Monday, February 26, 2007

February is One Long Month

February is One Long Month

We are looking at the all-time record here in GR for snowfall in February. Couple more inches and we will have it.

Yes, it's pretty. Someone please make it stop now...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

To The Point with Governor Granholm

Video from WOOD- Governor Jennifer Granholm talks about the budget crisis the state faces, and her proposals to fix it.

The Governor takes Rick for a ride once again- watch in the very first question as she runs away with the conversation. I don't know how the poor guy keeps up. (after seeing Skubick in action, my appreciation for Albin has gone up immensely. Doesn't mean I won't call him out when he's being a jerk though.)

I would transcribe some of this, but the Governor talks about 300 miles per hour, and "Casablanca" is on and I'm missing it.

There was one interesting point towards the end when they discussed privatization of the prison system-

Granholm: There absolutely have been problems, and those problems are being addressed. In fact, one of the problems is that we... frankly John Engler privatized the health care delivery system, and I'm not blaming him, that was one of the things that was done in order to try to manage it better, but that system, and a federal district judge has said that it is poorly run, particularly with respect to mental health, and so we are doing a whole internal review process.

She goes on to talk about the prison review, but in that moment she is speaking of CMS- recently featured on 60 Minutes making our state and Patricia Caruso look very, very bad, and has been the the subject of various investigations across the country (Delaware and Missouri for starters) for their alleged neglect of prisoners. Jeff Gerritt of the Free Press reported last fall that this neglect is actually costing us more money as ignored medical problems become serious.

A report to the Legislature indicates that our contract with CMS expires on May 1st, but "negotiations are currently underway" to extend it to 2008.

I wonder if this is still true, given the light shed on this issue by 60 Minutes, and, well, the media across the country.

Can we afford to jettison CMS? Can we afford not to?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Back to you, Rick.

MI GOP has a budget plan, they just won't tell you what it is

Mike Bishop has a secret.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says he has compiled a list of $900 million worth of spending cuts to balance the state's budget -- he just doesn't want to share the list with the public yet.

Bishop, a Rochester Republican, said his colleagues in the GOP-controlled Senate have pieced together a budget-balancing plan that contains no new taxes, no fee increases and no budgetary "gimmicks." But his proposal to eliminate the current $900 million deficit has not been unveiled to taxpayers or the governor.

"I haven't made it public because I feel the proper thing to do is to have discussions with our legislative colleagues and the governor. This is an ongoing process of negotiations," said Bishop, who took over the Senate leadership post in January.

When Bishop spoke by telephone with Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Thursday, he did not share the details of the GOP plan.

Would this be the same Mike Bishop who, just one day before speaking with the Governor on the phone, released this memo entitled, "Governor’s Failure to Communicate Sends Wrong Signal to Michigan Citizens”?

We can only conclude her continued lack of communication with the Legislature on serious issues is intentional.

You just can't make this stuff up. Really, you can't.

Go get 'em Liz.

"This is the $900 million question. They need to show the governor and the public their list," said Liz Boyd, Granholm's press secretary. "The governor has been very forthright in presenting her plan."

The Senate leader is expected to move toward the start of a negotiating process early next week when he meets with House Speaker Andy Dillon, a Redford Township Democrat. But it's unclear when the list of cuts will face public scrutiny.

Michigan Republicans like to do their work in secret. Wonder what kind of signal that sends to "Michigan's citizens". Guess we have to follow the clues.

We know they are claiming "panic in the streets" over reducing Michigan's record prison population. With a $2 billion dollar tab that eats 20% of our budget, highest in the Great Lakes region and fifth- highest in the nation, the Pubs prefer to keep elderly and sick prisoners on the state dime when we could shift some of that cost to the feds, even though predictions have the state prisons full by this fall.

We know they claim that school funding is a top priority and the "Republican budget plan will seek to mitigate any impact on education".

We know that they are acting in a contradictory manner, saying they want "cuts", but they rejected the cuts on the table.

The Republicans also rejected a Granholm executive order on Feb. 14 to cut $166 million in spending from the current budget, calling it inadequate. Those two opposition moves have prompted criticism from the state budget office. Spokesman Greg Bird said "it certainly makes us skeptical" of the GOP's emphasis on spending reductions.

So, they don't want to cut prisons. They don't want to cut education. They DO want to continue to cut business taxes.

But yet they refuse to raise revenue to pay for all those things.

What is left? Medicaid cuts, which will only be passed on to you through higher insurance rates and health care costs. Local revenue sharing cuts, which will force cities to raise taxes or cut services like police and fire departments. Cuts to education will be made up by raising tuition, etc. On and on. Again, the cost will be passed on to you through the backdoor.

There are numerous examples of how all these cuts will ending up costing you in the long run. Make no mistake, Republicans will make you pay, they just don't have the courage to be upfront about it.

If they did, why the need for secrecy now?

If they had any courage, they would get their list of cuts out for all to see. Instead, they try for these underground negotiations, perhaps looking for bipartisan cover.

When pressed, Bishop came up with the standard "waste, fraud and abuse" line.

The senator said the GOP plan includes cuts, bureaucratic restructuring, elimination of government waste, and other savings.

"Other savings" usually means it is coming out of your pocket eventually. Might as well pay up now and get it over with.

(Slightly expanded version available in orange.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Chevy Graveyard

Chevy Graveyard

This truck is in the woods behind my Mom's house- why the deer skull on it, I don't know. I'm afraid to ask.

Thought I'd reverse the position for this strange pic.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Window to Spring

Window to Spring

Goofing around with Photoshop....

Taxpayers: Cut legislators' salaries to reduce budget

WOOD TV8 in Grand Rapids has been soliciting viewer advice on the Michigan budget crisis, and apparently the public is more than willing to take out their frustration on the Legislature.

Albin: The number one question we get asked is, "Why don't lawmakers take a pay cut to help with the budget problem?"

Rick goes on to break down the numbers for us-

This year's deficit: $940,000,000.

Lawmaker's salary: just under $80,000.

Number of lawmakers: 148.

Total budget for their salaries: $11,840,000.

Total budget deficit without lawmakers salaries: just over $928,000,000.

Not enough. Need more.

Albin: But what if you just eliminated the Legislature altogether; their staff, their retirement, their salaries, their offices, their health care, everything.

* insert vision of Craig DeRoche packing up his office in plain brown boxes, security standing at his door with their arms folded, waiting impatiently for him to get the hell out... let me savor this for a second... *

Albin: The House Fiscal Agency, which, by the way, wouldn't be funded under this scenario, says that all costs of the Legislature run in excess of $116 million dollars. If all of that were eliminated, the state would still be $820 million dollars in the red.

This could be the new running joke in Michigan- after all, the Legislature is the old running joke in Michigan...

Q: What do you call 148 lawmakers on the unemployment line?

A: A good start.

Yes, I'm being snarky. In truth, I don't really begrudge these guys their salaries or their benefits or anything, until they start suggesting that other people, such as teachers or state employees or whoever, should cut their pay. Then I start to get a little perturbed. I also would like to see them address campaign finance reform, but I don't notice them rushing to cross that bridge anytime soon.

We are like a bunch of dogs fighting over the last scrap of meat in this state, and it's a disturbing trend. "Cut his pay, take away his benefits, go tax someone else, just not me!"

When we run around trying to hurt each other, nobody wins.

So, let the Legislature have their bennies. As Albin pointed out, eliminating them doesn't save all that much, and we might need them someday to stop Governor Cox from implementing his nefarious plans.

But, if we do decide to go the elimination route, I'll be more than happy to help DeRoche pack.

UPDATE 2/24: This fun fact from the Freep-

At $79,500 a year, Michigan legislators are the second-best paid among states with full-time lawmaking bodies, topped only by California. The Council of State Governments says that with adjustments for inflation, state legislators now make 13% more than their counterparts did in 1975. A council survey found lawmakers in other states, including New York, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio, lost ground over that period.

Something to keep in mind.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Michigan loses $2B with Bush budget

I know I blogged about this before, but it hit the press again and it is worth repeating. Those of you with congressional watch blogs should take note and watch your critter closely. Time to find out who is going to stand up for us in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- Michigan faces a loss of more than $2 billion in federal money over the next five years if budget cuts proposed by President Bush become law, according to separate analyses by Michigan's hospitals and a Washington think-tank.

A report released Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington estimated Michigan would lose about $1.1 billion from 2008 to 2012 in spending on nearly a dozen federal programs. The Michigan Health and Hospital Association estimated that changes in Medicare and Medicaid would cut $1.1 billion from funding over the same period.

And for a breakdown on the programs and estimated cuts-

K-12 education: $221 million

Vocational/adult education: $149.6 million

Child care block grants: $13 million

Head Start: $86.3 million

Clean water programs: $111.2 million

Home heating aid: $136.2 million

Community services grants: $122.4 million

Public housing capital fund: $47.7 million

Community Development Block Grants: $160.1 million

Law enforcement grants: $94.7 million

Women, Infants and Children nutrition program: $17.3 million

That list doesn't include the $1.1 billion in Medicare and Medicaid funding cuts. One in seven people in Michigan rely on Medicaid for health care, $8 billion is spent annually. Fifty-six percent of that money is from federal funding, and 44 percent is from the state.

It is almost a sure bet that the Republicans in our state legislature will be looking to cut the state level funding for Medicaid- they tried and tried under Sikkema's leadership, and given the resistance to cuts in prisons and education they have indicated so far, and the fact that they are unwilling to raise revenues, you can almost guarantee they will go after the sick folks. There really isn't anywhere else to turn.

Those costs will ultimately be passed on to you in the form of higher insurance rates as hospitals and doctors look to recoup that money.

In the end, cuts will cost you, one way or the other.

Reductions in other federal programs leave Michigan and other states with unappealing choices, said Sharon Parrott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"States can scale back the services they provide," Parrott said. "Or they can raise revenues by increasing taxes."

Bush supporters say Michigan will benefit from a balanced budget and income tax cuts.

"It may be small comfort for people looking for immediate relief," said Alan Viard, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Given the crisis that Michigan is in right now, it is no comfort at all. It is salt in an open wound.

Kids, the poor, the sick, law enforcement, community development... all suffer so you can pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and Bush's failed foreign entanglements.

Wonder if Medicaid covers Compazine. We are all going to need some.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Michigan Senate GOP unveils plan to cover more uninsured


Am I hallucinating this?

LANSING, Mich. -- Senate Republicans said Tuesday they want to offer affordable health insurance to uninsured Michigan residents who earn too much money to qualify for subsidized care proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The GOP plan also would give incentives to Medicaid recipients who live healthier and encourage similar incentives for state employees, including lawmakers.

Republicans said their legislation would accompany Granholm's plan to offer a basic, no-frills health plan to 550,000 uninsured residents with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level.

Under the Democratic governor's plan, announced in January 2006 and awaiting federal approval, participants would be charged premiums and copays on a sliding scale, with lower-income residents paying nominal out-of-pocket costs. The GOP wants to extend the plan to people making more than 200 percent of the poverty level.

OK. But I still want someone to go over this with a fine tooth comb. For some reason I just don't trust these guys. I thought that the original plan was paid for with fed money- I hope that this isn't an attempt to screw that up somehow.

Better make sure there isn't some huge tax cut for the insurance companies tucked in there somewhere.

I'm willing to give credit where it is due- getting rather tired of yelling at the Republicans all the time. Good to see them doing something for people for a change, if that is what is going on here.

Actually, I just want to see this title pop up on the Lefty Blogwire. Keeps 'em guessing. ;-)

Lansing State Journal: LSJ interview: Gov. Jennifer Granholm

Another great interview with the Guv- definitely worth the read.

The ideas are there, all we have to do now is embrace them.

She hits the nail right on the head with this question-

LSJ: Do you feel besieged, though? It just seems like it's hardly a day goes by that we don't hear - it was Chrysler yesterday, Pfizer a couple of weeks ago.

Granholm: There is no getting around the fact that our state is in crisis. ...

For Michigan, the automotive capital of the world, our strategy going forward has to be this strategy of investing and diversifying, and creating and attracting the kind of businesses that build on the strength of the auto industry but take us into new directions.

And frankly, I think that part of that investment strategy is marketing Michigan throughout the country for both tourism and business. Because if they don't know about us, they're not going to come.

... This is a great moment in Michigan because there's this huge sort of clash of philosophies that is happening and I think it's - Michigan is the paradigmatic state right now for how to deal with this massive shift in the global economy. And what is it that a state like Michigan or any state that has lost a major industry to globalization - what can we do to position ourselves differently?

And I think, because of the focus in the 20th century being so much on costs; states thought you cut taxes enough, you'll be able to recruit the job providers to come to your state and that was more or less true in the 20th century.

And then the 21st century, it's a different paradigm. You have to have competitive taxes, but the notion that it's all about cost and cost alone is never going to be a winning strategy in a global economy. Because there will always be countries that are cheaper to do business in than the United States.

Our strategy has to be competitive taxes, yes. But investing in quality of our people and our state has got to be the way we move forward.

We can choose to move forward with investment in our people and diversification of our economy, making this an attractive place to be, or we can stay stuck in the old ways that got us here in the first place.

It really is that simple, and that complex, all at the same time.

Go read the whole thing.

UPDATE: The GR Press also has a story today on a sitdown with the editorial board, and they provide audio clips of the interview.

The story on the web is rather short- I'll be curious to see if there is more in the print edition later today.

Detroit continues to shoot the messenger

Daniel Howes of the Detroit News offers up further proof this morning that reading comprehension skills are sorely lacking in this state, and that Detroit and the pundits surrounding the Big Three will go anywhere and do anything to avoid implementing the strategies that might help turnaround the American auto industry.

Instead of listening to the words of Dan Mulhern as he talks about how successful companies like Toyota treat their employees well and therefore get results that benefit everyone, Howes would rather take this time to ignore the message and shoot the messenger in yet another desperate Detroit News attempt to attack Jennifer Granholm and protect Detroit from hearing the things it doesn't want to hear.

You know, like how to run a successful, growing company with loyal employees.

For over thirty years now the American consumer has been screaming at Detroit, and they still refuse to listen to innovation. People like Howes are the great enablers in this charade, printing reactionary editorial columns that totally miss the point of the original message in the first place.

And if the American automakers don't want to listen to the message of what makes a company a success with employees and customers alike, don't be surprised when they finally go under.

What is Michigan's first gentleman, Daniel Granholm Mulhern, thinking?

As Detroit's automakers plummet through various stages of free-fall, as home values slide, foreclosures rise and the very fabric of the state is stressed to the breaking point, he uses his weekly e-mail blast on leadership -- "Reading for Leading" -- to extol the leadership of Toyota.

In fact, is he thinking at all?

Are you, Mr. Howes?

Here is what Dan actually said is his column that puts the emphasis on people. People, after all, are what create the product. Treat your people well, and they in turn will treat you well. Easy lesson in management.

The Toyota folks and the great company folks know that “culture beats strategy” every time. They have strategies to achieve results. But they know and constantly verbalize that the only way you get results is through people. For these folks it’s not just that people are the necessary means, but that people are ends in themselves. It’s not just that the employees are there for the company’s success, but at some really deep level, they believe the company is there for the employees’ success. So they pay attention to people. They have a “what” of results they’re pursuing, but they pay primary attention to the who and to the how.

This message of quality of atmosphere for employees is somehow threatening to Detroit? Why?

Howes admits the automakers have fallen behind.

Yes, they do, witness the competitive tsunami pushing Big Detroit Auto to the brink of all it holds dear -- jobs, plants, profits, market share, its standard of living, survival -- because Detroit waited way too long to rouse itself from its self-satisfied torpor.

But do we need the first gentleman, husband of the governor who ostensibly will "go anywhere and do anything" to create jobs, opining right now on the blockbuster leadership techniques of the foreign archrival kicking Detroit's collective behind?

Yes! Yes we do! Whatever it takes to help American auto industry get back on its feet! If we can learn from the Toyotas of the world, perhaps we can pull out of this nosedive and save the jobs we have and maybe create more!

No, says the Detroit News. We refuse to listen. We attack instead.

Howes votes to continue to stick his head in the sand and take this positive message of change as a threat, typical of the behavior and attitude that has cost this state its livelihood and brought us to the brink of going under.

Answer: No, we don't, especially when there are scores of analysts, academics, journalists and average-joe consumers variously equipped to trash Detroit with impunity and exalt the virtues of all things Toyota.

So, we are to ignore that which might help stop all the "trashing" from happening? In what world does that make sense?

This next point from Mulhern sails right over Howes' head.

"Messages are complicated," he replied. "To send a message is different than to receive a message. When people are sensitive, they may not hear a message."

That's one way of putting it.

Turns out it was a great way of "putting it", as Howes goes on to prove Dan's point. He uses this opportunity to blast the Governor some more, using quotes from auto executives who won't even give their names. More "Profiles in Courage" from Detroit, hiding behind anonymous quotes as they continue to run from success.

Next comes the obligatory slam at fuel economy, even though that had nothing to do with Mulhern's writing. Why the automakers are so resistant to this concept is a mystery- whenever the price of gas goes up, people turn to fuel-efficient cars, and have been for quite some time now. Detroit could spend a little now for greater profits later, yet they still refuse to make that change that consumers are demanding.

Predictions of $3 a gallon gas prices graced the pages of the News just yesterday. If this happens, watch sales of trucks and SUVs plummet once again. How many times do we have to learn this lesson?

The employees at Ford are lining up for buyouts, and were angry that not enough were available. Does that sound like a company where employees want to stay on because success is right around the corner?

No. As long as people like Howes enable the Big Three to ignore the message of creativity and a culture of innovation, whether it be in product or people, Detroit, and Michigan behind it, will continue its slide downward.

In a world where political points are to be scored no matter what the cost, it's much easier to take a shot at the kind man who offered words of encouragement rather than to listen to those words and make the changes that ultimately help people, therefore helping companies, therefore helping our state.

We better hope Toyota builds a plant here, because if this is the way Detroit is going to react every time someone points out the obvious solutions to the problems, there isn't much hope left for the American automakers.

Shooting the messenger is not the way successful companies behave. They embrace the things that help them be successful. Detroit needs to stop over-reacting and start listening to ideas that will help them succeed.

(A personal note: I had the great fortune to meet Dan Mulhern recently. At a time when my head was in a very negative space, and I once again started to doubt my self-worth as far as blogging goes, Dan had some very kind and sincere words of gratitude for my writing last year. Because I had my defense set so high, it took about a week for them to sink in, but when they did and I realized that he had no agenda behind them- well, I believed him more than I believed anyone else, and it all became real. I finally felt like I made a difference.

Thank you, Dan, wherever you are today- and keep on writing. This world needs the positive approach that you bring to it.

And I encourage anyone who needs a uplifting word to visit Dan's blog "Reading for Leading". Although I am in no way, shape, or form, a "leader", I always find that Dan's writing can apply to most everything in life. It's a great way to pull out of the doldrums and look toward the brighter side.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Allman Brothers Band No One to Run With

The Dickey Betts solo in the middle of this song makes me want to rededicate my life to learning how to play the guitar- the instrument I started with before I picked up the bass and later drums... I'm not a huge fan of "southern rock", but nobody beats the Allman Bros as far as guitar work goes.

A heads up for YouTube music fans- videos are dropping like flies all of a sudden. Half of my favorites list has disappeared with the original user accounts "suspended". Tells me they are really cracking down now, so...

UPDATE 2/22- Three days later, gone.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Granholm discusses the issues - with video interview clips

Not a lot of time for this today- just go read this interview. The DP & A did a nice job.

One thing I wanted to point out in the Republican rebuttal sidebar-

Garcia said the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim majority, will offer a plan soon. He noted that the governor knew about the shortfall for more than two months before revealing her plan.

I knew about the shortfall two months ago, where the hell were you guys? Do you watch the news? Did you think you weren't going to have to deal with this?

Good grief.

And as far as "toning down the rhetoric", I didn't notice anyone telling that yapping little dog DeRoche, he of the nasty News editorials and other assorted accusations that are regularly printed in the media, to "tone down the rhetoric".

Until then, fire at will.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blogging a good word for Dick DeVos

Why, yes, I am running a fever, why do you ask?

Dick actually touched my heart with this gesture. And it was very classy of him to wait until after the election to announce it.

GRAND RAPIDS -- Dick DeVos was asked in last year's gubernatorial campaign if there was a teacher who had a profound influence on him while growing up -- and he said he knew the answer instantly.

DeVos on Thursday said he wanted to pay tribute to that teacher, Imogene Vader, by naming a restocked library at Grand Rapids's Alger Middle School in her honor.


DeVos, son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, donated $25,000 to buy more than 2,000 books for the Alger library. Heartwell said the donation was planned last year, but DeVos asked not to have it be announced until after the election.

"All of us have had at least one teacher who had had a tremendous impact on us, maybe in the classroom or outside. Maybe it was what they taught in class, but maybe it was a lesson in life," DeVos said. "The books in this library are tools, and it takes great teachers to use those tools and help children."

Vader, who died six years ago, was DeVos' fifth-grade teacher at what was then called Ada Public School in the Forest Hills district.

Her husband, Adrian Vader, was among the relatives attending Thursday's gathering.

"I was not exactly a straight-A student at the time," DeVos said after the ceremony. "And Mrs. Vader had such a great passion for learning. She knew how to encourage you to do your very best. And you knew where she stood on any subject. My hope is that this library will remind us of her, and of all great teachers."

I had Mrs. Vader for fifth grade also, and I can vouch for Dick when he says these things about her- every one of them is true. She was a dynamic lady who grabbed her student's attention and didn't let go. Some of my most vivid memories of elementary school come from her classroom- especially one on advertising, where we had to make up a product and then sell it, using graphic design, a filmed commercial, and, of course, printed words.

She might have been the one that taught me all about how to spin, come to think of it.

So, thanks go to Dick for donating those books in her name, and thanks go to Mrs. Vader for giving me the tools to deal with Dick. I guess it all works out in the end. ;-)

Cuts that cost: Budget cuts spell Michigan trooper layoffs

And so it begins...

LANSING -- Thirty State Police troopers are in line to lose their jobs April 1, the first round of layoffs prompted by the state's deepening budget crisis, troopers' union officials said Friday.

The layoffs would drop on-the-road trooper strength close to 1,000, the lowest in more than 30 years, said officials at the Michigan State Police Troopers Association. The reduction means lower trooper visibility on highways and slower response times, they said.

This, of course, is all Granholm's fault. You know, the woman who actually has a plan to pay the bills. That is the way it works in DeRoche Land.

Matt Resch, a spokesman for House Republican Leader Craig DeRoche of Novi, said the layoffs smack of saber-rattling by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has offered a plan of tax hikes and budget cuts to solve the state's financial problems.

"Instead of working with the Legislature on the budget, the governor is taking this opportunity to scare people," he said. "To think that we can't find the money to save 30 State Police officers' jobs indicates this governor is not willing to do her job."

Instead of working with the Governor on the budget, DeRoche is taking this opportunity to stick his head in the sand and pretend that these things aren't going to happen when you keep cutting taxes. To think that this Legislature is still insisting on more cuts, but will never say exactly where they would cut, indicates that they are not willing to do their job.

OK, Craig, show us the money. Here is your chance to shine.

We're waiting.

* sound of wind whistling through the trees, or Craig's head, take your pick *


Granholm had an interesting tidbit for the Livingston Daily Press & Argus Thursday. When it came time for the Republicans to "put up or shut up" and make these kinds of cuts before, they wouldn't do it.

"In fact, I had a press conference this morning and said 'You need to put your plan on the table'. Let me know what you have votes for. Because my guess is, that they will find, as Ken Sikkema did when he was the Senate Majority Leader last time, he put an all cuts budget on the table, and he said 'OK, which of you guys wants to sponsor it?'

Nobody wanted to sponsor it, because it's too draconian.

So, they need to put their plan on the table. And if they can't come up with a plan, they need to work with us, off of this plan."

Nah. Much easier to pass the buck and blame others.

One begins to wonder: Does Craig DeRoche ever take responsibility for his actions or for that of portion of the Legislature that he supposedly "leads"? Ever?

Apparently not. He thinks we can keep cutting the budget, ignore the problems that arise from that action, and then turn around and blame the Governor when Bad Things Happen.

What a gig. Must be nice to clear around 92 grand a year or so and never have to be responsible.

It becomes very easy to define "government waste" when one looks at the career of Craig DeRoche.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why Mikey Can't Read: Bishop makes the Governor's case on education

Mike Bishop seems to think that we can resolve this year's budget crisis by cuts alone.

The GOP plan will resolve this year's budget gap -- now pegged at $956 million -- by cuts alone, Bishop said. It's a mistake, he added, to fix the budget "by little cuts" that may or not fit into their plan.

He cites the bipartisan panel report.

Bishop, R-Rochester, said Thursday that a bipartisan panel Granholm set up last month to examine how the state could get out of its chronic budget problems recommended "wide, deep reforms in government."

"She adopted their ideas for tax increases but didn't adopt their ideas for cuts and reforms, which is troubling to a lot of us who want to see significant solutions for the future," Bishop said.

And quicker than you can say "Oh no he didn't!", the words of that report jump right off the page at you. From the recommendations- page 12 if you are reading along at home-

Michigan should not rely solely on budget cuts to balance state budgets this year and next.

Relying exclusively on budget cuts to balance the current and FY 2007–08 budget would mean devastating disinvestment in important programs and services supported by the General Fund and significant cuts in school aid.

And here is the part that most people miss- cuts will eventually cost you. Whether it be in higher tuition, higher insurance rates, higher local taxes, or loss of your home or valuables due to slower response time of public safety officials, make no mistake about it, in some way you will pay for the cuts Mr. Bishop so craves.

Even assuming complete replacement of the revenues lost from eliminating the SBT ($1.9 billion), General Fund cuts required to resolve the immediate crisis of this year and next would still be significant and dramatic. They would fall on (a) nursing home residents who rely on Medicaid funding; (b) Medicaid-eligible children whose health coverage would be eliminated or slashed; (c) families with students at community colleges and public and private colleges and universities who would receive tuition bills significantly higher than current levels; (d) residents of communities who would see layoffs of police and fire personnel as local units of government take another $400 million in cuts in revenue sharing; and (e) residents who would see prisoners released hurriedly without plans for their return to communities. In Medicaid, slashes in spending only shift burdens and higher costs onto employers and individuals as health care providers and insurers tap other pockets. If state government prunes revenue sharing to local units of government, the public will face ballot proposals to levy additional local taxes to offset losses in state support.

The reforms that Bishop talks about cannot happen overnight, but should be implemented as time goes by. Here are the bullet points- and tell us which of these can be done immediately to relieve this year's budget crisis.

  • Requiring specific measurements of performance, value, and benchmarking from all public agencies, including K-12 and higher education.

  • Undertaking comprehensive health care reform.

  • Encouraging, and if need be requiring, local units of government and school districts to share or consolidate administrative services and deliver them more cost effectively.

  • Reforming Public Act 312, which requires binding arbitration.

  • Providing taxpayers annually with an understandable report card on state and local spending and taxing.

  • Continuing to explore and apply best practices from other states and information technology to more efficiently enforce business regulations and lessen the time and costs to business of meeting regulatory requirements.

  • Granholm did address local consolidation and is working toward health care reform with the feds. Point is, "reform" is a very broad-based idea that requires time to implement- and the report says that we need revenue now.

    The state must restructure taxes in a manner that would immediately increase revenues, but Michigan should not solely tax its way to balanced state budgets.

    Further delays will cost us even more. From the Freep-

    But it's also a mistake not to grab whatever savings you can right now. Each month of delay may result in deeper cuts to make up the difference later in the fiscal year. Surely Republicans don't want to be responsible for landing the state in that position.

    Republicans also should keep in mind that their actions could draw notice from Wall Street. Michiganders may accept their executive order rejection as just a ploy, bizarre as it seems, in complex, high-pressure budget talks. But bondholders, lenders and other Wall Street observers may not dismiss it so readily as just politics. A downgraded credit rating would add even more red ink, in the form of higher interest, to an already overwhelmed budget.

    So when you hear the Republicans say they need more time to figure out which disadvantaged citizens they can stick it to, remember that meter is running and the bill will come due.

    You will pay it someday, one way or another. You can pay a little now, or a lot later. The Republicans want you to believe that we can save a little now, but those savings will cost you more in the long run.

    Mr. Bishop, perhaps another reading lesson is required for the Senate Republicans. If this were a test, you would surely fail.

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Video of Granholm press conference

    WZZM has the whole thing right here.

    Granholm to GOP: Show backbone to relieve budget crisis

    Governor fires back-

    LANSING -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm ratcheted up the rhetoric today surrounding the state's budget crisis, calling for Republican lawmakers to show some "courage and backbone" in addressing the $800 million deficit.

    Senate Republicans on Wednesday rejected Granholm's plan to eliminate the deficit, which is centered around a new 2-cent tax on services. Republican leaders said the state's red ink can be erased with budget cuts.

    "I call upon Republicans to have the courage and backbone to put a specific plan on the table and put up the votes for a plan," Granholm said in an early morning news conference.

    "I'm not going to shadow box. If they don't like this plan, what is their plan?"

    Good question. What is their plan? We have known about this problem since around Xmas of last year- going on two months now. Are we supposed to read their minds?

    Maybe it goes a little something like this-

    Republicans: I'm thinking of a number...

    Granholm: 42

    Republicans: Wrong! You're not showing any leadership! And you are picking on us in the press! We need more time!

    Republicans said Tuesday they believe it's their responsibility to find additional budget cuts before asking citizens to pay more taxes. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said his caucus would propose its own budget-balancing plan in the coming weeks.

    "Republicans are pushing a fiscally responsible approach to this crisis," Bishop said. "We have a constitutional obligation to balance the budget."

    WHERE? Where are Republicans pushing a "fiscally responsible approach"?

    No, seriously, where IS the Republican fiscal responsibility? Are they being responsible when they continuously mouth the words "cut" and never tell us what they would cut? Are they being responsible when they axed $2 billion from the budget last year, tanking our ratings with Wall Street and leaving business in limbo for months on end, and never offering a replacement, unless you count the legislation that is sure to face certain veto? Are they being responsible when they knew this was coming, and yet still say "give us another couple of weeks"? Is that what you call "responsible"?


    And to show us just how "responsible" they are, they next pull out the 'ol Rovian Projection trick- attack your opponent with your own weakness. Classic.

    Asked about the governor’s comments, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said Granholm’s strong rhetoric isn’t matched by a commitment to address the serious problems facing the state, and indicates a “sense of insecurity” about her own proposal.

    HAHAHA! At least she has the guts to put a plan on the table. I think we have ascertained exactly who is "insecure" here- it's the people that won't tell us what they would do.

    Karl is smiling somewhere.

    Next, cry about your treatment. Such the victims.

    Bishop said “conducting a fight in the media is not productive,” and shows a lack of leadership. Legislative Republicans are working on alternatives, he said, and will present them as soon as possible.

    We know what "as soon as possible" means to these guys- a quarter past never.

    Crisis grows everyday they delay- and they could have passed the cuts now, they are choosing to play politics instead.

    Granholm said the Senate could have passed her executive order budget cuts now and if they don't favor the tax increase they could approve more reductions later. Budget Director Bob Emerson said Republicans' contention that they can't approve the executive order because it implies support for a future tax hike is "a feeble excuse."

    "The crisis is upon us. Every day we wait exacerbates the crisis," Granholm said.

    She added she doesn't believe Republicans can muster the support for the deep program reductions it would take to balance the budget.

    "I would like to see how many senators are willing to vote for school cuts in the middle of the school year," Granholm said.

    Yeah, me too. Will be great for '08- I bet if the Republicans try hard enough, they can turn the state deep blue by then.

    This song has no title...

    Anybody as bored as I am? Anybody? Cabin fever has settled in.

    Here are a few things that caught my eye-

  • Bob Emerson, speaking on the GOP campaign to "Just Say No" to Michigan, calls an obstructionist an obstructionist.

    Granholm Budget Director Robert Emerson said at some point Republicans "have to declare what they're for. We know what they're against -- they're against whatever the governor proposes. It's pretty hard to sit down with somebody when you don't know what they stand for."

    More of this, please. Time to start calling these guys out. Loudly.

    Granholm will have a press conference later today. Hope she comes out swinging.

  • As further proof of just how damn stubborn Michigan Republicans are- 71% of GOP voters want Dick DeVos to run again. Too bad Dick loses by the same margin.

    Overall, a DeVos encore is opposed by 52 percent of voters and favored by 38 percent -- equaling the 14-point spread by which he lost to Granholm last November, when the final tally was 56-42.

    And speaking of Dick, someone needed to remind him that he "turned around Grand Rapids" at the GOP convention last Saturday.

    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney walked past DeVos on his way into the convention hall. "Nice house," Romney said, stopping for a moment to shake DeVos' hand. "I heard you had a big house, I didn't realize it was this big, though." DeVos seemed to look puzzled for a moment until he got the joke -- the conversation took place in the lobby of DeVos Place, named after the former gubernatorial candidate's family.

    I have a feeling that DeVos looks puzzled most of his waking moments.

  • Laugh out loud funny MI Newswire headline- "Cox Issues Valentine's Day Advice to Consumers on Dating Services".

    Well, if all the rumors (and admitted facts) are true, Mike should know.

    Cox said, "Dating services are not for the faint of heart. Not only can they be very expensive, but they can create safety and security problems for unsuspecting consumers. People thinking about subscribing should do their own background checks on dating services to find out how their personal information will be used, and they should make sure they understand and accept what's in the contract, especially terms limiting their ability to cancel the contract or receive refunds. And consumers who decide to sign up should remain cautious about disclosing personal information and take safety precautions before arranging meetings with prospective partners."

    I really can't add to this- Mike is the expert, after all.

    As soon as Mr. "Family Values" stops crowing about taking away other people's rights, I'll lighten up. Or not. I'm kinda mean sometimes.

  • The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has a problem with overturning our unique law protecting drug companies from most product liability lawsuits. It seems that if a drug company kills your loved one with their faulty products, and you take issue with that, well, perhaps you are just opening the door for all the "blood sucking ambulance chasers". Yeah. That's it. Stop being so silly.

    Profits before people, people. It's all about the money with these guys.

  • Where's Vern? Ehlers still hasn't spoken up on the Iraq resolution in the House. Hmmm. Will he do the right thing? You never know with Vern. Stay tuned...

  • Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    MI Senate Republicans consider education for the chopping block

    (Hat tip to Nirmal at Capital Viewpoint who clued us in with a MIRS teaser and got me watching the wire for this to break)

    OK, who here is surprised by this, raise your hand.

    C'mon. Did anyone actually think that the Republicans would do the right thing by our state?

    Of course not. They would rather look at sacrificing your child's education first before they pull a measly two cents out of their well-lined, dry clean only, silk pockets.

    LANSING -- Senate Republican leaders said today they will turn down Gov. Jennifer Granholm's budget-balancing plan for this year because they oppose a tax hike she has proposed.

    The $800 million-plus deficit in the budget year that ends Sept. 30 can be entirely closed by making cuts, said Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

    "The Republican caucus has said we can get it done with cuts and we're going to put our money where our mouth is," Bishop said.

    And in yet another jaw-dropping, stop-the-press, shocking development- they won't say what they will cut. Imagine that. They have been so forthcoming before, haven't they? Wonder what has changed.

    Oh, that's right, nothing. But at least this time they did offer up the kids for consideration.

    He didn't specify where the cuts would be made, but said school aid reductions are on the table.

    How long will we have to wait for the Pubs to FINALLY TELL US what they would cut? Just another couple of weeks. That's all.

    No rush, really.

    The rejection of the governor's executive order, to be made official at a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting later today, means Granholm must propose another plan within 30 days. Republican senators will draft their own proposal for balancing the budget in the next couple weeks, Bishop said.

    Makes you wonder just what they have been up to, doesn't it? What are they doing with their time?

    Many of the speakers at Saturday's Republican state convention brought up their opposition to a 2 percent tax on services that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed last week.

    But even more popular than the speeches were the buttons made by GOP state senators that showed the word "TAX" with the universal circle symbolizing "forbidden" over it.

    So the buttons also said, "Naysayer - And Proud of It." They were one of the hottest items at the convention.

    They gave speeches! And made buttons! Wow! That was constructive!

    And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the sad state of the MI GOP, the party that is continuing to hold your future hostage to their outdated and damaging fiscal policies.

    They are proud to say "NO" to your kids, to retraining displaced workers, to alternative energy, to creating jobs... well, proud to say "NO" to Michigan in general.

    And they still won't tell you what they would do instead.

    You can put your hand down now.

    Editor's note: Sorry no posting for the past few days. When Nolan Finley started shooting at his own party, and the GR Press said they would consider tax increases, well, I was convinced the world was coming to an end.

    And I just didn't know what to say about that.

    Besides, our governor has started blogging now, and I figured that she could take over. She only received one snarky comment, and she handled that quite well- proving she is ready for the big time. ;-)

    How ya gonna keep 'em down in Lansing when they've been to Daily Kos. I really don't know.

    Friday, February 09, 2007

    That One Flower

    That One Flower

    Wanted something warm to look at.

    The Detroit News makes a funny

    The Detroit News, who worshipped at the altar of Dick DeVos last year, finally
    the irony meter in my head with the title on this morning's editorial-

    "Granholm's tax 'investment' more like pyramid scheme"

    HAHAHAHA! You guys are killin' me here.

    As far as their argument goes, it is the same old song they always sing.

    She claims her tax hikes will wipe out the state's deficit and allow Michigan to create new initiatives to improve its attractiveness. But the more likely outcome is that the state's economic decline will accelerate and tax revenues fall.

    Granholm's risky budget is notable for the "investments" it doesn't make.

    No proof that the statement of economic decline and falling revenue is true. They never, ever make the case when they say things like this. And somehow "investments" means "cuts". Neat trick.

    They go on to attack the teachers union once again. They really have it bad for teachers.

    Granholm says other studies indicate no money would be saved by breaking the teacher union stranglehold on health insurance. But what's the down side of finding out? The governor would rather reach into the pockets of Michigan's struggling families than stand up to the special interests that got her elected.

    What is the downside? We lose good people from the profession that is key to our future success. In 2001 it was reported that 50% of new teachers leave the profession after five years, citing low salaries and increased responsibilities. Cut their benefits some more, make the choice to teach less appealing, and the best and the brightest turn away at a time when we need them the most.

    And as far as "standing up to special interests", I think the new Pundit Tax applies here. It is a clichéd talking point. Everyone is a special interest to someone. The News never stands up to big business "special interests", do they? Of course not.


    Her budget plan also doesn't invest in innovation.

    21st Century Jobs Fund, a big investment in innovation and new enterprise. Did they forget about that? Apparently.

    State government should be run like a business, according to the News. Where have I heard that before?

    But the automakers have also slashed their operations again and again. They've exited certain businesses, sold off subsidiaries and farmed out work to contractors. Their structures look vastly different today than they did five years ago. The state's operation looks basically the same.

    "I have cut more from state spending than any governor before me." 3 billion. 4 billion in deficits eliminated. Whatever the number is now. I would say that is "slashing operations". The News is making a Mackinac pitch for privatization here.

    The News also wants to lay off more state employees.

    One thing the governor certainly didn't invest in is pink slips. The governor's budget does not significantly reduce the size of the state payroll. She boasts that the work force is smaller than when she took office, but she never addresses whether every person drawing a state paycheck is essential to the well-being of the state. Again, this is what the automakers have done and continue to do.

    Because downsizing has been such a boon to this state, hasn't it? We need more unemployed people.

    They throw a pat on the head for education and training.

    We applaud Granholm's emphasis on education and retraining workers, but those new initiatives must be paid for by spending cuts in other areas. If the governor sticks to her promise this time to pressure school districts and municipalities to merge services and operations, it will benefit taxpayers.

    And those cuts are? Tell us. Once again, we hear the word "cuts" with no specifics.

    They close with yet another big blanket statement.

    Were she willing to do the hard work of bringing fundamental reform to every branch of state government, she could find the savings needed to bring Michigan through this economic crisis.

    And they never explain exactly what that "reform" is, unless you want to go back to the "cut taxes, downsize and sell it all" mentality.

    Can government operations be streamlined some more? Probably, and savings in that area should be encouraged, but that is not something you can snap your fingers and have happen overnight. You cannot "downsize" the children, the sick, the elderly, as much as the News would like to do that.

    Bob Emerson put it right back to the naysayers yesterday.

    Senate Appropriations Chairman Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, asked state budget director Bob Emerson during his budget presentation to the House and Senate Appropriations committees what would happen if the new sales tax isn't approved.

    Emerson said it wouldn't be prudent to turn down the sales tax plan. But he added that he would work with Republican lawmakers to eliminate more spending in the budget if they didn't agree to the tax.

    "We'll be looking to your sage advice ... for Plan B, because we don't have one right now," Emerson said.

    Show us where to cut. Show us what to reform. Until then, the naysayers are just singing "Yesterday Once More" without providing any real or new common sense solutions.

    But feel free to use titles like "pyramid scheme", because we need the laughs.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Taxpayers ready to share the pain

    WOOD has the goods on tape.

    So far, there doesn't seem to be a major uprising amongst the taxpayers like there has been amongst the naysayers (see post below). Makes you wonder just who the Republicans are referring to when they hide behind all these "families".

    From WZZM 13-

    Michigan families will notice a difference if the Governor's plan is passed. But how much of a difference? We decided to take pencil and paper, to find out just how much that might cost an average family in West Michigan.

    Todd and Jennifer Katerberg are lifelong West Michigan residents. With three kids, a dog, and one income, they are careful about how they spend their money. So, they're curious about what a two percent tax on services could mean for their checkbook. Jennifer says, “I don't know how much we'll change. I guess we'll just see how it goes."

    They go on to add up a few services that they use: movies, chimney sweeping, nails done, etc. and so on. Typical middle class stuff. The total?

    Add it all together, and it's $467.50. A two percent tax on that would be $9.35.

    Like the WOOD video above, when you put the costs on day-to-day things, the numbers aren't as painful. A couple more quotes from WZZM-

    Some tax payers like Stephanie Helder of Belding understands of the Governor's proposal. "I guess she has to try to find a way to make up for it."

    "If that's going to help the state of Michigan to get back to where it was before anything will do," said Constance Dukes of White Cloud.

    No one is thrilled about raising taxes, of course, but so far the reports I've seen indicate that people are resigned to it, if it will help.

    Pretty cool, West Michigan.

    Round up the usual suspects

    So predictable.

    The usual suspects are saying the usual things when it comes to fixing our budget problems.

    The Republicans are Johnny One-Note Wonders, calling for "more cuts", but they still can't figure out what essential services are. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce complains we aren't competitive for business, a claim which has been proven false time and time again. But, they are gunning for no replacement on the SBT, so that kind of tells you where they are coming from. They will be more than happy to raise your gas taxes, though. And the pundits- don't get me started.

    Naysayers naying.

    Laura Berman calls them out.

    The governor called them "naysayers" -- a value-neutral term for a certain kind of Michiganian.

    The kind who sat in his (and occasionally her) legislative seat when Jennifer Granholm said, "I will not make cuts that destroy Michigan's ability to compete and win."

    Right now, the naysayers are pundits and politicians, Lansing regulars and Republicans -- an impatient group who ganged up on the guv with post-State of the State reproaches.

    They sneered at her speech -- all that charisma and inspiring rhetoric -- as too darn perky. Too optimistic.

    "Rosy" was another term used- and I call bullshit on all of it. As one who saw many speeches last year- I know when she is being sunshine and lollipops. That wasn't it. That speech was very serious. While she did lay out some grand ideas, for the most part I saw a woman hell-bent on impressing the urgency of our situation on a bunch of people in bad suits who have no worry about paying their bills. Same goes for the "Lansing regulars", the same 'ol talking heads who have very little clue as to what it is like out here in the real world.

    So, no, the suspects weren't listening. Not at all.

    The Detroit News paints the imagery of death, quite literally, in their editorial this morning. Terms like "suck the life out of Michigan", and, "another nail in the state's coffin" conjure up the ever-present six feet under doom and gloom the News so loves to peddle. Perhaps we should all go jump off the bridge like the GM robot rather than pay a whopping $65 bucks a year to help the state.

    Strangely enough, Finley is being awful quiet. Both he and Manny are pointing at flip-flop Romney as the ideal leadership. Um, OK. You do that. Maybe Finely is saving it up for Sunday. Gotta watch him, he will bite hard when the time is right.

    The News did publish an opposing viewpoint that explained the crisis in education and argued that a tax on services is the logical way to go. That person, of course, does not work for the Detroit News, but at least another voice was heard. It's a start.

    You knew someone would reach for 1983, and I'm not too surprised to see that someone was Dawson Bell. The word "recall" is being whispered in some quarters, shouted in some others, and who really gives a damn if people like the term-limited, suddenly out of work Drolet wants to waste their time (and make a buck too) while riling up the flat-earthers. Go for it. They couldn't do it to Blanchard, they won't do it to Granholm. But Dawson will be sure and bring it to mind for us and perhaps scare some of these freshmen legislators.

    Yawn. I'm old enough to remember 1983. Times were hard. We survived. And the thing that pisses me off the most is that we didn't learn our lesson then and now we get to do this all over again. We needed Granholm 25 years ago.

    Will we listen now? Well, the feedback from the rabble on various forums so far seems to indicate that this might go down easier than expected. People are grumpy, to be sure, but there is a certain percentage that sees the wisdom in paying for quality- let's hope they become the prevailing attitude, in spite of the usual suspects spouting the usual lines.

    Berman sums it up well.

    It's a logical way to acknowledge the shift in the state's economy, from a producer of goods to a creator of services.

    Granholm's critics complain that she failed to project enough sense of crisis -- to adequately convey the kinds of trauma that await the state if the Single Business Tax is not addressed, if the $3.5 billion tax shortfall is not remedied.

    Fellas, we get it.

    In Michigan, we don't live in denial. We live in a state of bated breath -- waiting for the next $12 billion Ford loss, the next Pfizer to spirit away 2,400 jobs.

    It's not delusional to expect a leader to have vision, to imagine the state competing in the 21st century, because its residents value education, investment in technology and good government.

    Remind me, please, of the great American states that get by without picking up trash, paving roads, educating children, without building or health care or helping the poor.

    And say "nay" to the Granholm's vision -- the commitment to schools, to a higher-tech and to people -- at your peril. Because this state will not survive by starving itself.


    And stop being so predictable, you are boring me to death here.

    Perhaps it's time for a "Pundit Tax"- use a stale talking point or a proven false claim and you pay. Big time. Heck, we could make up the deficit on the Detroit News alone.

    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    Grand Rapids Rampage 2007 Super Bowl Commercial

    Cool commercial featuring downtown Grand Rapids.
    Report: Granholm will call for 2% sales tax on services

    Uh oh. I think I just heard Nolan Finley's head explode.

    LANSING – Michiganders would pay a 2% tax on most services — from tickets to movies and concerts to haircuts to auto repairs — under a proposal Gov. Jennifer Granholm will make Thursday to try to solve the state’s budget crisis.

    Two-thirds of the revenue from what the administration is calling an excise tax would come from business transactions such as accounting, consulting, legal or tax services.

    Health care, including day care, government and school purchases would be exempted.

    The “two-penny plan” would raise an additional $1.5 billion annually. For a family of four with an annual income of $57,000, administration officials estimate $67 in new taxes.

    Sounds alright to me, but then again I always was kind of a commie. ;-)

    Color me crazy, but I like having a fire department. It's one of those good things in life.

    Let the screaming commence.

    Granholm: State of the State 2007 Video

    Got 7 minutes? Jump to 55:00 on the streaming video of the SOS.

    This morning, I don't care much about dissecting the specifics of the speech, or refuting the pundits, or even listening to what the "naysayers" (read: Republicans) are naying about... although I will mention one thing here-

    Bishop and "other GOP leaders" (read: DeRoche) claim the speech was "out of touch with reality".


    She put reality right on the table, starting at 55:00.

    Perhaps they need to listen again. And again. And again, until they finally get it.

    Here is the text of the speech- but just go watch. Words can't do it justice.

    So grateful she is our governor. Damn, we are lucky.

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Bush budget to cut aid to Michigan

    Well. This is a disturbing development.

    We probably shouldn't take this personally, but when you look at it, it's really kind of hard not to.

    WASHINGTON -- President Bush proposed on Monday a $2.9 trillion budget with cuts to social programs that critics say could deepen Michigan's economic and budget crises.

    Under the plan, which would cover the 12 months beginning Oct. 1, Michigan would be one of four states to get a cut in funding for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor.

    If anything, we should be receiving more help from Washington. Instead, we take the biggest hit. What's up with that?

    Under Bush's plan, Michigan would get about $5.16 billion in 2008 Medicaid funding, $173 million less than it expected to receive this year. That's a 3 percent cut, the largest for any state. The Medicaid program will account for about one-third of all state spending in Michigan this year.

    "These are phenomenal cuts," said Sara Rosenbaum, a Medicaid expert at George Washington University. "This is a terrible situation for any state, much less for one whose economy has suffered the way Michigan has."

    Officials are confused.

    Neither state nor federal officials could explain why Michigan's Medicaid program would face the nation's largest cut, and there was some confusion among the state's congressional delegation about whether a state-by-state breakdown showing the cut, provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget, was accurate.

    And George didn't stop there. Cities, education, home heating, economic development, all are under the knife. Why does Bush hate America?

    Cities in Michigan and other states also would get less money for economic development grants, the state would get less for home heating aid to the poor, and funding for education programs such as special education would shrink.

    Bush's plan would eliminate a federal program that helps manufacturers develop new technology and cut another program that provides aid to small manufacturers.

    The answer is simple, really.

    We get to pay so the rich can keep their tax cuts, and George can put all of our resources into his failed war.

    This what you voted for, America?

    The cuts in domestic programs are part of Bush's drive to increase military spending and make several tax cuts permanent while still balancing the federal budget by 2012. Democrats accused Bush of budget sleight-of-hand, claiming to put the nation on course to a balanced budget but failing to plan for future costs such as the Iraq war and tax law changes.

    Bush is seeking $481 billion for the Department of Defense in 2009, an 11 percent increase over this year.

    That doesn't include an estimated $142 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    So, not only does the Bush budget hurt our country, he is fudging the numbers on it, too.

    Worst. President. Ever.

    What does it take to get fired around here? What more does he have to do before we stand up and say "enough"?

    Chances are this will not get through in this form, but it is an indication of what the next two years will hold, unless we find the guts to throw these guys out of office now.

    C'mon Congress. Stop this madness.

    For more reading on the domestic cuts- hat tip to Zack at Pohlitics for pointing out this Booth article. Chilling stuff.

    State of the State: Welcome to spring training

    Lee and the Swing

    Whitecaps 1st baseman Josh Lee, 2005

    I have baseball on the brain. It's the only thing that gets me through these dark days of February. Now, before you groan at the clichéd sports analogy, just be glad it's not the clichéd "farmer in the field" analogy. That is how this all started out. ;-)

    Corny, I know. I’m a hack. But it works for me.

    Spring is coming for our state. A new season is before us, but, a bit unlike the baseball season, what we do in this camp over the next few months will set the foundation for years to come.

    The first team meeting is tonight, and our manager will lay out the general goals. The specific playbook will be passed out Thursday.

    How do we get back to being winners? First you have to train, starting with the pros...

    In her State of the State address tonight, Gov. Jennifer Granholm will call for two years of free training or community college for displaced workers -- an initiative she's calling "No Worker Left Behind."

    The program would be paid for with federal money and some as yet unexplained state funds, and require workers to get certification or an associate's degree in a high-demand field, such as health care.

    The three-year "No Worker Left Behind" program would launch this summer, with around 7,500 workers getting free tuition for 2007-08 besides the 18,000 already being helped. More workers would be added in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years.

    ... followed by the rookies.

    Granholm is expected to announce her plan for Promise Zones -- a way for poor, struggling communities in Michigan to set up college scholarship programs for their high school graduates.

    Although no thresholds have been proposed yet, the qualifying communities would have to have a certain percentage of residents living in poverty, low levels of educational attainment, a low percentage of residents with college degrees.

    If a qualifying community could raise an as-of-yet unspecified level of private donations for college scholarships, then the state would allow it to set up a Tax Increment Financing Authority that would capture half the growth in the community's 6-mill state property tax for education. To get the program going quickly, the TIFA could raise funds immediately by borrowing against future growth.

    You have to identify what areas you need to work on, the areas that will put you above the others. One promising field, besides health care, is alternative energy. The bullet points from that proposal-

    • Investing about $50 million over three years in public and private sector money to pay for the research and pilot programs of alternative energy companies in Michigan.

    • A loan fund of about $12 million that would help the state's alternative energy entrepreneurs reduce their debt and lower costs of capital access for renewable resources.

    • Spending about $7 million to install about 1,000 biodiesel and ethanol pumps across the state by the end of 2008.

    • Targeting $20 million of state money and at least $11 million from private resources toward the Venture Michigan Fund to help the commercialization of alternative energy companies across the state.

    Efficient operation of the organization is key.

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to begin commuting sentences of inmates who pose no safety threat to the public as part of an effort to reduce the state's prison population.

    Michigan's annual prison budget is $1.9 billion _ roughly a fifth of the general fund. About 1,500 more inmates are being housed in state prisons this year than officials anticipated _ for a record-high total of more than 51,000.

    Older and medically fragile inmates could be released under Granholm's plan. She also plans to consider releasing, with parole board approval, nonviolent drug offenders serving a long string of short minimum sentences.

    There is always the question of payroll, and if we don't solve that- the rest could fall apart.

    The immediate problem facing the governor and lawmakers relates to the state's budget situation. State government is expected to be about $800 million short on school and general fund spending plans for the fiscal year that began about four months ago.

    Eliminating that deficit will require government restructuring, spending cuts, increases in taxes or fees, or a mixture of all three.

    Granholm said Friday during a speech to members of the Michigan Press Association that the state needs to come up with a long-term solution, as it has run out of one-time fixes and will be unable to solve its chronic deficit even once the economy improves.

    To reach our goals, it is imperative that we work together as a team. One recent article gave us a glimmer of hope in that area-

    Bishop hasn't closed the door on some sort of general tax increase but he's certain of one thing: There'll be huge gulf between what he might support and what he expects from the governor and the state's House Democrats.

    "They're warming up the choir for a very large tax increase," he said. "And there's not a lot of interest in my caucus in overburdening people."

    (One note: "tax increase" has suddenly become "very large tax increase" in a couple of different stories. Watch those creeping talking points, they are deadly.)

    But stalemate isn't the Rochester Republican's style.

    "I'm a manager, but I also want to be known as a leader," he said. "I want to be inclusive."

    He shares common ground with Granholm on the notion of streamlining government, he said, perhaps by consolidating small or inefficient school districts and communities.

    "I think that's something we could work on: making government more efficient," said Bishop. One of his first solutions would be making the Legislature part-time, a notion he hasn't been able to get out of committee.

    This is a good start, but, if they end up working against our purposes and ultimately hurt the team, we put them on waivers in '08. Sometimes you have to cut loose the head cases.

    Tune in tonight at 7 to see how our new season begins, and keep this in mind-

    "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." - Anne Bradstreet

    And I'll try not to use sports analogies again- but no promises. :-)

    Sunday, February 04, 2007

    The REAL campaign for Michigan begins Tuesday

    This is it.

    This is the battle for our future.

    What happens in the next few months will define the quality of life in our state for years to come.

    The framework will be set in the State of the State speech Tuesday, and Granholm had better bring her "A" game to the table. Given the tone of the opposition in response to the release of that bipartisan All-Star panel 19-page report, correctly entitled "Michigan's Defining Moment", a report that spells out in detail the crisis we are dealing with, she is going to need it.

    The state will face about $3.5 billion worth of unfunded programs and services over the next 18 months, and now we have to fix it. Will the Republicans play ball?

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm has given many speeches in four years, but perhaps none as important as the one she'll deliver Tuesday.

    Granholm's fifth State of the State address must assure Michiganders that things aren't spinning out of control, and she must offer hope for recovery sooner than later.

    While offering hope is, indeed, an important aspect and the ultimate goal, she also needs to take off her shoe and pound it on the podium and scare the hell out of these guys. Time for some of that "Inner Engler", time for some of that "Fight Back" governor that we saw last year, because this battle is going to make the campaign against DeVos seem like just the warm-up, if you can believe that.

    Now we are talking about real money. Last year we defeated the man; now we have to defeat the ideology behind him.

    Doubt she will do the shoe trick. Just not her style. But someone needs to impress upon these chuckleheads that more tax cuts are not going to solve this problem.

    Critics have said this report is cover for raising taxes; they either haven't read it or they aren't paying attention, one of the two. It's just not that simple. In fact, the report specifically says we cannot tax our way out of this.

    This is a structural challenge, not simply the result of an economic downturn. A persistently weak economy, tax cuts, spending pressures, and inattention to essential government reform have triggered the crisis. We will not economically grow our way out of it. We cannot solely cut or tax our way out of it. Fundamentally, Michigan must reform its spending and taxing and must reinvent the way state and local governments deliver services to be more efficient and productive.

    Reform. The whole damn thing. Right now.

    This failed to impress the Norquist Fan Club. Even in the face of serious, chronic revenue shortfalls, they are dismissing the facts and sticking to the mistaken belief that more cuts are the answer. Some Republican reviews of the report indicate they either don't comprehend the seriousness of this situation, or they do and they just don't care.

    State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, credited Granholm with a dynamic presentation.

    But he said she may have exaggerated the state's problems, and he still was inclined to support an overall tax cut.

    "I think we have to stoke the fires of Michigan's economy," he said.

    And another-

    Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) thinks it's just a way "to lay the groundwork, I believe, for a tax increase."

    Bishop and DeRoche hide behind the "families" meme and also seem oblivious to the consequences of more cuts to revenue.

    But the Rochester Republican, along with House Republican Leader Craig DeRoche of Novi, also put out a statement disagreeing with the indications from Granholm and the Emergency Financial Advisory Panel that tax increases need to be in the mix of possible solutions.

    "I have been clear over the last month that tax increases on Michigan citizens is not the best long-term solution to our economic trouble," Bishop said in a release. "More important than our state government, it's Michigan families who face crisis."

    Bishop fails to point out how "families" will be hurt if the revenue problems aren't resolved. Republicans will appeal to personal greed first, perpetuating the theme of the endless free lunch, something for nothing, conveniently blind to the reality that "families" are the ones who will pay the price in the end.

    Cutting revenue sharing to cities will hurt families. Cutting schools will hurt families. Cutting health care will hurt families. Disinvesting in this state will hurt families.

    We have had plenty of cuts already. If the Republican theory is correct, then why aren't we flourishing right now?

    Since the passage of Proposal A in 1994, Michigan has enacted tax cuts which reduce current state revenue by $3.2 billion a year. In addition, local property taxes have been cut by $5.4 billion.

    In FY 2005–06 (the last full year for which data are available), these tax cuts reduced income tax revenue by $1.6 billion, a cut of 20 percent. The income tax rate has been cut by 11 percent (from 4.4 to 3.9 percent), personal exemptions have been increased, special exemptions and credits have been added, and most private pension income has been exempted. If the personal income tax were at the 4.4 percent level of the 1990s rather than the current 3.9 percent level, the state would be receiving $850 million more—or about the level of the estimated shortfall in General Fund and School Aid Fund revenue this year.

    And as far as business rates go-

    Since 1990, the share of all taxes (including property and income) borne by Michigan businesses has declined from 43 percent to 37.9 percent.

    According to the Council on State Taxation, in a study produced annually by Ernst and Young, Michigan ranks 36th lowest in state and local business taxes as a share of Gross State Product. If Michigan does not replace the SBT with other business taxes, the ranking would likely drop to the lowest in the country.

    And yet, the Republicans introduced yet another tax cut proposal for business in the Senate this past week.

    Amazing. They still don't get it.

    Instead of talking about reform and restructuring, which is what needs to happen, Republicans and the media cling to those boogeyman buzzwords, "raising taxes"- words that are only designed to scare everyone. Words that serve to immediately close minds and eyes to the solutions, which will in turn will leave the door open for the real monster to take over Michigan- that being a diminished quality of life for everyone as we fall further behind the rest of the country when it comes to attracting the kind of people and business we will need to succeed in the 21st century economy.

    The ultimate campaign begins this week, and our future is on the line.

    Wish Governor Granholm a Happy Birthday on Monday, and then watch her Tuesday as the legacy starts to become defined. It should be a helluva show.

    (Cross-posted at Daily Kos. Just for fun.)