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Wednesday, June 24,2009

The real issue: Troopers, not building

by Kyle Melinn

If nothing is done by July 1, 104 of the state’s 1,117 Michigan state troopers will be out of a job.


You and I paid to train most of these young men and women how to be cops at last fall’s trooper school and now they’re a week away from busting speeders in Texas or somewhere else that’s hiring.



It’s all because Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature are cutting muscle, tendon and skin off the bones of state government to fill a $1.3 billion budget created by our tanking auto industry/economy. In essence, we paid $5 million yesterday to train people whose job we’re cutting today to save $1.7 million.


What a fantastic waste of money.

The new Michigan State Police headquarters isn’t a good use of taxpayers’ money either. The state is paying $45 million over 25 years for a downtown building that doesn’t completely meet the needs of the department.

Once the cops take occupancy early next year, they’ll still need two other buildings for technical reasons. In a nutshell, MSP is moving from three buildings into … well, three buildings.

The difference is that there’s still something that can be done about the impending layoffs and nothing that can be done with the new headquarters.

Since the layoffs were announced in May, the Michigan State Police Troopers Association and the state have been engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken. The state got the other state employee unions to take off six unpaid furlough days but the troopers’ union contract doesn’t allow for that.


So instead of offering up furlough as an option, the troopers association dared the state to lay off the troopers, believing that the Legislature or somebody would intervene when push came to shove. Surely, the thinking went, the state couldn’t be that hard up as to layoff a 100 cops to save a measly $1.7 million?


Well, the Republican-led Senate, for one, is calling their bluff. With the troopers’ No. 1 advocate, Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, in Pennsylvania for a National Guard training session, the Senate opted not to save the jobs in the MSP budget they passed last week. If the troopers’ association wanted to keep its 100 members, the rest of the membership will have to agree to some furlough days off. No freebies this time.


This week, the troopers’ association membership is voting on a furlough day proposal. The results are expected to be tabulated Thursday or Friday.

So what happens if the membership says no? Will these young new recruits truly lose their jobs or will the Legislature blink before heading off on yet another two-week break? It’s possible the federal government will give the MSP some new federal stimulus money later this summer, after all.


It’s too soon to say, but the point is that something can be done.


On the other hand (and please, God, make this the final time I have to write this), the MSP Headquarters issue is a dead issue. Jimmy Dean dead. Elvis dead. Dead. Dead. Dead . . . Dead.


I understand it’s a great issue for politicians like Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and gubernatorial wanna-be Mike Bouchard to dance around about, but this debate ended more than two years ago when a legislative panel OKed the lease and an administrative panel made up of a representative of the Attorney General’s Office signed off on it.


Now that Jones is making this a political issue again, he’s citing an alleged letter — Jones has yet to produce it — that Attorney General Mike Cox sent him in January that the state can legally get out of the lease. Sure. The state could legally shutdown government for three days in October, too. It doesn’t make it a good idea.


Like it or not, Joel Ferguson and Gary Granger built the new State Police headquarters. They will take occupancy in January. The crusty old MSP headquarters off Harrison Road, God rest its soul, will be flattened for more Breslin Center parking. The end.


The Senate did the state absolutely no favors by approving an MSP budget that didn’t include funding for more than one month of that lease.

This isn’t college, folks. The state of Michigan doesn’t walk away from a signed lease without serious consequences. Outside of the ridiculous amount of money Ferguson and Granger could squeeze out of the state fighting this issue in court, Michigan will be looked upon as a bad actor in the financial sector.

Its word will mean nothing when in real estate and lending. Our credit rating is bad enough as it is. This would only compound the situation.

And then, what would be done with the State Police? They can’t stay in that shanty across from MSU too much longer without serious repair. If not Ferguson and Granger, who’s going to build their home? Where would they put it? More important, which developer will trust the state to live up to its word and at what cost?


The grownups in the room are not onboard this. The House leadership is leery about breaking the lease and the governor is flat-out opposed to it.


Together, they have one week to address an important MSP issue. The headquarters building is not it.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Write him at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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