2017-06-15 / Views

More than one reason to form state task force

By Tim Skubick

When in doubt, form a committee.

Politicians love to study issues, especially if they are explosive and could anger the public. By forming a study group they diffuse the issue for the moment. Then if a citizen asks for their position, they can say, “I won’t know until the study is done.”

It’s all very neat and tidy and they’ve come up with all sorts of fancy-smancy labels that include task force, review commission, and work-group to lure you into thinking something is being done.

Gov. Rick Snyder is concerned about the looming $14 billion debt in the pension system for former local government employees. When the GOP house leadership last December made a run at resolving the issue, the retired cops, fire-fighters and other pensioners came unglued. They were afraid the House would swipe their bennies. In quick order they mobilized and stopped conservatives in their tracks.

Sensing that the issue was not going to evaporate in the new year, the governor was not eager to jump back into the mess. Hence he did the obvious, forming a 20-member task force.

Now one would assume that one of the objectives was to find some method to raise money to reduce the deficit and reassure all those worried local civil servants that they would continue to get a check. But when the report was leaked, you could search high and low and there were zero, nada, zippo solutions.

In fact three task force members, in the grand tradition of study groups, called for another task force to continue the work where the first task force left off.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Sen. Rebekah Warren offers this observation to justify that request.

“We really felt like there was a big conversation missing. Therefore we asked the governor to re-convene another group to look at that side of the puzzle” — namely, where do you find the shekels to keep the health care and pensions funded?

She reports the task force did a good job of chronicling how the debt was created. And everyone agreed that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem. That’s where the chit chat stopped.

“We did not get there...We did not have the time to brainstorm on innovative approaches” to dissolving the mountain of debt.

The report also lacked data to gauge the extent of debt. There was solid information from the state Treasurer’s office. But for the health care part of the equation, more reliable data was required.

GOP task force member Sen. Jim Stamas was not nearly as critical of the omissions. He believes the work that was done “will be positive as to where we move forward.”

He wants to avoid plunging cities into bankruptcy by setting up monitoring systems that will detect debt problems before they mushroom out of control.

If there is any good news in all this, it’s that many municipalities are doing a bang-up job of meeting their pension obligations. The report suggests that the state keep its big nose out of those place so as not to undo a good thing. And to keep expectations in perspective, the report warns that the debt was not created overnight and won’t be solved overnight, either.

But back to the original expectation that solutions would be recommended. Sen. Warren reports she was told that it “was not the charge the governor gave the task force.”

Which leaves one to wonder, why form the darn thing in the first place?

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