NO ONE doubts that Michigan needs to make some painful budget cuts. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposal to abolish HAL, the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, is incredibly shortsighted, and would result in almost no meaningful savings at all.
Earlier this month, the governor issued an executive order abolishing HAL, and transferring control of the library itself to the state department of education. That isn't just a bureaucratic reassignment. Experts say it could mean the dismantlement of the library itself and its extensive and historically priceless collections.
As James Seidl, director of the Woodlands Library Cooperative, told Blade staff writer Florence Dethy, "Distributing or removing these collections [would destroy] 180 years of collecting, cataloging, and preserving materials."
Nor did Ms. Granholm, who ironically was originally elected with heavy support from the literary and arts community, stop there. She wants to fire the state librarian, close the popular and priceless Michigan History magazine, and stop allowing patrons to check out books from the state library.
She ordered the library to also suspend its participation in a catalogue and resource-sharing system used statewide, and she would end all arts grant funding, thereby losing any matching federal money.
When the full details of her proposal were announced, Susan Demas, a respected Lansing columnist, observed that "anyone who loves taking in the symphony, reveling in the Model T's history, or that intoxicating smell of old books should long for John Engler to be governor right now."
It was Mr. Engler, perhaps the most conservative governor in modern times, who created HAL in 2001. True, Michigan's budget right now is more out of balance than ever in state history - possibly $2 billion, or more. So how much money will the governor save if her plan to abolish the department is allowed to proceed? The answer is a mere $2 million, less than could be saved by delaying or canceling one moderately sized state office building.
This is undoubtedly an age when belt-tightening is in order, in Michigan as well as Ohio. But abolishing the state's historical memory and a major cultural resource to get one one-thousandth of the money needed to close a budget gap is perhaps the ultimate example of false frugality.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish," the proverb says. Choosing to disregard our priceless past is about the best proof of that we can imagine. The Michigan Legislature should unite in a rare display of bipartisanship and reverse this poorly conceived idea.