Time for the Legislature to get its act together

Published 3:15 am Monday, September 24, 2007

By Staff
It's time for an end to the finger-pointing and press conferences so state lawmakers can do the jobs they were elected to do – make decisions that will solve Michigan's budget crisis and avert an Oct. 1 partial shutdown of state government.
Their bosses, the taxpayers, won't like the looks of the landscape if Lansing continues on its collision course of willful self-destruction, careening off the cliff like lemmings.
Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and lately it's looked a lot like Michigan in 1959.
Then, charismatic liberal Democratic Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams for years had been feuding with the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Like now, when the prospect is beginning the new fiscal year with a $1.75-billion deficit and no money to pay employees or bills, state government 48 years ago was spending more than it collected in revenue.
Williams resolved to fix the state's budget woes with a graduated income tax and a new tax on business. Senate Republicans said no, suggesting instead a penny boost in sales tax.
Within months, the state couldn't pay its bills and endured payless paydays.
Williams blamed the damage to Michigan's reputation on the GOP, which wanted to nip his White House aspirations.
If that was their goal, they succeeded because his presidential ambitions were dead in the water.
Williams agreed to hike the sales tax and Mitt's father, Republican Gov. George Romney, eventually enacted Michigan's first income tax.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm and most Democrats want to raise income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.6 percent to erase the $1.75 billion shortfall. Republicans want to further reduce spending and implement reforms before resorting to a tax hike.
House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, announced a budget deal at mid-afternoon Thursday, but it came apart and fell four votes short. House members stayed in session overnight until 7:29 a.m. Friday.
Dowagiac's state Rep. Neal Nitz, R-Baroda, said, "As Michigan residents face the highest unemployment rate in the nation, the last thing they need is the state asking for even more of their money. As the failure of this vote has clearly shown, many House Democrats realize this as well. We thought we had an agreement in place, but for the eighth day in a row and over 106 hours, Democrats have failed to garner enough support in their own caucus to increase the income tax to 4.6 percent, which I have figured will cost the average family of three in my district about $225 more a year. I believe if we can come to a compromise and finally break through this logjam, we have a great opportunity to work together for the betterment of our state. Raising taxes should be a last step to fill a hole that must be filled; hiking them while growing government is irresponsible. I will continue to work toward an agreement that will make Michigan more efficient and promote economic growth."
Six Democrats – Reps. Terry Brown of Pigeon, Marc Corriveau of Northville, Kate Elbi of Monroe, Martin Griffith of Jackson, Mike Simpson of Liberty Township and Mary Valentine of Muskegon – afraid a pro-tax vote could cripple their chances for re-election in 2008 or even spark recall campaigns against them, voted against the tax hike.
One Republican, Rep. Chris Ward of Brighton, voted for the tax increase. Two Republicans in attendance didn't vote: Reps. Dick Ball of Owosso and Judy Emmons of Sheridan. That shouldn't be an option at this point. It's their job.
Some Republicans blame Granholm for exacerbating the situation by negotiating in public instead of bringing her House majority Democrats to heel on a roll-call vote.
Another factor in the stalemate is said to be personal animosity so bad between Dillon and House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, that they don't even talk directly.
"Every day they don't do something, it hurts the state's credit rating, causes greater expenses for the state and runs up the deficit more," said former governor James Blanchard, who successfully proposed an income tax increase soon after taking office in 1983. The state will lose $450,000 a day from three Detroit casinos which could shut down Sept. 30.
Worrying about re-election will be the least of lawmakers' worries come Oct. 1 when $259 million in payments are due to be made for everything from adoption subsidies to Medicaid weekly payrolls to bond payments.
At least 18 public school districts have said they will have to shut down if they don't receive October state aid payments.
If their current occupants can't or won't do these good-paying jobs, there are a lot of unemployed people who would like a crack at them.