Unanswered questions for Snyder and Bernero

Oct 20, 2010

Last night I presided over a fascinating meeting in Grand Rapids, the second in Michigan Radio’s “Issues and Ale” series designed to stimulate public discussion.

The main event was a look at this year’s campaign advertising by two members of the “Michigan Truth Squad,” John Bebow, director of the non-partisan Center for Michigan, and Susan Demas, perhaps the best columnist in Lansing.

They are doing their best to analyze as many spots as possible and rate them on their truthfulness. You may not be surprised to learn that most of today’s ads bear only a passing relationship to reality.

In fact, Dr. Grins’ Comedy Club was the perfectly appropriate place for this. But what I found even more interesting than the truth squad were the questions from our large and very aware audience.

The very first question was extremely perceptive. A gentleman noted that Michigan was facing a huge budget crisis next year, and that whomever takes over as governor will inherit a deficit of at least $1.6 billion dollars. So how are they going to balance the budget?

What’s more, either Virg Bernero or Rick Snyder would immediately make that figure worse - if they keep their promises. Bernero wants to get rid of the 22 percent surcharge on the Michigan Business Tax. That may be a good idea from the standpoint of attracting business, but would add to the state budget deficit.

Rick Snyder, the Republican, wants to abolish the Michigan Business tax entirely, and replace it with a six percent corporate income tax. That would make the deficit worse still.

The gentleman in Grand Rapids knew that the state budget has to be legally balanced by the end of next September. So, why isn’t either candidate telling us how they would manage that?

That’s the question we all should be asking them.

Both candidates are in fact fighting hard to avoid giving you an answer, and especially to avoid giving you an honest one.

That’s because they fear the truth will lose them votes. What they are going to have to do is either raise taxes or cut services drastically and dramatically raise the cost of things like college tuition. Most likely, they’ll have to do both.

The math is simple. There are no other choices, but they don’t want to tell us that. Once upon a time, we had great leaders who called on us to sacrifice for the common good.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Working class Americans taxed themselves to better educate their children. Nowadays, politicians tell us any tax increase would be terrible. We tell them, “Keep cutting government, but don’t you dare give me any less than I get now.“

Something’s got to give. Nearly half a century ago, my unreformed fifth grade teacher made us learn simple math. If I got my times tables wrong, I was whacked with a ruler.

I haven’t the foggiest notion of what old Miss Hutson’s politics were. But I am sure that on hearing their fuzzy math, she would have taken the ruler to both Snyder and Bernero.

And I think the rest of us just might deserve it as well.

Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.