Sunday, May 27, 2007

Let's Make a Deal: Lesson 3- Bargaining

So, you want to be a Democrat.

As you know, being a Democrat or even following the Democrats requires all kinds of mental gymnastics just to stay on an even keel. Usually the Democrats will pull some move that will leave you dumbfounded and off-balance- that is the time these lessons can be applied so as to avoid any sort of cognitive dissonance explosion in your brain. Those aren't pretty. People have been known to require hospitalization in severe cases. By following a few simple steps, you will be on your way to cushioning the repeated blows and finding a place of acceptance for their behavior- which is your ultimate goal.

Take the '07 state budget for example. Just when you figure that they have to finally take a stand- wham!- they seemingly back down in the face of Republican threats.

Or did they?

Here starts your lesson.

After shaking that numbness you get when you feel that you have been emotionally sucker-punched, start the search for clues that what has happened isn't really what is happening at all- that it's all part of a larger plan, a larger agreement that will put us back on solid ground.

Yes, that's it. That must be it. The Democrats have an end-deal worked out, sure they do, one that will secure the funding that we need to even get back to normal, and perhaps even... dare I say it... move forward. Could it be?

If this thought has entered your realm of consciousness, you are on your way. Lesson 3 in our ongoing series deals with the act of bargaining. It requires you to have completed Lesson 1- Denial, so, if you haven't finished that part yet, turn back now!

It's an enormous leap of faith to think that there might be a bigger agreement happening on the future of the state's revenue. When it seems that they have gone out of their way to avoid doing any of the bipartisan commission's recommendations for future growth- they have even done some of the things they were explicitly told not to do- it makes it hard to believe that they are serious about is to come next.

Make that leap anyway. If you learn these lessons well, they can be applied to every single crisis, time and time again, no matter what happens you will have the capability to keep the faith that they know what they are doing.

While the bold headlines on Saturday screamed "Budget deal reached", when you read the fine print, you realize that they really haven't solved anything at all. They have only delayed paying some bills until October, borrowed against our future income, put the hurt on public universities, effectively raising the cost of tuition at a time when college education is crucial to our state's future economic growth, and chipped away at the quality of life programs that serve to strengthen our core cities and save us money by promoting health in our citizens, two more areas of the economy that are also vital to our ultimate success.

Even after all of that, they still come up $300 million short, more than a third of the current deficit. Threats of more cuts to come next week. Or more shifts. Or borrowing. Or whatever. What's $300 million amongst friends?

Don't let all of that bother you. Shake it off. First, take stock of what was accomplished. Make sure all the big pieces are still there.

On the plus side, and there is a significant plus side, they have managed to save the "core" and proffered themselves protection from the mass of the harshest public critics- that being K-12, health care providers, people who would have been devastated by a government shutdown, and, virtually overlooked in all of this, the happy news that they didn't cut revenue sharing to cities. Mayors, cops, doctors, educators are still wary, but have to be feeling better about life at this point.

All of that is an extremely good thing. Be grateful for what you get- it's part of the lesson of bargaining.

Hey, it could have been a lot worse. Always keep that in mind. It comes in handy. It gets you through the night, anyway.

Through the fog of it all, hints of salvation are on the horizon, hints that we really don't have to feel the inevitable pain of continuing down this course, hints that tell us we will be alright in the end, the cavalry is coming, there is no possible way they can continue to stall and deny the harsh truth of our situation.

They are just hints at this point, but what else do you have to grasp at? This is your next step in the bargaining process, finding the tools you need that will lead you to believe that "everything will be OK."

Peter Luke gives us the strongest indication. After giving a rundown that shows how these guys have simply delayed doing the hard work until the '08 budget, he comes up with this-

As a result of using that one-time money, the 2008 deficit could exceed $1.8 billion, a gap Republicans say they could close by agreeing to raise taxes. Which taxes would be raised were talked about Friday, but remain the subject of negotiations.

Republicans. Agreeing to raise taxes. Stop and think about that for a minute. They get to save face now by sticking to the promise that they would solve '07 by making "cuts", and Granholm gets to keep her promise of not cutting schools in the middle of the year. Everyone is happy. They are masters at bargaining. It's part of the job.

And when you read the stories, the new conventional wisdom is that this deal was all part of the bigger picture. It simply has to be. Even the jaded reporters think so. You can too. Search the clues.

From the AP-

Bishop appeared to leave the door open to voting on a possible tax increase for next fiscal year. But the House hasn't sent the Senate a plan. A proposal to raise the income tax has been introduced, although it's not clear if there is enough support in either chamber to pass it.

The Detroit News-

While this year's problem will be addressed without a major tax increase, the same cannot be said for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, when spending is expected to exceed revenues by at least $1.6 billion. Chances are that income and sales tax increases will be needed to close that gaping hole; economists don't expect a turnaround in Michigan's economic fortunes until sometime in 2008.

The Free Press-

The breakthrough came after months of often rancorous debate and set the stage for a showdown on a major income tax increase, possibly as early as next week, to address an even larger deficit in 2008 and beyond. But there will be no major tax increase before Oct. 1.


The size of an income tax increase proposal remained unclear Friday as lawmakers delved into new ways to raise money to balance the state's growing deficit.

Bishop's statement to Gongwer was very telling, as if he would offer protection to those Republicans that do vote for an increase. That should take the wind out of Drolet's sails.

By that definition, Mr. Bishop said no Republican member of the 94th Legislature will have acted irresponsibly if he or she votes for a tax increase because they did look at other options first.

And from Liz Boyd, on the cuts to the universities-

Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman, said the budget cuts are a painful compromise and that restoring some of the money to universities is one reason the governor has called for a tax increase.

"We agree that higher education requires more investment, and that is why revenues must be part of the solution for 2008," Boyd said.

The cuts are called "temporary", indicating that they believe this money will be restored by the '08 budget. Wishful thinking? Or do they know something that we don't? Time will tell.

And there you have it. Major media outlets are all saying that revenue is inevitable, and by looking at all the clues, you have bargained your way back to hope.

If it all comes crashing down again in the next round, just go back to Lesson 1 and start all over.

Congratulations. You have now learned the secret of supporting the Democrats in this day and age. And who knows, maybe one of these days your persistence will pay off, they will do the right thing, and these lessons will become obsolete. Until then, hope for the best, and learn how to bargain.

It works every time.