Public Wealth

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Even with the lowest unemployment since John Engler, Michigan is grumpy, notes John Gallagher. University of Michigan economist, Donald Grimes has a suggestion, maybe it’s a function of shift in consumer prices. The TV is cheaper so we buy a bigger one. Or gas is cheaper, meantime other prices rise, and so our stress.
“If there continues to be this wide divergence in price inflation for different goods and services, I don’t think people are ever going to feel that their real incomes are going up very much,” (Grimes) said. “They are going to continue to feel financially stressed to pay for the things that are going up in price relatively quickly, because they aren’t going to have money freed up by spending less on the things that are going down in price.”
Another answer may be the decline of public goods. If the public goods don’t keep up, then all we are left with is ourselves, our condition — so the economist may be right. Over this time frame what has happened in the public sector? It has been deliberately under-funded through a thicket of tax shifts. Citizens of Michigan pay more and get less, and their legislators piosly proclaim they can do nothing about it.
 
So perhaps the solution is to increase taxes a bit more and in turn make sure we have good roads, better schools, parks that are well kept and the like. We may have to forego the TV, but when we step outside, when we travel through our great state, we can feel a little better (or at least not be so continually jostled).
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It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

More (Charter) School Politics

Justin Swan calls out the Wall Street Journal’s editorial about the feckless Democrats and their lockstep opposition and hysterical hollering to Betsy DeVos. Is it a case of biting the hand that feeds you? Perhaps. But turn to Dan Henninger to get the better  sense of the politics of the DeVos nomination. This is about the nature of the urban (and largely minority) school districts, where the teachers play such an important role. In Michigan, it’s more than that, too.

Ever since the days of John Engler there’s been this blood feud between the MEA and the GOP — if anything it’s been a liability to our state, promoting overreaction on both sides. BDV has been part of that in many ways, particularly in her role as an activist, a very active activist. There are other dimensions, too. Her engagement with GRPS is not something to pass by, and that accounts for much of the relative silence of leadership. It’s less bought silence than known collaboration.

 The DeVos Apocalypse

Shedding Light on Bad Legislation

ALEC is pretty clear that it has generated so-called “model” legislation. This legislation in turn has shown up in almost verbatim form in various legislatures, poor Dave Agema only being the latest example. Three problems emerge from such an approach.
ALEC is back in the news, as the headline states: Progressive groups question role of American Legislative Exchange Council in writing GOP-backed bills. Zack Pohl of Progress Michigan identifies 20 bills that come out of the ALEC mill, including HB 5221, introduced by state Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, a measure requiring  voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote. And if that sounded familiar, it should. The Agema bill was essentially a “cut and paste” of sample legislation generated by the conservative council.

But is there any harm to that? Don’t unions and other left-leaning groups do the same? Reporter Dave Murray is at least willing to look at the issue.

The way I interpret it, ALEC isn’t initiating the legislation, it’s more of a clearinghouse.
Say Lawmaker X, R-Mitten, wants to write a bill on, say, fudge sale restrictions. He wants to know what has been effective in other states. So he contacts ALEC or attends a conference or whatever, and sees what lawmakers with similar views in other states have passed regarding fudge sales in their states, takes one of those bills and introduces it.

ALEC is pretty clear that it has generated so-called “model” legislation. This legislation in turn has shown up in almost verbatim form in various legislatures, poor Dave Agema only being the latest example. Three problems emerge from such an approach.

First, the legislation itself is crafted often with an eye to special interests, corporate or advocacy-related. The context for such legislation then is tucked away in other ideological or even commercial concerns, hidden from any real legislative oversight at the state level.

A useful instance of such legislation out of the ALEC pot would be the Stand Your Ground gun legislation.

Second, the ALEC approach effectively nationalizes issues. Rather than consider the bills in the context of the states, the “model legislation” approach imposes a sort of national legislation with minimum fuss. So we don’t get a Michigan response to guns, we get the NRA response, smuggled in through ALEC.

Third, turning to the educational reform side, the ALEC approach presents the legislature with a “solution” that may or may not fit the state. So we get legislation in search of a problem. What is cut out of the discussion is the more important issue of testing ideas within the context of the State and its particular interests. Here, a bill clearly originating from the State Chamber is preferable to one slipping in the backdoor, one without clear fingerprints as to who is interested in it. In short, ALEC works against transparency in legislation (at the least).

That it also acts as a clearinghouse for a set of special interests, often with an ideological cast (see Agema legislation, again) — well, that is only another reason to ask for transparency and accountability. Then again, the fact that ALEC comes form the mind of John Engler ought to be warning enough.