Saturday, November 3, 2007

Can fringe GOP conjure up a clue?

After months of stunned silence, House Republicans are finally ready to rumble on the budget.

And they're not about to let pesky details — like the fact that final budgets passed on Halloween with near-unanimous consent — stop them.

It was the Senate that voted Thursday to delay the new service tax. But House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche & Co. want to slay it completely, unraveling nine months of anguished compromise.

Yes, after spending money Wednesday like welfare mommies at the Cadillac dealership (begotten from tax revenues few in the GOP voted for), straight-faced Republican reps revealed their flair for even more flagrant hypocrisy.

They want to make the service tax's $625 million magically disappear from the budget, perhaps via séance with Ronald Reagan's ghost.

Seems like if you abhor all those evil government programs, you shouldn't have just voted to fund them.It's bad form, bad policy and the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty.

Besides, if Republicans truly were committed to anti-tax policy, they would try to decapitate the income tax increase worth $725 million.But let's not forget, the GOP-led Legislature tax-cut its way to popularity while merrily ravaging about $4 billion in reserves since fiscal 2001. Beats significantly scaling back government. (One-time fixes didn't abate in fiscal 2007 when Dems took over the House, but now the bills have come due.)

Clearly, slashing government waste ain't the GOP's forte.True, the capricious list of oft-arcane services, from numerology to baby-shoe bronzing, is hard to defend. Legislators surely can conjure up a fairer levy, especially when they're not throwing together a slapdash bill four hours before the government shut down on Oct. 1.

That's why Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and House Speaker Andy Dillon — who have done the heavy lifting on the budget from the get-go — are feverishly talking to business barons about a revenue-neutral replacement.

That could mean a hike in the income tax or the new Michigan Business Tax.

But none of them — not even the Republican Senate head — is pushing the cockamamie scheme of cleaving millions more from the budget.

In a nine-month process with an endgame as gory and excruciating as childbirth, the Senate plan to skive more than $600 million was mopped away like so much fluid.The $433 million in cuts was all leaders could muster, made palatable by $1.35 billion in new revenues that allowed them to take credit for caring about children by barely boosting education.

Still, DeRoche insists on peddling a tired list of cuts, chock-full of vague promises to "streamline" Community Health by $93 million and "reform" Department of Human Services by $109 million — details not included.Sacred cows — like sentence guideline reforms and prison closures that could net $500 million — don't rate.

Cuts are necessary, DeRoche warns gravely, unless we want to "kill more jobs."

But he evidently sees no conflict in whacking $75 million from the 21st Century Jobs Fund, the economic development vehicle Republicans once touted as the elixir for Michigan's economic woes.

"It's not a real list — everybody knows that," the always cogent Rep. Lorence Wenke, R-Richland Township, says. "I give it no credibility whatsoever."

To be sure, DeRoche's plan has zero chance of passage. He doesn't have the votes. And without a functional relationship with any leader, even Bishop, the once-brash boy wonder who rode to the speakership at 34, has lost almost all credibility.

He epitomizes the fundamental lack of understanding of public policy by fringe Republicans determined to place partisanship and ideology above sanity.

There's no excuse for that in either party. The stakes are too high.

Evidently, some have learned nothing from bloody budget negotiations this year.

If DeRoche truly wants to be a player next year, he might want to stop drinking the Kool-Aid — and instead invite Dillon and Bishop to have a beer.

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