Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Decent Plan to Close Budget Gap - You're Getting Warm...

The governor’s now-approved cuts and other measures to hone the budget makes sense on its face and represents an an ‘it’s about time’ moment.
As an example, let look at the state police. The first thing you’ll hear is that this will take officers off the street. While this may be an unfortunate fact, look to a January 2003 press release that announced this:
Teaching, Educating and Mentoring (T.E.A.M.) School Liaison Project [was] developed by the Michigan State Police Prevention Services Section. T.E.A.M. is a proactive effort to make schools and communities safer by promoting an understanding of social rules, the consequences of unlawful behavior and students’ responsibilities as good citizens. The State Police introduced the school liaison program in July 1998….By the fall of 2003, the total number of officers teaching T.E.A.M. in Michigan schools is expected to reach 300.
Now look to the item in this news account, noting that the proposed cuts include the layoff of 100 State Police troopers, dropping trooper strength to just over 1,000. Which means that nearly one-third of them were also devoting time to teaching a program of dubious merit in public schools? Perhaps we could adjust that trooper number estimate for staff drops in the last six years. But on what planet do to have time to qualify 300 police officers to teach in schools? Can’t they just make sure we are safe?
We also like the six unpaid days for government employees. It appears these days are at the discretion of the employee, but a look at just how those days are spent would be an intriguing study. My bet is they will be treated as holidays and the spending will be free. They are well-paid and a big help to the local economies. The plan mirrors actions in other states, including North Carolina and California.
Now then, the notion of placing blame for this deficit, as written by a statehouse News reporter in an earlier edition story: “The reductions are meant to help wipe out a $1.3 billion state budget deficit due to the economic malaise and the struggling auto industry.
He is right in noting 'THE economic malaise,' for sure. We hope he is not referring to the current national recession, though. Michigan has been in a serious economic slump for years, even when the auto industry was anything but struggling. In 2005, 16.9 million cars were sold, and in 2006, 16.5 million. In 2004, when Michigan had a balanced budget, auto sales were 16.9 million. General Motors sold 27 percent of them.
But Michigan, in 2004, still had a 7 percent unemployment rate, the highest corporate tax burden in the U.S. and the makings of a new tax increase that would benefit the state’s three automakers.
Things have gone interestingly since. We have some of the highest insurance rates in the U.S., maintain the highest unemployment rate and now, face a $1.3 billion budget deficit.
But really, these new cuts will help and while the administration did nothing to address the out-of-control obsession with funding poor public education and some dubious, anti-free market plans, this is a step in the right direction.

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