State Rep. Jeff Irwin on Snyder’s budget

Yesterday, I posted a compilation of comments from readers on how Governor Snyder’s proposed budget was likely to impact older urban communities like Ypsilanti, and their citizens. In the ensuing discussion, a reader by the name of Edward wondered how our elected officials were planning to respond. Well, we’ve now heard from one of them directly. The following comment was left by State Representative Jeff Irwin.

Edward, I don’t know if Sen Warren or Rep Rutledge read as often as I do, so allow me to: give a brief comment on the budget as an area lawmaker; and, publicly thank Mark for this site.

This budget is a train wreck for Michigan’s economy and the sacrifice is not being shared. If passed as is, we will have larger class sizes, lower quality teachers, higher tuition and weaker colleges and universities. Gov. Snyder proposes $471 cuts per pupil and a 15-22% cut to higher education (there’s an unspecified 7% competitive program). Also, local governments will be strangled by the revenue sharing cuts. Some communities that could otherwise make it, might be pushed into bankruptcy. For these communities, their alternative is to slash police and fire budgets. Public safety is what cities, townships and county’s do; it’s not as if they can cut the budget for unicorns.

So, Gov. Snyder says that he wants to create an environment for economic growth, but I don’t know what kind of companies we’re trying to attract when the solution to our budget problem is to take it all out of local police, K-12, and higher education. Suffice it to say that my strategy would be the opposite. Education drives real prosperity.

It gets perhaps uglier. While the Governor largely filled our budget holes by severely cutting education and public safety, he also had a $1B campaign promise to business that had to be funded somehow. I have to admit, I’m surprised at his brazen proposal to shift $1.3B of the state’s tax burden from corporations to pensioners and the working poor (recipients of the EITC). Seriously and with a straight face, our Governor just proposed increasing taxes to the tune of $1B on pensioners and $330M on the lowest income workers to give corporations a commensurate tax break (this shift represents about 15% of the GF). I suppose this is the philosophical divide that separates the left and right, but the magnitude and transparency of his proposal is staggering.

Finally, I was in the middle of composing a longer budget response when I diverted my attention Maynard-ly. I’m sure that each of your area lawmakers will be issuing and posting statements and reactions soon and for the next few months as more details emerge. Of course, if you want to read more of my thoughts, please sign up for regular email updates at my site (

Mark, thanks. I’ve always enjoyed and learned from your site. On another level, without and all of the crazy fun contributions you make to Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County would be a less excellent place to live.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeff. I appreciate it. I think we all do… When you have more time, I’d love to hear your thoughts on immediate next steps. How do we stop this budget from becoming reality, and what do we offer in its place that would be both more fair, and put Michigan on a better path economically speaking? Do we have a better solution? No offense to Michigan Democrats, but things weren’t exactly great under Granholm’s leadership. Is there perhaps a compromise that could be struck? Are there things in Snyder’s budget that make sense? Personally, I don’t know that I mind the idea of taxing the pensions of those making close to $100,000 a year in retirement, especially as it seems to be fairly common across the United States to do so. I also don’t think that a temporary pay freeze for public employees should be out of the question. As I mentioned in previous posts, I don’t mind shared compromise, but I think it needs to be fair. I don’t want a budget that puts the burden disproportionately on the middle class, or our older urban communities, like Ypsilanti.

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  1. Eel
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Maybe this Democrat has some ideas.!5765660/why-is-this-us-congressman-wearing-a-fuzzy-tiger-costume

  2. Edward
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    As Murph has stated in other threads, we need to, at the very least, protect Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Credits. And, I agree with Irwin when he says that we also need to stand up for our schools and colleges. Michigan’s funding of its state universities is already near the bottom of the 50 states. Prosperity will never result from such actions.

  3. Kim
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I’m admittedly naive about this, but how do the Democrats traditionally respond to such things. Do they Dems in the State House respond? Do the Dems in the State Senate respond? Do they somehow respond together? Do they offer an alternative budget, or just criticize what they don’t like.

  4. dp in ypsi
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    @Kim: Mark broke apart this thread, but didn’t move my post that references the Democrat response:

    See below in [[ brackets ]] from the previous thread:

    [[Rep. Rutledge: no public response noted on his office website (as of this posting)

    House Democrats make their response here, but Rep. Rutledge is not a featured speaker:

    It’s worth noting that there is no substantive discussion of alternatives to Gov. Snyder’s proposals, or where revenue should be found to make up any of the budget short falls.

    Sen. Warren: no public response noted on her office website (as of this posting)

    Senate Democrats do not have the media-forward audio sound bites, but do have two brief press releases that mostly reiterate the points made by the House Democrats.

    They have, however, taken a strong position on the Earned Income Tax Credit, and by doing so I would deduce that this would be their “line in the sand”, and thus choose not to speak to other issues in the budget with a unified voice.]]

    So.. the answer to your question to this point is that they “just criticize what they don’t like”, don’t respond at all, or offer statements like Rep. Irwin did above, which contain no alternative proposals.

    I expect, however, that Rep. Irwin will likely offer counter proposals, he just has not done so yet.

  5. Posted February 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    A couple thoughts:
    1) to Kim: We respond in a number of ways, both together and individually. Here is a nice site that the Senate Dems came together to produce: The goal is protecting the EITC. I can’t stress enough how important this program is and I think we have a real chance to stop this mistake. Check out the video, sign the petition and take some action. Most importantly, write the Speaker, write the Republican Reps from this area and get your friends and relatives in other areas of the state to push back with calls or emails to legislators.

    I think we can win on EITC because it keeps some people off of public assistance and the tea partiers aren’t going to want to raise taxes on anybody for any reason. The idea that by cutting off a $330M tax credit for the lowest wage workers will actually save $330M is just inaccurate. Some of those people will become benefit recipients instead of taxpayers and this will quickly eat up any savings to be had by eliminating the favorable tax treatment for the lowest wage workers.

    Count on more of this. Speaking only for myself, I will be working hard to convince a few members of the GOP to join us Dems in standing up for education, environmental protection and equal rights. Those are my priorities and I’ll be defending them by criticizing what I don’t like, offering alternatives where appropriate and good old-fashioned persuasion.

    2) To Mark, I agree that not all of his proposals for revenue are bad ideas when taken individually. Some of his ideas I could back, if the tax increases weren’t an obvious move to shift the burden from capital and to labor. If, for instance, the Governor followed through on his “shared sacrifice” rhetoric, then I would approach the revenue proposals differently. In other words, if we have to bring in some new revenue from somewhere in order to keep our students in smaller classes with better teachers, then I like that. If the Governor were proposing to make the business taxes simpler, but in a manner that was revenue neutral or only slightly benefiting his cronies, then I would react differently. Unfortunately, Gov. Snyder came out with an extremely partisan plan that picks new winners and losers more than any budget I’ve ever seen. I came to politics pre-jaded. I wasn’t expecting to see a budget I liked. Still, the Governor’s proposal surprised me.

    What can we do as legislators: Hopefully, the Republican leadership will unroll the Governor’s budget – for their own purposes – in a way that allows meaningful debate and amendments on individual elements. Otherwise, we may be forced to vote on large swaths of budget decisions jammed through at top speed. In that environment, all I can do is criticize, vote no and work on communicating to the voters statewide just how callous and backwards the Republicans are. They’ve certainly given me plenty of material.

  6. K2
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    In Wisconsin right now, they’re saying that there isn’t really a budget crisis. They’re saying that there wouldn’t be a deficit at all if not for the fact that the new Governor started out his term by giving big tax breaks to business. Is that true in Michigan as well? Would we have a balanced budget if not for the fact that Snyder wants to end the Michigan Business Tax? My guess is that’s not the case, and we’re deeper in the hole than Wisconsin, but I wanted to ask.

  7. Posted February 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    @K2 – No, we had a budget crisis already. It’s been building for years as the State government used short term, one-time-only fixes to kick the can down the road (I’m totally in agreement with Governor Snyder on that one). Off the top of my head, the State was forecasting about a $1.5B deficit in next year’s budget when the Governor took office, and it was going to take tough choices to fix that; eliminating the MBT for a corporate income tax was, I think, $1.8B on top of that?

  8. EOS
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    The State needs JOBS, not only for the unemployed but for the millions who are underemployed. Reducing the cost of doing business in the state will attract new business. Even Granholm understood this, and by giving tax breaks to the film industry, was successful in luring film production companies to our state. Synder will bring more jobs in all areas of our economy. The people in our state are helped more by access to good jobs and a paycheck than by hoping to qualify for a tax credit or government handout.

    The Democratic response is always to cut police and fire. Their goal is to grow government. There are plenty of areas to reduce expenditures that are less critical than public safety, but if your goal is to grow government at a faster rate than inflation, year after year, then you alarm the citizens by proposing cuts in only the most critical areas. Jeff is complaining that the governor is slashing funding for police and fire, but when he was a County Commissioner, he voted for a 93% increase in the cost of deputy patrols to the townships so that the county could continue to contribute funds to subsidize abortions at Planned Parenthood, among other partisan projects.

    There is so much waste in our public Universities that they can easily absorb a 15% cut in State appropriations. The portion of the University budgets that are paid by the state is very small. U of M can pay for the cut by spending the interest on their endowment. They could also require professors over 70 to retire and eliminate their grossly inflated salaries and replace them with younger researchers who will actually do work. Or the universities could reduce their bloated administration.

    Likewise, K-12 education must do a better job at spending tax dollars. Ypsi Public Schools passed a 30 year bond in the 90’s for technology. They wired all the classrooms for Internet and spent all the money in 5 years just before wireless technology eliminated the need for hard wires. 12 years into the 30 year bond, they came back with an additional bond proposal to replace outdated technology.

    There is no need to increase teacher salaries to attract better teachers. 3/4 of all newly graduated teachers must leave the state to find work. What would help education is to eliminate those tenured teachers who get the maximum salaries but are so burned out that they have lost their effectiveness in the classroom. Why shouldn’t teachers should pay the same percentage of their benefits as the average workers in the state? Especially since those same workers are the people who pay the teacher salaries.

    I don’t trust Snyder and I didn’t vote for him. But it is obvious that the economy of the State stagnated for 8 years under Granholm, and must now make changes to put us on the right track again. Advocating more of the same old failed Democratic policies in today’s economy is insanity.

  9. Posted February 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Budget shortfalls are partially a product of tax cuts for those who can actually afford to pay taxes! Then, when there is not enough money to go around, rather than raise taxes on corporations or the wealthy we get this “shared sacrifice” stuff. Wealthy people and successful companies need to understand the responsibility they have to give back to the society, culture and country that made it possible for them to get rich in the first place. People need to get over the idea of thinking that “tax” is a dirty word.

    They might want to reflect on the purpose of taxes which is to provide programs and services which an individual cannot afford for themselves. Take trash collection and recycling as a basic example. The cost to an individuals to provide these services for him or herself (collection trucks and staff, sorting, sending to proper sites for reuse or destruction etc.) all this is unaffordable to an individual, but as a group we can provide these services for each other through taxation. This also provides JOBS for people who provide these services for us and puts money into the economy as a whole. Taxation is also what provides a livable community; fire, police, road repair and so on. These are all things the wealthy and corporations depend on also, so why shouldn’t they pay their fair share? Some say we should privatize these services, but if we then have to pay for them, what is the difference between that and paying taxes, except that they might then start to charge more than we would have actually paid in taxes, which is the case where this has been tried.

    Another example of taxation providing services, using Senator Scott Brown as a current example, are things such as social services for those who have suffered abuse. Abuse, sexual or otherwise, does not confine itself to a particular political, religious or economic situation. This is another type of service we can provide for one another which is paid back in a saner, safer community for all.

  10. Various
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Rep Irwin said “it’s not as if they can cut the budget for unicorns”

    I say . . . “Why not?” Are unicorns so sacrosanct that we can’t even touch them. If we’re left cutting education & public safety I think everything should be on the table, even unicorns.

  11. Meta
    Posted March 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Irwin fans may also want to read his interview at the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

  12. Posted March 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Irwin for Governor!

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