- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

Detroit News. May 5, 2017

Budget tinkering does both harm and good

Michigan lawmakers are busy reshaping the $56.3 billion budget Gov. Rick Snyder sent them, in some cases making it better, and in others putting key spending priorities at risk.

The state House passed its version earlier in the week, cutting roughly $283 million from the governor’s proposal. Part of that money is being set aside for future use. The Senate was expected late Thursday to pass a spending plan that trimmed $276 million from Snyder’s request, and also sets a large chunk of money aside to be spent later.

Holding back some money is not necessarily a bad decision. Both the House and Senate want to have cash on hand to revamp the teacher pension plan, which is underfunded by $26 billion and holds just 60 percent of what is needed to cover future obligations.

Republican lawmakers are pushing a plan to shift newly hired teachers out of defined benefit pensions and into 401(k)-style retirement saving plans. Doing so will require some upfront funding.

Finally moving to head off the coming public pension crisis in Michigan is a smart move. The Legislature failed to pass a reform measure in the last session, but will make another try this year.

Having the money on hand to make the legislation possible will increase its chance of passage.

But not all of the money sliced from the Snyder budget is being set aside for that purpose. Lawmakers also shifted money to some of their own agenda items.

Included on that list is an income tax cut. Lawmakers failed in an earlier attempt to cut the state’s 4.25 percent income tax, but seems determined to try again.

The benefit of a small tax cut must be weighed against the programs Michigan must slash to cover the lost revenue.

One item sacrificed in the House budget is a significant contribution to the rainy day fund.

Snyder has been faithful in building up the fund; it now contains more than $612 million. The governor wanted to add another $266 million this year to bring the fund closer to the magic billion dollar mark.

That’s a good investment for a couple of reasons. First, it will help spare Michigan from drastic spending cuts should tax revenues drop. And a healthy budget stabilization fund helps keep the state’s bond rating higher, bringing down the cost of borrowing.

Lawmakers have always had trouble saving that money, but it is just as prudent for the state government to set aside a nest egg as it is for its families to do so.

Money was added by the House and Senate to the governor’s education budget. Both chambers raised the per-pupil allowance.

But lawmakers slashed funds from the Corrections budget intended to beef up inmate training and re-entry programs. That would be money well spent, since such efforts are proven to reduce recidivism, and should be restored.

The budgets now go to conference committee to be reconciled, and the governor is likely to keep lobbying for his priorities.

Lawmakers should give much more consideration to saving the rainy day fund contribution, and to postponing an income tax cut until Michigan has met its infrastructure, education and health care needs.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). May 3, 2017

Our roads get riskier; only you can help

Automakers and government regulators tell us that vehicles are safer than they’ve ever been. One agency’s video shows a modern sub-compact car colliding with a large, full-size sedan from the early 1970s, when bigger meant safer. The mini-car tears the wide-body classic in half, and the dummies inside the new car would have walked away from the accident.

So why are our highways becoming so much more dangerous?

For the second year in a row, the Michigan State Police are reporting a 10 percent increase in highway fatalities for 2016. The 1,064 people who died on Michigan roads last year represent the largest number in a decade and continue a trend that only seems to be accelerating.

Crashes were up from 2015 to 2016, injuries were up, and fatalities were up - from 963 to 1,064.

There is some good news in the grim statistics. Alcohol-involved highway fatalities fell 11 percent. The number of fatalities involving young drivers ages 16 to 20 fell 7 percent year over year. But there is bad news, too. The number of crashes, injuries and deaths involving drivers who are impaired by drugs appears to be increasing, the State Police report.

Then there are statistics to blame. Analysts suggest that highways here and across the country are becoming more hazardous simply because more of us are driving, and we’re driving more. That’s because the rebounding economy puts more people on the road going to jobs, shopping and recreation. And lower gasoline prices make all that more affordable.

But we also have to believe a larger factor involved is that we are losing our driving skills. Even if we know what we are doing behind the wheel, we are not doing it because we are distracted by cell phones, text messages, vehicle dashboards full of complicated dashboards and the breakfast we picked up at the drive-through window. We’d all be better drivers if only we paid attention to driving while we were doing it.

Attitudes toward each other and toward the laws designed to protect us are also slipping. Aggressive and hostile driving, coupled with disregard for simple protective devices like red lights and stop signs put everyone at risk.

Yes, it is always the other guy. Just remember the first person to arrive at your next traffic collision will probably be you.

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Midland Daily News. May 5, 2017

A time to honor our top students

The Midland Kiwanis Club honored 96 top students recently at its 60th Annual Scholarship Honors Banquet.

The event recognized the academic achievements of honor students from all corners of Midland County - from Coleman to Midland and from public schools to private schools.

It’s the time of year where many students stand up and get recognized for their volunteer service, sports accomplishments and educational achievements.

And, the Kiwanis deserve a tip of the hat for saluting these students.

Most of these honored students will go on to accomplish great things. They also will be joined by other less honored students who will be late bloomers and perhaps also do great things at the collegiate and professional level.

The lesson is this: Don’t underestimate young people and their desires to achieve lofty goals. Of course, some will fail, but there will be many more that are successful.

The Kiwanis are correct to honor students who probably have worked extra hard to get where they are today. Hard work normally leads to success is a good lesson to learn.

We wish to honor these 96 top students, their families and their educators for making their success possible. They deserve their public salute.

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Petoskey News-Review. May 5, 2017

Ask anyone in who works in emergency services and they very likely will tell you how important timely and efficient communication is in their work.

It can literally be the difference between life and death - for either the people they are trying to help, or for responders themselves.

When we pick up the phone to call 911 for help, we want to know that the dispatcher with whom we are speaking can quickly and efficiently call for the police officers, firefighters, or ambulance crews that we need.

Similarly, a police officer who needs help on a traffic stop needs to know someone will hear his or her call for help on the radio.

One of the most critical links in this system is a reliable radio network to allow emergency crews to talk to dispatchers and with each other.

The problem officials at our local tri-county Charlevoix Cheboygan Emmet Central Dispatch Authority are facing is the very real fact that the Federal Communications Commission will soon again be limiting the bandwidth on which they can transmit and receive those radio signals. The narrower bandwidth will degrade the radio system’s coverage and effectiveness. Officials expect that it will cost somewhere between $10 million to $13 million to make the necessary upgrades to the existing system to make it work after the narrow banding.

The authority also has the option of switching over to using the state’s existing 800 MHz digital system. Not only is it expected that it will cost anywhere from several hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars less to choose this option, it will also remove about $1.7 in operating costs from the authority’s budget over a five year period, and - perhaps more importantly it will greatly enhance the interoperability of the areas police, fire and ambulance crews with each other and crews from neighboring areas.

Either option is going to cost a lot of money. We think it makes the most sense to pursue the switch to the more modern digital 800 MHz system.

To do so will likely require voters in the three counties to approve an additional surcharge on their phone/device lines. Initial estimates place that number at anywhere from 99 cents to $1.97 per line per month.

Although no one likes to pay more in taxes or fees, we think that $12-$24 per year per line is a small price to pay for our safety and the safety of those who protect us.

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