The new legislature convened for the first time yesterday, nearly two weeks after their terms began. They posed for pictures and elected officers. They officially announced who would have what positions on which committees.
These are all things that had been worked out days or weeks before. What then followed was sort of the equivalent of lining up their pencils and making sure they are sharpened.
To a great extent, they are waiting for the governor. That is to say, they are waiting for Rick Snyder to set forth his program and put forward his proposals for balancing the state budget.
That doesn’t mean the lawmakers will necessarily agree with him, even his fellow Republicans are hungry for leadership.
There hasn’t really been any in a long time, just quarreling factions. Now, it is up to the Republicans to try to fix the mess that Michigan is in, both in terms of the state budget and the economy of the state as a whole. That’s because they control all three branches of government for the first time since the nineties.
None of this will be easy.
Officially, job one is going to be balancing a state budget which now has an estimated deficit of $1.8 billion dollars, mostly in the $7 billion or so general fund. That‘s a tremendous gap to close.
Actually, if recent history is any clue, the real deficit will probably end up being even larger than that, maybe, two billion.
Anyone who tells you this can largely be made up by cracking down on frivolous expenditures, or eliminating waste, fraud and abuse doesn’t know what they are talking about.
The easy cuts were made long ago. Now for the hard and painful part. What’s encouraging is that our new governor seems to be treating the other players as intelligent partners.
Yesterday, he met with the presidents of Michigan’s fifteen public universities, and took along John Nixon, the new budget director he hired from Utah. Afterwards, some of those present indicated the governor had indicated tough times lay ahead. It is hard to see how the budget can be balanced without cutting university appropriations. Unfortunately, it is also hard to see how this state can ever experience an economic revival unless we spend more on higher and advanced education of all kinds. The governor did do something that pleased the college presidents. He indicated he would consult them on who to appoint to their governing boards. The trustees of MSU, the U of M and Wayne State are elected by the people, but everywhere else - at Western Michigan, say, they are run by a board appointed by the governor. Jennifer Granholm, so far as anyone knows, never consulted the presidents before appointing board members.
Within a very few days, the governor will start signaling his direction. He needs to do that soon, or restless lawmakers may start off on tangents of their own. The state has been drifting for a decade, and everyone has been waiting for leadership and vision.
Last November, we elected a new leader. Hopefully when he makes his first State of the State speech Wednesday, we should get at least some very strong clues about where he proposes to take us, and how he plans to get us there.