- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

Daily Press (Escanaba). July 14.

Taxpayers should be enraged over government waste

Estimates by federal agencies that they in effect threw away nearly $100 billion last year should infuriate taxpayers. It is our hard-earned money, after all.

But of even more concern should be that the figure represents reports from the very agencies that wasted the money. Analysts at the Government Accountability Office - the bane of bureaucrats in many ways - say the true amount may be much higher.

Even by the agencies own admissions, the waste is staggering - about half a trillion dollars during the past five years.

Government agencies scatter taxpayers money to the winds in a variety of ways. Sometimes people who don’t qualify for them get tax credits. Unemployment benefits can go to cheaters who have jobs. The food stamp program is rife with fraud.

And, of course, let us not forget government contractors who rip off taxpayers through methods such as underestimating the true cost of programs, selling the government goods and services it doesn’t need, providing lousy service and in a hundred other shady ways. Bear in mind much of that waste is not counted because it does not officially represent payments that should not have been made.

A critical number was missing when members of Congress received a report on government waste last week. They were not told how many federal employees lost their jobs or were in especially egregious cases prosecuted for throwing away taxpayers money.

That may be because the bureaucracy so seldom punishes those responsible for mismanagement. To the contrary, they often receive lavish performance bonuses.

Until Congress demands that change and presidents fire agency heads who do not comply the monumental waste will continue unchecked.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 11.

Firm’s offer to save turbine could be a winner for Traverse City Light & Power

The price of anything, from a car to a carton of eggs, is only what someone is willing to pay for it. You can ask $50,000 for your used car until you turn blue, but you won’t get a dime unless you’re willing to face reality.

Traverse City Light & Power is in a similar situation. It wants to sell the utility’s iconic wind turbine on M-72 west of town and was hoping to get something close to its estimated value of $375,000. At the least, they wanted to get $160,000, the estimated price tag to dismantle the turbine and sell it for parts.

But when reality came calling, the best - and only - offer was for a humbling $1,100 from Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City. To make the $1,100 even less appealing, the sale would be contingent on Light & Power purchasing whatever energy the windmill generates for Heritage.

The downside here seemed to make the whole deal a no-brainer: No.

The wind turbine has always operated at a loss, and it kept breaking down. It hasn’t run in months and in December the L&P; board voted to decommission and remove it. L&P; had long worked to return the turbine to peak operating efficiency - and even then it lost money - but a part continually failed and caused other parts to break.

L&P; staff, who are not wind turbine mechanics, estimated last year it would cost up to $10,000 in parts and another $10,000 to bring in experts to resolve the continuing problem and secure more parts, which were increasingly difficult to find.

A local expert who helped build the turbine estimated it could cost up to $250,000 to retrofit the 18-year-old machine.

So Heritage’s $1,100 offer for the windmill, which was the nation’s first utility-grade wind turbine when it was built in 1996, began to look better for the city-owned utility.

L&P; has purchased power from Heritage before; the utility bought wind energy from the Heritage Stony Corners Wind Farm for 11 cents a kilowatt. That was a good price four years ago, but today is double the going rate.

Tim Arends, Light & Power’s executive director, said he wants a price no higher than the utility’s average cost to purchase power, or about 7 cents a kilowatt.

At that price, the Heritage deal starts to look pretty good. The historic wind turbine can stay put, the city is off the hook for any outrageous costs to repair the turbine and can buy renewable energy for the going rate.

Rick Wilson, Heritage’s vice president of operations, said company officials have already negotiated a property lease extension to cover the next 30 years. He said Heritage has the expertise to get the turbine back to full operation with just some technical upgrades to failed electronics. And the company is apparently confident it has the experience to make this all work.

“We have the staff and relationships and operational skills you can only achieve when you are operating multiple turbines,” said Wilson, whose firm operates 53 utility-grade turbines. “It just sort of makes sense for us to take it over.

If L&P; can get a locked-down price of 7 cents per kilowatt and is confident Heritage can do what it says it can do, this is, indeed, a no-brainer: Yes.

If the turbine rehabilitation effort proves to be a bust, the turbine can always be taken down, but this time with taxpayers safely out of the way.

That’s a wind-win.

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The Detroit News. July 15.

Macomb Township wrong to target political signs

It’s election season, and races for the Aug. 5 primary and the November general election are heating up. Political signs play a key role in these battles, and, as usual, they are flooding the landscape.

While local officials may want to control the number and types of political signs, they must be mindful that campaign signage is a form of free speech, and shouldn’t be trampled in the name of beautification efforts.

Ordinances that try to restrict only political signs impinge on the First Amendment rights of candidates and their supporters. That’s a concept that’s been repeatedly affirmed by the courts.

Macomb Township is one of the latest local governments to draft an ordinance that goes too far in limiting political signs.

Its regulation prohibits residents from placing political signs on their property more than 30 days before an election. The law also requires signs be removed within seven days of an election.

However, in a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, officials were told the ordinance violates the First Amendment and should be repealed.

“While we have filed lawsuits in the past, what we try to do when we see that an ordinance may violate the First Amendment is to alert them (municipal officials) of the constitutional conflict,” says Rana Elmir, deputy director of the ACLU of Michigan.

Elmir says all signs must be treated equally or they will violate the time, place and content or subject matter guidelines. Elmir says communities can institute these types of restrictions but they must apply to all signs, not just those of political candidates.

Macomb’s efforts to limit the length of time candidate signs are up violates the content standard because it only applies to political signs and not, for example, to “for sale,” construction or business signs, according to the ACLU.

Other communities over the past decade have run afoul of the First Amendment by trying to regulate political signs and have received ACLU letters. In some cases, the communities, such as Clawson and Milford, amended their ordinances without going to court. In others, such as Grosse Pointe Woods, Troy and Warren, the communities tried to defend their ordinances in court but lost.

People have a right to express their opinions. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken a blanket view of political signs, as it should, by allowing all to be treated equally with other types of signs.

Macomb Township officials have not yet responded to the ACLU letter. Supervisor Janet Dunn declined comment other than to say the topic wasn’t on the agenda for its July 7 Board of Trustees meeting. Based on legal precedent, township leaders should amend their ordinance.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 14.

Libraries offer summer learning, entertainment

The sun is shining, the fish are biting and bicycles are more than ready to ride.

But what to do with your kids when those and other summer time activities begin to wear out their welcome?

We at The Mining Journal think a trip to the local library is just the ticket.

As a newspaper, we are avid proponents of literacy and literacy programming. Giving a child a book to read can be one of the greatest gifts in his or her young life.

But libraries go way beyond just card catalogs and stacks of books these days. With a multitude of programming at Peter White Public Library in Marquette, Negaunee Public Library, Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library, Forsyth Township Library, Munising Schools Public Library and others, we hope parents take some time to bring the kids to the library for a day of fun activities that may just so happen to include a little learning.

With summer reading programs, kids can rack up points to earn books of their own by reading, or being read to. Hands-on activities abound as well, with LEGO programs and visits to some local libraries from Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials or the Moosewood Nature Center. Because while it’s great for kids to get outdoors and have some fun, it’s also important for them to understand just how precious the abundant natural attractions we have in our area are, for our economy as well as our own overall well-being and health.

So if you see your kids drawing aimlessly in sidewalk chalk in the driveway, or find them splayed out on the couch watching yet another re-run of their favorite cartoon or are simply tired of hearing them say, “I’m bored,” take them down to your local library. It will be well worth it, we’re sure.

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