It’s Sunshine Week, a week set aside to observe the importance of openness in government and freedom of information. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been too sunny in Lansing lately. Though Gov. Snyder has promised transparency, the consequence, perhaps unintended, of his “rolled up” budget is less transparency.
The reduction in budgeted line item appropriations in the FY 2012 Executive Recommendation hinders our capacity to analyze budget changes that impact human service programs. For example, in FY 2011, the Family Independence Program appropriated line item was $428.8 million. In the FY 12 Governor’s recommendation, FIP is rolled into one huge $4.5 billion line item along with many other assistance programs. This practice of rolling up budgeted line items means the administration can transfer funds around within a huge pot of funds for DHS public assistance programs without oversight from the public. This practice needs to be reversed for Michigan’s good government practices to continue.
Another example is that both the Senate and House are scheduling committee meetings for the same department’s budget at nearly the same time of day making it almost impossible to attend both meetings. In previous years, meetings occurred in an orderly process. That allowed time for analysis within one house first, and then, after passage, they were reviewed by the second house.
Given the massive number of program cuts, totalling $1.4 billion, and the tax shift of $1.7 billion, not enough time is being allotted by committees to adequately cover the issues. Those testifying have a very short window to present their viewpoint and legislators are also limited to a very small number of brief questions, usually two questions per presenter.
The handouts at appropriations meetings give far less information than before. Only a very limited number of handouts are provided, generally far less than the number attending. So, most times these handouts are gone very quickly. Handouts provided by the fiscal agencies are usually available on the web, but state department handouts are not typically posted on the web. This may be the only time one has access to the data provided by the department. Compared with the extensive handouts provided in the past, today’s budget presentations by state departments are characterized as skeletal with a very limited description of the budget changes and little data to evaluate the program impact from budget changes.
The verdict so far on the governor’s budget? More clouds than sunshine.
— Joanne Bump