Sharing The Pain


    Gov. Jennifer Granholm has spent the better part of the last month amidst the vast Michigan constituency, sharing the pain of the state budget crisis and taking down names and ideas to prepare her version of the 2004 budget due this month. It is now a shared pain, and plan. The paradigm busting that found an enthusiastic audience of her February State of the State address is extensive, and opens the door for long-held Republican principles. Consider that State Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, is gently suggesting “systemic” change for the state and legislative overhaul of some laws.

    In general:

    —Area legislators say their freshman peers are a problem, what with their lack of experience and want to grandstand.

    —No new taxes.

    —The “Tobacco Fund” is on the table, but only so much as to reduce, rather than eliminate, future awards to students.

    —State employees may be asked to show leadership not only in forgoing a planned 3 percent pay increase but also in some cases, to accept cuts.

    —Legislators may opt to voluntarily return a portion of their pay, as an example, or the Speaker of the House may instruct them to do so (and list it as a business expense).

    —Michigan, which has traditionally offered more services for the Medicaid dollar, may make cuts based on the limitations other states have enacted or the reduced eligibility afforded by federal law, including limits on the number of emergency room visits and benefits provided to non-parental guardians of children.

    —There is grave concern in regard to “unfunded federal mandates” related to Homeland Security and Michigan’s more vulnerable position due to the Canadian border as well as its Great Lakes waterways to the east.

    Kooiman commented that in regard to health care, every meeting he attends has included significant information on the cost of substance abuse. He has indicated he is “very concerned” about cuts in corrections, but notes that “if we can cut $50 million from the Family Independence Agency budget by addressing this issue (substance abuse), and put that money back into the Michigan State Police budget or corrections, it should be discussed.” He commented during a Business Journal interview that, “child welfare programs have mushroomed because of substance abuse.”

    Kooiman said, for instance, 75 percent to 80 percent of children in foster care have an addicted parent. Releasing non-violent offenders into community-based agencies and programs could alleviate overcrowding of not only state prisons but county jails. Kooiman said substance abuse issues (like the percentage of drunk driving convictions) account for nearly 50 percent of the inmate population at the Kent County Jail, and when mental health issues are added, the percentage rises to 65 percent to 70 percent of the county jail population. Further, costly psychotropic drugs are a large percentage of the Medicaid budget.

    “I think we need to at least discuss community service, community-based jobs with victim compensation and residential substance abuse counseling as alternatives to incarceration. It’s much, much cheaper.”

    Problem is, the state also is making cuts in such program funding and in child care programs.

    • Traffic control for DeVos Performance Hall events remains a question mark, but improvements within will most definitely be limited.

    Fundraising for an overhaul of the Hall has met with the economy, and what might have been a $10 million renovation is said to be cut to $5 million.

    The story in the Hall is that Dick DeVos, while touring the convention center construction area, noted that the performance area could use some sprucing up, and brought his dad, Rich DeVos in for a look. Banker David Frey was enlisted to help look for funding sources, but recently reported private funding levels would not reach goal.

    One key concern is that no center aisles exist in the central seating areas. While that fact has been more an inconvenience to patrons, the nightclub fires in Rhode Island and Chicago raise new concerns regarding safety. Still, constructing a center aisle is said to have been dismissed, largely because of the loss of a number of seats, which would reflect in revenue numbers.

    • Speaking out about entertainment revenue in downtown, business leader Peter Secchia, who recently moved his offices back to the heart of the district, told the Business Journal that based on community comment last week, the general community does not understand the importance of protecting the investments made in the downtown the past 30 years. Secchia reiterated that a casino would attract individuals within a 30- to 50-mile radius (rather than convention groups) who would not go to the BOB or other venues for bachelor parties and celebrations, preferring the casino instead.

    “It is big money. Grand Rapids is really the only urban core in the area. We want to keep it clean, safe and vibrant. The point is, we (the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Community Partnership for Economic Growth steering committee) care about this town; we don’t want to see it empty again.”

    Secchia also said that former Gov. John Engler‘s friends, who were thought to have backed off investment in the casino, are very much still involved.

    • Eastern Floral owner Bing Goei, previously noted here as a potential mayoral candidate, has his luncheon card full and the discussion moves forward. While meet-and-eat events have included the only announced candidate, George Heartwell, Goei was said to have had a serious talk last week with property developer Roosevelt Tillman
    • Grand Rapids Business Journal’s salute to the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan was said to have left the Economic Club of Grand Rapids wondering whether it should bother with a Monday meeting. One Econ Club member told a Business Journal staffer, “The ‘A ticket’ this week is the luncheon for honorees; we don’t think anyone is coming to the club meeting.” Guess that says something about who is the backbone of the Econ Club.

    The luncheon celebration for all 50 women at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was sold out by the first of February.           

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