The Michigan Economic Development Corporation just can't stop bragging about showering the gypsy caravans from Hollywood with taxpayer dollars. For third time in the past couple of weeks, the MEDC have announced another film tax credit boondoggle. This time it's a $2.8 million check from the taxpayers for the production of the movie Freaky Deaky in Motown (you know that corpse of a city that was once was the fifth largest metropolis in the United States and the center of the automaking world).
As noted below, it is lunacy for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to rain $40 million of taxpayer cash on Walt Disney Studios. This "bargain" is costing the taxpayers over $155K for each job that Disney projects will be created by its production of the film Oz here in Michigan. This doesn't include all of the other tax subsidies, credits, and breaks -- up to $120 million -- showered upon Raleigh Michigan Studios, which is being built in Pontiac for the production of the Disney film.
The government using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers instead of the marketplace is a dubious proposition at best. But even an advocate of this sort of policy can see that the Michigan film tax credit is Loony Tunes. The public cost has no bearing whatsoever to the public interest. Compare the largesse Disney and Raleigh are receiving to other tax deals the state his given to companies establishing a permanent facility and jobs in Michigan. This highlights the bureaucratic insanity of welfare for film-makers.
When the taxpayers are subsidizing Disney to make a movie, you know Michigan film-making tax subsidy is lunacy. From the River City Zek ...
Today the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the people who decide which businesses get your tax dollars, proudly announced that they have forked over to Walt Disney Studios a $40 million tax subsidy to make a movie, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, at a new studio in Pontiac. On top of that the MEDC has given the owner of the studio, an outift doing business as Raleigh Michigan Studios, $20 million in tax incentives and Renaissance Zone tax breaks plus up to $100 million in state business tax credits over the next several years.
Cure Michigan is the non-profit organization promoting the November ballot proposal to legalize the embryonic stem cell research. The group has started running television promising to mercilessly reveal the "lies" of those opposed to killing embryonic human beings to harvest their stem cells. Bridget, our editor, thought this would be a good time to remind everyone of the fraudulent origins of Cure Michigan that we had reported in July.
P.S. Nick DeLeeuw reports that Big Sister's proposal has gotten enough petition signatures to put on this November's statewide ballot. Now we'll see in a few months' time whether obfuscations, lies, and utilitarianism hold greater sway with the voters than commonsense, truth, and respect for human dignity.
The indefatigable Nick DeLeeuw of RightMichigan.com has done an excellent job on reporting this bit of corruption called Reform Michigan Government Now. Check out his most recent series of articles on this murky group's attempt to dilute the vote and influence of ordinary Michiganders by consolidating the state's political power into the hands of fewer entrenched incumbents:
Reform Michigan Government Now, a cryptic group with unknown sources of financing (here and here), is collecting voter signatures to put a series of constitutional amendments on the November ballot. These amendments would reduce the number of state officeholders and cut their pay. To succeed, Reform Michigan must get 371,000 signatures on its petition by July 7th. That would appear to be a hurdle the group cannot clear, and so these proposed amendments are likely a dead letter. That's just as well.
There are two reasons Michiganders should oppose the Reform Michigan amendments.
Now that it looks like a re-do of the Michigan Democratic presidential primary is in the dustbin, it's time to sort through this mess.
There's been a lot of huffing and puffing over how the national Republican and (especially) Democratic parties "disenfranchised" Michigan presidential primary voters. Of course, the state, not national, party organizations have themselves to blame. The national organizations laid down the rules on scheduling primaries. They permitted only a few states to hold primaries or caucuses ahead of "Super Tuesday" on February 5th. They clearly warned the state organizations that holding an early primary would result in some or even all of the selected delegates not being seated at this summer's presidential conventions.
Nevertheless, Michigan Republicans and Democrats blundered forward with an early primary in plain violation of the national party rules -- and now are paying the price for it. Because the Republican presidential nominee is a settled matter, no one on that side of the aisle cares anymore. However, the Democrats still have a tight race for the nomination, and so Michigan delegates now might matter if they are seated. Thus, the sound and fury during the past few weeks about the Democratic national party "disenfranchising" Michigan voters if either the national party doesn't seat the delegates chosen in the renegade primary or the voters don't get another primary to chose again.
The first big piece of clutter to clear out of the way is that voters have NO constitutional right to choose a political party's nominee for public office. Political parties can pick their nominees any way they want, whether it's a primary, a caucus, a convention, or a smoke-filled room. Whether or not it is savvy, reasonable, or fair for a political party to use one method instead of another is not the point. The First Amendment freedom of association is. So, the Republican and Democratic national parties can dictate any rules they deem fit for determining who their presidential nominees will be. If they want to exercise control over the primary calendar (which, in light of how the Democratic contest is playing out, trying to prevent a front-loaded calendar seems not to have been such a bad idea), they can do so.
And if they want to penalize state parties that violate that schedule, they can do so. It should be clear to everyone by now that this is a hard fact of life. The courts have repeatedly refused to get into this mess, because they know they have no jurisdiction over the matter. So why all the hullabaloo directed at the national parties? Why aren't we thoroughly ticked off with the Michigan Republicans and Democrats who took our tax dollars to hold presidential primaries to chose delegates who would not be seated at the summer conventions? They are the ones who took $10 million from taxpayer wallets to hold a meaningless event -- indeed, an event they knew was meaningless at the time.
In fact, why do the taxpayers even pay for political party contests in the first place? How is it that we are obliged to subsidize the nomination process of the Republican and Democratic parties over which, by their First Amendment rights, we have no control? Primaries might well be a good way for parties to select their nominees, but let them and not the taxpayers pay for it. Meanwhile, keep in mind those state pols who blew your money on a pointless presidential primary the next time he or she is trolling for your vote.
Today Guv Jen gives her sixth State of the State address. One of the misbegotten notions she will be peddling is that getting more kids into college will help to reverse Michigan's economic decline. To that end, according to the Grand Rapids Press, she will pitch a new $300 million taxpayer fund to replace "industrial-model" high schools with those offering study "relevant to the real world". That relevance is essentially college prep, as explained by Governor Granholm's education advisor Chuck Wilbur: "[She] believes that to diversify Michigan's economy and create jobs, we have to transform our schools so that every Michigan student can attend a high school that prepares them for success in college and in the workplace."
To say the least, that puts the cart before the horse when it comes to building new businesses. Exactly how pushing more and more kids into college to get degrees for jobs that don't exist in Michigan, because the businesses that would provide those jobs don't exist in Michigan, will make those businesses suddenly appear in Michigan is not clear. Granted, companies occasionally move into areas to take advantage of workforces that have characteristics well-suited to their requirements, but it is hardly the rule for the formation of new businesses. And to the extent that it does happen, it is because that area has a well-established reputation for a particular type of workforce, which is acquired over a period of decades not a few years.
So Granholm's new education program isn't going to turn around the Michigan economy. What it would do is exacerbate the trend of spreading out what students used to learn in twelve years over sixteen or more years now. Plus it would further gut vocational training at the high school level, shoving it off to tuition-greedy colleges more than happy to sell degrees for what had been learned through apprenticeships and OJT, and then putting our public high schools at the service of colleges as student prep factories for them.
There is no argument that college is the right path for a genuine liberal education or for training in a true profession (e.g., medicine or the law). However, a college degree is fool's gold for those looking for jobs in sales, teaching, journalism, business management, and the myriad of other careers that have become ersatz professions because colleges have successfully persuaded students, parents, and employers that a prospective employee is not qualified without that degree. The end result is that most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan. On top of all this, college-level training teaches kids even less than what they used to learn through high school vocational classes, apprenticeships, and job experience.
We are faced with serious, fundamental problems in education today. Huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are wasted to provide educrats with sinecures who in return have wrecked the education of our children at all levels. An excellent study by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy on how this has happened in higher education by the overselling of college is available here. (Thanks to the Maverick Philosopher for posting on this interesting paper.)
Mitch Albom, the talented sports columnist and author, spoke before the Michigan State Senate on Tuesday to exhort our solons to get off the dime and double the special tax breaks the state is already handing out to filmmakers. According to the Detroit Free Press, the celebrity columnist told the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee, "This is a booming, growing business, [and] there is a simple way for us to get into it. Incentives will do it." Specifically, he advised the senate to increase the special tax cut for production companies filming in Michigan from 20% to 40%.
No doubt we can be sure that Albom knows of what he speaks. He certainly must be drawing upon a well of expertise in government fiscal policy and the filmmaking industry. Certainly our senators didn't invite him to testify and then eagerly promise him quick action just because Mitch is a native son who is now a bigshot celebrity. Right?
The real issue that our lawmakers should be considering is not whether Michiganders should give filmmakers an even bigger subsidy, but why are we giving them any subsidy at all? If excessive taxation is stifling the growth of the filmmaking industry in Michigan, then it's stifling the growth of business in general. If cutting taxes for one industry makes sense to get more of it in Michigan, then cut taxes across the board to get all businesses booming in the Winter-Water-Wonderland. Yes, taxes need to be cut, but not as special favors for some and nothing at all for most.
Besides, what great boon would filmmaking bring to Michigan? How much wealth would it create in this state? How many jobs would be added? How many tax dollars would be put in the public coffers? It would be one thing if Michigan became a new hub for the filmmaking industry, instead of merely accommodating itinerant production companies, but then tax breaks aren't going to drive that development. The fundamentals of what that industry needs to thrive would. Either it makes sound business sense to make movies and t.v. programs in Michigan or it doesn't -- and taxation and regulation are just one part of that calculus for filmmakers.
Like the bio-tech boondoogle, we shouldn't let the politicians bet our tax dollars on the latest fancy in economic development. What we should demand of our politicians are policies that get the state and local governments out of the way of businessmen who want to grow businesses and industries that are naturally suited to the many advantages that Michigan offers. (And those advantages are big ones, which is why our state has been able to carry such a heavy tax and regulatory burden -- but only for so long as the current economic distress demonstrates.) We don't need them picking which businesses and industries do and do not get the largesse of our tax dollars, especially when they rely upon the advice of such "experts" as Mitch Albom.
As many of you now know, State Representative Michael Sak (D-Grand Rapids) made a fool out of himself a month ago at the National Governors Association conference up in Traverse City. It appears that Rep. Sak got liquored up and stumbling drunk, even bumping into a bus once or twice, at the Grand Traverse Resort. He then tried to bully a state trooper into giving him a ride to his hotel room by telling the cop that he serves on the appropriations committee and so owes his job to him.
Well, there's something to be said for in vino veritas, and so the obnoxious behavior Sak displayed in the absence of sober restraints doesn't speak well of him. Moreover, whether a happy drunk or an angry drunk, a 47-year-old man who is the speaker pro-tem of the House has no excuse for being a public drunk. Of course, many Republicans are calling for Sak's head. Well, no surprise there. But maybe this is a matter best left for the Democratic leadership and ultimately the voters.
After all, the state trooper was not intimidated by Sak and properly reported the matter to his superiors. So, no harm, no foul. Sak apologized and took full responsibility for his actions (even if he obfuscated that by spinning his demands to the trooper as a thumb's up to the state police and later made the trite promise to seek "help" for his drinking problem, as though the devil was in the drink and not himself). And finally House speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford) did boot Sak from the appropriations committee for the time being.
Let it end there and leave it to the voters come November 2008 should Sak decided to run for office again.
Here comes a time when regardless of which side you stand, left or right; you must take a step back and look at the big picture of the Michigan budget. Senate Majority Leader, Broken record Bishop continues to propose more and more cuts – none of which affect his lifestyle or the lifestyles of the wealthiest. Instead, his cuts proposals dig deeper in to the poorest of our citizenry. Cuts like:
* More money in the classroom through education reforms.
* Labor and wage concessions from public employees or on public projects when Michigan's unemployment rate exceeds the national rate by more than 20 percent.
* Cost reductions in the three main budget areas growing the most and representing more than 60 percent of the total budget. (Corrections, Medicaid, and Human Services).
The idea of more money in the classroom sounds great. But will it be at the expense of classroom sizes and a reduction of teachers, or will it be from a reduction in teacher pay and benefits? Bishop doesn’t really go in to that little detail. He just leaves it at the catch-all ‘reform’.
Labor and wage concessions from public employees. Now I ask you, the reader. How would you feel if your employer or clients decided that YOU make too much money for the hard work that you do? After you have budgeted your income for yourself and your family; it would be just fine and dandy for you to simply, do with less”? Would you just shrug your shoulders and accept this wage cut? The constant call for wage cuts and concessions equates to a form of coercion. Employees either concede to wage and benefit cuts, or will be threatened with the cutting of the jobs all together. The employee has the choice to either lose their job, or take the wage cuts. Put yourself in their situation.. how would you feel? Just because we are talking about state employees doesn’t make them or their families any different that you and your family.
Bishop and company really go aloof in the call for cuts in Medicaid, and Human Services. Nearly everyone agrees that we need reform and cuts in the Corrections department. However, advocating for cuts in Medicaid and Human Services is going to hurt those who need the help of others the most. Cuts in these departments will harm seniors and children the most.
The constant charge for more and more and more and more cuts is getting tedious. Bishop’s all-out fear of a tax increase is beginning to reach the extreme Grover Norquist level. Nearly every economist who has studied Michigan’s economy has agreed that a mix of both cuts and a tax increase are needed to bring Michigan back to prosperity. Knowing this… we need to find that new tax. The cuts have already been made time and time again.
If Bishop and company do not like Granholm’s tax proposal… let them come up with the new tax or tax increase… on top of the previously made cuts. They are wasting valuable time by politicking and stalling trying to come up with more and more cuts when they know that the “Revenue enhancement” is also needed to bring our budget and our state back to where it needs to be.
Following hot on the heels of the action in the Senate last week, the continued intransigence of the House and the way Governor Granholm became completely unhinged there’s been more and more discussion about just what exactly we CAN cut and just what exactly we CAN reform in Lansing to make sure these budget deficits don’t happen in the future and more importantly, to prevent the radical left from picking our pockets and robbing us blind.
Last week at RightMichigan.com we broke the story and were the first to unveil the Senate GOP reform lists. This generated some talk in the MSM. Gongwer referenced Right Michigan and MIRS talked about the lists as well.
But more than that it generated some discussion on the site and about three metric tons worth of email about other potential savings that didn’t make the Senate list. We’ve gone over most of the savings that are out there thirty or forty times but it’s always been piecemeal. A reform here, a chance for savings there. I figure it’s about time to get them all collected so bloggers, lurkers, readers, voters, residents, citizens, taxpayers, families, legislators, local elected officials and anyone else I may have missed can see the enormity of the potential for real savings in Lansing.
All of that said, this list is certainly NOT exhaustive. If there’s anything I’ve clearly and obviously missed post it after the story and we’ll keep the list growing. Any other ideas? Let everyone know!
So without further ado, potential savings and reforms to state government that will balance the budget without job-killing tax increases include:
Reform eligibility and work requirements in welfare to be more in line with our surrounding states and the national average: est. annual savings of $30 million.
Limit welfare to 2 years for able-bodied adults.
Medicaid reform: est. annual savings of $60 million.
Prison reforms (aside from employee wage concessions): est. annual savings of $200 million from targeted privatization and reforms to address recidivism.
Tether all 65 year old non-violent prisoners and put them out on probation.
Tether non-violent criminals and charge them to be out on a tether.
Seek wage concessions in corrections to bring us inline with the national average instead of releasing felons: est. annual savings $150 million.
Senate GOP Public employee healthcare and retirement reform: est. annual savings of $220 million.
Privatize the public employee pensions: cash out pension fund and change them to a 401K.
Define contribution for all state employees/teachers.
Change healthcare benefits for state employees 65 years old over to Medicare. </strong>
Consolidate Departments- HAL/DIT/DNR/DEQ: est. annual savings $3 million if consolidated.
Suspend state worker raises for `08: est. savings $109 million.
Agree to suspend prevailing wage on all public projects when our unemployment rate exceeds 20% of the national average: est. savings of $150 million.
Cut executive travel expenses: est. savings $11 million.
Eliminating barriers to consolidation (SB 550 & 551, Sen. Garcia): Clarifies statutes to provide that when local units of government choose to consolidate or transfer services that the highest wage and benefit package of the two units does not have to be paid.
PA 312 Reforms (Language being drafted):
--Adhering to time limits for the arbitration and awards process.
--Requiring that the timing of the presentation of the last best offer be moved to the beginning of the process to limit the number of items arbitrated and to facilitate faster resolution.
--Increasing the number and quality of arbitrators through training and a more refined selection process.
--Clarifying what constitutes a local units' "ability to pay".
-- Sell some or all of the state lottery: $750 million.
-- Cut legislative pay 5% (or more).
-- Cut public employee salaries 1% for those under $50K, 2% for those under $100K and 4% for those over $100K.
-- Remove or loosen the cap on Charter Schools to bring private dollars into the education system and force traditional public schools to “sharpen their pencils.”
-- Separate research from general support for Universities.
-- Change the funding mechanism for Universities to per-pupil funding like in K-12.
-- Privatize non-instructional school services.
-- Attract new jobs by passing Right-to-Work legislation.
-- Shovel ready permitting: State, county, local unit permits pre-approved.
-- Consider selling sponsorship rights for public schools to local businesses.
-- Cancel plans to waste $5 million on a new State Police HQ and instead continue to lease property on the MSU campus for $1 a year.
-- Eliminate the Office of the First Gentleman: Savings of $250,000 a year.
-- Reign in state contracts: All told information and technology contracts alone have ballooned by over $1.67 BILLION.
-- Prohibit the state from spending money to Savings of at least $1.35 million annually (based on 2006 numbers).
-- Prohibit union officials from drawing a salary from the taxpayers for doing union business.
-- Part-time legislature with part-time salaries.
-- Reduce legislative staff (The legislators earn enough money to pitch in and help answer constituent requests).
-- Freeze or reduce salaries for legislative staff.
-- Increase health care contribution from legislators and legislative staff.
-- Implement Medicaid Estate Recovery program.
Fresh thinking, eh? Many of these ideas I like quite a lot. Note, if you will, that nowhere on the list is a single dollar being cut from K-12 funding nor are the old and infirm being cut from Medicare or Medicaid, insuring that the state won’t cause “people to die.”
Please add any changes, savings or reforms that are missing in the comments section. And the next time someone tells you the state absolutely MUST have more cash and that tax hikes are the right thing to do, dig out this list and illuminate things for them.
"We are facing a budget shortfall this current fiscal year in excess of $500 million and next year's is in excess of $3 billion. Bottom line: We have a lot of work to do...
"We did this in anticipation of the looming budget crisis and the need for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work immediately."
Speaker Dillon, Journal of the House, Jan. 10, 2007, pgs. 22-23
That was the word from Democrat House Speaker Andy Dillon five months before his chamber decided to take a five-day weekend on Mackinac Island, with the state’s future tax structure and a $2 billion budget whole for FY2008 sitting on the books.
As folks return to work in Lansing this Tuesday, rested and refreshed, no doubt, they still need to roll up their sleeves to get to work. So let’s start by examining exactly where we stand.
The FY2007 budget deficit, somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 million, has finally been resolved. Good news and bad news. Custom dictates we examine the bad news first…
Only a small portion, somewhere around 25%, give or take, of the “savings” represents actual cuts to government spending. The balance was achieved through selling off tobacco settlement dollars and delaying payments to universities. Basically they cooked the books. The “fix” wasn’t a solution so much as a stop-gap. And what it took to achieve what they did… the GOP in the Senate has agreed to allow a vote on a tax increase in 2008, a sign many conservatives have taken as a sign of wobbly knees.
The good news? When you only have a couple months before the end of a fiscal year you’re not going to be able to make a lot of cuts, period. The money is almost all gone at that point. So the fact the Senate GOP was able to make any cuts at all is a good thing. Even better, while the governor ran around the state claiming she was going to be forced to kill people through Medicaid cuts (her words) and close our kids’ schools (her state superintendent’s words) through draconian school aid cuts if the GOP didn’t kneel at the alter of Baal-Granholm, dark-goddess of the tax increase, renounce their faith in fiscal restraint and embrace a $1.8 billion tax increase, they thumbed their noses at the dollar-bill-green idol and prevented a single pennies worth of said cuts with nary a sign of a tax increase.
What next? To paraphrase my favorite Tolkein hero, the battle of 07 is finished but the battle for Michigan is about to begin.
First on the docket is a replacement for the dreaded and finally dead Single Business Tax. The Senate has their BEST plan which small and medium sized businesses like and the House has their MBT which major manufacturers like the Big 3 think is pretty groovy. Word out of Lansing is that they’re down to one issue, one sticking point in negotiations. In other words, they’re close. The Senate GOP has even gone along to get along on this one and backed off their initial insistence that the replacement represent a $300 million net tax cut for Michigan businesses. Instead, pursuant to the wants and dreams and hopes of every tax-and-spender in the state any SBT replacement will be 100% revenue neutral.
Good for the bargaining process, bad for Michigan’s economic recovery.
But the real danger on the horizon rests in the FY2008 budget deficit. It’s shaping up to be in the neighborhood of $2 billion. For those of you who have a hard time wrapping your mind around big numbers, that’s enough money to buy 200,000,000,000 penny tootsie rolls at the drug store counter. Wait, that’s another big number. And do they still sell penny tootsie rolls? But I digress.
How are they looking at fixing this new mess? The Governor and the House are openly advocating for a $2 billion increase in the state’s income tax, a move that’s sure to send investors, job makers, entrepreneurs and families with options scurrying even faster towards the border. And the House has the votes to pass any sort of destructive tax hike scheme the governor can cook up (though they never did grant her a vote on that ridiculous, campaign pledge violating “two-penny” service tax plan).
The Senate GOP majority appears, for their part, to be looking at a series of serious reforms. You can expect the Dems to try to co-opt a few of these so they can paint themselves as serious reformers. And you can expect their friends in the press to play right along and give them credit for trying to reign in government spending. Ideas being bandied about in Republican circles include:
*Privatizing the housing / care of 5% of the state’s prison population, a move that could save the state nearly $200 million a year, according to a study by the Rio Grande Foundation.
*Eliminating the MEA’s monopoly on teacher health insurance, a move that could save the state as much as $400 million.
*Preventing state employees from drawing a paycheck and a pension at the same time.
*Eliminating the Office of the First Gentleman, saving a quarter of a million dollars annually.
*Asking state employees making over $100,000 a year to take a 4% pay cut, again, saving millions.
And that’s the short list.
The real worry is that for every item on that list the Democrats grant lip service they’ll try to exact a toll from House and Senate Republicans to the tune of YES votes for tax increases. GOP members in both chambers are likely never to face a period of greater pressure. They’re going to be tested. How will they hold up? That remains to be seen. But you’d better believe we’ll be providing as much positive… uh… hmm… encouragement (yeah, that’s the word) as we possibly can to potential turn coats like Ron Jelenik and Valde Garcia and Dick Ball and Mike Nofs and Ed Gaffney.
It’s one thing to have your Democrats taking shots at Michigan’s future. It’s another thing entirely when “our own” elected officials stab us in the back.
However you slice it, it’s going to be an interesting summer in Lansing.
A reader reminded us of this story from last week. As you may recall from the news, in the face of a nearly $700 million shortfall in the state government's budget, Democrats in the state House of Representatives were pushing for a $38 million spending increase for public schools to "promote educational technology", whatever that might mean. Fortunately, State Rep. Matt Gillard, Democrat from Alpena and the new chairman of the House subcommittee for K-12 spending, told us: An iPod for every student. For those behind the tech curve, an iPod is a hand-held electronic device that plays digitally recorded music. Allegedly it can also do things like displaying documents kids might use in their schoolwork.
Well, beyond denying children the pleasure of the aroma of freshly mimeographed hand-outs by electronically transmitting documents to them instead, there is the dubious prospect that iPods would be used for anything so useful as schoolwork. (Yes, I know laser copiers replaced mimeograph machines long ago. But my point stands.) After all, paper hand-outs can only be replaced by electronic transmission once every student in a class always has his or her iPod available. How often will that happen, especially in the zoos that pass for schools in many districts these days? Furthermore, the case has yet to be made that calculators, laptops, and iPods do anything to improve education over blackboards, chalk, pen, and paper.
In fact, it would seem obvious that buying an iPod for every student is such a dumb idea, especially during a severe budget crunch, one wonders why Gillard and his colleagues, House Speaker Andy Dillon, Democrat from Redford Township, and State Rep. Tim Melton, Democrat from Auburn Hills, were thumping for this expenditure. Well, folks, as it happened Apple Inc., the manufacturer of the iPod, gave Gillard, Dillon, and Melton a free trip out to its headquarters in California last month. Lo and behold, upon returning home to the Winter-Water-Wonderland, the three amigos suddenly thought an iPod for every K-12 public school student was a nifty idea.
So much for politicians having political savvy, because Gillard, Dillon, and Melton reaped the whirlwind of public disgust with such a transparent and venal quid-pro-quo. By the end of last week, Gillard axed the iPod proposal, and he and his comrades each reimbursed Apple $1,700 for the cost of the junket. (Hey, don't think the Democrats are the only ones with their hands out for corporate goodies. Apple paid over nine grand to entertain five Republican House members at its California headquarters a few years back when they were trying to get the contract to supply laptops to sixth graders. In the end the Republicans stiffed Apple and went with Hewlett-Packard instead.)
Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent for public schools, was dismayed by the debacle. He argued that the $38 million was an important expenditure, not to buy iPods but to get up and running the "21st Century Learning Environments" program. Hmm. Why is that not reassuring? At least the iPods would have been real hardware. A "learning environments" program sounds a lot like a toilet flushing, except that good money instead of a lot of crap disappears. So maybe we should thank Gillard, Dillon, and Melton for their poorly concealed horse-trading. It may have gone a long way to souring everyone on a $38 million expenditure that would have been a boondoggle however the money was spent to "promote educational technology".
Today the Local Area Watch gets to report a success story. Grattan Township resident Ed Hawks and a group of his neighbors, after a long battle, finally got the State of Michigan to hold Earth Tech Inc. responsible for the spilling of sewage into Big Crooked and Murray Lakes.
A couple of years ago Hawks and his neighbors discovered sewage in those lakes. Upon investigation they learned that it was the result of electrical failures at two of Grattan Township's sewer lift stations. The township had recently replaced the management of its sewer system by Kent County with the private contractor Earth Tech. When the concerned township residents initially tried to get to the bottom of this failure, they encountered resistance from both Earth Tech and the township officials.
Earth Tech was uncooperative because it was their electrician who had done faulty electrical work at the lift stations without plans, permits, or inspections. That screw-up caused the sewage spills into Big Crooked and Murray Lakes, and Earth Tech did not want to own up to it. Township officials dragged their feet at first, because they were the ones who had decided to replace the county with Earth Tech. They were reluctant to admit that they might have made a mistake.
However, a subsequent sewage spill resulting from another electrical failure at a lift station began to break this official resistance to taking effective action. Hawks and his neighbors managed to get the State of Michigan to take interest in what was happening, and township officials became responsive. Starting in the summer of 2005, the state's Office of Local Government & Consumer Services headed up a series of conferences to collect the facts of what happened and get Earth Tech's explanation for the failures of the lift stations. At the end of the process, the state concluded that Earth Tech's faulty and undocumented electrical work on the lift station was the cause of the sewage spills.
Therefore, on October 6, 2006, the Michigan Bureau of Construction Codes & Fire Safety ordered Earth Tech to reimburse Grattan Township $45,691.47 for faulty electrical work, pay the township another $5,000 for code enforcement costs, and pay a civil fine of $10,000 to the State of Michigan. [Editor's note: The $45,691.47 figure was originally reported as $5,691.47. See the comment section for additional information.] Furthermore, the Earth Tech employee responsible for the faulty electrical work had to surrender his electrical contractor license. Failure to comply with this order by December 5, 2006, will result in revocation of Earth Tech's electrical contractor license.
Congratulations to these concerned citizens of Grattan Township who made a difference.
Meanwhile, residents and taxpayers of Grand Rapids, remember who Big Sister, a.k.a. Mayor George Heartwell, is paying $150,000+ a year to keep his pal Corky Overmeyer on the payroll to manage the city's "environmental sustainability". That's right, those sewage spillers Earth Tech!
On November 7th Michiganders will vote on five different statewide proposals. Click here for the official language of these proposals at the State of Michigan website. Below is our summary.
PROPOSAL 1: A proposed constitutional amendment to require that money held in conservation and recreation funds can only be used for their intended purposes. That means user fees for state parks and campgrounds, registration fees for snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, and boats, license fees for hunting and fishing, and other related taxes must only be spent for specific purposes related to conservation and recreation. Neither the legislature nor the governor can expend these funds for any other purpose.
A "yes" vote restricts these funds to conservation and recreational spending.
A "no" vote allows the state government to spend these funds for any purpose.
PROPOSAL 2: A proposed constitutional amendment to ban programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based upon race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin for public employment, education, or contracting purposes. That means public bodies, such as the state government, city governments, public universities, community colleges, and school districts, cannot take a person's race or gender into consideration -- either favorably or unfavorably -- in hiring, enrollment, or contracting. The proposal would not affect the affirmative action policies of private businesses and organizations.
A "yes" vote ends racial and gender preference policies of public bodies.
A "no" vote allows such preference policies to continue.
PROPOSAL 3: A referendum to enact a statute allowing a hunting season for mourning doves. That means the Natural Resources Commission will be authorized to establish a dove hunting season that requires a small game license with a $2.00 mourning dove stamp. Stamp revenues must be split evenly between the Game & Fish Protection Fund and the Fish & Wildlife Trust Fund.
A "yes" vote allows the hunting of mourning doves.
A "no" vote prohibits the hunting of mourning doves.
PROPOSAL 4: A proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit state and local governments from taking private property by eminent domain for private purposes. That means the government will be forbidden to seize private property to transfer to another private individual or business for the purposes of economic development or increasing tax revenues. It will also mandate that if the government seizes private property for a public use, the government must pay the owner 125% of the property's fair market value.
A "yes" vote prohibits the government's use of eminent domain for private economic development.
A "no" vote allows such use of eminent domain as may be restricted or expanded by the courts.
PROPOSAL 5: A proposed law, not a constitutional amendment, to establish mandatory school funding levels. That means:  The state must increase current funding for public schools, community colleges, universities, and other education programs by about $565 million and require the state to increase that funding by the rate of inflation every year;  school districts, community colleges, and state universities get to reduce and cap their contributions to employee retirement funds and shift the remaining portion to the state;  the state must equalize per-pupil funding in all school districts throughout the state; and  the state must base funding for school districts with declining enrollments on a three-year average of student enrollment. All shortfalls in this guaranteed funding of school operations, salaries, and pension plans must be made up from the state's general fund, either through surpluses, cuts in other programs, or increased taxes.
A "yes" vote guarantees increased expenditures by the state on public education.
A "no" vote allows the state legislature to determine how much to spend on public education.
... you'd think he would lose his job. After all, is it too much to ask that police officers comply with the laws they are sworn to enforce? It's bad enough that Michigan state troopers gratuitously bust the speed limits on our highways while on patrol, we now learn from this evening's Grand Rapids Press that a trooper now can be convicted of drunken driving, filing a false police report, and other offenses and still keep his badge.
Twelve years ago Trooper David Meder was convicted of drunken driving after crashing his truck on the way home from a state police meeting. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Nevertheless he was transferred to a new post in Traverse City, keeping his badge and his job as a highway patrolman. Earlier this year, Meder left a Traverse City bar, apparently drunk, in his Chevy Suburban and then plowed it into a utility pole. He fled the scene and on the next day reported to the police that his vehicle had been stolen.
The investigation revealed that Meder had lied, and so he pled guilty to a couple of misdemeanors related to the accident. However, he didn't get nabbed for drunken driving, because the only evidence of his intoxication was a statement by a bartender that Meder appeared drunk when he left the bar. Of course, because he ran away from the crash and hid out at home until the next morning, there was no chance of the police getting a timely blood test from him. But then, Meder is a cop and knows better than John Q. Public what his responsibilities are at the scene of an accident he caused. Even if evading those responsibilities allowed him to escape a drunken driving charge, surely that means a two-time loser like him lost his job as trooper, right?
Well, no. Apparently his gross violation of his oath to uphold the law is no big deal with the Michigan State Police. They have transferred Meder to a post in South Haven where he has been assigned, incredibly, road patrol duty. The poor excuse that the top cop shop has given for not firing Meder is that he is protected by his union and can be terminated in only "very, very, very extreme circumstances". Like what? Killing someone while driving drunk?
This is an Alice-in-Wonderland world, folks. How is it that a twice-convicted cop has a greater claim on the public purse than the public has on him to conduct himself lawfully and honorably?
Yesterday I was on I-96 outside of Lansing heading for Grand Rapids. A woman passed me on the left and continued to pass other cars ahead of me. She was going about the speed limit. Then a state cop in a Michigan highway patrol car zoomed by me and pulled right up on the woman's tail. Because she was still passing a line of vehicles, she had no safe way of moving over into the right lane. Yet the cop continued to tailgate her. Finally, she floored it, passed the last car, and shifted into the right lane. The cop then zipped away at about 85-90 mph.
At no time did the cop have his flashers or siren on. I soon learned why. A few miles down the road, I saw the same cop in the median chatting with one his comrades in another patrol car. It was apparent that they were setting up the spots where they would radar the oncoming evening rush hour. Hardly an emergency.
Now why shouldn't I be disgusted with the conduct of this cop? Had he observed me driving in the same reckless manner, he would have ticketed me -- and rightly so. This cop flouting the law is only the half of it. It was deadly dangerous for him to hang on that woman's bumper at 70-75 mph in heavy traffic. For any number of reasons, she might have had to brake urgently, and WHAP! that cop would have plowed into the back of her car. There was no excuse for the cop driving the way he did. It was nothing more than the arrogance of man who thinks wearing a badge puts him above the law he is duty-bound to serve.
If this were an isolated instance, I would be making too much of a fuss. The fact is that I usually see the state highway cops speeding and tailgating on the expressways without any indication that they are responding to an emergency. Plainly they know there is no one who will be ticketing them for their reckless driving.
A small step, but one in the right direction. The Michigan Senate has denied the beer and wine wholesalers a monopoly on the distribution of wine to consumers, restaurants, and retailers. Such a monopoly would have served no one’s interest except fattening the wallets of wholesalers at the expense of Michigan residents who purchase wine. Worse, the monopoly would have likely forced many of West Michigan’s smaller wineries out of business, because a significant portion of their sales come from shipping direct instead of through a middleman. So the end result of a wholesaler monopoly would have been you get to pay more for less choice. As a consequence of the senate’s action, you can now buy wine directly from any winery in the country.
As I said, a small thing, but a good thing. Perhaps now our politicians can look at busting up other monopolies, like letting groups other than the teachers union bid on public school teaching contracts. (See Friday's article, which touches upon this.) Now that would stir up real competition that would not only save the taxpayers money, but also connect the performance of teachers to the real world the rest of us in the private sector have to measure up to.
Officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality charge that what Nile Young did was the worst violation of wetland law in years. The evil Young wrought upon us was his expansion of 2-acre pond on his property in Mecosta County into a 7-acre lake. In doing so he cleared out some of the swamp surrounding the pond. The MDEQ claims he destroyed a wetland. Hmm, I'm don't know how much wetter land can get than being a lake. Nevertheless, Young must now pay a $21,000 fine and bring back the swamp. So much for thinking ownership of property means anything.
Of course, while the MDEQ has been having a convulsions over Young's environmental terrorism, it has done nothing about the 26,000 tons of arsenic, lead, and mercury laden waste that Pioneer Inc. and Dykema Excavators Inc. spread all over the northeast side of Grand Rapids -- as followers of the Toxic Towers story know. But then that wasn't a violation of a wetland, just a violation of the health of hundreds of construction workers and members of the general public. Plus the potential fines for Pioneer's and Dykema's dirty work is only $40 billion and counting. Certainly nothing to expend the MDEQ's limited resources upon when there are criminals like Nile Young to track down.
And by the way, what Young did was not the worst violation of wetland law in years. For starters there was the dumping of all the waste soil from the excavation for Fifth Third ballpark in Comstock Park into the Grand River by Dykema Excavators. The Grand River is public waterway which is what all of these so-wetland laws and regulations were originally devised to protect. Of course, the MDEQ never did anything about that either.
Governor Granholm issued a fiat last week restricting the distribution of the water that Nestle Waters North America is pumping from wells up north in Evart for its bottled water product called "Ice Mountain". Guv Jen says water from Evart can only be sold within the Great Lakes basin.
Considering the size of these inland seas, you'd think their basin would cover a great expanse. Not so. The Great Lakes basin barely includes Michigan, the Ontario peninsula, and the lakeside fringes of surrounding states. Most of Chicago, for example, lies outside the basin and so is a market banned by Guv Jen to Nestle's.
Granholm imposed the distribution ban upon Nestle's by the unprecedented maneuver of making it part of Nestle's permit to build on state property a transfer station for water pumped from Evart. It appears that Guv Jen monkeywrenched Nestle's to get attention for her proposal for comprehensive regulation of water withdrawn from the Great Lakes basin. In other words, the Guv's ban has no merit in its own right.
Nor should it. The idea that Nestle's, or even all of the world's bottlers of water, could pump the Great Lakes dry is absurd. They wouldn't even make a significant dent in the amount of water in the basin. Whether or not Nestle's wells in Evart or Big Rapids (its primary facility in the state which is unaffected by Guv Jen's ban) have a negative impact on the local water table, I don't know, but I wonder how that would be any different than the local impact of a mine or logging operation or an industrial farm.
Imagine how impoverished a place Michigan would be if its government had banned the distribution of iron and copper, lumber and cherries, furniture and automobiles beyond the state line. Michigan's waters are just another resource, and one that people outside of Michigan will pay a great deal of money to drink. (Think about it, dear readers, a gallon of bottled water is more expensive than a gallon of gasoline -- even at today's record prices. That makes us the Saudi Arabia of freshwater.)
Just as we don't allow the destruction of our forests to extract valuable timber from them, we don't have to allow harm to our watershed to let Nestle's bottle our water. But Guv Jen is all wet when she bans distribution of a Michigan resource to most of its market. That kind of thinking is a good way to make us poor while sitting atop riches.
[This article was originally published on August 18, 2004.]
I read three stories in this week's edition of the Grand Rapids Business Journal that made me wonder if there is anything government is good for.
The first story was about a "Cool City" grant Gov. Granholm bestowed upon some contraption called "The Uptown Advisory Council", one of those psuedo-neighborhoods only a city planner could devise. (I think I can speak with some authority as to whether there is such a thing as "Uptown" in G.R. as I only live a few blocks away from where this community is supposed to exist.) Anyway, that's not the important thing. Rather it is the absurdity of letting the government take our tax dollars and then pick the winners and losers in the development game by deciding whom it'll parcel out our money to. This is not to say there are not some fine things going on within the so-called Uptown district. In fact, my wife has discovered a delightful bakery over there. But these good things succeed because they make good business sense, not because they appeal to some politician's sense of what is "cool".
The second story was another tale of the government picking winners and losers. This time it is the announcement of a tax subsidy from the State of Michigan for the redevelopment of the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant. Yes, that's right, the very place where the Berkey & Gay developers dumped most of the poison soil that they had excavated from the old furniture factory site. Now the state is not only content to let that poison fester there, it's going to award the Filtration Plant's new owners with taxpayer dollars to build residential apartments on top of it!
The third story was a piece about the poor ol' Grand Valley Metro Council, that tax-dollar gobbling embryonic layer of regional government, not getting enough bucks from the citizens to give its bureaucrats the benefits they deserve. Therefore it is lobbying our elected representatives to finagle the property tax system to send more of our dollars its way.
Of course, the idea never occurs to anyone that maybe our government shouldn't be taking money from us in the first place to seed "cool" development, build housing atop toxic waste, and fund benefits for people who are supposed to but do not rationalize all this nonsense. And if government must do these things, why must it come out of our hide, when it can collect $20 billion in fines from environmental criminals caught red-handed on videotape?
That's right. The State of Michigan has in its possession videotape evidence of the Berkey & Gay developers releasing tens of thousands of tons of hazardous waste into the environment. State laws allow the state to collect $27,500 a day for each release of hazardous waste that goes unreported and uncorrected by the polluters. A conservative tally of the fines is now $20 billion.
So how about the polluters pay for "cool" development, new apartments, and benefits instead of us? Maybe that way the government would be good for something.
[This article originally appeared on April 14, 2005.]
While the City Commission is busy deciding which hoteliers in downtown G.R. will be the winners and which the losers, Governor Granholm is engaged in the same folly at a much grander scale. On Tuesday Toyota Motor Corporation announced a deal with Guv Jen to buy 690 acres of state land south of Ann Arbor for $11 million to build the company new North American research and development center in exchange for receiving from the state a $38.9 million tax subsidy.
Guv Jen justified the special hand-out to Toyota because the company's new R&D center will employ 400 people and create another 300 "indirect" jobs in the local community. The nearly forty million tax subsidy is in the form of credit against the state's convoluted single business tax. No doubt the SBT, as it is commonly referred to, is a disincentive for businesses to start up or re-locate or grow in Michigan. If the governer can see benefit of a special reduction of this tax for Toyota, because it will produce jobs and prosperity, why not cut the taxes for all businesses?
Simple answer: Doing that would take away her power to pick winners and losers. Whether or not that's a power we should let our elected officials have is one thing. As a practical matter, do our pols make the right choices? Ever since the State of Pennsylvania recruited Volkswagen to build a plant there in the late '70s, the practice has been to give big tax breaks to get big companies to build big plants in our backyards. Guv Jen has followed suit with the Toyota deal. Bad choice.
Study after study shows that small business is the engine of job growth in this country. Meanwhile, tax breaks for the big guys seldom repay the taxpayers' "investment" in them. For example, where's that Volkswagen plant in Pennsylvania now? Shuttered a long time ago, folks. So, it's better policy -- heck, it's just plain fair -- to cut business taxes across the board to stimulate growth (if that's the objective) than to select favored companies to receive targeted tax breaks and subsidies. But sound business tax policies don't garner the headlines like a hand-out to Toyota does when Guv Jen is ready to mug for the cameras.
The Pig in the Python The dirty little secret behind the success and failure of every school reform that the education establishment, the public school bureaucrats, and the teachers unions will never reveal.
The Fool's Gold of a College Education Most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan.
The Fixer A four-part series about the local attorney behind the demise of Autodie, Butterworth Hospital, Amway, and Old Kent. Warning: Strong accusations of corruption, greed, and skullduggery. Not for the feint of heart.
Poison The nasty nature of the 26,000 tons of poison that The Boardwalk's developers dug up and then dumped upon the rest of us.
No Honor Among Thieves: The Demise of Quixtar The re-branding of Amway as Quixtar put lipstick on the pig, but none of the crappy way of doing business changed. Now comes public scrutiny around the world to control its kingpins and clean up the dirty "tools" business.
Lost Cause A story of how River City lost its way to a secure economic future.
Living Wage Kills Jobs City pols support a Marxist policy that, like all Marxist policies, hurt the very people they say it will help.
Defenders Who Do Not Defend Excessive plea-bargaining, lack of preparation, shoddy to non-existent representation, conflicts of interests are rife among lawyers taking public defender cases on the taxpayer dime.