Candidates Promise What Voters Expect

October 21, 2002
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One eager beaver seeking a cushy six-figure job in Lansing opines in his political ads how neat it would be to have a greeter at the door of each Secretary of State office. The greeters — in 230-plus offices — presumably could smile and tell clients in which line to stand.

For those of us who can’t manage the take-a-number technology on its stand in front of the offices’ entrances, the notion sounds nice. It’s also an idea — once you figure in salary, retirement and platinum-plated health benefits — that could add another $10 million or $15 million to the state deficit. But, hey, no promise of public spending seems too generous at election time. Setting out to buy voters’ votes with voters’ money requires creative thinking.

For just a second, consider the gubernatorial candidates.

Dick Posthumus seems to want to be politically posthumous because he now desires to adopt the current governor’s philosophy of the tax shift. The Engler shift from property to sales taxes meant a net tax increase for most middle-income Michigan homeowners (you can deduct property taxes but not sales taxes).

Well, now Engler’s fair-haired second-in-command wants to dump the Single Business Tax — a move about 25 years overdue — and replace it with a, uh, well … “a new business tax structure that would promote the creation of high-tech business.”

Sounds impressive, but he furnished no details. One business tax structure already has proved it really creates jobs, high tech and otherwise: that’s the Renaissance Zone virtually zero taxes for a prescribed number of years. But that doesn’t seem to be what he has in mind.

Meanwhile, the Democrats’ fair-haired champion says her plan is to use more of the state’s pension fund as a source of venture capital for new technology-based business.

The notion is a borrowing from an old Blanchard campaign. The idea is to sink more of state employees’ and teachers’ retirement funds into the most risky and intricate kinds of investments. It’s not news that venture investments entail a failure rate that, by definition, is high. In fact, such a proposal makes the Bush Administration’s Wall Street alternative to Social Security look an ironclad guarantee.

Another point: In the world of venture capital, investors provide management acumen and assume management responsibility for growing the firms in which they invest. So State of Michigan pension fund managers are going to grow high-risk, high-tech ventures? Doesn’t seem like a good fit. And while the Michigan Education Association certainly is salivating to elect Jennifer Granholm, the union probably would go ballistic if anyone seriously proposed risking more of its members’ retirement in such a fashion.

The tiresome thing about all this is that office-seekers and officeholders perpetually yak about what they want to do with government money.

Yet no such thing exists. The only money in government is that seized by force of law from some of humanity’s most hard-working people and businesses. Workers and firms earn their income in long, hard, highly stressful years. By right they should expect the taxes they pay to be used prudently, carefully and with wisdom to protect public health and safety.

But apparently too many voters have absorbed too many purple political promises for too long.

What now seems to appeal to voters — at least if candidate rhetoric is any guide — is the fantasy that waving the wand of public finance can assure a blissful future full of high-tech employment and smiling greeters in Secretary of State offices … with their hands out.           

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