Our economy is in terrible shape, the worst in decades, with no relief in sight. Consequently, the state is taking in far less money every month than it counted on. We are looking at a two billion dollar deficit for next year, maybe even worse. For weeks, the legislature has been squabbling over what to cut and how much of the federal stimulus money to use. But none of that is a long-term solution.
Last week, a new, intelligent, thoroughly sensible idea was proposed by Speaker of the House Andy Dillon.
What was dismaying is that his idea was instantly attacked by the Michigan Education Association, the state’s main teachers’ union, which calls itself enlightened and progressive.
Here’s what happened. Dillon, a Democrat in his last term, proposed having a single, uniform, state-wide health care program for all public sector employees. Right now, there is a patchwork quilt of who knows how many different plans. This unnecessarily wastes tax dollars at a time when the state has no money to spare.
By combining all the various health plans, which now insure more than 400,000 people, plus retirees, the state would save a lot of money, partly from economies of scale. Dillon thinks the state could save as much as $900 million dollars a year. What’s more, he knows something about numbers; he is both an attorney and the former managing director of a major private equity capital firm.
What may seem odd about this is that while Dillon is a Democrat, his proposal has gotten fairly enthusiastic approval from Republicans like Mike Cox and business groups, like Detroit Renaissance and various chambers of commerce.
Normally a proposal like this would come from the executive branch, but the hard and non-partisan truth is that Michigan has the weakest governor the state has seen since World War II.
Governor Granholm did issue a statement about the Dillon plan that was incomprehensible gobbledy gook, probably deliberately so. Most unions were noncommittal, apart from the teachers‘ union, who basically indicated they weren’t even willing to think about it.
That head-in-the sand attitude on the part of the MEA indicates what’s wrong with politics in this state. This state has major, long-term money problems. If everyone is willing to think creatively, we may save more jobs in the short run, and save our state in the long run. But if we revert to our traditional petty, sectarian little corners, we will all suffer more in the long run than if we sacrifice now.
That’s not to say I am speaking as an advocate for the Dillon plan. But what I am saying, everybody in power knows. The state has to fundamentally change the way it does business, period, or we are headed for a meltdown and shutdown as early as 2011.
Speaker Dillon’s comprehensive health care proposal is the first serious attempt at a needed restructuring we’ve seen in years.
It deserves full, fair, and complete consideration.
After all, we have little time to lose.