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Doing What You Said You’d Do

2011 March 31
by Randy H. Milgrom

          Let us set aside the merits, and especially the politics, of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal and — pursuant to the MilWrite Blog mission — analyze his message, and how he’s been delivering it.

          Since presenting his budget — and after the inevitable sniping that immediately followed — the Governor has stayed calm. He has smiled and he has shrugged. He has said that he worked “very hard” on what he put forward and that he is “proud” of his effort. (And the Governor does seem to be working very hard.) He also said it is the “right” budget for Reinventing Michigan. When critics continued to complain, he simply said, “I’m doing what I said I was going to do.” And that is where the expected pabulum ends and the required analysis must begin.

          Candidate Snyder’s campaign slogan was “Reinvent Michigan.” But he never told us how he would accomplish this reinvention except to say that he would make the state more business-friendly. When asked for specifics — especially about the budget — he used his outsider status to explain that until he was in office and had an opportunity to examine the true (and sorry) state of governmental affairs, he could not comment further. But as One Tough Nerd, he said, he would get to the bottom of it and offer immediate solutions. And to his great credit he has delivered swiftly and mightily on that promise. Which is all well and good; in fact, it is great. But he can’t tell us now that he’s doing what he said he was going to do if he never told us what he was going to do in the first place — unless you think that saying you’re going to balance a budget without suggesting how you’re going to do it and then balancing it in a way you’ve never described before until it’s announced qualifies as doing what you said. And I don’t believe it does.

          Governor Snyder also often suggests that he knows what he’s doing, and that he has a “track record” for “getting things done” to back up that claim. As a business executive he may have had to try to reach consensus among a handful of other executives, or to please the occasional boss or Board of Directors. But he’s never had to put any of his grand plans to the formal vote of a large number of people or seek the approval of a majority of those he not only did not hire but whose jobs in many cases actually depend on how effectively they can oppose him. 

          Mr. Snyder does not yet seem to recognize that this is just one of the vast and defining differences between government and business. Or does he? The Governor has countered attempts even to so much as tweak his plan by suggesting that pulling on just one thread will unravel the whole. He has thus far clung closely to the argument that his is a carefully conceived and deliberated plan that is so finely-calibrated to get the job done that all adjustments of any kind would only serve to knock the entire enterprise off course. And he says this with such conviction that the unspoken implication is that if there were any better methods of restoring the state’s fiscal soundness then he not only would have thought of them but he also would have placed them firmly within the bosom of the plan he’s already offered. “Trust me — there are no other options. Take it or leave it.” (Or maybe that’s just me who’s hearing the words he hasn’t spoken.)       

          Is this merely posturing — an opening gambit and attitude in preparation for the bargaining he knows must inevitably ensue — as some of my friends and colleagues (and professional pundits) have argued? Time should tell. But the Governor’s public pronouncements do not suggest it. And it doesn’t feel that way to me.

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