Horn Warns Against Fourth Branch of Government

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 to, until now. Simply put, it’s the “State Administrative Board crisis” that is preventing the governor’s self-imposed veto crisis from being fixed.

In 1921, the State Administrative Board was established by Public Act 2. This was back in a time when Michigan had a part-time Legislature, and travel to the Capitol was limited. 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 but the Legislature could not be gathered quickly.

The board can approve contracts and leases, they have oversight of the construction of state buildings, and they can settle claims against the state under $1,000. 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.

What does this have to do with us? Fast forward to October 2019. On the same day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed nearly a billion dollars’ worth of high priority items, this group of elected and appointed department heads moved $625 million of your money without your permission. The governor weaponized this budget management tool. While vetoes are not outside the norm, the volume of cuts is historic. Moving hundreds of millions of dollars at the whim of seven people outside of the Legislature is unheard of.

Your voice, through the Legislature, was ignored. You should always have a say in how your money is spent. You have a role in electing your representatives to oversee the budget. It’s the job of the Legislature to see that you don’t get cheated by the bureaucracy or taken in by political gamesmanship such as this, while attempting to force a 45-cent gas tax on you.

Without reasonable controls and limitations, you are handing every Michigan bureaucrat a blank check. Gov. Whitmer has created a budget crisis by placing her veto pen on 147 very important Michigan spending priorities. The governor doubled down by putting her thumb on the scale of power, a balance of power prescribed by the Michigan Constitution. I swore an oath to defend our constitution, and so did the governor.

We teach elementary school kids about their government. We teach them about the three branches. They’re taught the differences that create a time-honored system of checks and balances. The recent actions of the State Administrative Board take the first step in enshrining Michigan’s bureaucracy as a fourth branch of government. I wish I were only speaking in hyperbole, but this is exactly what’s happening.

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. That is what you’re witnessing in Lansing now.

How can you 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 you trust that the money you put aside for these important programs will not be co-opted by government bureaucrats?

Think about it: If this governor and future governors no longer need the Legislature, then they no longer need you. Let me rephrase that. 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 represents the 32nd state Senate District, which includes Saginaw County and western Genesee County.