After this latest budget spectacle in Lansing, I’ve got one question: What’s it gonna take?
What’s it gonna take for Michigan’s political class, in both parties, to acknowledge they repeatedly have failed the people who sent them to Lansing with some expectation that they would do something to earn the salaries we’re paying them?
What’s it gonna take for Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s apologists — all 10 or so of them — to concede that the governor has taken a bad economic hand and played it just about as poorly as it could be played? For example:
Budget problems in ’07? Slap a 22-percent surcharge on business and increase the income tax rate. Budget problems in ’09? Call the Big Stall and plug holes with ObamaCash. Can’t ease the tax-and-regulatory burden on existing business, estimated to cost companies in the state three percentage points of profit? Dump massive incentives on “new” industries and those who come, shoot their movies and leave.
Lead a campaign for structural reform that challenges organized labor’s hold on the state’s public sector? Nah, that would be too hard, too divisive and it might complicate the guv’s quiet campaign to land a job with Team Obama, the most pro-labor administration since LBJ in the 1960s.
What’s it gonna take for the pro-term limits crowd to accept that Michigan’s political drift, exemplified by these embarrassing budget stalemates, symbolizes the failure of term limits? Where you don’t have rookies legislating like rookies, you have term-limited lawmakers (and a governor) staking positions to benefit their next
What’s it gonna take for Michigan’s voters (assuming they even care about politics amid this economic free-fall) to see that the problem in Lansing isn’t a lack of proposed solutions? It’s a lack of action. The servers of Michigan’s think tanks and civic groups are clogged with proposals, studies and “agendas for change” that the politicians routinely ignore and the special interests savage.
Let me say this plainly, folks: Political Michigan is broken, as broken, lost and bereft of strong leadership as much of the Detroit auto industry has proven to be over the past year.
And like Detroit Auto, the Big Mitten won’t get back on track until its leaders — present and future — stop denying reality, man up and attack the structures that make it unsustainable today, next year and 10 years from now.
Quick fixes won’t help any more than they helped General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp. For years, those companies lived on borrowed time and someone else’s money, betting they could somehow outrun obligations to investors and unions they simply could not keep.
Today’s Michigan is no different.
Hoping that the car market will return, as I heard the governor remark recently in an interview with WJR’s Lloyd Jackson, isn’t a strategy. It’s a delaying tactic. Because U.S. car sales are not likely to hit the trends of the early part of this decade for years — and when they do, Detroit’s share of that market will be less than it’s ever been in the history of the industry.
That may sound negative. It may be depressing. It may cause one of the governor’s closest advisers to send me another snarky note. But it’s true, no matter what comes from the Lansing excuse factory.
I suspect I speak for a lot of small-business owners and big-company CEOs when I say that just once I’d like to see the governor or the Democratic leadership — beyond the speaker, all by his lonesome — champion a piece of structural reform that could make Michigan a better place to do business.
What does that mean? Comprehensive tax reform that a) makes Michigan’s tax burden competitive with the top tier in the country and b) reflects the relative diminution of manufacturing and the increasing importance of the service sector in the state economy.
It means risking the wrath of the de facto leaders in Lansing, the Michigan Education Association and the United Auto Workers, and aligning the pay and benefits of public employees with national averages. It means pushing localities to share services and penalizing those that don’t. It means seriously assessing what state functions might be more efficiently done by outside contractors.
What’s it gonna take? Evidently another “lost decade” to see that the people calling the shots prefer to do what benefits them and their friends — and the rest of us can go hang.