The Detroit Free Press. Oct. 22, 2015
GOP: Try harder.
For years we've urged lawmakers to pass a deal to fund repairs of Michigan's decrepit roads.
Perhaps we should have been more clear: Pass a deal that has a shot of progressing, and won't cause irreparable damage to the other services the state is morally and constitutionally obligated to provide.
The roads deal passed last night by state House Republicans — ushered through the house by Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant — is none of the above.
Any roads fix will inevitably rely on a mix of new and existing revenue (read: tax increases and service cuts).
Cotter's roads package proposes to generate half of the $1.2 billion necessary each year by increasing gas taxes and registration fees. The other half would come from the transfer of $600 million from the state's general fund to road repair.
The general fund is the state's largest pool of money. General fund dollars pay for state troopers, social services, health and environmental safety, among other crucial functions.
So let's not church this up: Service cuts don't take funds from the mythological government waste trough some fiscal conservatives preach about. Those cuts take dollars from programs that serve people. Community health, assistance to impoverished families with children, agencies that care for foster children, environmental controls that keep our air and water safe.
Cotter's plan also calls for an income-tax rollback, a move state Rep. Jim Townsend, a Royal Oak Democrat, called a "fig leaf" meant to obscure the financial damage this bill would deal to the state's most vulnerable residents.
State Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive and Gov. Rick Snyder — both Republicans — have given no indication that they'd sign off on Cotter's plan. Meekhof favors a deal that includes $400 million in general fund cuts, $400 million in gas tax increases and $400 million from eliminating a new-car registration discount and increasing fees on electric cars and heavy trucks.
Snyder, in particular, has warned that $600 million in cuts to state services is too much. He's right.
A noxious untruth has gained sway over many lawmakers in recent years: The notion that government spending is, by nature, wasteful. That government is a beast to be starved, a menace to be contained.
It's just not true.
What happens when you starve the beast? Schools suffer. Roads crumble. The criminal justice system lags. Bad guys don't get caught. The quality of our air and water declines.
For too long, Michigan has failed to invest in those things provided by government. Safe roads, good schools, strong cities. And we're paying the price.
This roads deal is an exercise in petulance, an ideological tantrum for Cotter and his caucus.
It's a non-starter.
Michigan residents want progress on roads. The House should stop indulging in ideology and come up with a real plan.
The Detroit News, Oct. 22, 2015
Michigan jobless rate shows economic growth.
At 5 percent, Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen below the national average, currently 5.1 percent, for the first time in a decade and a half. The news is a welcome part of Michigan's effort to recover from the Lost Decade. And although it signals some growth, there's more to do.
Michigan was the only state to suffer its own local recession beginning around 2000, with the decline of the Detroit auto industry. The local economic distress was compounded with a nationwide Great Recession immediately following.
The fierce economic downturn of the early 2000s forced many people, particularly young people, out of the state, commonly called the Michigan brain drain.
From 2003 to 2014, about 628,000 people left the state, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council's Rich States, Poor States.
Over that same period, the state came in dead last in the economic performance ranking of the 50 states.
Similarly, Michigan ranked 50th for growth in charitable giving from 1997 to 2012, again likely due to the downturn in economic activity, even as charitable giving rose 47 percent throughout the rest of the country over that same period.
For those who remained in the state — or were otherwise dependent on its success — those dark years were insufferable.
But the jobless rate has consistently decreased for some time now.
In September 2014, the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. For the most part, the rate has steadily decreased every month this year, starting with 6.3 percent in January and decreasing to the current 5 percent, with a slight .01 percent increase in May and June.
While it's worth noting the state lost 9,800 jobs this September, along with 26 other states that also reported job losses, according to the U.S. Labor Department, there has been real job growth in the state over the past year.
About 90,000 private sector jobs have been added in Michigan since this time last year, due to several factors.
The state changed how it treats businesses, certainly removing some of the barriers to growth erected during the Granholm era. Repealing the onerous Michigan Business Tax in 2011 returned more than $1.5 billion to job creators in the state, replacing it with a flat 6 percent corporate income tax.
Repealing the personal property tax — which virtually every business in the state loathed — has opened up businesses to invest more in their growth rather than being penalized for it.
The steady revitalization of Detroit and reinvestment in the city's core industries of manufacturing and automotive production have also helped. Detroit's Big Three are more profitable than they've been in quite some time.
Detroit itself is bustling with new small- and mid-sized businesses, which city government has, to its credit, encouraged.
Still, average household incomes are stagnant statewide, and there are still almost a half million fewer people working in the state today than in 2000.
The state must continue to embrace new job opportunities to make its economic growth tangible.
The Port Huron Times Herald. Oct. 22, 2015.
Mr. Trudeau please stop Lake Huron nuke dump.
Dear Mr. Justin Trudeau:
Congratulations on your party's victory this week in Canadian national elections. Nearly 70 percent of eligible Canadians cast votes in Monday's federal election. That's almost 12 percent more than the 2011 vote and the highest since 1993. Analysts attribute the high turnout to you, saying the Liberal Party energized and invigorated voters.
Our last presidential election drew only 58 percent of voters.
Everyone says that the way Canadian politics works means that when a Labor Party government, for instance, replaces a Conservative Park majority, then there is little chance of replacing a Premier Tweedledum with a Premier Tweedledee. They say you and Stephen Harper are like night and day. They say your Canada and your policies won't be the same as those of the Conservatives who have governed your nation for a decade.
This week in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau, you said your Canada would be more Canadian. We like that.
"I want to say this to this country's friends around the world: Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians. We're back," he declared.
One of the things we like hearing is that you and your party are "greener" than Mr. Harper. Already, pundits on both sides of the border are writing their obituaries for the Keystone XL pipeline, even though you've supported it in the past. They say you're OK with the pipeline, but not rabid about it the way Mr. Harper was.
Which brings us to our concern here in Port Huron.
Ontario Power Generation wants to bury tons of nuclear waste at Kincardine, just a few kilometers from Lake Huron and the world's largest supply of fresh surface water. Mr. Harper's environment minister was expected to issue a final ruling on OPG's application in December.
We understand that a new, Liberal Party government means a new environment minister, one who, like you, values the planet Earth and its environment more than the Conservatives did. We're hoping, Mr. Trudeau, that you and your new environment minister see OPG's nuclear waste storage facility as the environmental catastrophe it is and put a stop to it.
The Grand Haven Tribune. Oct. 21, 2015
The tale of two art competitions.
ArtPrize has grown too much, too fast. It was launched seven years ago as a way to promote the variety of ways to create art, as well as bring people into downtown Grand Rapids in the early fall. For that, it has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
And while the organizers have struggled with ways to keep it fresh, we don't think they were successful with this year's event.
The venues continue to be too widespread to take it all in. That makes the public voting difficult at best; worthless and dubious at worst.
Some of the categories for ArtPrize this year were a bit confusing. While most people readily understand paintings from drawings and sculptures, and can distinguish between 3-D and 2-D, the time-based and installation categories likely left more than a few visitors scratching their heads.
ArtWalk is just a year younger, and yet it has remained true to its form in its six years.
Grand Haven's complement to the Grand Rapids extravaganza remains cozy, as Grand Haven does compared to its big-city sister to the east. Area residents and visitors alike can stop by all of the ArtWalk venues and see every entry in a couple of hours, making the public vote a valid concept.
We especially applaud ArtWalk's Youth Competition, using the local public library as a one-stop venue. ArtPrize organizers should take note of it and incorporate a separate but coinciding competition to promote local young artists.
So, keep up the good work, Grand Haven ArtWalk organizers. Keep it fresh and exciting, but don't mess too much with success.
Let's hope ArtPrize gets a handle on what it's supposed to be about and reel it in next year.