As a state, Michigan is going 'nowhere'
Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula reminded board members last week that in April 2007, the regional planning agency sent state lawmakers five pages of bulleted recommendations on how Michigan could move forward. Many business groups endorsed those suggestions back then and even added a few of their own.
“Give us those and we’ll take over,” said Stypula to state lawmakers.
His reminder came last Thursday, on the first day of the state’s new fiscal year and the morning that government briefly stopped functioning until a supplemental appropriations bill went into effect.
“Two-and-a-half years later we have achieved none of those,” he said last week.
Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets said she made a suggestion to Gov. Jennifer Granholm two years ago to have some out-of-state experts review the state’s dismal budget situation in order to get qualified, independent opinions on what fiscal remedies the state should pursue.
“That went nowhere, just like everything else,” said Sheets.
Stypula went to Lansing last Wednesday to get a personal view of how legislators would handle the last-minute budget scramble, and he came back less than encouraged. “It was truly unbelievable to watch it. I don’t know what to say anymore,” he said, while shaking his head.
Stypula didn’t point fingers at any specific lawmakers. Instead, he said most were good people who wanted to do good things for the state before they arrived in Lansing. “I don’t know what happens when they get to Lansing, but they lose all common sense.”
Ottawa County Administrator Al Vandenberg believes that term limits have created an inexperienced and weak Legislature, one that is becoming more under the control of lobbyists each year. He added that today’s leaders arrive in Lansing with almost no background in government at any level.
At press time, statutory revenue sharing to cities and townships was to be cut by 13 percent, or $163 million, for the 2010 fiscal year. Granholm reportedly didn’t favor such a deep cut, which was included in the appropriations bill to allow the state government to stay open through the month, and some said she would veto that line item.
Regardless of what action the governor takes, Stypula told board members that statutory revenue-sharing payments likely won’t be made at all next year to cities and townships. He felt the state would need every one of those dollars for its FY11 operating deficit.
“I don’t think they’ll have a choice,” he said. “Don’t budget state revenue sharing next year. I don’t think it’s going to be there.”
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell pointed out that the stopgap bill is based on the severest budget in Lansing, the one with the most spending cuts that the state Senate ratified in June. Both he and Stypula wondered how legislators could pass a supplemental bill based on a budget that hasn’t been ratified by both chambers or signed by the governor.
“I found that amazing,” said Stypula.
With no appropriation for schools in the bill, Sheets suggested that Proposal A should be repealed to allow local voters to fund their school districts. “We can’t keep cutting our way out of this.”
She also said local governments across the state should unite and apply pressure to state lawmakers. “I think we need an uprising from all corners of the state. They’re not getting (our message) one-on-one,” said Sheets, who is in her last few months as mayor.
Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries said Proposal A, which funds public schools, came about because the federal government was going to sue the state for unequal levels of funding to school districts, so it would be tough to get it off the books.
“We would have to be careful about doing that,” he said. “They have to make decisions and we have to make decisions.”
Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton said it’s going to be difficult to draw business investment to Michigan when state leaders show they can’t handle financial tasks. “I am embarrassed for this state.”