Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Mapping the Future

MI76 : Gov 14 map This is a map that will drive many crazy in the GOP. As the red dots indicate, Gov. Snyder won decisively in the 76th District. Eleven precincts gave him at least a 20 point margin (and some came close to a full 40; a 70-30 split). The places where the party dominated on the SE side, the NE fringe (with the Riverside neighborhood tossed in) demonstrate why the district has the shape that it does. They were supposed to win in the off year, except, they didn’t. The gerrymander failed.

For party strategists, this map represents a what-if, a secret nudge of hope. But that partisan reading may miss the message. Take a look at the results for Winnie Brink.

MI76 14 mapPrecincts that were in the GOP column are now in her’s and what is more, they are there in decisive shape, with her winning with twenty percent margins (look at precinct 2-42, or precincts 3-77, and 3-59). Even in precincts where the Governor won big, the Brinks campaign tightened the margin (look at precinct 1-6).

One can look at this as a matter of hard work, that the campaign worked and earned the win. That is certainly the case. But this is also a map of hope, of a future.

Brinks strength even in the usually conservative neighborhoods points to the power of pragmatism within the City. The fact that both Brinks and Snyder win the same seats suggests a common persona, one of moderation, a look past the partisanship. There is surprisingly little of the Tea Party in this map (perhaps pct 1-21 or 1-23).

The Brinks campaign modeled this moderation as well, her’s was a campaign emphasized hard-work and pragmatic solutions. Where the term limits opponents had stumbled in the blue collar neighborhoods, Brinks won comfortably, sometimes even spectacularly.  And this was done without running away from her stance on abortion — a killer for most candidates a decade ago. Brinks again demonstrated that where one is moderate and hard-working, the questions on abortion can be handled.

As the City explores how it should continue to develop (that long conversation between the downtown and the left out), the Brinks win maps what a coalition might very well look like. Yes, we will always have the west side but most in the City want to see it succeed. And to do that, they are willing to cross lines and work together. It’s the sweat equity of hope.

And it bodes well for our City.

Note on the maps: The dots measure the size of the margin, from the lightest representing less than a one percent difference (a margin +/- 0.5 percent) to the darkest representing at least a twenty percent margin (60/40)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

A Muffled Voice

There’s a voice coming from the political closet: Michigan’s moderate Republicans. To hear what it’s saying (and understand the problems of Michigan’s GOP)  look no further than a recent ad from Donnijo DeJonge.

She’s pissed (or at least trying to be — this is the election season, after all). Winnie Brinks is a liar, or at least her allies are lying about who and what Ms DeJonge stands for:

Winnie claims I support the tax on pensions. This is a lie. I have never said I supported the pension tax. In fact, I support a reduction in the income tax and with that the repeal of the pension tax. I support fair and efficient tax policy. I support reducing the tax burden for hardworking Michigan families.

One can understand the confusion here. DeJonge’s web page is silent on issues of any kind. Nor was the pension tax  mentioned in the candidate profile. Then again, others would point to the interview with the MLive editorial board. Let’s just say that on pensions, it was awkward:

“You can call it a hike in tax. What I call it is making tax policy fair (by taxing pension and 401(k) income the same).”

So what’s going on here?

Brutally, some part may simply be lying. The pension tax attack has got traction and so Republicans of all sorts have to adjust, no matter what the paper trail says. It’s the old story of “I was for it before I was against it.”

DeJonge, however, is rather smarter than that, and certainly more principled. Her core positioning has been that of taking the high ground, and in that light, her words are something of a gaffe. Of course, the fiscal conservative (now) knows, the program of Gov. Rick Snyder to shift the tax burden to the individual tax payer was wrong. It was wrong, but she (and other moderate Republicans) can’t put the policy at the Governor’s feet. It was wrong, but they are unwilling to place it at the feet of their corporate benefactors.

And it may be personally wrong: an idea held once in good faith, but now exposed. Repentance can be a good thing.

There’s more. It’s not just the repeal of the pension tax, it is also the reduction of the income tax. Whether the Democratic “middle class taxpayer” or the Republican “hardworking Michigan family” the point is the same; Michigan citizens need their taxes reduced. DeJonge’s problems (and those of the moderate GOP) compound: to reduce the burden on the taxpayer means raising taxes somewhere else, or cutting programs somewhere else. And what are those trade-offs?

For a professor of public finance, the silence is hardly golden. She certainly knows the trade-offs. Then why the silence? What keeps her in the closet? Is it fear of the political powers? Is it a sort of magical thinking where some unforeseen event rescues? Is it perhaps simply the dissonance between their economic shibboleths and the impact on people’s lives?

Painful as it is, this dissonance brings some good news to the moderate faction: they still have a heart. What they lack is a voice. They know the truth; it is time to come out.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, Republican Folly, , , , , , , ,

Revenge of RTW

For a measure “with no organized opposition” as the press would have it, Prop 1 has sure stirred up the activist community. Until very recently, most of the opposition was through the com boxes at Michigan Radio or at the Bridge. There, one could almost see the opposition coalescing, with talking points emerging, links to the relevant analyses expounded, and a growing conviction that this was more about special interests than With the election tomorrow, it is useful to locate where the opposition to Prop 1 lies.

Overtly, the opposition has focused on what are essentially unfunded aspects, the $500 million finally needed, repurposed from expiration of business tax credits. The non-partisan Citizens Research Council summarizes the impact thus

The reimbursement provisions contained in the package are not cheap, and the State of Michigan will forego an increasing amount of its general fund/general purpose revenue in future years in order to hold local governments harmless from the PPT reforms.

But the approach of lost opportunity costs, or even of the independent authority that is part of the measure as implemented per Public Act 80 — even this does not quite capture the emotional quality of the objection. For some it is ambivalence as to the substance but a caution about the vagueness of the drafting of the proposal. Elsewhere it is a more direct distrust of the Legislature. This is even true of those who modestly favor the measure as the best of a bad deal. As one elected official in that camp expressed it

local governments (and those of us who utilize their services) are significantly screwed if this doesn’t pass and it goes back to Lansing. I have no confidence that they will come up with anything close to this.

Whether as ambivalence or distrust the common theme is that of wariness. And for others it is a far sharper sense.

The Legislature and the Governor (and to a certain extent their corporate backers such as the Chamber) are seen as not trustworthy. The validation and championing of the measure by  Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and  cities up and down the state gain little traction. And that lack of traction almost certainly rests with the lame duck session of 2012.

The possibility of bipartisanship had existed with a tacit agreement that the Governor would establish certain fundamental limits to the actions of the staunch Right. It came with an implied agreement that Democrats would be willing to join in some of the Governor’s proposals over against the staunch Right. It was as much a commitment about process and voice as it was over content.

The RTW legislation upended that. Decisively. It was a victory, however, that came at a price of alienation. The vote for Prop 1 appears to be a ratification of the very coalition that won RTW (and proclaimed it, too, as job creating measure). The business community gains, but the tax burden shifts to the individual tax payer.

There are few places where voters can really voice their displeasure at the corporate mindedness that has dominated state government for the past for years. Prop 1 gives them just that opportunity.



Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , , , , ,

Code Breaking?

It sounds so innocent. Even noble. In today’s editorial from the  Grand Rapids Press, Dave Murray writes

(Governor Rick Snyder) also believes that the quality of a child’s education shouldn’t be determined by his or her ZIP code.

Embracing an “any time, any place, any way and any pace” philosophy, the plan removes district “ownership” of a student, allowing them to take a course, some courses or all their courses from any districts. That includes the growing use of online courses.

With a bill of 300 pages there are bound to be some issues as well a host of potentially unintended consequences, with none bigger, perhaps than the illusion that this is somehow going to crack the zip code.

Still, one does not dismiss the matter of online education. The emergence of MOOCs suggests the way that higher education and likely secondary education will be substantially transformed. But if this is the way, then the questions of accountability and outcomes necessarily follow.

But that’s only a start. Just as critical would be the deal breakers.

Deal breaker 1. Zip Code.  Schools can opt out of the program. In fact with this option, zip code would still determine who gets what kind of education. A set of elite suburban districts would keep their programs while everyone else is in the other pool. Non-participation and presumably continued funding allows such districts to effectively to go their separate way. Zip code becomes destiny. And an unhappy one at that.

Deal breaker 2. Funding. If education follows the student, this puts an emphasis on equal funding. Leave aside whether such a measure violates Prop A, in the context of the present Legislature, equal funding almost certainly means less funding.

Deal breaker 3. Local Control. If funding flows with the student, local communities surrender most effective control of their school, how then do they escape being creatures of Lansing rather than of  local voters? Where local voters and communities lose the ability to meaningfully supervise their schools, local democracy of the right and left loses out.

Deal breaker 4. (Non) Transparency. Lastly,  the proposed expansion of educational services, raises the question of what reporting mechanisms are to be installed. This is both a matter of fiscal control, but also of educational priorities, too. Without transparency we end up with self-dealing. Or the too-easy settling for low expectations. Both would set our State back.

The deep irony of this bill (at least for conservatives) is how it would impose the very sort of educational structures they so often rail against: control from Lansing, funding from Lansing, and the local community shut out. Before they get too giddy with their electoral powerWould lack of transparency be a deal breaker?

Finally, the question that should be asked is how these efforts will produce the educated workforce Michigan needs in the next decade. The Press’s proper role is to ask such questions in order to clarify the legislation and to lay the proper foundation for reform and vibrant local schools.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Michigan, , , ,

Two Cheers. Maybe.

There was understandable cheering this last week when Governor Snyder vetoed two of the bills in the seven bill voter reform pacakage. Some of the more noxious forms of voter suppression (check this box if you are really a citizen) were taken off the table is good news. But other measures would take away much of these gains. “Streamlining” was  how MLive reported it. The Secretary of State called it  SAFE, but for voters in poor neighborhoods, it was anything but.

The principle piece of mischief in the bill (SB 751) is the mechanism for cleaning up the inactive files. There’s a sensible reason, if you’ve moved out of district you shouldn’t be enrolled on the poll book. Fair enough. As the law reads as passed, the Secretary of State sends out a card seeing if a person is at the address. If they don’t get it or don’t return the card within 30 days of the election, the person is  put in the challenged roll; if that person doesn’tt vote that November, they are removed from the roll entirely — deregistered. Because obviously, they’ve left.

Even if they still live in the neighborhood.

As a matter of practical politics, the SoS sends out the cards for the mid-term (gubernatorial) election, nobody’s home, and voila! the voter is removed from the poll book for the upcoming national election.

This seemingly neutral plan is functionally a direct attack on poor voters who often change residence, even if in a neighborhood. Add to it, that  the poor (and many others) do not bother to vote in the mid-term election, and one has the result where a person may think they’re registered and come November in a presidential year find that they are not. Of course, this can be addressed with strong voter registration drives, and here again the package of bills puts the barriers in place to make these drives more cumbersome and so less effective.

But wait there’s more.

The fundamental mischief is not in the process outlined above, but in what lists are used to determine who should get this “drop cards.” The law reads

Sec. 509aa. (1) A clerk may use change of address information supplied by the United States postal service or other reliable information received by the clerk

Two observations merit attention. First this is information “received by the clerk,” that is, provided to the clerk by third parties. Who may present this information is left unclear. Second, there is the the question of what constitutes “other reliable information.” This is no where specified in the bill. As was seen two years ago in Macomb County, such information could be something as vague as foreclosure notices. Importantly, “other reliable information” is also likely to be filled with a number of false positives.

The second piece of mischief is with one word, “shall.”

(2) Upon receipt of reliable information that a registered voter has moved his or her residence within the city or township, the clerk shall send by forwardable mail all of the following to the voter:

That shall obligates the clerk to act. In effect this makes the office of the clerk a tool for any third party group. Third party groups could include political parties obviously, business groups, even one supposes, PACs. Just so long as they have “reliable information,” it’s kosher.

In short, what we have here, is one of those classic ALEC-inspired measures to keep marginal voters away from the polls. It’s not a measure designed to help Gov Snyder (though it can take effect this election), it’s far more likely target is the presidential contest of 2016. Weirdly, in this very aggressiveness we can see the conclusion of conservatives that President Obama is or was considered likely to win.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , ,

Timing is Everything

Michigan’s Rick Snyder has his sites set on Michigan’s ramshackle educational system. Goodness, there is enough work to be done, much of it the legacy of Prop A.

The big news how ever is the timing:

“I’d say in the next year or two I’d actually like to say ‘Let’s step back, let’s look at the broad picture, the formula,'” he said.

Now there is a practical reason to taking this step — the system is certainly complex enough to warrant such a step. Then again, for an unusually active administration, one that has radically overhauled Michigan’s tax code, this appeal to “modesty” seems a touch less persuasive. This is not a modest administration.

By his proposed timing, the Governor admits that an incoming Legislature will be better suited for the task. The current legislative team cannot handle this task — something that Democrats have long held. Snyder’s timing for reform is not only an implicit rejection of the present austerity-minded, Tea Party madness of Lansing, he practically asks that it be the core issue of the coming election.

For education advocates this is a gift. The question that can now be asked of every candidate, D or R, is whether they support the Governor’s upcoming reforms. By making education reform the big project for the next legislature, Snyder opens the door for a significant conversation.

Of course there is political risk here. After all, those in safe districts may still be elected on the old Tea Party ways and so have no stake in the Reform outcome (see the DRIC mess). More subtly, by advocating reform but not specifying it, the educational community may have an opportunity to lay down markers to further restrict his options. A more education-focused Legislature is not any more likely to take the Governor’s lead on reform; they will bring ideas of their own.

For now, let’s call the Governor’s appeal for what it is: Michigan needs a new Legislature if it is to reform its schools.

Filed under: Education Policy, Michigan, , ,

Governor Roundheels

What else do we call the Governor who for the best of positive reasons, still refuses to say “No?”

Well, perhaps “weak” is another word.

As Dave Murray notes in today’s Press

It appears Gov. Rick Snyder doesn’t like to say “no,” at least when it comes to bills crossing his desk.

Staffers say it’s a different approach to the job, the result of a relentlessly positive approach. Fine. But the role call of failures begins to make one wonder.

First, there was the DRIC and with it the failure to off-set the lobbying efforts of the Mouron family. This was not simply a political failure, a defeat, but a failure of the economic vision for a more vibrant Michigan. As has been clear, the new Michigan is seen as a logistics center, facilitating the border traffic with Ontario manufacturing, the auto industry, and much of the industrial heartland. Moreover, logistics offer the possibility of large-scale, post-auto employment — exactly the sort of work that Detroit and Michigan could use. So the failure is significant.

What this relentless positive spirit has brought has been a refusal to stand up to his own presumably pragmatic roots. As Murray notes, first there was the anti-labor measure, stopping the MEA from deducting dues from pay checks — a bill beloved by the radical Right, but expressly against Snyder’s wishes. Then there was the motorcycle helmet law, a measure that puts the State on the hook for increased medical bills. A life style bill made all the more inexplicable by the large number of voters against the measure. Another minority position.

These three alone, suggest that relentless optimism is little more than another word for a certain moral weakness.

What he misses here is that the easy going nature then creates the doubt elsewhere. If he will not be able to say yes to common good ideas (through the veto), can his advocacy for such agenda items as better schools mean anything? Will he be able to protect these causes?

Of course Republicans believe that all this is better understood as the fruit of good communication? But if the Governor gives it away on the first date, what sort of political virtue is there in this communication? Michigan needs better.

Filed under: Michigan, , , ,

Exit, Voice, and Expectations

Dave Murray raises an important question: are we expecting the same from our inner city schools as from our elite suburban schools such as East Grand Rapids? The answer he provides is no. The bottom line, as Murray, explains is that

writing off a third-grader because of his parents, his home or his lack of abilities should be unacceptable.

Few would actually argue with that. Indeed, this is the core philosophy of public education — what distinguishes it from its private peers, a belief ingrained in our culture and our civic ideals. But the painful reality is that Detroit is not East Grand Rapids. Whether it’s pictures of Detroit classrooms abandoned with computers and books still inside, or simply the horrific test scores of so many urban schools, the necessity of reform bubbles up. While teacher unions in Michigan and elsewhere protest political attacks on their work conditions, who stands up for kids? Where’s the protest, the outrage asks Murray:

I’ve yet to hear about a protest in front of the district headquarters in Detroit – or any of our cities – demanding that educators find a way to improve those schools.

But that protest has been underway for some time. As A. O Hirschman pointed out years ago in Exit, Voice and Loyalty, the disgruntled have two options for bringing reform: voice, the giving of protest; and exit, the leaving of the system.  When it comes to the urban school and especially those of Detroit, the eople have registered their protest by walking. Enrollment in Detroit is projected to fall to 50,000 students by 2016; in 2000 it had 168,000 enrolled; meanwhile enrollment in charters tops 50,000. Clearly, parents have voted their feet. That the schools persist despite this decline suggests that the easy turn to exit strategies the Governor advances is simply mistaken. It’s not that people won’t vote with their feet, but rather that such exit does not function efficiently in the market-disciplining manner free marketers imagine. (This also was Hirschman’s point, as well).

Murray asks why failure on such a huge scale is accepted, suggesting that the fault lies with our expectations: we have simply not asked enough of the schools. It is a failure to adopt sufficiently rigorous standards with respect to the urban schools.

In a Michigan context this seems misplaced. One of the well-understood consequences of Michigan’s over-dependence on the auto industry was the notion that one did not need a strong education to get a good job. It is a persistent theme on the comment boards at MLive whenever the question of curriculum is raised.  It also lies at the hesitancy of communities and their legislators to support their schools. Instead of tackling this issue, we settle for the narratives that focus on the actions of administrators, a teaching community, of when all else fails, the presumed failing of the urban (a racial code word) c0mmunity.

If one is to ask for greater voice for high expectations in education — and you will get no objection here — then it is only appropriate that money meet mouth. Otherwise, the exit option will continue, of students from schools, graduates from the State, and of course, our long-term opportunity.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Michigan, , , , , ,

The Cuts Come or Borrowing from our Future

As expected, the State House passed the budget slicing $430 per pupil from the schools. There is a continuing point of mystification here, namely how the economic gains from education are to be realized at the same time resources are being stripped from the schools. This has been a persistent problem for the Governor from at least the National Governor’s Conference and Michael Porter’s presentation.

It’s spelled out there: for a highly productive economy, budget cuts are part, but so too is education. Much of the difficulty has been the conviction that a streamlined system for doing business in the state, the support of entrepreneurs and the like must come at the expense of budget. At the very least this has been a ham-handed approach that renders all problems fiscal. Perhaps. But the real trick is that as a state we must do both: create the business-friendly environment but also develop a workforce prepared for the future. Porter summarizes it this slide:

Seven Issues for improving productivity

But if education is so important, what’s going on?

One part bluntly, is the renegotiation of the salary/benefit package in education. However, given that talent can move, to other states or out of the profession, there is a limited capacity here for significant costs savings. So the result is a degrading of the schools and their offering, a move more tolerated by poorer less powerful districts, than there better-off, high expectation neighbors.

While some legislators are perhaps willing to consideration of such long-term degradation, Snyder clearly is not.

Thus, at its base, the Snyder proposal is less a budget than an elaborate borrowing from our future. The quality education that will make a difference will require additional resources, especially as we begin to think in terms of a p-20 process. Although the measure looks like a cut, in the mid-term it is better understood as a cost shifting. The risk is that as a state we go so long that we do damage to the state’s reputation (and so its economic competitiveness), along with putting ourselves in an even greater educational deficit, particularly in our urban areas.

The improved state of the auto economy certainly seems to promise that this slashing need not be long-lasting. And frankly, there is considerable political gains to be had here, slashing the budget now, and then becoming the hero of education in another year or two, just before re-election.

Filed under: Education Policy, Michigan, , ,

Rough Road

On the road to Michigan’s future, the ride for the poor is about to become a little rougher. Not to mention quite a bit more muddled.

The Governor’s proposal to eliminate Michigan’s EITC appears to make an initial sort of sense.  After all, in its monetary sense, the program simply represents one of the larger claims on the state budget. So if you are looking for money, this is one of the pots one goes to. No question about it. Moreover, the existing federal program maintains many of the desirable policy goals, so while State cuts the  budget affect the generosity, that does not mean the working poor are thereby abandoned or unrewarded.

So what does that extra $432 (on average) do for the working poor? According to research it goes for such things as childcare, the payment of a past due utility bill, or setting up a “rainy day” fund — a thin cushion, in other words, against the shocks of life.

Welfare by another name?

Some believe that cushion should not be there at all. Dan Calabrese figures that with the robust job market being what it is, the working poor should just go and get another job. Others are more judicious. Take Gary Wolfram and the Mackinac Center: the MiEITC is an income transfer pure and simple.  Scraping this a little more we can also see that framed this way, their approach comes close to the basic push them back to misery. However minimalist approaches breed their own externalities. And it’s not as if the EITC were a pure grant at all.

Some of this Conservative Confusion lies in misunderstanding the  tax code itself. As David Waymire points out,  the poor are subject to a cluster of regressive taxes, from millage to sales tax in addition to the federal, state and FICA payroll taxes. The money for these taxes comes directly out of an already stretched household budgets.

Even though MiEITC gets counted in federal Maintenance of Effort for welfare programming (this being Wolfram’s point), its real benefit and the questions for the Snyder administration lie elsewhere.

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Filed under: Michigan, , , , , , ,


August 2020