Whatever else it is, this budget is a humpy, and lumpy creature. The lawmakers finally got it balanced, or so they say, via a messy process that included a small income tax increase, a smattering of new sales taxes on things like escort services, and budget cuts.
The lawmakers didn’t touch their health care or other perks, surprise surprise, but they did close two key state police crime labs that police rely on to process everything from fingerprints to ballistics and DNA evidence. Mark Dobias, a witty and intelligent criminal defense lawyer in Sault Sainte Marie, was incredulous they closed the one in Marquette, which serves the entire Upper Peninsula.
His e-mail asking me if this was really true was labeled “Halloween in Lansing.” He had a hard time believing the legislature did that, because it means that some police departments in the UP may have to send evidence four hundred or more miles away.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard says this means it will take longer for warrants to be issued, which means some criminals will get extra time out on the street to commit more crimes.
When I assured Dobias that they were in fact closing the Marquette Lab, he suggested the Capitol building be used to remake various horror movies, starting with the Fall of the House of Usher.
I’m sure some of the legislators think they have been through a horror movie the last few weeks. I’m sure this wasn’t much fun. That doesn’t bother me; they asked for these jobs, and are paid better than most high school teachers for considerably less work.
What bothers me is that some of the ones I talked to think they did a good job. They didn’t. I would give them a C minus at best. Oh, they did better than last May, when they stole from future tobacco settlement money, costing the state half a billion dollars.
But they failed to come up with a rational budgeting formula, based on an honest assessment of our needs, priorities, and revenues. They really have little idea whether their ragbag of service taxes will balance this budget. My guess is that future revenue projections will still show them running a deficit.
And when that happens, there will be no choice but to cut further later this fiscal year. The place where politicians find that easiest to do is usually higher education. This budget gives both higher and K-12 education a one percent increase.
That sounds nice, until you reflect that inflation is about 3.7 percent. That means they‘re actually cutting education to start.
Which will further cripple our ability to compete. We are on track to elect a new governor and virtually an entirely new set of state officeholders in 2010. Let’s hope Michigan can wait that long.