- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

MLive Media Group Editorial Board. May 15.

House budget-cutting plan for roads should be dead on arrival

With the unveiling of their new road funding plan, House Republicans have confirmed exactly why voters deeply distrust politicians.

Led by Speaker Kevin Cotter, Republicans have put forth an alarming proposal to pay for roads by banking on “future revenue growth,” possibly dipping into funds restricted for schools and community health, and eliminating a tax credit that helps Michigan’s working poor.

It is folly to count on projected revenue to pay for critical current needs. A homeowner whose roof is caving in would be highly irresponsible to plan to pay for it with some future expected raise. House leadership should be laughed out of town for putting forth this notion, which if enacted would have the very serious consequences of harming our state’s ability to educate students, unfairly burdening the poorest working families and leading to deep budget cuts across the board.

Some Republican lawmakers are claiming that voters’ resounding rejection of Proposal 1 shows the electorate doesn’t support a tax increase. In truth, a majority of voters in a recent poll do say they are willing to increase taxes to pay for roads. They just didn’t like the complexity of Proposal 1.

The same poll revealed incredible opposition to cutting spending in other parts of the budget. For instance, 85 percent strongly opposed K-12 budget cuts.

In pushing this new plan, House Republicans have only proven themselves to be more interested in catering to fringe anti-tax ideologues than in finding solutions that move Michigan forward.

It is now up to the Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder to finally show true leadership and get this thing done. It is heartening that so far, they have shown little zeal for slashing the budget to fix roads. Michigan’s road funding woes simply cannot be solved without new tax revenue. The Senate’s gas tax plan from 2014 would be a good start.

Without new revenue, cuts made to K-12 and higher education during the Great Recession would never be restored. Michigan is spending 9.5 percent less per student now than it did before the 2008 economic downturn, and our students have fallen far behind other states. We cannot continue to rob our children of the resources necessary for a strong education if we want an educated workforce in the future.

The House plan is also a slap in the face to our neediest residents. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives relief to low-income workers with dependents and already was slashed in the early days of Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure, would be eliminated. Is it fair to gut tax help for the poor while Michigan struggles to meet its obligations after giving billions of dollars in credits and breaks to corporations over the years? We say no, it is not.

Legislators must devise a plan to raise new revenue for roads.

With Proposal 1, the Legislature put forward what they called a very carefully constructed plan to not only fund roads, but also give needed help to schools, local units of government, and those eligible for the EITC. Why then, would their second-best idea for road funding gut those very things? Voters have said they don’t trust government. Cotter’s plan certainly won’t improve that perception.

It is dangerous to believe we can solve the roads problem using existing revenue. The cost of higher taxes to our citizens pales in comparison to the damage that would be done if Cotter’s plan were to become law. Legislators must instead devise a plan to raise new revenue. Michigan cannot cut its way to prosperity.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). May 10.

Chinook salmon stocking program showing results

A fin-clipping program is aiding Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers in evaluating the success of Chinook salmon stocking in Lake Superior.

We think this is a helpful program that began a few years ago and we’re glad the project is beginning to bear some results.

The numbers of clipped and unclipped Chinook salmon in anglers’ catches, documented by creel clerks last year, indicated that about 4.5 percent of the 2-year-old Chinook salmon in the lake were of hatchery origin.

DNR officials said beyond getting rough return rate estimates of stocked Chinook salmon, fisheries managers and anglers are interested in seeing where these fish are being caught.

According to 2014 data, from 0 percent to 8 percent of the 2-year-old Chinook salmon examined by creel clerks at seven different survey sites were clipped, with Keweenaw Bay and Munising being the ports where the highest numbers and percentages were recorded.

The data showed wild, naturally reproducing Chinook salmon made up 92 percent to 100 percent of catches at all ports.

Fisheries technicians clip adipose fins - the small, fleshy lobe found on the back of fish just ahead of the tail fin - to mark the Chinook salmon stocked in Lake Superior. The program started in 2012, as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mass fish marking program.

DNR officials said to date, slightly more than 1.1 million clipped Chinook salmon have been released at Black River Harbor and from sites near the Ontonagon, Dead and Carp rivers. These fish are marked only by their fin clip and do not have coded wire tags in their snouts.

DNR officials said anglers are expected to see an increased proportion of adipose-clipped Chinook salmon in their catches this year due to additional marked hatchery Chinook salmon from multiple year classes being out in Lake Superior.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). May 7.

Livestock waste rules are still a disaster

It’s astonishing that state officials are congratulating themselves for taking an obvious and small regulatory step to protect Michigan’s lakes and streams. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is making a change to water quality permits required by large livestock operations. The new rule should reduce the amount of animal wastes that get into our waterways.

Concentrated animal feeding operations and other massive livestock operations including some dairy farms generate staggering quantities of manure every day of the year. Livestock operations have been restricted from spreading the manure on their fields in January, February and March because it simply drains off the land and into the nearest waterway at the next thaw.

Some of the less scrupulous feed lots have gotten rid of their winter manure problems by paying other farmers to take care of it. Those farms, not bound by water quality permits, would apply it to fields at any time of year.

The DEQ’s new requirement would require farmers who receive wastes from permitted livestock operations to follow the same rules as the operation generating the manure. Unfortunately, that’s hardly enough of a change to really matter.

Agricultural runoff of all types is a serious water pollution problem that kills lakes and poisons fish and other wildlife. It contributes to the growth of the algae that produced the Lake Erie “dead zone” and forced lakeside communities including Toledo, Ohio, to shut down their water systems because of algae-generated toxins.

Animal wastes contaminated with coliform bacteria and other microorganisms are their own kind of toxin, as well, and need to be kept out of our water.

Our problem with the new restriction is it that it so blatantly ignores reality. We’re in Michigan. Any frozen-ground restriction set only by the calendar is laughable. In Michigan, farm fields can be just as frozen in December or April as in January or March.

And when or whether the ground is frozen barely matters. The 2009 manure runoff incident that killed more than 200,000 fish along miles of the Black River happened in August.

The dairy farm paid for that disaster with a $75,000 settlement, another sign Michigan needs to start getting serious about regulating livestock wastes.

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The Detroit News. May 14.

House roads plan is mostly fantasy

It’s a good thing leaders in the state Senate have ordered their members to stay in session this summer to get a road funding deal done. The plan offered by their House counterparts Wednesday indicates there is a lot of hard work ahead to bring lawmakers to a realistic solution.

Give the Senate plenty of credit for setting the right tone. Finding a road revenue answer is the most urgent priority facing Michigan, and the Legislature can’t allow it to linger until the resumption of the session this fall.

“We’ve got to get this thing done, so if it means inconveniencing a few people, so be it,” says Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake.

Darn straight. But the schedule is just part of the challenge. Getting lawmakers to accept reality is the much bigger piece.

There’s little in the way of realism in House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s proposal to find $1 billion annually for road work from wishes and gimmicks.

The centerpiece of Cotter’s plan would direct $700 million from the general fund to road projects. What he’s proposing is mostly fantasy. Cotter would get the bulk of the money not from genuine spending cuts - although there are some of those, some of which make sense - but rather from future growth in tax revenue.

There are myriad problems with that approach, chief among them that there’s no certainty there will be future tax growth, or that it will match Cotter’s projections. A downturn in the economy means the primary source of new funds for roads would dry up.

Also, the cost of government will not remain static. If new revenue growth is diverted to roads, it will steal funds that would normally go to cover cost increases in other areas, including education and corrections.

The speaker would also rob money from the Tobacco Settlement Fund, now used to pay for job training and creation, divert money from Indian gaming to roads and kill the $50 million film subsidy. That $185 million, plus the $162 million in higher taxes and fees on hybrid, electric and diesel vehicles, is about the only real cash in Cotter’s proposal. And it’s not nearly enough to get the job done.

The speaker does have some good ideas, including more competitive bidding for local and state road projects and stronger guarantees from contractors that their work will hold up.

But in all, this is barely a starting point for a productive discussion.

Cotter is continuing the legislative position that more than $1 billion can be found for roads out of thin air without asking Michigan motorists for additional taxes.

As the speaker’s proposal shows, that’s not possible.

So lawmakers should go ahead and cancel their tee times and see if they can get a refund on their beach bungalows. This promises to be a long summer.

Perhaps if it gets humid enough in the Capitol, lawmakers will find the motivation to do what they should have done last fall - raise fuel taxes and give Michigan motorists safe, smooth roads.

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