Wednesday, January 31, 2007

MI Senate Republicans. Waste of time. Craig DeRoche. Waste of oxygen.



More nonsense from the extreme elements of the MI GOP.



The Senate Finance Committee voted 4-3 to send their half-baked tax cut plan to the full Senate. If this isn't DOA in the House, then surely it is DOA if it hits the governor's desk, which begs the question, why bother?



Looks like the Republicans are back to their old tricks; working on legislation that they know has no chance of succeeding, wasting our time and tax money in the process.



Senate Republicans said Tuesday that a plan to drop business taxes by at least $290 million would energize Michigan's sluggish economy, but critics predicted it would deeply harm spending on local roads and police.



City and township officials in particular opposed the GOP plan because it would eliminate the tax that manufacturers pay on new machinery and equipment. Half of that money goes directly to local governments.



Cassis seems to think that cities can take the hit.



But Senate Finance Chairwoman Nancy Cassis, a Novi Republican and sponsor of the bills, said governments must re-examine whether all their spending is essential to local residents.



Well, I don't know about your city, but here in Happy Valley we are still facing major cuts, even though we are going through a period of growth in the downtown area. Elsewhere, the natives are banding together to get Lansing's attention- just last week they held a press conference that consisted of a dozen mayors and other professionals from schools, police, hospitals, coming together and proclaiming, "no more".



And yet, the Republicans still turn a deaf ear to the pleas of Michigan citizens and insist on digging the hole deeper. They won't tell us who will haul away the dirt.



To add to the worthless nature of this exercise, the legislation isn't even "done" yet.



Democrats blasted the GOP plan — introduced last week — because key tax rates weren't yet set in the legislation, though Republicans said the rates would be added before the bills are sent to the Democratic-led House.



"We will tell you later". Where have we heard this before?



Speaking of the "same old story, some old sang and dance, my friend", the fair and balanced Detroit News gave Craig DeRoche a platform for his hypocritical blathering this morning. Instead of working on the problems facing our state, Craig took the time out to write a hit piece attacking the Governor, a piece that showed the imagination of a 7th grader who had a paper due that had a word count requirement. He basically repeats the same thing over and over and never comes to any conclusions except, "It's all Granholm's fault".



DeRoche reduced the enormous problem of a chronic budget deficit to the simplistic analogy of a New Year's resolution to go on a diet- and it looks like it took him the whole month of January to do it. Not only is it insulting to the intelligence of the people of Michigan, it fails to point out the steps to the "DeRoche Weight Loss Plan". What would Craig do? We don't know. Apparently Craig prefers to blame others for the problem he helped create instead of offering any solutions.



First four paragraphs, blame Granholm. Next paragraph, tell Michigan, "You're fat". Don't explain why. Next five paragraphs, blame Granholm some more. Next two paragraphs, repeat standard Republican platitudes of "bloated government" and "living within our means". And then, out of the blue, comes this amazing statement...



We all share a responsibility in Lansing to seek common ground; too much is at stake to spend time pointing fingers.



... followed by another finger point at Granholm.



Craig cries "she did this!" as he runs to the fridge for more Ben & Jerry's.



Looks like DeRoche broke his New Year's resolution of "working together" already, and the Republicans are back to their standard method of operation- worthless legislation and endless blame.



The people of Michigan deserve better.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The AP & Me



Imagine my surprise when I popped over to WOOD TV8 and caught this headline from the Associated Press-



"House lawmakers go to budget boot camp"



And my post from yesterday morning-



"Legislature Budget Boot Camp starts this week"



But I capitalized it For Dramatic Impact.



Coincidence? (probably)



We riff off of their work, I suppose it would only be fair if they riff off of ours.



;-)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Stabenow: Bush's health care plan 'dead on arrival'



I thought so. I also thought it was a really bizarre proposition in the first place, almost like they were just making stuff up to fill time.



EAST LANSING – U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said President Bush’s proposal to tax health care benefits in order to make them more available to uninsured families is “dead on arrival” at the Democratic-controlled Congress.



In his State of the Union address last week, Bush proposed taxing health benefits from employers, and giving tax breaks to individuals who purchase health insurance on their own.



And Debbie calls for universal health care.



Stabenow, who now is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the U.S. must replace a health insurance system that relies heavily on employer benefits and create a universal health care system for all, similar to Medicare, which uses government money but gives patients their choice of physicians and coverage.



I'm all for it- and if we don't do it at the federal level, we will create this inequity between the states as they all implement different plans. Might as well make it truly "universal".



This, of course, will require removing Mr. Bush first. Better get on that.

Waiting for April



Waiting for April

Whitecaps game April 2006



"People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby



(I changed the date and time on this post simply to see if the blogwire picks it up again, or if it requires a whole new post for it to trigger. Just an experiment. Indulge me.)

Legislature Budget Boot Camp starts this week



Lawmakers are breaking into their study groups to go over the budget. After the freshmen were instructed to "drop and give me twenty!", some interesting hypotheticals were passed out by the Senate Fiscal Agency for them to chew on.



The latest Senate Fiscal Agency memo is intended to provide an outline of options that could be considered to balance the budget. It provides several examples of possible spending cuts totaling $1.3 billion, more than would be needed to balance the budget.



For the most part, the listing works off a hypothetical 10 percent cut in state departments starting April 1. That could translate to the loss of a few thousand state employees, a number that would vary widely depending on the cuts chosen.



Some examples:



-A 10 percent cut in the state's corrections department would amount to about $190 million. Such a cut could include closing 12 prisons and four prison camps, the elimination of several prisoner education and substance abuse treatment programs, and other cuts.



Yes, let's turn the criminals loose without the tools they need to leave that lucrative life of crime, almost guaranteeing they they will make a return visit to the system. Although, down below we are talking about cutting the cops, so maybe they won't get caught the next time around.



-A 10 percent cut in community health would equal $294 million. A cut of that size could affect several programs including those paid for through the Healthy Michigan Fund, elimination of optional Medicaid services such as adult dental care, and reduction of Medicaid reimbursement payments to some hospitals.



These folks will show up in the emergency rooms and other places, which will raise insurance costs, which will push more people to drop their insurance, which will send them to the emergency rooms when they need help... and the cycle continues. Hospitals will find a way to recoup any loss in Medicaid reimbursements, probably through higher charges to- ta da!- insurance companies, who will promptly raise your rates.



Bottom line- pay a little now on preventive care, or pay a lot later for emergency care. Cutting any kind of health care seems to exacerbate an already huge problem.



-A 10 percent cut to state police amounts to nearly $25 million. That would eliminate a trooper training school planned for this fiscal year, and would include the layoffs of 24 troopers already on the road, along with several other cuts.



This would probably alleviate the prison problem. Just don't call 911. Or get in an accident.



Things are not this black and white, of course, but these are just some examples where cuts can actually end up costing us more in the long run.



Lawmakers will look at raising revenue also, causing many Republicans to poke their eyes out with their pencils. Might have to take all the sharp objects away from them.



Raising the existing sales tax by 1 percentage point, to 7 percent, could raise $690 million this fiscal year and $1.4 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.



Expanding Michigan's 6 percent sales tax to services could raise nearly $4.4 billion in the last six months of the current fiscal year, and another $9 billion in 2007-08 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.



Raising the state's beer tax to $7.30 a barrel; an increase of $1 per barrel; would raise an estimated $3.5 million this fiscal year and $6.9 million next fiscal year.



Again, things there aren't that easily defined, either. A combination of both is going to be required in the end.



It seems that tackling the SBT replacement would have to come first- if we adjust that revenue we might solve some of the problems above, yes? At least for the future- get through some cuts now and reinstate when the revenue becomes available.



Mike Sak and Glenn Steil Jr. were on WXMI last night; unfortunately they don't have the clip on their site. Sak mentioned looking at the service taxes. Steil, a wingnut's wingnut, could only say "cutcutcut" in his usual hyperactive "I Really Hate the Government and Want To See It Die" way. Makes you wonder why he got in the business in the first place. The Steil types are the ones we need to watch.



Good luck everyone. I don't envy you a bit.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Owashtanong Short Attention Span Theater: Mo' Money Edition



Three different bullet points that are all related to Michigan's money woes. Someone please fix this so I can stop thinking about it. Here goes-



  • Peter Luke is exhibiting the same frustration that I have been feeling concerning the tax situation. The usually mild-mannered columnist starts throwing questions against the wall at the end of this week's column.



    Well, it will be replaced or lawmakers will have to start closing prisons, or universities. Take your pick. A post-election K-12 budget shortfall that could more than wipe out the pre-election funding increase for schools has been greeted largely with silence. Some say transfer the money from somewhere else. From where? Who knows?



    What kind of state decides to cut its education budgets when work-force development is widely seen as the most critical step to securing its economic future?



    What kind of state, moreover, seeks to attract business when for more than a year, it hasn't been able to tell those businesses what their tax liability would be because the Legislature voted to eliminate the main business tax without identifying a replacement?



    What kind of state can't find the will to raise a gasoline tax that is stagnating in the face of rising costs to rebuild decaying transportation infrastructure -- presumably an important economic development feature?



    If you're scoring at home, the answer to all those questions is: Michigan. You get what you pay for.



    I'm right there with ya, dude. I want to grab Lansing by the lapels and go, "What the hell is WRONG with you people?"



    Yeah, patience, I know. I just see the knock-down, drag-out fight looming that will consume most of this year and I'm left feeling pissed off and, well, to be honest, kinda bored. But I can't seem to tear myself away, so-



  • Jack Lessenberry takes on the tax problem for the Toledo Blade-



    Michigan government's problems are immediate. Though conservatives were quick to say the crisis is due to bloated government free-spending ways, the truth is exactly the opposite, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Citizens Research Council.



    The problem was "largely self-inflicted," said a CRC report. "Since the early 1990s, the state reduced tax rates, failed to offset negative effects on state revenues created by federal tax changes, and cut other state taxes," partly by expanding exemptions.



    We have identified the problem and need to move on to the solution- and that solution is going to prove very tricky.



    Figuring that out is a matter of simple mathematics. Figuring out how to get voters to support a tax increase when jobs are vanishing may take all the persuasive power the governor has - and then some. But she, and we, may have little choice.



    This is exactly why I threw a fit over that end of the year press conference; I knew what she would be up against.



    But, it's nice to know there are some columnists out there that are focusing on the issues before us instead of playing the "What Is Nancy Skinner Doing Today?" game. We are going to need them.



  • How to raise all that money to cover the budget gaps here, there and everywhere? A couple of recent stories have indicated: Sell! Sell everything!



    The Freep tell us that both the state and local governments are looking at selling "open spaces" (read: parks and land) to pay the bills.



    The Commerce property is just one example in a growing number of proposed land deals in which governments -- be they state, county or local -- look at purging themselves of properties.



    In some cases, like that of the state, the argument is the property isn't worth keeping. In many others, government agencies beset by financial troubles look at green spaces as sources of ready cash.



    I believe the state has a deal where they are selling smaller parcels and are turning around and consolidating and replacing that land- this great story from the Michigan Land Use Institute points that out. But cities and towns might be drawn into making the sad mistake of selling their green spaces for quick cash today- and that is a scary prospect. Once it's gone, it's gone. Bad idea.



    Another bad idea making the rounds is selling the lottery. Why do I think it's a bad idea? Because the Detroit News thinks it's a good one, citing both Wall Street and the Mackinac Center as licking their chops over the thought of all that easy money. Compare and contrast their story...



    A high-stakes gamble that the sale of Michigan's 35-year-old lottery could provide the cash infusion the state badly needs to balance its budget is drawing a serious look in the state capital.



    Privatizing the lottery is among options being considered as state officials struggle to find new revenues or cuts to erase an $820 million deficit.



    While no one is setting odds on whether this will be part of the budget solution, word that Illinois and Indiana are taking steps to sell their lotteries to feed cash-starved budgets has prompted sudden interest in doing the same here.



    "I'm encouraged by that idea. It's good that people around here are willing to offer such bold ideas," Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said Thursday.



    ... with the AP's story from Kathy Barks Hoffman.



    The governors of Illinois and Indiana are considering privatizing their state lotteries, despite the idea's lukewarm reception in those states.



    Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm may decide against such a move, in part because she'd rather find permanent solutions to the state's structural deficit. A constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004 dealing with gambling could make it difficult to privatize the lottery because any changes would require a statewide referendum.



    "We would never say never," Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Thursday of privatizing the lottery. "But while we're looking at everything, we're focused on the structural problem. It is a one-time fix. Generally you use one-time fixes for one-time problems."



    Some Republicans also were leery of the move.



    A spokesman for House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, said DeRoche would consider such a plan only if it's part of more fundamental budget reform.



    Both stories are full of facts and figures, but they have wildly different tones. Read them both and you will see.



    Generally, I would have to be against this unless we can find a way to make it keep paying. You don't sell the goose that lays the golden eggs. And if the News is happy, you know something is wrong.



    That's it for now...

  • Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest



    A small but vocal crowd stood at the corner of Division and Fulton in downtown Grand Rapids today to show solidarity with the marchers in Washington. No local media coverage (so far), so your favorite intrepid blogger hauled down there and grabbed some photos.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest At the Corner

    Standing at the corner of ground zero in Grand Rapids.





    Size of the protest was hard to estimate- my best guess is 40-50. They were spread out on the corners of the intersection and up Fulton Street towards Veterans Memorial Park, and they moved around a lot. Cold, gray, light snow falling. Your typical Grand Rapids January day. And I forgot my gloves.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest George Bush

    George Bush was there!





    The honking was non-stop. People flashed their lights, gave the thumbs up, smiled as they drove by.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest Honk

    Honk for peace.





    Signs were posted in the snow along Fulton.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest Not One More

    Not one more. The guy and his very nice dog in the background were headed down to the river to fish. Brrrr.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest US Out Now

    Looking west on Fulton.





    The event was organized by the West Michigan Justice & Peace Coalition. They are part of the Michigan Peace Network, and they have a petition you can sign that will be dropped off by people in Washington who will be lobbying on Monday. Not holding my breath that Vern will listen, but what the heck.





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest Liars

    Waving at the cars.





    Happy to see my city participate in this event. We have a dedicated group that is down on that corner every Monday, according to "Mr. Bush".





    Grand Rapids Iraq War Protest War Is Over

    War is over... if you want it.





    Worst. President. Ever. Time to impeach this son-of-a-bitch.



    UPDATE 1/28: No local TV coverage that I saw. The GR Press has a tiny picture (mine are better- how I love beating the pros) with a caption estimating the crowd at "a couple dozen". No story. I think it was more than that, but it is very hard to tell when there are people walking in and out on their way to other things down there...

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    You must be THIS tall to ride- MI GOP steps up, but comes up short



    Credit where credit is due. The Senate Republicans finally released a plan for replacing the SBT, unfortunately they still refused to do the heavy lifting on identifying cuts.



    LANSING -- Senate Republicans offered a tax plan Thursday that would give businesses a $290-million break compared to the current Single Business Tax, which expires Dec. 31.



    Through a spokeswoman, Gov. Jennifer Granholm immediately dismissed the plan, saying a new tax must replace all $1.9 billion the SBT generates.



    The Senate GOP plan, which is expected to generate about $1.5 billion, would impose a mix of fees and taxes on business profits and gross receipts. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said it would encourage new businesses and he called for quick action.



    Right. You guys screw around for over two years and you want "quick action".



    Liz Boyd had some quick action for the Republicans- she said "Thanks for playing!" and offered them some lovely parting gifts.



    "We're already facing a billion-dollar shortfall this year and next," retorted Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman. "Who will pay for this tax cut? Who will shoulder the burden?"



    As usual, they couldn't or wouldn't say.



    Bishop and Cassis weren't yet able to detail how they'd come up with the $290 million in lost revenue that Cassis' plan would cause. But they insisted it's possible to further squeeze state spending, despite a looming $1.3 billion in projected deficits that lawmakers and Granholm already have to erase for the 2007 and 2008 budget years.



    "We have to find ways for government to be more efficient, more streamlined," Bishop said.



    And those are?



    Pubs want to cut now, deal with the hard issues later.



    Bishop said he wants to avoid turning the SBT's replacement into a cash cow, so its passage should come before lawmakers consider closing that budget gap.



    Um... no. But it is encouraging to see them finally taking an active interest in the process. Better than just sitting there and doing nothing.



    It's a start.

    Problems viewing with Firefox



    I think I have corrected the problem of the "floating moon"- let me know if you are still having difficulty with sidebar items coming loose from their moorings and running around the page.



    Yes, I finally downloaded Firefox- and it wasn't as painful as I thought. Matter of fact, it was really very easy (and fast!) to install. Forgive my reluctance. I am still fighting the battle of Real Player vs. Windows Media both vying for control of this machine and I didn't want to get into a browser war too.



    I like Firefox, BUT, I will tell you- I have grown used to IE7's clean text version. Everything looks so much better. A quick test at Flickr shows that pictures load faster in IE. With FF they scroll as they load; IE they are just there, boom.



    So, I'm going to stick with IE, but it's nice to have FF for testing. Thanks to all for letting me know there was a problem.



    * ducks and runs *

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    The Michigan Fiscal Responsibility Project says 'no more cuts'



    Finally! This is what we are going to need- professionals and officials standing up and speaking out.



    LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Around a dozen mayors, police chiefs, university presidents and hospital representatives on Wednesday said the state's budget problems must be solved without more cuts.



    Sam Singh, East Lansing mayor pro tem and president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, said citizens need to realize that tax cuts and the state's economic slowdown have forced less spending in areas that affect their quality of life.



    "We've cut too much, not only in human services but in public safety and education," he said. "Enough is enough. We need to begin to reinvest in our cities if we're to get out of this economic downturn."



    The news conference was held by a consortium of universities, health associations and cities that calls itself the Michigan Fiscal Responsibility Project. All three groups have seen cuts in state funding in recent years and face additional cuts now that the state finds itself again in the red.



    Thank you. In the story I blogged just below this one, Grand Rapids is wringing its hands over cuts that we are going to have to make, and our mayor and commissioners are blaming cuts from the state as the reason why.



    Enough is enough.



    The Michigan Fiscal Responsibility Project is a good start, apparently they have been around since last July (how did I miss that?). They have a site called "Michigan Tax Truth"- which, so far, looks to be a bunch of press releases. I hope they flesh it out a bit with some facts and figures, and for God's sake people, put these things up in HTML. PDFs are such a pain.



    Looking forward to more from these guys.



    And I must add this- Jack Lessenberry had a "must read" column on this issue. Oh, to be able to write like this-

    Sometime in the next few weeks, Gov. Jennifer Granholm will almost certainly ask the Legislature to find a way to raise taxes. And she damn well better, or she should be removed from office for dereliction of duty.



    We have to save Michigan. Raising revenues is absolutely necessary if we are to keep the essential services going that will allow the state to continue to be a decent place to live. The state has been cutting taxes, often irresponsibly, for years, thanks to selfishness, greed and cracked-brain ideologies.



    Now the bottom is falling out, thanks in large part to the slumping auto industry. If we have any hope of attracting the high-paying, high-tech jobs of the future, turning ourselves into Mississippi or Haiti (i.e., a low-tax, low-wage place without decent public services) sure the hell isn't the way to do it.



    Taxes sound terrible, I admit. We've been brainwashed to think they are always bad. But what do you think pays for the water that makes the toilet flush? What do you think paved the freeways and paid to teach you how to read this column? Taxes, that's what.



    And the line that had me rolling on the floor laughing...

    You should thank God for taxes, every time you have to go to the potty in January. True, Neanderthals never had to pay them. But outside the Legislature, there are precious few of them left.



    Go read the whole thing. You won't be sorry.

    Even he took issue with the Freep story, just as I did. I must be on the right track. ;-)
    GR opens contracts to 'disadvantaged'



    Some good news out of Grand Rapids...



    GRAND RAPIDS -- In the post-Proposal 2 world, where city contracts no longer can favor minorities and women, there is now the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise.



    That's the designation replacing minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the city's new policy for granting construction contracts more than $10,000.



    The new term could include businesses that are minority-owned, women-owned or owned by white males, according to Laurie Parks, an administrator in the city's Equal Opportunity Office.



    The new policy aims to put the city in compliance with Proposal 2, the affirmative action ban approved by Michigan voters last November.



    The DBE designation was developed by state and federal transportation agencies and the U.S. Small Business Association, Parks said.



    It could include businesses that are "socially or economically" disadvantaged due to their size, their lack of credit opportunities or their owners' social standing in the community, said Alex Thomas, an administrator in the Equal Opportunity Office.



    Wonder if colleges could do something along that line.



    Some not-so-good news out of Grand Rapids; we might not have any money to be doling out any contracts for anything.



    GRAND RAPIDS -- Despite the construction projects downtown, the city of Grand Rapids is facing hard times, city commissioners were told at their annual planning retreat Tuesday.



    City Manager Kurt Kimball told them rising health-care costs for city employees and retirees will force them to cut $5.7 million in spending during the next fiscal year.



    "If you thought our budget cutting was done, it's not," said Kimball, who has presented commissioners with budget cuts totaling $50 million and eliminated 263 jobs over the past five years. "There's more cutting to do."



    Sigh.



    This caught my eye though- a presentation that needs to be taken statewide. Can we get these guys on TV?



    The day-long session began with a gloomy forecast from Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., a think tank aimed at improving Michigan's economy.



    Attracting smart people with talent is the key to a city's future, and Grand Rapids is lagging behind, Glazer said. The Grand Rapids metropolitan area and Michigan are falling behind in the number of residents with four-year college degrees -- a key indicator of economic vitality, he said.



    "Smart people tend to be mobile. Where they go, robust economic activity will follow," Glazer said. "Yet, this is a state where parents still tell their kids that post-secondary training isn't essential to their kids' well-being."



    Glazer blamed much of Michigan's and Grand Rapids' fiscal crisis on the mistaken belief that cutting taxes will revive the state economy.



    As proof, he pointed to low-tax states, such as Arkansas, whose economies have faltered, while states with high taxes, such as Minnesota, have been more prosperous.



    "The key to prosperity is talent, not lower taxes," he said. "The notion that if you cut taxes you grow your economy doesn't correlate."



    Nice to know my city commission is hearing things like this.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Shawn Colvin - Round of Blues



    I got nothin' but the blues today- so I turn to Shawn.



    "All these names

    For just foolin' around

    It's a new breakthrough

    It's an old break down..."

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Senate GOP leader: Businesses should get tax cut



    Looks like the Republicans are signaling obstruction already. You heard that here first, but, honestly, you knew that they were going to do this anyway, didn't you?



    That is all they can say. Cut. Keep cutting. Not gonna say what we will cut, we will just say cut. Cut, cut, cut.



    You didn't need all that education, health care, police and fire protection, did you? Really? Well, too bad. Dick DeVos needs another tax cut.



    LANSING, Mich. -- Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop on Tuesday criticized suggestions that Michigan raise taxes to alleviate a potential $800 million budget deficit and added that the state's next business tax should bring in less revenue.



    Bishop, R-Rochester, said he opposes Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's stance that a replacement plan for the Single Business Tax, which expires at year's end and generates $1.9 billion a year, be revenue neutral. She has said the state must replace all the money or face deep cuts to education, health care and other services.



    "What they're asking us to do is replace a tax with a tax, which I think is unacceptable," Bishop told reporters after speaking to the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club. "It doesn't solve the problem. It only fans the flames and treats the symptoms."



    Did Mike mention that we have already cut $3 billion out of state government? That we have fewer state employees than we did in 1973? That state and federal tax cuts since 1999 have amounted to nearly $1.9 billion? That doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity? Did he mention that part?



    He didn't sound any warmer about the idea of lowering the overall sales tax rate but expanding the tax to services such as movie tickets and dry cleaning, something some groups and economists have supported.



    "It's not an option for us right now," Bishop said. "We've got to find a way to rein in government. A tax on services and all the other proposals that we've heard simply don't position Michigan for the future and really are a further impediment to our success in the future."



    Bishop said Senate Republicans will unveil their own SBT replacement plan in coming weeks.



    Whoa, stop the presses. This is a shocking development.



    The Republicans, who said they would work on this starting back in 2004, fiddled around throughout all of 2005 until they nixed a plan at the last minute that would have significantly lowered the SBT rate (just think, they would have had their precious business tax cut in effect for a year now), said they would work on it in early 2006, changed their minds in 2006 because it was "too hard during an election year", canned the SBT in September anyway and said they would work on it after the election, then decided they couldn't do it after the election during the lame duck because they didn't have enough time, are now finally going to release their plan "in the coming weeks".



    Yeah. Glad you guys have made this such a priority. The care and concern you have shown on this issue so far tells me just where you are going in the future; insist on more breaks for the wealthy, throw those poor and sick folk in the street, and if we don't get our way we will just stick our heads in the sand and obstruct progress for the whole state. Collect accolades from our masters at the Mackinac Center, get healthy campaign contributions from the only people our philosophy serves.



    How is that working out for you now, Michigan?



    Republicans are the party that represents the elite few, and it seems they are hell-bent on screwing over the many. Can't wait to see the list of people they intend to sacrifice in the name of "more tax cuts".

    A new drug trial starts for Pfizer - Stuparanoxia



    ANN ARBOR (Snark News Service)- In a surprise move following yesterday's stunning announcement of the closing of Pfizer's research facilities in Ann Arbor, scientists have agreed to conduct an emergency drug trial on human subjects.



    One psychologist, who wished to remain anonymous, told reporters that a new subset of paranoia had been recently classified by researchers. "Demchosis" is growing so strong and fast amongst Detroit area members of the media that the usual preliminary testing has been waved and clinical trials will start immediately on members of the Detroit News editorial staff.



    "We thought that we had an isolated case of standard paranoid delusions directed towards the governor of the state of Michigan, or, as we had tentatively labeled it, 'Unidemchosis', and we were studying that condition with the hopes of finding a better understanding as to how it originates, with movement towards applying a drug treatment in the future.



    But today's editorial by the News attacking Senator Debbie Stabenow indicates that the condition is now growing to encompass all Democratic politicians, and we feel that emergency measures must be taken to avoid the possibility that members of the Detroit press might become a danger to themselves or others."



    The drug Stuparanoxia, coined from the terms "stupid", "paranoid", and "obnoxious", was in the development stages at Pfizer, but now has been rushed into limited production for this trial.



    "We feel the genesis of this condition started in 2001, with the random blame of 'liberals' and 'feminists' for all of the nation's problems, but now the delusions are becoming specifically targeted to individual Democratic politicians, indicating that the condition is growing in intensity and severity.



    To accuse and imply that Senator Stabenow's investigations into the practices of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry will somehow drive 12,000 jobs out of Michigan borders on the absurd, and the constant use of the word 'attack' indicates a certain predisposition to believe that the politician is doing this on purpose with the sole intent of hurting others. That is the classic definition of paranoia.



    Financial experts have indicated that the restructuring of Pfizer's operations are due to patents on popular drugs expiring and projected loss of revenue in the near future. We all know that this is about the bottom line. For the Detroit News to make this leap in convoluted logic and start blaming negotiations for lower drug prices, non-existent price controls, and the ever-popular and easy target of trial lawyers, is quite stunning, but not entirely unexpected given how they have treated Governor Granholm. You could see it coming. Their constant ability to avoid the facts of any given situation is legendary."



    Members of the Detroit News editorial staff could not be reached for comment as they were under going physicals to rule out such possibilities as brain lesions and other conditions that might explain their behavior.



    "If the trial is successful here in Michigan, we hope to expand the research to include members of Fox News. A cure for Demchosis would then be made available to the general public. We feel this would be a welcome advancement in the treatment of a condition that has plagued Americans who, through no fault of their own, have been afflicted by this condition after repeated exposure to conservative news sources."



    Results of the testing are expected to be made available by summer.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Tax Time Twist and Shout: No real answers from the pundits or the Pubs



    The propaganda war over taxes heats up. The MI GOP and the Detroit papers are increasingly working themselves into a lather over this issue; it would be fun to watch if it weren't so darn scary and misleading.



    Saul is the low-hanging fruit on this tree; let's start with him.



    Gov. Jennifer Granholm's hand-picked Emergency Financial Advisory Panel isn't ready to deliver recommendations to repair Michigan's lingering budget crisis, but some of her critics believe there's little mystery to what they'll conclude: imminent tax hikes.



    Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis issued a letter Thursday urging Republicans on the panel to disavow tax increases and reaffirm their core Republican roots of fiscal conservatism. The panel includes former governors, Republican William Milliken and Democrat Jim Blanchard, and other bureaucrats Anuzis believes have tax-friendly records.



    "She wants to use you to pass the buck. She wants you, as members of her panel, to say that there is no alternative but to raise taxes. Then, it isn't her fault," Anuzis wrote. "Help the people of Michigan see that there is a better way."



    OK, Saul, I'll bite. What is the "better way"?



    Please. Tell us. You obviously have the answers to the questions that haven't even officially been proposed yet, so, enlighten us as to what this "better way" is that you speak of.



    You would think that Saul would lay it out for us on his blog. You would be wrong.



    Oops. Seems Saul is busy cavorting in Washington, kissing up to Tony Snow, and dazzling us with insights such as, "President Bush is doing a tremendous job in so many areas".



    Saul didn't bother to mention, exactly, what those areas are, which is a shame because we all are kind of curious at this point. With a statement like that, you wonder where he would go with the tax issue.



    So, no help there.



    Dawson "A kinder, gentler version of the Detroit News" Bell hit the presumptuous heights of actually adding up "a day in the life" for us taxpayers. He came up with this statement which reaches beyond a socialist's wildest dreams.



    The attraction of expanding the sales tax to services is its potential to generate big cash -- up to $8.7 billion a year if virtually every imaginable service was taxed.



    Every single one! Imagine! Because he wants you to!



    Although he did balance it a bit with this- in theory-



    A tax on services is viewed as more voluntary than other levies, such as income and property taxes, because -- in theory -- the decision to buy is discretionary.



    Expanding sales tax to services is arguably more progressive, meaning the wealthy share a greater burden than the poor because they use more -- and more expensive services.



    But wait! Dawson goes on to cite the famous examples of attempted service tax increases that failed. Note when these took place.



    The experience in two other states, Florida and Massachusetts, where sweeping expansions of sales tax to services were enacted (in 1987 and 1990, respectively) may also be instructive. Both were inspired by the kind of reasoned analysis that has characterized the discussions in Michigan.



    Both, when implemented, were public relations disasters that were mostly repealed.



    20 and 17 years ago. Trying to figure out the relevance to today, here, but we'll play along.



    Only a few states have a broad-based sales tax on services with Hawaii leading the pack, including on health care.



    Here is where the handy 2004 chart comes in play. When Dawson says "few", he actually means that 25 states tax over 50 services, and 6 tax over 100, 5 of them well over 100.



    In fact, Michigan came in at number 38 with 26 services taxed as of 2004.



    Dawson didn't mention that part.



    And I was rather surprised that Dawson totally ignored this- from May of 2003, shortly after Granholm was handed this bag of tricks in the first place-



    In Washington, this may be the era of tax cuts and more tax cuts. But in statehouses around the nation, it's increasingly a time of big tax increases.
    Faced with budget shortfalls and mounting pressure to avoid cutting social services during economic doldrums, more state lawmakers are abandoning their usual reluctance and raising taxes, some boldly enough to risk their political futures in the process. Alabama, New York, California, and Nevada are moving to raise taxes by record amounts.



    -snip-



    This doesn't mean states are boosting income taxes across the board. They're targeting higher-wage earners instead. But the magnitude of the increases in some states is stunning. In many cases, sales taxes are going up, affecting whole state populations.



    Not sure how all that turned out, but my guess is that many went through, 'cuz everyone else is doing just fine according to the Republicans.



    Apparently at a time when other states were shoring up their revenue, we were still cutting. That was probably a bad idea, but strangely enough no one is pointing that out.



    So, no answers from the Freep, although feel free to join in the feeding frenzy in the comments section. Wish there was a way to turn those off.



    Always save the best for last. Nolan "Perhaps it's time for that restraining order" Finley weighs in once again- laying the burden of this all at the governor's feet, ignoring the role of the legislature, offering up teacher's healthcare once again as an example (what is this obsession with the teachers, anyway?), and setting up Nancy Skinner, of all people, as a convenient target to knock down.



    Not even going to bother to quote Nolan; he's becoming too redundant.



    Alrighty, then. No answers there, either.



    The hope is that they get this all out of their system right now so we can get down to business soon. They can Twist and Shout all they want, but the fact is they are offering no real solutions to the problems that face us.



    But what else is new.

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    The last fine furniture factory in Grand Rapids...



    Kindel Furniture Factory- South Side





    ... had a change in management last Friday.



    GRAND RAPIDS -- When workers trudged into Kindel Furniture Co. through blowing snow Friday, they did not know the company's Indiana owners were about to evict longtime executives Bob Fogarty and his daughter, Paula Fogarty Scott.



    Key members of the Fisher family, who have owned Kindel since 1964, flew in early Friday to oust the Fogarty family. Leading the mission was 91-year-old patriarch John Fisher.



    "This morning we disengaged the Fogartys from the organization," Fisher said. "We have a great product and make great furniture. The problem is, we haven't been selling it."



    That they do. It is some of the most beautiful furniture in the world... but I'm a little biased. You see, I used to work there as an artist.



    Such a cliche'. I'm from Grand Rapids, and I worked in a furniture factory. But you know what? Pretty soon there won't be anyone left who can say that. Grand Rapids, the "Furniture City", will pass into history.



    Kindel is the last one standing.



    From the front office to the shipping dock, employees were shocked to hear the Fogartys were out after nearly 30 years. As the last manufacturer of residential furniture in Grand Rapids, the business employs 130, including hand carvers, decorators and skilled craftsmen at its only plant at 100 Garden St. SE.



    "I was surprised," said Will Davis, for 18 years a packer at the plant. "I hope God just helps us keep going."



    The good news: the company is staying open and staying put, said the interim president and chief executive, John Smith.



    I'm very glad that they are holding on for now, but I don't give them long.



    This furniture is as labor intensive as it is beautiful- you can't imagine the hours of work, the many hands it must pass through, the attention to detail- that goes into every single piece.



    But, as with everything else in this country, every bit of fine craftsmanship, from cars to glass to furniture to clothes to whatever, they can do it cheaper somewhere else.



    High-end furniture makers have gone through a "tremendous amount of upheaval" as they compete with ever-more sophisticated Asian manufacturers, said Art Raymond, of the North Carolina consulting firm A.G. Raymond & Co.



    "It's getting to be much more difficult for the high end of the market because the Chinese have collapsed the price points," he said. "Some of the quality pieces are now available for 25 percent to 30 percent less money than they were just a few years ago."



    Raymond said more than 275 domestic furniture plants have closed since January 2000, eliminating about 60,000 jobs.



    Owners have pledged to keep the Kindel plant open and have infused money into the factory at 100 Garden St. SE.



    Still, the removal of President Paula Fogarty and her father, Chairman Robert Fogarty, who were with the company for 30 years, sent shockwaves through the Grand Rapids furniture community.



    In a statement to The Press, Paula Fogarty said they had a "different philosophy about the direction of the company.



    "We wish all the employees of Kindel Furniture all of the best for their hard work and dedication of American craftsmanship that we have been proud to serve as a family since 1978," she said.



    This must have shocked the employees at Kindel- I know it shocked me.



    (EDIT 1/23: I have a bunch of people crawling on this blog over this post, and it has started to freak me out a bit. I have removed my personal obsevations about the Fogartys because a) I don't really care about them all that much and b) they really weren't the point of this post. The point is that Kindel makes beautiful furniture right here in my town, and I want that to go on. If removing the Fogartys helps in that goal, then I'm glad to see them go.)



    But back to a Grand Rapids heritage- I hope Kindel will survive. I was proud to work on pieces that went to the White House, to the Smithsonian, to a castle in Ireland. Proud to be part of the history of this area, even if it was pretty late in the game and only for a relatively brief time. Factory life wasn't for me, even as an artist- but I am concerned for the people of Kindel, long-time craftsmen and women with a talent that is going to be obsolete if the factory should happen to close.



    Good people, all. Best of luck to them, and best of luck to all those American workers that are still out there making beautiful products.



    We are watching the death of tradition, slowly but surely. Breaks my heart.



    Kindel Furniture Factory Stack






    Football! Football! Football!



    The day I have been waiting for - usually these games are better than the Super Bowl.



    New Orleans at Chicago



    Even though I am head over heels in love with the city of Chicago, I never could get behind the Bears as I have with the Cubs. I honestly don't know why that is. I think the Bears will win this game, but I won't be sad if they lose. Something very appealing about seeing the Saints in the Super Bowl, too. So, all and all, I'm pretty neutral on this one.



    New England at Indianapolis



    This was the game I wanted to see last year- until the Steelers came along and ruined everything. I'm rooting for the Colts to go all the way, but if I have learned one thing about football these past few years- that is to never, ever, underestimate the ability of Tom Brady. The man is a god. Whatever happens, this should be an exciting game.



    I am so looking forward to cuddling up under my Buccaneers blanket on the couch and watching these games. Yea for me.
    Photographer changes photo for memento shot



    As a photographer with an interest in photojournalism, I have to file this under "Not Cool".



    We capture history. We also have the amazing ability to alter it.



    Shades of 1984.



    It is one of the most powerful images from the day Gerald R. Ford was laid to rest.



    Twenty-one F-15 jets streak over the Grand Rapids sky at dusk in a tight group, the last trailing in the "missing man" formation.



    Grand Rapids photographer Russell Climie posted the picture on the Web site for Tiberius Images, one of 103 pictures of Ford funeral events he put up for sale.



    There is a reason Climie alone captured the image: It never happened.



    "It's the digital world," Climie explained. "If you see it, will you believe it?"



    Climie, 24, stationed himself at the Pearl Street bridge Jan. 3 to shoot the flyover.



    He was surprised when the jets roared across in formations of four but were much more widely dispersed than he expected. So using a computer photo program, Climie squeezed the formations together.



    It's a nice picture- and it never happened. But years from now, people will look on this photo and claim that they saw it- that is the power of still images. The mind will be tricked into believing it was real.



    I have a huge problem with altering history like this. If the photo had artistic filters applied so it looks like artwork, that's different. It becomes a photo illustration. But this picture looks real- and that will prove a problem for the future. How can you believe what you see? Will it ruin photojournalism?



    For the record, I have never altered any of the images you have seen from the past year, even when the temptation to do so was very strong. I also have never sold them (except for one, and I'm still waiting to hear on that)- if you see any of them out there somewhere, and you recognize them as mine, they were taken without permission. Let me know.



    Chances are I would give permission for their use. Just ask; I'm pretty easy-going like that. But if someone, say Saul or other Republicans, takes them and alters them, I'm going to be pissed.



    Which leads to another thing- Daily Kos has had to crack down on the use of images. I was dismayed at all the people who said, in effect, "Well, I'll just do it anyway and post them somewhere else". Look, I love diaries with images. I really do. But those images do represent someone's work; just as you wouldn't steal a whole article of someone's writing, why is it OK to swipe pictures?



    It's a tricky area. I realized it early on when I started this blog- I took a few, but then stopped. Everything you see here was shot by me, or was made available for download by someone else.



    There is a great diary on Kos with links to sites with free images- I hope that people use those, or at least try to ask permission for the others, although that might prove difficult.



    My moment of hypocrisy is in posting these YouTube videos- that also is someone else's work, and as of now I doubt the performers/songwriters are collecting royalties on those plays. As a musician, too, I feel a twang of guilt here- but then again I have never made a dime off of blogging. Not like I'm getting rich posting videos. Lame justification, I know.



    As of now, YouTube is encouraging it. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. For now. If they say "stop", I will stop.



    Hey, I'm not pure. I admit it. ;-)

    Grand Rapids Mayor Takes on Social Issues in State of City Address





    Heartwell at the 4th of July celebration last year.





    George Heartwell is up for re-election this year. Yesterday in the State of the City speech, he focused on social change and opportunity for all, showing once again that this guy is one of the rare breed that cares for people over profit.



    Diversity, neighborhood improvement, school funding, and homelessness are the issues that he addressed, and he presented creative ideas to accomplish those goals.



    George is a good guy. Despite my beef over the Mark London deal, I'm happy to support him.



    Grand Rapids- In his State of the City address Saturday, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said, “None of us have opportunity, unless all of us do."



    With that, Heartwell focused his State of the City speech on issues of social equality. Mayor Heartwell made his fourth State of the City speech Saturday morning. He spoke to a crowd of hundreds at DeVos Place about his four major goals for the community.



    Heartwell says he wants to increase diversity through programs like a disadvantaged business proposal. He feels the city can increase diversity despite the fact that Proposal 2 now outlaws affirmative action.



    Looks like George found a way around Prop 2- and this might be a model for other cities and/or schools struggling to encourage diversity. From the speech-



    Notwithstanding the limitations of Prop 2, we will develop a more diverse contractor and supplier base. In fact, next Tuesday the City Commission will be given the opportunity to put legs under our words. We will be voting on a new Disadvantaged Business Enterprise initiative which will allow us to continue efforts to achieve diversity in contracting. I urge my Commission colleagues to join me in adopting this proposal. Notwithstanding the limitations of Prop 2 we will encourage diversity contracting on private projects. I have every expectation that the goal of those majority companies who do business in the city of Grand Rapids will be to promote diversity. The best firms are already promoting diversity. The fact that the City can no longer mandate minority participation will make no difference to them. Other firms need to emulate these diversity leaders. Our economy depends on it.



    Heartwell wants to eliminate homelessness by 2014.



    The Salvation Army Booth Services reports that there are nearly 2,000 homeless individuals in our city. 51% of these homeless people are under the age of 12 years. They are living in shelters. They are living in cars. They are hiding in abandoned buildings. They are living in the undergrowth along the river and beside the rail road tracks.



    So, today I set challenge goals for the remaining eight years of this decade of ending homelessness. As I review the numbers – including Salvation Army's homeless count and Grand Rapids Housing Commission waiting list – I have determined that we must produce at least 500 affordable housing units each year in Kent County and make them available to the Housing First initiative.



    Here's the catch: government can't accomplish this goal. It will require non-profit and for-profit building companies and property managers to work together toward a common goal of ending homelessness. It will require strong advocacy by City and County to leverage the federal investment required to accomplish our end. It's going to take us all, working together, to end homelessness.



    Of all the proposals, "affordable" housing will probably prove to be the most difficult, but it is a noble goal.



    George also spoke on the disparity of funding between city/suburban schools- I'm not going to touch that with a ten foot pole.



    Interesting idea with neighborhood associations- using the Downtown Improvement District as a model, Heartwell wants to give tax money directly to the area it serves.



    Today I want to conclude this Address by proposing a new tool: a Neighborhood Improvement District. If neighborhoods could do what downtown has done using its Downtown Improvement District to beautify streets, collect litter, employ staff and promote events wouldn't such a tool be useful? Downtown property owners assess themselves through their Downtown Improvement District and raise the money to provide all these important services. Using a Neighborhood Improvement District, neighborhoods might choose to do some of the same things downtown has done, or they might use the funds for youth programs, for park enhancements, or for crime-stopping initiatives. They determine their own needs, they set the level of the assessment, and the city collects the funds on their behalf, as part of the tax bill, to be returned to the neighborhood association and used to meet its goals.



    It may require new state legislation to create this tool. But I am confident that under the progressive leadership of our State Representatives Michael Sak, Robert Dean and Dave Hildenbrand and our great State Senator (and former Mayor) Bill Hardiman we can get this done. When Eric DeLong and I presented this concept to the Urban Core Mayors two weeks ago there was unanimous enthusiasm. Let's get it done…and let's give our neighborhoods a great new tool to use to improve their quality of life.



    Not sure I trust the neighborhood associations to do the right thing here- I have this vision of a bunch of little fiefdoms and infighting. Strict regulations would have to be implimented. And if the state has to get involved, well... we all know the problems we will face with that. But still, it's a creative idea for directing the bucks to the areas that need it most.



    Jim Rinck is running against George. Given his reputation and his non-existent campaign against Ehlers, I'm really not too worried about him. Other names have been bandied about on the "other side", but nothing solid yet.



    I plan on following this one throughout the year, so stayed tuned...

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    The Mamas & The Papas - Monday Monday




    In memory of Denny Doherty, who passed away today at age 66.

    Another costly Michigan Republican "solution"



    Finally! A Republican identifies a program he would cut! We have a winnah!



    Or ....not.



    From the Freep story on the sea of red ink facing our state, Rep. Jack Bradenburg offers up a program that he would eliminate.



    And, true to Republican form, it's a cut that could actually cost us more in the long run.



    Cut state spending, said Rep. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.



    "There are rumors that there's going to be a sales tax on services and whatnot," Brandenburg said. "Just because deficits occur, it doesn't mean you're taxing too little. It means you're spending too much.



    "You spend your way into a deficit, you have to cut your way out."



    First of all, we are going to ignore this statement because one can't begin to address the logic being applied here. We did not "spend" our way into this deficit, and we cannot "cut" our way out of it. But, this does a offer a bit of insight on the Pub mindset- they still believe that cutting is the answer, and that is going to be a big problem.



    Jack gives us a good example of how a "cut" can actually end up costing us more.



    Many school districts are hoarding surpluses that could be used to pay for everyday costs, Brandenburg said. And he would eliminate high school classes for prison inmates to save $41 million a year.



    Would love to see proof that "many" school districts are sitting on mounds of cash, but let's let that one slide, too, for now.



    Let's look at Jack's "savings" instead.



    Numerous studies have shown that education is one key to reducing recidivism rates. This page offers study upon study upon study that show that prisoners who receive assistance in obtaining a GED or some training significantly reduce the numbers that return to prison. To sum it up-



    Steurer (1996) suggests that while a direct correlation between educational disadvantage and crime has not been verified, descriptions of prison populations suggest that poor literacy skills and crime are related. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The more education a prisoner receives, the less likely he/she is to be re-arrested or re-imprisoned (Harer, 1994).



    The Educational Testing Service (1996) reported that the most common finding of twenty years of research is that inmates exposed to education programs are more likely to be employed and less likely to end up back in prison than non-participants.



    And if they end up back in prison, they cost us more money. Educational cuts to inmates almost guarantee that a percentage of them return to crime, and the spiral continues.



    This really is that simple.



    Any other bright ideas, Republicans?

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    The Way We Tax: A 50 State Report



    For all you bloggers out there who are about to set out on the upcoming budget/tax battle, here is a handy resource from Governing.com that breaks down the way all 50 states collect revenue.



    Of course, the burden a tax system must carry varies from state to state. There is no such thing as a perfect structure, no template that all, or even most, of the states could use. One of the glories of the American system of governance is that states are free to offer different degrees of service to their citizens. The main commonality is that they must raise whatever revenue they need to meet their chosen level of service. Raising money to meet irresponsible spending doesn't make for a good tax system. But utilizing well-balanced streams of revenue and avoiding unsupportable tax cuts are critical, regardless of whether a state wants to have a Cadillac government or a Chevy.



    You start to realize what we are up against here.



    Creating and maintaining a high-quality tax system — and balancing it against the demands of its citizenry — may be one of the most difficult tasks any state, or any government for that matter, faces. The two sides of the equation are often out of whack. Consider this: When Pennsylvanians were surveyed last summer, the majority favored higher prescription drug subsidies for the elderly, more money for public education and better funding for higher education. They also, however, opposed any increase in the state’s sales tax or income tax. Gambling was the only new revenue source people favored.



    Of course, this is unrealistic. But it’s the nature of the implausible and inscrutable world of state taxation, a world in which hyperbole is the native language and nitty-gritty politics trumps common sense. “It’s the old classic,” says Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”



    Be sure and read that opening overview for a crash course on a nationwide problem.



    This is from 2003, so some of the info might be a bit outdated, but it's nice to have links on hand of how "other states do it". For example, certain people are fond of pointing at golden-child Indiana as our competition here in Michigan. Many a panel has been convened-



    Lieutenant Governor Joe Kernan pulled together a nonpartisan group to study the system and make recommendations for comprehensive change. The group, comprised of six professionals from outside government, met for five months and released a draft plan in preparation for the 2002 legislative session. It recommended property tax relief through a shift in school funding from local to state sources; elimination of inventory and gross receipts taxes; increasing the sales tax; and a move to a graduated tax on personal income, replacing the flat-rate tax.



    The commission’s recommendations were the backbone of the reform package that passed the legislature last June. Under the new rules, the state assumes 60 percent of the property tax burden, allowing a 12.8 percent drop in the average homeowner’s bill. In addition, the homestead exemption doubles from 10 percent to 20 percent of assessed value. The regressivity of the system has been reduced by an increase in the earned income tax credit.



    The state does not prepare a tax expenditure report, which would show the cost of forgone sales taxes. In-state experts say, though, that Indiana’s no better or worse than its neighbors, which means there’s room for improvement.



    Go read for the rest of the story; certain parts of the recommendations didn't come through, and at that writing Indiana was still facing a budget shortfall. Not sure how they resolved it.



    I also found this chart from 2004 that shows a breakdown of service taxes by state. This also might come in handy, and it is especially interesting when you match up the states that have "adequate revenue" to those that tax services heavily. (Delaware, Hawaii) Or, if they don't tax services but still have adequate revenue, there seems to be special circumstances as to how they avoid it. (North Dakota, Wyoming)



    Have at it, numbers people. The battle is just beginning, and the future of our quality of life in Michigan is at stake in the outcome.



    If you thought 2006 was fun, you ain't seen nothin' yet...

    Cervical cancer cases can be cut in half, Granholm task force concludes



    This is one of those issues where we can actually save money by applying a little prevention. We can pay a little now, or we can pay a lot later.



    Ask yourself, how much does it cost to treat cancer as opposed to a Pap smear and a vaccine?



    Not to mention a funeral.



    This should be an easy call.



    Cervical cancer cases can be cut in half by 2010 through wider use of Pap test screening and a new vaccination against the virus that causes 99% of cervical cancer cases, a governor's task force says.



    Seventy percent of those who die of cervical cancer have not had a Pap test to detect it, said Janet Olszwewski, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.



    State Surgeon General Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom said early detection through Pap tests is the key to eliminating cervical cancer, which can be easily detected by a Pap test and then treated.



    The task force reported that 118 women in Michigan died of cervical cancer in 2004.



    -snip-



    The task force recommends that the state increase Pap testing among women eligible for Medicaid, which pays for the test. The report calls for encouraging the use of a new vaccine against HPV.



    The task force can recommend all they want, but last year, funding for this ran out in August.



    Michigan has run out of state and federal funding under CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which offers screening services to low-income women without insurance, and the program next year is expected to serve fewer women because of funding cuts, the Detroit Free Press reports. The program provides Pap tests and other screenings for qualified women ages 18 to 64 and mammograms for qualified women ages 40 to 64.



    Under the current funding structure, the Michigan Department of Community Health has lowered its estimate for the number of women it will serve through the program from 25,000 this year to 22,310 next year. Eleven Michigan counties currently are telling thousands of women they will have to wait until October to receive services because of a lack of funding, according to the Free Press. Michigan this year received $9 million in federal funding and provided $1 million in state funding for the program.



    One wonder if this is one of those things where the state will have to cut- or if the Feds will take any action to help out. Last year, Debbie Stabenow co-sponsored a bill to increase funding, but apparently it stayed in committee.



    A bill (S 1687), co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), currently pending in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would reauthorize the program and increase by $50 million its funding to $250 million annually beginning in 2007. According to the Free Press, the funding increase would allow 147,000 more U.S. women to receive services under the program.



    Not sure what is up at the federal level now, but word is the vaccine bill will be re-introduced in Michigan, and is expected to pass this time around.



    State Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, has unfinished business waiting in the new legislative session.



    She and Sen. Deborah Cherry, D-Burton, plan to shepherd through a bill calling for cervical cancer vaccinations for sixth-grade girls. The bill was defeated in the House on Dec. 15, the final day of the legislative session.



    The bill sailed through the Senate last year, but was defeated in House in the dead of the night by members of the far right. Check the excuses from the "Kevins".



    The bill passed the Senate in August with only one dissenting vote. It came to the House floor just before midnight Dec. 14, passed with 58 "yes" votes, but was reconsidered after five dissenters discussed their reasons for saying no.



    "There are times when government can and should mandate vaccinations, for example, when failure to vaccinate may lead to airborne pathogenic disease," Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, said at the time. "At this point, I do not see this issue rising to that level."



    A second vote early Dec. 15 garnered only 53 "yes" votes, three shy of the number needed for passage.



    One of the dissenters was Rep. Kevin Green, R-Wyoming. "I don't want to be the one to tell my constituents their children have to take this," he said.



    Then you are a coward, Kevin. And nobody said they "have" to do this.



    No one has to be vaccinated, Birkholz pointed out. Michigan law says vaccinations may be refused for religious, philosophical or moral reasons.



    "Did they read the bill?" she asked. "If they read the bill, they would have known that."



    Green said opting out is "a little bit of a hassle."



    And cancer treatment is a walk in the park. No hassle there, right?



    Dr. Thomas Petroff, a Lansing gynecologist who serves on the Governor's Task Force on Cervical Cancer, supports the vaccine. "Inoculating young women to prevent cancer of the cervix is one of those no-brainer things," he said.



    Whether the state can afford to pay the $360 for the series of three shots is another question, he said.



    Can the state afford not to?



    South Dakota is on the ball, and is offering free vaccinations. Go read their fact sheet for more info.



    During his 2007 State of the State address, Governor Rounds announced the state would launch a one-year initiative to offer HPV vaccine free to South Dakota girls from ages 11 to 18. The Gardasil vaccine can prevent the strains of HPV (human papilloma virus) that cause up to 70% of all cervical cancer. The following fact sheet was developed to provide more information about the initiative.



    -snip-



    In the year 2000, it was estimated that the cost of treating HPV-related diseases in the United States reached almost $4 billion. (American Cancer Society. Cancer facts & figures 2005)



    The annual cost of treating a woman who has cervical cancer is $20,255 if the cancer has not spread beyond the cervix, $36,912 if it has spread to other parts of the body.



    Get this done, Michigan. Not only will we save lives, we will save money.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Republicans will get their chance to "cut" after all



    The numbers are coming in. Now we are going to find out exactly what Mike Bishop means when he says "cut".



    Michigan's sagging budget is $850 million out of whack, state fiscal experts reported Tuesday, portending possible tax increases and a school aid cut of up to $220 per student.



    Educators say that with the school year half over -- and binding union contracts -- they don't know how they can swallow a bite that big.



    Love how the News managed to squeeze both "tax increases" and "unions" in the first two paragraphs. Oh yeah, they're good. They are experts at framing.



    Tuesday's deficit projections -- made by the House and Senate fiscal agencies and based on actual tax revenues through December -- were the worst yet for this budget year. Earlier estimates had pegged the shortfall at $500 million.



    We are looking at some big numbers.



    The House Fiscal Agency, an arm of the state House, said tax receipts are coming in $570 million under projections. Additional spending for Medicaid, prisons and other programs will compound the state's financial woes by another $240 million to $280 million, the agency projected.



    That adds up to $810 million to $850 million in red ink, including a school aid pot that is $374 million in the hole.



    If the state decides to cover the school aid shortage solely by cutting per-pupil aid, it would total $220 per student. That's roughly the equivalent of the fall increase.



    "Schools are potentially facing enormous cuts in the middle of the year," Gov. Jennifer Granholm confirmed Tuesday.



    She and lawmakers, however, may cushion the blow to school funding by siphoning some money from special school programs or by cutting deeper in other areas. Moving nonviolent inmates from state prisons to tethers and other cost-cutting have been discussed.



    And it's not just the schools. It's everything.



    Schools aren't the only ones in trouble. Others include colleges and cities, counties and townships, which could see cuts to revenue sharing used for police and fire protection, trash pickup, road repairs and other services.



    Life is expensive. Even with a small bump in revenue, we will still come up short.



    State revenue will be up 1 percent in the next financial year. That's well short of spending increases demanded by rising health care costs, already approved state employee pay raises, climbing welfare, Medicaid and prison caseloads and other expenses.



    Possible solutions? This next paragraph cracked me up, given the editorials from the News lately.



    The governor has not come out in favor of raising taxes to solve the problem, but she has appointed a panel headed by former Govs. William Milliken and James Blanchard to make budget-balancing proposals, which some say are likely to include tax increases.



    Some say? The News practically guarantees it, is obviously very much against it, and in the process they are whipping up the rabble to a frenzy already, making progress in the public arena difficult at best, impossible at worst. Why does the Detroit News hate Michigan?



    We are now going to find out what cutting $850 million more means. We are going to find out who can sacrifice some quality of life. We start with the kids, the poor, the sick, public safety...



    And then we will see if the calls for "tax cuts" still continue.



    I, for one, won't be surprised when they do.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    More fun with Site Meter...



    This has been well worth the small monthly fee- it has provided me with many laughs.



    For example, I love it that someone from the Michigan Legislative Council hit me today using the words "part time legislature" and got to read what I had to say about that. Heh.



    Even better is when the federal government hits me, because that's, like, the big time, right?



    So, I just had to share what the US Senate was looking for today.









    What could it be? Some important issue facing the American public? Matters concerning national security? Well, no, not really... check the search words here.









    As a matter of fact, it appears that the biggest issue on everyone's mind this past year has been... the girl.



    Here is the top ten list of search words used when hitting this blog. (BTW- 70% of the hits are not referred by a search engine)









    And people wonder why I'm so cynical.

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Been there, done that: More obstructionism from MI Republicans and the Detroit News



    Sometimes you can just see it coming.



    In an editorial from the last Friday that relied heavily on the time-honored right-wing editorial tricks of assuming facts not in evidence, simplifying those facts into catch phrases to support your position, and then accentuating them with some heavy-duty juvenile name-calling, the Detroit News advocates that Mike Bishop needs to "thwart", or, in other words, obstruct, if you will, possible solutions to Michigan's ongoing revenue problems.



    But she wants a tax hike, and it will now be up to new Senate Republican Majority Leader Mike Bishop of Rochester to hold his caucus in line and thwart higher taxes.



    You have to read the whole thing for the full effect of the spin they're in. Pretty typical, actually- you get to the point of going "what else is new" when reading the Detroit News editorials. It seems they have a computerized random word generator that they plug in and call it a column.



    "The Governor is (spineless, clueless, vindictive) and she only wants to (raise taxes, hurt Michigan, duck responsibility)." Use some variation of that over and over and call yourselves the voice of reason.



    Yeah, yeah, whatever.



    But here is the problem. Watch the fire grow.



    If Saul Anuzis is the voice of the Michigan Republican Party, he is indicating that the MI GOP will be happy to oblige this tactic. As Zack at Pohlitics points out, the similarities between the DN and Saul's blog are eerie. Saul, like DeVos before him, uses the school kid tactic of changing a couple of words around and calling it good.



    Funny how Saul applauds the line that says the "governor doesn't have an innovative thought in her head", while he continuously rips off the News and any and all extreme right articles he can find. We haven't heard anything from Saul that we haven't heard before. It's like the election never stopped for him.



    And that is the dead giveaway to the now stale Republican method of operation- Classic Rovian Projection. This term should enter the permanent lexicon of political strategy. Attack, attack, attack your opponent, avoid responsibility for your actions, while offering no solutions of your own.



    "Pay no attention to the foot-dragging that we have been doing for years. Pay no attention to the fact that we are the ones who created this mess in the first place. Pay no attention to the fact that we keep saying the same platitudes over and over while offering no real answers. Pay no attention when we shift blame to others."



    Sounds like the current tactic being employed by McCain and Bush when to comes to the war, doesn't it? There is a reason for that.



    The Republicans are fond of implying that the Governor is doing the "same 'ol thing" by appointing this panel to study our ongoing revenue shortfall, but yet they are doing the "same 'ol thing" by simply parroting the only words they know, and they are suggesting that perhaps they will do the "same 'ol thing" by obstructing any real progress as they do their best to continue to protect the special interest groups that control the party.



    You know in your heart who those special interest are, but here's a hint anyway: it's not you.



    So we turn to Mr. Bishop, the one the DN calls on to do the bidding of the "drown government" crowd. His appearance on "To the Point" this last Sunday shows that it's the Republicans don't have an innovative thought in their (collective) head.



    Check out these lines, see if the sound familiar.



    Albin: Are you going to be able to find enough money from the General Fund to patch that hole in the School Aid Fund?



    Bishop: Obviously we have to wait for our final numbers to insure that we have the proper targets in place.



    Let me interrupt right here. The caterwauling that I have heard from Saul and the Detroit News about the Governor's lack of "immediate action" on this issue needs to stop right now. Here we have Bishop saying the numbers aren't in yet, and that they can't "target" until then. So knock it off.



    Mike goes on to say "cut". The word "cut" has already come up in the conversation before this, watch as Mike continues to lay that concept on pretty thick.



    Bishop: But I can tell you that is one of our options, that we'll have to go back and cut where we need to cut, and that's the nature of our state government, we have a balanced budget and we can only spend what we have. Unfortunately based on the numbers, the preliminary numbers we have seen, there has been a shortfall, and we've got to operate with what we have and it's going to take some tough decisions.



    Shorter Mike: "Tough decisions about what to cut". As if canning the SBT last year didn't require this already.



    They wouldn't lay cuts out then; Mike isn't prepared to identify those cuts now.



    Is it such a surprise that Republicans would be asked this question when they are the ones that slashed the revenue last year? And the year before? And the year before? Lather, rinse, repeat. They still have no answer.



    Albin: When you talk about tough decisions, there are basically two things you can do, I assume. You can cut spending...



    Bishop: Or increase revenues.



    Albin: Or you can raise taxes. (Rick frames for him) Your position, I am going to guess, is going to be cut as much as you can, but can you cut enough... are the people in Michigan going to be asked at some point this year or next to start thinking about paying more into the taxes?



    Bishop: I can tell you from my caucus perspective that our primary purpose is to find savings in government, to find a way for government to live within it's means, that's our objective and it's been the Senate's objective since I've been there, and really when I was in the House, that's been our objective as well. And we're going to find a way... we'll present to our caucus ways that we can do it without revenue enhancements, which is code for tax increases, and we want to propose as many options as we can to insure that we don't have to go down that path, because really right now our state is in a position that we simply cannot afford to put more of a burden on our state's citizens.



    Shorter Mike: "We've known about this for years, we still haven't come up with the solution except to keep cutting, so we are just going to cut anyway, exacerbating the problem, and let the chips fall where they may while we spin this as 'protecting the citizens' from the dreaded option of actually paying the bills".



    And I'll add at this point- "If our cuts happen to hurt some citizens, we will immediately blame the governor and use those people in the campaign in '08 as being 'her fault' ".



    Bishop focuses on his real agenda, protecting the business community, and goes on to repeat the "one-state recession" line as he simply reiterates the problem that has been before us for years. Tell us something we don't know.



    "Live within our means". "We have to figure out what essential services are".



    You mean, you don't know by now? Seriously?



    Guess all of this blather means we can count the Republicans out when it comes to "innovative ideas", but we can count on them to offer the same vague talking points while they refuse to put the cards on the table as to how they would handle the problem.



    Show us what you mean when you say, "cut". Show us what you mean by "living within our means", even as the means themselves keep dwindling.



    Show us who you will throw under the bus. When can talk then. Until that time, perhaps we should just tune out the usual white noise emanating from the Michigan Republican Party and the Detroit News.



    And here is another thought- the Democrats better be prepared to show what those "cuts" mean, also, before the Republicans do this dance all over again.



    Time to thrust a stick in the spokes of the Republican spin and create a spin of your own.