The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Detroit News, Free Press Catch Up to CapCon

CapCon broke DIA salaries story three weeks ago

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press on Thursday both reported on $50,000 bonuses and double-digit raises the top two administrators at the Detroit Institute of Arts received in 2012. That was the same year voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties approved a 10-year millage for the DIA worth $23 million. The DIA has also resisted suggestions that it sell just a single painting that would have provided enough cash to ensure the museum did not need $350 million of taxpayer money as part of Detroit’s so-called “grand bargain” bailout.

Kudos to The News and Free Press for reporting on the DIA information that Michigan Capitol Confidential broke three weeks ago.

Obamacare Could Negatively Impact Women

Twice as likely to work low-hour schedules

Economist Casey Mulligan has authored a new working paper for the Mercatus Center examining the impact of Obamacare’s “employer mandate” on various groups of workers. The mandate imposes financial penalties on larger employers who do not provide government-approved health insurance to employees who work more than 29 hours a week.

This provision creates an incentive for businesses to shift more people to part-time work, meaning fewer than 29 hours. Workers who currently work slightly more than 29 hours are especially vulnerable to having their hours reduced, and also losing any employer-provided coverage.

It turns out that, “Female workers are twice as likely as male workers to have work schedules that are between 30 and 35 hours per week,” reports Mulligan.

On the one hand, these workers become eligible for Obamacare insurance subsidies, without inflicting a penalty on their employers, when their hours are reduced. Unfortunately — as we’ve been hearing for the past year — the insurance available through those exchanges doesn’t work for many people, and even with subsidies can cost more than the better coverage many workers receive — or used to receive from their employers. (The cost increases for Michigan were described in a previous blog on this site.)

Mulligan explains the findings in more plain-English vs. wonky terms in this article posted on Real Clear Markets. 

Failing to Counter the Big Lie

Gov. Snyder, GOP fail to defend K-12 spending

It is difficult to decide which is the more infuriating – those who persist in advancing a lie or those who stubbornly ignore the possible means of combating it.

The State of Michigan is spending more state tax dollars on K-12 education than the $6,844 per pupil it was spending the final budget year of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration. At the beginning of this year it was spending $7,545 per pupil. Beginning Oct. 1, that amount was increased again by $50 to $175 per pupil, with the lowest funded school districts receiving the largest boosts.

As students of propaganda learned long ago, however, if you tell a big lie long enough and loud enough people will tend to believe it. Polls show that, in spite of what simple math reveals, a majority of Michigan voters believe K-12 spending has been cut under Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Snyder campaign is now running television ads that attempt to refute the big lie about his record on K-12 spending. You can bet it wouldn’t be doing this unless there was evidence that, at least to some degree, the lie is hurting his re-election chances.

At this stage, in the midst of an election race, the impact of these ads will likely be minimal. It’s just too late to really win the argument, which will now come down to an adolescent exchange with one side saying: “that’s not so” and the other side saying: “oh yes it is so.”

As maddening as it may be to see a big lie perpetrated successfully, Gov. Snyder and the Republicans deserve much of the blame. Their longstanding ineptitude in dealing with the lie has been frustrating — and all the more so because it was rooted a dismissive ambivalence.

At a base level there’s a temptation to say “it serves you right.”

Over the past couple of years, in addition to telling the truth about the increased K-1 2 spending, Gov. Snyder and the Republicans should have also repeatedly cited statistics to put the entire debate in a different context. When it comes to K-12 spending, Michigan has been anything but stingy.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan ranks 8th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending when adjusted for per-capita income. Without the per-capita income adjustment, it ranks somewhere between 22nd and 26th depending on mid-decade measuring variations.

The per-capita income ranking means that only six states and the District of Columbia make a greater spending effort toward K-12 education than Michigan. The overall (or raw number) ranking of 22nd to 26th  puts Michigan in the middle of the pack among the states — an impressive standing considering it only recently emerged from a single-state recession.

Imagine if that information concerning Michigan’s comparative ranking in K-12 spending had appeared on every press release pertaining to education spending issued on behalf of Gov. Snyder and the Republicans for the past two years. Out of shear repetition the result would have been that virtually every journalist who regularly covers the issue would have known the rankings by heart months ago. In addition, perhaps somewhat more than half of the time, the rankings would have made it into their news stories.

Whether political propaganda is true or false, repetition is the key to its success. This is how the big lie about Michigan education spending has been promoted. Repeatedly putting Michigan’s K-12 spending story in its larger perspective could have provided Republicans with the antidote to that poison.

Those who prefer to believe K-12 spending has been cut probably wouldn’t be swayed by anything. But chances are that by providing the bigger context, again and again, the potential impact of the big lie could have been significantly limited. Or at the very least making the effort sure wouldn’t have done any harm.

Some might say that  if those claiming Gov. Snyder cut K-12 funding were willing to perpetuate that lie in the first place, then what would prevent them from disputing the Census Bureau rankings as well? This is true, but that would have involved pushing and repeating a second big lie, something that would have complicated their task and wandered into an area (state K-12 spending rankings) which they prefer to avoid.

Use of the “larger context” would not only have been a sound technique for battling the big lie about K-12 spending, it is the logical, natural and orthodox response to all attacks that are based on partial and manipulated figures.

Let’s say someone wants to promote the idea that the Detroit Tigers are a lousy baseball team. They could cite whatever comparatively weak statistics they could find involving fielding, relief pitching and the absence of a World Series title over the past 30 years.

If your job was to defend the Tigers, wouldn’t it be sensible and obvious to change the perspective by pointing out that they have won their division four straight years and appeared in two of the last eight World Series?

This is exactly what Gov. Snyder and the Republicans failed to do regarding the K-12 spending issue. They made it easier instead of harder for their opponents to sell the big lie. That’s never a good strategy.

(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.)

Michigan Education Digest

Teacher pay, charter public school performance

The latest edition of Michigan Education Digest is now available. Topics include teacher pay, charter public school performance and school funding.

More Michigan Cities Meeting Financial Needs

Pension liabilities still a looming problem

Communities reporting better or less able to meet financial needs.

A new survey of communities from the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan shows an uptick in the percent that say they are better able to meet their fiscal needs. This is good as it generally tracks with an improving state economy, but there are some warning signs ahead.

The survey notes, “For the first time in six years, more Michigan communities report that they are better able to meet their fiscal needs this year than those who say they are less able to do so.” (See chart nearby.)

Local government property tax revenue and state revenue sharing.

This pushes back a bit against the frequent claims that local municipalities are “starving” for revenue. A full look at the numbers shows that revenue for local governments has stayed relatively stable, even amid the economic “lost decade” in Michigan. As noted in a recent CapCon article:

Local municipalities saw an increase of $1.4 billion in property taxes from 2000 to 2013 with that revenue increasing to $5.3 billion in 2013 from $3.9 billion in 2000, according to the state tax commission

The municipalities received about $1 billion more in property tax in 2008 compared to 2000 with inflation factored in. By 2009, the property taxes collected had reduced to the point they were relatively the same as 2000 with inflation.

But many local governments will be facing ongoing fiscal problems. In cities, counties and townships around the state, retirement liabilities are eating into budgets. Some public entities are confronting this head on while others are putting off the problems for future elected officials (or unelected if the fiscal problems get too bad).

So while many local units haven’t seen a collapse in revenue, there has been a shift in where that money is going — often from public safety and parks to the liabilities of former employees. Those communities that confront this head on will be in better shape in the years ahead.

Now Lansing Politicians Want a Poet Laureate!

What rhymes with "that's not your job"?

Maybe it’s something in the water. In recent weeks Lansing politicians have proposed laws mandating an official poem for Michigan and forcing taxpayers to buy a state flag for the survivors of current or former legislators when they die. Now comes yet another piece of institutional grandiosity: a bill to create an official state poet laureate.

Never mind pension underfunding and damaged roads, to name two issues crying out for legislative solutions; members of our full-time Legislature seem to have both the time and the sense of entitlement to designate an official state poet.

Alas, given the usual political incentives, were the measure to become law (unlikely) the candidates would probably sound less like the ancient Greek Homer of “Iliad” and “Odyssey” fame and more like a modern namesake — Homer Simpson. Doh!

The Michiganvotes.org description of House Bill 5853* reads:

Introduced by Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, on Sept. 23, 2014, to authorize the appointment by the governor of a state poet laureate, who would serve at the pleasure of the governor (meaning the governor could withdraw the appointment at any time). The bill authorizes no compensation, but does allow government money to be used to reimburse the individual’s travel expenses.

According to Wikipedia, the first such poet positions were created in Europe in the 1300s. The tradition started in Italy but it exists in other nations as well, including within the United States federal government and several of its independent states.

That’s no excuse though: As mom often told us, “Just because Johnny does something foolish doesn’t mean you have to do something foolish.”

Alas, these latest examples of legislative self-absorption are hardly new or unique. An earlier version of that flag bill in 2009 would have required a State Police escort for deceased legislators’ final ride to their grave. State politicians have named public highways, laws, buildings and other state assets after each other.

The political incentives for such institutionalized self-glorification — the desire of political careerists to avoid ever having to return to the private sector — also explains fluff bills intended to associate politicians’ names with symbols dear to certain interest or affinity groups. Examples include bills to establish an official state Scottish Tartan (see the video testimony here), enshrine in statute that Iosco County (and no other county!) shall be the “birding capital” of Michigan, or resolve the simmering controversy over which frog shall henceforth and always be the official state amphibian.

While a constitutional amendment prohibiting such puffery and self-promotion is probably excessive, residents should certainly not reward such behavior with any response other than hisses and sneers.

Lansing politicians should stick to their knitting: Protect residents and their property; provide efficient courts to adjudicate contractual disagreements, provide other true public goods and otherwise just stay out of the way.

Now there’s a concept worthy of a poem.

*The measure has 12 Democratic cosponsors and one Republican, Rep. Al Pscholka, who also is maneuvering to be the next Speaker of the House. The Democrats are Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Jon Switalski, Henry Yanez, Scott Dianda, Jeff Irwin, Tim Greimel, Tim Kelly, Marcia Hovey-Wright, Adam Zemke, Sam Singh, Andrew J. Kandrevas and David Rutledge.

LaFaive Cited by Fox News

Indiana toll road privatization

A 2006 deal to privatize Indiana’s toll road for $3.8 billion that is in jeopardy now that the company has declared bankruptcy was designed to protect the state’s taxpayers, Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive told Fox News.

“The deal was designed to protect the state of Indiana,” LaFaive said. “If they go belly up, the state could get it back if it’s not sold to another group. The worst case scenario would be that creditors would get control.”

Either way, Fox reports, the state will keep all of the money it has received so far.

Vernuccio Cited in Washington Examiner

Legislation seeks to protect workers from unions

The Employee Rights Act, designed to protect workers from unions, could gain traction if Republicans win the U.S. Senate next month, according to Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio.

“(President) Obama will probably veto it,” he told The Washington Examiner. “However, the more the public hears about the common-sense reforms in the ERA, such as criminalizing union threats and violence, the more pressure will be brought on Democrats if the legislation is brought back under a Republic president.”

October 3, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Report

Drugged driving, automatic police pay hikes, "right to try"

House Bill 5785, Expand permissible criminal court cost levies: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To expand the costs that can be imposed on an individual convicted in a criminal case. The bill would authorize imposing assessments covering a share of court employee salaries and benefits, of “goods and services” used in operating the court, and of court building “operation and maintenance" costs. In addition, it would establish that a court has no duty to provide a “calculation of the costs involved in a particular case.” The bill reverses a state Supreme Court case that limited charges to those specifically allowed in a particular statute; its provisions would expire in 36 months, presumably to allow the legislature to rationalize these impositions for all courts across the state.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 1074, Eliminate debt cap on business job training subsidy program: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate

To eliminate the $50 million debt cap in a 2008 law that authorized state job training subsidies for particular employers, provided through community colleges. The bill would also eliminate a 2018 sunset on these subsidies, which according to the Senate Fiscal Agency have added up to $10.7 million since the law was passed.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5097, Exempt public safety employees from ban on certain automatic pay hikes: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate

To exempt law enforcement and fire department employees from a 2011 law that banned automatic seniority-based pay hikes for individual government employees (“step increases”) when a union contract has expired and no new one signed.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4624, Allow multi-department firefighter employment: Passed 21 to 17 in the Senate

To prohibit a fire department from prohibiting its firefighters from also working as a volunteer, part-time or paid on-call firefighter with another department, if this does not conflict with the original employment. Also, to make this issue a prohibited subject of collective bargaining between a fire department and a government employee union.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5385, Expand drunk driving provisions to include illegal drugs: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate

To expand the law that requires a person stopped for drunk driving to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test so that it instead refers to "a preliminary roadside analysis," expanding this law to suspected driving while drugged cases. The bill would not explicitly authorize the use of a roadside saliva test for marijuana, which has been challenged as inaccurate. This is part of a package extending the same or similar procedures to both drunk and drugged driving cases.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5606, Expand "protectionist" auto dealer provision: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit vehicle makers from preventing a dealer from tacking on extra fees that are permitted by a law that empowers the state to enforce exclusive new car dealer “territories” and regulate the terms of commercial relationships between dealers and manufacturers.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 991, Let terminal patients try non-FDA approved treatments: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To establish that a person diagnosed with a terminal illness has a “right to try” experimental drugs or therapies not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, subject to various conditions specified in the bill. The bill would prohibit state officials from interfering, and ban licensing boards from sanctioning health care providers who participate, subject to specified conditions. Drug makers who comply with the specified conditions would be immune from liability if the patient is harmed. The bill responds to criticism that FDA “safe and effective” standards are not appropriate in these cases.

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 http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Michigan Education Digest

DPS legal problems, millage for closed district

The latest issue of Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include overspending crises, student count day and the emergency manager law.