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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2003

Compromise `Up North'

Michigan's governor and legislature have discovered the way to a balanced state budget: a strong infusion of federal funds and a large dollop of compromise, which has pretty well disappeared from the political lexicon elsewhere.

At one time faced with a $2 billion deficit, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and legislative leaders are congratulating each other over agreement on a $37.9 billion budget - without a general tax increase.

The fact that the budget was adopted nearly three months before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 is just another happy, though unexpected, note in Lansing's chorus of cooperation.

The fireworks foretold from the potentially testy combination of a rookie Democratic governor and a legislature solidly controlled by conservative Republicans never exploded.

Ken Sikkema, the Senate majority leader, put it this way: “There's a basic recognition in this town that with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor, at the end of the day if you want to get something done, you have to cooperate.”

Ms. Granholm allowed as how the two sides had “haggled and wrestled and exchanged friendly words, and some not so friendly,” but had emerged with “the most education-friendly budget in the history of Michigan.”

The budget process hardly went this swimmingly over the past decade, when the GOP controlled both the governor's office and the legislature.

And it surely is a marked contrast from this year's turmoil in Columbus, where a Republican governor and GOP legislative majority engaged in continuous sniping over budget matters.

The Michigan budget contains enough money to give schools the same $6,700 per pupil they got this year, and a promise, backed by federal funds, to provide a laptop computer for every sixth grader.

Funding to continue the state's $2,500 college scholarships was switched from federal tobacco settlement money, where they never belonged, to a new revenue source: fees to be paid by motorists with poor driving records.

Ms. Granholm gained restoration of $73 million for early-childhood education and health programs, while funding was restored for a host of highway projects in Republican legislators' district, which the governor wanted to cancel.

The state's “rainy day” funds, which serve as cushions against economic downturn, were restored using part of $700 million in federal aid provided by Congress and President Bush.

The losers included adult-education programs, cut by two-thirds, and state aid to local governments, although a compromise was reached on a 3 percent across the board cut.

Other problems remain. Officials will have to figure out how to do without the one-time federal windfall in the future. And state employees will be asked to give up a pay raise and accept benefit cuts.

Nonetheless, the bipartisan spirit that pervaded Michigan's budget compromise should serve the state well when its leaders tackle future fiscal problems.

Ohio officials, take note.



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