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E-M:/ ...On the State Budget Problems

Enviro-Mich message from "Alex J. Sagady & Associates" <ajs@sagady.com>

Anne Woiwode asked me to post this for her....please reply to


-----Forwarded Message-----
From: "Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter" <awoiwodesc@earthlink.net>
Sent: Nov 17, 2003 10:11 AM
To: enviro-mich@great-lakes.net
Subject: Overall State Budget

The recent posts regarding the Extension Service and threats of budget cuts 
point out to me that there is a danger of worthy programs and their 
proponents fighting over the crumbs that have fallen off the table.  I 
won't get into the merits or lack thereof of MSU Extension, but instead ask 
you to step  back and look at the whole.

Those who watched the Governor's road show on the budget with an 
unjaundiced and open mind may have had the same experience my son and I had 
watching it.  The real question that needs to be answered , which the 
Governor posed at the beginning of the Lansing forum, is "what do we value" 
as a state?  The exposition of different options for cutting and their 
costs, asking the group in the room to choose among those they were willing 
to cut, was akin asking which of our children will we be willing to 
sacrifice for the sake of the others.

What I particularly appreciated was that the goal was to reframe the 
drastically oversimplified "truth" we have been forced to live with 
nationwide for more than a generation -- that there is nothing of worth to 
be had from paying taxes and by extension from any form of government, 
therefore tax cutting is the highest good for society.  Governor Engler 
used this mantra to create a huge structural deficit for Michigan that was 
INEVITABLE in bringing about the shortfalls today.  Predictions a few years 
ago made that clear.  The economic downturn only aggravates the problem, it 
is not the root cause of the current problems.

But the argument that any tax or fee is unacceptable allowed Engler to gut 
environmental programs and many other programs towards which he was either 
indifferent or hostile.  By requiring people to look first at the price of 
government regardless of whether or not it was serving a useful purpose, is 
like a reverse The Price is Right - asking you to what price you are 
willing to pay without knowing whether you are buying an home or a bottle 
of toilet cleaner.

Of course any tax payer funded program must be run well, and must meet the 
values of our people.  People used to say government should be run like a 
business, but I think it actually has to be run much better than most 
businesses.  After the past several years of corporate scandals, it is 
abundantly clear that most government does run better than some of what 
used to be considered our top corporations.  One reason is it must be 
accountable to the public.  True accountability means putting all the 
choices or types of choices out for the public to see.  This week the 
Detroit News is focusing on the importance of both free speech and a free 
press, including freedom of access to information about how our government 
does its work, another casualty of the Engler years in Michigan and now at 
the federal level with Bush.  Cultivating ignorance in the public is the 
most effective tool for running a suspect agenda that will not gain public 
support otherwise.

In the immediate future, as the Engler-caused state budget crisis threatens 
to put the state out of compliance with our own prohibition on a deficit, 
difficult choices must be made.  But even choices made in crisis should 
begin to shape the future we want.  I was encouraged to hear the people at 
the forum in Lansing suggest that stopping the income tax rollback is the 
first step -- when it comes to first aid, stopping the bleeding is usually 
the essential first step, and that is what this does.

The other thing that needs to happen is for the Republicans in the 
Legislature to stop running against the Governor for a long enough time 
that a rational balanced response to the current crisis is crafted.  I was 
astonished to hear the attacks on the forums the Governor held, especially 
after watching one.  Can anyone really object to talking with the public 
about the types of challenges we are facing as a result of these dire 
fiscal predictions????  If they don't like the proposals by the Governor, 
then engage in discussion, not sniping -- I am just glad for once that 
there IS an attempt to listen to people about this!! As people on this list 
will know, some of the state's top legislators have refused to meet with 
even their own constituents to talk about the proposed fees for water 
pollution permits -- it is good to see this type of open discussion held!

I would urge Enviro-Mich readers to jump into the discussion with both feet 
-- contact your legislators and write to the Governor, letting them know 
what you value and what you are willing to pay for, as well as where other 
sources of funds may be to pay for services and benefits to special 
segments of the society.  Lift the debate to look at the future as well -- 
where do we as a state want to end up? What do we value about the services 
and programs state government provides?  It is up to us one way or another!

Anne Woiwode 

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