Saturday, July 28, 2007

If they only had a plan

After two weeks vacation, our Lansing leaders are no closer to discovering the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who will magically solve the $1.6 billion budget deficit.

They've been stumbling down the yellow brick road since January, in fact, and still can't figure out which way to go.One path looks a lot like Dust Bowl-era Kansas — depressingly black and white, with the next twister right around the bend. Family farms are going belly-up, schools are ramshackle and downtowns are fast becoming ghost towns.

But at least the dang government is minding its own business.

The other path blooms in Technicolor — and if the gentle, wildflower-dotted hills don't quite look like Silicone Valley, it's at least Pennsylvania. After last week's partial government shutdown, the Keystone State promptly passed a budget boosting spending on schools, daycare and senior services.

Imagine that.

Of course, Michigan can just run out the clock until its Sept. 30 deadline. What's the worst that can happen? Record 7.2 percent unemployment? The continued exodus of business and bodies from our state?Stall on, Lansing. Budgets are hard work. And our leaders clearly don't like being on the surrealist journey together.Everyone's jockeying for first billing in this melodrama.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm plays Dorothy, the heavily rouged Democrat who thinks there's no place like home in Wayne County, where the McNamara machine would just take care of pesky tax questions for her.Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer is Toto, Dorothy's loyal sidekick, cute enough to fit into a picnic basket. Occasionally, the Bedford Township Dem pokes his head out to nip at Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

Bishop, R-Rochester, stars as the Tin Woodsman in need of a heart, who thinks nothing of slashing college funding and medical care for poor kids.

Is he trying to appease the Wicked Witch of Notaxistan lobby, whose Flying Monkey, former state Rep. Leon Drolet, hounds legislators with his gigantic, fiberglass pig? Or are dreams of the governor's mansion dancing in the boyish Bishop's head?

The Cowardly Lion is novice House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, who clearly needs a shot of courage after going into hiding during the last round of negotiations.

Lastly, there's easily overlooked House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, aka Scarecrow, who still wistfully calls himself Speaker and can't add up the deficit right. The Novi Republican is just now cobbling together a task force to help him out.

Like it or not, this preening cast of characters is stuck with one another.And we're stuck with them.But if they need help, there's not just one Wizard to consult — there are a dozen from the bipartisan Emergency Financial Advisory Panel, chaired by former governors William Milliken and Jim Blanchard.

They put forth sensible ideas the overwhelming majority of Michiganders support — investing in schools, the arts and health care; modernizing the tax code; and reforming state employee benefits.Precious little of that has been done — save for the new Michigan Business Tax — even as an F-5 economic cyclone barrels through the state.

Now I lived in Iowa long enough, surviving three separate tornadoes, to know that if you choose to shut your eyes in the middle of a twister, it'll still heave your mangled body onto the nearest barn or farming implement.

Our problems aren't going away. The storm grows stronger each day.

But our leaders seem content to keep using the budget as political theater, knowing they can always take cover in their tax shelters.

Right now, too many in Lansing see the world in black and white. It's up to us to tell them we'd rather live in Technicolor.

No comments: