats who do not have to answer to anybody except the governor.