Making an aviation buff’s pilgrimage

July 25, 2009 by

In Islam, each member of the faithful must make the hadj or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

I have been a faithful aviation buff for lo these 50 years, and the time has come for me to make the hadj to aviation Mecca – the annual Experimental Aviation Association fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We depart Lansing at 4:00 a.m. Sunday, destination Ludington, and the good ship Badger, one of the last coal-fired steamers in the world. It will transport Kate, me and nephew Lucas on a breathtakingly beautiful journey across Lake Michigan at it’s widest point, around 100 miles.

A bit more than four hours after sailing we three and the trusty Taurus wagon (loaded to the gills with bikes, camping gear, cooler, etc.) debark in Manitowoc, and 90 minutes later arrive in Mecca.

The trip came about a few weeks ago when I was telling 9-year-old Lucas about the EAA Oshkosh event. I mentioned the ferry, and the WWII submarine parked at the dock in Manitowoc, and he said, “We should go.” From the mouths of babes . . .

So, I anticipate a stiff neck the next few days from looking up, and a sore back from salaaming before holy temples of flight – Spitfires, Mustangs, B-17s, F-18s, and Lord knows what else. We have tickets and are camping right on site, but as for what exactly to expect I’m mostly walking in cold. The one thing I do know is that there will be far more than we can possibly absorb in three days, meaning that perhaps future pilgrimages will be in order.

[I did read one cute thing – near the camping area they have an outdoor theater with a drive-in movie type screen, and every night at 8:30 show a movie. Guess what kind? Right! Airplane movies!   :-)  ]

No Silver Lining to Michigan’s Decline

July 9, 2009 by

Derek Melot of the Lansing State Journal pens what may be one of the best local journalist’s blogs in the state, “Just Asking,” in which with an experienced, sensible, mature journalist’s eye he does just that about public and other affairs in and around Lansing and the state. His July 6 entry describes the latest dismal economic and employment figures, and ponders the question of whether Michigan can be a prosperous state of just 8 million, vs. it’s current 10 million. He concludes hopefully, “Being smaller is not automatically a bad thing.”

Derek, it’s only human to look for a silver lining to any bad situation, but sometimes that’s really not the appropriate response. The tragic history of Ireland provides a poignant example.

Over several years beginning in 1848 Ireland’s population fell from nearly 8 million to half that number or less, due to the famine and ensuing emigration. Population continued to fall and the country remained an impoverished basket case for another 130 years, only reversing direction beginning around 1980, when enlightened, free market-based tax and other public policies triggered the birth of an economic turnaround that gave the country the nickname, “the Celtic tiger,” a reference to the fast-growing “Asian tiger” economies of Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.

After the 1848 famine Ireland was no doubt a more pleasant place in many ways, at least for visitors and those of means. Certainly less crowded, with the natural scenery less impeded by human structures, etc.

At the risk of laying it on cruelly, in 1848-49 the prospect would have given no comfort to a stick-thin waif expiring in the ditch, or a penniless immigrant in the stinking hold of a “coffin ship.”

So it is today in Michigan, when radical environmentalists loftily celebrate how wonderful things will be when the population has fallen to eight or six million from the current 10 million. That’s no comfort to millions who have seen the value of their life’s work fall in half, and seen the industry that sustained the state ravaged by labor laws that enabled pernicious union work rules and contracts, by absurd federal CAFE standards, and yes, also by the folly and hubris of past managers who failed to confront these destructive forces head on.

Here’s the bottom line: There is nothing good about “involuntary” depopulation, whether the cause is famine, barbarian invasions, or pernicious public policies that make a place unable to compete in a dynamic “post-industrial” economy. This is not something to accept philosophically and with resignation, but to fight against tooth-and-nail, resisting to the bitter end.

~~~~~~~~

With all that in the background, 2010 will be a critical year for Michigan, one in which the people make key decisions about whether the state will emulate the growth-stultifying, inward-looking policies of Ireland for 60 years after gaining independence in 1921, or the pro-growth, “supply side” ones of the past 20 years (notwithstanding the fact that the auld sod too is now suffering now from the worldwide recession).

It’s clear that no “man on a white horse” will come to our rescue in the political sphere. In fact, our craven, self-serving political class is only capable of following the incentives imposed on it by the climate of public opinion. Whether we can change that particular climate is unambiguous – we can. To paraphrase the title of a book by my favorite thinker on these kinds of issues, “It’s in our hands.”

How do we do it? Obviously I don’t have all the answers, but let me offer two valuable concepts to guide us. First, to keep in mind that definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Second, consider that who loses elections is almost always more important for changing that all-important political incentive structure than who wins them. This suggests that we begin to think about the electoral process and the choices we make in very different ways.

Felice 4 luglio, Ragazzi!

July 4, 2009 by

My sister has four charming Italian 11-year-olds in an exchange program staying for the weekend. She picked them up from the airport yesterday and they have practically no English! Having lived in Roma one year, oh, about 40 years ago, I happen to have the most Italian (ie., solo un poco).

However, as is the way of such things my sister’s own 9- and 11-year-olds seem to have little trouble communicating the important things. (“Vuoi giocare i video giochi?”)

For more profound communcations there is Babelfilsh – Grazie, tecnologia!

Nel Congresso. 4 luglio 1776:

Riteniamo queste verità manifesti, quel tutti gli uomini siamo uguale generato, quello che sono dotati dal loro creatore con determinati diritti unalienable, che fra questi sono durata, la libertà e l’inseguimento di felicità. – Che assicurare questi diritti, governi sono istituiti fra gli uomini, derivare i loro poteri giusti dal consenso del governato di, – che ogni volta che una forma di governo particolare diventa distruttiva di questi obiettivi, esso è la destra della gente alterarla o abolire ed istituire il nuovo governo, gettante la relativa base per tali principi ed organizzante i relativi poteri in tale forma, quanto loro sembrerà molto probabilmente effettuare la loro sicurezza e felicità

Here’s leadership on government employee bennies

June 24, 2009 by
 I don’t usually have much good to say about politicians on this blog, but here’s an exception.

 Lorence Wenke is a former state representative who assembled a pretty impressive portfolio of specific proposals for reforming government employee health benefit programs that are way out of synch with private sector norms.

I don’t agree with all of this – specifically the proposal for an income tax increase to finance the transition of school employees from defined benefit to defined contribution (401K) pensions (no surprise that I would find the money by cutting other spending). However, this is a serious and sincere smorgasbord of very worthwhile reforms.

 From MichiganVotes.org – 21 bills introduced by Rep. Lorence Wenke (R) with keyword “employee” (less dupes):

 Introduced 2008 House Bill 5772 (Require higher public employee insurance copays ) to prohibit the state and local governments from paying more than 75 percent of the cost of the health insurance benefits provided to public employees.

  • Introduced 2008 House Bill 5636 (Clarify state employee pension double dipping ban ) to expand the definition of “employed by the state” in a new law that prohibits a state government employee who retires and begins collecting a pension to then take a state job as a direct employee or working for a contractor, and collect a paycheck and a pension both (double dipping). The bill would clarify that the ban applies to someone who is hired indirectly by the state under a contract with an employment agency, or is hired as an indirect contractor.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 5271 (Raise income tax and transition to 401K for school employees ) to increase the state income tax by .1 percent and use the money to pay the costs of transitioning “all public school employees” from the traditional defined benefit pension system to a defined contribution plan (401K).
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 5167 (Establish regulations for transition to school defined benefit system ) to establish detailed regulations that would apply to the transition of the school employees retirement system to a defined contribution plan.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 5168 (Establish regulations for transition to school defined benefit system ) to establish detailed regulations that would apply to the transition of the school employees retirement system to a defined contribution plan.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 5169 (Transition new police and firefighters to defined benefit system ) to require the fire fighters and police officers retirement system to adopt a benefits structure that would “cost no more than a defined contribution plan” for employees hired after June 30, 2008.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 5170 (Transition new State Police to defined benefit system ) to require the State Police retirement system to adopt a benefits structure that would “cost no more than a defined contribution plan” for employees hired after June 30, 2008.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4912 (Exclude new community college employees from defined benefit pension system ) to not include community college employees hired after Jan. 1, 2008 in the school employee pension and post-retirement health benefit system (MPSERS). Beginning in 2008, the annual contribution that community colleges make to the system would be based on an actuarial calculation of the 40 year amortization cost of the unfunded liability of the pension and health insurance promises to employees already enrolled in the system.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4799 (Limit dual state employee school pension/salary loophole ) to repeal a provision of the school employee pension law that allows an employee to “retire,” start collecting a pension, and then return to work for a school district, collecting a wage or salary while simultaneously collecting pension benefits (“double dipping”). The bill would suspend pension payments while an individual worked for a school. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4803 (Cap school health benefits at state employee equivalent ) to prohibit a school district from granting health insurance benefits to its employees that exceed the most generous plans provided to state government workers. The bill would require the state to post those benefits on a web site. See also House Bill 4804, which would open up the state plan to other public employers, including schools. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4804 (Open state employee health plan to all schools and governments ) to open up the health insurance plan that the state provides to its employees to all other units of government in Michigan, who would be able to be part of a much larger risk pool, and would pay the state whatever the actual cost is to cover their own employees under the plan. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4805 (Cap local government health benefits at state employee equivalent ) to prohibit a local unit of government from granting health insurance benefits to its employees that exceed the most generous plans provided to state government workers. The bill would require the state to post those benefits on a web site. See also House Bill 4804, which would open up the state plan to other public employers. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4807 (Limit future government employee pension costs ) to establish that the cost of post-retirement benefits for new local government employees hired after March 31, 2006, may not exceed the cost of plans for previously hired or past government employees. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4808 (Limit future school employee pension costs ) to establish that the cost of post-retirement benefits for new school employees hired after March 31, 2006, may not exceed the cost of plans for previously hired or past employees. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Bill 4809 (Cap local government health benefits at state employee equivalent ) to prohibit a local unit of government, college or university from granting health insurance benefits to its employees that exceed the most generous plans provided to state government workers. The bill would require the state to post those benefits on a web site. See also House Bill 4804, which would open up the state plan to other public employers. The bill is part of a government pension reform package comprised of House Bills 4799 to 4809.
  • Introduced 2007 House Concurrent Resolution 18 to ask the Governor to require the approximately 53,000 state employees to forgo the scheduled pay increase as well to contribute more to the cost of their fringe benefits.
  • Introduced 2005 House Bill 5314 (Not put new community college employees in MPSERS ) to not place new community college employees in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS teacher pension system), but instead allow them to participate in a defined contribution (401k-type) retirement plan .
  • Introduced 2005 House Bill 5171 (Require prefunding school employee pension health benefits ) to require prefunding of school employee post-retirement health care benefits, rather than the current “pay as you go” system. A new state investment fund would be created for the purpose. Presumably higher employer contributions would be required until this new fund has enough resources to cover anticipated future costs.
  • Introduced 2005 House Bill 5173 (Eliminate pension for five-year teachers ) to eliminate the provision of the current school employee pension law that allows a school employee with just five years on the job to be eligible for a pension in some circumstances.
  • Introduced 2003 House Bill 5331 (Tax breaks for “start-up business”) to exempt for five years a “qualified start-up business” from any single business tax (SBT) liability in a year in which it does not make a profit. (Note: The SBT is a tax on the value added by a firm in producing a product, which means that a firm may owe SBT tax even though it makes no profit.) A “qualified start-up business” is defined as a firm that has fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees, has annual sales of less than $1 million, has research and development expenses that make up at least 15-percent of its annual expenses, and is not publicly traded. This does not necessarily apply only to new firms, and the five year exemption is not necessarily the firm’s first five years of operation. Passed in the House (103 to 4) on April 27, 2004.
  • Quantifying “Political Development”: The “Foregone Job Loss Index”

    June 10, 2009 by

    President Obama’s claim to have “saved or created” 150,000 jobs has been snarked by some on the right, but in Michigan such boasts are nothing new. Citizens here are treated to a steady stream of press releases from politicians and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation – dutifully and uncritically copy-and-pasted into newspapers and TV news scripts – all reporting in chirpy, expectant tones, “MEDC incentives created or retained X jobs last month!”

    Given that the federal stimulus program and Michigan’s economic central planning empire are fundamentally political development programs – not economic development ones – the politicians need a new metric to quantify their accomplishments. Today I am introducing that metric:

    The Foregone Job Loss Index

    Calculating the current figure is easy: You simply take the number of jobs left in the economy at this moment, and that’s the number.

    Michigan now has 3.900 million non-farm payroll employment jobs not-yet-destroyed. That makes our Foregone Job Loss figure 3.900 million.

    Or to describe it another way, employers of 3.900 million Michigan workers have not yet been driven under or out of the state by Lansing’s ongoing success at making Michigan an even more undesirable place to do business.

    At the federal level the Foregone Job Loss figure is 132.1 million – that’s how many jobs the current administation has succeeded in not destroying since January.

    This metric adds an important new tool to the political development tool box of our state’s and nation’s political class. As long as their policies cause overall employment to decline, politicians will be able to quantify the number of jobs they have not destroyed yet.

    One important caveat for politicians: Strongly discourage any discussion of changes in the Foregone Job Loss Index. For example, in January 2009 the national figure was 134.3 million jobs not-yet-destroyed. Focusing attention on the 2.182 million job decline in the index does not serve your political development goals.

    Similarly, in Michigan the political class will want to squelch any discussion of the 552,900 decline in the Foregone Job Loss Index since January, 2002.

    Public Employee Unions, Bond Vultures Circling Michigan Taxpayers

    June 2, 2009 by

    Today the Michigan Senate Appropriations Retirement Subcommittee took testimony from a bond brokers’ lawyer on House Bill 4075, which would allow local governments to borrow to establish funds from which would be paid post-retirement health care benefits they’ve said over the years they would provide to retired government workers.

    Note the careful phrasing: “Benefits they’ve said over the years they would pay.” The first “they” is current and past politicians, and the second “they” is future taxpayers.

    Note two words not contained in that opening sentence: “liability” and “obligation.” Courts have ruled that unlike pensions, employers have no obligation to pay these retiree health care benefits.

    Of course the government employees and their unions want everyone to think that this is a real obligation. They implicitly reveal the truth with another bill discussed in committee today, House Bill 4073. This would explicitly convert those politicians’ promises into real contractual obligations. Doing so would have future Michigan taxpayers choosing between pavement and police vs. gold-plated health bennies for age 50-something public retirees.

    These bills easily passed the House – the Democratic majority there makes no bones about being in the tank for public employees. The fact the bills are getting a hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate suggests that Repubs may be just as misguided about where their loyalty properly lies – with taxpayers or with politically powerful government employees and their unions.

    Here’s my guess about the outcome: The Senate will pass the bills after adding some eye-wash in the form of marginally more stringent financial standards limiting which local governments may burden future taxpayers with this new debt. The Senate will not mandate that locals put all new employees in defined contribution pension and post-retirement health bennies before they can issue these bonds. The bills are bad enough, but leaving this out would be fiscal malpractice of the worst sort.

    With or without that prerequisite, passing these bills would be just one more tragic example of the destructive priorities of this dysfunctional legislature. Especially for Republicans, who have pretended to the public that they are more fiscally responsible.

    Note that if the state, school and local governments just pulled the plug on all these health benefits, retirees would still be eligible for Medicaid at age 65. We’re not talking about stepping over the bodies of ailing seniors here, but over the swim-suited bodies of age-50 something public retirees catching the Florida rays while enjoying health benefits courtesy of Michigan taxpayers.

    Oh, and the bond vultures? If the bills pass they will make millions brokering all these new public debt (bond) sales. Senators shouldn’t give these people the time of day, much less a respectful hearing.

    Hey GOP senators – which side are you on? Taxpayers, or public employees and bond lawyers each with their big campaign contributiuon warchests.

    Political Class “In the Tank” for Public Employees, Part Deux.

    May 10, 2009 by

    Part trois, actually . . .

    I’ve started something of a drumbeat on this blog regarding Michigan legislators who act as if their fiduciary duty is to state employees rather than to taxpayers.

    Attention legislators: You owe your loyalty to citizens and taxpayers, not to government employees (and their unions).

    The latest example of confusion on this point is Senate Bill 552 introduced by Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River, which would benefit employees at the Adrian Training School reformatory,  slated for closing under a budget-cutting executive order issued last December. Employees would get a full pension if their age and years of employment equals 70 (such as a 50 year old with just 20 years on the job).  Those whose age and years on the job equals 75 would get a 16.7 percent increase the cash portion of their post-retirement benefits.

    This  is recurring theme. I wrote in March about a scheme to give a similar pension bennie to prison guards who might get laid off if several prisons are closed as proposed (without specifics) by Gov. Granholm.  At the time the Senate was also holding hearings on a massive school employee pension expansion sponsored by Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, that would have loaded billions of dollars worth of new unfunded liabilities onto taxpayers.

    Thankfully that last dog would not hunt, but the fact that such measures are even contemplated shows how skewed the priorities are for many members of this state’s political class.

    I also wrote just last week about how state police also get a pension “double dip” opportunity that would be considered absolutely nuts by any private sector employer. They’re all symptoms of the same dysfunction, which is bringing about the gradual Detroitification of the entire state (hollowing out the private sector to prop up an unsustainable government establishment).

    As I said in March, it would give me no pleasure to see former state employees on unemployment rolls, any more than it does to see tens-of-thousands of auto industry workers and others among the jobless ranks. But private sector employees impacted by the economic downturn don’t get these kinds of golden parachutes, and the people who citizens elect to represent their interests need to remember who their real bosses are.

    Tea Party Activists Have ATTITUDE!

    May 8, 2009 by

    Since the Tea Parties, the questions that everyone has been asking are “what next?” and “what else can we do?”

    The Mackinac Center has posted three important tools with some answers. All three are now live on Mackinac.org.

    The first is “Tea Party Activists have Attitude,” and it describes the ‘tude they should have to change the incentives on members of the political class.  (First item: “Tea Party activists aren’t impressed that their politician is a ‘nice guy.’ They’re all ‘nice guys’ – get over it, and hold them accountable for their deeds rather than their smile.”)

    The second installment is called “Ten Minute Tea Party Activist” and it lists 10 specific actions activists can do. These are more sophisticated than the usual “civic creed” nostrums – I think you will like. This list is now live on Mackinac.org (and will be the featured Current Comment on Monday).

    Finally, a “Candidate Quesionnaire for Tea Party Activists” provides “hard-to-dodge questions that suggest whether a candidate for the Michigan Legislature actually supports limited government principles.”  Emphasis on “hard to dodge” – these go way beyond the “Do you support tax and spending cuts?” that they all say “yes” to, and which tell you nothing.

    Please don’t hesitate to spread these tools far and wide.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Tea Party Activists have Attitude

    Samuel Adams, widely believed to be the instigator of the Boston Tea Party, once said that it didn’t take an activist majority to prevail, “but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”

    Setting brushfires requires attitude, especially during a time described by Adams, “when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, (and) our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

    The following describes an attitude that, if widespread, would vastly improve the incentives of lawmakers to honor the principles of limited government.

    1. Tea Party activists aren’t impressed that their politician is a “nice guy.”

    Being likeable isn’t needed for a person to succeed in America. An insufferable jerk can build a billion-dollar corporation from scratch, employ thousands, save the whales and cure cancer.

    What he can’t do is win an election. To gain votes in a democracy a candidate must be likeable. The reason political campaigns feature photos of the candidate’s family and pets is not because they want voters to assume that he or she has a responsible record on taxes and spending.

    Therefore, the last thing that should ever impress a Tea Party activist is a politician who’s a “nice guy.” Simply put: They’re all nice guys, so get over it and ignore it. Hold them accountable for their deeds rather than their smile. The Tea Parties were a reaction against a lot of very nice guys doing very bad things.

    2. Tea Party activists don’t presume virtue in party labels.

    Political parties are extensions of the politicians that they elect. They are mere instruments to gain power, not virtuous machines that exercise that power in noble ways.

    Example: During the term of President Bill Clinton the budget actually had a brief surplus, while spending soared under President George W. Bush. Likewise, while Michigan Republican lawmakers boasted of their collective resistance to the $1.4 billion income and business tax hikes passed in 2007, most of them voted for most of the increased spending it funded.

    There are countless other examples. An experienced patriot treats the promises of politicians and political parties with equal (and substantial) skepticism. Use political parties only as tools toward your ends, not theirs. Your loyalty is too valuable to sell so cheaply.

    3. Tea Party activists really know their own lawmakers’ voting records.

    If the “nice guys” aren’t a reliable source for a full and accurate picture of their records, and the party label doesn’t do it either, then experienced patriots need to find this information on their own.

    At the state level, two free tools make this much easier in Michigan. The first is MichiganVotes.org, which provides a plain-English description for every vote cast by every member of the Michigan Legislature since 2001. The second is Michigan Capitol Confidential, a periodical that gives more details on votes involving concerns regarding limited government.

    An experienced patriot should use both of these tools, and compare how his or her lawmaker measures up by asking these critical questions:

    • Does the lawmaker always vote with their party, no matter what?
    • If there are a handful of dissenting votes for or against the limited government side of an issue, which side does he or she tend to fall on?
    • Do most of the bills he or she introduces expand the size of government, or reduce it?

    4. Tea Party activists follow the money.

    Is your lawmaker getting financial support from those whose values do not match up with your own? It’s not hard to find out. For most past and current Michigan legislators, go to the “Search Voting Record” tab on the MichiganVotes.org homepage, choose a representative or senator and click “search.” A link to a list of the legislator’s campaign contributors appears below his or her photo. For members of Congress find this information at OpenSecrets.org. (Go to “Politicians and Elections,” “Donor Lookup.”)

    5. Tea Party activists know they don’t have to get elected to change the world.

    They understand that electing a handful of virtuous lawmakers won’t solve the problem either, because what needs to change are the incentives operating on the entire political establishment. Here’s how Milton Friedman described it:

    “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

    More often than not the most important effect of an election is who gets defeated, not who gets elected. When a politician loses for “doing the wrong thing” the incentives change for all of them.

    6. Tea party activists don’t “repress their feelings” regarding fiscal malpractice.

    Having discovered the real records of elected officials in their own area and elsewhere (see Items No. 3 and 4), Tea Party activists share this knowledge widely with friends, family, colleagues, internet contacts, etc., letting all and sundry know how their lawmakers are behaving, and sharing their feelings regarding the ones who are misbehaving.

    7. Tea Party activists focus on what unites them, not things that may divide. Those uniting things are:

    • Grievance: Chronic fiscal irresponsibility, now become acute fiscal extremism.
    • Target: A self-serving, self-perpetuating political class that no longer represents the will of the people.
    • Goal: Restore genuine representative, limited government by changing the incentives on elected officials.

    See also: “Ten-Minute Tea Party Activist” and “Candidate Questionnaire for Tea Party Activists.”

    “Draconian” $304 million budget cut is 1.05 percent of state revenue

    May 6, 2009 by

    (Cross-posed from Students for a Free Economy blog.)

    Yesterday, responding to a $1.3 billion gap between how much state politicians like to spend vs. the amount of revenue they actually expect to collect (a.k.a. “the deficit”), the governor proposed and the legislative appropriations committees approved $304 million in state spending reductions. The balance of the spending gap will be filled in with federal “stimulus” money (called “Obamabucks” by Capitol wags).

    The $304 million amounts to 1.05 percent of state revenue from state sources, which is around $28.9 billion. Federal money (not counting the “stimulus”) adds another $14.9 billion to make up the $43.8 billion “adjusted gross spending” budget.

    Here’s how they spend the biggest chunks of the $28.9 billion raised in the state:

    • K-12 schools swallow $11.8 billion
    • Medicaid and related health-care welfare consume $4.9 billion
    • Universities and colleges get $2 billion
    • Prisons spend $2.0 billion
    • Gas tax and vehicle registration fee dollars set aside for roads are $2.1 billion
    • Regular welfare is $1.3 billion
    • Revenue sharing to local governments is $1.1 billion

    The politicians and their friends in the media like to measure spending reductions as percentages of the “General Fund,” but that’s a game they play to fool the public. Much of so-called “restricted fund” money really isn’t very restricted. For example, $11.7 billion “school aid fund” money all goes to K-12 schools, but it could also be spent on colleges and universities (especially since the number of kids in public schools is falling).

    Also, lots of state revenue never touches the general fund, but has been earmarked for other purposes (and can just as easily “un-earmarked”). That includes around $300 million in tobacco lawsuit settlement money, and $304 million from a 75-cents per pack cigarette tax hike passed in 2004. Most of the money from both of those goes to Medicaid and related health welfare.

    If the road tax revenue is subtracted from the $28.9 billion the state takes from Michigan taxpayers, yesterday’s $304 million cut comes to 1.2 percent of the remainder. If school aid money is also subtracted it’s 2.0 percent

    If they didn’t use “Obamabucks” and covered the entire $1.3 billion “deficit” with cuts, the reduction would be 4.5 percent.

    Question: If you had to cut 1.05 percent or 4.5 percent from your family budget would it really be a life-altering hardship? 

    It is said by some that this oversimplifies, and that it really is hard to cut the budget. It’s not hard. You just have to be willing to think outside the box and reject, “But that’s not the way we’ve done it in the past!”  If you are willing, then here’s how to cut $1.9 billion.

    If you’re not willing then not only is it hard to cut spending – it’s impossible. And if it’s impossible, that leaves only one alternative – tax hikes. Which they are already whispering about around the Capitol.

    That tax talk should cease. These cuts represent a penny to a nickel on a dollar of state spending. Isn’t protecting what few jobs Michigan has left from another economy-crushing tax hike worth more consideration than that?

    The ultimate anti-school choice hypocrisy?

    May 5, 2009 by

    Defenders of the public school monopoly – mostly school employees, their unions, and the system’s other direct beneficiaries – argue that government-run schools are an important institution for their role in knitting together our multicultural society. They evoke an earlier era of high immigration, when the socializing effects of public schools converted the children of huddled masses recently arrived from southern and eastern Europe into Good Americans.

    Agree or not, it’s a legitimate argument, up to a point. That point arrives when a school district becomes so dysfunctional, corrupt and immune to reform that it turns poor children into victims, destroying any chance they may have to achieve the American dream by obtaining a good education.

    In most of the nation’s big cities – including Washington, including Detroit – that point was passed decades ago. Ever since then, opposition to school choice has been nothing more than self-serving, reactionary protectionism, led by politically powerful school employee unions. It’s frankly and unambiguously a moral outrage, and a breeding ground for rank hypocrisy.

    This is saying a mouthful, but I can’t recall a more blatant example of this hypocrisy than one cited in today’s Wall Street Journal, a quote given to another publication by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Since taking office Duncan has been serving his school union masters by doing all he can to kill a school choice program that gives 1,700 Washington, D.C. kids a $7,500 voucher.

    Here’s from the Journal piece:

    “Science magazine recently asked Mr. Duncan where his daughter attends school and ‘how important was the school district in your decision about where to live?’ He responded:

    ‘She goes to Arlington [Virginia] public schools. That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor . . . I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education’.”

    Good call, Arne – I wouldn’t sacrifice my own child for some abstract principle either. But I can’t imagine anything more despicable and contemptible than your willingness to sacrifice thousands of other parents’ children, especially when your own words and actions reveal that have no illusions that you are doing anything but that.