Rural Michigan was thrust into Lansing’s political crossfire last week, and we’re not happy.
It appears brinksmanship has become the only move in most politicians’ playbook, both in Michigan and on the national stage. During the past few weeks, we watched that kind of all-or-nothing behavior play out in the fight over the state budget.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wanted meaningful funding to fulfill her promise to “fix the damn roads” — a task Republicans couldn’t get done even when they controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. And it isn’t exactly clear what Republicans wanted aside from avoiding Whitmer’s massive proposed gas tax increase.
As seems to happen these days, the two sides failed miserably in their attempts to compromise on a budget plan. The impasse that resulted followed a playbook we’ve seen before, complete with threats of a government shutdown.
In the end, Whitmer was served, and signed, a near-$60 billion budget plan she had little hand in generating. But that approval wasn’t the end of the political tug-of-war.
Whitmer wielded her line-item veto power to slash nearly $1 billion from the now-enacted budget, and employed an administrative maneuver pioneered by former Gov. John Engler to shift more than $600 million in department funding.
That succession of swipes in itself has become so commonplace in our government, it might elicit a few yawns.
But in rural northern Michigan, it’s a big deal.
The budgetary hostages Whitmer rounded up with her veto pen — ones it appears she intends to use to negotiate toward her priorities in a supplemental budget — mostly live in rural reaches of our state, including the Grand Traverse region.
It’s a shrewd political strategy that inflicts pain on her opponents who represent the state’s sparsely populated areas. Slicing $76 million from programs that ensure the health of rural hospitals caught plenty of attention. So did $27 million in cuts to tax payments to communities where state-owned land is prevalent. Or the $13.1 million clipped from the Michigan State Police’s secondary road patrol program.
Those cuts don’t sound like much when compared to the tens of billions in spending approved for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
But those cuts, if not restored, have real impact on our communities.
More than $30 million in cuts to funding for critical access hospitals will impact patients who use hospitals in Charlevoix, Kalkaska and Frankfort.
Most communities north of the state’s palm will feel some pain from the tens of millions slashed from payments made in lieu of property taxes for state lands to local coffers.
Every county in the Grand Traverse region will lose funding for extra deputies on the road.
Was it really necessary to slash $2 million set aside for the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities’ 10 Cents a Meal program?
That money would’ve fueled a statewide expansion for the program that helps schools serve students locally grown fruits and vegetables.
We know this all is part of the modern political negotiation process, but can anyone really claim victory when the best our representatives can do is hold constituents hostage?
The type of partisan posturing we continue to witness has both parties entangled in a battle for an ideological win. We can rest assured, when the dust settles, both sides will claim victory.
Unfortunately, the only ones guaranteed to lose are ordinary Michiganders.