Political News

A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

Posted July 10

The Detroit News. July 6, 2017

State isn't done with pension reform

Michigan lawmakers did the right thing by tackling the state's school employee retirement system last month. But now that that is off their plate, they should put reform of local government pensions at the top of their priority list.

A report presented to the West Michigan Policy Forum last fall highlighted why it is essential to make changes. The state has an estimated $51.4 billion of unfunded retirement liabilities. And the forum has continued to raise concerns over these growing costs to the state.

As the group warns on its website: "Massive tax increases and drastic cuts to services are coming or promises of benefits will be broken, unless changes are made now."

In reforming the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, the Legislature designed a proposal that will place all new school staff into 401(k)-style retirement savings accounts, but it also offers teachers the ability to move into a newly designed hybrid pension system if they wish.

This tackles the $29 billion in unfunded liabilities that was eating into classroom funding, while limiting risk and increasing stability in years ahead.

It was a solid plan, earning the status of the "most innovative teacher pension reform in the nation" from the Reason Foundation.

Local government pensions also need attention, including those of the Michigan State Police. And the reforms to teacher pensions should serve as a model.

Only 20 of Michigan's 100 largest cities have put enough money away to meet pension obligations. Of Michigan's 83 counties, just two are fully funded.

Local government leaders must make tough decisions to ward off bigger problems down the road. That includes paying more now to meet required contributions and switching new workers into defined contribution systems. This is the best way to stop unfunded liabilities from accumulating further.

For now, most local government retirement benefits are decided locally, meaning they are subject to collective bargaining when employees are unionized, says James Hohman, fiscal policy expert at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

But if these local leaders don't act on their own, the Legislature should step in. The state can provide guidelines for how local pension benefits are accrued — just as it has limited employer costs for public worker health insurance benefits.

Michigan State Police employees also face shortfalls with their retirement benefits, after years of underfunding. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports that the state is now spending nearly as much on police pensions as it does on police gross wages.

And a Senate Fiscal Agency report found a fifth of the money spent by the state police last year went to retirement benefits — with the majority of that funding going toward pension debt. The Senate report also found the system is $1.2 billion short of what's needed to cover pensions and health benefits.

Yet the Legislature can't touch these pensions, as state police are specifically listed in the constitution and have to collectively bargain over "conditions of their employment, compensation, hours, working conditions, retirement, pensions, and other aspects of employment."

That doesn't mean these shortfalls can be overlooked.

Government at all levels has failed its employees by not fully funding pensions each year, allowing them to accumulate more and more debt, and expecting the taxpayers to pay the difference.

It's not a sustainable model, and one that deserves immediate attention.

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Lansing State Journal. July 6, 2017

Be responsible, pick up your trash

The attraction to public spaces - such as parks, hiking trails, playgrounds, gardens, beaches and more - depends on good behavior from those who use them.

Many of these spaces don't have a budget; there is no access to cleaning staff or equipment and they often rely on support of community volunteers or resident groups that keep them maintained.

For the enjoyment of all, everyone must work together to keep these places clean. The best way to help: Be responsible and pick up your trash.

Following the Fourth of July, firework debris and food containers littered the ground in downtown Lansing and along the river trail. Not only is this unattractive, but there are environmental implications and a potential negative impact on future visitors.

Vandalism may seem funny to some, but on evenings like these there are families with children and disabled people using these public spaces. Broken hand rails and fences become a danger, and the cost of repairs or removal could be prohibitive.

Showing respect for the public spaces enjoyed throughout Greater Lansing is important.

There is a growing number of outdoor events in the region, with several significant ones coming in July - events like ScrapFest in Old Town on July 14-15, Runway on the Runway with Lansing 5:01 on July 18 and the Taste of Downtown on Washington Square on July 22.

These events, along with various concert series, will draw thousands of visitors to public spaces throughout the region this summer, and they all require the space to be attractive.

Goals might include drawing tourists, featuring local artists and businesses or just creating something fun for residents. But each time these spaces are used, it's an opportunity for the region.

To those visiting public spaces: Respect the community, residents and volunteers working to keep the space clean, and do your part.

To organizations that host events in these spaces: Provide trash receptacles and a plan for emptying them. Make it clear to visitors where trash should go - and make recycling available where possible.

People don't like to go to public spaces that are littered with trash. Tourists will not continue to visit. And residents won't go to public spaces they feel are unclean.

During festivals and events that draw hundreds of people downtown, this becomes even more important.

Treat public spaces like you would your own property. Don't cause damage. Do your part to help keep them clean.

Help the region put its best foot forward at summer events and continue to be attractive.

Be responsible. Pick up your trash.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 7, 2017

UPAWS name for new adoption center an honorable one

We are huge fans of the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter and the outstanding work it does to help animals in need of a loving home. We are excited UPAWS is making solid progress in its Imagine the PAWSibilities Campaign for a new shelter.

And we are thrilled with UPAWS's decision in naming its new building the Philip and Ruth Spade Adoption Center. The Spades were Gwinn residents for most of their lives and were fervent UPAWS supporters.

"It just felt right that we honor both Phil and Ruth this way," said Kori Tossava, UPAWS Executive Director, in the press release announcing the building's naming.

"If you ask any of us, the dream of a new building has been around since the 90s. The fact of the matter is, without the generous and humbling estate gift of the Spades (in 2016) we wouldn't be here today, getting ready to put the shovel in the ground. This type of legacy gift has secured the future of UPAWS and the homeless animals in Marquette County."

Philip Spade was a U.S. Air Force veteran who taught science at Gwinn Middle School for 26 years while Ruth Spade was first an elementary school teacher, then a district reading specialist. At 26, she became principal at Gilbert Elementary School, serving in that role from 1967 until her retirement in 1993.

Both Spades were alumni of Northern Michigan University and were married for almost 56 years.

Retirement did not slow the Spades down and they remained active. Ruth served on the Gwinn school board, the Forsyth Township Public Library board, the League of Women Voters and the Forsyth Township Historical Society, among other organizations. Philip was an outdoorsman, a skilled carpenter and a pilot who built airplanes.

The Spades were animal lovers and longtime supporters of UPAWS.

No doubt they would be thrilled with the facility that's going to bear their name as the new shelter integrates community programming and direct animal care into its operation and creates new approaches for the collaboration of animal lovers in animal welfare.

The $3.7 million construction project will transform UPAWS. The present shelter in Negaunee Township has been in use for 40 years and is small and often overflowing with animals waiting for their forever families. The new facility will be a welcome change for the organization.

UPAWS has raised $2.37 million toward the goal. Groundbreaking is expected to begin this summer, during which a formal ceremony celebrating the Spades' gift and the naming of the adoption center will take place.

For more information on UPAWS, the Imagine the PAWSibilities Campaign for an Animal Community Center, or the phased construction timeline, visit www.upaws.org, call 906-475-6661, or email ktossava@upaws.org.

We hope our readers step up to support UPAWS and the invaluable work it does for the community.

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Midland Daily News. July 6, 2017

Delta College striving to succeed

Delta College leaders continue to face challenges as they battle a major reduction in student enrollment — and school revenue.

Reversing a years-long enrollment slide and boosting student retention rates are key elements of a Delta College strategic plan.

Andrea Ursuy, Delta's assistant to the president and director of institutional success, updated trustees recently on how the college is working toward reaching its objectives in four strategic focus areas, including student success.

"I tell students our strategic plan provides a road map to a successful destination, like a GPS system in a car," she said. "Our vision is to be our community's first place to learn, live and grow. We are working on strategies to impact student enrollment and our retention of students."

That is a tall order given regional population declines, an improved if not robust Michigan economy, and increased competition among schools for fewer students. According to Deb Lutz, Delta's vice president of business and finance, the college has lost an average of 76,000 credit hours per year over the last eight years.

"That's a 30 percent decline," she told board members. "It's been challenging."

Delta College has proven to be an invaluable asset to the Great Lakes Bay Region. Its focus on the education and retraining of people of all ages is well known. We all know somebody who has used the school to improve themselves in some way.

The school's stated areas of focus are: student success, community focus, sustainability and people focus. An environmental scan in 2015 coupled with an extensive analysis of the college's challenges and competitive advantages helped Delta decide where to seek improvement.

With planning and innovation, we can see Delta College staying ahead of the college enrollment decline that has swept the nation. And we're sure there are many other community ventures willing to step forward and ensure this is the case.

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