If anyone outside of Michigan wonders what the current set of proposals to lessen the national debt by “reducing the size of government” might mean to their town, Detroit is a preview, and the coming attractions are not pretty.
Detroit has borne the brunt of deficit reduction plans from both the State and National levels. In an era of unprecedented national growth during the Clinton Administration, Michigan’s State government (dominated by conservative Republicans) created a budget deficit, primarily by lowering Corporate and property taxes. At the same time, the State reduced the “size of government” by reducing or eliminating State-run public health services, such as mental health institutions. Once the Clinton budget surplus (achieved with a combination of reducing expenditures and raising taxes) were wasted by conservative republicans in the US Congress, local Michigan governments were hit with a second round of revenue reductions.
The result of deliberate efforts to reduce the size of government by starving it of government revenue is that, in Michigan, on the local level, government is much smaller – and the quality of life is much worse. Schools are not only much less effective in teaching students, the buildings are literally falling apart. Roads, water and sewage lines and other forms of infrastructure are, in places, worse than third world countries. Whole Fire and Police Departments have been defunded and disappeared, although crime has not lessened significantly. The lack of State mental Health structures has caused the streets and local jails to become flooded with the homeless, costing local governments far more than government-funded hospitals. Oh, and all those tax breaks for Corporations and the so-called “job creators” has resulted in an unemployment rate among the highest in the Country.
Conservatives complain that Michigan is the victim of a terrible National economy because the Federal Government spends too much. The reality is that when the National economy was booming in the 80s, Michigan created its own deficit by giving away tax breaks and eliminating investments in infrastructure, R&D, etc.
I distrust government when it comes to regulating my personal liberties, but government has a real and important function when it comes to matters of public safety, infrastructure and education. I guess there is my difference with the Tea Party Conservatives: they want to take the government out of building the country and into regulating the bedroom; I think government should stay out of my lifestyle and repair a few bridges and roads (at least). Rachel Maddow has a commercial that makes the point: there was no compelling profit motive for a private company to build the Hoover Dam and, none would build one today. However, the Hoover Dam has resulted in an economic boom and health service that has benefits all of us greatly since. That is the proper role of government.