State government is, by far, the government that most affects the lives of most people. Most federal programs are run through the states these days. Local governments are all creations of the state, and are drastically affected by decisions made in Lansing.
In fact, what is happening in Lansing is probably more important now than ever. Our state is now wrestling with an agonizing budget crisis and a deadlock in the legislature over what to do about it. The state does not have enough money to do what it has promised to do. And unless something changes, things will get worse for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the ten million people of Michigan are looking to Lansing for help making decisions to face that future. We have to decide whether we want to pay higher taxes or get used to a state with drastically reduced services, or a combination of both.
That’s a decision our elected leaders have to make right now. Then we have to figure out our business tax structure, and what we can do to make this a state that will attract new industries and jobs. Everyone in this state needs to know where we are with these things. We need to know what our elected leaders are doing and thinking about doing. Lansing has probably never been a bigger or more important story. Yet you wouldn’t know that from our news outlets. Newspapers are a for-profit business. But most of the respectable ones have traditionally have felt they had a sacred calling to inform the public. “Give light,” in the words of the old Scripps-Howard newspaper motto, “and the people will find their own way.“
These days, however, it is a light that is failing. The Booth group of medium-sized papers in eight mid-Michigan cities has long done solid and reliable journalism. I don’t know precisely why they are closing their Lansing bureau, except that money is surely involved. I do know that this is a terrible thing.
Most people in Michigan are only dimly aware of the severe budget crisis facing state government, or the vast economic crisis facing all of Michigan. A lot more of them know who fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, or how and why a woman in Macomb County was gruesomely murdered in February.
The odds are pretty good that none of us are likely to be dismembered by our mates. But everyone of us is affected by what is happening in Lansing right now. Here’s something that I find interesting. When the Detroit News had a dozen reporters in Lansing, it had more than three times the subscribers it does now.
Last year ABC News picked a serious journalist in his 60s to anchor its nightly news, and he’s beating the stylish pants off the perky young anchors he is up against. Maybe, just maybe, people really do want to know what matters. Before our civilization collapses, our media might just want to give it a try.