Monday, February 02, 2009

Granholm: Eliminate 10 Out of 18 State Departments

You wanted cuts? You're going to get cuts.

Courtesy of the Republican Recession, this is the real face of government "reform". And it ain't pretty.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to eliminate the 160-year-old Michigan State Fair, slash elected officials' pay by 10 percent and slim down state government from 18 departments to eight.

The proposals, to be outlined in her seventh State of the State address Tuesday, underscore the gravity of Michigan's budget crisis, and the impact of the national recession on this state.

We are looking at a $1.6 billion budget deficit, nearly same amount we fought tooth and nail to fill in '07. With the option of raising revenue off the table - now we get to pick up the tab that the "cut taxes" crowd left for us. Dismantling 10 state departments will take some time as essential functions and employees are rolled into other areas, but there is one will be eliminated right away. Speaking as a fan of the online version of HAL - this one hurts.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry will lead a year-long commission charged with reducing the number of state departments in future years, but Granholm will propose scrapping the 226-employee, $52.2 million Department of History, Arts and Libraries this year.

HAL oversees the State Historical Museum, the Library of Michigan, the Michigan Film Office, the Michigan Council for the Arts & Cultural Affairs and the Mackinac Island State Parks Commission. Guessing the Film Office would fall under the DELEG but the others... who knows. It's hard to imagine losing the Library of Michigan.

The State Fair is losing money, so out it goes. A 10% pay cut for officials is more than the legislators were willing to sacrifice in previous legislation that never went anywhere. Both moves are symbolic and don't save all that much - but we are at the point where the choices left are few and far between.

The irony in all of this? Michigan Republicans have mouthed the words "reform" for years, but when push came to shove, their version of reform was to simply cut essential services such as health care, revenue sharing to cities that pay for cops and firefighters, cuts to public schools and universities, and cuts to job creation services. What the governor proposes appears be a complete overhaul of the state government that aims to preserve essential services and streamline the whole operation - a real reform of how it all works, instead of dumping the burden on local officials and asking the most vulnerable among us to pay the full cost. It was will be a massive undertaking, and right now the money that would be saved can't be calculated offhand.

The number of departments under the governor's purview would be cut from 16 to six over the long term, according to her reform plan, but she wouldn't touch the constitutionally protected attorney general's office and the secretary of state office.

"Six is a workable number," Cherry said. "Most departments have their own budget office, purchasing office, personnel office. We intend to collapse some of those duplicative services and save money."

Cherry said state government has lagged behind global changes and still has a budget built around an industrial society of the 1950s.

"Administrative organization ought to reflect people's perspective about what our mission is," he said. "It's pretty clear the economy and the world have fundamentally changed. We must fundamentally look at how we structure government itself."

Other proposals that will be announced Tuesday: asking universities to impose a tuition freeze in exchange for stimulus money, and a statewide moratorium on utility cutoffs to seniors and the disabled.

Republican economic policies has made this mess, and now the Democrats will have to clean it up. And, just like their counterparts at the national level, we can expect all kinds of obstruction as Michigan Republicans will insist that "reform" actually means "less help for people, more tax cuts".

Tonight, Mike Bishop, who just added another billion dollars to the tab without telling us how he would pay for it, is going to lecture us on "accountability". A real knee-slapper when you think about it. He will be joined by Mike Cox, who also multiplied our budget problems by suggesting we refund an imaginary surplus. Cox wants to spend more money on "transparency", which is code for, "let the crazies take items of spending out of context and complain about them as a way to divert attention from the real issues and work to be done".

Thanks, but no thanks. We should let the adults handle whatever is going to come next. Turning it over to the people and the ideology that precipitated this disaster in the first place is not an option. Recent Repubican actions, both at the state and national level, prove that they don't have a clue when it comes to responsible governance. The only question left now is: how can they obstruct and destroy real government reform as a partisan political weapon, because chances are, they will do their best to find a way.

Place your bets.