Thursday, May 14, 2009

House Republicans Offer Up Some Good Old-Fashioned Government Reform

You asked for it, you got it. Let's take a look at what the House Republicans have to say about government "reform". Kevin Elsenheimer has a few ideas that he offered up to the Detroit News this morning.

Prison reform. A state that spends more incarcerating people than educating them is heading the wrong way. But rather than releasing felons and closing prisons, let's get to the bottom of why it costs Michigan thousands of dollars more to house each inmate than it does in neighboring Great Lakes states.

Elsenheimer ignores the fact that we have the highest incarceration rate in the Great Lakes, and one of the highest in the nation. It's not necessarily the cost of locking them up, it's the sheer numbers we lock up. Study after study has shown this to be the core problem. Elsenheimer's statement here is simply code for reducing prison employee salaries, more union busting, with privatization thrown in as well.

Reform 1: Pay prison employees less. Next?

Education funding. Republicans want every cent of school aid funding they send to schools to make it into the classroom where it benefits students. Yet, nearly 40 cents of every dollar of school funding goes for administrative and operating costs.

So, what does that mean, "send it into the classrooms"? Operating costs are what makes the classrooms run, from heat and books to the teachers and their salaries/benefits. Again, this is another back-handed way of trying to bust a union. While there may be more savings to be had in administration and consolidation, any time the Republicans are pressed on this issue, it always comes back to the pay for union employees.

Reform 2: Pay school employees less. Moving on...

Public employee retirement. The state, local municipalities and school districts must get a handle on rising retirement costs. Let's bring the public employees and teachers unions to the table and find out a way we can lower these costs in the future while ensuring employees receive the benefits they've earned. This is costly, but if we use federal stimulus to fund reforms, it will save billions of dollars down the road.

This simply puts 1 and 2 together and actually mentions the unions, with the added suggestion that we whack the retirees, too.

Reform 3: More union concessions, ignoring the fact that our state employees have already made numerous sacrifices over the past decade and are now comparable to the rest of the nation. Republicans want to perpetrate the myth the state employees are "living the high life", overpaid with generous benefits, when in truth, they are not. And finally, the one you have been waiting for...

Job-killing government red tape. Let's call a moratorium on out-of-control regulations and honestly sit down and come up with regulations that work. Recently, LS Power announced it would not build its clean-coal power plant near Midland, taking with it about 1,500 good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in local economic activity. It said Michigan's regulatory environment drove it away. When government is costing us jobs, it's time to rein in government's zealotry.

Yes, let's totally ignore the one big reason for this - the fact that LS Power lost its partner Dynegy Inc. (read: $$) in the project, the credit market drying up, and the costs of construction factoring into the equation. While there is uncertainty regarding regulations to come, if they had access to the money to build the plant, they would build the plant. "Regulations" are a convenient excuse to pull out, as the Republicans are using the recession as reason to continue to lower our environmental and employment standards, while dismissing the real problem of lack of credit for investors. Notice that?

The bottom line with Republicans is always to let business do whatever they want, regardless of what that will do to employees, consumers, the environment, and the state's bottom line. Amazingly enough, Elsenheimer doesn't mention taxes here.

Reform 4: Less regulation on business.

Elsenheimer is head and shoulders above DeRoche, there is no doubt about that. There is some validity to his ideas here - savings can and should be found regarding prisons and education, and we should continue to strive for them - but as long as Republicans insist on conveniently ignoring some economic realities to focus on unions and employees making all the sacrifices, while "business" gets all the benefits without having to pay for the consequences of their practices or the upkeep of the society they want to operate in, we are simply continuing down the same road that got us here in the first place.

Wrap it all up in a bow: House Republican “reforms” are simple, and all too familiar. Working people must continue to join the race to the bottom, while business gets all the breaks. Bush Economics 101.

How is that working out for us?