Lennox: Snyder must revolutionize state government

Dennis Lennox

Gov. Rick Snyder should be applauded for saying in his State of the State address that it’s time for a revolution in Michigan’s government.

However, as that old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Right now, all we know is Snyder wants to bring various social service agencies and programs together into a single department. While this would seem logical, this sort of reorganization of state government’s executive branch has been done before.

Most recently, it was in the waning years of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, when she merged the much-maligned departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources into a single department.

Granholm’s reform actually made a lot of sense. It was after all a natural (pun intended) alignment of two closely related state departments, but, in reality, it only involved a change to the letterhead as the reform was quickly undone when Snyder took up the governorship.

Now is the time for Snyder, as the nerd-in-chief, to do more than shuffle around bailiwicks, change office signage and appoint one less department director.

This won’t be easy because powerful public sector special interests are given taxpayer money by governments to directly lobby against the best interests of taxpayers.

Nevertheless, if Snyder could go against trade unions to sign right-to-work and the base of his own Republican Party to push for a tax increase then surely he can ignore the keep-government-as-it-has-always-been voices.

Michigan has so much government that nobody can say for certain how many officeholders there are across the state, county, city, township, village, school district and special authority levels of government. (A quick running of the numbers in some parts of the state reveals there is one politician for every 341 persons.)

Snyder needs to put everything on the proverbial cutting board by requiring every department and agency of state government, as well as every other level of government, to justify its very existence in the state’s convoluted system of government. Of course, few of these entities would actually be able to do so.

It would be easy to focus on Lansing, but Snyder would actually get more and better results if he went after the structure of local government with the three Rs:

■ Redrawing the lines of the 83 counties for the first time since 1891.

■ Reducing the significant burden of government on the wallets of city-dwelling Michiganians by making cities independent of counties.

■ Reflecting the realities of today by adjusting the governance structure of local government to ensure the best delivery of frontline services.

None of this should be seen as an attack on localism, which has been a fundamental aspect of Michigan’s political culture since Thomas Jefferson envisioned townships as “little republics.”

Rather, this is about ensuring government is best carrying out its important and necessary purposes.

Dennis Lennox is a columnist for Mount Pleasant’s Morning Sun. Read his full column at detroitnews.com/opinion.