JACK SPENCER: Head-scratchers unite; there’s plenty to wonder about
“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.”
― Tom Peters, author of Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution.
Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation to end the state’s film subsidy program. The program was a waste of taxpayer dollars and the state will be better off without it. Yet, there seems to be no coherent explanation for the roller coaster ride the program took en route to its demise.
Less than eight months ago, in December, the legislature overwhelming passed legislation to continue the film subsidy program and the Governor signed it into law. Then in March, House Republicans turned around and passed a bill to kill the program. In response, the Governor and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, poured cold water on the new effort to get rid of the subsidies, arguing that pulling the plug on the program immediately after the decision had been made to continue it would damage the state’s creditability. However, a few weeks later there was a reversal of direction; the Senate decided to pass the bill and the film subsidy program was tossed on the ash heap after all.
Talk about inconsistencies and intrigues; the questions on this one are knee-deep. Why was the measure to continue the program passed in the first place — and why did so many legislators support it in December? One possibility seemed to be that continuing the program into 2015 might have been secretly linked to the road funding deal that resulted in Proposal 1. That could be so, but connecting the dots doesn’t quite lead to that conclusion.
It’s true that, in terms of timing, it appeared that the defeat of Proposal 1 gave the bill the momentum needed for final adoption and enactment. It’s true that the film subsidy program was becoming a political albatross for those, the Governor included, who sought a gas tax hike to fund road repairs and maintenance. Polling showed that voters, by a 2 to 1 margin, believed the film subsidy money should be used for roads.
OK, so continuing the program while pursuing a road funding solution may have become politically untenable. But if that’s all there was to it, why wasn’t killing the film subsidy program openly tied to the road funding issue? The money-saving measure could have easily been delayed and included as part of a final deal, if such a deal were to materialize. Instead, ending the program is a stand-alone victory for taxpayers. That is a good thing but it’s obvious that some key portions of this story are missing.
Speaking of the road funding issue, it’s interesting how the news media’s coverage of the Senate road funding plan has led to a misperception by many that the state has already decided to raise the gas tax 15 cents a gallon, from the current 19 cents to 34 cents by Jan. 1, 2017. In reality, the House and Senate are negotiating to see if they can find middle ground on two separate plans.
Could the reason for the confusion be that any talk of a tax hike always tends to steal the show or is it because the news media generally refuses to take the House plan seriously?
The House plan is built almost entirely on reallocating existing funds and using them for roads. Perhaps most significantly, it diverts $187 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (the state’s corporate welfare arm) to roads. It is rare for such a bold approach to be seriously put forward at the Capitol.
The Senate plan is the one that features the gas tax hike people have been hearing about. However, what a lot of people don’t appear to be hearing is that the Senate plan also includes phased-in income tax cuts. This proposed tax cut could also be significant, but only if lawmakers can be trusted to not tamper with it in the future.
Ever notice that with such plans the tax increase side is always definite, while tax cutting side is less definite?
More stuff to wonder about —
As large numbers of Americans cheer the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol, how many know much at all about the Civil War? Do our schools delve deeply enough into our history to give students solid grounding in subjects like this? Do they teach how profoundly different that war was from most of the other wars of mankind?
Are they taught that in the Civil War the side carrying the American flag fought for something that at the time was new to the human experience; the principle that no one has the right to enslave another person? Is there an effort to make our youth understand that the side carrying the Confederate flag stood for the ways of the past and a world in which — for centuries — slavery (the exploitation of the vulnerable, the helpless and the defenseless) had been accepted as a natural element of human relations?
What a shame it would be if all the cheering is nothing more than a reaction to superficial rhetoric and a vague media-fed frenzy. Let’s hope the situation stirs the embers of our shared heritage and provokes a renewed interest in rediscovering the deeper significance that lies beneath the symbolism.
Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.