ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.
Michigan state government has been playing a doomsday game of “Starve the Beast” for more than a couple of decades, and the process has had a devastating effect on education and roads.
State legislators plead innocent to this charge, but statistics since the earliest days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency bear it out. Historian Bruce Bartlett, former domestic policy adviser to Reagan, called Starve the Beast “the most pernicious fiscal doctrine in history” and blames it for the increase in US government debt since the 1980s.
The State of Michigan year in and year out grapples with budget cuts in personnel and services because of deficits, which actually are caused more by lack of revenue than spending like a drunken sailor. But revenue means taxes, and there’s the rub.
Anyone who’s willing to raise taxes (revenue) these days couldn’t get elected dog catcher. The Republican Party has done a splendid job of hoodwinking the public into believing all taxes are evil and intrusive. Yet taxes buy us essential services such as police, fire, education and roads.
The Michigan income tax rate was 4.6% in early 1983, when newly-elected Gov. Jim Blanchard got the State Legislature to agree to an increase to 5.8% to balance the budget. The move was wildly unpopular and cost two state senators their jobs via recall.
The 5.8% finally was brought back down to 4.6% by 1990, but John Engler pulled off an upset that year over Blanchard’s bid for a third term. During his administration, we got Proposal A, a shift away from property taxes to the sales tax to fund public schools and shift control of education to the state. Meanwhile, the emerging majority of Republicans were able to get that 4.6% income tax down to 3.9%. Some GOP lawmakers, like Sen. Patty Birkholz, wanted to make that 3.9% permanent. Some, like Bob Genetski, wanted to have it eliminated altogether.
After Engler left office, successor Jennifer Granholm was able to get the state income tax increased to 4.35%, where it remains today.
Starve the Beast — when you take in less revenue, you can’t provide as many services and have to make cuts in spending.
Free market folks and their ilk will say no problem — privatize. You can get these public services more cheaply and efficiently if you let the private sector run them. The reason they’re cheaper is that private companies pay their employees less than unionized public employees.
The Starve the Beast campaign has been a big part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. Despite protestations to the contrary, he has yet to provide local districts as much per pupil in state aid as did Granholm. Deep in my heart, I believe it’s deliberate.
Just as Scott Walker has been doing in Wisconsin, Snyder wants to break the teachers’ union because their members vote heavily for the other party. The horrible conditions of roads is the legacy of Engler and not much has been done over the last two decades to solve the problem because it takes money. It’s gotten so bad that we’ll vote on a one-cent sales tax increase May 5.
The deliberate starving of the beast in education eventually causes school districts to fail, after which they are taken over by the state and eventually by private concerns, which do no better in resolving the issues.
Of course, charter schools are wolves in sheep’s clothing, nothing more than attempts to privatize public education without having to deal with special needs children.
More than 50 public school districts were in financial distress at the end of the last school year. I don’t remember such an awful development in my entire career, and I think it’s happening on purpose.
And what depresses me even more is that through the power of marketing and advertising, these bozos in Lansing get elected again and again by an unwary public, and once they’re term limited, they get replaced by bozos who are just as uncurious and perhaps even less intelligent.
The race to the bottom continues. As former Detroit Lions coach Monte Clark once said to a reporter, “See you at the cemetery.”
CARTOON: “The the Dancing Bug,” by Rueben Bolling