LANSING – Gov. Jennifer Granholm bluntly acknowledged Michigan’s urgent budget crisis in her first State of the State address last night. Granholm stressed the necessity for a frugal government, and said her administration is taking all necessary steps to put the state budget back in balance.
“The fiscal year 2004 budget will ensure that our government will live within its means, but it will have to cut deep to do so,” Granholm said. “We will work to protect what matters most, but every department, every agency, every local government and every citizen will feel the scale of this problem.
“Just how much is 1.7 billion? Let me give it to you straight. We could close every prison in the state and still not have enough to fill the gap.”
Granholm likened the state’s budget problem to that of a struggling family that must cut costs to stay afloat. But some legislators feel that lowering the state’s electric bill will not adequately solve the problem.
“You’re not going to solve a $1.7 billion deficit by measures like turning the lights out, but that’s not a criticism,” Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming) said. “You’re going to have to cut deeply into government and more importantly, you’re going to have to decide what are core government services; what is essential and what is nice … and we’re going to go through that debate.”
Granholm said education is her top priority in rationing the state’s limited resources. In particular, she stressed the need for early childhood education through her proposal of the Great Start Program, which she said will encourage learning for children from ages zero to five.
The governor stated that by starting the educational experience in the home, families will improve their children’s potential for success.
“By the time a child arrives for kindergarten, 85 percent of the brain is developed. If the brain is purposefully stimulated and nurtured before a child is old enough to tie his or her own shoes, that child’s lifelong capacity to learn will be forever enhanced,” Granholm said. Also among Granholm’s proposed education reforms in the House Chamber at the State Capitol are incentives to keep students in the classroom.
“The responsibility of driving a car should be linked to the responsibility of attending school,” she said. “I urge you in the Legislature to adopt legislation that will send a clear message to our students: ‘If you don’t show up in school, you shouldn’t bother showing up at the secretary of state’s office either,’ because we won’t issue driver’s licenses to chronic truants.”
Another notable aspect of Granholm’s speech included its bipartisan approach to proposing legislation. In addition to her stance on education, the governor took a politically neutral approach to economic stimulus proposals, health care programs and environmental and land use policies. As a result, Granholm’s address garnered support from Republican legislators as well as Democrats.
“Her tone since Election Day has been bipartisan cooperation. Part of that is out of necessity. We have a Democratic governor and a republican Legislature,” Sikkema said. “You’re not going to make progress unless you find a common ground.”
Granholm’s environmental policies included the creation of a Smart Growth Commission to curb urban sprawl and a proposal to limit the dumping of out-of-state and Canadian garbage in Michigan landfills. Conscious of strong bi-partisan support on these issues, the governor said her land use initiative would revitalize the state’s urban centers while preserving water sources and farmland.
“She wants to strengthen urban centers,” Sen. Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) said. “I didn’t hear anything in the initiatives that she talked about that both parties can’t find a common ground on.”