Warning: long article with interest only to Michigan taxpayers ahead...
I have resisted writing about the current state of affairs in our state government in Michigan, lately. This is partly because I am very busy these days and partly because the issues are extremely conflicting for me. Full disclosure: I am an employee of the State of Michigan. This means I am paid by the taxpayers and I provide a service for all of those taxpayers. I am also one of the people whose salaries are a current drain on those same taxpayers. As our lovely Governor is wont to point out, there are two sides to a budget equation: revenues and expenditures. I am an expenditure.
The reason the issue is conflicting is that I am very much in favor of cutting state government. On the other hand I am a part of that government. The argument I make, then, sounds a bit self-serving if not disingenuous: I am in favor of cutting state government, just not my job. There how does that sound? Lame, I know. But that is just my argument. You see, I work for a portion of the government that really can't be privatized. I work in the state's prison system and, as such, we have the power of life and death over our inmates. If an inmate tries to escape, it is my duty to stop him by any means necessary, including the legal use of deadly force. I am of the opinion that the state can't delegate this power to a private entity. There are plenty of arguments to the contrary. Good ones, in fact. My own views are primarily based on the explanation given above and the poor record of those corporations that have been given that power by other states.
So, I am in favor of the portion of Michigan's government that wants to cut expenditures, before even thinking about raising revenues (That's raising taxes, in plain-speak). I am confident that-given the information and the opportunity-I could easily cut 2 Billion in fat out of the state's budget. The people who think like me on this issue are almost all Republicans.
The current crisis in Michigan's government is of course, nothing new. This summer the same sort of thing was happening in Pennsylvania. A liberal governor, Ed Rendell, threatened to shut down his state's government if a budget deal was not reached that would include his pet tax hike, an energy tax. Sound Familiar?
Here is a quote from the linked article that indicates just what was happening at the time and shows also, what is happening right now in Michigan: “It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County. “The governor is using state employees and government services as pawns in an attempt to garner support for tax, fee and spending increases that fall outside the General Fund budget. It is absurd that the governor is using the livelihood of state workers to leverage support for unpopular proposals.”
I understand that Granholm and Rendell are quite friendly with one another. Perhaps she thinks that a government shutdown would be no less injurious to her and her Democrat congress than it was for Rendell. Of course that remains to be seen, as Pennsylvania voters have shown a propensity to "vote the bums out", in the past. Michigan voters, however, are mostly sheep and continue to vote primarily for liberal Democrats, even though the state's future is seriously at risk by following this prescription. For example, the Michigan state legislature (and the Governor) voted themselves a 35% increase in their wages in 2001 and there was no backlash as in the cited Pennsylvania case. (Actually, the mechanism for salary increases for our legislature and executive branch is extremely sneaky. It requires a vote by the appointed Civil Service Commision, and can only be overidden by the legislature once awarded. So the legislature didn't vote the increase, they only failed to vote against it!) In short, Granholm's gambit will probably work.
She wants a tax hike as opposed to making the truly tough decisions to make the cuts necessary to bring the budget under control. She wants to continue to make state government the tool for change in this economy, when it is actually the millstone around this economy's neck. Her "cool cities" initiative is one good example. Let's give money that the state doesn't have to cities that want to initiate changes that make them "hip"! WTF? All the while making it more difficult and costly to do business in the state. Granholm threatened the Republicans that if they don't support her "revenue" increases, she would attack state business interests by closing tax loopholes advantageous to businesses. Yikes! A state that is leaking jobs like a sieve is going to attack the only businesses who remain? Yup! That's progressive action, people! After all, we can't cozy up to the corporations, publicly. We're Democrats, after all! We'll just keep talking about the evil corporations, while eliciting quiet campaign contributions from all of the CEOs of those companies. It isn't as if we will do anything for those contributions...
There are hundreds of unnecessary, high-paid, state employees. There are hundreds of congressional staff members that are also unneeded for the actual performance of government business. Legislators earn unnecessarily high salaries, work unnecessarily long hours, earn unrealistically high retirement benefits for ridiculously short careers and unnecessarily high health care benefits. Visit the state government website to see the plethora of agencies and departments that comprise our state government. There are nineteen departments within the executive branch of our government, some of which are entirely unnecessary! All our governor has done to "streamline" these departments is shuffle high-paid administrators from one department to the other. No real reduction has taken place during her tenure. Any person that thinks it makes sense for the regular, blue-collar state employee to receive cuts to bring their compensation packages down to what the average private sector employee receives, should be outraged at what the higher end state employees are getting.
Michigan's state government is huge and it could stand a whole helluva lot of trimming. We pay many, many people over one hundred thousand dollars a year for things that have dubious benefits for most state residents. The job of General Manager for the Michigan State Fair comes to mind. This job pays over $101,000/year and includes an attractive benefit package. It doesn't rival what a general manager in the private sector might get but the job is not a private job. Here is the difference, people. These jobs are not given to people based upon their abilities, qualifications or their work histories. They're given on the basis of political considerations and cronyism. For this reason more than any other, these jobs should be up on the block during tough political times.
Could the state government privatize the state fair's operation? Yes. Could they sell some fo the millions of acres of state land they have? Yes. Could the state cut the salaries of the legislature and halt the payment of retirement wages to some of these people whose work histories don't even reach ten years of service? Yes. Instead of these hard decisions, our governor wants to keep the status quo and raise taxes.
In order to get the public to support a tax increase, she wants to show them how bad things can get. You won't be able to buy liquor! No lottery sales can be made! Certain bridges will be shut down! Scary, huh? Now, don't you think a tax increase is better than all that? Not only that, but the governor and her party (which is the majority party in our legislature) wants to force Republicans to vote for the tax increase so that key, vulnerable Democrats can vote no or decline to vote, to help maintain their seats next election!
As a libertarian, I don't care if government shuts down. In fact, I like the idea. Most of the government is doing me harm when they're working, anyway! Still, the governor's gambit has paid off. There will be a tax increase and the only people that will pay for their crime of raising taxes will be fiscally irresponsible Republicans.
I was notified on Friday that I am a non-essential state employee. I was told not to report to work on Monday, unless the budget is resolved. I am to watch the news and check the website at Michigan.gov. I will be losing even more money to act in the governor's political theater. So far, I've received cuts in my wages of over $6000 in just one year, during Ms. Granholm's tenure. 2005 marked the first year in twenty years that my wages actually dropped from the previous year. Oh well, when the going gets tough, the fat cats circle the wagons!