The Detroit News. August 29, 2018

Car buyers will pay for new NAFTA deal

Looking at the trade deal President Donald Trump struck with Mexico this week, you might ask, "A Republican did this?" Yes, a GOP president and supposed conservative wants to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement with a pact that may as well have been dictated by Big Labor.

Trade deals are intended to foster more vigorous commerce between nations and lower prices for consumers.

This new NAFTA, if approved, would do the opposite. Trump has built in a number of protectionist measures that will surely curtail trade between the two nations and sharply drive up the cost of automobiles.

This is protectionism at its worst.

While NAFTA did need updating and was no longer working entirely in America's best interests, it still serve the cause of free trade.

The new NAFTA envisioned by Trump and forced upon Mexico under the threat of even more restrictive measures layers on tariffs and mandates aimed at limiting the quantity of goods and services that cross the border and shielding American jobs from competition.

Its largest impact is on automobiles and auto parts, meaning it comes down hardest on Michigan, a state that backed Trump in the 2016 election.

The deal would raise the threshold for qualifying as "American made" to 75 percent of a vehicle's content, up from the current 62.5 percent.

Also included is the extraordinary requirement that 40 percent of imported SUVs and 45 percent of pickup trucks be built by a workforce that makes at least $16 an hour, or face a tariff.

Mexico won't be able to meet the duty-free conditions, so it will have to tack on a 2.5 percent tariff to every vehicle it exports to the U.S. That cost will be paid by American consumers.

A side deal crafted in the name of national security caps vehicle imports from Mexico at 2.4 million and attaches additional levies on auto parts imports above $90 billion. Both measures would limit future growth.

The United States has no business setting minimum wage rates for another country. Nor should it be attaching hard restrictions to trade.

Remember that this is coming at a time when the U.S. economy is growing at above a 4 percent annual rate and unemployment is below 5 percent.

If protectionist measure were ever justified — and they rarely are — they certainly are not defensible at a time when there are already 7 million unfilled jobs in the United States.

If Trump is successful at bringing more jobs from Mexico to the U.S., who's going to fill them, particularly since he's also pushing policies that would limit immigration?

The wholesale rewrite of NAFTA in a manner that makes trade less free and more costly was not needed.

Canada, which forms the third leg of NAFTA, isn't included in this deal, but rejoined talks on Wednesday. Any agreement that is reached between the three countries must be approved by Congress.

The hope is that Canada can move a renegotiated NAFTA much closer to its original intent of fostering robust trade, and that a Republican Congress would signal its wariness of protectionism.

Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise with this deal, and American automakers and consumers will pick up the tab.


Lansing State Journal. August 30, 2018

Downtown Lansing just keeps looking better and better

A long-awaited grocery store; a second downtown hotel; 36 new apartments and some 300 parking spaces taking over a highly visible space on Michigan Avenue adjacent to the Stadium District.

All of that is coming to downtown Lansing in 2020, thanks to the Capital City Market project, which developer Pat Gillespie announced to great applause on Wednesday.

Will this project be the tipping point that pushes Lansing's downtown into a desirable place to live, work and play?

If it does - and the $40 million development certainly could - residents would be wise to take in the full picture of Lansing's rebirth.

A $40 million project can do that to a city. Nate Chute, IndyStar

Gillespie's announcement is just the latest in a string of developments over the past two decades. The construction of Oldsmobile Park (now Cooley Law School Stadium) and the arrival of the Lansing Lugnuts started the transformation in the area dubbed the Stadium District.

The five-story Stadium District Apartments, a mix of retail, apartments and office space just south of the ballpark, wouldn't have happened without the Lugnuts' stadium.

The Outfield and Marketplace apartments wouldn't have happened without the success of the Stadium District Apartments. The expansion of downtown living options continues - 800 units currently (with high occupancy), likely to increase to 2,000 units over the next three to five years.

The city's ongoing investment in the 13-mile River Trail as both a destination in itself and as a connector between the revitalized Old Town and REO Town neighborhoods - and to communities that ring Lansing.

Wednesday's blockbuster announcement is another in a long line of big wins over a relatively short period of time for downtown Lansing. Developers see opportunities here. City and economic development leaders are working collaboratively with them to make sure they make sense for all parties.

As Greater Lansing celebrates the arrival of a new grocery store and hotel downtown, let's not lose sight of the big opportunities that remain - among them the repurposing of the City Market space and ongoing development of the Michigan Avenue corridor.

It's looking better and better in downtown Lansing every day.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). August 27, 2018

Public defender plan will improve quality of legal representation

Given the amount of work that needs to be done, we like the move Marquette County has made to establish a public defender's office, which provide legal representation for adult defendants in Marquette County's district and circuit courts who cannot afford counsel.

The move traces its roots to a new set of requirements put forth last year by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, which seeks to improve the quality of indigent defense in Michigan.

In addition, they are part of a response to a 2007 lawsuit against the state over its approach to indigent defense, a Mining Journal story on the matter detailed.

According to Marquette County officials, what the county is currently doing — assigning indigent cases to lawyers willing to take them — works well. The idea here is to improve the quality of representation.

Funding, of course, is key in all of this. Marquette County will pay an average of $224,000 per year (averaged out over a three-year period). The remaining monies needed to set up the office for the 2018-2019 fiscal year are approximately $631,000 and will be funded by the state, Erbisch said.

That's something the state will hopefully do going forward because without state money, none of the above will happen.

This seems like a good plan, all things considered. Improving the quality of indigent legal counsel is a laudable, and achievable, goal, under this plan.


Times Herald (Port Huron). August 29, 2018

Cyber school defenders too transparent

Gov. Rick Snyder has tried the past two years to take some of the profit out of online "cyber" charter schools. Storefront cyber academies exist mainly to make their operators wealthy while providing little education and less hope of success. At the same time, they get the same per-pupil funding as traditional K-12 schools.

Earlier this year, Snyder suggested the only way to boost funding for traditional schools might be to reduce funding for cyber schools. He argued, reasonably, that storefront cyber schools don't have the same costs as traditional schools — and he was being nice about it. Cyber schools don't have bus, infrastructure, school lunch, heating or other costs of a traditional brick-and-mortar school district. Many barely have teacher costs.

Average student-teacher ratios for for-profit virtual schools in Michigan are an unfathomable 146-to-1. Nonprofit cyber schools, such as those run by some Blue Water Area school districts, have rations closer to 40-to-1. Traditional schools average 23-to-1, and many suggest that is too high, especially in the lower grades.

And the results are exactly as expected. Graduation rates are a third of traditional schools and standardized test scores are abysmal.

But there is big money in cyber schools and other charter academies, and where there is profit, there are lobbyists to protect it. Lawmakers wouldn't agree to taking money away from cyber academies.

State Department of Education officials figured out a different way to do it, though. Buried within the set of rules for counting how many students attend is a new provision that requires cyber academy students to attend school all year. Remember, counting students is a big deal. They're worth an average $8,343 a head. They are even more valuable if you can teach 146 of them with one teacher.

Although the provision seems reasonable, remember that students in traditional K-12 schools aren't exactly required to attend school all year. They can miss quite a few days, in fact, just as long as they are in their seats on the fall and spring count days — which is why school districts have prizes and pizza on those days.

Still, there needs to be something to hold cyber academies accountable both for the tax dollars they syphon out of traditional schools and for their dismal results.

State Sen. Phil Pavlov is not proposing a solution. He's only demanding that the Department of Education roll back the attendance requirement for cyber academies. He and his counterpart in the House argue the change "will harm families" because cyber charters won't take students they can't make money on.

He ignores the harm done by diverting money from real classrooms to line the pockets of cyber school sharks.