Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 17.
Legislators leave town, leave voters in their dust
Just when it looked as though the Michigan Legislature had learned the wisdom of heeding clear-cut citizen majorities on critical issues, there they were, backsliding again.
This time, with the August primaries almost upon us and the November general election looming, some lawmakers may indeed face consequences for their inaction.
Repercussions at the polls may be the only way to get their attention.
Even before the winter of 2013-14 battered the state and its decrepit roads, citizens across Michigan demanded lawmakers take decisive action to fix the problem.
Gov. Rick Snyder said the state needed to spend an additional $1.2 billion a year (some put the number at $2 billion) to repair our horrific roads and bridges. The brutal winter only made things worse, and demands for a fix grew louder.
But a proposal to nearly double the gas tax to generate revenue needed to fix our roads failed in a late-night session. Lawmakers then packed their bags for a 12-week — that's right, 12 weeks — vacation so they can campaign to keep their supposedly full-time jobs.
So now they're home pressing the flesh and collecting campaign contributions while we're banging around on roads that should never have crumbled to their current despicable state.
The failure to launch on roads — which voters have consistently ranked as the No. 1 issue in the state, was all the more disappointing because lawmakers recently put aside hardened political positions on a number of issues, the first real compromises from this Legislature in a very long time.
Lawmakers agreed to a true compromise deal to raise the minimum wage. The final bills cut the legs from under a petition effort (supported by more than 60 percent of voters) to raise the minimum to $10.10 an hour.
But the final deal was a lot better than an earlier version that also would have scuttled the petition process but raised the minimum by just a few cents.
Neither side got everything they wanted, but both sides got something. That's the nature of compromise.
Lawmakers also agreed to a $195 million bailout for Detroit and to a major increase in K-12 spending that helps make up for significant cuts in recent years.
Skipping town for the summer without making progress on voters' chief issue not only is politically dangerous but ethically bankrupt.
Bad roads cost state residents money; they can also cause accidents and even deaths. Making road repairs a political football shows contempt for the people and the process.
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell). June 16,
Proposal 1 helps Michigan jobs climate
A proposal that helps Michigan businesses without hurting local governments and schools is a good deal for everyone, including homeowners.
That's why voters should support Proposal 1 during the Aug. 5 state primary.
Proposal 1 eliminates Michigan's personal property tax, an equipment tax paid only by businesses and collected by local governments. It also reconfigures the Michigan Use Tax, a separate state tax, to make up for municipalities' lost revenue.
Businesses have long complained that the tax, levied in perpetuity against the equipment they use, hurts their ability to expand.
State officials have argued the tax hurts their ability to bring new businesses — and jobs — to Michigan.
Among Great Lakes states, only Indiana levies such a tax, and even that tax lessens as equipment ages. Michigan's tax dates back to the 1890s and is a throwback to a time when geography trumped all other factors and even big businesses were local, rather than international, in scope.
With all that in mind, Michigan legislators last year authorized a phase-out of the tax.
But they overlooked one important point — what the phase-out would mean for municipalities already struggling to balance their budgets.
In a rare move, legislators agreed to scrap the phase-out unless voters pass Proposal 1. But the onerous tax would remain in place if voters say no. A full exemption given this year to small businesses would also be scrapped.
A better option is to support Proposal 1.
Here's what it would do:
Split state use-tax revenue into two shares with one share, called a community stabilization share, going to Michigan municipalities to offset losses from the personal property tax elimination.
In real terms, slightly more than $96 million would be generated in replacement local revenue for 2015-2016. That share would jump to $380 million by 2016-2017 and rise for many years after that under the state's formula.
Individual municipalities' shares would be determined by a new agency, the Local Community Stabilization Authority.
The use tax is levied against a host of activities from boat and off-road vehicle sales to telephone services. At present, it all goes to the state.
School districts, which already receive use-tax money, would see their share increase, another plus under Proposal 1.
To cover the state's loss of revenue, large manufacturers would pay a new Essential Services Assessment while select tax breaks granted during the Granholm administration would be allowed to expire without being replaced.
That action alone should find favor with local voters concerned with governmental "picking winners" among favored industries while ignoring others.
Proposal 1 would also keep the use tax at its current 6 percent level, dispelling any notion that it is a tax increase lying in the weeds.
It's a somewhat complex formula and not everyone is convinced it will work.
State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate's Democratic leader, is perhaps the proposal's leading critic on just those grounds.
Yet, critics are in the minority.
An overwhelming majority of state legislators from both parties supported putting Proposal 1 on the ballot.
The proposal itself has received support from a number of organizations, including the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Fraternal Order of Police, the Michigan Association of School Boards and the Michigan Farm Bureau, among others.
All these groups agree that Proposal 1, while perhaps not a cure-all, is a vital step toward making Michigan more competitive. It's another step toward changing Michigan from a job loser to a job leader.
But their endorsements aren't the most important.
It's an endorsement we strongly urge you to give. We urge you to vote YES on Proposal 1 in this year's primary.
Detroit Free Press. June 17.
We must take the lead on stopping lead poisoning
We see the scenario again and again — invest now and pay less later.
It's the economics at the heart of our state's recent investments in early education. Ignoring these forces is a key reason the state's roads are in such terrible shape. And for thousands of Michigan's children, it's the means to finally ending the silent but pernicious effects of lead poisoning on our most vulnerable residents.
A study by the University of Michigan released last week found that remediating 100,000 of the homes in Michigan most at risk for having lead paint would cost about $600 million, but taxpayers quickly recoup the expense.
The U-M's Risk Science Center estimates that overall effects of lead poisoning result in more than $330 million in costs a year — and $145 million of that is from tax dollars.
It's easy to think of children being the victims, but those children grow up and their chances at successful livelihoods are reduced because of lead exposure. To that end, the study measures short and midterm costs like testing, treatment and special-education classes ($21 million). It takes a long view, as well, measuring the cost of juvenile and adult crime associated with childhood lead exposure ($105 million). Looking even further out, the study measures the loss of lifelong earnings for kids with the irreversible declines in IQ that are associated with lead exposure, which in a given year adds up to $206 million.
In Michigan, the problem of lead paint in homes is at its worst in Detroit and Wayne County. But this is not just a Detroit issue, says Lyke Thompson, who has been fighting for dollars to clean up lead-infested homes for decades. He's the director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University. Outside of Detroit, trouble spots include Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Muskegon, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor, according to the state' Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
And over time, the number of children reported to have high blood lead levels has decreased — from 15,000 reported cases in 2008 to 5,700 reported cases in 2013. But the work on this issue isn't complete.
In the long run, Thompson says, remediating homes is a trivial investment compared to the cost of lifelong problems associated with high levels of lead exposure. Indeed, the U-M study bears that out.
State government is paying attention. The state Legislature passed a budget last week that included $500,000 more for lead abatement, raising the total for lead remediation in the 2015 budget to $1.75 million.
But U-M's study makes an argument for expanding the state's program further — and for fervently pursuing all possible federal grants for lead abatement.
No doubt funding is a big part of the answer, but it's not the only answer. The Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health recommends finding resources to increase home inspection services, incentivizing landlords to remediate lead paint from their properties and reconvening the state's Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission.
There are a lot of needs and interests jockeying for legislative attention and state tax dollars. But failing to finish this work ignores the state's poorest and most vulnerable kids.
Midland Daily News. June 17.
Delayed care for veterans a 'national crisis'
A recent report on the Department of Veterans Affairs' performance in Michigan showed the agency is doing better in our state than in other parts of the nation.
But that does not mean our state's veterans have not had their own share of problems. New VA patients in Michigan have had to wait an average of three to four weeks before they can even get an appointment at a medical center, well above the target of 14 days set by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Now the agency has conceded that its 14-day goal, set in 2011, is not realistic.
Worse, some 1,555 veterans in Michigan have waited more than three months just to get an appointment. Another 1,686 who signed up for care in the past decade still have not seen a doctor.
Veterans living in the Great Lakes Bay Region have it better than other areas of the state. The Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw had the shortest wait period of the five centers in Michigan — 22 days to get an appointment. The Saginaw center also performed better in terms of the waiting period for new patients seeking specialist care — 35 days.
But we believe most residents would agree that our state's and nation's veterans deserve better. As U.S. Rep. Dan Banishek, a Michigan Republican who is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, the internal audit report "is further proof that delayed care for our veterans is a national crisis. Our nation's heroes should never have to wait over 30 days for an appointment."
Indeed, our veterans have sacrificed too much to be treated so poorly.