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Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Published: 12/3/2002

Engler's legacy

Two items that came across the news wire coincidentally raise pertinent questions about state government, particularly the way it is managed in the state to our north.

One story detailed Michigan's big budget deficit and an executive order to be issued by outgoing Gov. John Engler cutting state spending by $470 million.

The other showcased a new book about Mr. Engler titled John Engler: The Man, The Leader, and The Legacy.

The book, all 425 pages of it, was written by Gleaves Whitney, who for the past eight years has been the Republican governor's chief speechwriter and historian.

Most governors have speechwriters, to be sure, but few have their own personal historian on the state payroll, at a salary of $72,800. More to the point, the book raises the question of whether a state that has had to substantially cut spending - on colleges and universities, revenue-sharing to cities, counties, and townships, and other public services - should be maintaining an aide to the governor for what amounts to personal aggrandizement.

While Mr. Whitney included comments from his boss' political adversaries as well as friends, there is little doubt that the book is essentially a vanity volume. Likewise, there is even less doubt that it was written on state time, since the author says the work took three years and hundreds of interviews.

The book chronicles the governor's rise from a farm near Beal City to his three terms in the statehouse. Whether you love him or hate him, Mr. Whitney opines, Mr. Engler is “a man of consequence.”

That such a self-congratulatory tome would be ordered up should be no real surprise to those who remember that Mr. Engler just turned 54 and soon will be out of work, or those who have followed his none-too-subtle attempts to guard his reputation for fiscal stewardship as he leaves office.

In August, he vetoed a routine appropriation of $845 million in local-government funds, telling local officials that he would restore the money if they helped him defeat several state ballot issues he claimed would bankrupt the state.

As it turned out, the GOP-dominated legislature rebelled and overrode the veto. The ballot issues lost, but here comes Mr. Engler, four months later, taking the money anyway via executive order. Indeed, the largest proportion of the budget cut will be to local governments, which rely heavily on the revenue to maintain services - police and fire protection, road repairs, and so on.

John Engler claims he won't leave Michigan with a budget deficit but fiscal analysts say that even with the latest cut the state will still face a $1.37 billion deficit by next fall.

That's one telling chapter that will be too late for the governor's otherwise comprehensive new biography.



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