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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

December 3, 2018

The Detroit News. November 29, 2018

Unions should pay for union work

Among the fiscally smart measures Republicans failed to address during the eight years they held control of state government is ending the practice of taxpayers footing the bill for teachers who do union work while on the clock. They have another chance in lame duck, and they should take it.

The bill that would prevent the practice of so-called release time is getting traction. It passed narrowly out of the Senate this week. Its supporters aren’t sure what reception it will face in the House, which was less eager to take up the matter last session.

Release time is a provision that’s embedded into school district union contracts throughout Michigan. It places a burden on already strained school budgets to fund work that doesn’t directly benefit students.

In some cases, schools pay a full-time salary and benefits to an employee who does no actual work related to teaching or other academic duties.

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, has tried to end release time for years — starting when he was in the state House. This is his last chance, as he didn’t win his bid for a second term.

“I don’t think that taxpayers should pay for the time spent doing union business,” he says. “For me, it’s purely economics.”

He says there’s a lot of misinformation about the legislation. Knollenberg isn’t trying to keep teachers from doing union-related work. He just thinks that work should be paid for with union membership dues.

Similarly, the Senate passed another bill Knollenberg introduced that would stop something known as “pension spiking.” That bill would prohibit public schools from giving pension credits to union officials who remain on their payrolls but who are working full-time on union business. It’s a trick that’s been used to pad the pensions of top Michigan Education Association officials, including several past presidents. That’s something else taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover.

Jarrett Skorup, director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, estimates release time costs school districts a combined $3 million for salaries, but it gets much more expensive when benefits are included. Districts must also cover additional costs for absent teachers, including paying for their classroom substitutes.

In 2015, at least 70 school districts paid union officials half- or full-time salaries, according to the Mackinac Center. And a newer analysis found 177 school employees received some sort of release time.

Most of the state’s 538 traditional school districts don’t use release time. Even the largest, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, doesn’t participate.

In those districts, unions cover the cost of union work. And that’s how it should be statewide.

Both these bills look out for taxpayers, and the House should find the gumption to pass them.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). November 28, 2018

17-year-olds are not adults

It would be easier to praise Michigan lawmakers for doing the right thing if the bad things they do were not so breathtakingly awful.

On Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations committee did what everyone — the business lobby in particular — expected it to do and, on a party-line vote, gutted the citizen initiatives to raise the minimum wage and to mandate paid sick leave.

After activists raised hundreds of thousands of signatures to get the two issues on the November ballot, the Legislature acted quickly to pass the two initiatives. The One Fair Wage initiative would have raised the minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and would have raised to minimum wage of tipped workers as well. The sick time proposal would have required employers to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

That’s what lawmakers approved in September.

Lame ducks in the committee Wednesday stretched the minimum wage increase out to 2030 and all but dropped the tipped workers’ increase. They cut the paid sick time in half.

Lawmakers moved quickly in September so that they could change the initiatives with simple majorities. If the proposals had reached the ballot, they would have been much more difficult to tinker with. Expect the bills to pass quickly and make it to the governor’s desk before he leaves office.

So much for justice and democracy.

A different sort of legislative spinelessness, though, might bring a little justice to Michigan.

Politicians want to look tough on crime. So, beginning about three decades ago, Michigan has worked to lock up as many teenage offenders as possible. That also happened elsewhere, but most states have seen the folly of automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults.

Michigan is one of only four states that considers 17-year-olds adults in criminal courts. They are still children when it comes to signing a contract, deciding whether to stay in school, serve on a jury, vote in elections, use tobacco, purchase fireworks, get a tattoo or buy a lottery ticket.

A package of bills to fix that passed out of a House committee Wednesday morning. If passed, it would treat 17-year-olds charged with most crimes as children. Eighteen-year-olds could be tried in adult courts and sent to adult prisons.

Prosecutors would still have the discretion to petition some younger teen offenders to adult courts, depending on the nature of the offense. And certain serious offenses would automatically shift to the adult system.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). November 27, 2018

It’s great to see gas prices are coming down

We are glad to see that gas prices in Marquette improved since our last editorial on Nov. 17 when we reported that Meijer in Escanaba was .33 per gallon less than the Meijer in Marquette.

On Monday, the price of gas at Meijer in Marquette was listed on Gas Buddy as $2.57 per gallon. The Meijer in Escanaba came in at $2.43. That is a .14 cent per gallon difference. It is still hard to understand the significant price difference between Marquette and Escanaba. We would still like to have someone representing local gas stations to explain to our readers why gas in Marquette is so much more expensive than it is in Escanaba.

We checked other stations as well and found Krist Oil to be at $2.52 per gallon in Marquette. Krist in Escanaba was $2.43, which is .09 cents per gallon less than Marquette. Krist in Iron Mountain was $2.52 per gallon. Krist in Houghton was $2.63 per gallon.

We are happy to see that we are competitive with the prices in Iron Mountain and Houghton at Krist stations. One of the reasons people in Marquette are so sensitive to the price of gas is because AAA often lists the highest price of gas in the state of Michigan as Marquette. AAA only surveys certain markets, unlike Gas Buddy, which list more markets and prices. No matter how you look at it, people in Marquette feel like they are being taken advantage of by paying the highest price of gas in the state at times.

Our readers have kept in touch with us and they want us to continue to act as the gas price police in the Marquette area, which is why we have written the last two editorials on the issue. We will continue to monitor the prices on gas in Marquette with hopes that in the future we will get closer to the price of gas that Escanaba is charging. As reported in this editorial, we are closer to Iron Mountain and actually lower per gallon than in Houghton. Houghton often has the lowest price of gas because of competition from the Pines Station in Baraga which was listed at $2.30 per gallon by Gas Buddy on Monday. Using the Pines in Baraga is not an apples-to-apples comparison because they don’t have to pay the state taxes that other competitors must pay.

We did the math in the past, showing that the cost to bring gas the additional distance from Escanaba to Marquette may justify an increase of .01 to .02 cents per gallon. This assumption would be based on the additional salary for a truck driver plus the mileage cost associated with fuel used by the tanker to drive the additional distance from Escanaba to Marquette. Take the additional cost and divide that by the number of gallons in a tanker and you come up with justifying the additional cost of .01 to .02 cents per gallon.

As we have offered in the Nov. 17 editorial, we would be glad to host a representative from any one of the gas providers in the Marquette area to address a public forum to explain the justification for high gas prices in Marquette. We will cover the expense of the forum and also provide advanced advertising and promotion to invite consumers to the event. If there is a legitimate reason for high gas prices in Marquette, we would look forward to that reason being explained to Marquette consumers. We would also cover the forum and do a news story for those who are unable to attend.

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Petoskey News-Review. November 30, 2018

Protect the Mackinac Bridge, not Enbridge

A proposed bill would expand the mission and focus of the 1952 charter for the Mackinac Bridge Authority, giving it the ability to take ownership of a tunnel housing Line 5 for Enbridge, should be scrapped.

The bill, dropped in early November into the state senate by Senator Tom Casperson — long known for his dislike of anything that protects the environment — is being fast-tracked through the legislature in hopes that it will be a done deal before the end of this year, when current Governor Rick Snyder leaves office.

According to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, the Snyder/Enbridge agreement and this bill would:

— It would change the focus and responsibility of the bridge authority, compromising the effectiveness of the authority to manage the Mackinac Bridge.

— The authority would be required to defend Enbridge and the agreement in court, which could require a significant investment of money that could be otherwise used on bridge operations.

— The authority would subject to appropriations by the Legislature to fulfill its responsibilities related to the tunnel. This would subject the authority to political pressure and partisan politics, something it has always been immune to. It could also greatly impact the finances of the authority.

— Bridge assets and revenues are dedicated to the bridge operation and maintenance, but bonds are not. Bonds meant for the Mackinac Bridge could be diverted for the tunnel.

Everything about this plan, part of a backroom deal between Snyder and Enbridge, stinks. It could hurt the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Mackinac Bridge. The Snyder administration and its supporters are putting all their energy into seeing this deal through to end, including appointing four new members to the Mackinac Bridge Authority who would rubber stamp the plan for the outgoing governor.

But some members of the board are fighting back against Snyder, Casperson, Enbridge and their supporters, such as board vice chair Barbara Brown. Brown has been a vocal opponent of the authority taking ownership of this tunnel.

“This bridge is owned by the people of the state,” Brown said in an interview with the Petoskey News-Review. “It is is not Gov. Snyder’s to give away.”

Brown has been critical of the notion for involving the bridge authority in the tunnel plan, calling it a “shotgun wedding” between Enbridge and the bridge authority. As she sees it, adding extraneous responsibilities to the bridge authority would make the body less effective at its primary objective — maintaining the bridge.

Brown said, “The very reason the Mackinac Bridge Authority has been able to do its job so well is because its been able to maintain its authority and independence.”

Former chair of the authority and Charlevoix resident, Bill Gnodtke, is also speaking out. He is a member of the group called Friends of the Mackinac Bridge, who are fighting against Casperson’s proposal in the senate.

“We strongly urge all those in Lansing and elsewhere to protect the Mackinac Bridge and to end attempts to significantly expand the Authority’s role by assigning it responsibilities that have absolutely no relationship to the fundamental mission it has successfully carried out for 68 years,” Gnodtke said at a press conference recently.

Brown said it is important the people of Michigan speak up about Casperson’s and Snyder’s proposal now.

“When that bill is passed I would anticipate an emergency meeting pursuant to the Open Meetings Act would convene. Anybody thinking we have until February is mistaken. Time is of the essence to convince the legislature and the governor that this is not in the state’s best interest,” Brown said.

While we wish Snyder best in his “retirement” as Michigan’s governor, the State of Michigan and the Mackinac Bridge could do without his going away present.

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