Invited To Be Part Of The Solution

February 11, 2003
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Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting late last week in front of a record crowd of 1,500 members. The thrust of its agenda for 2003 is continued diversification in business sectors, and people. Chamber President John Brown announced new initiatives to follow through in its continued alliance with the Detroit Regional Chamber, as well as Holland. The GRACC served as a perfect example of what its annual meeting speaker came to discuss: unification in the state of Michigan to accomplish economic expansion, and to edge out of a very dire budget crisis.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm reiterated key elements — and facts — of her State of the State speech on the day after, during the chamber annual meeting. Her “loaned executive” program is a paradigm-blasting indication of what will be in store when she presents her specific budget cut recommendations in March. Her cuts across the board in every state department obviously hurt crucial programs like the Life Sciences Corridor funding, though every state is seeing similar, if not greater, decreases. Her speeches to this matter, and in her technology tri-corridor initiative and other programs indicate she believes the state, too, can form private-public partnerships to continue fundamental economic spurs. And she has repeatedly said Grand Rapids provides the model.

On a visit to Grand Rapids one week prior, the governor indicated she is also looking at a portion of the tobacco settlement funds as a possible source of revenue to continue to stoke the programs she believes necessary to Michigan’s recovery.

While some less informed pundits complained the State of the State speech did not offer enough details of the pending budget redo, even the Mackinac Center noted that annual addresses to the constituency — hers or that of President George Bush — are not meant to nor do provide the proper forum for such detail.

One approach to the budget crisis was notably missing from Granholm’s overview. As one Bloomfield Hills portfolio manager was quoted by the Detroit Free Press, “You only have to think back 20 years when we had a significant budget crisis and the first solution was to significantly increase the personal income tax. We didn’t hear that tonight, and that will be heard all the way to New York by the two major rating agencies that have the state rated at AAA.” Mackinac Center Director of Fiscal Policy Michael LaFaive said, “Based on this speech, Gov. Granholm deserves the profiles in courage award for focusing on spending instead of tax increases.”

Granholm also set the tone in what most Michigan residents would consider a non-issue: indicating state departments would use every existing scrap of paper before making new purchases, even if her predecessor’s name is on the letterhead. Indeed, even in her Thursday address, Granholm noted former Gov. John Engler could not have foreseen the extent of the budget crisis she faces, and laid no blame.

Such common sense, in any of the methods she is incorporating, is without precedent. That Granholm repeatedly warns the budget deficit will engulf everyone and everything, she takes her queue from business and best management practices in negotiating every CEO’s worst nightmare. Indeed, it is a nightmare the national business community has been living for more than a year.

The initiatives in this community are long and storied, from non-profit groups like Faith Inc., low-income housing and continued major community initiatives born in a region that at one time eschewed government funding for its attached strings and eventual dependency. Such is the model for a state with a $1.7 billion deficit.

Some Republican — and Democrat — party leaders would do well to note the governor’s invitation, extended to all Michiganians, “You are all invited to be part of the solution.”

There was no better backdrop for such emphasis than Grand Rapids, or the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which has diligently worked toward inclusivity, rather than exclusivity. It is the mark of moving forward rather than staying locked in the past.    

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