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Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
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Give it a Name

1. Last week, Michigan adopted a new law giving the Governor the power to appoint private companies and consultants as emergency managers of local governments and school districts that are running chronic deficits. These managers now have the power to take complete control of government functions, to cancel labor agreements and to remove elected officials and dissolve local legislative bodies. These powers are utterly unprecedented for a chief executive in North America. Neither our colonial governors, nor the Governor General of Canada, nor President Lincoln during the Civil War had the ability to negate election results and essentially privatize a town or city.

2. The Governor of Michigan says that he will unilaterally cut a municipal state aid fund mandated in the State Constitution by 30-percent for the next fiscal year, creating more local deficits. On March 23, he proposed that remaining state aid to local governments be linked to reductions in pay and benefits of municipal workers.

3. So the stabilization of local finances is not the only agenda.

4. The Governors of Kansas and South Carolina have proposed the elimination of all corporate income taxes. The Governors of at least five other states want to reduce corporate taxes by at least one-fourth. The Governors of Ohio and Maine have proposed major reductions in taxes for individuals in the highest income brackets. These governors have all proposed cuts to education and other services.

5. 48 states have released proposed budgets for 2011-2012. 39 of these budgets include significant cuts to spending on education, health care and social support programs.

6. Near the end of 2010, the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (a think tank created by the world’s 34 most economically advanced countries) found that the United States was the only OECD member state in which 25-to-34 year-olds were not better educated than their parents.

7. For some governors and others, this crisis is hardly just a mere opportunity to score policy or political points on behalf of allies or against perceived enemies. That’s so 20thcentury.

8. For generations, all Long Island townsmen were given access to critical natural resources, and even the sheep and the cattle were herded together. In the western states, the cattle ranges were open.

9. The community invests in infrastructure, schools, public protection and sets the stage for everyone to have a reasonable chance to prosper. In the end, not everyone will have wealth or success, but to some degree we all share in the bounty in the form of reasonable wages, dignity in our work and future opportunity for our families through public reinvestment. Americans believe both in individual responsibility and in our responsibility to others in our community.

10. That’s the real target here. So far, in Wisconsin and Michigan and other states, what we’ve seen is test marketing.

11. Almost all states have been relying on emergency fiscal relief aid from the federal government to cover a large portion of their deficits (generally about one-third). Most of that aid is running out and by the end of 2012, the last of those programs will expire. Folks, strap yourselves in. It’s just starting to get interesting.

12. There are lots of options still open to states in budget trouble, but we are only offered the exact same solutions (austerity for most; bailouts and breaks for the few) that are failing to create jobs or fiscal stability in Europe.

13. Starting in 2007, Governors Spitzer, Patterson and Cuomo have been the first New York Governors since the early 1920s not to advocate replacing at least some school property taxes with other fairer taxes.

14. New York is New Jersey in slightly slower motion.

15. The $14 trillion annual U.S. economy still exceeds the value of the Chinese, Japanese and German economies combined. New York’s Gross Domestic Product exceeds those of all but thirteen countries on Earth.

16. There is a bounty of plenty in this country and in this state. It’s just that a lot of us no longer share in the excess bounty like we used to.

17. If we accept that as the new normal, we will fail the test of this generation.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: