The other day, Governor Granholm commented that she is looking at the budget, just in case the financial meltdown and looming recession might just possibly result in lower revenues than projected. She added something to the effect that Michigan had already tightened its fiscal belt and therefor wasn't in the same position as states that have actually been doing well over the past five years.
First off, there can be little doubt that this recession is going to clobber Michigan. Let's start with the closure of the GM stamping plant in Wyoming and go from there. We're screwed, again.
The second flaw in her logic is that we are in better shape because we have already tightened the belt. What this really means is that we don't have any fat left to trim. The budget is balanced but the state is barely covering its basic responsibilities for education, health care, public safety and infrastructure. If we are scraping bottom and face even less money coming in, we are going subterranean.
Which brings me to my point, which is that there is a place to trim massively and that is the prison system. We spend more money on prisons than higher education and have a per-capita prison population far in excess of the other Great Lakes states - with no relative reduction in crime.
Most of this debacle is due to politicians doing what they do best: pandering to voters by enacting "tough on crime" laws that are best ineffective and more typically destructive. Unfortunately the political instinct for self preservation makes it impossible for politicians to speak the truth and say we can't afford so many prisoners, and keeping them behind bars isn't helping anything anyhow. Unless you happen to be a term-limited Governor who has nothing left to fear from speaking the truth.
Joe Conason says it pretty well today in Salon: the War on Drugs is a $50 billion a year failure. If running out of money is the only way to force politicians for admit this, so be it, but now's the time.