It isn’t that often when the Detroit Free Press and the Hastings Banner (in the form of an editorial from J-Ad Graphics Vice President Fred Jacobs) editorially do the same thing, but it happened, I swear, earlier this month.
The Free Press, in response to breaking news that super bank Comerica, sponsor of the Detroit Tigers’ ballfield with the same name, is packing its bags and taking its corporate headquarters to Dallas (even though the actual number of jobs lost isn't as large as many of the plant closings that have come before the move itself is symbolic that Michigan is in dire straights- perhaps because the job cuts are finally gnawing at the upper crust who've previously actually benefited during the economic downturn). The newspaper used the development to send an editorial message to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the State Legislature that Michigan is in serious trouble and something needs to be done. The Freep seemed to be saying something like “If this doesn’t get your attention, we don’t know what will!”
Jacobs has been saying these same kinds of things for quite some time now, jabbing at State Senator Patty Birkholz for introducing “feel-good,” but meaningless legislation to change the state bird and require the Pledge of Allegiance in public school classrooms. He’s been railing against deadlocked and near do-nothing Lansing for quite some time now, saying serious problems need serious problem-solving efforts instead.
While both Jacobs and the Free Press are correct in admonishing our legislators and Granholm, there is one crucial ingredient they’re missing — offering possible solutions to the economic crisis themselves. Those who point out Michigan is in deep economic shit only have a keen grasp of the obvious.
Of course Jacobs and many Republicans privately are dragging out and dusting off that old supply-side mantra from the Reagan years — “tax cuts for business and yet more tax cuts for business.” They hold that the way to stimulate Michigan’s stale economy is to make it cheaper and easier for job providers to do business. Then eventually, as business perks up, the huddled poor and masses of workers will reap the benefits from the trickle down effect. But we’ve been down this road time and time again, not just with Reagan 25 years ago, but as far back as 1930 with Herbert Hoover, who believed in and practiced funneling government money and support from the top (who just happened to be his rich campaign supporters) and then hoping it somehow and eventually makes it to the bottom. As the country was cheerfully singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” and hearing slogans such as “Prosperity Is Just Around the Corner,” things got even worse and the infamous Great Depression followed the infamous stock market crash of Oct. 29, 1929.
In more modern times, Reagan took a modified approach to Hoover’s with the Laffer Curve, the policy of supply-side economics. Many believed Reagan oversaw a great economic boom, but actually he and George Herbert Walker Bush in 12 years built the greatest budget deficit in U.S. history — that is until Bush’s clueless and dangerous son assumed power.
It just amazes me that so many from the GOP keep chanting that tax cut mantra today. George W. Bush has been hailed for engineering several tax cuts in his first few years in office, and the result (surprise!) has been a terrific increase in wealth for the top 1% of U.S. wage earners and a decrease, factored for inflation, in wages for middle-income people.
But we’re told Michigan is in a one-state recession, which has more than a grain of truth because of our heavy reliance on the auto industry (who've made some piss poor decisions over the last few years like banking on cheap oil and a continued thirst for SUVs) and manufacturing (which was killed as a viable sector of the economy when several free trade agreements were signed into law). With the global economy and continuing move away from manufacturing to lower paying service jobs, we’ll feel the hurt more than just about anybody else.
Jacobs and the Freep are not alone in wanting lower taxes. Judging by State Rep. Brian Calley’s special town hall meeting on property taxes late last month, just about everybody who bothered to show up (and here we have to take a pinch of salt since the demographic most likely to show up at this was the anti-tax crowd which was exactly what happened, much to Calley's chagrin since he took a beating from the crowd he thought would be on his side) thinks state government is fat and rich and can afford to make more cuts to balance its budget. Calley himself claimed state government has grown its budget by $3 billion over the last four years, despite the cutbacks claim.
But it’s basic arithmetic to understand that when you take in less revenue, you have less money to spend on services you provide. The question then becomes either cut the “fat” or raise more revenue. But where’s the “fat?” I’m tired of cutting state services to people. I think the purpose of government is to provide us with essential services we can’t afford to buy ourselves. Each of us can’t afford a cop, a teacher or a fireman, so we all make a contribution to hire such needed people. Governor Granholm has cut spending every year she's been in office and we've seen Republicans in charge in the state for over a decade- why didn't they cut the fat when they had the chance?
Close to home, Barry County has felt the pain of a $75,000 "trimming thee fat" cut to Green Gables domestic violence shelter. We want the state to cut expenses, but not the ones that affect us. Somewhere else are people who will cry foul when their program is eliminated or support is severely reduced. So it’s either cut programs or raise taxes to balance the budget. I'm tired of kicking mentally ill people into the streets where they become homeless and often end up in prison. I'm tired of telling the poor to fend for themselves while giving fat cat business big tax breaks. I'm tired of telling women getting knocked around by their spouses that there's no where to go. I'm tired of telling kids that college is only for the rich or those willing to gamble on being able to pay off their massive student loans. I'm tired of making people with cancer put out coffee cans to collect spare change to pay for chemotherapy because in the richest nation of earth, which already spends more on health care than any other country, they cannot have access to the medicine they need to live! I'm tired of pretending that if only Michigan were a little more like Mississippi our economy will grow into... well, last I checked they weren't very high up on any lists except number of people in poverty.
Unlike the Freep and Fred Jacobs, I actually have a couple of suggestions:
I once again propose and urge State Representative Brian Calley to support eliminating the Michigan State Senate (I ask all the people scared of this proposal: If they're so damn vital to good governance why haven't they done anything to solve this crisis?!), thereby saving at least $50 million a year and not reducing any essential services; that the Senate building and its contents be sold; that the state income tax be raised from 3.9 percent back to its old level of 4.6%; that all non-violent “criminals” such as marijuana users and sellers be released from costly prisons and re-sentenced to community service (which could also serve a two-fold purpose of working towards public works project to improve the state while also perhaps getting jobs and getting back on the tax rolls and help us get out of this mess instead of rotting in jail and eating up valuable tax revenue that should be spent elsewhere), and eliminating lifetime health care and retirement for all legislators should be enacted (which Calley is already on record as supporting- so let's see him convince his colleagues to do it).
These suggestions actually would only be a part of the total solution, but I challenge others to come up with ideas on how to save money without hurting essential services for the people. It is my firm belief, to borrow the phrase from the late Hubert Humphrey, that what I propose would do little if any harm to citizens, restore state government solvency and perhaps jump start the economy once again.
What I propose, as opposed to the Neo-Laffer crowd, is not to help the corporate CEO buy a new yacht, but help ordinary citizens cope with a tough situation and meet primary obligations and responsibilities which has a much more immediate and direct impact on the local and state economy (as opposed to letting a billionaire invest in a Chinese factory to make goods to be sold at Wal-Mart for instance). Oh, and it might also trickle up to the guys who own the businesses so maybe they can get their yacht after all- AFTER the working men and women of Michigan are able to pay their bills and have affordable and decent health care.
Go ahead and attack these ideas but, as Ford Motor Company used to say, if you do then present a better idea.