GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder said that Michigan needs to lay out its budget for two years at a time and ask citizens what programs they support.
"People have lost that connection of seeing value for money from their government. This gets it back," Snyder said Tuesday in unveiling his budgeting plan. "Citizens are our customers in this, and we should be a customer-service business."
Snyder, a venture capitalist in Ann Arbor and one of six Republicans running to replace term-limited Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2010, said he would tackle structural budget problems and growing deficits by asking residents to rank the issues on which government should concentrate its spending. If some services could be better delivered by the private sector, they should be given to contractors, he said.
"Rather than continue with a broken process that consistently threatens funding for our schools, hospitals, roads and communities, we need a 21st century budget process that ensures stability and encourages innovation," he said.
Nearly all of the 2010 gubernatorial candidates in both parties have called for reforming Michigan's budget process after the state in early October went through its second government shutdown in three fiscal years.
About $1.9 billion was cut from the current state budget as lawmakers and Granholm wrestled to balance it as revenues fell. Most state departments took a 10 percent cut, and hundreds of millions of dollars were taken from state aid for public schools. Granholm has asked departments to look at possible 20 percent cuts in next year's budget.
Snyder also said he would increase transparency by putting the state's checkbook online, something another GOP candidate, Attorney General Mike Cox of Livonia, also wants to do and has done for his own office.
Cox blames some of the state's budget problems on the Democratic governor.
"It wasn't the structure of the process that was the problem; it was who was leading it," campaign spokesman Stu Sandler said.
But Lt. Gov. John Cherry of Clio, who's running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, blames the failure of some lawmakers to realistically deal with the state's falling revenues.
"What is lacking is a commitment to solve the problem instead of looking for some way to kick the can down the road into someone else's term of office," said Cherry campaign spokesman Chris De Witt.
Cherry said he would lock everyone in a room on July 1 if the budget hadn't passed and not let them out until a deal was reached.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, another GOP gubernatorial candidate, proposes having a two-year rolling budget that looks ahead to a third year. Bouchard also would require that the budget be in place by May 15 and would dock the pay of the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators if the deadline passes. He also would ban work on any other substantive legislation until the budget was in place.
Democratic state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith of Washtenaw County's Salem Township doesn't agree with budgeting for a two-year stretch. If a two-year plan were in place, lawmakers would be "right back here next year revamping the whole thing because we don't know what our revenues will be."
Democrat John Freeman of Madison Heights blamed political gamesmanship for the lengthy budget process.
"It's pretty clear that the leadership in Lansing is not making Michigan and the people of Michigan the top priority," he said. "The budget that's been enacted so far is not going to serve to reposition Michigan to grow the economy and to spur economic development in this state."
State Sen. Tom George, a Republican from Kalamazoo County's Texas Township, has sponsored a bill that would require the House and Senate by June 1 to separately identify how much tax revenue they expect the state to have, which could then lead to negotiations over how much should be spent. The bill has passed the Senate but not the House.
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday afternoon with the campaign of the other gubernatorial candidate, Republicans emergency medical technician Tim Rujan of Bay Port.