private discussions this week, Democrat House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford
Township) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) will wrestle once
again with the state’s fiscal problems in hopes of finalizing a 2008 budget
before the end of September. The two men have maintained an ongoing, civil
dialogue as a reportedly detached, globe-trotting Gov. Jennifer Granholm appears
almost marginalized in the process. Kudos to both men for talking, even though
that’s the one thing at which government at all levels seems to excel.
hopes rest largely on Bishop, whose substance and leadership style has caught
the attention of many Michiganians who see the need for fundamental change.
Bishop could have had an easy job over the last few months, but instead he has
been demanding meaningful reforms in the face of a political establishment that
thinks the "solution" to the state’s dilemma is to lift an
additional one or two billion dollars from taxpayers.
Surrendering to the status quo would have meant more hours with his family,
fewer headaches and warm praise from many in the media. So-called "moderates"
who think there’s inherent virtue in splitting the baby instead of doing the
right thing would sing hosannas about how he has "grown in office." Instead, he
endures denunciations from past and present politicos who accuse him of "playing
politics" rather than "working with the governor." They would prefer he not rock
the boat and just forget all this nonsense about fixing old problems that other
"leaders" have papered over. Here are two examples of his "uncooperative" views:
He wants $109 million in wage concessions from
Department of Corrections’ employees in the hope of bringing their
compensation into line with industry standards. Recent testimony in the Senate
indicated that Michigan’s cost per prisoner is as much as $6,000 higher than
neighboring states, and according to reports by the Detroit Free Press,
Michigan’s prison employees are paid significantly more than the national
He wants to repeal the mandatory union-sponsored "prevailing wage"
that must be paid on government-funded construction projects. As documented in
Mackinac Center studies, this archaic mandate inflates construction costs in
Michigan by at least $200 million a year.
politics explains the charge that Bishop does not "work with the governor."
While he repeatedly leads the Senate to pass pro-taxpayer solutions to fiscal
problems, he has negotiated compromises with the status-quo spending interests
after these Senate solutions have been rejected.
Confronted with a deficit in the fiscal 2007 budget, he led the Senate to pass a
$250 million package of cuts and reforms to numerous state programs, such as
public transit and arts grants. After the House of Representatives rejected
these cuts, he then agreed, however reluctantly, to an unpleasant compromise
borrowed more than $400 million from future state revenues.
when replacing the
Single Business Tax, the Bishop-led Senate passed a $400 million annual net
tax cut. But the governor and House of Representatives refused to consider it,
despite the fact that the law repealing the SBT explicitly called for a tax that
was "less costly." Again, he compromised, accepting a
replacement tax that is supposed to be "revenue-neutral."
These compromises frustrate the hopes of reformers who want real and lasting solutions that scale back the costly reach of government. But Bishop cannot dictate terms
to both a House of Representatives and a governor with an opposing agenda. He
will need the help of the taxpayers to push these other politicians toward
making the Senate’s reforms into Michigan’s reforms.
his most significant suggestions involves going directly to the people for help
in making Michigan a "right-to-work"
state. A proven job-creator in the 22 states that have it, right-to-work would
change state law so that no Michigan resident could be compelled to join or pay
fees to a labor organization as a condition of employment. He correctly told a
radio audience in July that this would be a major step forward in attracting
entrepreneurs and fixing the Michigan economy. He believes the voters would
approve of such a proposal if there were a broad-based, well-funded and
well-managed effort to put it on the November 2008 general election ballot.
Bishop sees the big picture: Michigan’s economy needs to grow and its government needs to shrink. If these
objectives get accomplished in the near term, it will be due in some measure to
his insistence that problems not be handled in the easy, business-as-usual
fashion. How things go in talks this week and in September could be a defining
test of his tenure as Senate Majority Leader.
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in
Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted,
provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.