Do not adjust your television sets... you have now entered the economic Twilight Zone

Cross-posted on Right Michigan at www.RightMichigan.com.

There are a couple of approaches for handling a day like today.  The four day weekend is over and it’s back to the grind but the snow continues to fall and it’s tempting to turn on the Christmas carols and move gently into the next holiday season.  Yeah, you’ll go to work, or school, or both and you’ll do what you need to do but you’ll coast a little and with visions of Christmas trees and sleigh rides.  Aww.  Warms the heart.  And good on you if you can pull that off.  

Then again, is that practical?  Can you carol your way through the next twenty-four days until you can manage another four day weekend?  Can you really fake oblivious?  Block out the real world and live in Christmastime daydreams for the next month?  I can’t.  So I took option number two for the Monday after Thanksgiving and I jumped right back into the news this morning.

All things being equal, I’d rather have the sugar plum fairies.  

We’ve got business leaders crying out to the state government for drastically needed relief from a financial crisis very much said state government’s making, we’ve got state officials openly discussing ways they can put job makers out of business and I don’t know what says “happy Monday” quite like the name Monica Conyers.

According to the Detroit News, the Democratic Congressman’s wife and head on the all-Dem Detroit City Council is caught up in another mess, this time suggesting openly that the Detroit Public Library is attempting to extort the council to gain control of river-front property.  See, they currently own a rundown, abandoned building and even though they’ve received cash offers of more than seven times what they paid for it two years ago (in Detroit!!!!) they refuse to sell and would rather raze the thing to the ground than see Conyers friends get their hands on it.

The Detroit Public Library is moving ahead with the demolition of a former storage building in the New Center neighborhood despite a dustup with City Council President Monica Conyers, who asked the library to consider selling it to a campaign donor.

The building, which the library bought in 2001 for $400,000 from the city, had become too run-down to affordably use, and now the organization will either sell the land or target the property for a future expansion project…

They got three bids to purchase the building that included $200,000 from the Farbman Group, $2 million from Metro Development Group Investors of Detroit and $3 million from Eugenio Company LLC of Grosse Pointe Woods.

Upon further investigation, library officials believed they could better market the property once the building was razed, (Library Building Committee head Ed) Thomas said, much like the strategy the city took in knocking down most of Tiger Stadium in hopes of attracting a developer.

Considering the fact that we’re talking about property in Detroit, Michigan, the city more famous than perhaps any other in the United States of America for blighted, burned and abandoned properties, I’m thinking $3 million is an awful good return on a $400,000 investment but, clearly, I’m not a real estate magnate.  If Ed Thomas thinks he can get more than $3 million by burning the thing to the ground and marketing the charred land, well, ok.  

Conyers thinks it smells fishy though and has accused the Public Library of refusing to sell the land until the Council gives them even better property down by the river.  (Get it?  Fishy?  River?  Nevermind.)

Read on…

Consider the options that leaves us with as we examine this situation.  One of two things are true here and they are both so astoundingly stupid they almost defy belief.  What’s even better, they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive… they BOTH might be true.

In Detroit, we either have a City Council President, an elected Democrat and the wife of a long-tenured Democratic Congressman who has finally and completely lost her mind, going so far off the rails that she now sees conspiracy and personal persecution everywhere she looks, including the public library – OR – librarians are legitimately engaging in conspiracy and extortion.  

Its almost like a fever dream.  That can’t really be happening, can it?  That can’t be real.  I must have let the leftovers sit too long on the countertop before refrigerating them, or eaten a bad pepperoni on that pizza last night.  And, friends, it only gets crazier this morning, but let’s set it up with a touch of sanity.  

The Ivory Tower publishes an op-ed piece from David Brandon and Doug Rothwell, the Chairman and President of Detroit Renaissance, a group of major business players who come together to try to bring about renewal in the motor city.  It’s a group of good men who seem to genuinely care about the City and about the state and they’re offering a bit of tough love for the Granholm – Cherry administration and the state legislature.  

Earlier this year, a statewide poll of Michigan voters commissioned by Detroit Renaissance revealed that 77% want to see meaningful reforms and/or spending reduced versus only 6% who are willing to raise taxes. More recently, Detroit Renaissance commissioned a benchmarking study that assessed Michigan’s competitiveness against its peers and found that our cost of doing business is not competitive, due largely to higher-than-average business, personal and local taxes.

Yet we have no ability to correct this problem unless we enact serious reforms.

There are immediate steps the state can take before year’s end to put us back on track. This is not all that needs to be done, but would serve as a good down payment for more serious state reforms that need to occur in 2009.

A few of the reforms they’re suggesting, immediately, include serious Michigan Business Tax relief for job makers, reforms in the Department of Corrections to the tune of $100 million a year and a brand new budgeting and review process based on two year cycles, not one, to help keep elected officials a little more focused on the long-term.  

We are calling on the governor and Legislature to enact reforms now. These measures are a modest step toward restructuring Michigan so that we can improve our competitiveness and restore business confidence in our state as a place to invest. A failure to act will send a message, and it’s a message that won’t encourage economic growth.

So what’s the state going to do?  If the Lansing State Journal is any indication, they’re going to tell Detroit Renaissance to roll up their advice and smoke it, but only if they’ve paid the stamp tax.  

We’ve been inundated with stories lately about how local governments have instructed their police officers to spend less time fighting crime and more time taxing lead feet and now we learn there’s an emphasis coming from Lansing on doing a whole different kind of tax collection.

Every pack of cigarettes sold in Michigan is supposed to be stamped – proof that licensed wholesalers paid the state’s $2-a-pack tax, which is passed along to customers who buy smokes at convenience stores, groceries and other locations.

But because Michigan’s cigarette tax is sixth-highest in the country, smugglers are capitalizing at the expense of the state budget.

Small-time activity involves residents simply driving to Indiana or Ohio, where taxes are up to $1 less per pack. It’s illegal to possess cigarettes in Michigan without a Michigan tax sticker…

Police say putting retailers out of business, if temporarily, could be a powerful tool because tobacco prosecutions result in light sentences and aren’t taken as seriously in a justice system battling violent crime.

Emphasis mine.  “At the expense of the state budget.”  David Eggert is a really cool guy and all, and bless the Associated Press but is that editorializing in a straight news story that I detect?  Why no sentences about how the $2 a pack stamp tax feeds the state budget “at the expense of consumers’ budgets?”  I know, balance is so passé.  

Sadly, that’s not even the most shocking sentence fragment in that section.  The police are actively talking about putting retailers out of business?!

Hey, I get it… render unto Caesar and all of that.  There’s an onerous tax and there’s an onerous tax.  You can’t just go around breaking the law.  You have to pay your taxes.  But telling the Associated Press that you’re aiming to put job makers out of business is sort of like posting a big “do not enter” sign at the state’s border.  Its openly hostile and the next thing the state knows, those mom and pop business owners who’ve been driving fifteen minutes to the other side of the Indiana border to ensure they can make a living here in Michigan aren’t going to make the return trip on those northbound lanes.  

Course, that’ll only compound the problem.  How would the Associated Press put this… the lighter Michigan traffic will deprive State Troopers of additional ticketing opportunities “at the expense of the state budget.”

If they get bored, though, I hear there’s some funny business they could investigate at the library in Detroit.