Opinion: Beware the fourth branch of government

Ken Horn

Unless you work inside the four blocks that surround the state Capitol, you probably know nothing about the State Administrative Board. You shouldn’t have had to, until now. Simply put, the “State Administrative Board crisis” is preventing the governor’s self-imposed veto crisis from being fixed.

The board has general supervisory control over the administrative activities of all state departments and agencies, and was intended only for the rare occasions when action was required and the Legislature could not be gathered quickly.

Board members include the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state school superintendent and director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has abused the power of the State Administrative Board, says Sen. Horn.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer weaponized this budget management tool when, in an unprecedented move, she re-appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars at the whim of seven people outside of the Legislature.

Not only did Whitmer create a budget crisis by vetoing 147 spending priorities, she also doubled down by putting her thumb on the scale of power, a balance of power prescribed by the Michigan Constitution.

We teach elementary school kids about the three branches. They’re taught the differences that create a time-honored system of checks and balances. But the recent actions of the State Administrative Board take the first step in enshrining Michigan’s bureaucracy as a fourth branch of government.

When I travel my Senate district speaking to groups, I stress that in Lansing, trust is the “coin of the realm.” Many people are skeptical of that idea as they watch the happenings at the Capitol. While we may bicker and fuss over issues, we need to trust the process and trust the people we work with. When that trust was broken, things came to a screeching halt.

How can we trust the governor won’t again veto autism funding? That she won’t put her red pen to sheriffs’ road patrol money? That she won’t cut money again to public school kids or the darn roads we so desperately need to fix? How can we trust that the money we put aside for these important programs will not be co-opted by government bureaucrats?

If any governor — and the governor’s partisan, appointed department heads — are holding all the levers of power, they no longer need voters; they only need taxpayers.

Regaining trust is never impossible, though. The governor does not have to give up the State Administrative Board as a tool, but the board must relinquish its extraordinary power. The House of Representatives has a bill that would cap the movement of dollars to 3% or $200,000 within departments, whichever figure is lower. I would further amend it by saying the board can only move this amount when the Legislature cannot legitimately meet in a session, including an emergency session called by the governor. Providing this minimal amount of oversight can quickly restore the trust needed to lead us out of the current veto-crisis Michigan finds itself in.

Trust in the American system of government was affirmed when our first president, George Washington, under pressure to remain in office for life, turned down that opportunity of power. I encourage Gov. Whitmer to find her George Washington moment, ensuring and affirming Michigan’s balanced government. As co-equal and bipartisan partners, the Legislature can help the governor restore a vibrant and energetic Pure Michigan.  

Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, represents the 32nd state Senate District, which includes Saginaw County and western Genesee County.