Budget Worse Than Early '80s
A former lawmaker who helped balance the state's out-of-whack budgets in the early 1980s said today that Michigan's current fiscal crisis is worse than any he ever dealt with in his 22 years in the Legislature.
Lynn JONDAHL, who chaired the House Taxation Committee for 12 years, said the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 budget crisis is worse than any he's seen for two reasons — the pots of money state government typically dipped into to balance the budget are empty and the tax base has been seriously scaled back.
For example, 25 years ago the state was able to dip into the teacher pension and health care reserve funds. Those are now being run as a pay-as-you-go system. The Medicaid Trust Fund and the Rainy Day Fund also are all gone. And while it may have been politically popular for some lawmakers to slice taxes, the next person in office is being forced to deal with the consequences.
At this point, 26 days before the beginning of the FY 2008, Jondahl said he's not seeing the sense of urgency that's needed from the legislative body.
"You got a Legislature that seems to be of the mindset of, 'Let's see, it's early September. We still got three to four weeks before we have to make a decision,'" Jondahl said. "Give me a break. (Universities) are passing tuition increases. (Departments) are laying off staff. It seems to me what is lacking is the realization of the consequences of not addressing the problem."
Jondahl, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he understands that raising revenue isn't a popular political decision, but the impact of not paying for basic human services isn't good either, he said.
He noted that the state already is seeing the headlines about disasters in state government that may be a direct result of not being properly funded — suspected murderers running around on parole, problems with foster care, a chunk of Upper Peninsula forest on fire, more highways in disrepair.
Jondahl said he's aware of the threat by Leon DROLET and Michigan Taxpayers Alliance to recall legislators who vote for tax increases. He's aware that some lawmakers in politically marginal districts could face tough re-election campaigns. However, there's more to being in the Legislature than simply saying no to raising taxes.
"People elected them to do things, something as basic as to assure that kids will get a good education, where there won't be 30 to 35 kids in a classroom," he said. "Those pressures will grow."
Senate Republicans have suggested that if a FY 2008 budget isn't passed by Sept. 30, they could always pass a "continuation budget" to keep the state going for a few months. According to Jondahl, such a decision would only exasperate the state's budget problem.
First of all, the Legislature pushed hundreds of millions of dollars of spending pressures from FY 2007 to FY 2008, putting the state in the hole from the very beginning. Secondly, the state was spending more than it was taking in last year and passing a "continuation" budget will mean more spending at a revenue level that can't support it.
"A continuation budget is not a budget-balancing decision by any means," Jondahl said. "It means a bigger deficit than what we've got right now."
"I've looked at the numbers and the analysis of the Citizens Research Council and I don't see any way to make up the kind of numbers we're talking about — roughly $1.5 billion — without additional revenue," Jondahl said. "There's just not enough money. Short of closing down service programs, there's no way you can cut your way out of this problem.