Dear Gov. Granholm

Nov 4, 2009 at 12:00 am

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed off on the last of this year's state budgets last week, avoiding, for now, a government shutdown.

Unfortunately, in the process, she sold out our future, doomed vast numbers of schoolchildren, and betrayed the people who elected her. Then, naturally, in classic fashion, she attempted to escape blame for what she had done. Putting down her pen, she proclaimed: "This is the budget we have, but it is not the budget we need. It is a budget I don't agree with and don't support."

To which any sane person would say, huh?

You signed it, lady. You didn't have to. You could have gone on television and said that you weren't going to allow the Legislature to break its promise to 96,000 students now in college. You and your government promised them college scholarship money.

You not only signed off on an agreement to cut funding for public school students by $165 a child, you then arbitrarily cut a longtime "special appropriation" for those districts that have traditionally spent more to try to give their students a better chance.

Then, to everyone's shock, you cut spending for all students again. In Harper Woods, a working-class to middle-class district, educators will have nearly $600 less per student to work with.

That's what you did, governor.

Most of us thought this was some sort of clumsy attempt to force the Republicans, who control the state Senate, into agreeing to raise a little more revenue to save education. But they just laughed.

This will mean that some school districts will close early or have to be taken over by the state, or both. Proposal A took away the ability of communities to save their schools through assessing themselves higher millage rates. The promise was that the state would do that.

Another promise betrayed.   

Yes, you signed on to all of this, governor. You agreed to cut Medicaid payments to nursing homes that take care of the poor and the sick. You signed on to cut revenue sharing to already-desperate local governments. That means the odds are that more cities will go the way of Highland Park and Pontiac, meaning you will be appointing emergency financial managers to run them too.

When you signed the final budget bills that did all that, you bleated that the document you just approved "makes cuts that are too deep and painful for kids going to college, families keeping their families healthy and keeping their streets safe."

Yes, it does all that. But you know something? You could have avoided all these cuts — all of them — by getting the Legislature to raise the state income tax from 4.35 percent to 5.1 percent. That's the calculation of the top expert on the state's economy, Michigan State University's Charles Ballard, a professor of economics.

That would have cost a taxpayer making, say, $52,000 a year maybe an extra $300 bucks, or a little less, after deductions. Actually, it would have been a good deal for everyone in our state, since those getting hit with more tax would recover about 20 percent of it as a federal income tax deduction.  

Yes, I know what you would say to that. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop would never agree to it. Yes, that is probably so.

But you never even asked the Legislature to do that.

You could have gone on television and appealed to the people. You could have said, accurately, that a small band of 21 Republicans in the state Senate were holding our future hostage. That they were willing to destroy our schools — elementary, high school and college — and our kids' chance at education instead of raising taxes for all of us by maybe five or six bucks a week.

You could have said what Speaker of the House Andy Dillon said when it was all over, after you signed this budget: "The Senate has chosen to put tax breaks for oil companies and loopholes for the tobacco industry ahead of education for our kids, police and fire protection, and health care for our families."

You could have pointed out to the voters that a sizable majority of them voted for a Democratic state Senate three years ago, but that the GOP kept control thanks to gerrymandering and a couple of close races where Green Party candidates tipped the result.

But you didn't do that. You could have told the truth about Mike Bishop, which is that he's determined to stop any increase in revenues at any cost for one reason: Term limits means he needs a new job, and he wants the GOP nomination for attorney general. That nomination is awarded, not by voters in a primary, but by right-wing party activists. He has to be as right-wing as possible.

But, governor, you did none of that. History will scratch its head at your weakness. Think: Three years ago, you were re-elected by a landslide in which a record 2,143,513 of us voted for you. You had enormous political capital and no reason not to spend it. You can't run again. You can't run for president or vice president, because you weren't born a citizen. Democrats control both U.S. Senate seats, so you can't think about going there.

Your career as an elected official is probably over. You had a golden opportunity to try to make major reforms. You had a chance to refocus the state on the future, to change the way we do things, levy taxes, plan our budgets. We live in a service economy now, but we don't tax services. Manufacturing is rapidly shrinking, but the state still relies on taxing it, which is a large part of the problem and much of the reason why we have such an enormous deficit.

You have done virtually none of that. Yet the worst is yet to come, and is coming soon.

Bad as this budget is, it would have been far worse if it hadn't been for the federal stimulus dollars. You and the Legislature threw about $1.5 billion of what was left into the deficit hole. Next year, the budget deficit is likely to be just as bad. But there will be no, or almost no, stimulus money left. What will you do then?

What will we do then? Add to the economic difficulty the fact that this will be an election year. Politicians running for office hate making hard decisions when they have to face the voters.

You will essentially be a lame duck. You won't be running for anything, and have nothing to lose. This will be your final chance to lead us — and may be Michigan's final chance to avoid having our education and infrastructure damaged beyond repair.

I hope you will finally try to do the right thing. But I won't hold my breath.

Fair and balanced:
Annetta Miller, a member of Wayne State University's Board of Governors, reports that Comcast, her cable TV provider, is dumping the mildly left-leaning MSNBC from basic cable, but leaving the right-wing propaganda outlet Fox "news."

"We've always had the least expensive plan. We are told rates are going up, to $38.99 a month, and the next plan will give us Fox, but not MSNBC. We called and they say to receive MSNBC we must buy the $59.99 plan, starting Nov. 15." She is rather indignant.

"What they are doing is not offering fair and balanced opportunities to hear the news," she said. As of this writing, Comcast hasn't returned my e-mail asking for an explanation.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]