The Mining Journal (Marquette). Sept. 19.
Fishing, hunting fee hikes regrettable, necessary
Although no one seemed to be happy about it, Gov. Rick Snyder Tuesday signed into law the first significant fee increases for hunting and fishing licenses in more than 15 years.
Flanked by officials with various outdoor groups and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Snyder put the finishing touches on an effort that dates to the earliest days of his administration.
The Associated Press reported in detail what the fee hikes, which will take effect March 1, will look like. Included will be a new "base" hunting license costing $11 for in-state residents, with lower rates for youths and seniors. Out-of-state hunters will be charged $151.
AP further reported that the base license will pay for hunting waterfowl, migratory birds and small game like rabbits. Separate additional fees still will be levied for hunting certain species, and some of those will increase. Tags for deer will rise from $15 to $20, and the bear license from $15 to $25.
In addition, in-state hunters and anglers will be able to buy a combination license that includes a base hunting license, two deer licenses and an all-species fishing license for $75, or $265 for a non-resident. Anglers will no longer choose between a restricted or all-species license.
All fishing licenses will be all-species. A 24-hour fishing license will increase from $7 to $10. The fee for a seasonal all-species license will drop from $28 to $25 for Michigan residents, but rise from $42 to $75 for out-of-state anglers. A $1 surcharge included in the cost of a base hunting license, combination license or all-species fishing license will be dedicated to marketing, education and outreach, AP reported
The fees, which generated roughly $49 million in the last budget year, are expected to bring in nearly $20 million more in revenue. The new state budget starting Oct. 1 includes funding to hire and train 30 new conservation officers.
The fees in part could help pay for another 16 officers, according to Snyder's February budget proposal.
The Mining Journal historically has not supported tax and fee increases imposed by government. Private businesses are expected to live within their means and government should, too.
That said, these fee and license increases are the first substantial ones in nearly a generation. Plus, outdoor groups generally lined up in support.
It is our fervent hope and wish that state government administer these new funds wisely and for the betterment of all concerned.
The Detroit News. Sept. 18.
Obamacare hurts Michigan businesses
Kalamazoo-based, medical-products maker Stryker Corp. says Obamacare's 2.3 percent medical device tax will cost the company $100 million this year, reducing its research and development budget by over 20 percent — meaning a loss of 1,000 workers. The Fortune 500 company is just one of many Michigan employers being negatively impacted, making the state a witness to the national economic harm that Obamacare has wrought, even before state health exchanges mandated under the health care law open Oct. 1.
But instead of constructive solutions, Washington Republicans are offering more chaos by threatening a government shutdown if the Affordable Care Act is not defunded. The House GOP should use the opportunity to reach out to disgruntled Democrats and propose consumer-based reforms that will smooth Obamacare's flaws, reduce costs and expand coverage to the uninsured.
Stryker is concerned with the "medical device excise tax and its negative impact on jobs and innovation," says CEO Kevin Lobo. At his 10 Subway sandwich shops, Michigan businessman Ken Adams has switched to hiring part-time workers to avoid Obamacare's expensive, employer health mandate. He added 25 part-time workers this summer while reducing other employees' hours. "We won't start hiring full-time people," Adams told The Wall Street Journal, even with the delay of Obamacare's employer mandate until 2015. Cities like Dearborn have alarmed unions by also planning reduced employee hours. Meanwhile, the General Accountability Office has warned of the "potential for implementation challenges going forward" for Obamacare exchanges. Translation: They won't be ready come October.
No wonder some of the Obama administration's biggest allies are rebelling.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow and 17 of her Democratic colleagues want the medical device tax thrown out. Investor Warren Buffett wants the entire act repealed, warning that if "you project what has been happening into the future, we will get less and less competitive." And Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union, said last week that if the "Affordable Care Act is not fixed. . . then I believe it needs to be repealed."
But it won't be repealed or defunded by a Democratic Senate.
That should be a signal to House Republicans to woo disaffected Democrats with alternatives — not derail the government in a game of budget chicken. Nixing the medical device tax is a good start. So is postponing the individual mandate and ending special subsidies to Congressional staff as Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, has proposed.
But Republicans would be most effective if they were proactive about addressing the uninsured problem.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, most people who become uninsured — 71 percent — are reinsured within a year. These temporary periods of no insurance are largely the result of a transient workforce and tax rules that tie insurance to jobs, not people. So Congress should extend the same tax credits businesses get to individuals, thus making health insurance portable.
For the needy and the elderly, Washington could simplify health exchange regulations, provide premium support to individuals and allow them to use exchanges to choose their own plans as Utah and Florida have proposed.
As it happens, this consumer-based model has been introduced by physician-turned-Congressman Tom Price, R-Georgia, and is similar to Switzerland's health system, which ranks with the U.S as having the world's best health outcomes while providing universal health coverage.
U.S. health costs have decreased in recent years thanks to increased employer use of co-pays — that is, increased consumer involvement in health costs. In Switzerland, individually-purchased health care has kept per-capita health expenditure growth at 4.6 percent — below the OECD countries average.
Republicans should shelve their shutdown fantasies.
Consumer-based and portable health coverage can be a reality.
Battle Creek Enquirer. Sept. 18.
Attacking the poor rather than fighting poverty
Public assistance has not kept pace with rising poverty nationally over the past five years, and it's been even worse in Michigan, where about a quarter of our kids live in poverty and real wages for most workers are lower than they were three-decades ago.
It's a wearisome story to keep telling, but the majority of our lawmakers never seem to tire of passing legislation that targets low-income citizens as the causes of their misfortune.
The latest example came Wednesday, when lawmakers in both House and the Senate passed bills that would deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to take a drug test required by employers and require community service for people receiving government assistance.
Unfortunately, this is going to make sense to a lot of people who've bought into the myth that people on public benefits are more likely to be dependent on illicit drugs or are just generally lazy, something that seems to describe the mindset of at least one Republican Senator.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring folks to have a little skin in the game," said Sen. Joe Hune of Hamburg Township, speaking about the community service requirement.
The senator obviously doesn't know many people who rely on public assistance, most of whom have a lot of "skin in the game," not to mention work that doesn't quite put a roof over their heads and food on the table.
These bills and others like them — legislation that targets benefit recipients for suspicion based drug testing and allows for the denial of benefits if a child is truant from school are pending in Senate — tap a culture of meanness that permeates our political discourse here and nationally.
And while such legislation may satisfy a desire to identify scapegoats, they've never been proven effective.
The prevalence of illicit drug use among welfare recipients, for the record, is only slightly higher than the general population, less than 5 percent according to most studies. Psychiatric disorders, on the other hand, especially major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, are more prevalent than illicit drug dependence among welfare recipients.
Advanced treatment for both issues, rather than punitive policies, would do far more to remove barriers to work for chronically unemployed.
The majority of lawmakers, however, are less interested in identifying and implementing evidence-based solutions than they are in humiliating people at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Lansing State Journal. Sept. 18.
Learning from Detroit's mistakes
Months into Detroit's bankruptcy, leaders of other Michigan cities have had time to contemplate the stunning implications for their own communities.
Surely no other city could fall as spectacularly as Detroit has done. As the state's largest city, the size and scope of Detroit's finances dwarf those of others, so it's likely no other Michigan city will face an $8 billion deficit.
Yet, other cities don't get off so easily. The crucial lesson of Detroit is not "the bigger they are, the harder they fall," or even that "hindsight is 20-20."
No, the critical lesson is that by spending decades using short-term solutions to hold off financial trouble for one more budget cycle, Detroit eventually created a fiscal hole so deep and so wide that it had no hope of climbing out.
And that short-term, get-through-one-more-year approach has been relied upon across the state, in city after city. That should give pause to citizens everywhere.
Gannett Michigan recently published an extensive investigation into more than 50 years of Detroit's finances, and the findings suggest the city missed many opportunities to protect its future finances. The review also suggested that increasingly creative efforts to shore up Detroit's finances ultimately failed — even efforts that were hailed by Wall Street when they were implemented. Among the errors:
— The city did not downsize fast enough to adapt to its falling property values. Property values fell 77 percent over 50 years (valued in today's dollars), but the city's workforce was cut only 28 percent by 2004.
— Retiree costs were poorly managed. Eventually Detroit was diverting money from public services to cover pension and health care costs for retirees. In addition, the city paid some $1 billion in bonuses from pension funds to active and retired workers from 1985 to 2008 — money that experts say would have been worth $1.9 billion today.
— The city relied on new taxes to help balance its books, as far back to the income tax implementation in 1962 and addition of a utility tax in 1971. Higher taxes likely helped drive residents and business into less costly suburbs.
— The city also borrowed too much money, pushing more problems into the future.
Michigan's cities need leaders with the courage to make difficult decisions for the long term. Lansing voters and those who aspire to serve them must study Detroit's errors. Consider Detroit's lessons when voting on Nov. 5.