- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

The Detroit News. December 1, 2016

Obamacare keeps costing Michigan.

Michigan adopted Medicaid expansion with a certain understanding of its projected costs, and the promise of “free” federal funds. Now those costs for the state will be substantially higher over the next five years than taxpayers were led to believe when the legislation was adopted.

It’s not particularly surprising that, given the option to receive heavily subsidized health care, more Michigan adults have jumped at the chance than Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature originally assumed would.

But the increased number of participants will nonetheless create instability in the state’s budget by 2020, and money will likely have to be shifted from other areas to help cover the costs of Medicaid expansion.

The language of the law requires that savings outweigh the state’s share of costs for the program - or no one is eligible. But the law also gives the Department of Community Health discretion on this issue.

The House Fiscal Agency projects the state’s adoption of the expansion - the Healthy Michigan Plan - that was part of Obamacare could cost taxpayers $130 million in this fiscal year, and up to $380 million a year over the next five years if enrollment stays on its current path.

The state has touted the fact that it has signed up more people than it originally projected, but higher enrollment comes with higher costs.

Original estimates said enrollment would increase by 477,000. But as of October, 630,609 Michiganians had signed up. That’s 32 percent higher than 2013 projections.

The federal government has picked up most of the cost of the program’s expansion until this year. That reimbursement rate will decrease slightly every year until 2020 and beyond, when the state will be responsible for 10 percent of the Healthy Michigan plan costs.

The governor’s original proposal included the creation of a reserve fund to pay for future costs to the state, but the Legislature ultimately didn’t set specific dollars aside. So the burden could shift to businesses or other taxpayers in the state.

Michigan is part of a nationwide trend of skyrocketing Medicaid costs, according to a recent study by the Foundation for Government Accountability.

On average, the 24 states that accepted Obamacare’s expansion are seeing sign-up rates 110 percent higher than original enrollment projections. Only five and a half million people were projected to sign up for the expanded program, but at least 11.5 million have.

And Michigan is actually faring better than most states. New York has signed up 276 percent more people than projected; California has signed up 322 percent more than projected. Those states are outliers, but most states are seeing current projections 40 to 120 percent higher than thought.

In addition to draining the state’s coffer, higher projections and costs due to larger amounts of able-bodied adults on Medicaid shift money from those who are truly in need of Medicaid’s services.

It’s unclear how the expansion will be affected by Congress’ potential repeal of Obamacare under President-elect Donald Trump.

Medicaid expansion wouldn’t necessarily need to be retracted even if the mammoth health care law is repealed. But federal funding for Medicaid expansion could be withheld, which would leave Michigan in a difficult position.

Since the state’s expansion was voluntary, the Legislature could always repeal it voluntarily as well.

The state’s mounting burden for Healthy Michigan further evidence that Obamacare and the strings attached to it created a health care system with insurmountable costs. Addressing these problems must be a priority for federal and state lawmakers in the new year.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). December 1, 2016

Sperry’s makeover is a holiday blockbuster.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the story of ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things. What they choose to do both makes them bigger individuals and creates something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Certainly, turning the long-empty and oft-promised Sperry’s department store into Sperry’s Moviehouse isn’t quite on the same level as stealing the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. But it does have all the drama without any of the computer-generated imagery of a Star Wars science-fiction epic.

What makes it an even better story - Sperry’s, that is - is that we never knew how it was going to turn out.

There can be no question that Chuck Reid, Sperry’s Moviehouse owner and developer, and his team knew what they are doing. We’ve checked out the theaters and tested the chairs that Reid’s company manufactured for Sperry’s Moviehouse and we have to say they are as impressive as speed-of-light dogfights in a galaxy far far away.

Yes, it took some time for the community and for us to suspend our disbelief. It feels like the redevelopment of the downtown Port Huron landmark has been going on forever. It wasn’t a long time ago, like the action in a Star Wars movie, but did begin in 2011 when Sperry’s Landmark Inc. purchased the building, which had been empty since 2006. The department store closed in 2000.

Sperry’s Landmark spent four or five years lining up state and federal subsidies and making promises that ultimately led to nothing.

Reid and Charter House Innovations became involved in 2014, with plans to convert the 1923 building into a boutique hotel. Charter House’s promises were fewer, and its grant applications quicker, but its plans changed, too. Sperry’s future became the movie house, and Reid made plans to convert the Michigan National Bank building at Water and Military streets into a hotel.

Deadlines have been missed, and there have been some plot twists, but the Sperry’s Moviehouse is real and it is going to open this month. We’re looking forward to seeing “Rogue One” in 3D.

And we’re looking forward to what Reid and his team can do with the bank building.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. November 27, 2016

Contract the start of the hard work at NMC.

The hallmark of a fair deal is a conclusion where both sides are left wondering if they gave too much.

And that’s exactly where faculty union negotiators and their administrative counterparts at Northwestern Michigan College found themselves Tuesday morning after closing 19 months of talks. The college’s first contract construction seemed stuck in the mud just a few weeks ago after the sides spent more than a year sitting for short, infrequent deal-making sessions.

Both sides publicly described vitriol surrounding the process - something that from the outside appeared as dysfunctional as an ugly divorce where communication degraded to the “have your lawyer call my lawyer” level. The arduous process took more than 18 months, widened divisions at the college and racked up nearly $300,000 in legal bills on taxpayers’ tab, before members of the newly formed union, in their first vote on a contract, struck down the deal.

It wasn’t the right compromise, a three-year agreement that would have required the faculty to retreat in several areas and accept less favorable treatment than they enjoyed before voting to unionize. But the gridlock triggered probably the most important milestone in the nearly two-year process, something both sides should remember when it’s time to renegotiate.

Faculty representatives asked to meet sans attorneys in an attempt to accelerate the talks by injecting collaboration. That face-to-face cooperation, in less than two weeks, resulted in a contract that was ratified by both sides.

“It was nobody’s perfect contract,” business instructor Keith Weber said last week following the deal’s adoption.

The agreement preserved a 20-step pay scale and gives union members 13.2 percent pay increases over four years - less than what instructors requested, but far more than what administrators offered previously. It also gave college leaders an “enhanced formal evaluation process” they sought.

Nobody walked away from the table with everything they wanted, but it shouldn’t be anybody’s “perfect” deal. Too much take and not enough give on either side would be detrimental to an institution that rightfully holds a cornerstone status in our community.

But the three-year contract is just the beginning of the hard work, and NMC can’t afford to repeat the past year’s divisiveness.

The deep fissures exposed by the past months of negotiations must be addressed, and a first contract is the first, small step on a long climb.

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Petoskey News-Review. December 2, 2016

City officials make smart move.

One of the primary problems in recent years that has regularly risen to the top among concerns across Northern Michigan is the scarcity of affordable housing options in the area.

We regularly hear from public officials, business leaders and residents that finding reasonably priced, decent housing in the area is next to impossible. Many of them have said it’s a factor that is limiting the area’s growth potential and ability to retain young, talented workers in our communities.

That’s why we want to commend the Boyne City City Commission for its willingness to move a recent rezoning request from a local developer that could clear the way for a housing development along for further consideration.

Ted Macksey is asking the city to re-zone a 30-acre parcel that he owns on Jefferson Street from rural estate district to multi-family residential. The change would allow for more units to be built on the site than the current zoning would allow. The change would theoretically allow up to 300 dwelling units on the 30 acres, up from the 120 that would be allowed under its current zoning. This land is one of the few, if not the only large parcel remaining in the city suitable for such development.

Macksey has said that building on the site under the lower density limits simply isn’t economically feasible - especially if the goal is to create housing that is targeted toward “workforce,” young family, singles and senior occupants instead of larger homes on larger lots in the $250,000-$500,000 price range.

The rezoning request came to the city commission after the city’s planning commission voted to recommend approval of the request in September.

Understandably, both at the planning commission meeting and at the more recent city commission meeting, a number of community members - in particular people who live near the parcel of property - spoke up voicing their concerns about the effect a potential development that could include apartments on the property might have on their neighborhood.

Many of them wanted more information on exactly what Macksey has planned for the site. Macksey said it’s too soon to know exactly what the mix and type of housing he would propose to build on the site, but that his plan is for some mix of “affordable” and “workforce.”

He also noted that he has no experience in dealing with all the red tape associated with doing a low-income subsidized housing project and he has no intention of doing so for any future project. It’s too soon for more specific plans, Macksey said, because it doesn’t make sense for him to go to the effort and expense of the market research and drawing up detailed designs until the re-zoning request is approved.

It’s also too soon, city officials noted, for the city to be discussing specifics of any plan for the property, because that’s not what is before the city commission right now.

What’s before the commission is the question of whether rezoning the property for a more dense housing use is an appropriate use for the property in the best interest of the city as a whole. The question is not specific to any particular plan for the property, but rather for the general use allowed under the proposed zoning change.

The city’s planning commission and the city commission itself would have to approve any specific plan for development of the property through the site plan review process, which has many requirements that must be fulfilled.

In approving a motion to move the matter forward for a second reading, several city commissioners noted that the proposal was worth further study and community input. The commission scheduled a second reading of the proposed zoning change and a second public hearing on the matter for its meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at the temporary city hall location. At that meeting the commission could approve the request, deny it, or send it back to the planning commission for further study.

While we understand the concerns of property owners near the site, we also understand the dire need for more affordable housing options all across Northern Michigan, and especially in the Boyne City area.

We encourage the city commission to continue viewing matter in the light of what’s best for the entire community and community members to both make sure developers are held to the proper standards and to keep an open mind.

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