Throughout the state, horrified citizens are beginning to grasp what Gov. Rick Snyder's budget cuts will really mean to them.
They are going to get screwed. The poor and young and most vulnerable will be royally screwed. The rich, naturally, will be just fine. You might expect the Democrats, the party of the people, the party of Andrew Jackson and Bobby Kennedy and Soapy Williams, to rise to their defense. Offer an alternative program.
Suggesting raising — gasp — taxes on those more than able to pay! Fighting for the poor and downtrodden, that sort of thing.
Yes, the Democrats by themselves are politically powerless now. They are heavily outnumbered in the Legislature. They can pass nothing. But they could stand for something. They could say, "We'd do this instead. We would balance the budget this way. We would make the sacrifice truly fair, and preserve our children's futures."
They aren't doing that, however. They are mostly gutless cowards. They are afraid to stand for anything. They lack the guts to call for the necessary tax increases they should stand for.
Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University economist, tells me, "If we were to raise the income tax rate by a modest amount, I believe that the negative effects would be very small. In fact, if we use the money to repair some of our crumbling infrastructure, and to invest in early childhood education, I believe a modest increase in the income tax rate would have a positive effect on attracting businesses."
Ballard, who understands our economy better than anyone, said that boosting the income tax rate from the present 4.35 percent to 5.5 percent, would eliminate the entire deficit.
That's what the Dems' program should be. Here's what it is: "Waaaaah! Don't cut no benefits."
Well, fine. But then how should the state close the $1 billion-plus deficit gap we have this and every year — even if we don't enact Gov. Rick Snyder's enormous tax breaks for business?
Democrats: "Waaaah! Don't cut no benefits."
What they are hoping, of course, is that they don't have to put forward an alternative program, that they'll get power back just because people are disgusted with the Republicans.
Even if it works, it is a contemptible excuse for political philosophy. Give the GOP this: They stand for something, are filled with passionate intensity, and aren't afraid to say so. Those who should be opposing them are invertebrates.
Away from Lansing, people are starting to get it. Parents are starting to understand what the sharp per-pupil spending cuts will mean to their kids' ability to get an education that already often wasn't good enough.
College students will see a steep tuition hike, and will come back to campus in the fall to find they are paying more for less.
The impact is likely to fall heaviest on poor families. Imagine a single mother — or father — with two kids, working a couple dreary jobs, struggling to make it on $15,000 a year. There are many, many people like that in today's Michigan. They had one thing going for them till now: They'd get a state tax refund of $533, thanks to the EITC, or Earned Income Tax Credit. Yet the governor and the Legislature are hell-bent on taking that away. Know what they'll give that family instead? Fifty bucks.
This means people will lose their homes; that, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS), something like 11,000 children will be toppled over the line into poverty. This is all being done so that business can get a huge tax break.
Gilda Jacobs, who runs the league, is no bomb-thrower. She's a mild-mannered suburban woman in her early 60s, a former Oakland County commissioner and state senator. Yet the impact of what's coming caused her to virtually scream: "The cuts lawmakers are making are so mean-spirited that you almost have to ask: Are the cuts deliberately crafted by bullies who are deliberately targeting kids and others who can't fight back?"
That's almost right, Gilda: They are, in fact, targeting those who can't vote. Originally, the governor proposed to tax the pensions of those now receiving them. When the geezers went ballistic, his buddies in the Legislature feared revenge at the polls. They ran from their governor like Larry, Moe and Curly being chased by a striped-ass ape. Snyder heard them, backed off. Together they came up with this compromise:
They will just tax the pensions of those not receiving them yet! By the time the people get to vote for the Legislature again, the tax will be a done deal. In the meantime, they'll make up some of the difference by screwing people on the Homestead Tax Credit, which is less well understood.
Last week, a ragged band of citizens tried to take matters into their own hands. Michigan Citizens United is going to try to recall the governor in a special election. They will find out Friday if their petition language is approved. You have to admire their passion, their drive to do something. Yet their efforts are likely to be a waste. They need 1 million signatures in three months, when you take into account that some signatures will always be disqualified.
That means collecting more than 10,000 every day for that time. That is simply not possible. Getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot only takes a third as many, and generally only succeeds if someone has money to pay handsomely to collect them.
Citizens United's spokesman says they've raised maybe a thousand bucks. What if they succeed?
There'd be another election, and if Snyder were removed, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is even more conservative, would succeed him.
What we need right now is leadership; someone — Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, perhaps — to offer a program, that even if it fails now, is something to rally around. Yet up to now, they offer only the sounds of silence.
Laugh along with the Moroun family: We don't normally think of the Moroun clan as a barrel full of fun. Mostly they are busy paying off politicians (in thinly disguised "contributions" that are the moral equivalent of bribes), filing incessant lawsuits, and doing everything from running lying TV ads to hiring the ultimate sleaze, the toe-sucking Dick Morris, to mislead the public.
The man who owns the Ambassador Bridge will do anything to keep his monopoly over moving heavy freight across the Detroit River. Things haven't been going well for the 84-year-old billionaire lately; the governor and even the Detroit Free Press have now turned against him. So he's launching a charm offensive.
Last weekend, his only spawn, the 40-something Matthew Moroun, tried to convince the Freep that they are now the kinder and gentler Morouns. For years, the family has refused to tear down, fix up, or do anything about the city's biggest eyesore, the ruin of the Michigan Central Station — except to try once, with Kwame Kilpatrick's connivance, to palm it off on the city for a police headquarters. Now, however, they say they'll clean it up, put on a new roof, replace the smashed windows.
Believe that, comrades, when you see it. Matthew did give me a giggle, however, when he called the depot "kind of a magical place." Swell. Let's see him and Mommy and Daddy camp out there overnight.