Monday, November 27, 2006

BRIAN DICKERSON: Tell us whom you're playing for, legislators

Yes. How I love having an ally in the media. Dickerson does me one better in the cynicism department and brings up a point I hadn't really thought about until now.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has asked the outgoing Legislature to act, during its upcoming lame-duck session, on her proposal to replace the SBT with a broader, flatter business levy. Granholm is operating on the quaint theory that the same mischievous frat boys who trashed Michigan's fiscal house ought to be responsible for cleaning up now that their toga party is over.

But outgoing Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, and House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, say the process of restoring solvency to state finances should proceed slowly, methodically and on someone else's watch. After all, the fun part was over months ago.

Zing! Sounds familiar.

Now, to the question of who is pulling the strings. I'm putting my money on Big Insurance.

But before they go home for the next holiday, outgoing state senators should at least vote on the campaign-finance and lobbying reforms the House adopted by a nearly unanimous vote last September. That way, when the new Legislature gets down to the nitty-gritty of replacing the SBT, voters will at least have a better idea which special interests are in charge of the process.

See, I couldn't help but notice during the election campaign just concluded that the state's top 150 political action committees raised 60% more than in the 2004 election cycle. I know most of the donors are only interested in good government, but I suspect a few of them are going to want seats at the table when lawmakers start making tax policy.

The 11 bills adopted by the House two months ago (and studiously ignored by Sikkema ever since) won't stem the flood tide of campaign cash. But passage of the package would make it a little easier for voters to figure out who's squeezing which legislators for what outrageous tax break, as well as which independent groups are funding all those annoying robo calls.

Wouldn't you like to know who these guys work for? I know I would. But does it matter?

You see, legislators, no one really expects you to tackle anything as difficult as replacing the SBT. Heck, we don't even expect you to pretend that you're working for us, now that the next election is nearly two whole years away.

We know you've got more important things to worry about than the voters who elected you. All we're asking for is a better scorecard, so we can follow the action like the hapless spectators we've been reduced to.

I'm beginning to believe it is never about the voters- it is all about the games, the power, the money. While there are exceptions to that rule, for the most part the struggle for cash and partisan control are the main motivation for these folks- the voters only matter in the three months prior to the election. The quotes on the SBT I highlighted below prove the attitude rapidly changes once its over. Can you imagine them saying those things before you went to vote for them?

We need campaign finance reform, now!, but it is like asking the fox to give up the keys to the henhouse. They will write all sorts of loopholes and it will be business as usual.

Let's hope I'm wrong.