June 11, 2009 at 1:00 am

OUR EDITORIALS

Editorial: State lawmakers wimp out on budget cuts

Despite agreement on spending cuts, state lawmakers wilt in the face of pressure from interest groups

Granholm )

You'd think it would be easy for lawmakers to make budget cuts when Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy agree on them. After all, the Democratic governor and the libertarian think tank are frequently at odds.

Yet it looks like legislators are ready to punt on some of the proposed savings, which would reduce by $90 million to $100 million a budget facing a revenue shortfall of at least $1.7 billion next year.

Why? Because they're getting heat from folks who avail themselves of the programs the money funds. Unlike a state commission on government streamlining, which recently decided nearly every aspect of life is a "core" government function, the Mackinac Center maintains that state fairs, the arts and research which essentially subsidizes the agricultural business aren't essential.

Granholm also recognizes that some things aren't absolutely necessary. She said in this year's State of the State Address, for example, that state fairs are a "wonderful tradition" but "not an essential purpose of government."

Proposals such as halving the stipend for the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station and jettisoning the Department of History, Arts and Libraries recognize that when there's a shortfall, something has to go.

Since 2001, policymakers have relied heavily on one-time fixes and tax increases to avoid bringing spending in line with revenues. There have been ad hoc cuts to programs such as revenue sharing for local governments, rather than an overall vision for downsizing.

Again in the 2009-10 budget year beginning Oct. 1, policymakers will rely heavily on a one-time fix, some $900 million in federal stimulus grants, to avoid more dramatic cuts. When that money is gone in 2011, the state will face a steep cliff between too-high costs and too-low revenue, according to the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council.

Even in good times, state government costs will exceed income by more than $800 million, the council says. The budget cuts on which Granholm and the Mackinac Center agree would ease the drop-off. If lawmakers can't agree on a modest $100 million in cuts, what hope is there for resolving the larger problem?