The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

While the Legislature is adjourned for a primary election campaign break, the Roll Call Report will review key votes of the 2013-2014 session.

Senate Bill 51, Expand forest property tax breaks: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate February 12, 2013

To expand the eligibility for certain forest property tax breaks, increase their value, double the number of acres eligible for the tax breaks from 1.2 million to 2.4 million statewide, authorize a new 2 mill property tax on property in this program that would go to a proposed "Private Forestland Enhancement Fund" to subsidize private forestland management activities, and more. This and related bills are designed to facilitate use of a program granting property tax exemptions to owners of smaller "non-industrial" sized parcels of forestland.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 44, Add more crimes to sex offender registry: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on January 29, 2013

To place on the state’s public sexual offender registry individuals who commit certain crimes deemed insufficiently serious to warrant this consequence, except that the victim is a minor. This would include indecent exposure, knowingly possessing child sexually abusive material, surveillance of an undressed individual, and knowingly restraining another person. The additions would be retroactive, so that individuals convicted of these offenses in the past now would have to place themselves on the sex offender registry.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 61, Convert Blue Cross to non-profit "regular" insurance company: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate on January 31, 2013

To convert Blue Cross Blue Shield into a “mutual insurance company” and make it subject to the same regulations as regular health insurers. Although it would remain a non-profit, current restrictions on the entity's ability to own for-profit subsidiaries would be reduced, and it would no longer be subject to close oversight by the state Attorney General. In return for being granted this conversion, BCBS would pay "up to" $1.56 billion over 18 years into a fund that would supplement various health-related government programs, as selected by a board of political appointees.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 123, Expand local convention facility authorities: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on March 6, 2013

To allow the Grand Rapids and Kent County convention facility authorities to borrow and spend more to build or buy a second facility, including a "market" or a sports facility. The bill would also eliminate the 12 year term limits on members of these entities' boards.

 Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 51, Expand forest property tax breaks: Passed 79 to 28 in the House on May 23, 2013

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 44, Add more crimes to sex offender registry: Passed 106 to 3 in the House on February 19, 2013

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 61, Convert Blue Cross to non-profit "regular" insurance company; Passed 92 to 18 in the House on February 28, 2013

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 123, Expand local convention facility authorities: Passed 100 to 10 in the House on April 11, 2013

The House vote on the bill described above.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4111, Fund "Obamacare partnership exchange": Passed 78 to 31 in the House on February 28, 2013

To appropriate $30.5 million in federal grant money to set up a consumer assistance call center related to insurance subsidies provided by the federal health care law. The money will also be used for state Medicaid system software upgrades. The Senate never took up the bill and as a result Michigan has a purely federal "exchange."

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.

MEA Embraces More Outsourcing

But still protests when schools do it

The Michigan Education Association is a large critic of school boards hiring private companies to provide noninstructional services, such as custodial, food and transportation. But the union uses this often fiscally responsible practice itself, as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has documented several times in the past.

The most recent example is revealed in this video that features MEA employees attesting to how great outsourcing their dues collection services was. In it, MEA representatives admit that their "in-house" attempts to collect dues were "not reliable, and inaccurate." They also admit that their accounting was shoddy — apparently the union didn't know if its "accounts receivable were correct or not."

In explaining its decisions to hire a third-party to run its dues collection services, the MEA makes a strong case for why school districts should explore outsourcing, too.

As a membership organization, the MEA's main purpose should be representing the best interests of its members, and developing and managing an online payment system is not in its wheelhouse. The same applies for school districts. They are in the business of educating students, and they often can do better by leaving the noninstructional services to the experts.

So the next time MEA officials argue that there's something inherently wrong with schools outsourcing, remind them of all the reasons they do it themselves.

TTB a Poor Measure of Charter Performance

Free Press should use better metric

Clara Smith, the principal at Thirkell.

Just a year ago, the Detroit Free Press had high praise for Thirkell, an elementary school in the conventional Detroit Public Schools district.

Reporter Lori Higgins wrote that Thirkell was "defying the odds by posting strong proficiency rates on the MEAP..." Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson characterized Thirkell in a column as having an environment of "focus and consistency," with a "dynamic and skilled" principal.

However, in a week-long series, the Free Press has repeatedly criticized charter public schools that have received low rankings on the Michigan Department of Education's "Top-to-Bottom" list. In a recent article, Higgins and co-author, Kristi Tanner, pointed to Top-to-Bottom rankings as evidence of poor charter performance. In a Sunday column, Henderson pointed to those rankings as proof of a "charter school mess."

And on Thursday, reporter David Jesse reported that Hope Academy, a charter public school, scored dismally in 2012-13, ranked below 99 percent of Michigan schools.

That year, Thirkell received the same ranking.

The issue is not that Thirkell is a bad school. Indeed, in 2013, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy identified Thirkell as the highest-performing Michigan elementary or middle school in the state. We were thrilled to celebrate Thirkell and seven other DPS schools for posting impressive academic results. Several of those other DPS schools would also be considered failures under the Free Press' analysis.

Hope Academy, in comparison, ranks in the top 70 percent of Michigan elementary and middle schools when poverty is considered.

The Mackinac Center recognizes the academic impact that outside factors can have on schools, and so produces an annual report card that adjusts for student socioeconomic status. This report card's methodology has since been replicated by the Center for Michigan. These independent report cards grade schools on how well they perform given their unique student population — instead of their neighborhood struggles.

An outgrowth of the Mackinac Center's report card work was publishing a study in October that strongly criticized the state's Top-to-Bottom ranking. In that study, we showed that the state's Top-to-Bottom ranking was essentially a proxy for poverty, instead of a measure of actual school performance. In other words, schools like Thirkell were being unfairly penalized by the state, simply because they tend to serve more low-income students compared to other schools around the state.

In the wake of that finding, I argued in the pages of the Free Press that the state should change the way it grades schools. I noted that under state law, schools that receive low Top-to-Bottom rankings can be forced to fire their principals, or even be closed. This law has already triggered principal dismissal in some Michigan schools.

Though the Free Press is arguing for increased regulations to penalize what it characterizes as failing charter schools, the newspaper has yet to mention the penalties already imposed upon low-ranked schools anywhere in its coverage.

By using the Top-to-Bottom list in an attempt to show that Michigan charter schools are poor performing, the Free Press is missing the mark and ignoring its own past reporting on the limitations of relying too heavily on these state rankings. 

There's clearly more to a school than its rank on a poorly designed state metric. Free Press reporters have demonstrated that they understand this when it comes to some schools. Should they give the same consideration to others, namely charter schools? Or has the Free Press changed its mind about Thirkell?

Vernuccio Discusses the MEA's 'August Window'

Was a guest on "Capital City Recap"

Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio was a guest on “Capital City Recap” with host Michael Cohan on WILS-AM1320, discussing how teachers can opt out of the Michigan Education Association during the month of August.

Gongwer, MIRS Cover MERC Ruling

Grad students saved from unionization

Both  Gongwer News Service and MIRS Capitol Capsule included stories about the Michigan Employment Relations Commission’s recent decision to uphold it’s 1981 ruling prohibiting the forced unionization of graduate student research assistants at public universities in Michigan.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation had represented some 370 GSRAs at the University of Michigan who objected.

June 20, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Vote Report

Votes on “navigators,” pets, squatters, woodstoves, taxi-cartels, more

This report contains more votes from the very active final week of legislative sessions ending June 13, before an extended summer break.

Senate Bill 324, Require certification of federal health care law "navigators": Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To require certification for the individuals and organizations acting as "navigators" authorized by the federal health care law ("Obamacare") to assist individuals who apply for government subsidized health benefits through the law's exchange, including criminal background check and training in a program that protects the privacy and security of Michigan residents' personally identifiable information. The bill authorizes administrative sanctions and fines for individuals and organizations who violate various rules, including steering a person toward a particular policy.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 910, Ban enforcement of new woodstove emissions limits: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate

To prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality from imposing new state woodstove and wood heater regulations, or enforcing new federal ones. The bill was introduced following news reports that proposed federal Environmental Protection Agency rules would impose restrictive new limits on wood heat.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 748, Revise protectionist Detroit limousine regulations: Passed 30 to 8 in the Senate

To allow Detroit to expand the scope of a city regulatory regime on limousines, by extending it to vehicles that can carry eight people including the driver. The limousine regulations have the effect of limiting competition to the taxi cartels that are protected by the city. The bill is sponsored by Detroit Democrat Virgil Smith Jr. and co-sponsored by Oakland County Republican Mike Kowall.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5168, Facilitate DARTA operating Woodward streetcar: Passed 32 to 6 in the Senate

To authorize the Detroit area regional transportation authority created by a 2012 law to enter agreements to operate a potential Woodward Avenue streetcar in Detroit. The bill would exempt this project from a provision requiring unanimous action by the DARTA board for any form of rail passenger service, and specify that Detroit and Wayne County would be responsible for covering the line's operating deficits, and not other communities in the RTA.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5070, Authorize penalties on rental property squatters: Passed 32 to 6 in the Senate

To authorize criminal penalties for a squatter who illegally occupies a residence, including up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for second and subsequent violations. Squatter is defined by the bill as someone who "at any time during that period of occupancy, occupied the property with the owner's consent for an agreed-upon consideration" but not a "guest or a family member of the owner or a tenant."

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4688, Repeal licensure mandates for dietitians and nutritionists: Passed 26 to 12 in the Senate

To repeal a law that imposes a licensure mandate on dietitians and nutritionists. The mandate has not been enforced since it was authorized in 2006 because the state licensure agency was unable to devise acceptable credentialing and education requirements.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5558, Clarify pre-emption of insurance lawsuits under Consumer Protection Act: Passed 24 to 13 in the Senate

To clarify that a prohibition of "unfair practices" lawsuits against insurance companies under the state Consumer Protection Act (rather than the state's Insurance Code) applies even if the cause of action occurred before a 2001 law was enacted specifying that industries like insurance which are already subject to a comprehensive state regulatory regime are not covered by the Consumer Protection Act. Lawsuits that have already been filed could still proceed, however.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 948, Restrict radioactive material storage and disposal: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit storing or disposing radioactive waste from another state or country in Michigan, and ban storing any radioactive material other than what is allowed under current law for nuclear power plants, uranium mines and medical uses. The bill would also create a state advisory board for the purpose of writing a report on the potential impact of depositing radioactive waste deep underground at a site in Kincardine, Ontario, as proposed by an Ontario utility.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5089, Create new pseudoephedrine "straw man" buyer crime: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate

To authorize up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for purchasing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine while knowing that it will be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 853, Ban automated eyeglass kiosks: Passed 108 to 2 in the House

To prohibit automated testing devices that provide eye exams and issue prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. Instead, only licensed optometrists and physicians specializing in eye care could write eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. This would pre-empt eyeglass kiosks in drugstores and other retail locations, which are reportedly a lower cost alternative to conventional optometry services and are available in some states.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 872, Reduce regulatory obstacles to developing stamp-sand property: Passed 67 to 43 in the House

To establish that property where "stamp sands" have been deposited is not subject to state environmental law restrictions unless the sands contain hazardous substances that exceed the allowable levels for unrestricted residential use. "Stamp sands" are finely grained crushed rock resulting from copper ore processing and are common in the Keweenaw region.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4534, Mandate background checks for animal adoption: Passed 98 to 12 in the House

To mandate that animal shelters run background checks for animal abuse offenses on individuals wanting to adopt an animal, using an Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT) maintained by the State Police.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4874, Limit protectionist local septic facility mandates: Passed 69 to 41 in the House

To restrict a local government's ability to mandate that septic tank servicers may only dispose of customers' waste in a facility whose territory is deemed to include those customers' property. This is said to protect a heavily indebted government facility in Grand Traverse County from losing business to less costly facilities. The bill would also limit local government rulemaking on applying septage waste to land.

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.

 

Tax Foundation Takes On Michigan Future Report

Says Minnesota comparison "misses the mark"

The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research think tank, says a report by Michigan Future that claims Minnesota is more prosperous than Michigan because of its higher tax rate “misses the mark.”

You can read the entire piece at the Tax Foundations’ Tax Policy Blog: http://taxfoundation.org/blog/michigan-future-misses-mark.

Michigan Capitol Confidential critiqued the Michigan Future report here

Repeal Post and Hold Alcohol Rules

Beer and wine wholesalers gain, consumers lose

(Editor’s note: These are remarks delivered recently by Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.)

Thank you Commissioners. My name is Michael LaFaive and I am director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

I am here today to exercise my right to request the partial rescission of two rules, R.436.1625 (1-4) and R.436.1726 (1-2). These are commonly referred to as "post and hold" rules. As you know, these rules mandate posting of price schedules for beer and wine and the holding of those prices for a length of time depending on the product.

Research shows that these rules suffocate competition to the benefit of narrow special interests, such as Michigan's beer and wine wholesalers, and do so at the expense of consumers.

In fact, one working paper published in 2010 and titled, "State Regulation of Alcohol Distribution: The Effects of Post & Hold Laws on Consumption and Social Harms," found that such laws increased price of beer and wine by between 6.4 percent and 30 percent, depending on the product.

I have for each of you the copy of a letter that I have formally mailed to Chairman Deloney, and an essay I published in 2012 titled, "Unnecessary State Rule Enriches Crony Capitalists."

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Fox Covers MEA's Attack on Teachers

Vernuccio, teacher with host Neil Cavuto

Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio and recently retired teacher Lisa Jelenek were on Fox News Wednesday with host Neil Cavuto, discussing how the Michigan Education Association is threatening the credit ratings of teachers who have stopped paying union dues under Michigan’s worker freedom act by turning them over to collections agencies.

Jelenek, who recently retired from Laingsburg Public Schools, is one of several teachers who explain at www.augustoptout.org why they no longer support the MEA.

Vernuccio also appeared on The Blaze TV with host Andrew Wilkow to discuss the matter.

Oh, The Things You Will Learn

An intern's brush with bureaucracy

Gathering up-to-date public pension data is no trivial task. While all municipalities are required to report basic accounting and financial information, many make it quite difficult to obtain.

Cities and townships are required to file audits and most list a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) with this information. But just because the reports have to be filed doesn't mean they are easy to find. Even among Michigan's 100 largest municipalities, there are large discrepancies between how the reports are posted online.

Taxpayers should take note because politicians across the spectrum and at all levels of government talk about working for the people and increasingly many promise transparency. But a look at how CAFR reports are filed shows there is a lot of work to do.

The first problem is how the information is presented on the CAFR itself. Many start with a title page and an introduction to the report. From there, it seems there is no order other than broad section requirements of introductory, financial and statistical sections. This means that to find the type of pension plan the municipality offers and the statistics behind it, you have to sort through every page after the introduction.

Using keywords to search helps, but many CAFR reports are uploaded in one giant picture format scanned onto the computer instead of an easy-to-read, text-based PDF file that would cooperate with shortcuts.

Another problem is the delayed posting of information. The reports are to contain information updated through the end of the third quarter, which was June 30 (based on an Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 fiscal year). But when searching in June, many municipalities still didn’t have the information through June 30, 2013.

Michigan's Department of Treasury also provides a link to CAFRs from cities and townships. But when that data is old, or not even posted, it requires a visit to the municipalities' main website. Some CAFRs still weren't there. What good is this depth of information if by the time you are able to view it the information is out-of-date and irrelevant?

That forces people to then reach out to local public employees for the current information, but when contacted, some were unsure of what the information was, or how to get it.

In one township, the treasurer passed the note on to another employee and wrote: "I think that this request may fall in your area."

She responded: "A CAFR is the annual budget/audit. I'll send this to [name withheld]. Not sure if it's legit."

Eventually, I got the information.

Taxpayers deserve better, especially for documents that are supposed to be readily accessible and up-to-date.

(Editor's note: This column has been slightly modified since its original posting.)