Side stories to a boring day

To be sure, they were not popping the champagne corks and singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

In fact, they called the event “boring.”

Yet the prognosticators reported that Michigan’s economy is “strong and stable,” and, when quizzed about any dark clouds on the horizon, they uniformly dismissed the idea as, if not folly, darn close to it.

Such was the lead story out of the gathering of the state’s top-drawer bean counters/economists whose vital job is to predict how the state is growing and how much moola lawmakers will have to play with as they orchestrate the writing of the new state budget, which spends $80 billion of your federal and state tax dollars.

“Today it is a little bit boring for forecasting the budget,” state Treasurer Rachael Eubanks glowed while reading to reporters from a carefully crafted script during a Zoom scrum.

To buttress her analysis, she submitted this: “Tax collections are strong. Corporate, income taxes, and interest rates are strong. There is economic growth and higher wages that is leading to higher income tax collections.”

And, in case the scribes missed it, she added, “The labor market was more than” the record years of 2001 and 2002.

All that meant that there was more than $200 million more dollars that would come in compared to what the bean counters said during the last forecast in January.

There were curious sidebar angles on the main story, however.

First of all, the state treasurer and the state budget director, Jen Flood, are all governor appointees, and so they are part of what the governor likes to call “my team.” Left out of the Zoom exchange was any representation from the state House and state Senate fiscal agencies, which are arms of the Legislature and not on the guv’s “team.”

Some may have wondered why they were not there as they have been in the past.

One unconfirmed theory is that, since this an election year and the Democrats desperately want to keep control of the state House, telling the voters back home that the Democrats have fashioned a great economy could help accomplish that objective. Hence, why take a risk by inviting non-team members who may add a different slant to the glowing economic forecasting, thus taking the positive edge off the message the governor and the Democrats want you to believe?

Secondly, everybody in town knows that the Detroit Three automakers have a bad case of electric vehicle heartburn, as one of them noted it was losing thousands of dollars on every one sold. And, if the lousy EV sales were removed from the company’s bottom line, its profits would skyrocket 50%.

So some snotty reporter asked Eubanks whether she worried about that, because the state takes in a boatload of tax dollars from the auto industry and all its workers, and even a hiccup in that industry can choke off revenue for the state.

Eubanks stayed on the upbeat playbook, refusing to budge other than to say, “I don’t think we’re at a troublesome point, yet. We’re seeing really strong profit sharing happen with our major automakers, and, while there is that potential risk on the horizon, it’s not something we are seeing today.”

The key words, of course, in her statement are the qualifiers, i.e., not at a “troublesome point yet,” and there is “that potential,” but she was not seeing it “today.”

The guv’s team probably has its collective fingers crossed that, if the EVs do drag down auto industry revenue to the state, that that will commence after Election Day on Nov. 5.

And then this:

There’s a sort of unwritten rule that the governor’s budget director stays above the political fray and sticks to his or her bean counting. But, in that Zoom, Flood took on the state Senate Republican leader, Aric Nesbitt.

Nesbitt blamed the governor for “raiding the teachers retirement” fund to pay for her K-12 spending proposals, including a hefty increase in the per-pupil state aid, which is another Democratic election year reelection selling point.

Flood surprisingly returned the volley with this tongue-in-cheek retort: “The minority leader has a newfound support for teachers and retirees,” as he has cut their support in the past.

It was, frankly, a great line, which the Republican senator refuted, as expected.

You have to wonder, did she get an “atta girl” embrace or a warning to stay in her own nonpolitical lane?

Somebody call if you have the answer.


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