In his 11th annual State of the State address tomorrow, Gov. John Engler plans to outline a plan to add seven appointed members to the University Board of Regents as well as the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, the Wayne State University Board of Governors and the State Board of Education.
Engler”s proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, would bring the membership of all four boards to 15.
The governor will deliver his address at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the chambers of the House of Representatives.
Under Engler”s plan, Shafer said, no governor could appoint more than four members from any party to each board. Appointees would have to be confirmed by the state Senate.
These changes are necessary, Shafer said, because in the elections to those boards it is often the case that “a lot of people are not aware of who is running.”
Along with making education a primary focus of tomorrow”s speech, Engler also is expected to announce a proposal to replace the current system of electing Michigan Supreme Court justices with one in which the governor would appoint justices to a 14-year term. Nominees would be subject to Senate confirmation.
Democrats, however, did not seem overly enthusiastic about Engler”s proposals.
“Why add an unneeded level of bureaucracy to a system that”s not broken? We have not heard anybody complain about the way education candidates are chosen,” said Dennis Denno, spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party.
Sen. Chris Dingell (D-Trenton) was equally opposed to the plan for appointed regents. “Look at the people he appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court,” he said.
Although Supreme Court justices usually are elected, in the event of a vacancy the governor has the power to fill those vacancies with his own appointments an act Engler has performed several times in recent years.
“You”ll see they are all of one ideological bent and that they never dissent from each other,” Dingell added.
Dingell is one of the members of the Legislature who will participate in the Democrats” responses to the governor”s address one that will air on public television and another that will air on public radio following the speech.
But Sen. Glenn Steil (R-Grand Rapids) said he agrees with Engler”s proposals to reform education. “These candidates are chosen in caucuses by the Democrats or Republicans. And often people do not know who they are voting for.”
He added, “it is kind of degrading for justices to solicit money when they have to rule on things.”
In response to Democratic allegations that the governor is trying to carve out an overly large sphere of influence for himself, Steil said, “that”s a false statement because he is term-limited in two years.”
University Vice President for Government Relations Cynthia Wilbanks said the governor often gives hints in the annual address regarding the higher education budget, which is to be announced by State Budget Director Janet Phipps on Feb. 8.
She said the governor”s speech often vaguely describes “the kind of priorities he has and the amount of resources he will ask the Legislature to provide” in the annual budget address.
Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) said he expected the governor to also mention tax considerations for high-tech industries coming to Michigan. “He will remind us all that it”s going to be a tight year budgetwise and we have to keep a lid on spending.”
Schwarz said he agreed with the governor that there should be appointed members of the state”s education boards and had introduced a bill to make similar changes last year.