And it would be very hard to imagine anything worse that could come out of the dangerous game of chicken our so-called leaders have been playing for months with the state budget, and with us.
We aren’t talking about much money here. The network of Agricultural Extension programs and offices and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Stations get a paltry $64 million from the state. That compares to nearly two billion dollars Michigan taxpayers spend each year on prisons. But if the governor vetoes funding for agricultural programs, that will mean statewide devastation.
That‘s the word Jeffrey Armstrong uses to describe it. He‘s the dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. It would mean, for one thing, the loss of millions more in federal matching funds for our second biggest industry.
“The Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station system and MSU extension are providing the research, development, and education for Michigan’s emerging green economy,” Armstrong said.
If that funding is eliminated, or even if it is withheld, he says it would “destroy our ability to build the one economic sector in which Michigan has an advantage,” he says.
What that would mean is that MSU would have to shut down its 83 extension offices -- one per county - plus 15 agricultural and biological research stations and some other programs.
That would also mean a loss of nearly three thousand more jobs. Now, if you are a city dweller like me, you may think that what we are talking about here is a bunch of 4-H clubs.
Well, they do fund those clubs, which reach a lot of urban kids as well. But MSU’s agricultural extension programs are also helping the City of Detroit to convert brownfields into places that grow crops for energy production. They are helping seven thousand families eat better and assisting others with child care and breast feeding.
Extension programs have developed a method they say is close to wiping out the Emerald Ash Borer. In Macomb County, they’ve helped more than a hundred families avoid foreclosure.
That’s only a small sampling of what these programs do.
They have been run for a century by Michigan State, which was founded in 1855 to improve agriculture and help bring the benefits of what were called the “applied sciences” to everyone in our state. Now, Michigan is struggling to cope with a huge budget deficit.
The state still hasn’t finalized a budget that was supposed to have been done a month ago. Last week, the state unexpectedly withheld the October payment from the extension services. The governor’s office won’t say if she plans to kill the programs entirely.
Republicans were quick to denounce her for this, and just as quick to say they still won’t agree to new revenue, no matter what.
What is very clear is that destroying these programs will have a devastating effect on the common good. Last time I checked, that’s what those we elect to serve us are supposed to be looking after.
Something seems to have gone terribly wrong.