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Published: Tuesday, 7/28/2009

A sensible proposal

ANDY Dillon, Michigan's Speaker of the House, hasn't been known for bold moves in his years in the legislature.

But he proposed something last week that is breathtaking in scope and a thoughtful approach that could help get the state's finances under badly needed long-term control. He wants to enact a single, uniform, statewide health-care program for all public-sector employees.

Right now, there is a huge patchwork quilt of dozens of different plans, which unnecessarily wastes tax dollars at a time when Michigan is facing a budget deficit that is $2 billion and growing.

Mr. Dillon, a Democrat with a background as both an attorney and manager of a major private equity capital firm, says his plan could save the state as much as $900 million a year, partly from economies of scale. Currently, various state plans cover more than 400,000 people, plus at least 50,000 retirees.

The Speaker's numbers deserve careful scrutiny, which they are bound to get from both the House and Senate fiscal agencies. His savings figures may be optimistic, and there may be other bugs in the plan. But it was dismaying to see his idea condemned out of hand by the mindless bureaucrats of the state's main teachers' union, the Michigan Education Association, which seems blind to changing economic realities.

While most other unions were tentative, within hours of the plan's unveiling, the MEA basically said that it wasn't even willing to think about it. Ironically, Mr. Dillon's plan has drawn most of its early support from Republicans and business groups, including various chambers of commerce.

While this plan may well need tweaking, the sad fact is that Michigan is no longer an immensely rich, high-wage state. Unemployment is at near-depression levels, the highest in the nation and rising. Economists agree that Lansing has to fundamentally change the way the state does business, and the choice comes down to looking for creative cost-saving solutions or a meltdown and likely state government shutdown as early as 2011.

Shared sacrifice may not be fun, but it is sometimes necessary for survival, and innovative ideas like this one deserve full, fair, and complete consideration by those elected to do the people's business.

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