Why won’t politicians tackle tough issues? Why won’t the Legislature look long-term? Why does government take the easy route?
Looking only at current public discourse, it's easy to understand why those questions are asked. But now is a different time in Michigan’s Capitol.
Over the past three years, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature have governed with an urgency for today and a vision toward tomorrow.
* Before 2011, Michigan faced annual budget deficits of $1.5 billion and repeated government shutdowns. It would have been easy for the governor and Legislature to continue to perpetuate accounting gimmicks to avoid pain without curing the problems. Through very tough, but necessary, decisions, we pressed the reset button to structurally balance the budget.
* Before 2011, the state’s tax codes were riddled with special deals. It would have been easy to continue this arrangement. It was difficult to streamline Michigan’s taxes because everyone wants “loopholes” closed – except the “loopholes” that benefit them. With a concern for jump-starting our economy and a vision for the future, we redid the tax code with special credits and exemptions reduced.
* Prior to 2011, Michigan saw a rapidly increasing debt burden that exceeded $60 billion in unfunded liabilities. Everyone talks about reducing debt, but it's not easy to make decisions to sacrifice today so that tomorrow’s debt burden can be relieved. It would have been easy for the current legislature and governor to pay the minimums due and pass on to others the problem others had passed on to us. Through reforms and budget sacrifices to find money to pay down debt, we have reduced about one-third of the debt in two years, to the tune of about $20 billion. That equates to $10,000 less in debt that each child in Michigan will be forced to carry.
* Prior to 2011, school leaders called for big changes in education. It would have been easy to provide more money to be politically popular while ignoring longstanding problems. However, this Legislature and governor asked for the needs of school leaders and went to work adopting reforms: including teacher tenure reform, reforms to school employee health-care benefits and pensions, and stopping raises and cost increases for taxpayers without successful contract negotiations. Despite inaccurate partisan claims, state funding has increased to our K-12 system while federal support has been cut, as detailed here. More important, reforms have been adopted to help schools become more effective and efficient.
Perhaps the best example of a long-term focus has been Gov. Snyder and the Republican House and Senate focusing on early childhood education. The largest rates of increase in the current budget were to help more children advance through early childhood development.
When kids succeed in school, they will succeed in a career. When they succeed in a career, they will succeed in life and won’t seek criminal activity. When there is less crime and more success, our taxpayers will have to spend less to fight less ills in our society. Early childhood development is an excellent investment, however, it is one that won’t pay off for years to come. The governor and the members of the legislature who achieved these increases will be gone for many years before the 4-year-olds who are helped next year graduate from high school.
These difficult decisions have resulted in one representative’s recall, several others losing re-election, as well as personal attacks and attempts to destroy the reputations of those who cast these votes.
While it’s easy to paint everyone in elected office with the same brush, and it is popular to opine that they only care about popularity, the facts are clear. Michigan is on a much better path today because those currently serving in Lansing are willing to address the problems before us today and consider the well-being of Michigan’s kids tomorrow.