Since The Governor Asked

November 14, 2003
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Gov. Jennifer Granholm's flurry of appearances here this month makes one wonder whether she has adopted the Clintons' tactic of the permanent campaign. The Business Journal's coverage, together with TV sound bites, indicates that her local script is a re-run: The state has a huge deficit; spending must be cut; what would you cut if you were governor?

Since she asked, here are two suggestions.

The first is that Granholm take her act off the road and start leading with pen to paper.

The second suggestion is probably much more difficult. But other government executives have had the guts to tackle challenges of equal magnitude and established themselves as genuine leaders.

At issue is reducing the grotesque amount of money the state spends on health insurance for its employees.

Health insurance is a very substantial cost for any employer, and it's not news that its cost has risen in steady annual double-digit increments. Health insurance inflation has forced some employers to scrap health benefits entirely, sending their workers into the growing ranks of the uninsured, even while the state and federal governments cut Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, that same inflation has forced other employers to place larger shares of health premiums on workers' shoulders, or to decrease benefit levels, or to sharply raise co-pays, or a combination of all those actions.

Lansing, unfortunately, exacerbates health costs for the private sector.

It has legislated decreased competition among health insurers, while periodically mandating expanded coverage, further inflating premiums and either pushing employees' costs higher or pushing workers outside of coverage.

Too, Lansing taxes the health insurance premiums that private sector employers pay, an insane provision that again pushes rates up or people out, or both.

But what has Lansing done, either under this or the previous administration, to retool its own finances to serve taxpaying constituents instead of pandering to state employees and dependents?

How are those thousands of people on the state payroll sharing the sacrifices of their fellow citizens in the private sector? Why aren't they, like private sector workers, paying a quarter to a half of their own health insurance premiums?

This is an issue nobody in Lansing seems to want to touch or discuss. When legislators are asked this question, they flinch and mutter quickly that nobody's considered that idea.

No kidding.

In one session the Business Journal covered, Granholm mumbled about the need to retain highly qualified people to carry on the public's business. Baloney! The layoff-proof civil service sector isn't about to start resigning.

The state's business, first and last, is the Michigan public. Lansing cannot balance Michigan's budget by trimming civil service health coverage for state employees, but such trimming certainly would help and show the administration is willing to discipline its own finances in the very difficult way every business must.

And coupled with the immediate cessation of taxes upon health premiums, Lansing also could show that, at last, it is genuinely serious about a very real problem affecting every citizen.

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