We're nine years into Michigan's "lost decade," and still there are alleged leaders partying like it's 1965 and Detroit rules the world.
The latest comes from Mark Brewer, the state Democratic Party chief who never met a cheap publicity stunt he didn't like: A series of ballot proposals that would boost the minimum wage 35 percent to $10 an hour; mandate that all employers offer health care coverage or be fined; cut utility rates 20 percent; increase unemployment benefits; impose a one-year moratorium on foreclosures; and deliver a new Cadillac CTS to every Michigan household.
Am kidding about the new Caddies. The rest is real, proving that the long downward spiral of misery (led by the implosion of the Detroit auto industry) has done little to improve the real-world economic literacy of what Brewer & Co. figure to be a plurality of the voting public.
The worst part: He may be right. Look at the furious reaction to House Speaker Andy Dillon's proposal to cover all of the state's public employees and retirees under one health plan, a move that prompted a senior Michigan Education Association official this week to declare: "We are at war."
Look at the comparatively tepid response to Dillon's proposal from the people who should be standing solidly behind him -- Michigan's timid business community -- as bureaucrats, union leaders and members of his own House Democratic caucus call for his head. Instead, he gets qualified moral support.
"Give the guy credit for having the guts to do something because he knew he'd get nailed by the MEA," Dick Blouse, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told me Wednesday. "These are the type of creative ideas we ought to get behind. Because of union reaction to it, it's probably not going anywhere."
Some battle cry.
Look at the gobsmacked leaders of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, stunned that Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb would require teachers to reapply for assignments within the rapidly contracting district. Think that's bad -- wait till DPS makes history and files Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy.
Look at the outrage coming from AFSCME Local 20, opening contract talks with the administration of Mayor Dave Bing: "We won't go quietly to the back of the bus! Detroit needs jobs and improved services, not more layoffs and wage & benefit cuts! The big banks that we bailed out are now swimming in profits and bonuses. Don't tell us there's no money for Detroit."
There's no money for Detroit.
The point here, folks, is that we're witnessing the opening salvoes in a coming battle for control of Michigan's public sector. It's headed down the same hole that sucked in General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC and Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp. and Lear Corp. for many of the same reasons -- too little revenue to support too many commitments to lenders and customers, employees and retirees.
The only differences, as the public unions know full well, are a) competition and b) candid assessments of the options and c) a complete (and mostly intentional) disconnect from financial reality. For now.
Prospective car buyers unhappy with Detroit's metal or disgusted with its excuse-of-the-month mentality can buy a Toyota or a VW. Many did. Taxpayers mostly don't have the same choice, short of moving, which is why the outcomes of these confrontations are less certain than in the auto space.
But the damage would be no less serious. Sentient business people should see irony in Wednesday's headlines warning darkly that the state's tax incentives for economic development were in danger of running out even as Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her fellow Democrats continued to trash Dillon's health care proposal.
Of course an end to the bribes-for-business slush fund could be catastrophic for a state pathologically unwilling to change the way it does business, to attack its structural defects or to recognize that the post-war industrial welfare state model it maintains is a jobs-killing non-starter. As if to punctuate the populist point, out comes Brewer's five-ballot plan.
We're less than a year into the most anti-business Zeitgeist this country has seen in more than a generation. But we're nearly 10 years into Michigan's lost economic decade, a wheezing, crumbling, sclerotic testament to the total failure of a model ill-equipped for the 21st century.
Still, too many just don't get it. Can you say "lost generation?"
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