Citizens legislature must face Michigans realities

February 19, 2011
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Gov. Rick Snyder provided his long-awaited executive budget recommendations to the Michigan Legislature last week and spent more than 45 minutes explaining the facts upon which his outline is built.

Snyder repeatedly emphasized the 15-second sound bite for systemic change as “what is simple, fair and efficient.” For a citizenry trapped in the paradigm of “complicated equals good” or awaiting special-interest salvation, it is difficult to understand. For those who have broken free of paradigms in the age of a knowledge economy, it is that simple. And painful — no less painful than the evolution to a knowledge-based economy in a state that is far, far behind others in educational attainment.

The night before Snyder’s pronouncements, former state legislator Paul Hillegonds noted in a speech at Grand Valley State University that, in 2008, among the 55 U.S. metro areas with population of one million or more, Detroit ranked 33rd in knowledge-based industries, 36th in per capita income and 37th in college attainment. Metro Grand Rapids was worse, ranking 54th in knowledge-based industries, 53rd of 55 in per capita income and 45th in college attainment.

Grand Rapids Business Journal sees another “take away” from Snyder’s guidance is that too many Band-Aids of credits continue to compound the problems of a system that no longer works: structural failures. No state knows better than Michigan that the supports for such structure do not exist — or at least we should know.

It must be noted that, as state Budget Director John Nixon took center seat for questions from legislature, he held up a copy of the Feb. 17 Wall Street Journal, which reported on Snyder’s anticipated boldness and proclaimed a new day in Michigan. The impact of such reporting cannot be overemphasized in a state shunned or snubbed by banks, investors and a world market in which Michigan businesses must play.

While Snyder used common, private-sector planning practices to emphasize the goal, he did not micromanage. Individual state departments were given the parameters and must determine how best to reach the goal. He is not directing school districts to lay off teachers, but he did advise a look at health benefit cost sharing, pension reform, consolidations and privatizations. He said as much to governmental unit leaders. But a broadcast media paid by fear factoring rather than astute understanding of financial principles will whip the frenzy of fear-mongering school and government leaders. The automatic response to the fact that there is no money to sustain current funding levels is to threaten job cuts rather than use suggested measures.

For those who believe that Snyder, perhaps wryly, provided a “worst-case scenario,” the Business Journal emphasizes that Michigan already suffers the worst-case scenario — and that is the brink of certain and complete failure.

Despite the anticipated and demonstrated outcry from every interest group and institution, what would be even more horrifying than the gut-wrenching cuts put off for decades would be to continue a behavior that offers the definition for insanity.

Snyder’s planning is airtight in anticipated balances for every action taken, and the outline offers methods for balance — “simple, fair and efficient.”

This state overwhelmingly elected Snyder’s boldness, made transparent in his accessible “10-point plan to reinvent Michigan,” an outline for systemic change. To the legislators who must now demonstrate leadership: no guts, no glory on this day in Michigan.

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