Legislators say the No. 1 reason HB 5560 should be signed into law is that “it will save government money.” MPA staffers are quick to point out that we have yet to see any verifiable data that supports this argument.
Interest groups supporting this legislation — such as the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Association of Counties — claim that money spent on these notices could be used to save police and fire jobs.
The truth of the matter is, governments across the state spend on the average less than 0.06 percent of their general funds on such notices, and that’s before the cost of many of these notices are reimbursed by people seeking government action.
These government groups claim they spend too much on public notices in newspapers and, if they can’t find a way to trim the costs, they would be forced to cut police and fire staff. They make it an either-or issue — no ifs, ands or buts.
We’d like to suggest that there are other ways these government groups can reduce costs, such as:
— Reducing the $5,500 spent on baseball umpires in Niles. Niles spent $2,622.11 on notices. Does Niles think baseball umpires are more important than protecting property from foreclosure?
— Meridian Township financing employee computers for personal use.
— Lobbying reports on the Michigan Secretary of State website show that, in 2012, the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association spent a combined $166,000 on lobbying expenses for things other than mailings and food. This is tip of the iceberg when examining the amount of money local units of government are spending for lobbying. One multi-client firm in Lansing alone represents more than 21 governmental groups from counties, to cities and drain commissions. One city paid this firm more than $16,000 to lobby for them in Lansing last year. Maybe cutting the layers of lobbyists might be more prudent than eliminating firefighters and police officers, or weakening the public’s ability to know what their government is doing.
— Scaling back three-night stays at four-star hotels for conferences that feature "all-day shopping sprees,” Cirque Dreams Illumination at DeVos Performance Hall and "Culinary Delight at Fredrick Meijer Gardens.” The Michigan Townships Association ran up a $250,000 bill on rooms for that three-night event. Newspapers in Michigan used to hold two-night conferences, but had to scale back to one-day events and webinars when the state’s economy went bad. So, here's an idea to save some of the precious tax dollars these municipalities claim they want to save: Do what newspapers and other businesses do — hold a webinar.Some would say that those examples are reason enough to walk away from this legislation. But there’s a more fundamental reason why such legislation is bad public policy.
While we’re sure these government officials mean well, the fact of the matter is that these groups are setting up a system that’s akin to allowing a fox to guard a hen house.
Keeping an independent and proof-positive "beyond the shadow of a doubt" model intact with these notices makes sense. That's what newspapers do.
What the counties, townships and MML want you to do is have government take a function away from private industry. And that is reverse privatization.