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Michigan Legislature Likely to Make Many Changes Impacting Municipalities
By Roger Martin
As in life, the only two certainties in politics are taxes and death. The big stories in Lansing and Washington in 2011 will focus squarely on both.
Looking into the political crystal ball, here are the big headlines to expect in 2011.
Cuts To Education, Local Governments, Health Care, And Public Employees
The state’s FY 2012 budget, which takes affect October 1, is projected to be $1.8 billion in the red. New Governor Rick Snyder has pledged not to raise taxes to address the problem, and Republicans who now control both the state House and Senate have vowed to balance the budget with cuts only. In addition, Governor Snyder has proposed cutting business taxes by up to $1.5 billion. If cuts of up to $3.3 billion are on the way, no government program will escape the ax, even essential services such as K-12 and higher education, revenue sharing, public safety, and health care for children, the elderly and the disabled. Lansing will also try to cut the pay and benefits of public employees at all levels by falsely claiming that public employee compensation is “out of line” compared to workers in the private sector.
State Budget Cuts Causing Human and Fiscal Disasters
Yes, big cuts are coming this year, and they are coming on the heels of a decade in which state government spending was already reduced drastically in Michigan. If the governor and Legislature make significant cuts to revenue sharing and other essential services such as police and fire protection and health care services, it will eventually trigger a fiscal and/or human disaster at the local levels. Some Michigan cities already teetering on financial insolvency will plummet off the cliff into state receivership or possibly even bankruptcy. In addition, eventually human harm resulting from reduced access to police and fire services or health care services will occur. Most interesting will be the subsequent debate on who is blamed.
Republican Governor Snyder at Odds with Republican Legislature
All Lansing-watchers are wondering how and if a moderate like Governor Snyder will be able to govern given the decided shift to the political right that occurred in the state Legislature during the November elections. At some point, their ideological heads will butt, and the media will pounce on the story.
Michigan’s Economy Continues to Improve
Yes, finally. The state’s unemployment rate will continue to drop as the auto industry continues its rebound and many people simply stop looking for jobs. Whether Michigan ever becomes a prosperous state (defined as a state with high per-capita income and low unemployment) again is another question. That depends on how willing Michigan elected leaders are to enact policies that will create the types of urban places where young, college-educated, talented, creative, and entrepreneurial people want to live. The evidence is clear: states with cities that attract the young, talented, and educated are prospering in the new economy.
Political Tide Turning Away from the GOP
Mid-term elections, like those held last November, are generally brutal on the party not in power in the White House. Two of the most popular and, arguably, effective presidents in recent history—Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton—know what it’s like to have their party’s clocks cleaned during their first-term, mid-term elections. In 1982, the Democrats seized power by capitalizing on Reagan’s sinking popularity. In 1994, Republicans routed the Democrats and took control of the Congress in the wake of President Clinton’s fall from favor. The same thing pretty much happened to President Obama last year, when Republicans grabbed the gavel of the U.S. House of Representatives and took both legislative chambers in Lansing. What happened to Reagan and Clinton when they ran for re-election two years later? They won in landslides. The lesson here is the political pendulum always swings back. In politics, waves of partisan popularity are as fleeting as waves in the ocean, and throughout history both Republicans and Democrats have proven entirely capable of severely undermining themselves politically. It’s now the Republicans' turn.
Coalition Moves to Put Term Limits Reform Proposal on 2012 Ballot
The vast majority of Republicans and Democrats, the business community, organized labor, nearly every editorial page in the state, and a growing number of associations and organizations, all agree Michigan’s term limits constitutional amendment must be changed. Passed overwhelmingly by Michigan voters in 1992, the term limits amendment caps service in the state House at no more than six years (three full terms) and in the state Senate at no more than eight years (two full terms). Though most people who truly understand state government strongly favor lengthening the terms in the House and Senate, every effort to try to put the question back on the ballot has failed to get organized. Hopefully that changes in 2011.
Roger Martin, APR, is a former award-winning political and investigative reporter and now a partner at Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, a Lansing-based public relations issue management firm that represents the Michigan Municipal League, local governments, public universities, hospitals, private corporations, coalitions, and other clients. Visit www.mwadvocacy.com for more information.