Solve pressing needs not election-year politics

January 11, 2010
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Get it together. We don’t have all year.

Even as the private sector is gradually moving through unprecedented economic turmoil, its domino effect on governmental units has new and unusual consequences. So, too, should there be a new and not usual reaction and planning.

Sadly, the year has begun in the most usual manner. Rather than considering an immediate course of action in the state legislature — using the sensible options outlined not only by business groups but also by citizen town meetings held by the Center for Michigan — legislators are polishing campaign rhetoric for the next elective office. Worse, West Michigan governmental leaders are headed down the same old path, some of them also caught up in new political campaigns rather than local leadership. Michigan needs leaders that consider such a position one of civic duty and not self-aggrandizing ego.

The Business Journal has in this space encouraged local government leaders in the process of creating cooperative agreements and partnerships, most notably Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming. That work is stymied by old state laws and by lack of legislative stewards shepherding legislation that allows such cooperative opportunities between counties, cities and townships.

Consider, too, that even while local governmental leaders are discussing such strategy, they appear schizophrenic in the about-face of deterring the one body that keeps them united: the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council. As massive deficits in local governmental budgets (fueled by the lack of state revenue sharing and by sound state business tax policy) create new opportunities to work progressively and in partnership with one another, various members of GVMC ponder abandoning their memberships.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners is leading the way, budgeting cuts to Metro Council dues as fiscal years end and begin this year. County representative to the council Richard Vander Molen commented during a county meeting at year’s end, “I’ve sat on the Metro Council and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” He complained that the council hasn’t “done some of the things it should have done.” A business leader would surely point out that the fault then is his.

As the Business Journal reported Dec. 28, the council’s decisions as a regional group have to be accepted by member communities: Each local governmental unit must individually approve a council decision before it can be become an ordinance — and few have. Metro Council has rightly focused on such major issues as planning and zoning, creating unique opportunities. The Regis system, the regional transportation planning and the opportunity for consensus are accomplishments that Vander Molen fails to acknowledge. The savings opportunities and regional ability apparent through Metro Council are likely to be of far greater value than any of the individual governmental contributions.

The Business Journal stresses that such collaborative effort is far better than the back-room discussion of tax increases to “manage” public sector deficits.

Get it together. We don’t have all year.

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