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Mackinac Panel: Think Long Term About Government Finances

MACKINAC ISLAND (WWJ) - Michigan's future fiscal stability depends on remembering the bitter lessons the state learned in the last downturn.

That includes looking at the long term effects of public policy decisions, a panel of government and private sector leaders said Friday morning at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference.

"I would balance any budget for a year," said John Nixon, director of the state budget office and the Department of Technology Management and Budget. "We do two-year budgets. And now he (Gov. Rick Snyder) has me doing 40 year projections. We've got to start linking our public policy decisions to our ability to fund those decisions."

Amway Corp. president Doug DeVos emphasized the need for a comprehensive review of finances -- not just a year to year budget, but also balance sheets and future liability. Once future structural problems are identified, he said, it's important to start talking about solving them immediately -- even if the actual fix can't be a quick one.

And he said Michigan must "put the pieces in place to make sure you never get out of balance in the boom times ahead."

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano emphasized seeking stability, for both taxpayers and government.

He said in his experience with trade missions, "what I know is that business wants stability, it wants predictability. If I locate here, I want to know five years down the road what the services are going to be, and pretty close what my costs are going to be."

All panelists emphasized the need to integrate systems and operations between Michigan's 1,800 local governments and 500-plus school districts.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said his city's population has fallen by half in the past 40 years, while the population of surrounding Genesee County has been stable. To him, that suggests the need to integrate systems.

And Ficano said if someone's house is being broken into in Detroit, "they don't care if it's a brown uniform or a blue uniform or a State Police uniform, They just want someone to get there."

Consolidating services under state supervision, though, requires trust of state government, Ficano said -- and he complained the state has already dumped tens of millions of dollars in expenses on state government with no help on the revenue side, like Circuit Court.

People's attitudes toward local governments are somewhat contradictory, panelists said, but "back of the house" consolidations that are invisible to the average citizens should be sought first.

"No city wants to lose its identity, no township, no school district -- I always say, never go after the school mascot," DeVos said. "But does this mean you have to have your own IT system, your own finance system, your own HR system? Absolutely not!" In the private sector, he said, Amway consolidates these systems globally.

Agreed Nixon: "Technology isn't held in by boundaries, so why are we setting up all these thousands of separate IT infrastructures?"

- Complete Conference Coverage

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