The lawmakers have known this deadline was coming for a long time. They have known how big the deficit was. The legislative leaders met for weeks in secret sessions to try to avoid the threat of another state government shutdown. Yet they still could not get a deal done.
And so we are still here, waiting to see what happens. They may pass a budget by midnight. They could cobble together a continuing resolution to keep services running while they keep fighting for a few more days. Or, if they fail to do either, much of state government is going to shut down till they can make up their minds.
What is even worse is that this is what Yogi Berra would call “déjà vu all over again.” We were at this point two years ago today, when government did actually shut down for a few hours.
That ended with an absolutely dreadful decision to slap a surcharge on the Michigan Business Tax. The lawmakers vowed that they had learned their lesson and would never do this to us again.
But they did. And the leadership team is exactly the same as it was then - Gov. Jennifer Granholm, House Speaker Andy Dillon, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. In fairness to them, this budget crisis is even harder to deal with than the one two years ago, because the state’s financial situation is so much worse.
However, everyone saw this coming. And nobody forced these people to run for office, or assume leadership positions.
Two years ago, I thought the lion’s share of the blame for the logjam lay with Mike Bishop, who seemed to be cynically obstructionist. This time, I think more of it lies with the Democrats.
Budgets are created and passed by the legislature, true. But governors traditionally lead the process, and articulate a vision for the state. Soapy Williams did that. George Romney did that, Bill Milliken did that, John Engler, whether you loved or hated him, certainly did that. Governor Granholm has not. Indeed, she has been virtually invisible the last few weeks. You might have expected her to come on television, draw a line in the sand, say that she would veto any bill that left the weakest unprotected.
Or something like that. But she hasn’t, and this has left the Democrats rudderless, split between those like Dillon, who are focused on a pragmatic deal, and those like Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi, who are upset that traditional Democratic values are seemingly being trampled.
And if that wasn’t enough bad news, here’s two more things to think about. Even if they pass a balanced budget that won’t be the end of this. Revenues are still shrinking.
They are almost certainly going to have to come back and cut spending more, unless they raise revenues. And finally, if you think this is bad, next year will be worse. Maybe, much worse. The deficit is unlikely to be smaller and the stimulus money will be mostly gone.
And the politicians will be trying to balance that budget during an election year. I’ll see you in the bunker.