An increasing and scary sense that government is fatally broken

Jan 22, 2014

The good news is that there seems to be increasing interest in mental health issues at all levels of government.

Yesterday, the Michigan Health and Wellness Commission released a new report on improving mental health services in this state. This was a special, bipartisan commission including four legislators, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

The study, “Improving Quality of Life by Supporting Independence and Self-Determination” is available online.

It is short, straightforward, and easy to understand.

It calls for legislative action, and calls on all of us to reassess the way we view, as well as treat, those with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, it calls on the Legislature to make decisions, change laws and spend money to change and fix things.

Sadly, these are all things our elected leaders seem dangerously unable to do.

Ten years ago, our last lieutenant governor chaired another commission, one on higher education. It, too, made all sorts of sensible and urgently needed recommendations. Virtually all of them, so far as I can tell, were ignored by everyone, including the administration which commissioned the report.

So pardon me if I am not overly enthusiastic or optimistic about this new report on mental health.

Don’t get me wrong: I think all involved, State Director of Community Health James Haveman, State Representatives Phil Cavanagh and Matt Lori, State Senators Bruce Caswell and Rebekah Warren, did an admirable job of putting aside partisanship and working through their differences.

It’s just that I have an increasing and scary sense that government at all levels is fatally broken – that it not only doesn’t work, that maybe it can’t work anymore.

Here’s just one example:

Yesterday, a non-profit transportation group called TRIP released another study that indicated our terrible roads are costing Michiganders $7.7 billion every year. That’s the cost of damage to our vehicles, unnecessary crashes and accidents, and the lost time and wasted fuel because of all this.

This works out to a mind-blowing cost per driver of $1,600 a year for those in the Detroit area, and a little over $1,000 a year for drivers most anywhere else in Michigan.

Kirk Steudle, the state transportation director, didn’t take issue with those numbers.

He merely noted they get worse every year. In a rational society, our leaders would be calling for a bipartisan Marshall plan-type program to fix our roads.

But instead, nothing will happen.

Last year, to his credit, Governor Rick Snyder called for $1.2 billion in new money every year to fix the roads, and offered a sensible way to get the revenue, primarily through the gas tax. But his fellow Republicans treated this with contempt, and so nothing happened.

This year, all indications are he isn’t even going to try.

Incredibly, our lawmakers seem to think not fixing the roads is good election year politics. This year, every elected official in state government has to face the voters again.

Before we vote, I think we should ask ourselves Ronald Reagan’s famous question: Are we better off now than we were four years ago? Are our elected servants looking after our interests and our futures?

If you are still listening, I think you know the answer.

Ed. note: This post has been updated to correctly spell Rebekah Warren's first name.