By cutting both funding for schools and taxes on business, Michigan’s new governor aims to create a business-friendly state. The church, which understands the relationship of life and death, needs to raise its voice.
In Michigan, like in many states, times are hard. But Michiganders are having a harder time of it than some, due to a number of factors:
- The near collapse of the auto industry has led to a “correction” applauded by the business community. In human terms, this correction equates to the loss of hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs that came with pension and medical benefits. Nothing has been created or has emerged to replace these losses.
- Largely because of this, Michigan was the only state in the nation to be found losing population in the 2010 census. Detroit alone lost over 25% of its residents. These losses are leading to the loss of significant levels of federal support.
- One cost of the global recession that has caused particular suffering for many in Michigan is the sweeping in of a Republican legislature and a new governor, Rick Snyder. Snyder campaigned on “reinventing Michigan” with an eye to making the state “business-friendly”. Parts of his proposed budget aim to do just that.
To plug the projected hole in the Michigan state budget, Governor Snyder has proposed a program of sacrifices in which everyone has to share. Public schools are particularly targeted for taking part. The School Aid Fund, set up to be a repository for a variety of revenue streams and to grow through investment so to aid K-12 education, actually grew in the last term, and is able to offer a projected $260 per pupil increase to schools across the state. The General Fund, on the other hand, is really in trouble. Part of the budget cuts proposed include 15% decreased from higher education and community colleges. To maintain education at these levels, the Governor proposes shifting monies from the School Aid Fund to higher education. This is in part to make possible a significant tax cut to businesses in order to “get the fiscal house in order” and become “business-friendly”. SO, the $260 per pupil increase becomes, with the stroke of a pen, a $470 per pupil DECREASE for K-12 students across Michigan.
Along with funding community colleges and higher education out of the School Aid Fund (to the tune of a 900 million dollar grant, about the same the Snyder budget cut from these institutions), business will get a $1.73 billion tax cut, funded by cuts across the board to all programs. In this way, businesses, which care about higher education (but evidently not about K-12 students) and sees tax incentives as part of a “business-friendly” environment, will stay in the state and grow, thus offering more jobs.
Maybe. But what happens to the people of Michigan, and the children of Michigan, in the meantime? And if the expected jobs do not materialize, what then?
During this Lenten season, congregations rehearse Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus talked a lot on this journey about life and death, and got in up to his eyeballs, working to engender life and to show the limited power of death in the era he was bringing in. We who follow Jesus need to recall these truths and apply them as issues impacting life arise. Quality K-12 education is crucial in the increase of life and health in communities. Gov. Snyder has encouraged schools to think about “best practices” and to pitch in and make sacrifices “like everyone else”. Three issues arise here: 1) while “best practices” need to be sought, as schools deal with yearly decreases in funding, these are more and more difficult to implement; 2) Not everyone is sacrificing – in fact, some (mostly those at the very top tier of the economic ladder) are doing just fine and have not really been impacted by the recession, so shared sacrifice will not take place; and, finally, 3) do we really want the children of the state to bear the burden created by bankers and businesses? Is this just? Will it create the kind of lively and dynamic communities we strive for? While such sacrifices may well “reinvent Michigan” – just ask those who live in Detroit whether a “new normal” is come to pass over the last decade – is the product of this reinvention process something we wish for our state and our communities?
Congregations and denominations in Michigan need to stand up and speak out against the cuts in school funding AND against the immoral tax cut for business. Jesus came to bring life in abundance. We are called to be Jesus’ agents in the world; we must, then, believe in, proclaim, and work to sustain and increase abundant life for all.