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Wednesday, September 23,2009

Answers to five burning questions on state shutdown

by Kyle Melinn

The looming state government shutdown is a frustrating exercise to grasp, and not just for the casual observer.

For the second time in three years, "those turkeys" are taking state government to the cliff's edge, declining to pass a budget for next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Without one, the Constitution tells us state government can't spend any money. (Read: Shutdown.)

So why can't everybody get into a room and work it out?

Can't help you there. My eight years at the Capitol may qualify me (sadly) as a veteran in this term-limited era, but there are some things known only to the Lord above.

Some questions are a little easier to grasp. I'll attempt to answer them below in the off chance it'll spread some peace of mind if the Capital Complex goes dark Oct. 1.

Q. Why are we going through this again?

A. A paralyzing fear to face the inevitable. It's like that clogged mop sink that Draino won't clear.

Had you called the plumber a month ago, the stink and the backup (not to mention the final bill) wouldn't have been as bad. But there's short-term relief in putting it off, as if doing nothing is something and that something will magically fix the drain.

Likewise, every legislator knows state revenues are plummeting. And our outdated tax code does not keep up with inflation.

But there's also this arcane belief that signing off on any tax increase is akin to kissing the next election goodbye, as if folks can't be sold that some services are worth paying for.

If people gladly fork over $19.99 for a Chia pet, surely a nickel charge on bottled water is defensible if it means a poor 8-year-old girl can see a doctor. Paying sales tax on movies isn't unreasonable if it means not losing 20 percent of the Lansing Police Department.

Q. Why not just pass a one-month continuation budget?

A. Why not nail some plywood over our stinky, overflowing mop sink? The piper must be paid. Period.

Michigan already takes 40 percent longer to haggle over its budget than other state.

What were our lawmakers doing all summer outside of making the case for a part-time Legislature? Clearly, they weren't making progress on the budget.

Using a few-day continuation budget as a bridge to finalize a deal is one thing. Using a month-long continuation budget as a crutch is a cop out.

Q. Will Republican lawmakers spend this weekend at the biennial Mackinac Leadership conference hobnobbing with their party's true believer instead of fixing this mess?

A. Some will, sure. Some did in 2007, too. To be fair, though, at this stage in the process, if no votes are scheduled, there's no point to be in Lansing. If they're not at Mackinac Island sucking down drinks with John Engler, they're watching the Tigers in their recliners.

Q. What will happen if the state shuts down?

A. The apocalyptical countdown clock on the Web sites of various news outlets paints a picture of impending doom — as if the ground will open along Meridian Road and the entire state will slide inside the bowels of the earth.

Let's face it. Unless you're a state worker, count on a monthly state government check or need to renew your tabs by Oct. 1, a state shutdown won't impact you.

The sun will come up in the east and set in the west. Children will go school. The birds will chirp. Leaves will turn a little more orange.

Don't count on any rest stops or state parks being open. Few, if any, state police will patrol the roads. Construction likely will stop on state roads down for repairs. But the governor isn't going to let prisoners run the streets or lockdown our international bridges.

Q. Does that mean a shutdown is a good thing?

A. No. Not even a little bit. Michigan will find itself — once again — unflatteringly portrayed in the national media.

For the rest of the country, we'll be that poor sap whose broken down car is gumming up the interstate.

The out-of-state rubberneckers will be gawking at our misfortunes as they drive by.

Of course after the year we've had, with our 41-month stint at the top of the nation's unemployment list and the troubles of the Big Three auto companies, sadly we're learning to live with this "pitiful" stigma.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekl. E-mailmelinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)


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