State of the State: Devil’s in the details

Sharon Parks

The devil is always in the details. Last night’s State of the State address laid out a vision for Michigan’s transformation, but very few details as to how to pay for the initiatives needed to move Michigan forward. We’ll have to wait for next Thursday’s budget presentation to learn how the  governor’s vision becomes reality.

In the meantime, a few things are worth noting about last night’s speech. The governor pointed to three things essential for Michigan’s transition: diversifying our economy, educating our people and protecting citizens along the way. 

The latter—ensuring a strong safety net—received no attention whatsoever in the governor’s remarks. No mention of restoring last year’s Medicaid cuts, no mention of shoring up the state’s cash or emergency assistance programs, no mention of the need to pass unemployment insurance reforms that will help unemployed workers and garner $139 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

The governor also reiterated her plan, released last week, to prod approximately 7,000 state employees to retire and replace only two-thirds of these experienced workers. 

This proposal is being made despite the fact that state employment, as Treasurer Bob Kleine points out in today’s Lansing State Journal, is already at its lowest level since the 1970s.  

Michigan has 11,000 fewer employees than a decade ago—a reduction of 17 percent. Michigan now ranks near the bottom in national rankings of state and local employees in relation to population. 

State government has already borne the brunt of two waves of early retirement.  Experience and institutional memory went out the door and most departments of state government have been hindered since in their ability to deliver services, and at the same time ensure accountability.  The governor’s proposal will only exacerbate this already difficult situation.

A new income tax credit intended to improve access to capital for small businesses is also troublesome, not because entrepreneurs don’t need venture capital to expand and create new jobs, but because the state lacks the revenue to pay for new tax credits.

One bright spot in the governor’s address is the announcement that the state, by the end of the year, will open 10 learning labs in the Detroit area to help workers who need to strengthen their basic literacy skills in order to succeed in education or technical training. 

The learning labs will help these adult learners improve their reading, teach them English or help them get a high school diploma. Michigan has an enormous problem that must be tackled—fully one in three working-age adults read below a sixth-grade level.  This impediment precludes these adults from participating in federally funded job-training programs and also relegates them to noncredit remedial classes before they can enroll in classes that actually lead to jobs.

Having digested what the governor referenced in last night’s address, we’re now anxious for the details.  Hopefully we’ll hear about new revenues that will stem the tide of further cuts and make it possible for Michigan to finally begin to invest in its citizens and their communities.

 — Sharon Parks

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