I’ll be the first to admit that visual guides paint a clearer picture for hard-to-digest information, especially in reference to the state’s budget. It can be difficult to hold our elected officials accountable if we can’t even understand what all the numbers they are throwing around mean in terms of available services, taxes we may or may not have to pay, and the ability to find a living wage job.
This is also a concern for Gov. Rick Snyder, who will release his first executive budget Thursday.
The governor has already started his term by trying to demystify the budget, and how state and local governments spend our money with a booklet called the Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health. The guide was presented at the Leadership Summit, held by the Business Leaders for Michigan, to inform citizens about the challenges we face and the opportunities ahead. Rising pension costs, public employee salaries, the corrections budget, and tax expenditures were all on the list for an in-depth review. The guide does a good job of explaining the budget deficit in plain language but has been criticized for its basis of comparison regarding public and private employee salaries.
In addition to the guide, the governor has implemented MiDashboard, indicators for every government entity to ensure “value for money.” The overarching dashboard includes following the progress of some key indicators that the League believes is essential to securing the health and prosperity of Michigan’s residents, including infant mortality rates, third graders reading at grade level, and child poverty. This is good news.
The Citizen’s Guide and the MiDashboard are both new ways to engage the public through easy-to-understand methods about the state’s current fiscal situation. This is critical because state leaders are faced with tough choices ahead with the looming $1.8 billion budget deficit.
The governor is moving in the right direction, starting with demystifying the state budget. Now let’s hope he keeps moving forward when the FY 2012 budget is revealed and his priorities are made clear. If the governor is asking citizens to all sacrifice, it’s important that we at least have the tools provided to understand what our expenditures and revenues look like to hold him accountable.