House Budget and excess property tax refunds
House Bill 4228, Final 2013-14 state education budget: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate
The final House-Senate compromise version of the K-12 school aid, community college and university budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2013. This authorizes $13.361 billion for K-12 public schools (a record high in nominal terms), compared to $12.944 billion the previous year; $1.430 billion will go to state universities, compared to $1.399 billion the previous year; and $335 million to community colleges, up from $294 million. Of these amounts, $1.861 billion is federal money.
Some highlights include: A $30 per pupil "foundation allowance" increase for school districts, and $60 for ones whose spending is at the lower end. Spending on preschool programs will increase by $65.0 million to $174.6 million. Students in grades 5 to 12 will be allowed to take up to two online courses per term. Universities would get less money if they raise tuition more than 3.75 percent.
House Bill 4705, Refund excess property tax collected by school district on retired debt: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate
To require a school district (Stephenson in the Upper Peninsula) that collected a property tax millage for bonds that were already paid off (retired) to transfer the excess revenue it collected to the state. The overcharge would then be given back to local taxpayers by reducing the amount of state education property tax on their next tax bill.
House Bill 4743, Allow local holiday fireworks regulations: Passed 107 to 1 in the House
To allow local governments to ban the use of "consumer fireworks" between midnight and 8:00 a.m. on the day before, day of, and day after a national holiday (in larger communities the allowable deadline would be 1:00 a.m. on New Years). The 2012 law legalizing these fireworks (which include firecrackers, bottle rockets, aerial spinners, Roman candles, etc.) essentially preempted local bans on their use at all hours during these holiday periods.
House Bill 4681, Repeal auctioneer registration mandate: Passed 84 to 21 in the House
To repeal a law that imposes a registration (licensure) mandate on auctioneers, which requires two years experience in the field and passing a test. A recent state report on occupational licensing recommended repeal, noting there have been no auctioneer-related public complaints to the state in the past three years. Nevertheless, existing auctioneers testified against the repeal, which among other things would remove an obstacle to new competitors entering the field.
House Bill 4228, Final 2013-14 state education budget: Passed 65 to 43 in the House
The final House-Senate compromise version of the K-12 school aid, community college and university budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2013. See description and Senate vote above.
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.
Senior Investigative Analyst Anne Schieber was a guest on “The Tony Conley Show” on WILS AM-1320 in Lansing this morning, discussing her story and video about cities adopting “cost recovery” ordinances in an effort to squeeze extra money out of law breakers by charged extra fees, particularly on cases involving drunk driving.
Center analyst calls them on it in Washington Times
Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio writes in today’s Washington Times that unions should sacrifice some of their massive wealth to help shore up underfunded pension funds instead of seeking to reduce retiree benefits.
New data released by the Michigan Department of Education shows that the average public school teacher salary in Michigan increased slightly for the 2011-2012 school year to $62,631.
This was up 1.7 percent from 2010-2011 year, but 0.6 percent less than the all-time high of $63,024 reported by the MDE for 2009-2010.
These figures include both conventional school districts and public charter schools, but the difference between these two types of schools was large, according to the data. The average salary for charter school teachers was $42,864, while the average for just conventional school teachers was $63,094.
Below are the 20 districts (with more than 100 pupils) that had the highest average teacher salaries in the state:
 This figure is made of data from only about 15 percent of charter schools. Most charters contract with educational management companies that hire and pay their teachers, and these charters do not report spending money directly on teacher salaries.
FOIA, Open Meetings Act need updating for 21st century
“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” ~James Madison
The Mackinac Center has long been a proponent of open government, which is one of the attributes that attracted me to the Center when I signed on last summer. We think it’s now time to increase our efforts to improve transparency laws and equip citizens with training to ensure the accountability of elected officials.
Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act are Watergate-era laws that badly need updating for the 21st century. These laws were adopted before email and computers became prevalent. Too often new technology is put up as a wall when government wants to prohibit or restrict what the public has a right to access.
We plan to publish a comprehensive study that recommends changes to the FOIA and OMA statutes. We can already identify several needed improvements: faster response times by government agencies; reducing costs that can be charged by government entities; stronger penalties for agencies that improperly withhold public information; and improved access by the public to electronic records.
The time is right for modernizing FOIA. In fact, sunshine laws are currently the subject of legislative interest — a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, would standardize how much agencies can charge individuals when turning over public records. Having been charged $6.8 million for a single document request, we think House Bill 4001 is a meaningful step in the right direction. In order to communicate effectively with lawmakers on this and other issues, we have elected to file the necessary lobbying paperwork at the state and federal levels.
A good law is useless if people don’t know about it. The Center will host a series of community events aimed at raising awareness of common problems encountered by those who attempt to request government records and provide information to those who want a better understanding of how FOIA and OMA work.
Two weeks ago I joined a group of open government advocates for the 2013 Freedom of Information Summit, where I shared some of the insights we’ve gained as frequent requesters of public records. The Center has also joined the Michigan Coalition for Open Government in order to partner with others who share a vision of transparency.
Finally, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation will identify litigation opportunities that would improve the enforcement and interpretation of the state’s sunshine laws. For example, the Center and the Michigan Press Association filed a joint amicus brief at the Michigan Supreme Court in a case involving publicly funded school district computers being used to conduct private union business.
The Center’s ongoing efforts to improve government transparency include MichiganVotes.org, school spending databases, Michigan Capitol Confidential articles and a push for school districts to post their checkbooks online. More recently, the Center and the Michigan Press Association issued a joint statement about the impact of Proposal 2 on FOIA had voters approved it last November.
FOIA is an essential tool for Mackinac Center analysts. With it we have exposed corruption, analyzed government spending, and discovered the lenient school contract that allowed drunken teachers to keep their jobs.
Transparency is one of the few genuinely bipartisan issues in Lansing. Free-market supporters, progressives, news organizations, civil libertarians — we may not agree on the priorities of government, but we all agree on the importance of accountability.
Seems you don't want to be the guy who tells the Detroit Institute of Arts that its treasures are in jeopardy if the city winds up in bankruptcy.
In typical shoot-the-messenger style, the DIA is spinning a story that Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr actually wants to sell the city-owned artwork to settle a portion of the Motor City's $15 billion debt.
A convenient story, but entirely untrue.
Orr merely informed the DIA that its collection — valued from several billion dollars up to $50 billion by some estimates — wasn't protected should the city file Chapter 9. A word to the wise, it is said, should be sufficient. However, the DIA chose once again to play public relations instead of conscientious art stewards by throwing Orr under the bus.
Orr is not the first person to bring up the possibility that DIA's Van Goghs and Turners could end up on the auction block in the event of bankruptcy. One extremely astute writer pointed out this very same possibility last August when the DIA successfully spent $2 million it claimed it didn't have to convince residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to fork over a 10-year, 0.2 millage.
The millage is funding an endowment for operating costs, which in part protects those high salaries enjoyed by the upper echelon of DIA employees. It's sadly irresponsible, but true, that the DIA waited 127 years before seriously endeavoring to build an endowment fund. Adding insult to injury, they dinged recession-weary metro Detroiters to cover their negligence, and made no effort whatsoever to address the unprotected assets housed on Woodward Avenue.
This last is especially galling as the DIA continues its management laxity by declaring presumptuously that creditors cannot seize the museum's works in the event of a bankruptcy. An angry creditor might just convince a bankruptcy judge otherwise.
Failing in their first strategy, the DIA can deploy the same emotional tactics that helped pass last summer's millage. Namely, declare that the DIA's very existence is in peril, as has happened repeatedly in the past. After working Michigan residents into an existential frenzy, the DIA can then implore Lansing politicians to preserve intact the DIA collection by purchasing it from Detroit using taxpayer dollars.
Nowhere in these scenarios is the Michigan taxpayer off the hook for the privilege of roughly 400,000 DIA visitors annually. Yes, the DIA is a "gem" loaded with "priceless treasures" and all that melodramatic yada yada with which your writer — neither Philistine nor Neanderthal he — in fact agrees. However, much of that art is owned by a city awash in so many shades of red ink it makes a Henri Matisse painting seem monochromatic by comparison.
Reality sometimes trumps aesthetic considerations for both individuals and art institutes, and the DIA should be no exception. However, it's doubtful that any politician would allow DIA assets to be sold off on their watch.
Neither is it likely that the DIA will be privatized in much the same manner as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, to the extent that the building and artwork aren't owned and operated by the Windy City's Park District, the Art Institute of Chicago. More's the pity.
And coaccession — a method of selling shares or "covenants" in museum artwork while the institution maintains it in its permanent exhibit — developed by self-proclaimed Evanston, Ill., "art finance innovator" Mark White, Ph.D., will remain untried and therefore unproven.
The DIA probably will continue to chug along in much the same manner it has for the past century, completely oblivious to the economic realities crashing, like the subject in Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s "Landscape With the Fall of Icarus," to its doom. As W.H. Auden observed of the painting in "Musee des Beaux Arts:"
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Not for the expensive delicate ship that is the DIA any long-term solutions that don't include public monies and political arm twisting that they'll either lose artwork or shutter completely. Instead, the museum will damn the torpedoes, Kevyn Orr, or anything else disappearing in the green water as it sails calmly on.
A group of bureaucrats and legislators expressed disdain for parents being able to choose what sort of school best fits their children at a recent “townhall” meeting, according to C & G News.
Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch told the crowd that “competition in education” is “the wrong path to improving student performance.”
Ted O’Neil, media relations manager, pointed out the discrepancy in Markavitch’s claim.
“You hear a lot of people in education circles talk about how important parental involvement is,” he told the newspaper. “And then when you bring up the ultimate parental involvement, the parent actually getting to pick what school they think would provide the best education, you get a lot of blowback on that.”
This past fall, The Leona Group, a for-profit charter management company, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix up Highland Park schools.
The schools were filthy — toilets had to be replaced, ceilings had to be repaired, and exterminators had to be hired. After these repairs, one student told me he had never seen a classroom look so clean.
This summer, PrepNet, another for-profit charter management company, is spending similar amounts to pay employees and to fix up a building for a charter public school that will open this fall in Taylor. Part of the reason PrepNet is opening this high school is because parents requested it (full disclosure: I serve as a volunteer board member for PrepNet's Taylor school).
Throughout Michigan, charter school companies are spending large sums of money to open 32 new schools this fall. Opening a charter school is no easy feat, and comes with large financial and reputational risks. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of the process is waiting to see whether students will enroll.
There are no guarantees in the charter school world: Students don't have to attend, and won't if the school isn't their best available option. And if students don't attend, the charter school won't receive state funding, even though it hired employees and paid to renovate a building.
Despite this risk, companies are opening new schools in areas of the state where students (and communities) are struggling with illiteracy and poverty. Nearly half of the state's charter schools are in the Detroit area. Five of the new charter schools that open this fall will be in Detroit, three will be in Flint and one serving homeless high school students will open in Grand Rapids.
More heartening is the fact that low-income, minority charter school students are learning more than their peers in conventional schools. For-profit companies are helping educate some of Michigan's neediest, and, according to a Stanford University study, charter schools are doing a better job than conventional schools.
Profit is what drives and enables education entrepreneurs to open schools in areas most neglected by conventional schools. Where are parents and students most dissatisfied with their educational options and most likely to enroll in a charter school? Likely in districts that spend exorbitant amounts of money with little to show for it.
Some might find the concept of profit seeking in public education unpalatable. Though we acquire almost every good and service in a private market on a daily basis, public education, critics say, is different.
But even those critics cannot deny that the public sector has done a deplorable job in some Michigan districts. Consider Pontiac, which spends $16,400 per student, but cannot provide toilet paper. Or Highland Park, which was spending nearly $20,000 per student, and left its school buildings in utter disrepair. Or consider the many school districts, some of which are facing oncoming financial disaster, that chose to protect their unions instead of making sure there would be enough money next year to pay to educate students.
If a charter management company is capable of providing a quality education to Michigan students for a fraction of what it takes to educate that child in a conventional district, why is it wrong for that company to make a profit?
Charter management companies are succeeding where many conventional schools (and charities) have failed. The promise of future profit is what will encourage education entrepreneurs to take risks to serve more students who are being shortchanged by the conventional school system.
Michigan students get personal connection to WWII hero
Middle school students at Corpus Christi Catholic School in Holland, Mich., extensively studied the Holocaust this spring. I was pleased to give them the outstanding documentary “The Power of Good” and also Lawrence Reed’s monograph, which relate the story of Sir Nicholas Winton and the rescue of 669 children from Prague in 1939. My visits with Nicky and with three of those saved “children” have made his story very personal to me.
I was thrilled that the students at Corpus Christi had the opportunity to study both the horrific actions of some and the heroic deeds of others from this time in history.
As the capstone of their unit of study, the students traveled to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich. They found a memorial quilt on display there and they were excited to find a quilt square honoring Sir Nicholas Winton and his efforts for the children of Prague. The students were so taken with the idea they decided to create their own memorial quilt to hang forever in the halls of Corpus Christi.
The quilt is finished and was dedicated last week during a service in the school chapel. Joining the students were two very proud grandmothers — the quilter and myself. Ruth Asselin from Kentwood volunteered her talents to quilt the squares prepared by the students. As she spoke to the students they were spellbound with her stories of travel to Auschwitz and her discovery that there were members of her extended family who had been held there. Her message was very clear: The hate that caused such atrocities must never again be tolerated.
My travels have also included Auschwitz as well as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. I am forever grateful that in addition to those visits I have had the opportunity to visit Nicky Winton and learn first-hand of the good deeds this terrible time inspired. I also spoke to the students and shared my visits with this humble, beautiful man who did so very much for humanity with no thought of receiving either thanks or personal gain.
I congratulate the students and staff of Corpus Christi and was honored to be a part of the dedication of this gift they have given to their school.
Privatization expert to speak at Center's June 5 I&I
Oliver Porter, who led the creation of the country’s first contract city, is interviewed in the latest edition of The Freeman, a publication of the Foundation for Economic Education. Porter will speak at a June 5 Issues & Ideas forum in Lansing hosted by the Mackinac Center and FEE. Porter will discuss how privatization and contracting can help financially distressed cities in Michigan, including Detroit.