Category Archives: Fiscal policy

A few transportation policy updates

The theme of the day is state and local transportation policy, specifically focusing on roads, cars, and bikes.

STATE POLICY:

First, Todd Scott at M-Bike.org alerts cyclists to a couple of poorly conceived bills introduced in Michigan’s Republican-controlled state House:

First, House Bill 5300 would transfer funding from the current Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) to the Commercial Corridor Fund (CCF) over an 8 year period. The MTF and CCF distribute funds to counties, cities, and villages. The MTF requires 1% of the funding to be spent on non-motorized facilities like bike lanes and sidewalks. The CCF has no such requirement.

So rather than remove the 1% requirement in law, legislators are simply creating a new fund without the requirement and shifting the money… (I)t has been a long standing goal of the County Road Association of Michigan to remove this requirement.

Todd writes of the second bill,

The current road funding is generally distributed based on the miles of roads. House Bill 5303 would change that to distribute funding based on motor vehicle miles traveled or VMT.

Counties and cities that require people to drive more and longer distances will be rewarded. There will be a financial disincentive for counties and cities to promote public transit, biking and walking as they’ll receive less money.

Forecasts from MDOT show the city of Detroit would see some devastating funding cuts as a result… The City has already testified against this change.

Ironically enough, the bill’s sponsor is former City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

I’m less than surprised than Todd about Rep. Tinsley-Talabi, who was one of Kwame Kilpatrick’s reliable supporters and, along with Martha Reeves & Barbara-Rose Collins, one of the dimmer bulbs when she served on the City Council.

Todd concludes,

We recommend you contact your state representative and state senator to let them know you oppose removing the 1% requirement and oppose distributing road funds according to vehicle miles traveled.

These bills have been out for more than a couple months now. We can’t afford to keep sitting on the sidelines.

ANN ARBOR:

Turning to local politics, Ann Arbor city councilman Mike Anglin notably dissented from his colleagues on two automotive-related votes at Monday’s city council meeting.

According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, he was joined only by Councilwoman Jane Lumm on one, “a request to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation to convert the segment of Jackson Road between Maple Road and South Revena from four traffic lanes to three”:

Benefits of the lane conversion cited in a staff memo accompanying the resolution include: (1) safe deceleration in the middle lane for left turns; (2) elimination of lane weaving; (3) uniform speeds and the resultant traffic-calming effect; (4) reduction in number and severity of crashes in a number of categories; (5) potential extra width for bicycle lanes; and (6) potential creation of additional marked pedestrian crossings.

The memo mentions several successful 4-to-3 lane conversions in Ann Arbor: South Main (Ann-Arbor Saline to Eisenhower); Platt (Packard to Ellsworth); Packard (Stadium to Jewett); Huron Parkway (Nixon to Plymouth); West Stadium Boulevard (Seventh to Pauline); and Green (Plymouth to Glazier Way).

In the second, he was alone in voting no on a change to downtown parking regulation:

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the policy by which the minimum required parking component of developments in the downtown D1 and D2 zoning districts can be satisfied off-site from the development. The city is using the acronym CIL for “contribution in lieu” to describe the option. The idea could be familiar to some readers as PILOP, or “payment in lieu of parking.” The sole vote against the resolution came from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

If not provided on-site, the policy allows some of the minimum required parking spaces to be provided with one of two basic strategies: (1) commit to a 15-year contract with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to purchase monthly permits in the public parking system at a rate 20% greater than the ordinary price; or (2) pay $55,000 up front before a certificate of occupancy is issued. [.pdf of parking payment in lieu policy]

From my perspective the ideal reform would be to eliminate the outdated and wasteful minimum parking requirements altogether.  While I’d like to think that was the motivation behind Mr. Anglin’s “nay” vote, his vote against the Jackson road diet suggests a rather old-fashioned protectiveness toward the perceived interests of motorists.  We’ll have to wait for the Chronicle’s full report to fully ascertain his calculus, however.  In the meantime, I’d like to recognize my own Ward 3 council reps, Stephen Kunselman & Christopher Taylor, for what seem like prudent votes on both these proposals.

Apocalypse temporarily averted

It wouldn’t be Detroit if they didn’t all wait til the last possible minute to  do what had to be done.  A new era dawns?

Why Michigan’s roads suck

According to a Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll last week, 58% of Michiganders would rather continue whining about their roads than fixing them.  I don’t find this terribly surprising.

It is conventional wisdom in Michigan that the condition of our roads is among the country’s worst.   I’ve read a number of different theories for why this may be.  One is that we have unusually high weight limits for trucks.  Another is the freeze-thaw cycle that results from our harsh winters.  Another is American road construction standards, which generate cheaper bills but demand more frequent repairs.  Presumably each of these factors contributes to our bumpy rides, to some extent.

What I almost never hear cited as a factor is how incredibly overbuilt Michigan is.  (Credit due to Urbanophile, who has written at length about this phenomenon elsewhere in the country, and Charles Marohn, whose theory of the “growth Ponzi scheme” I’ve praised.)  And by Michigan I primarily mean metro Detroit,  with Genesee and Saginaw counties also shouldering significant amounts of blame.  Is it any coincidence that these areas also have some of the most segregated populations, auto-centric layouts, depressed home values, and dysfunctional inner cities in the entire country? The Detroit, Flint and Saginaw metropolitan areas are the poster children for autocentric sprawl, and have reaped their just desserts for it. Among the consequences of the sprawl is that, of course, we can’t afford to pay to maintain the countless miles of asphalt laid to service it.  And MDOT, unbelievably, responds to this situation by proposing expansion projects like adding lanes to I-94 in the city of Detroit.  You can’t blame respondents to the Free Press poll for thinking that the last thing we need to do is throw more money at the imbeciles running our state’s transportation policy.

In the spirit of problem-solving, here’s my proposal to help solve two problems at once:  our threadbare roads and our decimated industrial inner cities.   Restrict all state dollars allocated toward road construction and maintenance to the oldest paved segments.  Earmark the majority of road dollars toward the core streets that serviced central cities and inner suburbs before, say, World War II, giving an edge to fiscally struggling older communities across the state like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti, Pontiac, and Saginaw, as well as dense and walkable older communities like Plymouth, Rochester or Brighton.

This will never happen, of course, because Michiganders continue to overwhelmingly choose exurban isolation over city life, and dependency on car travel to the exclusion of any other form of transit.  They will continue to do so, even as the roads they travel disintegrate to rubble and eventually, one by one, revert to gravel.  They will continue to lament the potholes and the flat tires because they’d rather complain than pay a nickel more in gas taxes.   Their leaders will continue to subsidize greenfield development over infill, convinced that for their particular community at least the bill will never come due.

It’s the Michigan way.

PS 2-8-12:  I also want to make it clear that I think the proposal, introduced by State Sen. Howard Walker, to scrap the state’s gas tax in favor of paying for roads with a sales tax increase is insane.  The gas tax should be increased, not scrapped, and we should not be shifting the burden of paying for roads from heavy users (people who drive a lot) to light users (people who bike, walk, carpool or ride the bus).   This bill idea deserves to die.

Governance in Detroit

The Dave Bing honeymoon is definitely over.  The Detroit area media have been beating up on the Mayor a lot lately, and for good reason.  Among his troubles:

  • High turnover among key personnel, including Deputy Mayor Saul Green, much of it blamed on Karen Dumas.
  • Bad messaging which, again, has been laid in part at Dumas’ feet.  The Mayor hasn’t helped himself with his recent whining about the business community, either.
  • Mismanagement of the police department, namely the scandal surrounding DPD’s crime lab.  Since the mayor fired former police chief Warren Evans last year, it’s hard for him to dismiss Evans’ replacement Ralph Godbee, even though Godbee deserves the same fate.  If you ask me, Godbee was more egregious in his failing than Evans, whose main sin was to piss off Bing by catching him blindsided with his media whoring.
  • There’s also been high-level scandals about spending in departments including Public Health, Human Services, & the library system.  The latter, of course, isn’t under the mayor’s purview.  Let’s set aside the fact that Detroit should not even have its own department of public health.  And I’m skeptical that the city should have any staff or budget for human services beyond the minimum required to facilitate the dispersal of state and federal grant dollars to nonprofits where needed (and even that provides ample opportunities for corruption).
  • Battles over the budget with City Council.  This is where Bing is at his most mystifying.  The corruption scandals in the health and human services departments provide the perfect excuse to slash them, if not shut them down outright.  And yet the mayor is keeping them intact, as well as subsidies to various museums including the DIA and the Wright Museum, while threatening cuts to police staffing.  This is nuts.  Public safety is the absolute last thing the mayor should be cutting if he wants to keep residents and businesses in the city.

But in another way, it’s a good sign these issues are dominating the headlines.  It means that they are finally getting around to more of the corruption that has been happening under the radar during the Kilpatrick administration.  When Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty were in the Mayor’s office, and Monica Conyers was president of City Council, with Barbara-Rose Collins, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, and Martha Reeves as her merry band of fools, the Detroit papers were too busy covering their blatant idiocy, incompetence, and criminality to allocate much in the way of investigative resources to anything else.  Now that both the mayor’s office and city council are occupied by officials who are without question both more intelligent and more responsible, the papers have to dig a little deeper to find juicy leads.

And it is another sign that the seemingly inexorable decline in Detroit’s standards and expectations of its ruling class has finally reversed itself.  Those standards and expectations bottomed out around 2005, when Detroit voters re-elected Kilpatrick as well as the infamous slate of council members that presided over his second term.  I decided to leave Detroit to go back to school in Ann Arbor at the very lowest point, in early 2008, when both MonCon & Kilpatrick had been charged with numerous felonies, but had yet to be compelled to resign their positions.  Not only did it disturb me that my elected officials might be crooks, as was becoming increasingly apparent.  What was more demoralizing was to realize that a majority of my fellow residents, or at least those who bothered to turn out for elections, were being played for fools, and were either too stupid to see it, or in too much denial to admit it.  Choosing to live in Detroit requires all kinds of sacrifices.  It’s hard enough to make those sacrifices when you at least have competent and honest leaders setting the example; but when you don’t even have that, why bother?

It’s fair to assume that most of the city’s population loss in the 2000s happened during the Kilpatrick administration.  Crime, economic opportunities, and bad schools all played a role in these individual decisions either to leave or — just as importantly — not to move in.  Those were the factors that got a lot of attention in the aftermath of the Census release this spring.  In the rush to identify the causes of the city’s 27% population loss, everybody seemed to have forgotten that that for most of the decade, it was run by people who were generally acknowledged, by everyone except Detroit voters, to be crooks and nitwits.  In spring 2008 Detroit was seen by the rest of the country as a laughingstock; in spring 2011 it is given respect as a tragic parable, having recovered much of its dignity through its steps toward reform.

(Note that Detroit’s population decline is not simply a result of people leaving, but of others choosing not to come.  We forget this a lot.  Indeed, it’s likely that disproportionately more people left the city at the end of the decade, having lost their homes in the foreclosure crisis, freeing homeowners to make a move to the suburbs they might have been considering for years before.  On the flip side, we could have a greater influx than before as well, of people who might have considered Detroit previously, but who were discouraged by the corruption and toxic politics in the years prior to the 2009 elections.  While I don’t have numbers to back these hypotheses, I offer them as a reminder of how migration is lumpier, multivariate, and more complex than media analysis often allows.)

I applaud that the Free Press, the Detroit News, the Metro Times, and other news organizations continue to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire, no matter who is in office.  They shouldn’t give him a free pass.  But it’s near-miraculous to see how far Detroit has come in terms of governance in only three short years.  Let’s take solace where we can and give credit where it’s due.  Let’s remember population numbers and budget shortfalls are lagging indicators.  The soul-searching of spring 2011 follows as a consequence of voters’ poor decisions at the ballot box in 2001 and 2005.   I am cautiously optimistic that the common sense voters showed in 2009, and the better performance of Detroit’s officials since then, will reap benefits in Detroit’s American Community Survey results in the 2010s.

L. Brooks Patterson and the love of sprawl

Good morning y’all, I have a new post over at TheDetroiter.com that you should check out.  Leave a comment either here or at the Detroiter and let me know if I got it right or if I’m missing something.

In which I balance the budget

Don’t like the Governor’s budget proposal?  Try your hand at balancing the state budget.

The Free Press’ Stephen Henderson did.

And so did I.  (Click the image below to see the details in full size.)

My budget

My budget

The Snyder Budget IV: Tax credits

Lessenbury discusses the reaction to another one of the Snyder budget’s unpopular cuts — the elimination of the film tax credits:

The howling began immediately, some of it less dignified than the rest. Starting at the bottom, Mitch Albom, who wants more of his cloying books made into movies, emitted a protracted whine about the film credits in the Sunday Gannett paper. “As a person who helped create the film credits program, I asked for months to meet with Snyder,” he huffed.

The governor, evidently not knowing that Mitch was a Very Important Person, kept him waiting until two weeks ago, the churl. When the governor didn’t do what Mitch wanted, Albom wrote that he felt like he’d “been punched in the stomach.” No five friends in heaven waiting for Rick Snyder, no siree!

As Nolan Finley asked last week:

How can he justify spending $160 million on a Hollywood giveaway while asking senior citizens, middle class families and public workers to sacrifice?

Moreover, he argued,

If we really believed that the subsidies would serve to build a movie-making infrastructure that would ultimately be self-sustaining, that would cast them in a different light. But the experience of other states suggests that when the subsidies are reduced or ended, the film makers jump to another state.

Perhaps realizing that the administration is still at risk of losing the messaging battle, the Governor’s budget director John Nixon reiterated the case against the cuts in an editorial in today’s Free Press:

Our current mechanism is nothing more than a subsidy by which the state writes a check for 42% of the cost of the film project with almost no return on investment to the state coffers.

Furthermore, there are no limits to the number of films or the number of checks we write. If a producer spends $100 million on a film in Michigan, we would be forced to write them a check for $42 million. Michigan simply can’t afford this…

(W)hat state services are taxpayers willing to cut in order to fund the movie business?

…(W)hile economic activity is generated, the film industry doesn’t give the state coffers a return on investment, the industry does not create sustainable jobs for the long term, and the cost for the long-term jobs that it does create is quite high.

In case you still think we need to preserve these subsidies, the Governor brings up another point in his his interview with the Detroit News.  It’s one which, based on their reactions to ‘Detroit 187′, might register with Detroit City Council:

(N)ot all of the productions made in Michigan necessarily cast the Great Lakes State in the best light.

Snyder pointed to Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” as an example: “Watching someone being shot down in a front yard is not necessarily the image I would like for our state.”

While the film lobby has received the most attention, there’s been plenty of pushback regarding the proposal to cut the rest of the state’s business tax incentives as well.  Writing for AnnArbor.com, Rick Haglund cites, as evidence in favour of keeping tax incentives, former Governor Engler’s reversal of his earlier position on tax credits, due to loss of the GM Willow Run plant in 1992. A shrewd commenter points out that, if anything, this example undermines his argument:

All one needs to do is look at GM, Ford, and Chrysler to see if tax incentives work.  All three receive huge incentives and tax abatements from the State of Michigan. None of these companies are adding jobs and any rate that is significant even after chalking up huge profits.

Ultimately, I think advocates for the film subsidies and other business tax credits are going to lose the fight, simply because there are competing with so many other constituencies that are either more influential (the business lobby that wants its overall tax rate lowered, the army of politically powerful retirees who will fight to the very death to keep from having to pay their share of income tax) or can demonstrate more compelling need (the advocates for the working poor trying to preserve the EITC; the education advocates trying to maintain school funding; the municipalities that will be driven into financial distress if statutory revenue sharing is cut).

And that is how it should be.  As Finley argues: ‘Buying jobs is not a healthy economic model.’

The Snyder Budget III: Education cuts & what to do about it

Some of you probably think I’ve gone off the deep end, posting all the apologetics of various aspects of the Governor’s budget like a slavish devotee.  Well, hopefully this post will allay your fears.  While I think there are a lot of tough but necessary decisions and sensible reasoning in the budget, I am one of the many who believe the cuts to education spending it proposes are destructive and must be prevented.

The single most important thing we can do is to convince legislators in the Republican majority that the people who elected them oppose those cuts.  Now, in my experience there are two groups whose opinions matter to most legislators:  their campaign donors, and voters in their own districts.   So your game plan on this issue, and many others that will arise in the eighteen months between now and the next election, will vary depending on where you live.

If like me you reside in a district represented in both the House and Senate by Democrats, don’t waste your time calling your legislators.  For example, writing my State Senator Rebekah Warren and my State Rep. Jeff Irwin about the education cuts would just be preaching to the choir.  Even if they were on the fence, though, lobbying them would be fairly useless, because they are in the minority party.  As I’ve said before, the only votes that matter right now are those of Republicans.

Instead, now is a good time to remember with your friends or family who live in State or House districts represented by Republicans, and remind them that they have the opportunity to let their Republican legislator know they need to look elsewhere to balance the budget.

Now, if you live in a district represented by a Republican, YOU have real power.  Call, email, or write a letter to your rep and your Senator.  Then get the word out to others.  Write a letter to the editor, post on Facebook, tweet about it, whatever works for you.   And if you know anybody with school age kids or grandkids, any rabid UM/MSU/CMU/WMU/OU/Michigan Tech alumni, or anybody else who might be remotely sympathetic on this issue, encourage them to do the same.

Not sure who your legislators are or what party they belong to? Thanks, you doofus, it’s people like you who are ‘too busy to pay attention to politics’ and helped us get in this mess in the first place.  No need to fret, though, now’s your chance to atone for your apathy.  You can go to the handy locator forms for the House or the Senate, enter your zip or address, and if you pull up someone with an ‘R’ next to their name, you know it’s time to get to work.

These quick and easy rules of thumbs are guaranteed to save you time and energy.  If everybody chips in a couple of minutes, we could go a long way toward keeping down tuition and improving education for all the students we know.   Share this post with all your pissed off acquaintances, and happy lobbying!

The Snyder Budget II: Taxing pensions

In a grim edition of “No Reasonable Reaction Goes Unpunished,” Paula Gardner listed among her “most unproductive reactions to” the Governor’s budget:

The knee-jerk. The fixed-income crowd can always be counted upon for a strong reaction, so anything affecting pensions is going to trumpet panic. Ditto education, public employees, and municipalities… We might still say a cut is unfair. But it needs throughtful vetting.

The seniors among AnnArbor.com’s readership, of course, went berserk.  In return for her sanity, Paula Gardner got read the riot act by about sixty commenters who didn’t like what she had to say about the Governor’s proposal to tax pensions.

Lessenbury reported a typical reaction to the proposal:

“We will be leaving the state as soon as possible if this tax goes into effect,” Lawrence Gibson of Charlotte wrote to me. Well, he will have a very limited choice of locales.

The only other states with income taxes that don’t tax pension income are Alabama, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

The nonpartisan Center for Michigan asked what seemed, in light of that situation, a reasonable question:

Can Michigan afford to be a state with a tax code that punishes young people while serving as a haven for older people?

And the Center’s founder Phil Power answers that same question in his editorial this week:

The financial stakes are enormous. Administration officials estimate the state take from taxing pensions at $900 million, which goes a long way to plug the hole left by $1.2 billion tax cut for businesses that’s also embedded in the Snyder budget…

Older Michigan residents who are still working are taxed on income from their jobs, while those who have retired and get income from a pension are not.

The Snyder administration maintains that one’s tax liability ought not be determined by whether or not the decide to retire.

Nor do they think people should be penalized for working…  As things now stand, young people who are working and being taxed on their income are, in practice, subsidizing older people whose retirement income is not taxed.

I am sympathetic to the argument that some seniors get by on very meager pensions, and that taxing them might drive them into poverty.  I get that.  Like the proposal to eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, this concern fundamentally stems from the fact that Michigan has a flat, not progressive, tax system, and that we need exceptions for people at the very bottom of the income scale.

Oh wait, it turns out we do:

Under five different Treasury Department scenarios… retirees with total pension and other income of $42,000 or less would pay no state income tax under Snyder’s tax plan.

Snyder’s tax plan may be many things, but according to the Treasury Department analysis it is NOT a tax on destitute grandmothers or other retirees with low fixed incomes.

Power, again in his editorial, provides another example:

(A)ccording to an administration analysis, a retired senior couple with household income of $59,000 from pension income and social security, would owe no state income tax. In fact, they’d get a refund check for several hundred dollars from the state.

However, a non-senior working couple with children whose household income is $10,000 less than the seniors would have to pay more than $1,000 in Michigan income tax!

Another fear-driven, fiction-based argument bites the dust.

Let’s set aside the fact that many seniors don’t have any pensions whatsoever, as well as the fact that for most of my generation, myself included, pensions are not even an option since even public employers don’t provide them anymore for new hires.

Let’s also set aside the likelihood that a lot of the retirees complaining are the same ones who elected Republicans to an across the board sweep of state government; the same ones who opposed last year’s federal healthcare reform because they feared it would result in cuts to Medicare;  the same ones who are in a veritable rage over federal spending but, again, don’t want to touch Medicare.

But in general, Michigan’s young people, and indeed anyone still working and paying taxes without the expectation of a pension benefit, owe Governor Snyder a big thanks for taking on the senior lobby on this issue.  It’s a question of simple fairness.

The Snyder Budget I: Impact on city governments

I literally can not keep up with all of the commentary and analysis coming at me about the darn state budget.  I am drinking from a freaking firehose.  HUGE backlog.  So I’ll likely do a series of posts on different aspects of the Snyder proposal.

I’ll begin, then, by limiting this post’s focus to what’s closest to home:  What’s the local impact?

For Michigan’s larger and older central cities, the conventional wisdom is: negative.  For one there’s the elimination of brownfield and historic preservation tax credits, which as Mark Maynard argues is going to be especially bad for older communities.  (I have heard the same thing from other leaders of older urban communities, including Mayor Bing). The Center for Michigan points out the contrast between these items and ‘the governor’s campaign themes of attractive local communities and taking care of Detroit.’

Locally, Ryan Stanton of AnnArbor.com reports

Essentially, Snyder’s proposal equates to a $92.1 million — or nearly a one-third — reduction in statutory revenue sharing funding… (which) could mean a cut of more than $600,000 in annual funding the city receives from the state.

The governor indicates local governments would have to compete for some of that funding by taking steps to shear costs and consolidate services with their neighbors.  Stanton quotes Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser’s response:

“I don’t have any idea what that means or how they’re going to take into consideration those of us who’ve been doing that sort of thing for some time. Somebody could say, ‘As of this day forward, anything you do will get you a higher score for revenue sharing.’ And I see one potential risk: What if you’ve done it already?”

Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s chief financial officer… said it appears Snyder is proposing to take the nearly $300 million pot of money that currently goes to urban communities and reduce it to a $200 million pot of money that communities all across the state… would compete for.

If that’s the case, he said, urban communities like Ann Arbor stand to lose even more money than just a simple one-third reduction.

“It sounds like each community is going to be affected differently,” he said. “For Ann Arbor, it looks like it’s going to be a minimum of $500,000…”

(I)n an earlier story the day the plan was announced, Crawford noted the cut comes ‘on top of the $5 million the city already has lost over the last decade':

Even without additional revenue sharing cuts, Ann Arbor already is facing a $2.4 million deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1. Deep cuts are expected in police and fire

Dave Askins’ coverage of the February 14 city council meeting features early reactions on the budget from Ann Arbor’s police and fire chiefs, including potential impacts to local public safety.

And there’s more to come:

(L)ocal governments face further threats from business tax proposals coming out of Lansing. The Senate Finance Committee is debating legislation that would eliminate the personal property tax that businesses pay on equipment.

Snyder’s budget is not expected to deal with that issue, but his administration has said the tax needs to be repealed because it makes the state less competitive. It’s estimated that local governments could lose as much as $800 million if that happens.

In Washtenaw County alone, it could mean the loss of $45 million to $50 million, including $6 million used to run county government, said Raman Patel, the county’s equalization director.

I’m not thrilled about a lot of elements in the budget (really, with the exception of business interests, who is?), but let’s bear in mind a couple of things.  First is the argument that a lot of local public employee jobs could be saved if unions are willing to negotiate. The the Detroit News argues:

Schools and local governments can absorb the cuts they’ll suffer by undertaking such necessary reforms as modified employee benefits, shared services and consolidated programs.

For example, K-12 school districts can offset much of their losses, $470 per pupil, with savings gained from simply asking school employees to pay 20 percent of their own health care costs, according to Nixon. It’s common for private workers to contribute that share or more, but still relatively unusual in the public sector.

Notice they didn’t suggest abolishing collective bargaining or even automatic deduction of union dues.  The key word is ‘ask.’

Another thing to consider is that things could easily have been a lot worse.  Snyder is considerably friendlier (in tone at least) to cities than were any other of his rivals for the Republican nomination.  Lessenbury notes the statutory revenue cuts  ‘actually came as a relief to some city officials… many of them feared it might be zeroed out entirely.’

Suppose the opposite:  that there were no cuts at all to revenue sharing.  What was he going to cut — Medicaid?  More cuts to education?  Reduce the share of human services and health care for the poor to the even lower levels of the Engler era?

Paula Gardner cites “Rigidity” as one of her “Top 5 most unproductive reactions” to this budget:

I’ll be devastated if my child’s elementary school closes, disappointed if city services are further cut and concerned if my library limits acquisitions. But nothing should be left “off the table.” Michigan can’t prioritize every funding category. It needs to choose the most meaningful among many important categories; but while facing $1.5 billion in cuts, not all programs will survive. My firm stance on my priority means I’m willing to sacrifice someone else’s priority. That’s not productive.

This is the kind of logical and reasonable response you would expect from a nice, cooperative, logical and reasonable person.  Except, of course, that’s not how interest group lobbying works.  Your willingness to be publicly flexible about your priority is a signal to lawmakers that they can go ahead and cut it.  Nobody ever kept their state funding by telling a reporter or a legislator, ‘Well, revenue sharing is important, but I’m not going to die if you decide some of that money is better spent on Medicaid services for kids.’

Local governments are just one of many constituencies howling about cuts right now.  But let’s distinguish between the theatrics and the constructive work. None of this will get get reported in any news story, but here’s what’s going to happen:  Local governments will lobby for the inevitable tailoring the Governor’s budget will undergo as it proceeds through the legislature just like everyone else, and like any good lobbyist, they will use the opportunity to negotiate behind the scenes rather than burning bridges.

They should choose carefully the rhetorical devices they employ in their public relations strategy, avoiding another of Garder’s “top 5″:

Partisanship. The elected officials who immediately start to point fingers and denigrate the opposite party are sending voters a clear message. It’s saying: I’m here to ride the party lines and won’t be evaluating the needs of the state or solutions to them on their own merit…

See UM President Mary Sue Coleman’s pitch-perfect response to the budget.  In public, her reaction is stoic, calm, and poised.  Now behind the scenes, I’m sure she has UM’s lobbyists working around the clock pushing for every last dime the university can get its hands on.  (It’s no accident that UM’s Vice President of Governmental Relations, Cynthia Wilbanks, worked as the chief of staff to a Republican congressman before she came to her current role.)

As they go hat in hand to Lansing, central city officials have to accept their powerlessness.  Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Detroit, Flint, Lansing:  all are represented by legislators in the Democratic minority.  The Governor is one of the few friends they have in the majority party right now.   Indeed, compared to his colleagues in the Wisconsin and Ohio governors’ offices, he is downright conciliatory to the public employee unions who payroll constitutes so much of local government budgets.

If they are smart, local governments will ally with the many other parties aggrieved by this budget to demand cost-saving reforms to the corrections system, which many observers (The Center for Michigan and the Free Press editorial board, to name two) have said could be implemented to free up funds for other priorities.  (Of course that would put them at odds with local prosecutors.)  Or they could propose a slightly higher business tax.  The key is pointing out where the money is supposed to come from, and, in cooperation with others lobbying for more revenue, hammering that argument over and over.

Furthermore, Snyder appears to be well aware of the consequences of his proposal for local governments, and is actually taking proactive steps to prepare for what is going to come next.  Tim Skubick writes,

Faced with the high probability that some cities could end up in bankruptcy on his watch, Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered his team to hop to it to prevent it. The new administration is moving on two fronts: 1) It is training new Emergency Financial Managers to run financially challenged cities; and 2) it has asked lawmakers to revamp the Emergency Financial Manager law, which has opened up a new can of worms pitting labor unions against the new governator.

When the word went out that the state needed help, 200 applicants applied for the chance to become a bureaucratic czar. The state couldn’t handle them all in one batch, so the other day about 65 showed up eager to learn the ins and outs of running a city in a financial mess.

But in addition to sending these emergency managers in early, lawmakers are considering beefing up their powers to avert a financial meltdown — and this is where the fun begins.

Under the proposal pending in the Michigan House, the emergency manager would have the authority to, get this, void current contracts with government employees, revamp their pensions, force the consolidation of services and, if a city owns a utility, the money-czar could sell it.

Does this remind you of a dictator?…

(DPS manager) Robert Bobb… warns that cities better act now before the state takes them over.

Similarly, the Free Press reports, ‘SEMCOG is urging local governments to poll citizens on what municipal services they most value…’

(By the way, I know folks are all upset about this budget, but let’s acknowledge there is a more pressing issue in Michigan politics:  Tim Skubick’s mustache.  Come on Tim, it’s 20102011.  How has there not been a Facebook petition organized to get him to shave it?  Maybe we could even organize a fundraiser to benefit schools, municipalities, others etc. impacted by the budget cuts.  “If we can raise $100 million, Tim will shave his mustache!”)

One thing I have not addressed in this post is the tax situation — ‘if we just raised taxes these cuts wouldn’t be necessary, etc.’  Well, I have plenty to say about that too — primarily, that the Democrats had a chance to try to raise taxes when they controlled the Governor’s office and the House.  They didn’t.  I’m still trimming that post so it doesn’t look like I’m quoting Lessenbury verbatim the entire time.  Stay tuned.

Oh, and I have a feeling things could get very nasty in the comments section, since people are pretty worked up about this budget right now.  So feel free to argue with me, but please try to be a respectful, intelligent commenter; don’t be that random name-calling troll.