House Bill 4808, End mandatory life for very serious offenses by minors: Passed 35 to 3 in the Senate
To revise Michigan's mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for certain very serious crimes committed by minors. The bill is linked to Senate Bill 319, which would make life without parole no longer automatic in these cases, but prosecutors could request it. Otherwise, the minimum sentence would be 25 to 40 years, and the maximum at least 60 years. This and SB 319 respond to the U.S. Supreme Court's Miller v Alabama decision. The bills would not apply the new standard retroactively to the approximately 350 current prisoners in this category, but include a provision authorizing parole hearings for them if a future ruling requires this.
Senate Bill 719, Let troubled local governments renegotiate environmental/recreation debt: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate
To allow local governments with financial problems negotiate more favorable terms on loans made to them by the state using money the state itself borrowed under the 1998 “Clean Michigan Initiative” ballot proposal, which authorized $675 million of new government debt (“bond sales”) for environmental cleanup and recreation projects.
Senate Bill 396, Restrict replacement-construction property tax hikes: Passed 82 to 27 in the House
To revise a provision restricting property tax assessment increases on construction that replaces parts of a structure damaged by accident or an Act of God. The bill would prohibit an assessment hike as long as the construction is of substantially the same materials and square footage. This restriction would also apply to improvements that do increase property value but are undertake to meet current health, sanitary, zoning, safety, fire, or building code requirements.
House Bill 4486, Authorize “involuntary assessment and stabilization” for substance abuse: Passed 102 to 8
To authorize relatives or other interested persons to petition a court to take an individual abusing drugs or alcohol into protective custody for involuntary assessment and stabilization, if there is reason to believe the individual is incapacitated, has lost the power of self-control, and is incapable of making a rational decision regarding treatment. The bill would also expand the authority police currently have to lock up ("stabilize") public drunks so it also includes people publically intoxicated on drugs.
House Bill 5274, Preempt local governments from restricting CO2 pipelines: Passed 99 to 11 in the House
To expand the law that gives the state Public Service Commission authority to regulate oil and gas pipelines so it also applies to pipelines carrying carbon dioxide used in hydrocarbon “enhanced recovery” operations. This law preempts local governments from restricting pipelines in their jurisdiction. This is related to House Bill 4885, which would cut the tax on oil and gas extracted using enhanced recovery.
House Bill 4885, Cut tax on oil and gas from "enhanced recovery": Passed 85 to 25 in the House
To reduce the “severance tax” or royalty paid to the state on oil and gas extracted from state land to 4 percent for hydrocarbons extracted using “enhanced recovery” technology, which injects carbon dioxide into wells to extract more product (this is different from hydraulic fracturing).
House Bill 5255, Authorize eminent domain for oil well CO2 pipelines: Passed 69 to 41 in the House
To extend the state law authorizing eminent domain takings for gas, oil and other pipeline easements, so it also includes pipelines carrying carbon dioxide used to produce hydrocarbons in secondary or “enhanced recovery.” operations.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
It doesn't always have to mean college
Bridge magazine has a good article about the importance of encouraging students to have fulfilling careers in an area that best fits them rather than assuming more schooling means a greater education and always pushing them toward universities.
The piece is written by Glenda Price, president of the Detroit Public Schools Foundation and former president of Marygrove College. She wrote:
It is clear that post-secondary education is essential for most students. However there is too little attention given to the opportunities that advanced manufacturing, the skilled trades, and other non-degreed options might offer. We talk very little about careers that do not require a college degree. Too often we minimize the value of career programs that may be the best option for many young people. We rarely say, 'Yes, aspire to college, but perhaps not right now.'
Having spent the majority of my professional life in higher education, I saw firsthand the sad stories of students who acquired significant debt, but did not attain a degree. I watched the loss of self-confidence and self-worth that comes with academic failure.
This is particularly good advice right now for several reasons.
The first is that pushing all students to go to college, and assuming that more schooling always equals more educational attainment, harms individuals and society. A report from the National School Clearinghouse Research Center began tracking students in 2006 and shows that 54.1 obtained a degree within six years. In other words, the current higher education system is extremely inefficient at actually producing college graduates.
The second is that Gov. Rick Snyder wants to increase the amount taxpayers spend on Michigan's 15 public universities by $80 million. There is no evidence that doing so will lead to more graduates or a better state economy, and only 1 percent of Michigan residents say spending more on public universities is a good way to use the state surplus, according to an EPIC MRA poll.
There are a lot of reasons students pursue more schooling, but the most important is to find better job opportunities.
The current system is encouraging people to pursue areas that are not worth the cost and ending up with one of the worst results possible — going to college, taking on debt, wasting time and leaving with no degree. That's not good for anyone.
Comparison to Texas invalid, dishonest
A new commercial is attempting to make Michigan residents fear electricity deregulation.
It claims that Texas "decided to experiment with deregulating their electricity," and subsequently, prices "shot through the roof" and "blackouts threatened communities." It then tells that a proposed bill in this state that would "deregulate Michigan's electricity."
Michiganders need not fear, however, for this commercial is charged with only half-truths.
For starters, state policymakers are not considering electricity deregulation. The cited legislation — Rep. Mike Shirkey's House Bill 5184 — merely lifts the cap on the portion of consumers who would be able to choose an alternative electricity provider (other than the one assigned to them by Michigan's current monopoly system). The electricity market in Michigan would remain just as regulated as it is now. The state would still control which utilities could operate and would continue to regulate rates, among other things.
The use of Texas as an example of failed deregulation due to its impact on prices in the Lone Star State is puzzling. As outlined in a recent report by the Michigan Public Service Commission, the average residential retail price of electricity in Michigan increased faster than Texas's over the last decade and remains significantly higher. Texas's rates were about eight cents per kilowatt hour in 2000 and about 11 cents in 2013. Michigan's rates were about 11 cents per kilowatt hour in 2000 and increased to almost 15 cents in 2013, the highest in the Midwest region and 11th highest in the nation.
If the deregulated Texas rates "shot through the roof," it might be said that Michigan's monopoly rates rocketed through the stratosphere.
By artificially blocking potential competitors from the electricity market, current Michigan law enriches the state's two largest utilities — Consumers Energy and DTE. It should come as no surprise that these electricity providers will fight to maintain their privileged status. But this debate should focus on what's best for consumers, not just providers.
And as Mackinac Center for Public Policy Scholar Ted Bolema recently argued, the facts are that consumers are best served when electric utilities have to compete for their business, just like consumers are better off now that they have a wide selection of telephones and television providers.
Center Scholar Mark Perry's "Carpe Diem" blog
Mark Perry, a member of the Center’s Board of Scholars and an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, has an interesting blog post today at Carpe Diem that lists the GDP of each state with a comparable foreign country.
Michigan, with a 2012 state GDP of $400 billion, ranks 13th in the nation and is comparable with South Africa, whose 2012 GDP was $383 billion.
California ranks first nationally, with a 2012 state GDP of slightly more than $2 trillion, or about the same as Italy. Perry notes that California, however, has about one-third fewer people than Italy. “That’s a testament to the superior, world-class productivity of the American worker,” he writes.
Mismanagement, not funding, deserves scrutiny
Some district leaders, including South Lyon Superintendent William Pearson, Livonia Superintendent Randy Liepa and Howell Associate Superintendent of Business Rick Terres, have complained publicly that state funding is declining.
Part of their explanation is that the state is giving money to districts earmarked for employee retirement costs. Though that money is paying for classroom teachers' retirement benefits, officials and politicians claim it isn't "classroom" spending.
But even if the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System money is disregarded, these school officials' districts are still getting more money. It is disingenuous to claim otherwise.
An op-ed calling for more spending on public education co-authored by the South Lyon superintendent claims that "...years of per-pupil funding cuts and a dysfunctional educational funding system" have caused children to be "squeezed into classroom[s]..."
And yet, South Lyon is getting more state money than ever. This year, the district is set to receive nearly $50 million in state money. South Lyon will be receiving $7,859 per student in state and foundation allowance money.[i]
Taking out the additional state money for teacher retirement costs reduces South Lyon's per-pupil amount to $7,571. But that is still $431 per student more than what the district received during the 2010-11 school year.
No matter how the calculation is done, South Lyon has not seen a decline in state funding.
The Livonia superintendent has been quoted in various news outlets claiming that state funding for schools has gone down. He told Michigan Information & Research Service (subscription required) that the additional retirement money has been "a significant help," but that after retirement costs "I have less revenue every year..."
Liepa has also told the Detroit Free Press that his district has $20 million less than it had five years ago. But taxpayers aren't to blame: This year, Livonia will receive a total of $114.2 million from state taxpayers. In 2009-10, the district received $104.5 million.
Per-pupil calculations yield the same result. This year, Livonia is set to receive $9,515 per pupil in state and foundation allowance money. Removing state money for employee retirement costs reduces that to $9,090 per student.
But in 2010-11, Livonia received $8,900 per student. Either way, the district is receiving more per student from state taxpayers.
The Howell associate superintendent of business told the Livingston Daily that increased state funding will slow the "bleeding" and help the district avoid an "all-out hemorrhaging."
But, again, reality is different.
Howell is set to receive $7,867 this year in state and foundation allowance money. Removing the amount designated for retirement costs yields a per-pupil funding amount of $7,585 — still more than what Howell received in 2010-11.
There is no question that retirement costs are classroom costs. Pension contributions are part of the total compensation classroom teachers receive, and their retirement costs are significant. Though some superintendents might discount those benefits, they can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for a single employee.
But, even when removing MPSERS funding for argument's sake, the claims of many do not hold up. South Lyon, Livonia and Howell all are receiving more per-pupil funding from the state than they did a few years ago. (Keep in mind, this analysis does not include local revenues, like the $195 million bond revenue Livonia approved last year).
These districts' struggles are not due to a lack of support from taxpayers. Instead, they may be due to mismanagement or a failure to adequately respond to enrollment declines.
[i] This per-pupil amount includes foundation allowance money and state categorical funding.
CapCon broke story about RTW "intimidation" list
The Daily Caller is reporting on a story Michigan Capitol Confidential broke about a Michigan union that bullied members who exercised their worker freedom rights. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 published the names of 19 former members who resigned under Michigan’s right-to-work law in its statewide winter 2013 newsletter, labeling the workers as “freeloaders.”
The union’s attempt to intimidate members has now drawn national attention, being highlighted by KFI AM640 in Burbank, Calif.; WRBT FM94.9 in Harrisburg, Pa.; WBHP AM800 in Huntsville, Ala.; KIX FM104 in Fayetteville, Ark.; KTKR AM760 in San Antonio, Texas; WNTM AM710 in Mobile, Ala.; KNST AM790 in Tucson, Ariz.; WXKS FM108 in Boston, Mass.; KFAB AM110 in Omaha, Neb.; WRNL AM910 in Richmond, Va.; KKSF AM910 in San Francisco, Calif.; KVET FM98.1 in Austin, Texas; KNIX FM102.5 in Phoenix, Ariz.; KLSD AM1360 in San Diego, Calif.; WTAG AM580 in Worcester, Mass.; and WLW AM700 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
And why that myth is so damaging
President Obama came to Michigan recently to sign the $1 trillion farm bill and in a press release touting the bill, Sen. Debbie Stabenow called agriculture the state's "second-largest industry after manufacturing."
That is false.
A quick look at the data shows there is no possible way to justify calling agriculture Michigan's second-largest industry. Yet the claim has been repeated for years. This is especially distressing because Sen. Stabenow, D-Lansing, is the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and should know the size and scale of the industry.
The myth also is repeated by the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Ag Leaders For Michigan and other groups. The Michigan government also makes the claim, saying recently that agriculture is a "rock star" industry that employes "about 22 percent of Michigan's workforce."
The media echo chamber has helped spread this falsehood. An Associated Press article after the bill signing put that statement at the beginning of its article, which ran in newspapers across the country. (The national desk of the AP should have talked to Dave Eggert of MLive, who busted this fable two years ago.)
How did this statistic enter the conversation? My colleague James Hohman explains:
The source for the oft-repeated "second-largest industry" seems to come from an MSU report that uses a very loose definition of agriculture and multiplies the economic impacts from that loose definition.
For instance, cereal factories are included, as are food wholesalers and retailers like grocery stores and restaurants, regardless of their sales of Michigan grown produce. These jobs are then multiplied for their ancillary effects, meaning that you could be working as a car salesman and still be "induced" by agriculture, even though you directly work in automotive retail.
But even in the MSU study, the authors did not say agriculture is the second-largest industry. That was extrapolated by others.
This may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but misrepresentations like these are damaging. When politicians elevate certain industries of the economy in the minds of people, they are usually doing so to push favors for that segment.
Not surprisingly, while agriculture makes up about 1 percent of the national workforce, farmers get a disproportionate amount of subsidies that no one else receives. It also feeds the belief that bureaucrats and elected officials are "doing something" to help the economy, even if they are just shifting money from more productive areas to flashier ones (see: "State Loses 200,000 Jobs, MEDC Finds 2,185").
Agriculture is an important industry in Michigan, but there are lots of important areas of the economy. The government should not elevate it above the others, especially based on myths about its size.
Big spending on small part of economy
There are two things to keep in mind regarding the $1 trillion farm bill that President Obama recently signed into law at Michigan State University.
First, agriculture is a small component of both the U.S. and Michigan economies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. economy produced $16.2 trillion worth of output in 2012. Farming comprised $167 billion of this total, or about 1 percent. Only 1.5 percent of workers are employed in agriculture and related industries.
In Michigan, total economic output was about $400 billion in 2012, with farming constituting $4 billion of the total, or about 1 percent. Note that these Michigan figures actually inflate farming’s size because, unlike the national economy, the numbers for Michigan also include forestry, fishing and hunting, activities not usually thought of as “farming.”
The recent signing of the Farm Bill means that the federal government just committed to spend $1 trillion over 10 years to subsidize a tiny component of the economy that employs relatively few Americans.
Contrast farming with manufacturing. Nationwide, manufacturing output was $1.1 trillion in 2012, making up 6.7 percent of the economy. In Michigan, manufacturing output was $66.2 billion in 2012, or 16.5 percent of the state’s economy. Moreover, 8.7 percent of American workers are employed in manufacturing and the same is true for 13.7 percent of Michigan workers. We still manufacture a lot of output in both the United States in Michigan. Yet, we are able to do it without a $1 trillion manufacturing bill!
Second, consider the direction of the subsidies in the farm bill. According to the New Republic, the bottom 80 percent of farmers, the so-called “mom-and-pop” farmers that are romanticized in popular culture, receive an average of $5,000 in subsidies a year. The subsidies largely take the form of government-subsidized crop insurance. In contrast, many large corporate farms collect upwards of $100,000 each and some get more than $1 million in subsidies, as there are no income limits to receiving the subsidies.
And how are these subsidies paid for? The Farm Bill reduces the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or “SNAP,” which is more widely known as “food stamps”) by approximately $8 billion over 10 years. This translates into a roughly $90 per month cut to those lower income households that are affected. The increase in the subsidized crop insurance program described above costs $7 billion over 10 years.
These two points give credence to the view that this farm bill is really bad public policy. But this should also give pause to those who believe that only government can mitigate income inequality, as many politicians claim to want to do. As the farm bill case illustrates, these same politicians at times work directly against this goal.