An obscure, two-person state agency had its funding cut completely in last year's budget by state legislators.
Or so the lawmakers thought.
When lawmakers learned the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council was still operating months after their budget was axed, they asked the MHBCCC's parent organization for an explanation.
"Sorry," the Department of Human Services spokeswoman told the legislators. They claimed they couldn't say due to a pending lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
The refusal to answer where the money came from to keep the MHBCCC operating left members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee scratching their heads.
State Rep. Dudley Spade, D-Tipton, said with the increasing call for transparency in government, they should have answered the simple question: Who is paying for this?
Spade said the committee wasn't asking questions he thought would impact the lawsuit, such as how the group was formed.
"They are not being very forthright or transparent," Spade said.
State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, called the DHS actions "a cop out."
"If you are still operating, where is the money coming from?" Agema asked. "The question asked is totally different than the lawsuit."
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit after an estimated 40,000 home-based day care providers — some of which had been in business for more than a decade — were unionized. The state had union dues taken out of the subsidy checks provided by the Department of Human Services for children from low-income families. The Court of Appeals dismissed the action. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed a motion for reconsideration.
It's unclear if the state's policy is to not comment when involved in a lawsuit. A February 2009 Senate Fiscal Agency report listed 89 lawsuits filed against various state departments.
Liz Boyd, spokesperson for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the state's stance on commenting with lawsuits pending.
The state's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, so the MHBCCC should have been shut down last fall.
The Mackinac Center's Kathy Hoekstra has been tracking the operations of the MHBCCC. She said there was a board of directors meeting she attended Dec. 4, and she has written correspondence from MHBCCC employees as late as Feb. 5.
For footage from the Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, see video below. Additional video coverage regarding this story may be found at www.mackinac.org/12106.