Thursday, October 1, 2009

We're Not the Only State with a Budget Crisis...

...but we are the only state held hostage by minority rule that refuses to consider any measure to raise some revenue in order to close the budget gap and thereby prevent teachers from being laid off, health services from being cut, criminals from being released early and parks from closing (as well as myriad other problems associated with drastically cutting spending in the midst of a recession). I bring this up, of course, because last night the news from Michigan indicated that their state government was going to shut down because of a failure to come to an agreement on a budget. But within hours, state lawmakers had gotten their act together (sort of):
The interim budget avoided state worker layoffs and office closures. It also delayed some tough financial decisions in a state facing a $3 billion shortfall while struggling with the nation's highest unemployment rate, a shrinking auto industry, a high home foreclosure rate and an economy that soured long before the national recession.

With the stopgap signed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, lawmakers have 30 days to put a permanent budget in place. The interim budget was adopted less than two hours into Michigan's second partial government shutdown in three fiscal years — implemented after lawmakers failed to agree on a permanent budget before midnight Wednesday. Michigan's 2007 shutdown lasted four hours.

Two things. First, the Michigan State Senate has a Republican majority. So it actually makes sense to some extent that they are having this problem. Republicans believe that the only way to respond to recession-caused deficits is to cut spending drastically even though this will make the recession much worse, especially for the most vulnerable people in our society (children, seniors, and the disabled). But if they control part of a state legislature, it follows naturally that they would use their democratic power to work hard to follow this belief even in a budget crisis. In California, there are large Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature. But because of minority rule imposed by Proposition 13, we don't live in a democracy. And the tiny number of intransigent Republicans still in legislative office can use their disproportionate power to hold the state hostage on the brink of collapse.

Second, Michigan's economy is based on selling cars that nobody wants. By contrast, California's economy is based on selling food, planes, entertainment and high technology that everybody wants. California does have major economic problems related to the housing bubble and particularly over the long term because we don't invest in high quality K-12 public education. But the point is that we are not (or shouldn't be) in as deep of a hole as Michigan. We can pull ourselves out of this. But that won't happen unless we restore democracy to California in next fall's elections.

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