Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hoping against hope?

“I am not running because I think it is somehow owed to me. I am running because of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now.” - U.S. Sen. Barack Obama

TOLEDO, Ohio — I watched Barack Obama percolate through the throngs here on Sunday with a tremendous sense of foreboding.

People began lining up outside the University of Toledo’s Savage Hall at 3 a.m. - more than 12 hours before the magnetic Illinois senator was scheduled to speak - and the stadium was clogged to its 10,000 capacity.

A staggering 5,000 more people were turned away.

Amidst the swooning students, burly union jacks and bubbly chants of “Obama! Ohio!” there was a palpable electricity that I’ve never witnessed in the three presidential elections I have covered (or the eight I’ve lived through). No, it is something I have only read about, history nerd that I am.

This is the stuff of 1968.

It is the frenzy of the “fierce urgency of now” that Martin Luther King first spoke of at the 1963 March on Washington that would explode across the ‘60s - the last decade anybody really thought that anything was possible.

After hearing Obama’s commanding 30-minute oratory, there’s something funereal about John McCain sniffing about his “empty eloquence.” And when Hillary Clinton churlishly mocks her rival’s presidential plan as “waving a magic wand,” she comes off as a bitter battleaxe who slept through the ‘60s.

There’s no question in my mind that Obama will wrest the nomination from her. I believe he’ll win Michigan in the fall, though he’s never appeared on a ballot here.

If he makes it that far.

These are words uttered in hushed tones in campaign offices and in living rooms across America. These are words I don’t want to write.

But there is a reason, after all, why Obama was the first candidate this cycle to need Secret Service protection.

There is a haunting sense of 1968 in the air that has all the trappings of a beautiful tragedy. There’s the indefatigable, anti-war, upstart senator underestimated by the party bosses who hustled his way to become the frontrunner.

Obama shares Bobby Kennedy’s brooding visage that can dissolve into an improbably broad grin, as well as his soaring rhetoric. Obama’s is punctuated by his stratospheric intelligence and methodical, pragmatic approach to problem-solving, much like that of John F. Kennedy.

(Lest I be accused of having a crush on Obama, he is not nearly as accomplished as either Kennedy – he never launched a full-frontal assault on union corruption, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book or was a war hero).

Everyone knows what happened to the Kennedys during that rollicking era of hope and rage, of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And many more black leaders were gunned down during those last throes of acceptable racism – King, Medgar Evers and other pioneers.

I surely am a pessimist. But I talk to people who insist Barack Hussein Obama is a crack-smoking Muslim and routinely encounter those who say flat-out, “I won’t vote for a black guy.”

There remains a deep, virulent racism in this country. And I wonder how far we’ve come.

Race will be the undercurrent of a race between Obama and McCain. I have no doubt that McCain, an honorable man, won’t stoke the flames. After all, he watched his own presidential dreams shrivel up in 2000 when George W. Bush’s goons made robo-calls in South Carolina that McCain had sired a “black baby” (who was actually adopted from a Bangladesh orphanage).

The problem is, McCain’s hired many operatives who hatched the racist calls and others who designed the equally dishonest 2004 Swift Boat ads against John Kerry.

These folks aren’t exactly known for straight talk.

After three years of plotting against Clinton, the GOP is playing catch-up on how to best disembowel Obama. In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove painted a vivid picture of the senator as “lazy,” attributing his “trash talking” to days spent “playing pick-up basketball.”

Yeah, we get your drift. So did many shiftless African-Americans, leaving Republicans to whine that they just don’t know how to run against the Kenyan-Kansan without being called racist.

Never fear. Under our mangled campaign finance system (which currently doesn’t even have a functional Federal Election Commission) right-wing activists can launch their own smear jobs without leaving fingerprints.

Will that be the backdrop to some nut job whipping out a 9 mm to keep the White House, er, white?

I can see the macabre scene unfold, just as it did with RFK in that sweaty California ballroom on June 4, 1968. I can see a dour Hillary Clinton carrying on, claiming Obama’s legacy to no avail, as safe and steady John McCain wins handily in the fall.

And journalist Jack Newfield’s agonizing words would ring true again: “From this time forward, things would only get worse; our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope.”

I hope not.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Afflicting the comfortable

Every week, I open beautifully scripted correspondence from folks telling me to shove it.

And no, not all of it’s from my boyfriend, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg. (Yes, Howdy Doody, R-Tipton, is such a charmer).

Officials of all political stripes can threaten not to talk to me, as if that will keep them out of the story.

Folks, as any good flack will tell you, the easiest way to skirt the line of fire is not to do something stupid.

But take your shots. I can take ‘em.

That’s what take-no-prisoners columnists like H.L. Mencken and Molly Ivins did. And if there’s a missing ingredient in journalism today (besides money for emaciated newsrooms), it’s fearlessness.

The most common and effective PR tactic by any politician, business, lobby or bored, but motivated individual is to beat reporters and media outlets down. Fight them on every controversial story; instigate a boycott; circulate politically spun “fact checks”; threaten to sue; threaten to get the writer fired; pen libelous blog posts against them.

Some unlucky reporters have entire Web sites dedicated to disparaging their work, typically the handiwork of swaggering campaign operatives. (Personally, I savor the anonymous posts that Walbots have gotten me canned from my last two gigs. Nice try, boys).

Yep, kill the unfavorable coverage by any means necessary. Especially, of course, if it’s the truth.

Why do you think so many editorial pages nowadays lack any spunk, soul or actual opinions, even when taking on mostly irrelevant issues like, “The iPhone: cool or supercool?”

Taking positions and telling it like it is tends to ruffle feathers. Folks who prefer the dumbed-down world of the blogosphere, where you can shop around for the facts of your choosing, don’t like the harsh slap of reality that a hard-nosed newspaper can deliver.

And interest groups, fat and spoiled by politicians who give them carte blanche to write laws, seem shocked that they don’t have control of the media, too.

These shrill voices and heavy-handed tactics can wear on journalists, who work crummy hours for circus peanuts. But this exercise in masochism actually makes perfect sense to most of us.

We love what we do. We believe in truth and justice. It’s our job to dig to the bottom of corruption and deceit and bring it to light.

Mencken, as always, said it best, that it’s journalism’s job to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

That is why I write this column.

This is my life. I don’t share stories about my 10 children, 22 cats and two iguanas. Life’s too short to bore you with sickeningly saccharine anecdotes about today’s tiff between Mrs. Puffers and Scaleystilskin.

But I have the privilege to write every week about art and presidents and books and human nature and the perennial quest for sound public policy. Things that may seem abstract, but are intimate facets of all our lives.

Politics isn’t a game to me. My Capitol press corps colleagues warn I’ll burn out for sure because you have to recognize the divine comedy of it all. And I do – that’s where my endearing satire kicks in.

But I am a shameless idealist. And I think the stakes are incredibly high in an era of massive debt, globalization, failing education, terrorism and astronomical health care costs.

So when our esteemed leaders foul up, I’m gonna hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em fast.

And I don’t care if I’m called the next Ann Coulter or a commie traitor by my venerable fan base.

At the same time, I think a politician’s character counts immensely - and shouldn’t be an oxymoron. Here’s a dirty little secret: Lots of the folks you think are right on the issues are vicious SOBs and many on the other side are decent, well-intentioned people. (For the record, Mr. Recall, Leon Drolet, is a droll chap who’s far cleverer than his adolescent adversaries on liberal blogs).

And often it’s leaders’ egos, nastiness and guile that gets in the way of compromise and critical policy.

In crafting this column, I’ve thought about doing measured, policy-wonk fare fit for the Economist. There’s certainly a place for that (it’s my day job) and we need more of it.

But here, I’ve chosen to write a weekly wake-up call, mercilessly skewering those hucksters annihilating our economy, education system, environment, health care and quality of life. Analyzing why it’s happening - and who’s winning and losing.

After extracting a titter about the tragic absurdity of it all, I try to lay out some constructive solutions.

Battle Creek Unlimited CEO Jim Hettinger once said I don’t write with a pen – I write with a sword.

Well, that’s about the best compliment I’ve darn well ever received. And I know that’s the very reason my inbox gets jammed with hate mail.

That’s my job, really, to make you outraged – to make you pay attention.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Attack of the right-wing cannibals

It’s the electability, stupid.

Conventional wisdom says ideology is king and Republicans must wheezingly lurch to the right to win in November. John McCain better pick Mitt Romney, Sean Hannity or Tom DeLay (if he’s not in the slam) as veep if he wants to perk up the base.

The same debate is bobbing up in the 7th Congressional District. In the most overlooked story last week, some Michigan GOP poobahs are fishing for a candidate to knock off freshman U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg in a primary.

The preacher’s problems evidently go beyond the congressional cafeteria mucking up his coffee, as he recently whined to the media. The darling of the Religious Right is a top 10 Democratic target, has burned through a lot of green and is desperately struggling to raise more.

Walberg just might be able to accomplish a feat no one thought possible: He could lose the blood-red 7th District.

Though there are several good prospects – popular former state Rep. Clark Bisbee of Jackson, is rarin’ to go – a primary remains unlikely.

Why? Just look at 2006, when Walberg handily defeated then-U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, an almost universally respected public servant of four decades who had won his seat with almost 60 percent of the vote.

“Republican powerbrokers can’t go to the right of Tim and still be Republican,” says former state Sen. Phil Hoffman, a Walberg supporter. “And Tim’s shown that if you go to the left of him, he can beat you.”

Hoffman knows more about the 7th District than just about anyone I know. And primaries tend to be orgies for extremists.

But the times, they are a-changin’. Republicans can change with them or be left behind. After all, the (conservative) Weekly Standard soberly estimates only 3.6 percent of the electorate is very conservative.

It’s not 1984 anymore (sob) and the crazy-quilt coalition of Wall Street, the Moral Majority, fiscal conservatives, Reagan Democrats and old-fashioned moderates has fissured amidst competing and incongruous interests.

So the case against Tim Walberg is all about electability, baby. It’s something he’s wrestled with his entire career, barely eking out wins in the 2006 general election against Sharon Renier (a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank) and even as a state rep for the Bible Belt of Lenawee County.

“If Joe won in 2006, it would be a safe seat today and (Democratic challenger) Mark Schauer would be concentrating on being a good Senate Minority Leader,” Hoffman notes.

That’s why party elders should sit Timmy down and politely tell him to get the hell out.

Look, it’s no secret the state GOP brass preferred Walberg’s ultraconservative views to those of the moderate Schwarz and basked in his defeat. The 7th will always stay red, they chortled, so why not have someone who swizzles the Kool-Aid?

Not so fast, boys and girls.

Tim’s politics aren’t most people’s politics. Most of us don’t believe in abolishing the Department of Education or banning abortion without an exception for the mother’s health.

Most importantly, Walberg’s done nothing to create jobs in the depressed district by voting against a new runway for the Battle Creek Airport or save jobs at the Canadian National Railway Co.

It’s shaping up to be another colossal congressional year for Democrats, whose war chest is 13 times the GOP’s. Republicans keep retiring, leaving 28 open seats to defend.

The question for the right-wing is simple: Do you want to win or soak in self-righteous defeat?

In the 7th, they need someone who appeals to more than the Club for Growth and Right to Life lobbies. Otherwise, their only hope is to tar and feather Schauer, who’s made himself an easy target with votes to hike taxes and against a partial-birth abortion ban.

On the national front, Republicans need to let McCain be McCain – a straight-talking conservative who can woo the swelling ranks of independents.

But many party and talk radio kingpins will nihilistically sit on their hands for him. The idea of excoriating a pinko president for four years (particularly if it’s a Clinton, praise be!) will be boffo for ratings and fundraising.

Indignant ideologues will, of course, hiss that this is about principle. Indeed.

It makes me nostalgic for the University of Iowa in the ‘90s, when Socialists led the fight for free speech and against sweatshops. But they could never band together with non-believers to run a student government slate. In fact, the Marxists despised liberals (capitalist pig sellouts) even more than the radical right.

Anyone who questioned this calisthenics in logic was treated to a huffy, “You don’t understand the politics.”

They remained ideologically pure - and lost time after time. The left, as any student of history (and observer of the blogosphere) knows, has a dreadful habit of devouring its own.

Right-wingers, take note. That’s food for thought.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fixing Michigan’s primary problem

Oh, sweet irony. We coulda been a contender.

Michigan’s much-vaunted Jan. 15 primary has ultimately proved useless. So much for power-drunk party hucksters insisting Michigan show those spoiled brats in Iowa and New Hampshire how to really pick a president.

California fittingly will have sealed up the Republican nomination - once again trumping Michigan, which has long hemorrhaged talent and influence to the Golden State.

And slow and steady Ohio on March 4 – or even once-obscure contests in Kentucky and Oregon in May – will have super-sized impact on picking the Democratic nominee.

Stop for a second and imagine the media frenzy in the Mitten State right now if we’d just kept our Feb. 12 contest on the calendar.

We would be ground zero, boasting the biggest primary after Super Tuesday.

For the GOP, Michigan would be hailed as the salvation of Mitt Romney. If he won his home state (his 23rd by last count, as his electoral strategy seems to rest on buying estates in every state) the race would be declared wide open by the talk radio hordes.

Erudite philosophers Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter would rejoice the party wasn’t over yet, thanks to their prescience (of course) and the glorious Great Lakes State.

For the Dems, it would be a decisive battle between the Clinton machine (oiled by Gov. Jennifer Granholm) and the grassroots Barack Obama effort. Whoever could take the lion’s share of our 128-delegate gift basket would emerge the frontrunner.

Michigan’s early primary was erected as Hillary Clinton’s firewall, but it would have been far handier now that she’s broke, dead-even in delegates and facing an electoral map favoring Obama.

So how did Michigan plunge to its default position of irrelevance to the rest of the nation?

Last year, we ponied up more than $10 million for an early primary when we could least afford it, given a $2 billion deficit. But party bigwigs promised if we hold it, they will come.

We all know how that turned out on the D side. There were no rap sessions with a teary Hillary or hope revivals starring Obama. John Edwards never showed up for photo ops at mill closings. Only the leprechaun-like Dennis Kucinich held rallies dotted by those yearning for a glimpse of his glamazon, 20-something wife.

The Dems blew it, thanks to Sen. Carl Levin and Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell. The DNC jerked all our delegates, followed by Obama and Edwards bowing out.

Senate Democrats could have fixed the mess but demanded a bevy of election reforms in return, which the majority Republicans rejected.

So Hillary won the beauty contest 55 to 40 percent over “uncommitted” or ABC – Anyone But Clinton. But her deficit in the youth vote and staggering loss in Detroit spell trouble here in the general election.

Whichever Dem prevails will have to do serious repair work, having unwittingly left the door open for the moderate McCain. Good move.

The only way to undo some damage is hold a party-funded caucus in a play to win half our delegates back.

Republicans fared better, drawing belated ads and candidate stops as state GOP Chair Saul Anuzis promised. But the primary became a yawning gimme for Romney with only half the Republican delegates at stake.

“Michigan is a good bellwether state,” proclaimed a giddy Anuzis (who still says with as straight face that he doesn’t back the Mittster). “If you can win in Michigan, you can win everywhere.”

Not quite.

The primary allowed party honchos and legislators to bask in the Cult of Mitt for one shining night, partying down like Ronald Reagan had been reincarnated at the Southfield Embassy Suites. It was the zenith of Romney’s run - and then the rude awakening came in South Carolina, Florida and finally California.

So where did our primary hustle get us? Optimists would say Michigan - with its shuttered factories and worst unemployment rate - crystallized the souring economy as the top political issue.

That’s one takeaway from the clich├ęd CNN interviews of unemployed autoworkers at a smoky Macomb County bowling alley.

Here’s the other: Michigan must be the most pathetic place on earth to do business next to, say, Burma. Why would companies want to set up shop in our decrepit state?

As Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the patron saint of Michigan economic development, watched the nonstop negative coverage, he probably thought long and hard about retiring.

In the end, the economy is the primary problem we face. No matter how hard the governor hopes, President Bush isn’t going to send us a fat check now that he’s seen our plight on tee-vee.

No, it’s up to us. And I’m guessing we could have found far better investments for that 10 million bucks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Governor’s financial panel members look to ’09 budget

By Susan J. Demas
For the Enquirer

Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday trumpeted an ambitious education and economic development agenda during her State of the State address, but vowed not to raise taxes this year.

The Democrat will fill in some of the fine print when she unveils her fiscal 2009 budget next week. The House Fiscal Agency forecasts the state is on track to be $275 million in the black.

But missing from her 53-minute address were many recommendations made by her own Emergency Financial Advisory Panel on solving the state’s short- and long-term budget problems.

In January 2007, Granholm appointed the bipartisan, 12-member panel chaired by former governors William Milliken, a Republican, and Jim Blanchard, a Democrat. The group (nicknamed the 12 Apostles) penned a 19-page report on Feb. 2 as the state was facing a $3 billion shortfall for fiscal 2007 and 2008.

"I honestly don't know how many people read our report," Blanchard said.

That sentiment was echoed by several members of the panel -- former state Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow, former state Rep. Don Gilmer and former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

"The report is applicable today as it was when it was written," said Schwarz, I-Battle Creek. "I would make a strong suggestion for all men and women in the Legislature to reread it. Some of them never read it in the first place. This should be their top priority. The bell rings as soon as the governor's State of the State and it's not going to be any easier in fiscal 2009."

The report’s general theme of solving the state's structural deficit with “cuts, reforms and revenues,” popped up frequently in speeches by Granholm and other Democrats. Last year, she and lawmakers struck an 11th hour deal to increase business and income taxes by more than $1 billion and allow competitive bidding for school employee health insurance, which Republicans have tried to get through for years.

Schwarz called last year’s cuts and reforms “nip and tuck.”

“The fact remains, you can clearly point out structural problems. The structural deficit is still there," Schwarz said. "Taxes and spending and the structure of state government still have significant problems."

"My advice would have been to solve it all at once so you don't have to do it again," said DeGrow, R-Port Huron. "(Former Gov.) John Engler always said, 'If you have to take a hit, take it early, so you get it over with and don't have to take the hit again.'”

Several of the report’s recommendations, like the Internet tax, were left on the cutting room floor. The report notes the growing service sector is not taxed, but the Legislature made little headway, passing and quickly repealing last fall a tax on a hodgepodge of services.

But in spite of last year’s messy budget wars, Blanchard says he “remains optimistic about Michigan’s future.

“It’s too great of a state to be kept down,” he said.

Making the cuts

On Tuesday, Granholm made scant mention of cuts and reforms, besides promising to slash red tape for businesses by making Michigan a regulatory “one-stop shop.”

Though Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the governor had “borrowed a page from the Republican playbook” with her promise not to raise taxes, his caucus wants action to reduce spending and make government leaner.

"It's time to focus on reforms and making investments to lead Michigan into the future," agreed Gilmer, R-Augusta. "We're still providing more government than we have the resources to pay for it."

The Emergency Financial Advisory Panel made several recommendations, including cuts to the $2 billion Corrections budget. Michigan incarcerates more than 50,000 at a cost of $31,000 per prisoner. The nonpartisan, Lansing-based Citizens Research Council reports Michigan could save $500 million if its incarceration levels matched other Midwest states.

Gilmer urges a bicameral, bipartisan committee meetings taking 30 to 40 hours worth of testimony on sentence reform, rehabilitation and recidivism.
The report also said skyrocketing state employee and retiree benefit costs need reform and schools and local governments must consolidate services.

DeGrow said the state could restructure revenue sharing with local governments. The time might be right to let local taxpayers decide what priorities they want to fund instead of getting a blanket amount of state revenues, he said."In an era where state government is so strapped, do we fund something that's optional?" DeGrow said.Consolidation needs to happen on both the local and state levels, Schwarz said.

"There are 19 state departments and I'm not sure they're all necessary," he said. "There can be a consolidation of functions — I'll leave it at that."

Strategic investments

In her State of the State, Granholm did address some of the panel’s findings.

She pushed spending on infrastructure to create 28,000 jobs. She also proposed several education initiatives, such as incentivizing colleges and universities to turn research into businesses. Her Michigan First Health Care Plan providing access to the uninsured popped up, although the state has been in a holding pattern, waiting on a federal waiver for several years.

Panel members want the state to prioritize infrastructure and education, strategically investing in areas research shows will attract businesses and skilled workers.

"You still hear voices that we should cut taxes by $1 billion," Gilmer said. "That would completely destroy any opportunities to invest in our infrastructure, things for people to take notice of Michigan."The gas tax — which hasn't been raised since 1995 — should be on the table to fund road projects, Schwarz said.

Higher education has taken the hardest hit by the budget crisis, he said. Funding has been slashed by 11 percent from 2002 to 2007, the Presidents' Council, State Universities of Michigan reports. Tuition has soared, with most of the state’s 15 public universities last year passing double-digit tuition hikes.

"We've already damaged that a lot," DeGrow said. "Say what you will about Gov. Engler, but he valued higher education. We never cut higher ed."

If Schwarz could pass on one piece of advice to leaders during this year’s budget negotiations, it would be: "Have the courage to do what's right, not what's expedient."This isn't going to be easy to try to run a state of 10 million people with a rapidly changing economy with a government structured for the 1960s. Be bold and courageous."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The ‘09 budget: Let them eat cake

Nobody can feel your pain like Jennifer Granholm and she was in fine form Tuesday night.

After last year’s rancor and recriminations over the budget crisis, the governor reemerged at the State of the State as the great healer, a pro-business prophet looking to lure development and lead us back to the promised land of no new taxes.

“People are angry,” Granholm said at the start of her speech. “…Let’s be honest, that anger is aimed at us.”

Though Michigan continues to careen down the road of recession, Granholm offered up her can-do oratory, promising tax breaks for businesses in fast-growing industries, help for those trapped in foreclosure agony and a slew of new programs.

Using her honeyed tone – part cheerleader, part Mother Earth – to full effect, the governor swayed some of her conservative critics (though not state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, who in a flash of class, scrawled snarky blog posts during her speech).

Granholm imbibed the new designer drug of bipartisanship – something just about everyone in Lansing says they’re on, but they don’t get an hour to testify about it on tee-vee. You can’t beat that kind of PR.

But the real stroke of genius was that the governor cannily cut the legs from under the GOP’ election strategy – with a smile.

She beat the anti-tax drum hard – something a beaming Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop called “borrowing the Republican playbook.”

But that effectively stole the thunder from House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, who’s vowed to take back the majority by (what else?) hitting the Dems on taxes. He looked particularly sour Tuesday, but denied the guv had outfoxed him.

“It’s not an election line (for us),” the former Speaker sniffed. “It’s what we believe in.”

Granholm’s strategy started with a carefully placed Associated Press interview in December that grabbed headlines across the state.

“The most important thing I learned is I’m not ever going to raise taxes again. It’s too hard. It’s too impossible,” she declared.

She could say that with supreme confidence because budget estimates show Michigan will stay in the black this year (thanks to those evil tax hikes).

So it’s time to roll out the feel-good programs – high schools that work, alternative energy Centers of Excellence and more early childhood education.

You can have your cake and eat it, too. No higher taxes this year, just “creative financing.” (Something Republicans also found irresistible when they ran the show during the last two decades – beats cutting spending).

Granholm plans to scrounge up $550 million by refinancing debt, selling bonds and reinvesting part of the state pension fund.

Her economic stimulus plan – especially creating jobs through much-needed infrastructure projects – shows promise. But don’t expect a big boost to higher ed, the best long-range economic development tool Michigan has in its arsenal.

And there were key pieces missing from the puzzle, ostensibly to come in the far less glamorous budget unveiling next week.

Where are the cuts? Where are the reforms? You don’t need to be a rabid right-winger to know much more needs to be done.

Just take another read of the blue-ribbon, bipartisan Emergency Financial Panel report penned a year ago by 12 leaders with hundreds of years’ combined experience in budgets, business and government.

Or in the case of some esteemed lawmakers, try skimming over the scant 19 pages for the first time.

“I honestly don’t know how many people read it,” a glum former Gov. Jim Blanchard told me last week.

Well, it’s never too late to get religion or give a few of the 12 Apostles a jingle. I have it on good authority they’d love to hear from you.

The fact is, Michigan’s government is still engineered for the 1960s. We have a bloated Corrections budget growing far faster than revenues, as we incarcerate 50,000 people – and counting.

Health care costs for state employees and retirees are spiraling out of control. We have 1,242 townships, 553 school districts and millions of dollars in needlessly duplicated administrative costs.

That’s just a start. With the limited cash Michigan has, we need to spend it wisely.

Now the bad news. Don’t look now, but the Mitten State hasn’t licked its structural budget deficit.

We don’t tax services, the growing sector of our economy, thanks to a bizarre last-minute plan last fall that enraged the hypersensitive business community and poisoned the well. It remains to be seen what effect the Michigan Business Tax surcharge will have on attracting new capital. And our income tax is outmoded – a graduated rate with more exemptions is a better fit.

The good news is, we probably could restructure without hiking taxes and stave off future $2 billion budget shortfalls.

But that would mean bringing up the dreaded t-word again. And with that bodacious bipartisan vibe we’ve got going, who wants to be a major buzzkill?