Tip O’Neill once famously said that “all politics is local”. In Michigan, local politics is national. Consider this: a Legislature paralyzed in partisan gridlock while record levels of deficits grow and unemployment is at Great Depression era levels. Middle-class families are being destroyed as corporations rake in record profits. This describes the current situation in Washington D.C. Here in Michigan, we have been experiencing the same for over a decade. The experience of Michigan can be instructive to the national debate, although the politicians in Washington D.C. are just as unlikely as the ones in Michigan to learn the lessons.
In the early 1990s the State of Michigan under Republican leadership became captured by corporate money. Under the Trojan Horse of “job creation”, John Engler and his fellow Republicans effectively changed the focus of government from serving the welfare of the people to serving the welfare of the Chamber of Commerce. Corporate taxes were lowered resulting in a loss of revenue that turned a budget surplus into a budget deficit that has grown steadily. In a decade when the national economy was soaring and the U.S. budget was in surplus, Michigan’s rush to lower taxes and deregulation to create a “job friendly environment” turned a budget surplus into a deficit and sent the State down the toilet of economic and moral ruin.
For Michigan’s Republicans, “trickle down” wealth meant shifting the revenue burden away from corporations to families – fees for individual necessities such as driver’s licenses increased dramatically. Municipal fees and taxes were raised just to keep essential services such as police and fire departments, even as corporations were granted rights and tax waivers that antebellum plantation owners would have envied. Now, just a few years later, the corporations are gone, along with the precious few jobs they did generate, and so is the revenue they could have generated. The response of the Democrats in the post-Engler era was to do more of the same: deregulation, corporate tax waivers, etc. The result was more of the same. Now, Republican aspirants to the Governorship are advocating even more corporate give-aways, tax cuts and deregulation and the abandonment of the health and education systems.
Republicans in Washington D.C. echo the same policies that have nearly destroyed Michigan. The Pharmaceutical industry is a case in point. To attract these companies, Republicans gave away land and tax revenues. They removed the right of any citizen to sue drug companies under any circumstances, and imposed unconstitutional Tort Reforms. Very few jobs were created and those are gone along with the companies (Pfieser) who made record level profits. Tort Reform in Michigan has done nothing to lower the costs of medical care or medical malpractice insurance.
Michigan has been a laboratory on the destructive results that lowered taxes and deregulation have wreaked on working families and their communities. So why are we hearing Republicans advocating the same policies once again? Because those policies have created record profits for corporations and it trickles down to the politicians who represent those corporations. Not the people.
I miss the Roaring Nineties…