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