Paralysis Results When Public Officials Wail


    The Kent County Board of Commissioners may add its voice to those of other governmental units here and across the state in regard to continued stalls in work on the state budget.

    What is especially interesting in KentCounty is the resounding agreement and call for bipartisan efforts to resolve the crisis. State legislators, however, apparently are deaf to such admonitions from both the electorate and constituent governmental units. While local public-sector budgets and provision of services hang in the balance, it is increasingly likely that local units, running out of money, could find it necessary to suspend services if legislators continue to waste time.

    The proposed letter from the KentCounty board’s Human Resources Committee also urges lawmakers to think “long term” rather than determine a quick-fix. The problem is that government is so slow to observe or understand what is happening in the private sector, Michigan (government) continues on a “come-from-behind” mentality. One example is provided by Kent County Aeronautics Director James Koslosky, who notes that the world continues to use an air navigation and travel system developed during World War II, rather than phasing in already-existing satellite technologies, which would save money and lives, though it would be expensive in the changeover.

    Every business has made such adaptations, and those continue at warp speed.

    While city and county leaders cry over the state debacle, they, too, have been slow to see trends. Another of the Business Journal’s long-advised, public-entity budget considerations is some reduction from the full city/county/state payment of health care benefits for employees. City Manager Kurt Kimball last week made such a recommendation to the city commission; the anticipated cry of “not fair” from union employees (and one city commissioner) was duly reported. Once again we ask why taxpayers should pay for public employee benefits when they themselves have been working though increased employee contributions as businesses suffered double-digit increases for more than seven years. Most public employees did not even realize until recently (when their benefits were targeted in budget cuts) that health benefits have been a major issue in the private sector for a decade.

    State and local government leaders knew well that the evolution from the manufacturing age was well underway, but did nothing the past decade to prepare.

    We have no reason to be optimistic that politicians can think “long term” or that they will “manage” the current crisis with anything more than Band-Aids.

    Meanwhile, the Business Journal reports this week on expansion of Gerald R. Ford International Airport, which is cited as necessary for business expansion in the region, most notably the growth of Michigan Street medical and life sciences businesses; expansion of the Van Andel Institute; development of Metro Village; and the openings of the JW Marriott hotel and the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. 

    The Focus section this week reports on the growth of regional law firms and the anticipated growth of specific areas of expertise such as technology, biosciences and intellectual property. (The Business Journal has for five years lamented the lack of such after the VAI first opened its doors.)

    Each week the business community continues to grow, plan and succeed. The public sector will be the recipient of the success of regional economic diversity. It should be part of the plan. Such a plan — a plan for success — is only possible if public sector leaders overcome the paralysis that accompanies the wailing.    

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