Fox News, The Week cite labor policy expert
Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio was cited by Fox News and in The Week regarding the failure of Big Labor to accomplish the political retribution on Election Day against elected officials who embraced labor reforms.
“The voters are siding with taxpayers and the workers,” he told Fox News. “This [election] was less a referendum and more of a reaffirmation. Unions are going to have to adapt.”
Michigan Law Revision Commission takes step forward
The Michigan Law Revision Commission, which evaluates comprehensive changes and updates to state statutes, met Nov. 5 to discuss the need to modernize the state’s Open Meetings Act. The OMA requires public bodies (school boards, city councils, etc.) to deliberate, make decisions and take action in a public meeting, with the goal of keeping the public fully informed about the actions of public bodies.
Communications technology has changed since the law was adopted in 1976 and the Michigan Law Revision Commission rightly seeks to address shortcomings in the way the law is written, particularly where the OMA drafters of 1976 simply couldn’t have anticipated e-mail, the Internet, cloud storage and other advances. MLRC reviewed six specific recommendations to amend the OMA:
- Allow members of the public to record public meetings with any non-disruptive devices. Currently the law allows individuals to tape record, videotape and broadcast meetings live on radio and television. This amendment would allow members of the public to record meetings with any non-disruptive device and to live stream meetings online.
- Post meeting notices on the public body’s website. Public bodies are required to notify the public of upcoming meetings. For regularly scheduled meetings, the law requires meeting notices to be posted at the agency’s principle office and other “appropriate” locations. This recommendation would mandate that the meeting notice also to be posted on the public body’s website if it maintains an official website.
- Post minutes of public meetings on the public body’s website. Currently the law merely requires public bodies to maintain meeting minutes, keep them open to public inspection, and provide the minutes upon request. This amendment would mandate that public bodies also post minutes online on the body’s official website. (Public bodies that aren’t doing this already are missing a good opportunity to convey their commitment to transparency.)
- Post other documents online. Similar to the recommendation to post meeting minutes online, this recommendation would require the posting of any documents that are the subject of an agenda item.
- Consider circumstances in which a public body may conduct a meeting by videoconferencing, teleconferencing and webcasting. This is a good idea so long as the virtual meetings are fully accessible to members of the public, particularly elderly individuals.
- Increase penalties for officials who violate the OMA. According to the MLRC report, the penalties for violating the law haven’t been adjusted since its adoption; the report recommends increasing the penalties to provide a stronger deterrent.
The MLRC voted to pass these recommendations on the Legislature for consideration. This is an encouraging development and should garner bi-partisan support.
The Legislature should consider additional ways to embrace technology to improve civic engagement. For example, meeting notices should also be posted on a public body’s social media accounts and distributed to an e-mail listserv for residents and news media who request notification. Public bodies are allowed to take some sensitive topics behind closed doors, but too often those closed session conversations veer into topics that should be discussed in open session. A taxpayer who suspects a violation of this rule usually cannot prove the violation, so the violation goes unpunished. A sensible solution would be to require public bodies to audio tape all closed sessions. Those recordings would remain exempt from disclosure, but if litigation occurs over an alleged OMA violation a judge could review the audio in private to evaluate whether a violation occurred.
Where is that 'tax cut fever' you promised?
Nearly a year ago, popular Michigan pundit Tim Skubick opined on MLive.com that “another disease is starting to make the rounds in this town (Lansing): Tax Cut Fever.”
Personally, this observer welcomed the prospect of a bipartisan frenzy to convert a projected state budget surplus into tax cuts, even if the politicians’ motives included wanting to “help cement their 2014 re-election bid …”
The promise was especially welcome given that Lansing then looked more ready to raise taxes than cut them. I pointed out some examples in an article published last January. Among them:
The Legislature had recently enacted $82.6 million in fee hikes. It had also granted certain local “Business Improvement Zone” authorities the power to levy additional property taxes. And there was plenty of chatter about imposing taxes on Internet transactions (an Amazon tax) and other new extractions.
Moreover, a 2007 promise that Gov. Granholm’s big income tax hike of that year would be rolled back to 3.9 percent beginning after she left office never happened. Instead, we got a 0.1 percent rate cut, from 4.35 percent to 4.25 percent, with further baked-in reductions repealed. Some fever!
Nevertheless, Skubick predicted that the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, would “breeze back into town next month, dust it (an old rate reduction bill) off and get the tax cut ball rolling.”
Maybe there was other evidence of the “fever” Skubick expected? None was found in a search of the Michiganvotes.org web site for all the bills in the “tax” category. This revealed 236 bills introduced in 2013 — a non-election year — but just 150 this year. The temperature appeared to be cooling, not heating up.
Most of those tax bills proposed minor regulatory changes or modest “boutique” credits or exemptions. Worse, some proposed substantial tax hikes, not cuts. For example, three 2014 bills proposed new or increased levies on e-cigarettes and certain commercial and industrial property, respectively. That suggests a “fever” all right — but for hikes not cuts.
To be fair, other new tax proposals were both substantial and widely perceived as deeply political, such as bills to expand the homestead property tax credit and exempt certain pension income. Rate cuts are a much better idea than credits and extensions. (Read more about that in the Capitol Confidential article, “Why Tax Rate Cuts Matter More than Increasing Credits and Exemptions.”) And the Legislature did adopt bipartisan cuts to property taxes imposed on business tools — a levy universally regarded as unwise and counter-productive — which voters approved in August.
But still, none of that suggested an imminent outbreak of across-the-board tax cut fever in Lansing.
Hope springs eternal, however: This taxpayer and millions of others in this state eagerly await the arrival in Lansing of a tax cut epidemic. If anything, sadly, the upcoming lame duck session seems more likely to see the rumored tax cut virus mutate into a real tax hike bug.
Unions' bark worse than their bite
Yesterday’s election was not so much a referendum on labor reform as yet another reminder that when elected officials protect freedom and taxpayers they do not need to fear the wrath of the union political juggernaut.
These reformers winning and opponents losing cannot be easily dismissed as “it was a Republican wave which protected the politicians who took on labor reform.” Almost more striking than what was in the Republican wins was what was not in the Democrat losses.
In Michigan for example, the birthplace of the UAW, the state with the 5th highest union membership rate in the country and long considered a labor stronghold, right-to-work was nowhere to be found in the election. Not on the ballot as an initiative or Constitutional Amendment, nor even in the gubernatorial or legislative races.
During the sole Michigan gubernatorial debate of the season, the only time worker freedom came up was as a subpart of another question and one that neither candidate addressed.
So low was the saliency of right-to-work as a negative issue that even representatives from the Michigan Education Association dismissed it. At a right-to-work panel discussion in October, MEA communications consultant David Crim explicitly stated:
I do not believe that on November 4th when people go to the polls they are going to say ‘you know what I am going to decide who I am going to vote for, for governor, for the legislature, any office on the ballot based on the right-to-work law that was passed…’ See 46:30 on video
This is a far cry from the violent protests outside the Capitol and a “there will be blood” threat by Rep. Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor, during the passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law in 2012.
In Wisconsin, proxies for Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms have been on the ballot almost too many times to count. In every election that was deemed a ‘must win’ by unions to repeal labor reforms there was a loss. In fact, after the initial flurry of recall attempts, Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill was not a central issue of the Democratic campaigns.
The same goes for the legislators who voted for right-to-work in Indiana and even for Gov. Kasich in Ohio, whose labor reforms were overturned yet still won re-election handily last night.
Big Labor lost four of the five gubernatorial races the AFL-CIO initially said it would focus on — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida — with Pennsylvania being their only win.
As Lee Saunders, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political committee, told The New York Times in February, ousting Republicans in the industrial battleground states was “about survival.”
Labor lost races that were not even initially on their radar. This shockingly includes Illinois, where Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner dared to take on forced unionism.
The “survival” lesson from the 2014 election is that labor reform is not the third rail of politics. Despite enduring a lot of noise from Big Labor, reformers need not fear its wrath. Voters will continue to reward those who support freedom and taxpayers.
As for labor’s survival, this election should be a lesson. It is time they give up the compulsion and privileges of the past. In order to not just survive but grow, they need to adapt.
Tea Party? Occupy Wall Street? Corporate Welfare
While the Legislature is on a campaign season break from voting, the Roll Call Report continues a series reviewing key votes of the 2013-2014 session. This edition focuses on what are called "economic development" bills.
House Bill 4782, Expand a corporate/developer subsidy regime: Passed 87 to 23 in the House on November 14, 2013
To authorize creation of a sixth “Next Michigan Development Corporation,” which is a government agency that gives tax breaks and subsidies to particular corporations or developers selected by political appointees on the entity's board, for projects meeting extremely broad "multi-modal commerce" criteria (basically, any form of goods-related commerce). The new entity would be in the Upper Peninsula.
House Bill 4783, Expand a corporate/developer subsidy regime again: Passed 83 to 27 in the House on September 9, 2014
To authorize creation of a seventh “Next Michigan Development Corporation” as described in the previous vote, except this one would probably be in Detroit. The Senate has not yet taken up this bill.
Senate Bill 536, Expand real estate development tax breaks: Passed 70 to 39 in the House on June 10, 2014
To authorize property tax exemptions for property owned by a nonprofit organization whose purpose is real estate development, if the local government agrees, and if the organization is approved by the political appointees on the board of the state agency responsible for granting and overseeing selective tax breaks and subsidies to particular corporations and developers.
Senate Bill 146, Extend enterprise zone tax breaks to a particular developer: Passed 93 to 17 in the House on February 4, 2014
To revise a law that authorizes tax breaks for developers whose projects are in an area deemed a “neighborhood enterprise zone,” in a way that would allow the tax break for a particular developer's project, notwithstanding this developer's failure to request the tax break before getting a building permit, which the current law requires. Several such bills come before the legislature each year and are usually passed.
Senate Bill 308, Authorize tax breaks to a Charlotte business: Passed 95 to 14 in the House on December 12, 2013
To revise the criteria in the law that authorizes tax breaks for the rehabilitation and reuse of "obsolete structures" in a way that will allow granting these tax breaks to a particular business in Charlotte. The bill was amended to do the same for another developer in Wayne County.
House Bill 4998, Appoint “entrepreneurs-in-residence” at Michigan Strategic Fund: Passed 85 to 24 in the House on June 3, 2014
To require the state agency responsible for granting and overseeing selective tax breaks and subsidies granted to particular corporations or developers to appoint up to 10 “entrepreneurs-in-residence” to help it “improve outreach to small business concerns;” identify inefficient or duplicative programs; recommend ways to expand and improve the these programs; and more. The bill has not been taken up by the Senate.
Senate Bill 257, Expand “Business Improvement Zone” borrow-and-spend entities: Passed 77 to 31 in the House on September 12, 2013
To expand the items that a “Business Improvement Zone” can spend money on, revise voting rules in a way that (potentially) reduces the proportion of property owners needed to impose a zone's tax-and-spending powers, increase the proportion of owners needed to dissolve one, reduce notice and public meeting requirements required to establish one, increase penalties for not paying the "special assessments" these entities impose, and more. These zones have the power to impose levies to pay for the debt they incur to pay for projects that are supposed to benefit the property owners.
House Bill 4487, Authorize DDA debt and spending to promote local agriculture: Passed 81 to 27 in the House on February 18, 2014
To empower Downtown Development Authorities to borrow and spend the loan proceeds on “marketing initiatives," "infrastructure improvements" and more that "promote local agriculture products and farmers markets." The debt incurred by these "tax increment financing" schemes is repaid by "capturing" from other local taxing units the increased property tax revenue that the DDA's subsidies and spending are presumed to generate. The Senate has not taken up this bill.
Senate Bill 218, Expand borrow-and-spend "water resource improvement authorities": Passed 92 to 16 in the House on April 18, 2013
To eliminate the sunset on local governments creating new “water resource improvement authorities," which use extra property tax levies and “tax increment financing” schemes to divert tax revenue to pay the debt they incur for various recreation and development projects. The bill would also expand the scope and geographic limits of these entities' spending.
House Bill 4327, Allow reset of "tax increment finance" schemes: Passed 86 to 21 in the House on October 23, 2013.
To allow "corridor improvement authorities" to "reset" their tax increment financing schemes (TIF) to reflect declining property assessments, which undermine their ability to divert property tax revenue from local governments and other taxing units to pay for the authority’s debt-funded spending projects and subsidies.
House Bill 4782, Expand a corporate/developer subsidy regime: Passed 31 to 6 in the Senate on December 11, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder last December.
Senate Bill 536, Expand real estate development tax breaks: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate on December 11, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law on June 24.
Senate Bill 146, Extend enterprise zone tax breaks to a particular development: Passed 32 to 4 in the Senate on October 24, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law in February.
Senate Bill 308, Authorize tax breaks to a Charlotte business: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate on May 20, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law last December.
Senate Bill 257, Expand “Business Improvement Zone” tax-and-spend entities: Passed 35 to 2 in the Senate on April 11, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law last October.
Senate Bill 218, Expand borrow-and-spend "water resource improvement authorities": Passed 32 to 5 in the Senate on March 14, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law in May 2013.
House Bill 4327, Allow reset of "tax increment finance" schemes: Passed 33 to 5 in the Senate on December 12, 2013
The Senate vote on the bill described above. This was signed into law last December.
Senate Bill 272, Authorize corporate and developer “port facility” subsidies: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate on June 13, 2013.
To expand the mission of the Michigan Strategic Fund to include providing undefined subsidies for corporations, developers and other entities involved in port facilities. The House has not taken up this bill.
Senate Bill 269, Make permanent $75 million in annual corporate subsidy spending: Passed 33 to 4 in the Senate on October 31, 2013
To extend through 2019 an annual $75 million earmark to a "21st Century Jobs Fund" program created by the previous administration, which provides various subsidies to particular firms or industries chosen by a board of political appointees. Under current law, the annual earmark expires in 2015. The House has yet to take up this bill.
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.
Great Lakes levels prove climate alarmists wrong
Gosh almighty and gee whiz — what a shock it is to discover that nature often operates in cycles. One would think that obvious fact was as clear as night and day and the four seasons of the year. Apparently to some it wasn’t, or at least it never appeared to have been considered by global warming alarmists who preached putting trust in faulty science instead of historically observable water level patterns on the Great Lakes.
On the other hand, maybe they never really believed the tripe they were spouting. Perhaps it was only opportunistic propaganda to advance their political agenda. Regardless, they should not be allowed to get away with it. Global warming alarmists ought to be called to the mat for either duplicity or foolishness. Attention needs to be called to the fact that nature is proving their disaster-mongering claims about low Great Lakes water levels untrue.
After about 13 years of low water levels on the Great Lakes, the four western lakes, Superior, Michigan-Huron and Erie (not to mention St. Clair) are all above their long-term October averages. Meanwhile, Lake Ontario is two inches below the long-term average, after being a couple of inches above it this summer. That’s according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has been keeping track since 1918.
During that recent and brief (less than a millisecond in terms of geology and climate) span of years — while the levels were down — the alarmists presented the situation as undeniable evidence of impending climate change doom. A major element of this Chicken Little message was that we — us rascally, irresponsible humans — were the cause of the alleged crisis.
Forget that over the comparatively short 90-some years that consistent records had been kept, low water level periods commenced in 1926, 1963 and 2000. Look closely at those years and you’ll notice the amazing 37-year cycles. Study old newspapers and you’ll find that same basic cycle going back even further. Listen to those who have sifted the sedimentary shoreline evidence and they’ll tell you the high and low cycle can be traced back thousands of years. They’ll also tell you that none of the water level fluctuations witnessed over the past few hundred years have been outside the range of what had occurred previously.
In spite of dire-sounding headlines fostering a provably false message that low Great Lakes water levels signaled something unnatural and unprecedented, the levels are back up again. They are up again, as they were in the 1980s after the low levels of the 1960s and early 1970s. They are up again, as they were in the 1950s after the low levels of the 1920s and early 1930s. They are up again, demonstrating once more how global warming alarmists distort short-term variations of nature to advance their dogma.
Global warming alarmists shouldn’t be allowed to duck this one. They need to be held accountable for all of their past claims. The alarmists screech and holler, but when their assertions and predictions are debunked, they are consistently allowed to move on to the next temporary circumstance they seek to exploit. It’s high time that they suffer the loss of credibility they deserve. News media and politicians have a responsibility to stand up and take notice when the claims of global warming alarmists are revealed to have been hogwash. Our society in general has a right to be told the true score.
The Great Lakes are a major feature of Earth and can be clearly spotted from the surface of the moon. They contain 6 quadrillion gallons of water; fully one-fifth of the fresh water on the planet. If all of the water in the Great Lakes was spread across the United States, it would be 9 feet deep. The Great Lakes are significant enough and important enough to be used to expose just how global warming propagandists operate and why only the gullible believe what they say.
Reporters and interviewers who let this slide will be displaying either their ignorance or irresponsibility. From now on, when global warming alarmists try to sell their mythology, their false claims about the Great Lakes water levels need to be used to refute them.
But don’t hold your breath — odds are that these merchants of misrepresentation will be allowed to escape once more. The manmade climate change/global warming industry is powerful enough to keep the debacle of the Great Lakes crisis scare hushed up. With billions in taxpayer subsidies to be collected by simply spray-painting old-fashioned corporate welfare green, we can rest assured that the propaganda will not cease.
(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran, Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)
Senior Olympics subsidies getting old
Michigan’s state budget is a $52 billion-plus document that cuts across most aspects of our lives: police, courts, transportation and education to name a few subjects. Is it any wonder then that few noticed or complained when a $100,000 “one-time” appropriation was slipped in to subsidize an athletic competition between people who are in the autumn of their years?
Subsidizing the “Michigan Senior Olympics” is not a proper function of government. It is unfair to those whose hobbies are not subsidized, it financially supports a group who may already be healthier and wealthier than your average resident, and the state has more pressing uses for the money.
The Michigan Senior Olympics was created in 1979 and is a nonprofit fitness advocate for people over 50. The games it hosts are held in Oakland County and has boasted of 1,100 participants. The 2015 winter events begin Feb 7 and include sports such as billiards, powerlifting and hockey, according to the MSO’s website. The summer events are held in August and include events such as bocce ball, tennis and golf.
The state should kill this subsidy on fairness grounds alone. There are countless hobbies statewide — athletic and otherwise — that are not subsidized by government. Yet those who choose to participate sans subsidy are being forced to pay for the Senior Olympians’ competition.
Does it bother anyone in state government that a cross-country skier in Ishpeming has her own choices (athletic hobbies and otherwise) diminished to cross subsidize the hobby of a bocce ball playing Detroiter? Worse, there are taxpayers dragged into this transaction that have no interest in sports whatsoever.
Relatedly, it would not strain credulity to suggest that Senior Olympians already have many advantages in life over their counterparts. For example, as a direct result of being older and having more time to accumulate wealth, senior citizens nationwide have higher incomes and a higher net worth than many who are footing this Olympic bill.
The September 2014 Federal Reserve Bulletin summarizes its 2013 triennial “Survey of Consumer Finances,” which indicate that average income by the age of head of household is highest in the 55-64 age bracket and drops thereafter but is not much lower than the 35-44 bracket. The Census Bureau reports slightly different numbers, noting that wealth (a different measure of economic well-being) peaks in the 65-69 age cohort.
In other words, it is unlikely this particular set of sportsmen and women need a financial leg up, at least relative to their many poorer peers under the age of 35. Indeed, the under-35 crowd is already engaged in a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth to senior citizens via Social Security and Medicare programs and so should be left out of the Olympic transaction.
If the Senior Olympics really must have $100,000 more to operate, the civil society solution would simply be to ask its 1,100 participants to pay $91 more per person for the privilege of participating. Current MSO membership fees are $25 per person, though one must pay a registration fee and other costs depending on the event.
Another advantage that Senior Olympics’ participants may have is something many people cherish above all: their health. There are many seniors who only wish they could pay full freight to compete in the MSO, if only they were physically able to do so. Forcing unhealthy seniors to pay for those who are healthy is also unfair.
Readers may feel mollified by the knowledge that this is just a “one-time” appropriation. But “one-time” appropriations happen frequently with the same group. The Senior Olympics also got one-timers in three other budgets since Fiscal Year 2000. A fourth attempt in 2002 was made but vetoed according to Michigan’s State Budget Office.
The state has so many other pressing needs – roads and underfunded pensions to name two – that it is hard to believe this line item could get sneaked into the budget. Redirected to roads or schools, $100,000 could fill about 5,000 potholes or buy a school district 1,000 new textbooks.
Senior Olympics subsidies are unfair, unnecessary and waste precious resources that would be better used elsewhere. They should be eliminated during the Lame Duck session or by the new Legislature.
Some subsidies extend another 20 years
A common talking point in Michigan political campaigns this year is criticizing Republicans for “giving a “$1.8 billion tax break to business.” As is often the case with political claims, there is more to the story.
In 2011, policymakers here eliminated the much-reviled Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a simpler corporate income tax and a separate financial institutions tax. This reduced the annual tax collected from Michigan job providers by $1.2 billion. While some firms benefited more than others, the reform was a substantial across-the-board tax cut. And it was a departure from the previous administration that approved huge subsidies or tax breaks for politically connected enterprises.
However, note that the reform’s net tax cut was $1.2 billion annually, not $1.8 billion. The difference is found in accounting for the open-ended corporate welfare that was the previous administration’s primary response to Michigan’s economic “lost decade.”
Specifically, the MBT was the vehicle used to deliver a myriad of financial “incentives” to favored businesses and industries. Through it, the state offered billions worth of “refundable” tax credits. In many cases these resulted in the state writing checks to a particular company. If the firm owed some Michigan Business Tax but less than the credit amount, the tax liability was extinguished and it was given a check for the difference.
The special treatment continues for some companies: The credits were offered through agreements that extended as long as 20 years into the future, and were contingent on a firm meeting certain job creation, investment or output milestones. For example, in 2009 and 2010 the Big Three automakers were given credit deals that will cost up to $3 billion over their 15- and 20-year durations.
To accommodate all that deal making, the “repealed” Michigan Business Tax was kept on the books, but only for firms to whom the credits were granted. Years after the special deals were inked, the state continues to write checks and/or reduce particular firms’ tax liability, both of which reduce state revenue from what it would be under a “fair field and no favors” tax system.
Thus, the MBT is gone except as a vehicle to deliver on past tax credit deals. As such, it doesn’t raise any revenue. In fact, it costs the state hundreds of millions a year. In the current year, state analysts projected that $560 million in these credits claimed by companies meeting their targets. This was later revised down to $429 million.
The political claim that “Snyder gave a $1.8 billion tax break to business” comes from adding that $560 million to the straightforward $1.2 billion across-the-board business tax cut enacted in 2011. Never mind that almost one-third of the “$1.8 billion” claim comes from selective subsidies and tax breaks granted under the previous administration’s open-ended corporate welfare programs.
Center experts' detailed explanation from 2008
Confused by all the political polls with varying results that seem to appear on a daily basis leading up to Election Day?
“Understanding Public Opinion Surveys” from February 2008 provides an in-depth look at polling, including the history of political polls, how to read them with a cautious eye and what questions to ask about how a particular poll was conducted.