How do we save our economy? 

Politically, I have never been a big fan of L. Brooks Patterson, who got his start as the headline-grabbing attorney for a group of parents who were opposed to busing, way back in 1971. There were many problems with busing, and those in favor of it failed miserably to make their case.

However, everybody knew that much of the anti-busing sentiment was really about not wanting to go to school with black kids. Brooks played the issue to the hilt, and dropped the anti-busing hordes like a hot yam as soon as it suited his purposes. He then got himself elected Oakland County prosecutor.

I thought he would eventually end up as senator or governor. But he ran for those jobs way too soon, ticked off everyone in his party and never got very far out of the starting gate. He's now the beloved county executive (sort of a super-mayor) of one of the biggest and richest counties in the world.

He's done wonders to help Oakland's economy, though too often he has been willing to make cheap points by bashing Detroit. But even though his policies on urban sprawl are straight out of the 1950s, I have to confess something that will get me thrown out of liberal heaven.

I like him. For one thing, Brooks has perhaps the best sense of humor in Michigan politics today. (Most liberals — indeed, most politicians — would be well advised to try to acquire one, perhaps through transplant surgery.)

And he isn't afraid to rock the boat. If his fellow Republicans are being jerks, Brooks will often stand up there and say so.

Last week, Brooks threw another bomb — and though I was appalled at first, I think he might be onto something. He announced he'd lead a major effort to get a proposition on the statewide ballot that would repeal the Single Business Tax, which the boys in the locker room normally call the SBT.

For years, there has been wide agreement that the SBT, which raises a big part of the state's budget, is fatally flawed. It is in large measure a tax on employment, and punishes businesses that hire workers.

But replacing it would take political courage, and that has been in painfully short supply in both the governor's office and the Legislature. Last week, in typical Brooks-speak, giving his annual state of the county speech, Patterson said:

"The endless debates on this subject have produced more flatulence than a Super Bowl party at an MSU frat house." That was vintage Brooks; gross perhaps, but perfectly true. So, he's proposing to bring in the dynamite.

He vowed to raise the money needed to get a proposal on the ballot this November that will flatly repeal the SBT, period. If he gets enough signatures in time, my guess is that people will vote to kill it.

Initially I thought that was one more stupid stunt, especially after various right-wing ideologues said the state really didn't need the $1.8 billion the tax produces. In fact, the SBT supplies almost a quarter of Michigan's entire general fund budget. That's roughly as much as the state spends on the entire prison system, or our entire university system (Yes, there is a difference.)

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that — given the total leadership vacuum in Lansing — this is probably exactly what we need to do.

This is what happened with school funding back in 1994: The Legislature simply abolished the old system of property tax funding for the schools. That forced the politicians and voters to scramble and come up with something new.

Frankly, our state government needs more money — not less. But we also need more businesses and jobs, and all the experts think the SBT acts to keep new business out of our dying industrial economy.

What we should do is come up with a more rational way to get the state the money it needs — and there is a sensible one. Extend the state sales tax to cover services, not just stuff. (We might not want to extend it to medical services.) For example, if I go get a tuneup on my Ford Pinto.

That would raise so much money that we could probably reduce the overall sales tax from 6 percent — what it is now — to 5 percent.

This idea comes from Phil Power, the former publisher of a bunch of weekly newspapers. He's now in the process of trying to start a think-and-do tank that would be devoted to coming up with solutions for the state's biggest problems. He asked the Brookster if he'd go along with that.

Patterson told him, in effect, "Hell, yes!" Actually, like any rational person, he wishes the Legislature would take action and put this on the ballot, so he doesn't have to run around raising money and hiring people to collect signatures.

After all, we are paying our gutless wonders to make important decisions for the state. Unfortunately, they want to avoid making hard choices wherever possible, as does Gov. Jennifer "Aren't I Cute" Granholm.

What this really is all about is increasing the odds that someday you'll have a job, and that this state will have universities good enough to train the next generation for the jobs of the future. So if you know any lawmakers, bug them.


Jesus, of course, spoke perfect Yooper: Meanwhile, as our lawmakers fiddle, and our state's economy falls apart, never let it be said that State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk doesn't have his priorities in the right place. He's pushing a bill to make English Michigan's official language.

That is a manifestly stupid idea, and would make us look like a bunch of xenophobic yahoos. But when I talked to Hoogendyk last week, I realized that he really wasn't that bad, and there is a language debate we need to have. Hoogendyk's parents came from Holland after World War II, and, like most immigrants throughout our history, they learned English as quickly as possible and wanted their kids to become fully assimilated.

Today, however, there seem to be more immigrants who don't want to do that, but instead create little isolated Iraqi settlements in, say, Dearborn.

We would all be better off if more of us were multilingual. But we need to have a common tongue for doing the society's business. We probably don't want to have to print every state government form in 100 languages, either.

The question is how to preserve minority language and cultural rights within the context of the greater society, and we should be working on that.


Is there a Dr. Kevorkian in the house? You have to be revolted by the continued torture of the living corpse of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose mind was destroyed last month by a series of massive strokes, followed by Yahweh-knows how many operations to drain the blood from his brain.

Nobody thinks he'll ever emerge from his present massive coma, and whatever your politics, he ought to have been left to die in peace.

But no; they keep operating on him, most likely because all the parties have a vested interest in keeping him "alive" at least until Israel's March 28 elections. Last weekend, they sliced out a couple of feet of his rotting large intestine. Perhaps eventually they'll keep his heart beating in a big Petri dish.

If you call this life, you're in worse shape than he is.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to

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