Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finley: Budget is an "Outright Fraud"

It's a scary day when I hear Nolan Finley echoing some of the things I've said and thought recently. Good to see him admit the budget isn't balanced, because that is one whale of a talking point whopper that needs to stop right now.

Government won't shut down, but maybe it deserves to. Lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, after another sloppy budget process, are finishing up a spending plan that keeps the lights on in Lansing.

That might be considered a small victory, as long as you ignore the fact that this budget is not only an outright fraud, it sets up Michigan for a full-scale economic collapse.

First of all, it isn't balanced. Not even close. It may be $600 million or more short of that constitutional mandate, despite being propped up by $1.4 billion in federal stimulus money. That means Michigan will start a year that may turn out to be worse than this one already deep in the hole.

Nolan proceeds to fall right back off the beam after that though, ignoring "the fact" of a little thing called the Great Recession, an event so important to our national history that it now has a name with capital letters. Finley seems totally oblivious as to what it meant to our revenue situation. He wants to point to the taxes of '07 and complain that they didn't work, when they did put the state on an even keel (for the most part) for the budget of '08 - right up until the time that the bottom fell out everywhere across the country, which we are receiving our share of the bill for right now. He then goes on to blame the governor for messing up this wonderful but yet outright fraud that is the Bishop-Dillon budget, as if everything would be sunshine and lollipops if not for that meddling woman and the reality of state tax revenues that are dropping like a rock. Yeah. Like that.

That's Nolan, and that's to be expected from him. But then we get to another point of agreement on the "Big Three"...

Maybe it's bad chemistry. Maybe a lack of trust. But these three can't get the job done.

It's very obvious these three don't get along. As far as "getting the job done", what we are talking about is a major overhaul of both the way we tax people and the way we run government, and that task would be extremely difficult even if all three were philosophically aligned, and they are not. But the real reason major "reform" won't happen within the next year?

It's an election year. Every state office will be in play. Few politicians will be willing to confront the special interests that fuel their campaigns.

Somewhere, somehow, someones ox (or oxes) will get gored when we go to do "reform", and that is the thing that can stop major, sweeping change from happening. It seems that it must come in increments. And during an election year, one as important as 2010, one that is already well underway even though we don't like to admit it? Sorry to be so pessimistic, but reform doesn't seem even remotely possible.

Even if the election weren't in play, major reform requires compromise on the part of everyone. The reality is this: Assuming there are two basic sides here, we have one side that has been willing to compromise, so much so that they are in danger of losing "their base" altogether, and the other side which has said "no" to everything except that which serves their narrow and unbending fiscal ideology. That is not a recipe for success.

If we are to have any hope of saving education, health care, and public safety, better fire up the ballot proposal for progressive tax reform. Maybe a few other things, such as term limits, as well. For as horrific as this current budget is, everyone is pretty much in agreement that next year's is shaping up to be even worse. The stimulus is gone, the revenues are still falling, and short of a miracle happening, well, if you don't like the cuts now, just wait and see what happens next.

The Freep brought us that cold, hard truth just this past week.

Without some additional taxes -- or a slowdown in some programmed tax breaks -- the news will get worse, and not just for schools. The Senate has sent Granholm the final six budget bills she needs to sign to prevent a state shutdown Nov. 1, along with a message from Bishop that any line-item vetoes she makes will not be voted on again.

That's fine. The more the governor saves now with line-item vetoes, the fewer cuts will have to be made later.

We are in deep trouble. Better start praying for that miracle. Short of that, better be willing to go to the well one more time to fight for the things that matter. We aren't done with the Great Recession yet. We need to save as much as we can now, even if that means some short-term fixes, so we can start to build towards a better future later.

That is where Nolan and I part company again. He leaves it at "inevitable disaster"; I will always choose hope. To surrender that would be to surrender everything.