Political News

A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

Posted 9:01 a.m. Monday

The Detroit News. July 13, 2017

Vitti should keep charter door open

We understand new Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has his hands full as he seeks to move the district beyond crisis mode. But recent comments indicating Vitti wants to get the Detroit Public Schools Community District out of the charter school business seem very short sighted.

It's too soon for Vitti, along with the school board, to close the door on this form of school choice within the district. It's also been one way for the district to compete with all the other charter schools that now educate more than half of Detroit's students.

The district currently authorizes 14 schools (one is closing), and Vitti is proposing letting current contracts expire.

"My main charge is supporting quality, traditional schools," Vitti says. "Charters are secondary to that."

Vitti is right that the majority of the district's schools need a massive overhaul. Too many students who attend the district are getting shortchanged, with a pathetically small percentage getting the basics of reading and math, as evidenced by national tests. It's the worst urban district in the country for a reason.

But part of Vitti's appeal was that he came from a Florida district with a wide portfolio of school options. Out of 198 buildings in the Duval County district, 35 are charter schools. Duval is one of the best urban districts in the country. Strategies that worked well there should be tried here.

It's true that the Detroit district is operating too many facilities. A recent Citizens Research Council of Michigan report highlights how big a problem this is for the district's bottom line.

The report finds that 35 K-8 schools are only at 50-75 percent enrollment capacity. And 29 K-8 schools are between 25-50 percent full. Seven high schools are at less than 25 percent capacity.

The 24 DPSCD schools that had been set to close earlier this year because of low performance and now are in a partnership agreement with the state also struggle with enrollment. In the face of such failure, Vitti shouldn't take better choices away from families.

The superintendent is inevitably getting pressure from the school board to take this route. Board member LaMar Lemmons made his position clear in April when he tried to get fellow board members to ax the Education Achievement Authority's three charters that returned this summer to the Detroit district. The board decided to extend the contract for one year, but expect that to be the last time, even though those schools showed the most progress of the 14 EAA schools.

And Lemmons wasn't afraid to say the reason: He wanted the full per-pupil funding attached to each student and didn't want to lose any to a charter management company.

"Some of the highest-performing schools in the city are charter schools authorized by the Detroit Public Schools Community District. How is it benefiting students if you want to close those schools?" asked Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

That's a good question. Vitti counters he doesn't want the schools to close. Rather another authorizer could take them over.

Vitti has indicated (reluctantly) he'd consider keeping charters, if the district can simultaneously improve traditional schools.

That's a better approach than killing a decent program to prop up bad schools.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). July 13, 2017

Another win for river is no time to retreat

This has been a great week for the St. Clair River and everyone who loves and enjoys our waterways.

Another stain has been erased from the St. Clair River. When it was first made an area of concern in 1987, there were 10 such dark blots on the river's health:

.Limits on eating fish, wildlife.

.Altered fish, wildlife flavors.

.Drinking water affects.

.Beach closings.

.Degraded aesthetics.

.Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems.

.Added costs to agriculture or industry.

.Degraded river bottom.

.Restrictions on dredging.

.Fish and wildlife habitat loss.

Parts of the river were a blob of PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals, phosphorous and a variety of hydrocarbons. Those pollutants found their way into the river via decades of unregulated discharges from municipal and industrial facilities on both sides of the river, urban and agricultural runoff and leaking landfills and industrial disposal sites.

Now, most of those stains have been erased. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that pollution levels in the river have fallen far enough that wildlife deformities are no longer happening.

Earlier, cleanup efforts have fixed all the other problems except three: The drinking water concerns, fish consumption advisories and fish and wildlife habitat. The latter impairment is expected to be lifted later this year.

The St. Clair River has come a long way in 30 years.

It had a lot of help from volunteers on both sides of the river, from stronger state and federal environmental laws and enforcement, from industries that recognized the folly of spoiling the water we all depend on, and from millions of dollars in state and federal cleanup money.

The current administration in Washington has seemed intent on destroying the EPA and rolling back the environmental progress our nation has made since the 1970s. That is a horrible mistake. Until this week, it also seemed likely to slash the money that has gone to Great Lakes cleanups.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was a target of the Trump administration, but wiser heads in the House Appropriations Committee have recommended funding remain at $300 million. That is good news for our river.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 13, 2017

'Good Jobs' program needed to compete for new employment

Although a lot of people have problems with the concept, the State House of Representatives Wednesday put Michigan squarely in the middle of the tax incentive game, when it comes to attracting new jobs to the state.

The House OK'd a package of bills, 71-35, in a bi-partisan vote, setting up what's known as the "Good Jobs" program. The Senate approved the measures in March. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bills into law.

The program, which will be capped at $200 million in incentives per year, will reward companies who create new jobs within Michigan's borders. How much the companies would get would be determined on how many jobs they create and the level of pay for the jobs. The bills include a 2019 reauthorization date.

For example, The Associated Press, in stories Wednesday, reported that businesses can qualify for incentives in one of three ways:

- Creating 3,000 or more jobs that pay at least the average regional wage. They can keep all of the employees' income tax withholdings for 10 years.

- Creating at least 500 jobs that pay the average regional wage or more. They can keep half of the income taxes for five years.

- Creating 250 or more jobs that pay at least a quarter more than the average regional wage. They can keep all of the income taxes for 10 years.

Snyder campaigned for passage of the bills, in part, to attract Japanese electronics giant Foxconn, which plans to construct a new plant somewhere in the U.S., employing as many as 5,000 workers.

A Foxconn official mentioned Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, as among the states where the facility may be sited.

This kind of program doesn't sit well with some people, who claim such efforts are little more than a tax giveaway. In addition, they argue Michigan has tried tax incentives and similar programs in the past with mixed results.

That said, Republican Rep. Jason Sheppard, of Temperance, had a point when he ruefully observed that in a "perfect world," states would let companies base their decisions on other factors besides tax breaks.

"However, we live in a reality world today where we are essentially in an arms race, not only with our bordering states but the entire country and world," he told AP. "If we cannot equip our state organizations with consistent and meaningful tools to attract new industry here, to create jobs, we will always be at a disadvantage."

The Foxconn possibilities aside, this is a program that Lansing decision makers absolutely must monitor, to insure it is administered fair, equitably and transparently. If it isn't working, it should be terminated.

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The Holland Sentinel. July 14, 2017

Quick Hits: Get four thoughts on this week's news

1. Buzz grows around new theater

As more details become clear about a proposed movie theater on Eighth Street's west end, a few lingering questions remain. The $8 million, two-story, 40,000-square-foot space that will anchor the block between River and Pine avenues falls in line with the city's vision to connect downtown Holland with the farmers market, Civic Center and waterfront. It would seem the earlier announcement of a 380-space, multi-level parking deck on Ninth Street would alleviate concerns about parking. However, with developer GDK retaining 144 (38 percent) of those spaces for its tenants, that leaves a net 236 spaces for the public. Some things to think about: the new theater will feature 10 screens and 500 seats; once renovation of the Civic Center's interior is complete, the exterior will be developed, which will include a loss of parking spots in that lot; and don't forget that GDK owns other lots on the block where future developments will assuredly arise. Sounds like planners are only playing catch up to parking inventory versus planning for future growth — and we're eager to see how city leaders address this moving forward.

2. Future of police in Zeeland

The city of Zeeland is at a crossroads with its policing services. Among the options being considered are keeping the Zeeland Police Department and hiring a new chief, contracting out police services with the county sheriff or merging police and fire services for a Zeeland Public Safety department. The committee formed to discuss said options for the future says it wants to gather public input ... only it has opted to not hold its meetings in public — which is perfectly legal — and does not have any members of the public as members. We're scratching our heads over that one. Officials say they want the committee to be able to say things without the public having a knee-jerk reaction. Well, that's the hard part of representation: It's not always pretty or easy, but city officials have an obligation to engage the public on matters that affect them — not to mention matters that use their taxpayer dollars. Sure, they might get some criticism, but that comes with the territory and if that's the only thing holding them back, they need to toughen up.

3. Great Lakes funding back on?

The Great Lakes could see up to $300 million in support cleaning and conservation funding if a U.S. House Appropriations Committee recommendation is approved by Congress. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI, has funded projects that protect and restore the Lakes' ecosystem. Locally, there have been GLRI projects that have reduced runoff from Lake Macatawa, restored water quality to the Macatawa watershed and restored wetlands in the Allegan State Game Area. Overall, the bill restores $1.9 billion of President Trump's proposed $2.4 billion cut to the EPA, part of Trump budget's proposal that would cut $3.6 trillion across various domestic sectors such as food stamps, highway funding and Medicaid. One thing Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree on is the value of keeping the largest system of fresh surface water in the world healthy. We applaud this effort, as we all have a vested interest in this goal. Perhaps both sides of the aisle could use this as a starting point to see eye to eye on other issues? We dare to dream.

4. Wild weather strikes again

After the brutal line of strong storms hit West Michigan and marched across the state late last week, we want to commend the health and safety officials, as well as the electrical work crews who diligently toiled to clear blocked off streets and driveways and restored power and order as soon as possible to residents in Ottawa and Allegan counties. One of the dangers of the summer season is the volatile air systems that can bring extreme winds, rain and lightning. We encourage residents to re-evaluate their emergency plans — or craft one — for when these types of disasters strike. Knowing how to keep your family safe and understanding local services that can aid you is a great way to be prepared. Get a Family Preparedness Guide at miottawa.org/Sheriff/planning_preparedness.htm.

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