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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2011

Pay and priorities

There was an immense public and media hullaballoo this week over the drawn-out firing of University of Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez - a state employee of sorts, since UM is a state school.

The university paid Mr. Rodriguez $2.5 million a year, roughly three times as much as it pays its president, Mary Sue Coleman. The coach was getting more than four times as much as President Obama, and 15 times the salary of Michigan's governor.

Supposedly, Mr. Rodriguez's salary is covered by UM's self-funding athletic department and taxpayers will be held harmless.

But if the department could afford that amount - plus a $2.5 million severance package for the ex-coach - perhaps it might be asked to find a way to close Michigan's projected budget deficit, too.

That gap is about 700 times the size of Mr. Rodriguez's salary, although it hasn't gotten nearly as much public or media attention.

To balance the state budget by the September deadline, Michigan's new governor and Legislature - and their constituents - must address some tough questions:

Raise tuition and fees at UM and other state universities? Jack up the state income tax, or extend the state sales tax to services? Close prisons? Reduce aid to public schools, even if that means hobbling Michigan's ability to compete for high-tech jobs?

Raising such questions isn't as much fun as speculating about the identity of UM's next football coach.

But if they aren't engaged and answered in the right way, someday soon there may not be enough money left over to pay the coach.

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