COVID-19 continues to take a devastating toll on Michigan — in more ways than many people may realize.
Lives have been lost and livelihoods destroyed – sadly, that has been obvious for more than two months. And now, we have the first solid estimates of how much damage the virus and the governor’s excessive ‘stay home’ orders are doing to the state budget.
Income tax and sales tax revenues are down dramatically because people are forced out of work and required to stay home. The state’s school aid fund and general fund face a combined revenue decline of more than $3 billion for the current fiscal year, according to forecasts made by state economists late last week. The outlook for the new budget year that begins Oct. 1 is also dire. This will have devastating consequences because the state budget affects our daily lives in countless ways.
The schools budget will have significantly less money than previously expected. Some popular programs will have to be reduced or eliminated. Essential public services people rely on every day – like health care, law enforcement and road repairs — will be strained.
The biggest takeaway from this horrible news? We simply cannot keep the state of Michigan closed. While the governor has moved to partially reopen some northern Michigan counties on May 22, more must be done.
Public health is a priority but we also have an obligation to protect the public’s overall welfare. The longer our economy is shut down, the worse our state budget situation will be. And the worse things will be for Michigan workers and their families. We can return to work and protect the public’s health.
Already, COVID-19 has forced 1.7 million Michigan workers into unemployment. Roughly one of every three Michigan workers has lost a job since mid-March. Over 50,000 people have filed for unemployment in Livingston County alone. We have small businesses on the verge of collapsing.
Most of these job losses are expected to be temporary. But the longer a business is forced to be closed, the less likely it is to ever reopen. Some jobs lost in Michigan over the past two months simply will not return.
It threatens to wipe out a decade of steady economic growth in our state.
The average daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Michigan is clearly declining – we’ve done more than flatten the curve. Hospitalizations are down significantly. Yet Michigan is among the minority of states with a ‘stay home’ order still in place. While most states are reopening their economies and helping people get back to their daily lives, Livingston County continues in lockdown. Who knows how many more Michigan jobs will be lost before it is over.
I am confident we can prioritize public health and safely and responsibly reopen our economy. I know all Michiganders are essential and it’s time to treat them as such. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have been focused on our budget and am committed to developing the best plan possible under these challenging circumstances. We will have to reduce state government’s footprint and prioritize spending, doing all we can to fund important priorities such as schools and road repairs to the extent possible. We can and we will be a brighter Michigan.
(Rep. Ann Bollin, of Livingston County’s Brighton Township, represents the 42nd District in the Michigan House.)