At the League, economic opportunity is our mission so it was heartening to hear Gov. Rick Snyder talk about the ‘river of opportunity’ in his fifth State of the State address Tuesday. There is an assumption in that analogy, however, that deserves a closer look.
The governor spoke about his background growing up in a 900-square-foot home in Battle Creek in a supportive family. He said despite his family’s modest income, he was still able to be part of the river of opportunity. He spoke of the Michiganians who are not part – separated by poverty, absent parents or other barriers — and he talked about his desire to move them into that river of opportunity.
Though it was a welcome tone from the governor, it contained a flawed analogy. The governor said government is in the background of the lives of those already enjoying opportunity while it plays a prominent role for those in need. Yet, there is no ‘them and us’ when it comes to government services because we all benefit.
Let’s take public education for starters. Free education is not just for kids from families with low incomes. The support of public universities, including $300 million a year to the governor’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, helps many, many children of the affluent. Tax dollars create the public transportation to move the goods that supports the jobs, helping job providers and workers. In short, public dollars are used to keep that river flowing, and enjoyed by the citizens who are benefiting from opportunity.
The governor also called for revamping of services to help those in need. At the Capitol Tuesday, several reporters sought out League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs for comment on the merger of the Departments of Human Services and Community Health into a new Department of Health and Human Services. Jacobs was positive about the potential to really lift barriers for people and also about the leadership of interim Director Nick Lyon. (See the League’s statement.)
What will be important is making sure that there are savings resulting from true efficiencies and that the merger’s goal isn’t just to save dollars. Simply cutting people from services while poverty and unemployment remain high is not the way to measure success.
With revenues coming in below expectations, the pressure will be on to make those cuts. More insight will be offered in the governor’s executive budget recommendation in February. So stay tuned!
– Judy Putnam