Monday, June 08, 2009

Budget Finger-Pointing Begins: Senate to Propose $1.3B in Cuts

First, let's have a little blast from the not-so-distant past:

"There was no way we could cut $1.7 billion out of the budget." - Gerald Van Woerkom (R-Muskegon) Oct. 2007

"If you look at the cuts the Republicans passed, they were not real cuts. They were unrealistic." - Valde Garcia (R-Howell) Oct. 2007

(Tom) George (R-Kalamazoo) said enacting an all-cuts solution would have hurt Western Michigan University and major cuts to revenue sharing would have forced Kalamazoo to cut police and fire protection. Those were too important to cut further, Mr. George said. - Gongwer 10/5/2007

All three (George, Jelinek and Birkholz) said Thursday the $1.7 billion state budget gap was much too large to resolve with revenue cuts alone, and raising taxes was inevitable. - Kalamazoo Gazette Oct. 2007

That was then. The Republicans, who had spent all that year demanding an "all cuts" budget solution, came clean at the end and admitted that it was impossible. Fast forward to now. The Republicans are once again demanding an "all cuts" budget solution (or close enough, $1.3B on a $1.6B shortage), and in a display that indicates where this is already headed, Mike Bishop himself warned that a repeat of 2007 was "bubbling on the horizon". Gongwer sets a price tag:

Senate Republicans are still working on the final details of their proposed budget cuts, but they are indicating that they will propose overall cuts of about 15 percent for the 2009-10 budget.

At that level, the caucus would expect cuts approaching $1.3 billion in the 2009-10 budget from the adjusted level for the executive budget. That would be $800 million more than the $525.8 million in cuts House Democrats unveiled on Wednesday.

This was the greatest unreported story of last week. The House is plowing ahead on the budget, has set its targets... and things look really grim at just over a half a billon. MIRS has the best overview on the House numbers...

Using the budget after the May 5 Executive Order as a baseline, the House targets cut another $125 million apiece in the departments of Community Health and Human Services. It whacks Higher Education and revenue sharing another $90 million apiece and the Department of Corrections $80 million.

State Police is cut $3.7 million. The Department of Treasury is cut $1.57 million; the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth $1.45 million; the Judiciary $1.4 million; the Legislature $1.7 million; the Department of Management and Budget $1.1 million; the Department of Environmental Quality $847,900; Agriculture $640,000; the Attorney General $633,000; the Strategic Fund $592,000; the Secretary of State $522,000; the Auditor General $251,000; Civil Rights $244,000; Natural Resources $209,000 and Education $148,000.

The School Aid Fund, Department of Information Technology and the soon-to-be eliminated Department of History, Arts and Libraries are not cut in the House targets.

You've already heard all the screaming from the "cut government, but don't cut me" Republican candidates such as Cox and Land, as well as the protests over prison cuts from Senate Republicans like Alan Cropsey, and now we have those bleeding heart liberals at the Detroit News who suddenly care about "the poor" and horse racing (?) piling on as well. That was very interesting coming from the people who just demanded that the administration and legislature meet non-stop to "adjust state spending" in the face of the GM bankruptcy. Are they suggesting that we raise the revenue to pay for these things? Considering that we already cut the Department of Stuff No One Cares About long ago, it's really unclear as to what "adjustments" they would suggest in the face of this shortfall, but they have made one thing clear - they are going to complain about every cut that comes out of this Legislature in their attempt to lay this at the feet of “Democratic leadership”.

And, if you think this is bad now, just wait until the Senate tacks on almost another billion in cuts. Hard to even fathom it. Despite the DNews calling for everyone to sit down work together, surprise! surprise!, it seems that Mike Bishop has ideas of his own. He won't set target numbers per department, throws out this general "15%" cut and indicates that some departments will see more cuts than others (which makes targets impossible), blames "the leadership" because he "doesn't trust" the House numbers, and therefore he shouldn't have to set targets or play ball on this anyway. How is that for cooperation?

Mike Bishop is already approaching this budget with a bad faith attitude, taking unnecessary shots at other people, operating with secrecy and mistrust, setting the stage so that once again the Senate has a built-in excuse for avoiding the heavy lifting that this work will require. Dillon called it out for what it is - a further waste of our time.

But House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford Twp.) said Bishop's decision not to set a joint target will put the budget-setting at least a month behind schedule, which puts in serious jeopardy a mutual goal to finish the '10 budget by the July 4 break.

Cutting budgets 15 percent sounds good, but it's unrealistic for some budgets because of the strings attached to some of the federal stimulus dollars the state is receiving, he said.

"I think they're wasting time," Dillon said of the Senate. "We're going to pass like ships in the night."

Does Bishop want to push this to the point of threatened shutdown in an attempt to make "government" look "bad"? The pointed attacks on "leadership" from this story alone, coupled with the general campaign theme that the MRP and its candidates are trumpeting at every turn, would indicate that the Republicans seem to think there is a definite political advantage to be had by making sure that things stay "bad" so they have something to run on next year. It becomes a matter of simply running out the clock, and that is something that the Senate has proven time and time again that they are very capable of doing.

The Legislature could stop these cuts at any time. They have the power. For them to turn around and complain about the cuts that they have made is simply absurd. A true revenue reform that includes a graduated income tax could be used to alleviate the MBT surcharge, as well as spare education, health care and public safety from further horrific cuts - but does anyone honestly think that the Republicans will lift a finger to help this state, which would ruin the only campaign theme they have?

Oh, and by the way legislators, no one requires you to take half of July and all of August off. If you don't have your budgets done, perhaps you might want to think about forgoing your usual summer vacation and deal with this crisis before it gets to the point where you make some stupid last minute fix that you will spend all next year complaining about. Might as well take Bishop's warning at face value, and have Plan B ready to go. Whatever that is.