"We have no money," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said. "That's the problem."
The governor stressed that point to the crowd of 50 gathered at Pattengill Middle School in Lansing. She invited half of them; WILX-TV invited the other half.
Granholm discussed her solutions to get the state more money, including a two percent sales tax on services.
"This is your state," she said. "What are you willing to help contribute?"
The governor also talked about her cuts, including cuts to corrections that mean closing prisons and releasing prisoners.
"It's just very unnerving I think for many of us in law enforcement," Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley said. "It's obviously difficult to get people in prison in the first place."
The chief told the governor he nonetheless had confidence in the decision; Granholm emphasized that the prisoners to be released would be almost entirely nonviolent offenders.
"We're identifying the inmates we can release and have confidence that they are not likely to be a danger to society," she said.
As far as the 400-plus jobs lost in at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility in Jackson County, Granholm says there are roughly 200 openings at other Jackson County facilities for those workers. Thanks to the department's termporary hiring freeze, there are also others open around the state.
For their part, Republicans told the crowd more cuts should be made rather than raising taxes.
"There are so many things we are doing that we don't need to do," State Rep. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) said.
Jones pointed to a redevelopment plan for downtown Lansing, but he and fellow Republican State Sen. Valde Garcia didn't identify other cuts.
Lauren Suarez, a student at Lansing Everett High School, asked why some schools in the state get more than others. The governor says the state could fix that, although it would cost even more than her two cent sales tax would bring in.
Businesses also took part in the forum. Dale Smith of Prestige Aircraft wants more specific traning for the next generation of workers.
"Right now we're struggling to find trainable people," Smith said.
The governor says it's something that could be helped by a new "Middle Colleges" plan to offer five-year high school diplomas that include specific job tranining.
The governor was also asked about recent decisions by Pfizer and Comerica to cut jobs in the state.
Granholm says she's learned a lesson from the startling announcements.
"If we focus only on big companies ... it's not a wise strategy," she said.
And what's a wiser strategy in her view? Luring and developing lots of smaller businesses, the governor says, is the way to employ Michigan's next generation.