The arts, foster care, libraries, mental health... People are hurting in our state due to Michigan‘s structural deficit. Meaning, the 25% of manufacturing jobs weve lost over the past seven years have taken their tax dollars with them, and chances are those jobs wont be back anytime soon. Weve lost some 330,000 manufacturing jobs here since 2000, according to the University of Michigan.
Even if those jobs come back, chances are it will be with the proviso of huge tax breaks, or less fruitful jobs in Americas new service economy, such as it is.
We hear brave voices, speaking on behalf of orphaned children, the mentally ill, the elderly and the poor. We understand the need for art, education, a pure environment, good roads, strong hospitals and all of the benefits of life here in Michigan.
But the stories in the press and on TV are often too little and too late, like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing artery. And you cant help but wonder if Michigans residents have tuned-out the states doom-and-gloom budget crisis story. What people are looking for is a new direction, or as the Detroit Free Press noted in a front page editorial in its Sunday edition -- some leadership.
Needless to say, we need to start thinking out of the box. We need to reinvent ourselves as a leaner, more efficient outfit. That‘s what Ford Motor Company has been doing with its massive cutbacks, and the company has started to turn itself around.
For instance, perhaps a pay-as-you-go approach would serve us better in the long run than Gov. Granholms proposed two percent tax hike. Unless the Chinese decide to swoop in here and buy up the Big Three automakers, we need to face the proposition that Michigan‘s problems aren‘t going to be solved with a tax hike.
Some other ideas:
Garnish wages instead of prison time: This is an age-old idea from societies that cant afford costly prison systems. In many countries, if you kill Ahmeds cow, you pay out of pocket instead of going to jail. Why not use the same principle in prison-strapped Michigan?
Were chained to a $2 billion corrections budget and this corpse is sliding off the deck of a sinking ship. With more than 51,000 prisoners, we jail more people than Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, even though those states have more residents than Michigan. Even so, the governors office reports that Michigan has a violent crime index that is 34% higher than surrounding states.
We cant move forward until we correct a problem that consumes one-fifth of Michigans budget. Wouldnt it make more sense to release prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes and simply garnish their wages for 5-20 years as punishment, instead of spending $24,000 per year to feed and house each one of them? That way, theyd be paying back their victims, or into the corrections system to better enable the rehabilitation of violent prisoners, rather than bleeding us of services we desperately need.
Downsize the Legislature: As conservatives are quick to note, a legislature is a virtual factory for costly new bills and money-wasting ideas.
We citizens pay our lawmakers a base salary of around $80,000 per year, plus solid gold benefits and retirement plans, for what has turned out to be a dubious return. Not to mention an office allowance of some $95,000 per year in the House and $58,000 in the Senate, plus mailing perks, conferences, transportation and other goodies. Lets take a tip from the conservative handbook for a change, and go to either a part-time legislature (a la Texas) or a unicameral (single house) operation.
Legalize it. Okay, this is an iffy, last resort measure, but we‘re there, dude. If you want an extra $1 billion in tourist revenues, decriminalize marijuana and allow patrons to smoke the stuff in state-licensed coffeehouses, just like they do in Amsterdam. Put a 50% tax on marijuana -- grown in our state as a cash crop to avoid federal laws on interstate commerce -- and make it cheap enough to put organized crime out of business. Bonus: fewer pot prisoners to pay for.
Dumb ideas? Maybe. But theyre ideas that produce dollar signs and savings instead of taxes. Go figure...