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Posted on Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 6 a.m.

Education, economic vitality and employment: Now is the time to make the most of what we've got

By Tony Dearing

Part of state surplus needs to restore some of K-12 budget

When is the last time year heard a budget forecast for the state of Michigan that wasn’t all gloom and doom? After years of being awash in red ink, the state budget now seems to be enjoying a hefty surplus.

Exactly how much of a surplus remains to be determined, but some estimates have put it at well over a billion dollars. The state will have a better handle on the number when officials release their consensus revenue forecast at the end of this week.

While we understand that Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature had to make some difficult, unpopular decisions in order to balance the state’s budget, we argued early on that the cuts being proposed to K-12 education were too severe. The Legislature agreed, and tempered the governor’s proposal somewhat for the current fiscal year, but still imposed cuts deeper than we could support.

As we have said in the past, we are fortunate here in Washtenaw County to have some of the state’s best schools, and now is not the time to be slashing state support for them when it is clear that there was, and continues to be, sufficient funds available to avoid that. A well-educated population is essential to turning around Michigan’s economy and creating new jobs.

We are not calling on the Legislature to write our public schools a blank check. Education must share the burden of balancing the state budget, and part of that means containing their own costs by consolidating back-end services as much as possible and controlling employee benefit costs.

But we opposed any raiding of the school aid fund for the current budget, and as it becomes clear that the state is sitting on a substantial budget surplus, one of the highest priorities for allocating that money should be restore some of the funding that should never have been cut from public schools in the first place.

Ann Arbor's economic vitality and "job factory" status

The unemployment rate in Washtenaw County fell to 5.2 percent in November, giving us the lowest unemployment rate in Michigan. If you want to know why, you might ask Tom Friedman.

According to the New York Times columnist, Ann Arbor is among a handful of cities in America that are ideally suited to be the “job factories of the future.’’ What do we have that so many other struggling communities don’t? According to Friedman, the key ingredients are the presence of a university, a well-educated population, a “dynamic’’ business community and good access to broadband Internet.

Among the other cities and regions that are equally well situated, Friedman cites Austin, Texas; Cambridge, Mass.; Boulder, Colo.; and Silicon Valley. Not bad company to keep.

Granted, the dip in local employment in November may have been more seasonal than transformational. It was primarily driven by gains in holiday retail jobs and temporary student jobs. But a local unemployment rate of 5.2 percent compared favorably to the 6.9 percent rate for the same month in 2010. So the employment picture is headed in the right direction, anyway.

And month-to-month fluctuations in employment are less telling than our overall position, when compared to the rest of the state -- or the nation, for that matter. The statewide unemployment rate for November was 9.8 percent, and the national rate was 8.6 percent. The economic vitality that we enjoy in Washtenaw County, while fragile, is something we should appreciate and nurture. We have many advantages that others don’t, and those assets are only going to put is in better position going forward.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at



Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

I suggest slashing the education budget by another billion dollars - public schools still have too much money! - and paying it out to the Job Creators living in Michigan. They'll quickly create jobs for us without our having to bother with education. I hear the local One Percent is already hiring nannies, butlers, pool cleaners, and maids with the billion dollars the governor already took.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 1:47 a.m.

If you're looking for the highest-income part of town, you're pointing to the wrong place.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

The local One Percent are feeding at the public trough, yet you still continue to advocate throwing money at them. Drive through Montgomery Burns Park and see who lives there. Corporate raiders and investment bankers? Hardly.

Ron Granger

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

The state does not have a budget surplus. They have *our* money.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 1:51 a.m.

Which *we* gave to *our* elected representatives to provide services which benefit all of *us*.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

Still waiting for a good solid piece of journalism on the corporate giveaway and how little that has actually contributed to our slow recovery (of course, the numbers were made hard to come by through legislative fiat). Tony - where did our $1.8 billion go and how many jobs did it really (facts and not MEDC's numbers) create? How about a story on that. Where I come from $1.8 billion is serious money. Then again we've never seen a solid piece of journalism about the phony SPARK numbers and I've never heard you ask for, and publish, the top secret audits of SPARK so I guess we'll never see anything on the $1.8 billion either.


Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 1:14 a.m.

Tony: you didn't answer my question. My question was where was your story on it. The Freep did quite an expose on SPARK and MEDC but dead silence from on both those phony enterprises. And: (also ignored) -- how about asking for and publishing the audits of SPARK. And if they won't be divulged then at least an article about why there seems to be such a need for secrecy. SPARK's funding is public (at least 33%, perhaps more but that's also a secret). Respond with both those stories. Please.

Tony Dearing

Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

Our Editorial Board did not support the tax break that was given to businesses as part of tax reform. Our position was that tax rates are not a particularly significant factor in the decisions that businesses make to locate here or expand, and that issues like education and quality of life are more important. That being said, the tax break is so recent that no one is in a position right now to say with any credibility what impact it has had on the Michigan economy. In the short term, our economy is being influenced much more by the fortunes of the auto industry and even to some extent, the global economy and economic concerns in Europe. Given time, it should be possible to assess the impact of this tax cut, though we doubt it's going to have much of an impact. Every year, we work with economists at the University of Michigan to do a major economic forecast for the local economy, and that annual effort could be an opportunity to assess what, if any, impact we're seeing from the GOP tax break that was pushed through last year.


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

The Snyder boo birds are quick to notice the surpluses in the recent fiscal year. Can't hardly wait to grab and spend the money.........


Sun, Jan 8, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Mr. Dearing, Have you been living under a rock since the start of slick's term or, as a member of the slick fan club, are you hoping that we have? Comparing this year's "surplus" to previous year's budget balances is absurd giving all of the unnecessary and destructive cuts that slick and his republicon menace have implemented. Rather than restore healthy funding to the state's education and other budgets, you can count on slick to give this "surplus", should it really exist, to the state's wealthiest. I expect further tax breaks in the name of handouts to "job creators".