Stand-Offs Over Budget Cuts Spread Across The U.S.
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
No runoff in Chicago, a GOP up-and-comer decides to sit tight, and high-stakes budget battles rage in state capitols and on Capitol Hill. It's Wednesday and time for a brinksmanship edition of the Political Junkie.
President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, Im reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?
Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You dont have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.
(Soundbite of scream)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to wrap up the week in politics. This week, Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman announced plans to retire in New Mexico. But South Dakota Republican John Thune will not run for president, neither will New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He swears he won't. And Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell says he might be happy to see vice president in front of his name. And Harry Reid's call for change falls flat in Sin City.
In a bit, we'll focus on state budget battles with Michigan's new Republican Governor Rick Snyder. Later in the program, Bob Mondello joins us to handicap this year's Oscar for best documentary feature and talk about why this year's most popular doc did not even get a nomination.
But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. I like this question. Let's see if it works.
RUDIN: Well, let's see. Rahm Emanuel, a former member of Congress, was elected mayor of Chicago yesterday. Before Emanuel, which top 10 city -and that list includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose - which top 10 city last elected a former member of Congress as its mayor?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer as to the last top 10 city to elect a former member of Congress as its mayor - it has to be in that order, Congress then mayor?
RUDIN: No, it doesn't have to be in that order.
CONAN: All right. Former member of Congress as its mayor, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.
In the meantime, getting back to Chicago, this was no race at all.
RUDIN: It wasn't, and if you listened to the billboard, as you said, Neal, the big thing was the residency requirement. The question was whether Rahm Emanuel was a resident long enough. You have to be a resident of Chicago for a full year - to reside in Chicago before he could run for mayor. And the Supreme Court ultimately said: Yes, you are a resident.
CONAN: The Illinois Supreme Court.
RUDIN: Illinois Supreme Court, state Supreme Court, right, exactly. And there were other things, too. Progressives were not happy with Rahm Emanuel. He pushed for NAFTA when he was a big top aide for President Clinton.
Black, African-American political figures wanted to rally behind a black candidate. So they picked Carol Moseley Braun, the former U.S. senator. But all those things ultimately didn't pan out.
I mean, Emanuel won with 55 percent of the vote, which means he will not have to go into a runoff. He was elected overwhelmingly in all parts of the city.
CONAN: And this sustains a tradition of you might call it pragmatic Democrats being elected as mayor of Chicago.
RUDIN: Well, that's true. I mean, we always say there's no Democrat or Republican way of picking up garbage, and we saw for, I guess, 42 of the last 55 years, the mayor had been first Richard J. Daley and then, with some interruption, Richard M. Daley, who comes away with pretty much good marks.
But there's a lot of problems with corruption, with pension problems, with budget debts, like many states have, and Rahm Emanuel has his work cut out for him.
CONAN: Meanwhile, an opening in the state of New Mexico. Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman announces he will not run in 2012.
RUDIN: Well, he keeps saying that, but all these things are surprising me. And this was a surprise, too. He was up for a sixth term. He could have won, probably handily, as he usually does when he runs for re-election. But he announced late last week, last Friday, that he would not run, and it was a big surprise.
I've done a survey. I've found five people in New Mexico who may not run for that seat. But everybody wants to run: Martin Heinrich, the Democratic congressman from Albuquerque is going to run, likely going to run. Steve Pearce, who lost to Tom Udall last time for the Senate, is now back in Congress and probably will run again, as well would Heather Wilson, who tried to succeed Pete Domenici, and said she may come back and run. A lot of people are going to run for this open seat.
CONAN: Yeah but maybe not the current, the former governor.
RUDIN: Bill Richardson - well, that's interesting. His name hasn't come up yet. He was - you know, once had this national star and was talking about the White House, and then he wanted a Cabinet position. And now he's hoping for a, you know, a substitute job on TALK OF THE NATION. So we don't know what's happened to him, but his name has not come up, actually.
CONAN: Meanwhile, in Indiana, no Democrats in the Senate, but the Republican U.S. Senator looks like he's going to get a challenge in the primary.
RUDIN: Well, you know, once upon a time, those of us with long memories, back in 1974, when Dick Lugar ran for the Senate for the time against Birch Bayh, the Democrats haunted him with the label; he was Richard Nixon's favorite mayor.
CONAN: Favorite mayor.
RUDIN: Now the conservatives are saying he's President Obama's favorite senator, favorite Republican senator. And so a lot of conservatives don't like Dick Lugar, even though he's been around for so long. He's seeking his seventh term.
I always thought of him as very conservative, but conservatives say that, you know, he voted for Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, he supports amnesty and the DREAM Act. He supports pro-choice judges. A lot of Tea Party folks are tired of him. And Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, has announced his candidacy yesterday, and he says that he has three-quarters of the state Republican county chairmen who are backing him against Dick Lugar.
And Lugar is not backing up. You know, Orrin Hatch may have a challenge from the right, and he's basically apologizing for all his votes. Dick Lugar is really very defiant and says: Look, bring it on. But I think you're really wrong on this challenge.
CONAN: In the meantime, in the race for president and the Republican nomination, the senator from South Dakota says: Maybe it's too Thune.
RUDIN: Too Thune, yes. Yes, that's very true. And I knew that joke was going to come up. But why not?
John Thune, who became this Republican hero when he knocked off the...
CONAN: The former majority leader...
RUDIN: Tom Daschle, Tom Daschle in 2004, and he was always headed for bigger and better things. But he's announced on his Facebook page, actually, that he would not run for president. And this might mean for the first time in decades that no sitting U.S. senator will be running for president, which is kind of unusual.
But, you know, Thune, other than the fact that he beat Tom Daschle, really hasn't done that much. And of course, he voted for the financial industry bailout, and a lot of Tea Party people say: Well, we could never support somebody like that for president with that kind of vote.
CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the top 10 American city, the last top 10 American city, to elect a former member of Congress as its mayor.
RUDIN: Prior to Rahm Emanuel in Chicago.
CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. Let's start with Bob(ph), Bob with us from Sacramento.
BOB (Caller): Yeah, I'll say Mayor Lindsay in New York.
CONAN: John Lindsay, John Vliet Lindsay from the silk stocking district.
RUDIN: John Lindsay, a good guess, a Republican. He was elected mayor of New York City in 1965. But that is not the correct answer.
CONAN: Nice try. Thanks very much. Let's go next to - this is Joe(ph), and Joe's with us from Norfolk in Virginia.
JOE (Caller): Yes, hi. Ed Koch in New York?
CONAN: Who succeeded John Lindsay.
RUDIN: He did. He succeeded John Lindsay - no, he didn't actually. Abe Beame succeeded....
CONAN: Met him in the silk stocking district.
RUDIN: In the Congress, right. Ed Koch was elected mayor of New York City in 1977, but that is not the correct answer, either.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go next - this is Rhodes(ph), and Rhodes is with us from Columbia, South Carolina.
RHODES (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
RHODES: Harold Washington from Chicago.
CONAN: As long as we're talking about Chicago today.
RUDIN: Well, Harold Washington is more correct than John Lindsay or Ed Koch. Harold Washington was elected mayor in Chicago, 1983, but not the correct answer.
RHODES: Ah, okay.
CONAN: Nice try. Let's go next to - this is Phil(ph), Phil with us from Greensboro, North Carolina.
PHIL (Caller): Good afternoon. I was guessing on Henry Cisneros out of San Antonio.
RUDIN: Well, Henry Cisneros was elected mayor of San Antonio, and that is among the top 10 cities, but he never served in Congress.
PHIL: Thank you.
CONAN: Good shot. Here's an email answer from Joel(ph) in Los Angeles, and he says: Steve Bartlett of Dallas.
RUDIN: Do we accept email answers?
CONAN: Of course we do.
RUDIN: Well, then, he's the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Steve Bartlett, Dallas, 1991.
CONAN: Steve Bartlett is the correct answer. So we've got your email address here, and we will send you the particulars on how you can send us a digital picture of yourself in exchange for a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt...
RUDIN: He should send us two pictures to make it a Bartlett pair.
(Soundbite of groan)
CONAN: ...to post on our Wall of Shame.
Anyway, moving right along, sort of a sad story. This is the congressman, Democratic congressman from Oregon, David Wu, who had some erratic behavior toward the end of the last election campaign and has now admitted that he's elected to enter mental health treatment.
RUDIN: This is very surprising. Erratic is the right word; weird behavior. David Wu was elected to his seventh term. He's a Democratic congressman from I guess Portland, the Portland area, in Oregon. And he's just done weird things.
He sent photographs of himself to staffers dressed in a tiger uniform.
CONAN: Indeed admitted to that on television.
Representative DAVID WU (Democrat, Oregon): You shouldn't ever send photographs of yourself in a Halloween costume.
CONAN: Political advice that I think will echo down the ages.
RUDIN: Well, I mean, I've done it, and look where it's gotten me. But also, a lot of staffers are nervous about it. They've quit since the election. And now he's acknowledged his own problems, yeah.
CONAN: And we've had - we mentioned that John Thune will not run for president on the Republican ticket. It was interesting. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, and last time a good candidate, a strong candidate...
RUDIN: Number two on the Republican side.
CONAN: For the Republican nomination, said: You know, nobody really wants to get out there too early. You don't want to be, I think, the first pony in the round-up or something like that.
RUDIN: Well it is - you know, we keep thinking it's starting earlier than ever. Actually, this year, this cycle is later than it was last time because people were announcing two years before. Now it's a year before, people are announcing.
But we have some debates coming up in the next month or two. Fox is doing one. MSNBC is doing one. And Huckabee says: Look, I'm just not ready to declare yet. So we have plenty of time for this.
So if he does run - and of course, you know, he has put on weight. So people are thinking, well, maybe he's not running, this is sign he's not running. But either way, he's probably not going to announce one way or the other until the early fall.
CONAN: Sarah Palin, who may or may not run, told a gathering in Long Island last week that, well, she may or may not run.
RUDIN: Well, yes, and she said that before. But what's interesting is that the people who do want Sarah Palin to run have been saying for the longest time: Get out there. Take questions from real people. Don't just do these staged events with Fox News or something on Facebook or Twitter.
And she got a new chief of staff in the last couple of days. So perhaps she - at least, if nothing else, she's becoming more cognizant of what's expected of her or hoped from her.
CONAN: And meantime, Harry Reid, of course the Senate majority leader who won a narrow race for re-election last November, said that maybe Nevada should ban prostitution.
RUDIN: Right. Basically, we should keep it in the halls of Congress.
CONAN: We're talking about the politics of the week with NPR political editor Ken Rudin, and when we come back, we're going to be talking about the budget battle. Our guest will be the new Republican mayor of Michigan. Rick Snyder will join us.
We want to hear from callers in Michigan. What are your questions about the budget battle? As the situation comes up, what sacrifices are you prepared to make? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington. Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, NPR's political editor, our Political Junkie. He writes and blogs and podcasts and creates those darn ScuttleButton puzzles. You can see them all at npr.org/junkie.
And it's another budget-crunching week in Washington, and in many state capitals as well. Michigan's new Republican governor, for one, faces nearly $2 billion in a projected deficit. He's called for shared sacrifice to plug that hole. Governor Rick Snyder will join us in just a moment.
We'd like to hear from those of you in Michigan. What would you be willing to give up to balance the state budget? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also chime in on our website. That's at npr.org. And click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And Ken Rudin, while we get Governor Snyder on the line, it's interesting - John Boehner, the leader of the House of - the speaker of the House of Representatives said: Well, our budget's coming up too, but we are not going to have a shutdown of the federal government.
RUDIN: That's what he says. Apparently he says that he's very aware of what Republicans went through in 1995, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich basically balked at working with the federal government, led by President Bill Clinton.
And you know, they could not get together on a budget. Gingrich basically dared the government to shut down, and the Republicans paid for it politically.
CONAN: And it's interesting. There would be a perhaps stop-gap continuing resolution. Speaker Boehner says it would include cuts. He didn't say how much in cuts, maybe not the 61 billion the House voted a couple weeks ago.
RUDIN: Right. And I mean, they passed the $61 billion, I guess it was last Saturday, and on the Senate side, Harry Reid says: Look, we'll negotiate when it's time, when you guys get real about reality here.
But obviously there's a March 4th deadline. If they don't come up with a compromise by then, then it's very possible the government shuts down. Most people are betting against it.
CONAN: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder joins us now by phone, and Governor Snyder, nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.
Governor RICK SNYDER (Republican, Michigan): It's great to be with you. Thank you.
CONAN: And you face $1.8 billion in a projected deficit. Michigan's not the worst off. It's certainly not the best either. What are you going to have to do to close that gap?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, we put out a package last week that addresses it. And not only did we do a budget package, but we did tax reform with it. And I - we're clearly doing the right thing. And this is something I think we need to do across the nation, as we change how we're doing our budgeting. We're doing it in a much more financially, fiscally sound way than what's been done in the past.
CONAN: More fiscally sound way. Specifically what do you mean by that?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, one of the things in particular we're doing is we're focusing on outcomes and results instead of simply funding streams. I call it value-for-money budgeting that gets to the point about showing real results for citizens, where we're putting out metrics and a dashboard of things to show that these dollars are actually moving the needle, as opposed to simply continuing traditional funding streams, is part of it.
The second piece of it is, is we're doing a two-year budget. We're doing a one-year legal budget, as required by our constitution, but we're showing a second year because that actually makes you be more thoughtful about planning for the longer term and simply - instead of simply a kick the can down the road bucket, where you may have accounting gimmicks or one-time funds.
And the third piece in particular is, instead of just taking a cash-in, cash-out approach, which is the traditional budget approach, at least in Michigan, is we went and looked at our past obligations - our debt, our retiree obligations. We totaled those up, and we're actually including in our budget a responsibility to make a payment towards bringing down those obligations.
CONAN: You cannot ignore the political situation that has erupted in a couple of states next door, in Wisconsin and in Ohio. How is your approach to the unions different, and how is it similar?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, we are working - going to work through the collective bargaining process, because we do ask for employee concessions in our budget, and they're not insignificant. But we have good labor relations in our state, and we're going to go through that process because we believe they're going to come to the table in a constructive, thoughtful way, and we're going to work through it.
But we do need to ask for people to make concessions. As I've told our citizens in the state, it's a shared-sacrifice model, where many of us have to make some sacrifice towards contributing to this deficit because by having a short-term sacrifice, by all of us taking a step back in the short term, it's really to set a foundation for Michigan's future, because Michigan is a state that's been suffering for over a decade.
And I'm excited about our future. By doing this, we really set the foundation for the reinvention of our state.
CONAN: Your GOP colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio said they need to cut back on union collective bargaining rights to level the playing field, not just at the state level but also for counties and cities, so that they can negotiate with their public employees. Does that not apply in Michigan?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, we do need to improve our practices. But again, I think we're taking a different approach on how we're going about it. In our budget, for example, on the issue of revenue-sharing for a number of our cities and jurisdictions, we didn't tell them what they had to do, but we cut the traditional funding stream out. In terms of simply saying we're writing you a check, we said no more.
But we put back in a pot available for these jurisdictions based on them achieving best practice. So we're creating a positive incentive to say: If you come in alignment and you show best practice, here's an opportunity to get those dollars.
And one of the things that - there are three categories included in best practice. One is improved accountability and transparency, having dashboards, having easier-to-understand financial guides.
The second one is the topic you're talking about, is reforming employee practices and compensation, particularly with respect to benefit costs. And the third area is actually encouraging service consolidation and service sharing between jurisdictions, because that's a much more efficient way to run our government, is to share, you know, costs between jurisdictions and be more cost-efficient.
CONAN: When you talk about retirement and those kinds of benefits, are you talking about dedicated amounts of contributions, as opposed to dedicated amounts of pensions?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, in Michigan we do need - at the state level we had already moved to a defined-contribution plan about a dozen years ago, which is a huge benefit in terms of both cost-planning, while at the same time providing for people's retirement.
We need to do that much more in our schools and our other jurisdictions, and that's one of those best-practice items we're encouraging people to do, is to say it is time to change plans over, to move from defined benefit to a 401(k) model.
RUDIN: Governor Snyder, thank you for coming on the program. You talked about shared sacrifice. The opponents to your budget proposal say that the people who are suffering the - paying the brunt of this are the poor, the disadvantaged, the elderly, and whereas corporations may not be paying as much. Is it fair to say it's a shared sacrifice?
Gov. SNYDER: Absolutely, because in many respects we looked at our tax code, and we're wiping out most of our tax credits and most of our loopholes in our tax code as part of this process, because my view is, is there is no real difference between that and an appropriation, and it's only fair we look at people that got some benefits through the tax code and say you're just like someone getting an appropriation. Let's look hard at these issues and clean the slate for the future.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We want callers from Michigan to suggest what they might be willing to sacrifice. 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Lisa is with us from DeWitt(ph) in Michigan.
LISA (Caller): Hi, Neal, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
LISA: Yes, I am in Michigan. My biggest concern when hearing some of the things that Governor Snyder had laid out is more cuts to school funding. And I know that the way our system is currently based, it's not working.
I for one, as a mother of four, would certainly be willing to see an increase in my - excuse me, my personal income tax if it meant not having such drastic cuts to school funding.
Gov. SNYDER: Yeah, in terms of school education finance, the K-12 level, we've talked about - about a five percent cut, about a half a billion dollar cut, which is about half the rate we're asking for other, or for the overall budget. So it is actually less than many other areas are going through.
And the second piece of that is when the K-12 issue came up, we actually had two recommendations for school districts to look at that would more than make up the cut we're suggesting. And those suggestions include, one, looking at employee medical insurance premiums, because in most of our districts they pay zero to 10 percent of the premium cost, and if we went to an 80-20 split to all our districts, that would essentially be a $300 million item. That would account for about 60 percent of the cut in terms of savings.
And the second item we suggested is a 10 percent improvement in non-instructional cost buying patterns. If they can improve their buying by 10 percent in non-instructional issues, that's another $300 million.
So we were constructive about this, saying we're cutting in the $500 million range, but here are just two suggestions, and there are more out there that would account for over $600 million in savings.
CONAN: But we have another email, this one from Michael Vieri(ph) in Grand Rapids: I have many friends and family members who would agree they'd rather see a five percent income tax rate up from 4.35 percent, rather than all the cuts. How about taxing the richest members of our state at a higher rate? I'm one of them. I don't mind paying even six percent.
Gov. SNYDER: Well, I'm not sure that would be a recommendation most of our taxpayers are coming up with, because most people think we're paying too much in tax.
And so we've got we're - overall package is about $200 million tax reduction. But it's making our system much fairer, simpler and efficient in terms of looking at those kind of items. And in fact, for people at the higher income levels, we're actually changing our tax code to phase out our exemptions and lower the point on our property tax exemptions. So it will be a net increase, in many respects, to people at the higher income levels.
CONAN: All right. Lisa, thanks very much for the call.
LISA: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Larry. Larry with us from Farmington Hills in Michigan.
Mr. LARRY BONNER(ph) (Caller): Hello. Governor Snyder?
Gov. SNYDER: Hi. How are you?
LARRY: Good. My name is Larry Bonner. I'm a retired teacher. I've been -taught for 36 years at the River Rouge School District, and I'm more than willing to have our pensions taxed in your proposal. But one of the things that I really hate to see go are the tax credit for the blossoming movie industry here in the state of Michigan.
CONAN: It's interesting, Larry. We got a tweet from that from Kevin, as well, who said ask Snyder if he's keeping the film tax incentives in Michigan.
LARRY: Yeah. Both my wife and I worked on that - as extras in that film "Real Steel," the Hugh Jackman film, that was filmed here in Michigan, in the Detroit area. And I have two sons, one's Washington D.C. I'd sure like him to move back to Michigan. And I have another one up in Grand Rapids and I'm afraid that if we lose those tax credits - I talked to crew member after crew member, extras when we were on the film sets of "Real Steel" and they say they're going to leave Michigan. They're going to leave Michigan and those - if the movie industry leaves - I just heard that "The Avengers" has canceled their plans to film in Michigan. And I'm afraid we're going to lose a lot of young people. I think it's an important industry, and I think there's recent a study that said Michigan is getting back...
CONAN: I suspect you're not talking about John Steed and Emma Peel but rather the Marvel set of heroes. But in any case, Governor Snyder, what about the film tax credit?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, the film tax credit was something that's been here for two or three years. It's a very expensive program in a relative sense. It's essentially - it's not just an incentive. It's writing filmmakers a check where we essentially pay 42 cents on the dollar of their cost in our state.
And it's one of those challenges to say we have an emerging industry. It has created some jobs and good things, but you have to look at the opportunity cost compared to what other programs are possible and how all that comes together that - we've got other programs such as Pure Michigan, which is our tourism program that's showing a fabulous return on investment.
Where the film credits, if you do the math - the recent study actually they've done, shows I believe it's about 18 cents on the dollar return for the investments we're making in the film credit program. At a cost of this current year, we've given out a couple of hundred million dollars of those credits.
So we're trying to ramp it down in some rational fashion so it can be sustainable so we would expect spending in 2012 of about a hundred million dollars and $50 million in fiscal 2013.
So it's just not cutting out totally but putting in some transition to say we need to wean off the credits and have it sustained on its own merits and hopefully that will take place.
CONAN: We're talking with Governor Rick Snyder of the state of Michigan. Of course, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
RUDIN: Governor, we've seen a lot of controversy going on in Wisconsin, with Governor Walker, and in Ohio, with Governor Kasich. And obviously, the philosophy a lot of philosophy plays here - basically that the states are broke and that tough choices have to be made.
What happens if they're right, philosophically, but they're wrong politically - in other words, the anger and the outburst gets so severe that four years later, you're all out of jobs?
Gov. SNYDER: Well, that's one of the challenges, and that's why, I think, we're charting a somewhat different path in the sense of we're all trying to be fiscally responsible. One of the things in our state that I said on the campaign trail I'm trying to follow through with, is we need to improve our culture in the state about how we work with another.
Our history in Michigan has been too divisive, where we had too much conflict, too much rhetoric without enough action. So one of the things I'm communicating to people is instead of going to situations where you create divisiveness, I'm going to the common ground to say what are those areas that we can win together and be successful together on. And that's very much the concept of shared sacrifice in the tax and budget package we're putting forward.
We're being extremely responsible. I believe we'll be a role model for the country, from a tax and budget side, with what we're doing and building a good long-term foundation. And I believe we can do that without, hopefully, getting to the point of conflict. Actually, I believe we're going to, hopefully, create a culture where people are working better together.
CONAN: Let's go next to Matt. Matt with us from Detroit.
MATT (Caller): Yes. You know, I was thinking about what if we did away with all of the convenience expenditures that the government does, as far as open space parks and trailheads and stuff that go out into the middle of fields and nowhere, you know, I mean, that takes money for, you know, the concrete to lay and, you know, the wages for those people. I mean, all these little convenience things that tend to make the landscape pretty or, however, you decide to think about it, you know, that's just convenience stuff. That doesn't need to be done. You know, there's a difference between needs and wants.
Gov. SNYDER: Well, it's important. I believe we're not being as efficient as we can beyond our government. There's room for improvement. At the same time on some the things you talked about - one of the - the two key things I'm really focused on are job creation. We need to create more and better jobs in our state. We've lost a million jobs over the last decade.
The other thing is quality of place and quality of life. This is a fabulous state to live in. I mean, we're a recreational person's dream, and we really want to encourage that. So it's that balancing act to understand that. It's both about government being very efficient in terms of cost and at the same time creating an environment where people can have a great lifestyle, which we have in the state. We just don't do a very good job of telling the rest of the country. So that's why it's great talking on this show.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MATT: Thank you.
CONAN: Matt, thanks very much for the call. A kind word from Melissa in Farmington Hills. As a recent college graduate who was able to find a job in Michigan, I want to thank you for the bold steps you've taken to make Michigan a more fiscally sound state.
But this email from Harry in Lansing. Have you taken into account the revenue projections for taxing IRA and pension benefits in the likelihood that many retirees will choose to leave the state. As one who's eligible to retire in 10 years, I would not likely stay where I would pay over 2,000 a year in taxes on a fixed-income when there are many other retire-friendly states.
Gov. SNYDER: Yeah. One of the issues is we're cleaning up our tax code to make it simpler, fairer and more efficient. And one of the challenges - one of the tough calls is to say our pensions and our state should be subject to tax. We're only one of four states that have an income tax that don't tax pensions.
And it's one of those questions to say, is that really the right answer in the long term? And so we're moving to a system we're proposing to include those numbers because if you think about it, we have a lot of seniors that are out there having to work still and earn wages, and they're paying tax.
And the other thing is we have a lot of young families because we have a lot of seniors that want to keep their kids in Michigan and want to see their families grow here. And we've had a lot of our young people leave, and we don't want to create an environment where we're having to tax younger people more to help support our senior population because they're not contributing tax. And one of the really important things...
Gov. SNYDER: ...I hope all the seniors look at...
CONAN: Very quickly.
Gov. SNYDER: ...is we're a separate tax system so we're not including Social Security in the Michigan tax base. So Social Security is not taxed in Michigan, which is a big benefit compared to other states.
CONAN: Governor Snyder, thanks very much. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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