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Wednesday, June 30,2010

Legislature loves to break a date

by Kyle Melinn

This column must be to City Pulse by noon Tuesday. That’s my deadline.


I could stretch it to 2 or 3 p.m. if I need the extra time. Anytime after 5 p.m., I’m pushing it. If I don’t have it in by 6 p.m., Berl Schwartz has either found an in-house ad or popped a story out of the can. The paper is printer-bound and I’m too late.


If I were the Legislature, this column would be turned in at 7 Wednesday morning on the logic that the paper doesn’t hit the racks until 8.


Why can’t 148 grown adults get anything of significance done on time?


Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked that the state budget be done by July 1 this year. She popped her budget proposal in early February. Four months to monkey around with it isn’t a big ask. Up until 2002, Michigan legislatures did it all the time.


But July 1 will come and go this year and a budget won’t be complete, not when there’s more grandstanding that can be done.


"I stood up for schools."


"I stood up for the taxpayer."


"I didn’t do my job. Let me take the rest of the summer off to campaign to keep my job or get a more powerful state government job."


Ridiculous. People in Lansing wonder why the anti-incumbency mood is so rich, why a new Michigan State University poll shows that voters distrust state government as much as the federal government for the first time in the poll’s 16-year history.


There isn’t a deadline this Legislature doesn’t run over. Government shut down twice in the last three years. What were the repercussions? Nothing. The Constitution doesn’t mandate that lawmakers take it out of their checks. That they should see the back of a jail cell. That they be flogged at sunrise. Nothing.


Instead, we hear Capitol prognostications that lawmakers won’t pass a real state budget until after the Nov. 2 General Election to spare lawmakers running for re-election. How considerate.


The odd thing is that one-on-one, most legislators agree that a budget needs to get passed by July 1. As a collective group, they can’t make it happen.


Even when the issues are comparatively mild there’s always a phony issue created to score some cheap political points.


The question is not, "How can we get this done?"


It’s, "How can I make this situation work best for me politically?"


Meanwhile, the cities don’t know how much they can spend. The schools don’t either. They can take a guess, but they’ll probably be wrong. The dysfunction kicks itself down the government food chain.


It’d be nice if the budget was the only thing that couldn’t get done. It’s not.


To give public school and state employees time to plan for their future, Granholm asked the Legislature to take action on her early retirement plans by the end of April. Instead, the teacher portion didn’t get done until the middle of May. The resulting tight timeframe contributed to a participation rate of around half of what the governor wanted.


The state employee portion? Stuck in limbo. State officials need the roughly $100 million in savings to balance the budget, but with the deadline blown, participation is going to be a question even if does happen.


The Legislature set its own June 1 deadline to finish the proposed Detroit River International Bridge issue. Status: Incomplete.


Michigan needed a new road funding system by the end of the spring to prevent Michigan from losing $475 million in federal road money without delaying significant infrastructure improvement projects. Another roadblock. That may happen after Nov. 2, best case.


If voters approve a Constitutional Convention this fall, there is no mechanism to elect delegates or no procedure to carry that out. The Legislature has done nothing with a proposal by Sen. Tom George despite the urging of Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land back in March.


Whether it’s the rush job the Legislature put on compiling the doomed sales tax on services, the needlessly complex Michigan Business Tax or the insufficient Race to the Top reforms, this Legislature has turned panic-driven public policy into an art form.


The real losers here are the citizens. While the politicians put themselves No. 1, we’re stuck with leaderless government where the indecision yields us more bad roads, more years of driving through 14 stoplights between Interstate 75 and Canada Highway 402, a bad tax structure, more federal money left on the table and school districts and local government that don’t know what they’re doing with teacher and police levels.


But good luck on the campaign trail this summer, incumbents.


Maybe your time away from Lansing can be more productive than your time in Lansing.


Don’t forget parks millage


Buried on the back end of Lansing voters’ Aug. 3 primary ballot is the parks millage renewal, a five-year, 1-mill levy the city’s voters have agreed to pay since 1990.


We can thank our wonderful River Trail, new parks and playgrounds on the $50-ayear charge for every $50,000 in taxable home value.


Even if you don’t think you’re getting your $50 off of these public assets (I know I do), picture our greenspace looking like the overgrown, neglected Waverly Golf Course. That’s our park system without the $2.5 million this levy brings in.


Neglect attracts graffiti and crime. That chases away prospective and current business owners. That’s more empty shops and factories. That’s more blight.


Would you go to a job interview in sweatpants and bedhead? Like any job applicant anxious to make a good first impression, a city that cares about its future cares about its appearance. That’s why a "yes" vote on the parks millage may be the easiest vote on the ballot.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. His column appears weekly. He’s at melinn@citypulse.com.)

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