by State Rep. Paul Opsommer (MI-93)

The size of government, particularly at the federal level, is expanding greatly. But this also has a trickle down effect on Michigan. In order to qualify for federal dollars, states frequently have to pass laws that expand their reach and authority. And they often need to continue to pay for new programs after federal funding is phased out. Short run money that appeared “free” often ends up becoming a long run obligation to state taxpayers in the end.

This is an important consideration as Michigan approaches its October 1st budget deadline, especially with the large role federal stimulus money could play in how things are balanced. It would be easy to plug too many budgetary holes with stimulus dollars, leaving us worse off in the future. It is my belief that we should have a small government, but what it does do, it should do well.

Instead, most government tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing particularly well. But the current economy will force us to make necessary decisions: what kind of government do we want, what kind of government do we need, and ultimately what are we willing to pay for?

Government shutdowns and furlough days are all signs that government is trying to do too much and more than it can handle. By definition, government can not be effective if it is not up and running.

People often ask me if I am committed to doing everything I can to avoid a government shutdown this year. The reality is that as of September 4th we will already have had six shutdown days in the form of furloughs. This is an emergency stopgap measure we can not continue to rely on if we wish to have effective government.

I am therefore introducing legislation to limit the use of furlough days to no more than six a year. Once we reach that mark, it is obvious that we need to be looking at more permanent solutions such as accelerated retirements to reduce the number of state employees while we reorganize and keep the programs that matter most up and running.

We also need to commit to ensuring taxpayers can’t be ticketed, fined, or otherwise penalized because of furlough days or an unbalanced budget. As an example I have introduced HB 5277 to make sure people aren’t fined for not renewing their licenses on furlough days that have forced the Secretary of State’s office to be closed.

HB 5230 ensures that no one has to pay money for a tax tribunal hearing more than once. I’m also working on a bill to increase the amount of interest the state pays taxpayers who are owed a refund.

An effective government has to be kept up and running, and it shouldn’t be allowed to penalize taxpayers for its own inability to right-size government.

State Rep. Paul Opsommer [send him email] was elected to a second term in the Michigan House of Representatives in November 2008.  He represents the residents of Clinton and Gratiot counties.

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