Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Michigan PoliLinks

While The Curmudgeon patriotically roots for all the Michigan professional teams, he was delighted to see Drew Stanton shine in Arizona's defeat of the Lions. Stanton was a standout at Michigan State and one of the truly good guys in athletics. One of his first moves after graduating from MSU was to set up a charitable foundation. And he continues to provide both financial support and his time to charities in Michigan as well as in Phoenix.

Election Rigging Hearing

Republicans, frustrated that they can't win elections by getting more votes than Democrats, are holding a hearing today on their latest effort to win-even-while-losing: rigging the Electoral College. 47 states have a winner-take-all system for awarding their electoral votes which select the President. A swing state with 16 Electoral votes, Michigan is an important player in the game of presidential politics.
Michigan's election-rigging scheme is part of a national GOP plan to steal votes away from the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee (via Think Progress)
But Democrats have been winning the game in Michigan for the last two decades (all the way back to George H.W. Bush), so Republicans have decided "if you can't beat them, steal from them."
Lame duck right-wing zealot Pete Lund, who apparently isn't a big fan of democracy, wants Michigan to give one-third or more of its electoral votes to the candidate that loses the election. Under the Lund bill, the winning candidate would need 60% of the vote to get all of Michigan's 16 electoral votes. Anything less and the votes would be split.
It would be like giving an athletic team a partial victory for simply trying hard.
Today the House Elections Committee will hold a hearing on the proposal which will be packed by opponents of rigging elections.
But just because the public clamor is against the bill, that doesn't mean Republicans won't go for it anyway. Think Emergency Fiscal Manager, wolf hunting, rape insurance, right-to-work, minimum wage. Legislators know what is best for us.

Even More Election Rigging

The Detroit Free Press reports that Republicans want to move the election of the Oakland County Executive from presidential election years to the mid-terms. That, of course, helps Republicans since Democratic turnout historically always drops in mid-terms.

Doing Something Sane (for a change)

At least some Republicans in the Legislature are doing something that actually makes sense for the state. Two examples:
Corrections Reform
Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) is sponsoring a legislative package to reduce costs in Michigan's prison system by ending the cycle of locking people up and then throwing away the key. Michigan keeps too many people in prison for too long, Haveman says, and it is wasting tens-of-millions of dollars every year (perhaps as much as $250-million).
He has a package which would, among other things, require that prisoners be released after serving their minimum sentence unless there is a specific reason to keep them longer. The average prisoner serves 127% of their minimum now. That's expensive, and there is no indication the policy is making us safer.
Haveman's package also 
  • revises the Community Corrections Act to include alternatives to prison
  • modifies the impact of probation violations based on the severity of the violations
  • creates a Criminal Justice Policy Commission to review Michigan's harshest-in-America sentencing guidelines
The package is strongly supported by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a group that focuses on the huge (unnecessary) costs of the prison system. Barbara Levin, associate director for policy of the group, will be our guest later this week on the Michigan PoliCast.

New Technologies
Local transportation is changing, city by city, with the smartphone-based systems of Uber and Lyft. The companies use technology to quickly match up people needing a ride with people available to provide a ride. While the new system functionally is similar to traditional taxicab service, there are significant operational differences:
Uber/Lyft drivers do not pick up "street hails" - people trying to flag down a ride - but only clients who have pre-registered with the companies
All transactions are handled by credit card, with charges calculated using GPS and smartphones. No cash on board virtually eliminates the possibility of a robbery
All trips are tracked, via GPS, in real time, adding to the safety of passengers since any criminal behavior can be quickly and accurately traced back to a specific driver
The services are widely popular among customers, and especially among college students in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Female students are especially appreciative of transportation that they feel is much safer and secure than alternatives. (The Curmudgeon occasionally drives for Uber.)
Rep. Tim Kelly
Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township) is pushing legislation to update Michigan law to recognize the new technology-based companies, creating a regulatory structure more attuned to the changes in technology. The bills differentiate between traditional limousine, taxicab and bus services and the Uber/Lyft models. The measures require adequate insurance coverages for both passengers and drivers, and standardize regulations across the state. House Technology chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) has joined with Kelly in putting the bills on a track aimed at passage in December.

If People Only Knew

Detroit Free Press writer Paul Egan has a story telling how many people would prefer raising the Michigan sales tax to pay for road fixes rather than increasing the gas tax or vehicle registrations. It's a classic example of people shooting themselves in their fiscal foot.
The sales tax is the most regressive form of taxation we have. The less money you make, the larger part of your income goes to sales tax. Conversely, if you are very wealthy, the sales tax has relatively little impact on you.
We wrote about it in October but apparently one article in this blog isn't enough to change public perception!
Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
A sales tax increase to fund roads is also a big winner for businesses. Virtually all business-to-business transactions are either sales-tax-exempt, or deductible as a business expense. So a sales tax approach gives businesses the benefits of better roads while having most of the costs paid by individuals.
A better solution: general taxation. Transportation systems are a general benefit, not just to people who use roads but to all of us. Even if we are agoraphobics, the roads are used to bring products and services to our homes. The most equitable sources of funding would be income taxes on individuals AND businesses earmarked for transportation.

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