Republican Showdown Is Shortsighted

April 7, 2003
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Michigan's latest unemployment numbers are the second highest in the country and businesses from manufacturing to retail continue to suffer from lack of consumer confidence as war with Iraq consumes headlines. This gloomy climate is the backdrop as Michigan House Republicans rally to call a "showdown" to preserve state funding for … Michigan Merit Award scholarships.

Yes, it's true. Even while more professional and skilled workers in West Michigan suffer layoffs, the Republicans believe the best "showdown" is for college scholarship money, which may be funded at the cost of an already greatly reduced Medicaid fund and/or all but closing the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which has preserved 9,700 jobs. This is at a time families most need jobs and health care coverage. This is at a time health care cost is in the fifth consecutive year of double-digit premium increases that have forced employers to eliminate or cut back on health plans. At a time unemployed parents are least able to fork out family funds to complete the cost of college tuition (though critics have long noted that the bulk of scholarship money ends up in the pockets of those most able to fund college educations for their children). Do House Republicans keep up with the news that school districts are cutting millions of dollars from their primary education budgets as a result of the state's dire economic news? The college community is not served when K-12 districts bleed.

Mark Murray, president of Grand Valley State University, the recipient of the least amount of state aid to colleges and universities, in testimony last week was reported to have conceded that — under the circumstances — the Merit Award amounts could not be maintained. Murray is a former state budget director and one of the authors of the Merit Award program.

The Michigan Merit Awards were indeed born of the Republican leadership, but common sense would rule out "pets" when the family lacks for food. The showdown last week was as selfish as the UAW leadership insisting that health care cost increases should be borne by the beleaguered automotive industry to preserve a "good living" for auto workers and retirees. The Big 3 automakers last year put the state on notice that the industry forecasts show they will not be able to cover retiree benefits in the near future, as thousands of baby boomers reach retirement age. The UAW would have all Michigan citizens pay their benefits, benefits many workers do not themselves enjoy.

Rep. Jerry Kooiman, who serves on the appropriations committee, said last week it is too soon to say at whose expense the Merit Awards would be preserved and that the proposal to gut MEDC or further reduce Medicaid are only proposals.

The point here is that as the Michigan budget is in crisis, more thoughtful leadership is demanded. Favored program status (or UAW gluttony) beget scathing rebuke as jobless rates rise and K-12 education is demeaned in every district.               

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