Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice

Detroit pastoralOminous news out of Lansing:

Tonight, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm will address the citizens of Michigan on the state budget crisis and the possibility of a partial shutdown of state government. The governor’s address is being made available to television and radio stations across the state. The five-minute address will begin at 6:05 p.m.

Granholm will brief citizens on the status of the budget crisis and the negotiations that are underway to resolve the $1.75 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins Monday, October 1.

On Wednesday, the governor announced that without a comprehensive solution to prevent massive cuts to public safety, health care, and education, a partial shutdown of state government will be ordered beginning Monday.

I don’t see how this will be resolved. Senator Bishop (R-Rochester) is demanding that Granholm sign a continuation budget to move the deadline back for passing a budget by thirty days. “She needs to sign a continuation budget in good faith so that both sides have more time to respond,” Bishop says — adding that they may need yet another extension after that to get the job done. However, for every month the legislature delays, the state’s deficit grows by $175 million. It’s not like Granholm wants to shut the government down — after all, it’s the citizens of Michigan who lose the most in a shutdown (like preschoolers up near Clare, already told to stay home from their state-funded preschool; or anyone who uses state parks, all of which will be closed; or the City of Detroit, which will lose $440,000 a day in tax payments from its three casinos, all of which will close; or all of the families relying on the state to provide child support, food stamps, Medicaid, or protective services workers). No, no one wants to shut the government down — but passing a continuation budget to keep delaying making a tough decision would only make things worse. Michigan’s state income tax is a flat 3.9 percent, while most other states employ a progressive tax that’s higher in some brackets than ours, like Minnesota’s 5.35 to 7.85 percent tax, or Ohio’s 0.649 to 6.555 percent tax.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats have too much to lose at this point by backing down — but ultimately Michigan will lose the most. What kind of a signal does it send to businesses looking to invest in Michigan that our legislators aren’t even responsible enough to complete their only constitutionally obligatory duty: passing a budget? While the Republicans indicate that they’d be willing to support some sort of (small) tax hike, they insist that it be tied to a “reforms” package that does little to make Michigan’s long-term outlook better. Sen. Bishop’s package of cuts eliminates the Granholm-proposed 2.5% increase in state aid to state universities, K-12 schools, and community colleges — which, I suppose is a great way to run the state into the ground further, considering that expanding access to education at all levels is essential in making the transition away from a totally manufacturing-based economy. Michigan ranks 44th in terms of state appropriations per student, and 47th in a ranking of growth of state educational appropriations from 1997 to 2007. While our neighboring states are increasing funding for their schools in the double-digits, Michigan’s leaders want to keep racing to the bottom — if Bishop and the Republicans get their way, I’m sure it won’t be long until Michigan is dead last in terms of money spent per student. That’ll be something to brag about.

This state has made cuts. I mean, two years ago Republicans obstructed Granholm’s proposal for $200 million in cuts in the state budget. In 2003, Granholm cut $379.8 million — and Republicans still bitched about that: “Chairman Marc Shulman, R-West Bloomfield, said he opposed the order because he was displeased with the way it was reached, in a deal between the Democratic governor and Sikkema.” All in all, under Granholm we’ve seen four straight years of budget cuts totaling $3 billion. Clearly, this governor has no problem in making budget cuts when necessary (including making cuts to education, a courageous move, considering the Michigan Educational Association is one of her strongest backers). Bishop’s package of cuts would gut social services and education, and would put 6700 state employees out of work.

Is this the kind of state we want to live in? I thought Michiganders took care of each other; that even the Republicans wouldn’t try to beat up on Michigan’s poorest, worst-off citizens out of sheer cowardice, or just blind contempt. I thought Michigan residents value health care, value education, and value being able to buy hard liquor and lottery tickets. I just wish Michigan’s legislators had the same values.


2 Responses to “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice”

  1. September 28, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Very well said, Graham. Like the Detroit Free Press editorialized, our elected representatives don’t make the grade. They’ve had 9 months to work on this and now they want more time. In any other workplace, failing this miserably in your primary duties usually results in dismissal.

    Michigan is one of only 11 states with full-time legislatures and our state senators and representatives take home the 2nd highest paychecks in the nation, following only California. The Republicans huff and puff about cutting programs—without presenting a plan that actually covers the whole $1.75 billion budget gap. Although I think all of the legislators deserve to be fired for their abysmal performance, I’ll take it another step. Do you thinnk Senate Majority Leader Bishop would go along with eliminating the state legisalture? Based on salaries, per diem, benefits, and their support staff, I estimate the savings would be a least $54.3 million. Hmmm! Only $1.69 billion to go…

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Graham Davis lives in Lansing, Michigan.

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