Senate Bill 609, Repeal 'driver responsibility fees' and give partial amnesty: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To repeal the driver responsibility fees (“bad driver tax”) that are assessed for various traffic violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. Individuals who lost their driver's license for nonpayment of these fees could get it back (on payment of a $125 fee). Fees that have been owed for more than six years would be forgiven, but not more recent ones. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenues.

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Note: House Bill 5040 would end the fees and give amnesty for all amounts owed, not just amounts in arrears for six years. The Snyder administration indicated the Governor would veto this due to the state revenue loss, and this bill's partial amnesty is seen as a negotiating position on that. More than 300,000 people owe more than $600 million for these fees, much of which is uncollectible, and thousands have lost their driver's license for nonpayment.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 574, Let charter schools get some ISD enhancement millage money: Passed 23 to 14 in the Senate

To require revenue extracted by future regional enhancement property taxes that are levied by Intermediate School Districts and distributed to conventional public school districts to also be shared with public charter schools within the ISD district.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4457, Authorize new energy debt scheme for colleges and universities: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To include state colleges and universities in the kind of debt scheme authorized by a 2016 law for school districts, which lets them contract with vendors for energy efficiency projects, and pay for these with money the projects are supposed to save (or from regular tax revenue if savings don’t appear).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 492, Impose oral chemotherapy insurance mandate: Passed 36 to 1 in the Senate

To impose a new coverage mandate that would require insurance companies to include coverage for orally administered chemotherapy in all their health insurance policies that provide for cancer chemotherapy treatments, without requiring any dollar limit, deductible or co-pay for these that does not apply to other treatments.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4940, Revise dry bean commission marketing program details: Passed 107 to 0 in the House

To revise commission membership details in a law that imposes assessments on growers of “dry, edible beans, except soybeans.” The money this collects from growers is used to pay commission expenses including staff payroll, and for marketing or information campaigns.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 98, Authorize more “promise zone” tax increment financing authorities: Passed 89 to 18 in the House

To expand from 10 to 15 the number of “promise zone” tax increment financing authorities (TIFA) located in low income and “low educational attainment” areas. These entities were authorized by a 2008 law to “capture" a portion of the state school property tax collected in the area, and use the money to partially subsidize college tuition for local students.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


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 www.MichiganVotes.org.


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Allow Competition in Infrastructure Upgrades

Expanded choice and reduced prices good for everyone

Michigan cities and towns could do with more competition in the types of piping used for infrastructure development and upgrades. Currently, Detroit, East Lansing and Grand Rapids, among others, have limited upgrade options to a single material: ductile iron. This keeps competitors like polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, out of the market and could increase infrastructure costs for Michigan taxpayers.

Senate Bill 157 has been proposed as a way to fix this issue. This bill would require local governments to consider the use of all types of piping materials that meet industry standards when building public water or wastewater projects. The bill does not impact local governments’ ability to select a certain type of material for their projects, but they must at least consider all options. Options are what drive competition and competition pressures companies to improve their products and reduce their prices. In short, competition is good for everyone involved.

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Proponents of PVC piping argue that it’s a better choice because it’s not affected by corrosion. Corrosion is said to be the major cause of water main failures. PVC sellers also argue that its long lifespan — upward of 100 years — leads to a corresponding reduction in repair and replacement costs.

On the flip side, proponents of ductile iron argue that it is more temperature resistant and durable, meaning it is easier to transport and harder to damage during installation. They also note the inside diameter of ductile iron piping is larger than other piping options, meaning it has a great capacity to transport water. Ductile iron proponents argue that PVC piping sacrifices “high mechanical strength, rigidity, hardness, and high chemical resistance.” The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association claims that ductile iron pipes can last 150 years while PVC pipes last 50 years.

Both sides have small libraries of case studies and counterpoints to back their claims, meaning this can be a difficult decision, and city managers will need to do their homework. But allowing managers the option to choose means they have the opportunity to make the best decision for their individual circumstances and their city.

Indianapolis, for example, used to face high wastewater costs and experienced regular water main breaks. After competitively pricing its upgrades, the city reduced costs and decreased water main breaks. Pleasanton, California and Schenectady, New York, went through the same process and had similar experiences. In these three cases, cities that relied on competitive bids in their infrastructure upgrades saved money.

American Chemistry Council research estimated that with expanded competition, Michigan could save 27 to 34 percent — up to $114,154 per mile of piping — regardless of what material is used. Saving money on water infrastructure repairs and upgrades is important for Michigan, given that we are still working to fix a 30-year-old backlog in wastewater infrastructure repairs.

Opponents of Senate Bill 157 argue that requiring governments to shop around more will be costly, “interfere with sound engineering judgment” and hamper efficient management. But supporters of the bill point out that it does not require a change in a final decision; it simply requires more than one option be considered. A fiscal analysis of the bill points to an “unknown fiscal impact” and suggests there would be no additional savings, “assuming that public entities already review options for piping materials.” But the fact that some Michigan cities currently do not allow for a review of options is the impetus behind the discussion and bill.

Open procurement and competition lowers costs, even in cases where there’s no change in the materials used. The debate alone improves the market in an area where there’s much room for improvement. Hearing both sides of the argument is a clear benefit, even in cases where you don’t change your mind.


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Legislature Looking to Streamline Internet Services

Bills would limit fees and ban government-owned networks

Photo by Jon Davis

A package of bills introduced in the Michigan House would limit fees, streamline permits and generally make it easier for internet providers to ensure high-speed connections. It would also prevent local governments from using tax dollars to subsidize internet service providers, which inevitably creates winners and losers.

The bipartisan bill package includes:

  • House Bill 5096, sponsored by Rep. Phil Phelps, D-Flushing, caps the amount drain commissioners can charge broadband service providers.
  • House Bill 5097, sponsored by Rep. Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan, streamlines the permitting process and lessens the regulatory burden for building and maintaining a network.
  • House Bill 5098, sponsored by Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, reduces the costs telephone and internet providers face when they are forced to relocate their property.
  • House Bill 5099, also sponsored by Hoitenga, prevents cities from using tax dollars to subsidize ISPs. (This is the only bill of the four without bipartisan co-sponsors.)

These bills would remove government-imposed barriers facing ISPs, resulting in faster and less expensive internet services for citizens. More competition among internet providers won’t jump-start local business development all by itself, but as Google Fiber has shown in several cities, more competition and better services can emerge when cities dust off and streamline their permitting regulations. In small cities around the country, people are getting lightning fast internet for $50 to $70 per month — with no government subsidies.

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The first three bills are largely an exercise in common sense: They prevent local governments from standing in the way of a service people heavily rely on. The most controversial bill is HB 5099, but it too should be considered.

In Traverse City, Holland and elsewhere, cities have demonstrated an interest in using tax dollars to provide government-owned and operated internet and even television services. The bill is a good move that would refocus local governments on their core services.

Traverse City and Holland, for example, should be concerned about problems more severe than the number of internet providers. One such problem is the state of their pension and retiree health care systems, which have promised retirees far more than these governments have set aside to pay for. The public utility in Traverse City owes retirees $14 million and just found out it needs $6 million in unexpected IT upgrades. Holland has $37 million in retiree debt and has only set aside 75 cents on the dollar of what it owes. Those problems have sunk other cities and show that municipalities need to focus on the core issues of governing.

Both broadband systems being rolled out also rely on overly optimistic assumptions that will likely never come to be. The assumptions are built into financial projections, which helps cover up the true costs that taxpayers will be on the hook for. Local governments across the country typically make this mistake. That’s one reason why a new University of Pennsylvania study found that of the publicly financed ISP projects that make data available, only 10 percent recoup their costs during the useful life of the network. A study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found “no discernible effects” on private sector employment as a result of government-run internet services.

That’s not to say that cities cannot do anything to help their residents get faster internet service. As I noted recently, Michigan municipalities should “follow the lead of other cities by laying new, smart conduit for private internet providers to use. City-owned utility poles could provide cheap rental rates for wireline or wireless providers. When replacing poles, [municipalities] should update them with new, larger ones and charge cheap rent. Streamlining the permitting process for digging trenches and renting poles also should be looked into.”

The bill package as a whole encourages private providers to offer better internet services. That’s the route local governments should pursue, rather than undertake another failed attempt at running a taxpayer-funded boondoggle.


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EPA Administrator Pruitt to “Unravel” Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan

Federal actions are unlikely to change Michigan’s course

In his Oct. 9 press conference, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “Tomorrow, in Washington, D.C., I’ll be signing a proposed rule to withdraw the so-called Clean Power Plan of the past administration, and thus begin the effort to withdraw that rule.”

The news that Pruitt would repeal the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulation went off like a fire alarm in national energy and environmental circles. Groups like the Sierra Club referred to Pruitt’s plan as “a Faustian bargain” that would “jeopardize children’s health and the climate that they inherit.”

But in Michigan, the plan’s repeal is not an issue. That’s because our legislators effectively wrote President Obama’s utility scheme into state law last December when they passed Public Acts 341 and 342, Michigan’s new electricity legislation. These new laws mean that changes to the EPA’s plans will have little or no impact on our electricity system, or our future emissions. An Oct. 10 New York Times article reinforced this fact, reporting that Michigan — and 24 other states – will meet the targets the Clean Power Plan would have set for them, even without its rules in place.

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Some media reports have tried to advance the notion that so-called market forces are the reason for states like Michigan achieving these cuts. But attempts to paint Michigan’s plans to abandon heavily regulated coal and move toward heavily subsidized and mandated renewable energy as a market choice are, at best, quaint and perhaps even a bit naive. (Under Michigan Public Act 341 and 342 of 2106, electrical providers in the state must obtain a minimum of 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2021.)

Michigan’s system first protects, and then richly rewards the regulated monopolies that provide the state’s electricity. It does this first by halting any competitive pressure the monopolies might face, then granting them substantial and regular rate increases, and finally bestowing on them generous returns on equity for any newly built generation facilities.

Our big state utilities are guaranteed a 10 percent (plus) return on equity on money spent tearing down old power plants and building new ones. Those guarantees are bolstered by generous subsidies and tax provisions, and then the companies’ bottom lines are further padded by expanded wind and solar mandates. All of these incentives have worked together to help ensure the planned closure of several existing – and already fully paid for – generation plants.

Michigan’s new electricity legislation continues to build on this lucrative relationship in that it exactly matches the restrictive and expensive goals of the Clean Power Plan, also called its “building blocks.” The three building blocks of the final plan were:

  1. Improve the efficiency (or heat rate) at existing coal plants.
  2. Replace, or substitute, existing coal generation with natural gas generation to reduce emissions.
  3. Decrease overall generation from fossil fuel resources and replace, or substitute, both natural gas and coal generation with so-called zero-emitting renewable generation resources.

A November 2015 study by Energy Ventures Analysis for the National Mining Association predicted that implementing the power plan would cause American wholesale electricity prices to rise by $214 billion by 2030. Over the same period, 46 states would see double-digit increases in electricity prices and the nation would spend $64 billion replacing lost power generating capacity. Michigan was predicted to see a 27.4 percent increase in wholesale electricity prices.

Absent the Obama-era plan, Michigan has still committed to imposing those same costs and restrictions on itself with last year’s electricity legislation. So, Michigan-based environmentalists and special interests that were concerned about the Trump administration’s new proposal can relax. The Legislature and the state’s electricity monopolies have already put in place a structure for higher prices and less reliable generation capacity. Michigan will still meet its original Clean Power Plan goals, expensive though they may be, regardless of the fact that there does not appear to be any need for them.

Michigan residents and rate payers will just need to get ready with their wallets.


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Michigan Local Governments Have Self-Inflicted Financing Problems

It’s up to them to stop adding retiree debt

It’s often been said that you get the government you pay for. This breaks down, however, when our government managers push the costs of yesterday’s government onto today’s taxpayers. One way they’ve done this by offering medical insurance to government employees and deferring its costs.

Government managers have offered in the past to keep employees on their medical insurance once they retire. They may continue to do so, but they also reserve the right to end coverage at any time. Meanwhile, they aren’t setting aside money to pay for future payments they can anticipate.

That’s not a good situation for either employees or residents. Employees have no certainty that they can count on their employers continuing this practice once they reach retirement age. Residents, meanwhile, are on the hook for services rendered long ago.

The state has already moved its state and school systems — which cover over half of all government employees in Michigan — to an approach in which benefits are paid as they are earned. New employees get a supplemental savings account to help pay for health insurance upon retirement and a boost to their retirement savings plans. In addition to changing its approach to retirement, the state has started setting aside money to pay for health benefits for legacy employees and current retirees. (State employees hired before Jan. 1, 2012, and school employees hired before Sept. 4, 2012, are considered legacy employees.)

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Local governments have a problem, however. The Michigan Treasury Department gathered data on 363 of the state’s general purpose governments — cities, villages, charter townships and counties. There are 46 governments — 13 percent of the total — that either did not offer retiree health insurance benefits to their employees or have set aside enough money to pay for them. The other 87 percent offer health benefits to retirees but have not saved enough money for them.

It would take $9 billion for those local governments to pay for the current benefits in place for employees and retirees, though the problem is more severe in some places than in others.

If governments were required to set aside enough money today to address this problem, the median cost would be only $306 for each of their residents. But there are a handful of basket cases. In River Rouge it would cost each resident $6,500 to pay off these benefits, and there are 48 governments where it would take $2,000 for each resident to set aside enough money to fund the benefits.

And Oakland County, home to 1.2 million people, deserves credit for having set aside enough money to pay for the benefits it offered.

The governments that have not set aside enough money ought to reconsider the benefits they offer. These are not strict financial liabilities. Governments can generally rescind them at their discretion. Creating retiree health care benefits whose costs get kicked onto future taxpayers was a mistake and a terrible financial practice engaged in by the bulk of our governments. It is a disservice to residents. And this is especially the case when everyone who gets those benefits is covered by Medicare in the first place.

Local officials have nobody to blame but themselves. No state mandate compels them to offer these benefits, and nothing requires them to kick the costs of today’s services onto future taxpayers. On the other hand, many of them have followed the state in offering to new employees benefits whose costs won’t get pushed to future taxpayers.

Local officials can get themselves out of this problem by requiring that employees contribute more to pay for these benefits, changing the generosity of these plans and setting aside more money to pay for any remainder.


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Wastewater Infrastructure Updates Lagging?

The market is ready to serve

Government management of Michigan’s chronic sewage system problems can often best be described as slow to improve. Municipalities across the state are engaged in long-term control plans that work to gradually – often over a period of decades – fix infrastructure problems. And while we wait for funding and constructions efforts to be completed, raw sewage and human waste continue to foul Michigan’s waters.

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Public-private partnerships may be able to help the situation. Consider South Bend, Indiana. In 2011, the EPA ordered the city to make a $509.5 million upgrade to its sewer system to stem the flow each year of 600,000 pounds of suspended solids into the St. Joseph River, a tributary of Lake Michigan. By 2016, the city’s spending on sewer systems was projected to reach $861 million. City council estimates concluded that complying with the EPA mandate would cost 20 percent of their households over 10 percent of their income. The federally required project was deemed to be too expensive, and in a September 2016 presentation on the project to city leaders, city staffers argued they would need a plan that was “cheaper, greener, more flexible, adaptive, and socially beneficial.”

Privatizing wastewater services could help meet all of South Bend’s needs by lowering overall costs, achieving regulatory compliance and improving employee and customer satisfaction. The Government Accountability Office found in a 2013 report that contracting out services results in additional capital investments, higher efficiency and faster improvements. In its review of various water services that contract for water and sewage services, the GAO credited improved efficiency to private companies’ higher flexibility and use of economies of scale.

An earlier Water Partnership Council study concurred, noting that private companies tended to have more experience and were less hampered by inefficient bureaucratic requirements. That study also found that, on average, public-private partnerships are 24 percent less expensive than their publicly operated competitors. Additionally, recently signed contracts in Bayonne, New Jersey and Rialto, California brought substantial financial benefits for those cities. A wastewater infrastructure agreement eliminated $130 million in debt for Bayonne and $27.4 million for Rialto. New Orleans is reported to have saved over $35 million for taxpayers since it signed an agreement in 1992. Those savings could all be returned to actual infrastructure spending.

Other benefits to P3s include a new form of competitive pressure on public sector managers. As private operations raise performance standards and decrease prices, public utilities are forced to step up their game – a process known as “benchmarking.” According to the National Research Council, “public water utilities … respond to the pressures of possible privatization by improving their performance.”

Numerous Mackinac Center publications have advocated for these arrangements as far back as 1992. At that time, Michigan was leading the push to privatize wastewater treatment. Cities like Alpena were demonstrating that cost-cutting was possible, even after retaining, retraining and paying higher wages to the original public works staff. In fact, after only three years, private managers were able to move the Alpena wastewater facility from the EPA’s noncompliance list to winning environmental awards. That partnership agreement is still in effect today with Suez Water.

Government has a responsibility to steward the environment and citizens’ tax dollars. Privatization of wastewater treatment has been shown to work in both theory and in practice and has been effective at improving services, improving environmental management and lowering costs in Michigan for over three decades. Local governments — especially those that are still allowing wastewater to flow into Michigan’s lakes and rivers and have not yet considered privatization — owe it to Michigan residents to investigate better options. The market is ready to serve.


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Michigan Closer to More Available Dental Care

Mackinac Center recommendation passes Senate

The Michigan Senate recently passed Senate Bill 541, which would create a new license for the dental profession, called a dental therapist. Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is the lead sponsor of the bill, and it moves to the House for consideration.

The Mackinac Center published a report last year laying out the case for dental therapists, and Michael Van Beek, the Center’s director of research and author of that study, recently published an op-ed in the Oakland Press. He summed up SB 541 this way:

This bill allows dentists the freedom to expand their practices and gives hygienists an opportunity to further their training and take on more responsibility if they choose to pursue a dental therapist license. Dentists need more flexibility to better meet patients’ needs and this could be an important part of that effort. Several other states have used dental therapists or similarly licensed professionals to help meet the needs of their residents — Michigan should simply follow their lead.

Too few Michiganders get the dental services they need, especially important preventative care, and creating a new category of dental providers will empower dentists to better meet these needs. Dental therapists would have a large scope of practice and be able to provide patients more services than dental hygienists, but would still be directly supervised by dentists. Creating this new license is a move in the right direction.

Find more coverage of this issue at WGVU.

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House Bill 4583, Use "orphaned" fuel tank cleanup revenue for other purposes: Passed 26 to 10 in the Senate

To divert money from a 7/8 cent per gallon gas tax originally levied to pay for cleanups of leaking underground fuel tanks that were abandoned decades earlier and where no known party is liable ("orphan sites"). The bill would authorize subsidies to current fuel tank owners who are liable for contamination that occurred before 2015; to developers of "brownfield" property with leaking tanks; and to local governments for cleanups related to past road work.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4066, Authorize limited interstate medical licensure agreement: Passed 100 to 6 in the House

To enter an agreement with other states to facilitate doctors getting licensed in more than one state. The measure would not eliminate the need for doctors to get a separate license to practice in each state, or change current restrictions on the practice of telemedicine. It would require doctors to hold one of the board certifications marketed by certain national organizations, which would have the effect of excluding most Michigan practitioners from the proposed licensure process.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4508, Create a “cyber civilian corps": Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

To create a state “cyber civilian corps" to organize civilian volunteers with relevant experience who would provide rapid response assistance to a municipal, educational, nonprofit or business entity that needs help dealing with a cybersecurity incident.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


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 www.MichiganVotes.org.


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Don’t Push the School Funding Panic Button

Districts can adapt to federal enrollment projections

For nearly 15 years, the number of students in Michigan’s public schools has been shrinking. In recent weeks, federal data crunchers said they expect the trend to continue up through 2025. Representatives of the education establishment have already begun to exaggerate the fiscal challenges that a continued downward trend would bring.

The Michigan Department of Education counted 1.53 million students enrolled in public preschool through 12th grade last year. In a publication released last month, the U.S. Department of Education projects that number will drop to 1.41 million by fall 2025. Its formula combines existing enrollment figures with population forecasts from the U.S. Census Bureau. The predicted decline of 8 percent would be slightly greater than the previous nine years’ decline of 7 percent.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, told both Michigan Radio and MIRS News that districts would not be able to reduce expenses quickly enough to keep up with the declining enrollments. “So they couldn’t cut teaching staff, they couldn’t cut back on bus runs. All the expenses would basically be the same,” he said.

To be sure, school operating budgets do include some fixed costs, costs which don’t change in the short term as students come or go. But even under conservative assumptions, nearly two-thirds of Michigan K-12 spending is not fixed. And ultimately, all education costs can be adjusted over time.

The net loss of one student doesn’t necessarily reduce teaching staff needs, but districts largely have been able to keep pace with total enrollment losses. Every year between 2007-08 and 2016-17, fewer students enrolled in Michigan public schools. The total statewide number of teachers dropped eight out of the nine years, falling at a slightly higher rate than the number of students over the same period.

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But non-teaching positions bucked the trend. The state still has around 12,300 administrators and around 111,000 non-instructional workers even as the student population declined. Teaching positions make up a smaller share of Michigan’s K-12 workforce than they did a decade earlier.

Available data doesn’t support Wigent’s contention about bus runs, either. From 2007-08 through 2015-16, most Michigan school districts cut student transportation dollars in real, inflation-adjusted terms. In fact, districts on average reduced their transportation spending by 11 percent per student. This decline can be explained, in part by the trend of more school districts contracting out for transportation services.

Most dollars taken in by Michigan school districts come in the form of the foundation allowance, which is mostly determined by how many students show up for October count day. If one looks only at the foundation allowance, one sees an incomplete picture of budgets, since the allowance is completely tied to fluctuating enrollments.

But more than one-third of an average district’s revenues come from other sources, such as local revenues or state and federal appropriations. Most of these extra dollars are not strictly determined by actual student counts. As Wigent’s group and others want to take up school funding reform, sound minds should resist the call to shift dollars tied to serving student needs into revenue streams that favor institutional and other political priorities.

In any case, Michigan lawmakers and education officials should not necessarily anticipate another decade of emptier classrooms. They should prepare for the possibility that the projections don’t hold true. Nine years ago the U.S. Department of Education foresaw a much smaller drop-off in student enrollment than the state has actually experienced.

Federal forecasters might end up erring in the opposite direction this time. But even if they prove correct, Michigan’s leaders should resist the urge to push the panic button.


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Criminal Justice Policy Commission Examines Raise-the-Age Proposals

Legislature wants to find out what raising the age limit for adult prosecution might cost

What’s the right age for someone to be considered as an adult, rather than a juvenile, in the court system? That’s what legislators are trying to find out as they examine proposals to change the definition of legal adulthood from 17 to 18.

The Criminal Justice Policy Commission, an official group that advises the Legislature on criminal justice matters, recently heard testimony from Midland County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Dorene Allen and several others. The topic was a set of legislative proposals collectively referred to as “Raise the Age.” The proposals would change the definition of “adult” in Michigan’s criminal justice system to exclude 17-year-olds. (Prosecutors would still have the option to try them as adults for a variety of serious crimes.) Michigan is currently one of five states where 17-year-olds are automatically tried as adults and incarcerated with them, rather than having their cases handled in the juvenile justice system. But there isn’t enough information about how the juvenile justice system currently operates in Michigan to know what impact this reform would have.

This is the second year in which lawmakers have considered changing the age. Advocates and some legal experts like Allen say that 17-year-olds who are treated in the adult system end up worse than those who are treated in juvenile court. That is, they relapse into criminality sooner and more frequently than those whose cases are handled in juvenile courts. Juvenile courts in Michigan receive half their funding from the Department of Health and Human Services Child Care Fund, which is used for specialty programming, psychological exams and other services. This allows juvenile judges to take a more rehabilitative approach than judges in the adult system.

Allen, who became the president of the Probate Judges Association on Oct. 1, has lead that body’s work on juvenile justice for several years. She testified before the policy commission last week in favor of raising the age but noted that adding 17-year-olds to the juvenile justice system would come at a cost. The Michigan Probate Judges Association has estimated that raising the age would cost courts 25 percent more than they are currently spending. The association opposed last year’s proposal on the grounds that the legislation did not appropriate enough money to successfully enact the reform.

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Now that the reform proposal has been introduced again in 2017, the Legislature has told the advisory group to study it and estimate its costs for each court. The commission hired the Maine-based consulting firm Hornby Zeller to complete a study, starting with collecting data from counties. The study may already be off to a rocky start, however. Allen cited deficiencies in the survey it circulated to counties, such as the fact that it does not mention the Child Care Fund, a key income source for juvenile courts and a funding structure that is unique to Michigan. The survey also failed to define key terms such as “arrest” and “recidivism,” meaning that it may result in inconsistent or contradictory findings.

Sound, comprehensive data and data collection within the criminal justice system is notoriously absent or insufficient. Lawmakers and stakeholders need to find out how juvenile justice is administered at the county level. To do that, they must also call for a uniform system of collecting data about criminal activity, prosecution, and incarceration for both minors and adults. Bills such as Senate Bill 11, the Data Collection and Management Act, would make it quick and easy to compare statistics across counties and adult versus juvenile justice systems. As a result, officials could then draw the very insights that Hornby Zeller is now attempting to glean, such as which are the most effective juvenile justice practices and what costs and benefits they have.

While the outcome of the Raise-the-Age legislation is still unclear, one thing is certain: Neither this reform nor any other can be responsibly implemented without the data we need to understand how things currently stand.


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