Saturday, May 8, 2010

We Have Met the Enemy

I hate to sound like a scold, but every one us is responsible for the oil spill and the workers who died in the Gulf and in West Virginia’s coal mines. BP and Massey Energy may deserve bankruptcy (and jail time for their executives) but there’s no escaping that they did it for us.

Hydrocarbon production is a dangerous, filthy job. They are only doing it because our great leaders think every American has the right to cheap fuel to power our extravagant lifestyles. Don’t get me wrong, I love my car and my warm house - but this can’t go on forever. We are living at the tail end of the hydrocarbon era and our great grandchildren will unquestionably ask what the heck were we thinking.

If our politicians had any guts, they would start raising the gas tax a penny a month and keep raising it until we stop wasting it. If they could see past the next election they would understand this is the only way to get us out of this mess without destroying the economy.

But they don’t, and will wait until the whole ship sinks before they do something to stop it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Race to the Top

Remember the Educational Race to the Top adventure from last year? That was the one where the Michigan legislature awoke from its slumber and started to madly legislate with an intensity rarely seen in recent years. And what aroused the sleeping beast? The smell of free money, which means money from Washington that the state desperately needs, but no legislator has the guts to actually vote for in the form of new taxes.

All we needed to get this free money was a massive "school reform", which was cobbled together in a firestorm of activity and then shoved down the collective throat of the school boards and teachers unions. Unfortunately, Lansing was a little late getting started, so when they needed approval from the teachers there was no actual bill yet. Teachers were asked to trust that what they agreed to would actually help the schools. Shockingly, they decided that trusting Lansing hasn't been working for them lately, so they said "no".

No problem, said Lansing. We'll just go ahead without you.

Now that Tennessee and Maryland have won the prize, it comes out that a critical part of their victory was achieving 100% buy-in from the teachers and school districts.

I guess our legislators didn't get to that part of the instructions. Or maybe the thought of easy money caused their eyes to glaze over and they couldn't read the fine print.

So now we have costly "reforms" and no money to pay for them. Nice work boys.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dear Jared;

Reading your piece in this week's Business Review, I have two comments.

The first is how do you reconcile John Engler's record of endlessly cutting taxes with where Michigan is now? If cutting taxes is the sure path to economic prosperity (as you imply), why did Engler leave the state in such a mess (and no, you can't blame it all on Granholm). My point is that cutting taxes may result in increased business activity - but you have no way of knowing that. If all other states do the same thing, the net gain to any one state could be zero.

Second is that it is easy to demand cost cuts in the abstract, but a lot harder in specifics. If the GRCC thinks the State needs to slim down, where exactly should this happen, and what are the economic consequences of that? The easiest political solution is to take money out of the pockets of state employees (especially teachers). Whether that is a good or bad thing, it unquestionably takes purchasing power out of a large group of Michigan residents. If you make 50,000 residents poorer isn't there a negative impact as well as a positive one? I could argue that the net impact is zero and that you are only transferring purchasing power from one person to another.

If you release more inmates from state prisons (which I would agree with) what happens to the communities where the prisons are shut down? If you cut road spending (which we are about to do in spades to save 16 cents in gas tax) how can you tell me this improves the business climate? If we continue to cut school budgets, why is anyone going to bring their businesses here if they know their kids are going to suffer. Health care? Foster care? Fire and Police? I'm sorry, but there is no low hanging fruit left and if you are going to constantly demand cuts, it is cowardly to not to say where.

Oh, and your comment about how individuals can make their own decisions about how to mitigate higher sales taxes? How exactly does one do that other than purchasing less, and why is that a positive for the state's businesses?

Best regards,

- Snipe

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Gift that is Justin Amash

The more I learn about Justin Amash, the more I think he might be the only candidate that a qualified (i.e. serious) Democrat could actually beat.

Amash is a Libertarian at heart, and it appears that he has drunk the Tea Bagger's cool-aid and is fully on-board with the right-wing fringe of the GOP. On one hand, I think this makes him a strong contender in the GOP primary, where I suspect the baggers will have an outsized influence.

In the general, the key will be to force him to admit, over and over, that he really does think Social Security should be abolished and Medicare should be turned into a means-tested insurance voucher program. Unlike a seasoned politician, Amash may actually get up and say what he believes, instead of burying it in a bunch of poll-tested bullshit.

It will be up to the Democrat to force Amash to throw his support behind Paul Ryan's roadmap to the GOP future and not let him get away from it. Only when voters are viscerally confronted with the insanity of the GOP's platform will they understand how radical it really is.

On the other hand, maybe this is what the majority of Kent County actually wants, in which case Canada is really not that far away.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lame Ducks

Representative Tom Pearce was recently quoted in the Press saying we shouldn’t expect much from the legislature in an election year – a statement that was remarkable for both its candor and its fecklessness. Since Representative Pearce is term-limited, he can actually tell the truth – something Michigan politicians seem to have trouble with when they think their positions are on the line.

At the same time, Pearce’s statement revealed just how broken our political systems is. If there is any time we should expect results from our representatives, it is in an election year. Even more so, it is at a time when the state’s budgetary and tax systems are in desperate need of a complete overhaul. Instead, it’s business as usual in Lansing.

It should be obvious that term-limits have been a colossal failure in Michigan. Instead of experience and wisdom we have legislators who are either learning their jobs or looking for the next one. However, if there is one saving grace it should be the ability of representatives to use their final term as a chance to get the right things done for Michigan without the fear of partisan reprisals.

With the Governor, one third of the House and entire Senate being evicted in 2010, now is the time for bold action on the tax system. Failure to act will only pass the problem to next year’s trainees, and Michigan will continue its pathetic race to the bottom. Business as usual is no longer a viable option.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


On Friday, the Press reported that the state was canceling 243 highway construction projects, resulting in the loss of 10,000 jobs and the accelerated deterioration of Michigan’s infrastructure. The reason is that Michigan’s gasoline tax is too low to win Federal matching grants. Because of this, we will forgo $2.1 billion in grants and get back only 50% of the federal taxes we pay at the pump. And how much do we need to raise the tax? Eight cents over two years.

On Saturday, the Press reported that six Republican gubernatorial candidates agreed there should be no increase in the gas tax. During the same event, the candidates droned on and on about how the state must attract new jobs. To which I can only respond: what planet are these people from?

As a small business owner, I know there is very little politicians can actually do to increase private sector jobs in the short term. I will hire more people when I have customers demanding more of my products than I can produce. Period.

What politicians can do is create an environment where people want to live and grow their businesses, which includes decent roads and schools. Pandering to political extremes and the “no new taxes” crowd are part of what got Michigan into this mess, and it has to stop. We need smart governance, not political dogma.

Pandering may get you elected, but it will not make Michigan the great state it deserves to be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Conservative Activist Judges

For years, conservatives have flogged the theme of “liberal activist judges”. The message is that unelected, liberal judges subvert the will of the people when they overturn laws on constitutional grounds.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn nearly 100 years of precedent and allow corporations unfettered rights to influence political campaigns should put to rest the canard that activist judges are by definition liberal. This stunning decision was promoted by the Court’s most conservative justices, including Chief Justice Roberts.

You may remember how when Roberts was being confirmed he said he was a conservative judge who would respect precedent and favor incremental, narrow rulings over sweeping motions. His actions in the recent case show that he has either a short memory, or simply lied to advance his confirmation. He is a conservative activist judge who ignored precedent and used a case that could have been interpreted narrowly to hand vast powers to the corporations who already hold too much influence in Washington. No one can deny that this was a radical, activist ruling enacted by a staunch conservative.

It should be clear by now that conservatives don’t really care about judicial activism. Judicial activism is only a bad thing if it works against their purposes. The duplicity of this no longer surprises me. What surprises me is how Democrats continue to ignore the obvious and allow for the confirmation of radicals like Roberts.