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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

May 6, 2019

Detroit News. May 4, 2019

Infrastructure spending a raw deal for Michigan

There’s no doubt America’s infrastructure is in sorry shape and in need of massive investment. Just look at Michigan’s pock-marked roads and rusting bridges as an example.

But the deal sketched out by Democratic congressional leaders and President Donald Trump this week is not the answer.

In fact, the $2 trillion bargain may make things worse.

First, while they easily reached consensus on spending, how to raise an amount equal to roughly half the annual federal budget and what exactly to spend it on was left murky.

A 20-cent-per-gallon hike in the federal fuel tax, which would more than double the 18-cent levy, was put on the table. In theory, a user tax is the best way to fund road work, and it’s how the national Highway Trust Fund is financed now.

But Democrats want more, and they want to get it by checking off a key agenda item on their partisan bucket list: rolling back the Republican tax breaks most American’s received last year.

Even if Trump were foolish enough to erode one of his administration’s signature accomplishments, and one that is delivering on its promised economic growth and job creation, such a concession would have to be pried from the cold, dead fingers of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The other obstacle to a viable infrastructure spending deal is how Democrats define “infrastructure.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want money to expand broadband as well and to spend on their global warming obsession. Smoothing roads, we fear, would fall well down the priority list, giving way to items more fashionable with Democratic interest groups.

The most scary scenario is that the White House and congressional Democrats will agree on a spending plan, but not a funding mechanism, meaning that another $2 trillion will be added to an already unthinkable $22 trillion national debt.

If a pact is reached on raising the fuel tax, it will sink efforts by states such as Michigan to raise revenue to finance their own road work.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking for a 45-cents-per-gallon hike in the state fuel tax for roads, an amount she’s not likely to get, but the Legislature might be amenable to a smaller increase. That is unless it senses Congress is going to hit state motorists with a steep federal fuel tax hike.

With the federal government raising and spending the new infrastructure dollars instead of the states, Michigan can expect smaller benefit from the infrastructure boost than if it were managing the projects itself.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 3, 2019

Problem-solvers, not politicians

A collective sigh of relief was heaved Thursday by Michigan’s parents, teachers, school administrators, summer camp directors and staff, child care providers and ... anyone who has anything to do with school-age kids, whether they be your grandchildren or the host of high school kids you hire at the Dairy-Whip.

Finally, we too are free of winter’s grip.

While the few state residents not included in the above list started their warm weather preparations months ago, many of us stayed stuck in winter limbo by virtue of a snow day debacle that persisted even as the daffodils appeared.

Less than six weeks before summer vacation, we were still caught up in the polar vortex of Jan. 29-Feb. 2 — as our Legislature seemed frozen for months, only to engage in a last-minute political snowball fight.

Thursday’s thaw came in the form of legislation that strikes those four freezing days from our schools’ snow day totals, which will put districts back in the black and on track to finish the school year as expected.

Wicked winter weather had pushed many schools past their allotted six days. Then winter pushed past the 3 more allowed by wavier. Most districts found themselves in the make-up day zone — a highly undesirable place.

For example, Traverse City Area Public Schools racked up 11 snow days, leaving two days to make up.

Other schools, like Manton, had 15 snow days. Still other districts had 20-plus.

Legislators told schools they would solve the problem, as schools need to provide 1,098 hours of instruction and 180 days to have a school year (and get their state foundation allowance).

But what to do about the lost wages suffered by school hourly employees became a political game, as the House measure included a provision to pay those who didn’t get paid through their labor contract or school agreement.

Michigan’s Republican-majority Senate took issue with what they saw as an unrelated pro-union move and stripped out the provision.

Senate Democrats (newly empowered in number since the 2018 election and able to defeat a Republican supermajority) retaliated by undercutting the bill’s “immediate effect,” rendering it useless for this school year.

Enough Democrats relented from the stance to send the bill to the Governor on Thursday without the provision, just the encouragement to school districts to “do right” by their hourly employees.

The bill heads to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign it.

But now that the immediate big question is answered — we’re wondering why we impose a middle manager on that situation anyway.

Individual districts negotiate contracts with their employees and employee groups — the state has nothing to do with it. District boards of education also set their own policies and calendar. Districts get the basic parameters — 1,098 hours of instruction and 180 days — and go from there.

Some Michigan districts start before Labor Day. Some don’t. Some get a lot of snow on a regular basis; some not as much.

Some schools use a “balanced calendar approach” (more like year-round school, without a big summer break) like Madison District Public Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools and Davison Community Schools — some, like us who rely on summer business like the farmers who started our traditional school year — don’t.

We can appreciate that the state has a say in cutting days out of the overarching equation, but we think our district school boards can do the math and figure out what works in their community.

While we know that politics is often part of any democratic equation, holding a big chunk of kid-connected public hostage to winter should at least earn a demerit.

School boards should have more say in problem-solving for their districts.

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The Mining Journal. April 30, 2019

Changes in state forfeiture law are long past due

Although some in the law enforcement community might take issue, we believe legislation that’s headed to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer making fundamental changes in Michigan’s forfeiture law is not only appropriate but long past due.

Under the bill, which enjoyed rare bi-partisan support, police would be prohibited from permanently seizing property and cash taken in drug cases unless specific circumstances are met.

The Associated Press reported the legislation would prohibit assets taken in suspected drug crimes from being forfeited unless the defendant is convicted or the value of the money and property is more than $50,000, excluding the value of contraband. A conviction or guilty plea would not be required in instances where no one claims an interest in the property, the owner allows the forfeiture, or a defendant has been charged but cannot be located or extradited back to Michigan, stated AP.

Whitmer has pledged to sign the bill into law.

Police agencies have long been accused of abusing the current system, which netted them about $13.1 million in 2017 alone. At least 11 states require a criminal conviction to engage in some or all forfeiture proceedings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Three states, we’re told, don’t allow forfeiture at all.

As evidenced by its support from both sides of the aisle, this is a good and reasonable move.

We hear complaints about forfeiture from time to time. Hopefully this change in the law will alleviate that.

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