Many years ago, I used to write about the federal budget when it was released in Washington. Ronald Reagan was president then, and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. The moment the massive document was released, Speaker Tip O’Neill would proclaim it dead on arrival. And then the negotiating began.
These days, Michigan is solidly controlled by Republicans, so nobody is saying anything like that about Governor Snyder’s budget. But don’t think what the governor wants is precisely what the lawmakers will pass. Many representatives and lawmakers have their own ideas about how and where to spend the state’s money.
The budget is worth studying as sort of a fascinating blueprint of how power and priorities work in Lansing. There are lots of cuts, including some reductions for the state police. Graduate medical education took a big hit, as did the dying Michigan film industry, which the governor has done his best to kill for years. To my surprise, the governor did have the guts to propose a tiny increase in the liquor license fee.
The last time that fee was raised, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley had not yet been born. However, I’d happily bet you that this fee increase, which is more than justified, will never happen. The liquor and restaurant lobbies are too powerful. The governor didn’t even try to raise the beer tax. The last time anyone successfully did that, President Obama was five years old.
Slap a twenty-five cent tax on a bottle of beer, and the state gets half a billion more dollars a year, in about as painless a way as possible. But beer lobbyists are powerful too. Farmers, however, have little clout these days. The governor wants to triple the feed license fee.
Now that’s a tax increase that will probably sail through. Did you know there are Republican state universities and Democratic ones? The lawmakers would deny that, but it is absolutely true when it comes to favoritism. Grand Valley State is a beautiful facility in Grand Rapids, which caters mainly to well-off white people in a solidly Republican area. The governor budgeted a four percent increase for them. I teach at Wayne State University in Detroit.
My students are mainly first generation college; working class. Nearly all have jobs, and some have families. Many are black and Arab and they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Wayne State is scheduled for an increase of just over one half of one percent.
Wayne, by the way, has a total endowment of less than three hundred million dollars. The University of Michigan, which has more than eight billion, gets a much larger increase.
Yep, fair and balanced. This budget, by the way, contains absolutely no new money for the roads. Everything rides on the voters approving the proposal to raise the sales tax on May 5, which as it stands now, seems headed for defeat.
Which would mean another entire year in which our roads and bridges will get steadily worse, meaning it will cost even more in the long run to fix them. Someday, I’d like to see the system overthrown and taken over by a government of sensible and fair-minded grownups.
But I don’t see that happening, anytime soon.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.