- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

The Ann Arbor News. Feb. 8.

DTE Energy should not be allowed to raise price for southeast Michigan’s LED streetlight service

DTE Energy is poised to build Michigan’s largest solar array in Ann Arbor, a move that could send signals that the private utility is committed to clean, efficient power.

We’re not convinced.

The reason: At the same time that DTE is spending millions to reach a mandated-level of renewable power, it’s also seeking to raise rates for users of high-efficiency LED lighting for municipalities.



A proposal before Michigan’s Public Service Commission effectively levels the costs between LED lighting and traditional sodium and mercury vapor streetlights, even though LED lighting uses up to three times less electricity than traditional streetlights.

Suddenly, municipalities will have no financial incentive to seek a smaller carbon footprint for public lighting.

“The rate changes don’t make sense to us,” concluded Matt Naud, Ann Arbor environmental coordinator.

They don’t to us, either.

More troubling is evidence that DTE’s previous efforts to convince municipalities to convert to LED technology included claims of cost-savings after the conversion.

Take the case of Ypsilanti, where the city spent $500,000 to save about $176,000 per year by converting 1,100 streetlights. If the proposed rate increase for LED lighting takes effect, the cash-strapped municipality will have invested hundreds of thousands of residents’ dollars (paid through special tax assessments) toward no financial payback.

Is that a bait and switch by DTE? Some Ypsilanti officials say yes, and on the surface it’s hard to argue.

Meanwhile, DTE - which is valued at more than $15 billion, based on a midweek stock price of $89 per share - issued a news release last week on a new program that will be “focused on increasing awareness among business customers to upgrade their facilities with energy-efficient equipment.”

Let that be a warning to business customers that, if “cost savings” is used as a reason by DTE for any equipment conversion, they may soon replace municipal customers as the ones making capital investments for no return.

We believe that sustainability and green energy are worthy pursuits, and state officials have set that agenda for DTE through renewal portfolio standards. We urge the Public Service Commission to deny this rate hike for LED streetlights.

_____

Times Herald (Port Huron). Feb. 10.

Parents, do right by your children

When vaccines provide proven protection against a disease as dangerous as the measles, the responsible thing any parent can do is make sure his or her child is inoculated.

The sad truth is that many parents aren’t vaccinating their children in St. Clair County. Ours is Michigan’s second-worst county for the inoculation of children against measles, according to Yale pediatrician Dr. Amit Nandi.

He considers the disparity an emergency - and so should we.

Our nation is in the midst of a growing debate. An increasing number of measles vaccine critics contend that it is potentially harmful. Their leading argument is that the vaccines would cause autism.

The study they cite has been thoroughly debunked, but no matter. Opponents of the measles vaccine still cling to it as proof that it is better to avoid the treatment and leave their children vulnerable.

If the choice is risky for their children, it also is so for other children they encounter who also haven’t been vaccinated. It doesn’t take many transmissions to prompt a measles outbreak - a public health crisis with devastating effects.

Measles still is an important cause of infant mortality worldwide despite the existence of a safe and effective vaccine. The disease can develop a variety of complications and long-term effects.

Nandi isn’t waiting for parents to come to their senses on their own. On Monday, he sent letters to Yale area parents and caregivers of children who are of vaccination age but have not gotten immunized against mumps, measles and rubella. His fellow physicians at Children’s Health Care’s five St. Clair County locations are doing the same.

The parents ought to act accordingly.

_____

The Alpena News. Feb. 11.

Audit of Defense Department could bring needed change

Four U.S. senators who may be viewed by some as unlikely allies are sponsoring a bill that could be one small step toward a rational defense spending policy.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. has joined with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Rand Paul, R-Ky., on the bill. While observers of the Washington scene may wonder how lawmakers with such diverse views got together, the secret may be in the fact that to greater or lesser extents, three of the four - Manchin, Cruz and Paul - are considered mavericks within their parties.

Their bill would require that the Defense Department be prepared for an audit by 2017.

As Manchin pointed out in a press release, the Pentagon “is the only federal agency that has never fully complied with financial management laws and currently remains on the Government Accountability Office’s ‘high risk’ list for waste, fraud and abuse.”

No surprise there.

A full audit could identify at least some of the improper spending and allow Congress to crack down - if it will.

That brings up a necessary second step in military spending reforms - eliminating the practice of so many in Congress of appropriating billions of dollars for military hardware the Pentagon does not want or need. That may be a tougher nut to crack.

As Manchin points out, the bottom line is that every dollar spent improperly by the Pentagon deprives U.S. troops of equipment they really need. For the armed services to be truly the best that they can be, that needs to change.

_____

The Detroit News. Feb. 12.

Snyder budget should aid road tax campaign

Gov. Rick Snyder, facing an enormous challenge to get a tax hike for road repairs approved by voters this spring, needed to present a budget that makes a convincing case that there’s no fat in the general fund that could be used to offset the tax. And for the most part he did.

The governor’s budget proposal, unveiled Wednesday, holds spending to roughly a 1.2 percent increase over the current year. In terms of governmental budgets, that’s quite modest - the federal budget proposed by President Barack Obama, for example, called for a 7 percent spending hike.

That should score points with voters skeptical about Proposition 1, the measure to raise the sales tax on the ballot May 5. One of the primary objections raised by opponents of the ballot proposal is that Snyder should have been able to find the $1.2 billion for roads in the existing revenue stream.

Nothing about the budget plan suggests there’s that much extra money available to shift to road spending, though the governor did leave himself vulnerable in a couple of areas.

Snyder kept most departmental spending stagnant, and made targeted cuts in some places to erase budget deficits caused largely by the unexpected redemption of corporate tax credits pledged by the previous administration. He also issued executive orders cutting spending to erase a mid-year shortfall in the current budget.

But he did add some new spending, largely in K-12 education, workforce training and health care for poor children.

The new initiatives are what voters will have to weigh in terms of whether they are more essential than highway work.

Still, Snyder’s priorities are solid. Michigan needs more skilled workers to accelerate economic growth and improve household incomes. Roughly $111 million will go to fund skills training programs. And another $129 million is requested to aid job attraction efforts.

Spending on schools will rise to $11.9 billion, or $1.2 billion more than in 2011, when Snyder took office. Increases include an additional $75 per pupil for the foundation grant; $100 million more to aid at-risk children, additional spending on distressed school districts and $32 million more for universities and community colleges. In all, education spending will go up by $400 million.

That total is based on current revenues, and doesn’t account for the $300 million in additional education revenue that will come if the sales tax increase is passed. If that materializes, education spending could soar by $700 million next year.

One very small cut he made to the current year budget may hurt him in the campaign. Snyder slashed $3.2 million that had been allocated for training more motor carrier enforcement workers to crack down on overweight trucks.

High truck weights are a complaint often cited by those who feel current road funds are mismanaged. Snyder should consider restoring that funding. The amount saved is not worth the potential fallout.

And although Snyder proposed to cut film subsidies by $12 million in the current year, his 2016 budget restores them to $50 million. Those who argue that there’s too much non-essential spending in the budget most often point to the film tax credits.

But Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center, a fierce watchdog of governmental spending, says overall Snyder is “balancing the budget to the best of his ability.”

Although LaFaive remains skeptical about the effectiveness of the nearly $1 billion a year the state budgets for economic and workforce development, including the film credits, he praises Snyder for aggressively tackling long-term liabilities such as the the school employee retirement system. The budget sets $815 million aside for the K-12 pension system, which gives schools relief from the growing costs of maintaining retiree obligations.

According to the governor’s office, reforms made to the school retirement system and the state employee retirement system have reduced the long-term debt by more than $20 billion.

That’s the sort of fiscal performance Snyder must highlight on the campaign trail as he pushes for the sales tax hike. On the whole, this budget should help more than hurt him.

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