Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a reporter in Lansing who said, “This ought to scare any thinking person in Michigan.”
An education bill passed by the Senate wipes out all funding for early childhood development, and bizarrely, also would do away with school bus inspections. And it cuts the amount of money the state provides for each pupil by more than $100 per student.
That means teacher layoffs. Now, that isn’t a final figure. The Senate is controlled by Republicans, and their priorities are quite different from the Democrats in the House.
But the bottom line is that there isn’t any money. The state has a giant sinkhole in its budget that is getting worse all the time.
As of last month, state revenues had fallen by 23 percent. According to Bob Emerson, the budget director, this was the worst decline since the Great Depression. Since then, the news hasn’t been any better. Unemployment last month jumped to 14.1 percent.
That translated into another $62 million the state was counting on that isn’t there. People who aren’t working don’t pay taxes. Some of this is being covered by a billion or so of federal stimulus money.
Even that isn‘t proving to be enough. Michigan is having to cut its budget, and then cut it again.
We‘re going to feel that when the kids go back to school thist fall, and in many other ways. Yet some are still playing politics. The latest skirmish is over the governor’s plan to lay off more than a hundred rookie state troopers, all of whom have been trained at considerable expense to the state.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop denounced this as “a way to say to the world we’ve lost our mind.” Crime increases in a bad economy, and he thinks we should be focusing more on law enforcement, not less. That’s reasonable, but disingenuous.
Especially since his Senate Republicans are calling for a further $4 million cut to the state police budget.
You can’t have it both ways.
We’ve all been used to getting services from the state that come so automatically we don’t think about them.
Except now we have to. We need our elected leaders to level with us, and offer us competing and honest visions for the future. There’s less money than there used to be.
There also ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Do we want what we are used to having?
If so, we are going to have to raise taxes. See, I said that and I wasn’t struck down by a thunderbolt. If we don’t want to raise taxes, we are going to have to be satisfied with poorer schools, less law enforcement and a lower quality of life in a number of ways.
We can’t have it both ways. Nor are we likely to always agree.
But what we can do is demand honesty and accountability from those we elect. We are facing hard choices.
And we need to make them without blinders on.