Michigan at a crossroads

Fellow Michigan Citizens,

I don’t often write about politics, but I feel I must today.  Michigan is at a crossroads. It’s a civic emergency, and I feel a duty to educate and, yes, advocate.  Senator Bishop, the southgoing Zax (brush up on your Dr. Seuss here, people) stands nose-to-nose with the northgoing Zax(es), which would be Representative Dillon and Governor Granholm.  Bishop says “No revenues.”  Period.  He won’t move.  Dillon and Granholm have offered a menu of ways to bring in revenue.  Here are some examples and Bishop’s positions:

  • He says no to closing loopholes through which companies favored by lobbyists years ago continue to get unfair breaks that other companies would love to have.
  • He won’t support a tax on doctors that would bring in three times as much in federal dollars as it would cost our docs (and that federal revenue stream would be dedicated in the binding budget to more than compensate docs who see medicaid patients – a win for all – docs, taxpayers, and medicaid patients who increasingly can’t get seen anywhere other than expensive ERs).
  • Bishop won’t support a tax on water that is being removed from Michigan’s precious land, even though consumers across America would pay that tax (just as Michiganians pay for Florida’s beaches or the Louisiana’s oil or Oklahoma’s gas).  Seen your rental car or hotel taxes on a trip down there?
  • He won’t support a tax on non-smoking tobacco equivalent to the tax on smoking tobacco.
  • He won’t support a penny tax on bottled water (even though that enormous penny tax could be avoided by getting their water from a tap).  (By the way, does it ever strike you when conservatives say, “businesses can’t increse the price when things are hard.”  Um, has anyone but me seen the price of M&M’s or Coke these days, presumably due to higher sugar prices?  We can pay $1.50 for a 20-ouncer but how dare our elected representatives ask us to pay a penny for schools and police!)
  • We’re scheduled for a tax cut – our personal exemption on our income tax will go up – we could save about $50 million by freezing that right now.  He says no.

Granholm (and Dillon) months and months ago (the Gov in a February budget document) agreed to very deep cuts . . . over a billion dollars worth already passed, nearly all signed by the governor. Bishop says he will agree to ZERO revenue increases.  It is not like we are talking about “balance” here.  We’re talking about total rigidity: “I don’t agree with you on anything. I can block you, so I will.”

Schools have been cut nearly $165 per pupil and based on new revenue assessments stand to lose hundreds more.  The Dept of History Arts and Libraries has been abolished.  Granholm has signed cuts averaging 15% to Veterans, Transportation, Corrections, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, Aging.  Every department will receive similar treatment.  Yesterday, the Governor signed a School Aid bill that, as I said, cut $165 per student out of every district.  To add insult to injury Bishop sent her a School Aid bill that did not add up, so Granholm was required by law to make it balance and she used her line item veto to cut the “extra” aid that goes to wealthier districts.  So, they’re losing even more.

One more personal point before I put the question to you.  Today we received a call from our daughter who is volunteering a year of her young life in a large-city, high-dropout school. She’s an aide to children in a 9th grade classroom.  The challenges are enormous, but they are establishing great relationships with children who have seldom had close personal attention.   Then our daughter heard today that they are laying off the young teacher in whose room our daughter is an aide.  The school system had promised to fund her, a gifted “Teach for America” teacher in a 9th grade classroom where the children on average read and do math at a 4th grade level.  So my wife is being forced and in turn forcing our schools to lay off teachers at the same moment our daughter is literally crying at the stupidity (forget the injustice) of laying off this teacher in a room of kids who are desperately in need of good teaching, and who have bonded with this great young teacher.  Now they’ll have substitutes – lower-paid, less qualified, potentially uncertified teachers.  What do you think will be the results?  I’m no genius when I predict:  higher adult ed costs and employment training costs if we’re lucky, and in too many cases, increased prison costs, crime costs, welfare costs.  $200 per pupil cuts in Michigan equate – in my rough math – to about 8 laid-off teachers in a 50-teacher high school.

Make no mistake:  These are very very tough times in Michigan.  Workers and business owners are stretched and stressed. People are earning less (and due to the structure of the income tax paying less income tax); tightening their belts and spending less (and due to the sales tax structure paying less sales tax); and their housing values are going down (and due to the tax structure paying less property tax).  It’s why we’ve seen a couple billion dollar shortfall almost every year in this decade.  That’s why the legislature and governor in Lansing have had to cut, cut and cut again; and, yes, why in 2007, they passed temporary revenue increases (I believe all those tax increases have sunset provisions) to help fill the hole.

I feel for these legislators.  They don’t want to tax individuals or businesses in a down economy.  But they don’t want to have docs stop treating people because the medicaid rates are ridiculous (they know we’ll pay even more when they go to the ER).  They don’t want to cut police and fire, which they keep forcing localities to do.  They don’t want to cut schools.  Yet they face this shrinking pie problem.

So, with tighter collective and personal budgets, what do WE want? How important are some taxes right now, when weighed against police, fire, schools and basic health care?  The legislature and governor have reduced our business tax burden so that according to the Tax Foundation (a non-partisan research group) Michigan has gone from the 28th best business tax burden to the 19th best.  To hear Bishop and Company talk we’re the worst.  And to hear their pure ideological stand on taxes, you’d think these cuts would surely have pushed us ahead of other states.  Yet we are still worst in unemployment.  Why? The driving reason is not taxes, but our struggle to survive in a global economy, that is increasing productivity, decreasing jobs, and driving our wages and benefits lower.  Is now the time to renege on the bipartisan Michigan Promise that would allow every Michigan child in this capitalist democracy to get a community college education?

Here’s what I believe matters most:  If we are to survive in this new economy the most important thing we need is a great educational system, so that our children can compete.  So that they can be great workers that fuel businesses. And so that they can be great entrepreneurs who create those businesses. Taxes for schools and retraining can be seen as “burdens,” or they can be seen as smart investments, just as the governor and legislature are doing their darnedest to spur investment in the private sector. The highest income states are NOT those with the lowest taxes. They ARE those with the highest educational attainment.

Granholm and the Dems have agreed to huge cuts, because we need them. We must get more efficient.  (State government employment is down, by the way 16% since 2001. It is shrinking.)  Bishop’s extreme, uncompromsing position that there will be NO new taxes, will mean that schools – rich and poor – will be pink-slipping teachers at the worst time in the world to do that.  He’s painted himself into a terrific corner.  He can single-handedly drive these cuts deeper and deeper (oh, not entirely single-handed: he’s got about 12 solid Republican backers, and about 5 Republican independent thinkers that he’s fighting to keep in line with his no-compromise position).  That’s a lot of responsibility on him – pretty scary and maybe a little crazy-making.  Maybe it’s why he called the governor a “liar” today and an “extortionist.”  And he declared again today that he would not support any revenue increases.

I honestly have hope for him – and a little more in some rational Republicans in his chamber.  I am reminded of the famous statement that people routinely clip from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. My hope is that Mr. Bishop will heed Emerson’s wisdom and move from the simple safety of his ideological hard-line.  Bishop’s stubbornness has in days gone by helped win some deep cuts.  He can claim some genuine victory for pushing Granholm and Dillon further than they probably wanted to go on cuts to police, fire, schools and health care.  But now it’s time to open his mind to the non-sense of it all.  Smart voters will see in either case – the stubbornness or some ability to compromise. Mr. Emerson, please take us out:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

What do you think?

Here’s the form to write to Senator Bishop, and here to Representative Dillon, and Governor Granholm

Dan

13 responses to “Michigan at a crossroads

  1. Spot On Mr. Mulhern. Thank you for saying it outloud. As I once heard a very wise woman say: “There’s nothing wrong with yelling “fire” in a room…when there really is a fire. Time to get out the hoses.

  2. Dan,

    Welcome to3rd world America, brought to you by decades of greed controlled government, lobbyists, modern day golden parachutes (at continued malfeasance and taxpayer funding entirely) for Wall St. ineptitude, pork barrel politics, et al.

    If I recall, back when Japan rose to global prominence and dominance, the CEO took part in Tai Chi with the factory floor workers, the CEO, CFO, COO, etc. pay was not as the outrageous benefits and pay scales, not to mention impropriety of bonus ‘rewards’ that we see today, such as CEO compensation broken down to data such as $14,000 per hour( round the clock). Eventually, western mentality greed and lack of ethics infiltrated the ranks, bringing Japan in alignment with the other ‘superpowers’.

    YOU, the leadership of America, have failed US(A).

    Look back a few weeks ago, on your blog. Mick asked the rhetorical question, “What if the cheerleaders (whom he’d earlier represented as the citizens in this parlay) refuse to get off of the playing field?” It was in your session with the subject title having to do with the 4th quarter of a football game. That statement, to me, said, in these terms, ‘a revolution will start to occur,when the vast majority are unable to support themselves due to a lack of job opportunity, combined with the growth of, instead of diminishing effect, the social welfare handout nanny state……we’ve seen it in places such as France, and others worldwide. IT CAN HAPPEN HERE!’

    Stimulus money did indeed help the country’s infrastructure to purchase more vehicles, more weapons, more technology for enforcement of Marshall law, if implemented. Or might it be not if, but rather, when? Stimulus money = failure to citizens, TARP money = HUGE failure to citizens, deregulation to allow lending improprieties = falure to citizens……

    Get the picture yet a little more clearly, Dan……I know, RADICAL THINKING/BOLD STATEMENT. I’m not condoning violence, but look back on civilizations, greed, corruption, and the measures enacted and tolls taken.

    I wish you the best…….I certainly do not envy your position.
    God bless the Detroit Tigers and their owner.

    1. Mark,
      Provocative! I think at the 50,000 foot level, I would agree with you, e.g., corporate bonuses and a creeping sense of entitlement. At a closer level, the verdict is out on TARP and AARA.
      But on this we agree: an informed citizenry will always be the backbone of a democracy. And right now, we’re more powerfully and easily manipulated (often, ironically, in opposing directions). On the Michigan budget situation, for example, it’s taken huge threats of deep cuts for people (even those most at risk, like school systems and teachers) to really get on the field, as Mick put it.
      Thanks for your thoughts.
      Dan

  3. Dan,

    I am reminded of a line from “Iowa Stubborn” – the opening song in Meridith Willson’s “The Music Man:”
    And we’re so by God stubborn
    We could stand touchin’ noses
    For a week at a time
    And never see eye-to-eye.
    But what the heck, you’re welcome,
    Join us at the picnic.
    You can eat your fill
    Of all the food you bring yourself.

    Unemployed residents of the great state of Michigan have so much to bring to this picnic, why is no one (else) asking for their input? Isn’t Michigan an “employee owned and operated business?”

    I grow weary of politicians who simply choose to forget that politics is the art of compromise. When did our representatives begin serving a cause or a crusade instead of serving the people who put them in office? No one wants to pay additional taxes — that is a given. No one truly wants our children to grow up without a first class education. It does not take a brilliant mind to see ahead to what our economy will be like if we cannot provide the education they need to meet the challenges of the future. By the same token, no one wants to pay additional taxes that are spent on something other than the reasons given for collecting them. This is tough stuff, but reasonably simple stuff.

    I say: Enough already with the name calling, the misinformation, and the pandering to special interest groups! Enough already with the flying hyperbole, the grandstanding, and the brinksmanship! We are all impressed, we truly are! Every voter in the great state of Michigan understands that our political system is messy, noisy, and confusing — and it is the best system in the world. However, it depends ENTIRELY on reasonable people, coming together to make decisions in the best interests of all of us. When “playing” politics becomes more important than “doing” politics, we all lose — from the Governor in Lansing to the janitor at the smallest school in the smallest school district.

    I live in the far north, way up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In a couple of months, I will be hip deep in snow as I likely greet my one year anniversary on unemployment benefits. I know how bad things can get in this economy — I live it each and every day. My distance and my age (over 55) gives me both perspective and certain rights to speak my mind.

    Governor, I have lived long enough to know that whenever things go sour economically, the average citizen blames the chief executive — it goes with the territory. I am sure you saw it coming. I also doubt very much that Mr. Bishop is single-handedly responsible for causing our current economic slump — he is merely taking advantage of it. I would push for as much transparency as you can generate. The good news has been welcome, but it sounds hollow when played against all the bad news. I would go to the people through all media, every venue, with all the facts — the successes and the failures.

    Mr. Bishop, this simple automatic blame reaction makes the chief executive a prime target and an easy one to hit. You really can’t miss the target, especially if you are willing to sacrifice our common welfare for your temporary political gain. If your house is on fire, you don’t block the doorway because the fireman’s hose will stain your new carpeting. Our house is on fire, man! Some sacrifice will be needed to save the structure. You may think you look like a hero, outlined in your burning doorway (looks good on camera) but you will look silly holding the remnants of your scorched and burnt (but not water-stained) carpeting.

    This stopped being a game when badly-needed, good teachers are pink-slipped, when simple humanitarian services are short-sheeted, and when old, curmudgeonly war horses (like me) must go, hat-in-hand for unemployment payments instead of proudly collecting payroll checks. There is no touchdown and this is not a goal-line stand…it is real life, and real people are suffering. If you have to take a political hit to help your constituents (all your constituents), then so be it…that is part of the reality of political life.

    Stop trying to fix the blame and fix the problem. People are hurting all over the state and you all have a duty not to make things worse. Abraham Lincoln was talking about lawyers, but could have been talking about politicians when he said: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

    Mick

  4. Thank you for putting in words in public domain what so many of us are saying at the “kitchen table”. Decided to post a comment in response to your tweet about cutting funding for education.

    NO. NO. NO. NO.

    Why do the obstructionists believe that cutting funding from educational programs is in the best interest of the citizenry? Education is a pathway to a better future.

    If any republican governor is elected next go-round — I’m leaving the State, plain and simple!

  5. Dan and Mick: Very well said, both of you.

    I think Mr. Bishop is showing the harm that can be caused to the public when an idealogue is voted into office. The mantra of “no taxes” isn’t helping anyone in our state, including even the wealthy who will actually lose out in the long run.

    Many people in Michigan and across the country are now unemployed, or otherwise have reduced incomes. Those people cannot afford to pay more in taxes. But Michigan should increase taxes on those of us who are willing and able to pay them, for the long-term good of our state. Co-workers of mine in New Jersey pay 3-4 times the amount of taxes that I do, and their public schools system and infrastructure have not deteriorated the way ours has in Michigan over the last 15 years.

    We know that many super-wealthy in this state and this country are still making many millions of dollars in income each year, even though to a large extent, it was actually their poor decisions and business acumen that got us into this mess in the first place.

    Mr. Bishop: It’s time for you and your colleagues in Lansing to do your job.

    1. Tony,
      It sure seems time to get beyond “all taxes are bad,” and to think more seriously about the impact of taxes on people and businesses. We should have principles around “leverage” for instance. If the current cuts go through we won’t be able to get nearly the number of Americorps members we could otherwise access. They are primarily paid for through federal funds, and there is a fixed amount (of money and positions). We won’t be able to compete for our fair share. These “service jobs” are great for those they serve, and they’re great for young people, especially in this tough economy.
      From your mouth to the ears of the ideologues.
      Dan

  6. Here’s a tax idea they won’t be able to resist — a tax on medical marijuana!

    Even before I became a cancer patient, I figured people who were really sick deserved to have any drug that could bring comfort. After all, hospitals give them morphine. (Fortunately, I never needed morphine or marijuana.) But now you can see the potheads lining up with their “bad backs” and other miscellaneous ailments, visiting the handful of doctors who are willing to attest to their need for weed. Talk about the 21st century economy! We also have would-be entrepreneurs racing to get in on the ground floor with various plans to supply the demand.

    I want to hear Mike Bishop explain why we shouldn’t tax pot. Don’t you?

  7. The madness of tax ping pong goes on. Other than condemning a minority group, taxes has been the best issue to upset and ignite the populace of any nation. Taxation is complicated enough that anyone can be convinced their taxes are too high, and tha to the benefit of a minority against the majority.

    How do we get people to vote against their own self interest? It is done every day, and with ease. Drop out some of the facts and let people think there is no benefit form paying taxes. Do not explain how people die, crime increases, the economy faulters, infrastructure decays, the standard of living drops, and other effects. Do not explain that government can improve all these things if managed well.

    A quote one reporter found several times when studying the last federal administration was, “The best government employee, is a bad government employee.” The idea was that the worse the employees of the government the easier it is to make people think that government is always corrupt and inept. We need good government, and we need elected officials who can explaint he benefits of good government which comes form spending tax money. You cannot always spend money more efficiently than the government.

    I would not create new taxes, but find a set of services and work which needs to be done by government and set the rate of taxation at the rate which would cover the work which must be done. In the end people pay taxes, so why tax their water, or any other things or activities? Let people know what they are paying for taxes by simple tax policies, and the most general of taxes, and let thme know the benefits, and make the budget as transparent as possible.

  8. Dan,
    I wholeheartedly agree that the “no taxes” perspective is very shortsighted. Although times are very tough, there are still almost 5,000,000 employed persons in Michigan according to the Governing Magazine Sourcebook. I have to believe that many of these Michiganders could find a way pay the small amount per person that would be necessary to keep the schools and other critical services from being decimated. My rough estimate is that only a 0.15% increase in the income tax (from 4.35% to 4.5%) would be needed to raise almost $250,000,000. Of course, it would be nice to find a way (progressive tax) to minimize impact on those in the lower income spectrum and the Governor’s revenue proposal is much better than this simplistic income tax model. I think that many of the 5,000,000 employed Michiganders would rather pay $50/year than have their children try to extract a quality education from a drastically underfunded system. Bye-the-way, who are the five republican legislators you referred to as “independent thinkers”? I would like to send them my encouragement.

    Thanks,
    Brian

  9. Dan and readers,

    This mess we find ourselves in would require an excessive amount of time and space which may not be well received by many on this blog. So I offer my thoughts:

    I think I read the same article you did Dan or at the least the article I read was in the paper and that news item reported that the Tax Foundation stated that Michigan was the 17th best State overall for taxes. There is much to substatntiate about income and taxes. Places where people have good incomes are also localities where the taxes and cost of living is higher. Is it cheaper to live in Metro Detroit or Chicago, Metro Detroit or New York? How about Boston?

    Our national economic policy was a disaster in the making from the mid 90’s through the entire Engler Administration. The facts are clear and well reported. When Engler was elected Michigan had an unemployment Rate of 6.5% and when he left it was at 6.5%.
    he once boasted of making 62 tax cuts yet what was never reported by the media was that in his last 2 1/2 years the state lost nearly 275-300,000 jobs and revenues were not coming in because the revenue stream was so reliant on the increased sales tax he is responsible for getting enacted.

    Bishop and that group known as the Busniess Leaders For Michigan belive that if we lower taxes it will spur investment and create jobs in our great state. If that were so true why did our state and our state’s economy go in the tank when the Engler administration lowered taxes. What Engler did as reported in Gongwer in the late 90’s was to use budget surpluses to cover the revenue shortfalls that were occurring because of the decline in employment and the gradual disintegration of small and medium sized business concerns. That manipulation of our financial resources contributed to the $1,000,000 shortfall our current Governor inherited when she took office. The Republicans and Bishop offer no innovative solutions but repeat the same failed story line. Bishop and his allies in the Busines Leaders for Michigan constantly spout their intense hatred and dislike for State Employees and blame them among others as a major source of our state’s plight. Note the people in this group (Business Leaders For Michigan) who occupied positions in Engler’s Administration and the inexcusable membership of the President’s Of our three major Universities who suuport this organization’s selfish and dangerous agenda.

    Thanks for the opportunity to respond and participate.

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