Saturday, June 27, 2020

Quasi what's that, now?

When most of us went to school we learned about the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. I'm sure most of us have some vague idea still about what each one does. The executive branch administers the law and raises and spends the money, the legislative writes the laws and says how the money is to be raised and allocated, and the judiciary interprets the law and the Constitution.

This is basically the way it works at the Federal level. The Michigan Constitution of 1963 follows a nearly identical model. What makes it a bit different for the State of Michigan is, of course, the existence of counties rather than states. So, what does that mean for us here in Lenawee county? Well, it introduces our blog post title prefix: quasi.

prefix: quasi-

      seemingly; apparently but not really.

Is there any more of an American prefix? Seemingly, but not. Well, anyway, what's this here prefix thing have to do with the discussion at hand, you ask. The answer is rooted in the nature of the Board of Commissioners. Seemingly, legislative, but not really. While the county government does often get to make decisions which seem to be law making, they almost always operate and make these decisions within a narrow and well defined framework outlined by the government of the State of Michigan.

You can think of it kind of like a choose your own adventure book or a predetermined menu of items. The county can make decisions but then those decisions might come with requirements or specific implementation guidelines. You can decide to have the mashed potatoes or not, but if you order them you're getting the gravy, if you get the picture.

Depending on the authorizing legislation, the 1963 Michigan State Constitution, Federal law, and the Constitution of the United States the freedom to choose may not exist at all. Often this makes perfects sense. Why do counties exist if not to implement the laws and administer various programs and provide services as directed by the State of Michigan. However, not everything is micro-managed and often the quasi-legislative nature of the Board of Commissioners comes into play.

What other aspects of the Board of Commissioners is like that of a legislative body as we understand them here in the United States? The most American of all things! Money! Again, here we see the dual nature of the Board. Federal and State grants come with strings attached, obviously, but the Board can act with some freedom with the budget as long as all the relevant state laws and guidelines are met.

Now that we understand the quasi-legislative nature of the Board of Commissioners a bit better, we can move on to the very important issue of money!  However, the Lenawee county budget and the whole funding story of county government is a tale for another time.