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).

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.

A Better State

After a year of conversations and polling, the Center for Michigan paints a grim picture of the confidence of citizens in the state government. The conversation is pitched toward the upper middle class, the traditional good-government folk. Phil Powers wrestles with the survey’s impact:

Lurking behind these surface attitudes, as disturbing as they might be, lies a far more worrisome and pervasive attitude: Michiganders are losing confidence in the very workings of their political and governmental apparatus, the very basic things that enable a civil society and help generate a thriving state. Peter Pratt, CEO of Public Sector Consultants (of which the Center for Michigan is a client), which helped administer the data collection for this study, put it this way: “If this level of distrust continues or worsens, how are we going to have democratic government?”

There is no easy way out. At best it requires regions like the Grand Rapids metro area to engage in more in-depth conversations across partisan lines. The growing region will need to shape a common understanding about what is best for the state, however to do so will require putting aside the conventional small business, and too-small conservative solutions. The best that can be hoped for is that representatives begin to share in a common framework. We certainly need that for our schools and roads. And Michigan definitely needs it for its future.

 

Private Public Partnership

 

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One of the features of the Midwest landscape is the dense combination of state universities and small colleges. This certainly comes from the old Yankee heritage coupled with immigrant identities.

While the ideal of the private college is shaped by New-England-in-the-Fall preppy image, the reality is quite different, as Michael Chingos points out in his report at EducationNext. Among the findings:

Private colleges serve a similar proportion of low-income students as public colleges, and low-income students have higher economic mobility rates at private colleges (although this may be due to their greater selectivity).

This is certainly good news for the many small colleges such as Aquinas or Hope (show above). But for the state of Michigan overall, there is another sobering statistic. Michigan colleges, public and private, struggle in their ability to promote economic mobility. the economic success rate for the public institutions is 29%, a notch above the national average of  28%. And the story for private schools is significantly worse: their success rate is a sobering 20%. For a state that seeks to regain its economic mojo, both figures need to increase.

 

 

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

The Waters Call

Les Cheneaux Islands

The islands vary in size… All are heavily timbered, and many trails lead through forests of pine, cedar, and balsam. From a distance the islands appear to be great floating rafts of greenery, each striped at the water’s edge with a narrow line of white beach. The illusion of height in some of the islands is created almost entirely by the tall timber. (554)

Michigan. A Guide to the Wolverine State.
Compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Michigan
New York: Oxford University Press. 1941

Writing resumes August 9.

Making them pay

Melissa Anders recounts the passage of bills to end the personal property tax on businesses in Michigan. Protests Sen John Pappageorge (R-Troy), it’s not as bad as you think.

“I’m not sure everybody heard what we did hear today … Let me just recap here for a minute: 100 percent reimbursement for any voter approved special millage, it goes direct to the community, that takes care of the fire and police,” he said. “Anything over 2 percent of the general fund is reimbursed, there’s 100 percent reimbursement of school bonded debt,

Sen. Pappageorge is certainly optimistic. The Analysis  from the Senate Fiscal Agency suggests that most units of government would see no reimbursement. Then there is what might best be described as a good -intention program for setting up the reimbursement fund. But after the raid on school finances this past session, can any one reasonably think they will follow through?

And if they don’t follow through, the result is dire: a $600 million hit, and in the Senate analysis, an $80million smack to the School Aid fund. Well this certainly puts Michigan on the right path: less money for roads, less money for schools, but more money for owners who can flee the state.