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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

March 25, 2019

Detroit News. March 20, 2019

Revisit Michigan’s outdated road funding formula

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent gasoline tax to fix Michigan’s roads would generate about $2.5 billion a year in new revenue dedicated to roads. But the new funds, like the existing $2.6 billion currently generated annually from vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes, won’t necessarily go to roads in the most desperate condition.

Public Act 51 governs how that money is distributed from the Michigan Transportation Fund to the Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan’s 83 counties, and the state’s hundreds of cities and villages.

Some local leaders, including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, are calling on the state to review the funding formula, which they say hasn’t kept up with infrastructure realities — especially in heavily trafficked areas such as Metro Detroit.

“Public Act 51′s funding formula is subject to debate just as the gas tax is subject to debate,” says Craig Thiel, research director at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Three entities receive money from the fund based on fixed percentages: 39 percent to MDOT, 39 percent to county road commissions, and 22 percent to cities and villages.

What is the rationale behind those percentages? Our guess is as good as yours.

Public Act 51 was created in 1951 and though it has been updated slightly since, it does not allocate funds in an efficient way to bring roads up to snuff.

For counties, 56 percent of their road funds come from vehicle fees, 24 percent based on county road mileage and 20 percent on other factors.

The mileage money is calculated based on linear miles, regardless of whether a road is two lanes or six, and without consideration ofhow much traffic it carries.

That formula sends a disproportionate amount of the funding to lesser traveled roads in rural areas, leaving Metro Detroit with inadequate funding.

“Urban counties are disproportionately affected,” Thiel says.

High auto insurance rates in Detroit have suppressed car registration in Detroit, limiting that revenue.

And though there is a sub-allocation of funding for urban counties, it’s not enough to offset the cost of wider roads and more potholes.

Whitmer’s plan would dedicate revenue from the new gas tax toward the worst roads in recognition that Public Act 51 is a barrier to rebuilding Michigan infrastructure.

If the gas tax is adopted, much of the money will end up going to MDOT because state roads need the most work, and that’s likely to disappoint county road commissions and municipalities.

Michigan’s lawmakers will continue to debate the governor’s proposed gas tax hike, but while they do so, they should also take a look at Public Act 51 and craft a commensurate plan for a fairer system of distributing road funds.


The Mining Journal. March 20, 2019

Negaunee on right path in pursuing facade grant

Although there are many ways a downtown in particular can improve its appearance, facades provide some of the most visible means to looking better, particularly to tourists. Residents already know what’s inside a building, but a business with an attractive outside is more likely to draw in customers than a dilapidated one.

The Negaunee City Council recently gave the go-ahead for City Manager Nate Heffron to submit a $651,000 grant application for facade upgrades to four downtown buildings along Iron Street.

The buildings involved in the Community Development Block Grant process are: Grand Effex Salon at 323 Iron St.; 308 Iron St., formerly Adoras Antiques; Lowenstein’s Antique Marketplace at 334 Iron St.; and 331 Iron St., home to the City Green Market and Old Bank Building Antiques.

The objective of the CDBG program is to provide an area-wide benefit to low- to moderate-income communities.

The council’s action will show the Michigan Economic Development Corp. the city is behind the facade projects.

Grants can be an economically efficient way to improve an area. For example, grants from the MEDC can support up to 75 percent of a project’s cost.

Two cases in point: Tino’s Pizza and Smarty’s Saloon, also located along Iron Street. In 2018, they combined private funds with nearly $200,000 in CDBG funds to upgrade their buildings’ exteriors.

Heffron said those establishments already have seen an increase in business and have been the catalyst for other businesses to reinvest in their buildings.

The fact that facade improvements can be contagious shouldn’t be surprising. Who wants to own a business in a blighted building when the one next door has a new awning, paint job or other improvement?

For the most recent CDBG application, the city of Negaunee would have to fund up to $26,000 for grant administrative costs.

We believe it’s well worth that money for Negaunee to invest in its downtown.

Although all areas of a community should be well tended, a downtown serves as the heartbeat of a city. Having beautiful facades is one of the best ways to keep it beating.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 21, 2019

Cutting carbon emissions — Let’s plan this together

We are intrigued by some new plans put forth by smart minds to offer system-wide course corrections to what many say is a date with environmental destiny.

One of these plans — The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — is getting a big grassroots push by well organized national groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby, which got its Michigan start in our region.

The act places a fee on fossil fuels from the point of extraction and collects the money for redistribution. It assesses a “border carbon adjustment” for imported goods, and allows a refund for exports. It also pauses EPA authority to regulate emissions for a decade.

We support the concepts of this plan and its nonpartisan, market-based appeal.

It reminds us of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which was designed to be an investment where at least 25 percent of the oil money is put in a dedicated fund for future days when we don’t have oil as a resource. It was also a reaction to inefficient government spending of the $900 million bump from oil field leasing.

The fund distributes the royalties annually to residents, with payments varying between $330 (at the low end) to $2,000 (at the high end).

Funds are protected, but able to be used for general fund spending — which we think would be a mistake in any national bill, as the high-vote threshold used in Alaska has not been a deterrent for government hands and we’ve seen what happens to programs like the Michigan lottery panacea.

Neither has the APF been a deterrent for work, according to a 2018 paper that found “that a universal and permanent cash transfer does not significantly decrease aggregate employment.”

But under the proposals, us real folk would see an immediate jump in costs, as fossil fuels pervade so much of what we consume, with many costs already held in check with elaborate subsidies. It wouldn’t be a bonus — receiving the rebates by all citizens would be a matter of survival.

Here in northwest Lower Michigan, we have a large stake in getting it right: We lean on our climate. It is the basis for our ability to grow tender fruits and cherries and grapes. It is the basis for our year round appeal to visitors. Our watch over Great Lakes’ waters means protecting 1/5 of the world’s fresh water supply.

But we shouldn’t be naive about where our power comes from, or how much we use. The majority of our state’s power comes from coal-fired power plants — 37 percent in 2017 and our three nuclear power plants kicked in 29 percent of our state’s electricity — and we’re not building any more of those at this point as our state’s utility companies move away from energy production and lean on out of state providers more.

The fire this winter at a natural gas plant that almost immediately disrupted the state shows us how close to the edge we operate.

And boy, do we operate. Think of how much living in the digital age relies on a power source. Imagine that source dark.

Our lives today would not be able to roll with the rolling brownouts of the 1970s. It would be bedlam. No lights, no communication, no finances.

So, we urge a pragmatic approach that incorporates current realities. Wind and solar combined generate 17 percent of our electricity, less elsewhere. Coal provides 40 percent of the world’s energy.

We know that long-term solutions are a hard sell for we who are wired for short-term rewards.

We complain about fairness in policy, though often the places most likely impacted by climate change are its least creators.

We all know that legislation changes can be dramatic from start to finish as a bill moves through the amendment process. Some of that can happen in the dark of night. The process will have to be carefully watched with a bright light to remain pure and to ensure the goal of economic neutrality is maintained.

We should look to find better ways while keeping our minds open to all possibilities that could help us achieve — as together is the only way forward.