What happens when you put one of Michigan Public Radio’s most acclaimed journalists, former University professors and regents, past and present Michigan congressmen and some hot-shot CEOs together in a room? According to news reports last week, the blend of knowledge and political ideologies resulted in a practical plan to pull Michigan out of the financial grave it has been digging itself into since 2000. Thanks to the impressive mix of men and women who comprise the Center for Michigan and the politically-feasible ideas the group has generated since its creation last year, there is renewed hope for the future of Michigan.

Angela Cesere
Theresa Kennelly

The Center for Michigan – based in Ann Arbor, but with priorities reaching far beyond the city – calls itself as a “think and do tank.” The news that broke last week about its plans for balancing the budget by raising the beer tax across the state emphasizes the center’s duality. By generating a plan that can become effective almost immediately if accepted by the legislature, rather than just a theoretical strategy for improving the state’s budget, the Center is advocating tangible solutions. The idea of raising the beer tax is fundamentally practical – it’s both an easy way to add well over $200 million to the state’s income and update Michigan’s 1966 beer tax while only raising the price of a can by a dime.

The problem is that Michigan’s economy is going to take more than just a beer tax and one centrist group’s stimulation to be revived. In the meantime, the ideas of multi-partisan groups that think and develop functional plans for the (inefficient) legislature should not be overlooked. In a news article about the center last summer, the Daily wrote, “In an increasingly partisan election year, it is unclear just how great an impact a group of self-described centrists will have” (New center aims to improve state economy, 06/05/2006). But since the election has passed just the opposite has become clear: Moderate compromises are what Michigan needs and demands.

Events in Washington have shown that moderatism can take many forms – and won’t always work. In recent elections, it’s undeniable that both Democrats and Republicans adopted moderate stances to capture swing voters’ interests. But in the process, many of these politicians have focused on political compromise at the expense of their parties’ agendas.

But appeasement and purely centrist thinking is not the type of moderatism Michigan’s problems call for. Rather, given the state’s financial crisis, moderate ideological approaches that combine Democratic fiscal responsibility with Republican big business ideals – those that will rebuild the state’s commercial sector – will be key to putting the state’s economy back together.

Fortunately for Michigan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has embraced this politically moderate philosophy and jumped on to the think tank bandwagon by creating an advisory panel. Admitting her inability to handle the budget crisis by herself, she created a 12-person “Emergency Financial Advisory Panel” that is headed by two of her predecessors. The panel, which is essentially an emulation of the Center for Michigan, has the job of inspecting the budget crisis and developing plans for the next fiscal year. It will present its findings to Granholm in the next couple of days so as to direct next week’s State of the State address and looming budget proposal.

But the bad press Granholm has received for forming the group might make her reluctant to accept its findings and proposals. The Detroit News said that most panel members “are too familiar with the wrong way to solve Michigan’s problems”: It appears suspicious of the impact centrist policies may have on the state. But the decision to hand over the crisis to a diverse group of Michigan experts show that Granholm is trying new, reasonable approaches to solving the state’s money problem. Drawing advice from former governors, such as panel co-chair William Milliken – Michigan’s longest serving governor, well remembered for his pro-tax agenda – should encourage Granholm to adopt moderate policies and wiser fiscal cutbacks.

Both the governor’s advisory panel and the Center for Michigan are drawing on years of experience and moderate mindsets to attack the state’s biggest problems – yet both face doubt in their potential and influence. Looking at the reasonable fiscal suggestion the Center for Michigan has already formulated and the enormous capability of the governor’s panel with Milliken in charge, these think tanks are in sync with state’s needs. Instead of continuing to play party politics with the state’s deficient budget, the legislature must incorporate the plans from these groups to create a better, more thought-out future for our state.

Theresa Kennelly is an associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at thenelly@umich.edu.

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