The voters in the last two election cycles sent 83 Democrats and only 65 Republicans to the legislature. Plus, the governor is a Democrat. True, the Republicans do control the state senate.
But you might think the Democrats ought to be driving the process, especially perhaps because the governor, Jennifer Granholm, was reelected three years ago by a landslide. But if you think that, you’d be wrong.
The person in the driver’s seat is Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Three years ago, he won the votes of about 59,000 citizens; the governor got 2.2 million votes. Yet Bishop has emerged as the dominant figure for a number of reasons. He is tough, shrewd, knows what he wants, and has the power to shut down the state just by saying no.
And shutting down the state is precisely what will happen if the parties don’t come to an agreement that will eliminate a $2.8 billion dollar deficit sometime in the next fifteen days. Here’s what is being talked about now, according to highly placed sources. The Democratic-controlled House would essentially roll over, play dead, and pass versions of the budget bills dictated by the Republican-controlled Senate.
These bills include more than a billion dollars in cuts to essential state programs, and no new revenue. The Democrats would do that, in exchange for the flimsy promise that the Republicans would later agree to help restore some of the cuts. Yeah, sure they would.
What this would mean is a huge victory for Bishop, who wants to be able to tell his party that he indeed balanced the Michigan budget without raising taxes. You might wonder, by the way, where the governor is on all of this. For the last three days, the answer would have been, on a trade mission to Japan. Do you think this might have waited till the state was no longer in danger of a shutdown? Well, never mind.
She did get back yesterday and her press secretary, Liz Boyd, was asked if the governor had become irrelevant to the budget process. Here’s what she said: “Because the governor actually signs bills, she cannot by definition be cut out of the process.” No, but by that measure, neither can her ink pen. She added this: “Governor Granholm has made clear that she will not tolerate dangerous cuts that harm our citizens.” That’s nice, but unfortunately not true. Michigan is about to lose $100 million dollars of federal money to provide health care to uninsured children. All we would have to do to get that is to put up $33 million in state matching funds.
Spend a dollar to help the neediest, and the feds give us three. But it apparently isn’t going to happen. With the budget crisis, nobody is willing to propose appropriating this money for the 160,000 Michigan kids who have no health insurance whatsoever. Marianne Udow, who was secretary of human services in the governor’s first term, said yesterday that it would be a tragedy to walk away from those funds. She’s right about that. But it is also a tragedy not to have strong leadership when we need it the most. We live, as Confucius might have said, in sad and interesting times.