Lansing State Journal. July 7.
Low college readiness cause for grave concern
It is past time for Michigan's citizens and policy makers to acknowledge the crisis looming in the state's future: the state's public schools are failing to educate the next generation of Michiganders.
An abundance of poorly educated workers won't attract employers, potentially hindering job opportunities even for the better educated who choose to live here. It's time to make K-12 education a top priority.
As much as the machinery of government (the Legislature, the State Department of Education) continues to work on improvements, results are lagging. Test results released Monday continue an alarming trend. While many districts saw at least slight improvements in some numbers over last year, overall lackluster results point to a serious situation needing more attention and action.
Statewide on the Michigan Merit Exam, 40 percent of 11th graders were not proficient in reading. Nearly 50 percent were not proficient in writing. And a stunning 70 percent were not proficient in math or science — two subjects that anchor STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the four disciplines that are critical in the knowledge economy and thus essential for future economic prosperity.
A decade ago the Cherry Commission was charged with creating strategies to double the number of college graduates in Michigan. Yet statewide, 82 percent of some 100,000 eleventh graders who took the ACT exam as part of the Michigan Merit Exam were not considered ready for college work. Indeed, a Detroit Free Press review of Monday's data release showed some 200 Michigan schools (including both traditional schools and charter schools) had no students considered college ready by the standards of the ACT exam. Not one.
In Greater Lansing, the story is equally bleak. The school district with the best results, Okemos, still had only half of its students considered college ready based on composite ACT results (a number that was good enough to make top 10 in the state). And in the Lansing School District, 63 percent were not college ready based on English scores and more than 90 percent were not considered ready for college math.
Michigan citizens, state Board of Education members, the Department of Education, the governor, the Legislature, business and civic leaders — All need to make K-12 student achievement a higher priority. Pulling Michigan out of the recession won't mean much if the state fails to educate a competent work force for the future.
The Alpena News. July 9.
President overstepping and Congress doesn't care
Congress would not go along with President Barack Obama's plan to close down coal-fired power plants and drive electricity prices up. So Obama is acting on his own to do so.
U.S. senators would not confirm the three union sympathizers Obama wanted on the National Labor Relations Board. So Obama, in a move the Supreme Court just ruled illegal, did so on his own through sham "recess appointments."
Congress could not have acted quickly enough, Obama claims, on freeing five top terrorist leaders in exchange for a U.S. serviceman who deserted his comrades in Afghanistan. So Obama went ahead and freed them on his own.
Though it was operating on his blueprint, Congress passed a national health care containing some politically inconvenient rules. So Obama changed them, though they are the law of the land.
Now Obama says that because Congress has not acted on immigration reform, he will do so — on his own.
Plainly, Obama has no regard whatsoever for separation of powers, which is at the heart of our system of government — or for the Constitution. Evidently, many members of Congress have no problem with that.
The Detroit News. July 7.
Cut federal strings on beach testing
Michigan is enjoying the rare satisfaction of telling the federal government to keep its money and the strings that go with it in refusing to bow to new rules on the testing of water quality at beaches.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants states to adopt tougher pollution standards that Michigan and other states fear will lead to the unnecessary closing of many beaches. Beaches in Michigan, Florida and other places are tourist magnets, and an integral part of the economy.
Closing them when there's no real threat to public safety is a heavy burden for those states to bear. So Michigan isn't bowing, even though not meeting the new standards will cost it more than $260,000 next year in federal dollars that pay for beach testing.
The Department of Environmental Quality is asking the EPA to ease off the regulations. But given the track record of the agency, that's a slim hope. So the state has budgeted its own dollars to pay for the tests, and that's probably best in the long run.
Washington rarely provides an outright gift for state or local governments to use as they see fit. As in the case of the beach tests, the trade-off for accepting federal dollars is often accepting the imposition of rigid federal rules.
But most often states and local governments are better equipped than the federal government to to decide policies affecting their regions and citizens.
For decades, Michigan has used a standard — one the EPA previously approved — of 235 E.coli bacteria colony forming units per 100 millimeters of water per sample. The EPA wants to lower that to 190 units.
The result will be three to seven times more beach closings, Michigan officials predict.
Fortunately, unlike federal highway and education funds, which are vital to Michigan's budget, the amount of money involved is small enough that the state can thumb its nose at this EPA demand.
Adopting the EPA beach testing standard could make Michigan's beaches less safe. The state currently uses three samples per site to guard against a single tainted sample from skewing results. The EPA calls for just one sample. And environmental experts in Michigan say current standards are tight enough to protect swimmers.
Changing the way water quality near beaches is tested would require approval of the Legislature.
That's not likely. So Michigan is cutting the federal strings. Next year's state budget includes $500,000 to speed the development of better testing technology.
It's not often a state can push back like that against a federal agency. But it's a satisfying feeling, and an important lesson in the risks of getting too attached to the federal money line.
The Holland Sentinel. July 6.
Proposal 1 is a good deal for everyone in Michigan
Proposal 1 on the Aug. 5 primary ballot is a rare accomplishment for Michigan. If it's approved by voters, it will kill an anti-competitive business tax without increasing taxes for other Michiganians, while ensuring local governments and school districts don't suffer any revenue losses. We strongly urge a "yes" vote.
At the heart of the matter is the personal property tax, an inaccurately named levy that has been assessed on the physical assets of Michigan businesses since 1893. Only one other state in the Great Lakes region imposes such a tax, and Indiana does so at a much lower rate than Michigan. The tax discourages capital investment and puts Michigan at a competitive disadvantage against neighboring states when it comes to retaining and recruiting businesses, especially manufacturers that use expensive machinery. Besides the sales tax they pay when purchasing something, businesses in Michigan must also pay the personal property tax, year after year, no matter how old the equipment is.
While the personal property tax has long been unpopular, attempts in the past to repeal it failed for one important reason — the tax is an important part of local government budgets, especially in industry-rich communities such as the Holland-Zeeland area. In the city of Holland, for instance, the personal property tax generates more than $2 million a year, about a quarter of the city's tax revenue. Understandably, Michigan cities and townships resisted repeal unless they were reimbursed for their lost income.
But after years of stalemate, something unusual happened — a compromise that united the business community and local governments. Legislators came up with a series of tax changes that allows the phase-out of the personal property tax for manufacturers and small businesses while fully compensating local governments for the lost revenue. (Utilities and non-manufacturing businesses with physical assets of more than $80,000 will continue to pay the tax.) It's the tax reallocation part of the deal that requires voter approval, and that's what's in Proposal 1. (That won't be clear from the ballot summary, which is particularly dense and unilluminating.) The formula shifts revenue from expiring business tax credits and a portion of the state use tax to local governments; in addition, manufacturers will pay an "essential services" tax that's a fraction of the personal property tax they pay now. No other taxes are increased.
Proposal 1 may sound like a technical, inside-government issue, but it's important to everyone in Michigan. It is a rare and gratifying example of legislators addressing a real problem and working together to fix it. The proposal enjoys the support of virtually every business group and local government association in the state and faces no organized opposition. Proposal 1 will make Michigan a more attractive place to do business while preserving important local government services. It deserves our support.