May 22, 2007

Local GOP officials get it: why don’t Senate Republicans understand it

Perhaps the best quote I have heard that sums up the current budget mess facing us in Michigan comes from Don Gilmer, the Kalamazoo County administrator, former Republican lawmaker and a member of the newly formed Michigan Fiscal Responsibility Project when he said "Taxes are the price you pay for a civilized society” in Monday’s Detroit News. He also said in the subscription only Gongwer News service that the state could not cut itself to prosperity. I could not have said it better myself.

The coalition, consisting of local schools and governments, health care providers and others, said in a press conference Monday that the state needs a tax hike because it can no longer afford to slash essential services. Time after tine we have seen Republicans refuse to pay their fair share for essential services and they refuse to invest in the state.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and legislative leaders are locked in prolonged negotiations to wipe out an $800 million shortfall in this year's budget and nearly $2 billion next year. It’s going to take cuts in spending, government reform and new revenue to balance the budget and keep the essential services that make the state attractive to investors. Even though the Governor and Speaker of the House Andy Dillon have compromised on spending cuts, the Republican controlled Senate, led by chief obstructionist Mike Bishop, still refuses to compromise on a tax increase.

Shortsighted Republicans are threatening to recall call anyone who uses their common sense and vote for a tax increase. This is despite the fact that Six in 10 Michigan voters believe a tax hike is necessary to alleviate the state's budget crisis, and more of those people support an expanded sales tax than an income tax hike, according to a statewide Detroit News poll on May 7.

The Governor has signed 93 tax cuts since she took office in 2002, and she has had to do this while making cuts to erase the budget deficit left in her lap from the previous Governor.
Taxes have been cut every year for the last 15 years, and there is simply nothing left to cut and still stay competitive and provide essential services. We have less state employees now then we did in 1973, despite having more than a million more residents. Dedicated child protective workers from the Department of Human Services are seeing huge increases in their caseloads, and many workers are responsible for almost a 100 at-risk families.

Yet Republicans still refuse to pay for a civilized society, refuse to invest in our state and they want to cut long term investment funds that will bring jobs and prosperity to the state for yet another one-time budget fix.

Al McGeehan, mayor of Holland and a member of the Michigan Fiscal Responsibility Project, said in Gongwers that his city is at a point where it will be forced to lay off workers with any more cuts to revenue sharing. Police and firefighters would likely be included in any cuts, he said. Since proposals to cure the 2006-07 budget have called for cuts of as much as $40 million in revenue sharing to local governments, McGeehan said Holland could lose as much as $300,000 and his city manager has warned that every $65,000 in revenue cuts means the city will have to cut a worker.

That’s even more police officers off the streets. Since September 11, 2001 when all we can talk about is being safe, protecting our borders and keeping us safe from terrorists we have 1,600 less police officers on the street, not including the layoffs caused by this round of spending cuts.

Gongwer also reported today that the Office of State Employer has issued a required notice to all state unionized workers of possible pending layoffs beginning in late June. The announcement came shortly after Standard & Poor's became the third Wall Street rating agency to downgrade Michigan's credit rating.

Despite all of this, the Republicans still refuse to compromise.

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