Smackdown of a Michigan Lawmaker and His Mean Spirited Potty Bill

Sen. Tom Casperson (R-38), one of Michigan’s worst lawmakers, who’s currently running in a crowded field to replace U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek in Michigan’s 1st District, today offered his long-expected politically pandering “bathroom bill.”

potty

The proposal is a tortured exercise in passive-aggressive doublespeak:

First, the legislation is couched in falsely inclusive fuzzy language — granting the student a legal right to declare their gender preference, with parental consent of course, and additionally requiring the school district to make a “reasonable accommodation” which “does not impose an undue hardship”…  on the school district, not the student. Translation: the school doesn’t have to go out of their way to accommodate the needs of transgender students, at all, ever. But, transgender students, it is suggested, should declare themselves to the district.

Second, the proposal explicitly forbids transgender students from accessing facilities that align with their declared gender. Period.

As far as Casperson is concerned, transgender students must learn how to exercise tremendous control over basic bodily functions — Title IX protections be damned.

It’s not my habit to post press releases, especially verbatim, but today I found among the clutter in my inbox one of interest — not just of topic, but also well-written. Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan’s 5th District has been following the situation and had this to say earlier today about his potential colleague as the story broke:

“Of all Michigan’s pressing problems – fixing our crumbling roads, improving our schools, ensuring access to safe drinking water – Senator Tom Casperson and Republicans in Lansing have apparently decided the most urgent need facing our state is to police bathrooms in search of a problem that does not exist. Their priorities are completely wrong and in disagreement with the majority of Michiganders.

Their ‘bathroom bill’, introduced today and modeled off of other states like North Carolina, is discriminatory and bigoted. It seeks to divide Michiganders and deny people access to restrooms when they simply want privacy, safety and respect when using such accommodations — just like everyone else.

Like North Carolina, Senator Casperson’s bill could cost Michigan thousands of jobs and millions in economic investment. In North Carolina, more than $500 million in investments is in jeopardy after their state passed similar legislation. Over 200 private businesses that create jobs and revenue in the state have condemned North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, with many pulling out new investments and jobs. We cannot let this happen in Michigan.

Michigan Republicans like Senator Casperson should spend less time bullying Michiganders and more time on the actual problems facing our state. This hateful bill flies in the face of Michigan values like dignity, equality and respect, and it should be promptly shelved and defeated.”

As for Casperson, this isn’t his first self-serving legislative maneuver, and it likely won’t be his last, but it remains among his worst.

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It’s True! — There Really is Bipartisan Support to Ban Conversion Therapy in Michigan

One Michigan lawmaker has been attempting to make “conversion therapy” illegal in the state for a number of years, but he met with little success as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated legislature — now, that may all be about to change.

In his first attempt, Rep. Adam Zemke (D-55) introduced HB 5703 about two years ago to prohibit the use of conversion therapy — a reprehensible and professionally discredited practice which attempts to change gender identity or sexual orientation through hurtful mind games. Under the cloak of faux medicine, quacks and charlatans target vulnerable teens and young adults for psychological abuse, often with the trust and money of their families. The Human Rights Campaign asserts that for this young group conversion therapy can lead to “depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.”

Rep. Zemke’s 2014 legislation died in the Health Policy Committee with no further action.

Now, with some bipartisan support, a new legislative package will hopefully gain some traction in the Michigan House in 2016. Rep. Mike Calton (R-87) is sponsoring one bill, and co-sponsoring its companion piece, with the goal of eliminating the disreputable practice of conversion therapy on minors and of making violations subject to professional disciplinary action.

A number of other states have already passed similar laws — all which have withstood judicial scrutiny, including the U.S. Supreme Court twice allowing lower court rulings to stand which struck down challenges to these laws. And last year, a New Jersey court found a conversion therapy provider liable for consumer fraud.

In that light, several months ago, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a consumer fraud complaint against People Can Change, a group promoting conversion therapy. Religious organizations are behind the push to intimidate young LGBT individuals, with conversion therapy being their license to bully — but, their snake oil approach is certainly not proven to be an efficacious “treatment.” Litigation is pending.

Groups opposing conversion therapy are too numerous to fully list here, but they include the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family, American College of Physicians, American Counseling Association, American Medical Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association…the list goes on and on.

Both new bills have been referred to the Regulatory Reform Committee. Neither Calton, nor Zemke, or any other sponsor is a member of that committee. Let’s hope the issue gets its due respect.

The tide of human rights is rising, and this wave appears to be of the same strong current that brought our nation marriage equality just a few short months ago.

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Michigan’s Myopic GOP Lawmakers Teeter on the Fiscal Cliff

Updated 5-19-16

GOP Leaders Blind to the Longterm Corrosive Effects of Corporate Tax Breaks:

“Temporary fluctuations in statewide tax collections are normal, and the House Republicans have spent six years budgeting responsibly to prepare for situations just like this.” — Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter

Mr. Magoo

Michigan lawmakers are about as myopic as Mr. Magoo when it comes to fiscal policy, and House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s tone-deaf hubris last week simply iced the cake. Just as both the Senate and House Fiscal Agencies adjusted projected revenues to be considerably lower than expected from estimates voiced at the January consensus conference, Cotter used the occasion to boast about GOP tax and spending policies:

“We have reduced unnecessary spending, saved money and made strong investments in key priorities like schools, roads and public safety.  We are prepared to handle this with minimal impact on state programs and services.”

Yet, the House Fiscal Agency specifically cited sluggish corporate tax revenues as a primary cause for the “temporary fluctuation” in revenues. Gov. Snyder’s 2011 corporate tax cuts were in large part paid for on the backs of schools, low-income workers, and retirees. And now we learn that Lansing may again nick per pupil spending to balance its books. The Detroit Free Press reports that State Budget Director John Roberts said that projections for the School Aid Fund could be reduced.

With the Flint water fiasco, the looming financial collapse of Detroit Public Schools, and a roads spending plan that is charitably described as laughable, Speaker Cotter is clearly blowing nothing but sunshine in lieu of making an honest assessment of Michigan’s eminent fiscal death spiral.

To be sure, the genesis of the crisis predates Gov. Snyder’s reckless 2011 corporate tax cuts — a fact that makes his signature policy all the more foolhardy. He cut taxes at precisely the moment he should have been considering asking corporations to pony-up more to support the state, and the infrastructure they burden so heavily.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan released a tax revenue analysis this month that paints a picture of continued decline in the state’s ability to sustain itself under current tax conditions. The longitudinal study documents troubling patterns, both in and out of the control of policy makers.

Michigan has diminished measurably in its economic stature, going from a high revenue state, to among the lowest, over the course of several decades. Being both the leader and lagger in the multi-state rust-belt decline, Michigan’s local units of government continue to collect taxes at antiquated rates levied against shrinking tax bases and dwindling populations, while other states have moved on to grow their economies with robust tax-based revenues.

The CRC report echoes the House Fiscal Agency’s findings, pointing specifically to corporate tax policies as a major contributor:

 “It can also be attributed to policy changes, most notably Michigan’s method of taxing corporate income.” 

Michigan’s tax revenues have slipped below the national average as a portion of per capita income in all categories except property, where they remain about average. In 1983, Michigan ranked 12th in the nation in per capita tax revenues, but by 2013, it slipped to 35th place — collecting just $3,750.40, compared to the national average of $4,598.77 — leaving Michigan at just 82 percent of the national norm.

lost revenues

Source: Michigan Municipal League

Lansing’s Great Tax Heist

Lansing has been robbing Peter to pay Paul to balance the state budget — taking money not just from schools, but from municipalities by denying them their statutory revenue sharing. Last year, the Michigan Municipal League reported that Lansing has diverted billions in revenues since 2003 — taking money away from critical revenue sharing intended for local units of government to bolster other state spending priorities. Referring to the diversion of funds as a “heist”, the author of the report explained:

This data begs the question: did municipalities ignore their duty to manage or did someone else change the rules of the game and then throw a penalty flag at them? I see yellow flags all over the playing field.

The figures, based on Michigan Department of Treasury data, adjusted for inflation, found that an estimated $6.2 billion had been robbed from Michigan cities from 2003-14.

Turning a Blind Eye to Corporate Bullies

Update 5-19-16: House Bill 5578 to eliminate the “dark store” loophole is being considered by the House.

Lawmakers continue to sit on important bipartisan legislation that would protect communities and school districts from predatory private sector bullies. The corporate “dark store” scheme works like this:

First, developers propose construction projects that often include plans for multiple super-sized stores. Part of the pitch to local officials includes the enticement of increased revenues due to the development. Subsequently, the mega-retailers file suit to have their taxes reduced to a level similar to that of abandoned structures in the community. The Michigan Tax Tribunal (MTT) has consistently sided with the retailers, granting the abatements.

Then, when these big box retailers inevitably relocate to newer facilities, they place deed restrictions on the old property thereby preventing competing retailers from operating there — creating a win-win for the seller — no competition, and a ready example of an abandoned structure to bolster their “dark store” argument with the MTT. For the community however, it’s a lose-lose — leaving them suffering from blighted buildings and the loss of tax revenues.

Last fall, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed legislation to close the two loopholes. Both HB 4909 and SB 524 remain in committee with no action as yet taken.

It’s high time Republican lawmakers crawl out of their ideological trenches on matters of fiscal policy, and attempt to see past their noses for the sake of Michigan’s future. It is doubtful they will do so anytime soon.

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Public Sector Privatization — A Prescription for Corruption and Chaos

“Many companies win contracts by claiming that they will manage the service in ways that are more “efficient” than the government. Some companies also claim that they can reduce costs to taxpayers. However, in an effort to provide the service with fewer resources while also maximizing profits, companies cut corners, which can have significant and detrimental impacts.” – Cutting Corners Report by In the Public Interest, April 2016

Misguided notions of taxpayer savings and imagined efficiencies, often borne out of a pejorative view of the public sector, continue to lead GOP lawmakers down the failed privatization path. State after state, the contagion of corporate thinking has led to all manner of poor outcomes — and little, if any, in savings.

A number of states stand out as examples of privatization gone completely amok — Michigan being among them.

As the media burns-up with reports on the Flint water crisis, also a brainchild of the corporatist mindset, it’s easy to forget about Gov. Snyder’s other big scandal — the privatization of prison food services. Under the initial contract with Aramark Correctional Services, the crimes and cover-ups are too vast to account fully here in their entirety, although the cliff notes include: maggots and mold in the food, rampant vermin, smuggling of contraband, and various sex acts in the kitchen.

Trinity pic

Photo: Trinity Services Group

Privatization pitfalls continue under the new prison food contractor, Trinity Services Group, who similarly boast a rap sheet that should have been a giant red flag for the Snyder administration.

Once again, food quality and skimping have fomented unrest in Michigan’s correctional facilities. In late March of this year, 1000 of the 1400 inmates at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula staged a silent strike, with only a handful of prisoners showing-up for meals.  A week later, inmates at nearby Chippewa Correctional Facility also refused meals served by Trinity. The Trinity contract has also been plagued by employee terminations due to inappropriate behavior, including relations with prisoners.

A recently published University of Michigan study found that privatized prison food services are a recipe for trouble — creating conditions encouraging crime, smuggling, and gang-related activity. Their 83-page report, Food Service Privatization in Michigan’s Prisons: Observations of Corrections Officers, lays the blame squarely on ill-advised privatization schemes:

Contractor employees were largely inexperienced and inadequately trained to work in a prison environment. The authoritative vacuum created by unfit contractor employees was filled by enterprising inmates. Inmates persuaded contractor employees to smuggle in contraband and commit infractions, such as over-familiarity. Contractor employees were manipulated by inmates to form alliances against officers. In some locations gangs gained control the kitchens.

privatizationThe University of Michigan report amounts to a scathing condemnation of prison food privatization, culminating in the question as to whether the entire enterprise is producing savings of any kind — especially after lower quality service has led to increased compensatory costs, in addition to those services that were at the outset simply shunted to other cost centers within the budget, and not factored into the bottom line.

UPDATE: 5-11-16 A Trinity Food Service worker at Ionia Correctional Facility is under state police investigation for possession of heroin and meth. Story HERE.

The early days of the Snyder administration demonstrated a blind zeal for corporatizing the public sector — resulting in policy decisions of which the state is only now examining the full destabilizing effects.

In the Public Interest, a privatization watchdog group, cites another Michigan example where privatization did more harm than good. In their April 2016 report, Cutting Corners, they point to the Muskegon Heights School District’s contract with for-profit charter school corporation, Mosaica Education, as emblematic of tragic outcomes — and much like in Flint, it was the children left to pay the price. Another commonality –both tragedies occurred under the aegis of a state-appointed emergency manager.

Mosaica attempted to carve-out profit by cutting vital services for special needs students. They slashed support in classrooms — violating educational standards with inadequate assistance and training for teachers. Additionally, they refused special needs kids help with language, occupational, and physical therapy. The vendor hired too few teachers, many poorly trained — with 10 percent lacking a teaching certificate altogether. Mosaica also cut costs through skimping on supplies including toilet paper, and by ignoring essential maintenance tasks. The 2012 contract was terminated in early 2014 purportedly because Mosaica claimed they couldn’t turn a profit in Muskegon.

Michigan veterans have also borne the brunt of thoughtless GOP cost-cutting. Under Gov. Snyder’s leadership, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was also bitten by the privatization bug when, in 2013, they hired for-profit J2S Group to manage the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, laying-off trained state employees. A report from the Michigan Office of the Auditor General exposed dangerous cuts in staffing and training, and found that the vendor failed to perform required room checks nearly half of the time. To solve the problem, Lansing has simply thrown more money at the contractor, and now the Detroit Free Press reports that the projected $4 million in annual savings is dissolving rapidly.

In addition to their love affair with corporate strategies, Michigan’s elected leaders are also known for their unwillingness to invest in infrastructure upgrades, leaving roads and public facilities crumbling. The temptation moving forward will be to enter into public private partnerships (P3s) to rebuild public sector assets. However, the P3 road is littered with potential potholes. P3s, which draw on private capital to bankroll infrastructure improvements, are only as good, or bad, as their contract is crafted.  In the Public Interest warns that these arrangements must be carefully written to protect the interests of citizens — including multiple built-in protections with heavy oversight.

Confidence in Lansing’s ability to get anything right at this point, remains rockbottom low.

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Governor Snyder’s Tragically Failed Dashboard

The False Promise of Spreadsheet Public Policy

“The people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health.” — Dennis Schornack, Aide to Gov. Snyder

Republicans just love standardized tests to measure “outcomes” — especially to evaluate the performance of the public sector. Ask any school teacher and you’re bound to get an earful.

Fully enamored of the concept, newly elected Gov. Snyder implemented his Michigan Open Performance Portal, aka dashboard, back in 2011 as a means to measure the progress of his “relentless positive action” found through “best practices” — a misguided calculation intended to culminate in his triumphal presidential aspirations. The governor’s administrative team also touted the online tool as a shining example of governmental transparency — a real-time repository of actionable information.  Yet, time has proven, over and again, that his spreadsheet-based policy plans have failed to demonstrate measurable, or even anecdotal, progress at nearly every turn during his troubled tenure in Lansing.

And now, Michigan finds the governor’s dashboard gone tragically haywire, not just in concept, but in terms of actually measuring anything remotely useful — if it’s even functioning at all. The dashboard’s stated goal was to “provide a starting point for change in communities.” In reality, it reports stale-dated, static data in a number of generalized categories, while too often missing meaningful content where it truly matters. Additionally, it offers some spotty in-depth numbers specific to sub-categories, at times touching-on individual units of government through a variety of links — which may, or may not work.

Here’s the perpetual “page not found” message for the Flint dashboard — a city that was subjected to years of rule by the governor’s hand-picked emergency manager.

MI Dashboard -Flint

City of Flint Dashboard Website — Not Found

The Flint water crisis, arguably the most critical consideration in Michigan, is conspicuously absent from the governor’s statewide dashboard — not found under any of the eight primary categories, including “Health and Wellness”,”Infrastructure”, nor “Public Safety”, or even “Energy and Environment.” Even in the subcategory of “Water”, all we find are metrics for monitoring beaches, aquatic invasive species, and raw sewage discharge. Toxic levels of lead in the drinking water apparently doesn’t merit a mention, footnote, or an obscure link. Nothing.

The links to Michigan’s counties are equally useless. Of the 83 counties in the state, 82 have ratings on health “outcomes” and “factors” based on 2014 data compiled by County Health Rankings.org. (Keweenaw County is not ranked.) Genesee, with its county seat of Flint, ranks 81st under both categories, yet the detailed report indicates a zero percentage of problems under “drinking water violations“, employing data from 2012/13.

Snyder’s focus on corporate-model public policy apparently extends only to measuring the bottom line of the balance sheet — health outcomes simply don’t factor into the equation. If meaningful measurements were taken, they are nowhere to be found. A former Snyder advisor, Dennis Schornack, explained how the governor failed the citizens of Flint:

“The people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health.”

The fallout from Snyder’s disastrous policies has become an academic case study at a number of universities. Bridge magazine reports that Wayne State, Grand Valley State, Michigan State, and Harvard have already focused on the details of his failed legacy. As academics write curriculum on Flint, Snyder’s dashboard still remains out-of-order — begging the question: What else don’t we know about the other 82 counties, including unranked Keweenaw, with its pristine shoreline?

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Michigan Legislator Proposes Law to Eliminate Cruel Forms of Punishment in Schools

“Seclusion in schools is a dangerous and unregulated practice that puts children at risk of harm.” — Mark McWilliams, Director of Information, Referral and Education Services at Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc.

seclusion room

Seclusion Room, photo: MPAS

Many have seen that heart-wrenching video of the terrified 5-year old Georgia school boy enduring a paddling over his misbehavior at the hands of unbending school administrators. Much of the nation was horrified to learn that this kind of physical abuse remains perfectly legal in 19 states, primarily in the “spare the rod” bible belt region. Corporal punishment may shock the delicate sensibilities of the residents of more refined states, but they too would benefit from a closer look at other, also perfectly legal, “enhanced” techniques employed in their school systems — both public and private.

A Michigan public school my children attended during their early years had a small room in the administrator’s office — windowless, containing only a cot. About the size of a small closet, it was reserved for two purposes — a place for sick children to be quarantined prior to parental pick-up, and an isolation holding cell for the naughty. If one can get past the ill-advised practice of exposing truculent children to all manner of contagion, the salient question would be: Is the use of isolation, officially referred to as “seclusion” among academics, an appropriate and effective practice?

More than a mere time-out — a cooling of one’s heels in the hallway, seclusion is a technique of dubious efficacy, which all too frequently targets special needs students, and is employed in lieu of thoughtful and professional intervention and redirection. The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education reports that while children with disabilities make up 12 percent of the school population, they comprise 58 percent of those subjected to seclusion, and a whopping 75 percent of those forced to endure physical restraint.

Among its opponents, the practice falls into the same category as physical restraint of children — another misguided technique regularly used with the intent of correcting challenging behavior. However, not only are these practices dehumanizing and cruel, they simply do not produce favorable results.

Acting through executive action earlier this year, President Obama put an end to solitary confinement of juvenile offenders in prison, yet our schools routinely put very young children, guilty of little more than acting their age within their mental capacity, in solitary for a good portion of their school day.

Stop Hurting Kids.com, an advocacy group working to put an end to restraint and seclusion, describes the consequences of these barbaric practices:

There is no evidence of the therapeutic or educational value of restraint and seclusion. They are practices that are neither ethical nor beneficial, and often cause a spiraling effect in which additional unwanted behaviors may arise. Further, there is an existing and growing body of evidence in support of positive alternatives in addressing challenging behaviors.

Michigan lawmaker Rep. Frank Liberati (D-13) is championing a package of ten bills that would restrict the use of “archaic methods”, such as restraint and seclusion in the state’s public schools. His son has Fragile X Syndrome — an inherited condition among boys, which is a disorder often accompanied by autism and similarly marked by a spectrum of intellectual disabilities and a number of behavioral problems — the kind of which could prompt restraint and seclusion measures in the classroom.

House Bills 5409 through 5418 layout a detailed plan for eliminating cruel forms of classroom punishment, providing training for school personnel on effective techniques, plus requirements for a documentation and reporting process. The House Fiscal Agency reports that this legislative package is nearly identical to the recommendations made by the Michigan Department of Education compiled by a group of parents, advocates, educators, policy makers, and service providers convened between 2004 and 2006 to study and develop effective policies that protect the dignity of all students and the integrity of the educational process.

Calling it long overdue, Elmer Cerano, executive director of MPAS, supports this legislative package:

“Public schools are still the only service system where these dangerous practices remain unregulated and unreported. The bills before the committee strike a good balance between the legitimate needs of educators and the safety of children.”

Video of Liberati testifying before the Michigan House Education Committee:

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Michigan GOP Lawmakers Want to Eliminate Licenses for Water Heater Installers

“After given everything that’s gone on, why in God’s name would the legislature try to pass something where you don’t need a license with water heaters, especially in this situation?” – Scott Smith, Water Defense

Scott Smith

Scott Smith, Photo: LinkedIn

Admittedly, if a homeowner is intent upon bypassing contractor licensing requirements to install a new water heater, they probably wouldn’t let Michigan Compiled Law stand in their way, but if several Republican lawmakers have their say, the practice would become the norm. Rep. Dan Lauwers (R-81), along with two of his colleagues, have introduced legislation to eliminate occupational licensing for the installation of hot water heaters.

At first blush, one might believe the proposal is meant to help Flint residents expedite important repairs to their compromised plumbing. After all, the Flint water crisis task force recommended remedial action for the city’s households specifically citing that water heaters have been damaged — in some cases causing explosions. However, aiding Flint homeowners is not likely the impetus behind the bill.

When something smells fishy with GOP legislation, typically there are found some sketchy characters lurking in the shadows, and this is no exception. As part of a nationwide push to eliminate licensing of the trades as a rule, the Michigan proposal fits-in squarely with the Koch brother’s plan.

The Koch political machine has been busy persuading state legislatures to dismantle occupational licensing requirements. Mark Holden, the Koch’s point man, given seemingly unlimited resources to lobby on their behalf, explained to USA Today “we don’t constrain ourselves by a budget.” The publicly visible portion of their campaign can be found on the editorial pages of numerous newspapers across the country, with a stock letter penned by Holden, identical in every detail except for the name of the state. You can read the letter published in the Detroit News HERE.

The Koch plan has found some support within the Obama administration, which is also calling for easing of some requirements. But, is this a good idea for hot water heater installers — where knowledge of plumbing, electrical, and gas lines is critical to ensure safety?

Rep. Lauwers defended his legislation as “common-sense.” This would come as a shock to Scott Smith, lead investigator at Water Defense, a non-profit founded by actor/activist Mark Ruffalo. Smith, who has been working with the plumbers union to test Flint water, was a guest on The Tom Sumner Program this week discussing the rigors of properly testing and retesting Flint water at all points. Smith, more than once stated that “common-sense” is apparently not very common as evidenced by the way state officials have bungled this crisis time and again. In particular he mentioned the notion of using non-licensed hot water heater installers as an example of the paucity of sound judgement.

“After given everything that’s gone on, why in God’s name would the legislature try to pass something where you don’t need a license with water heaters, especially in this situation?”

Welcome to the “water wonderland” that is Michigan Mr. Smith.

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Michigan’s Offshore Corporate Tax Cheats Revealed

As reporters pour over the recently leaked “Panama Papers”, searching the massive document dump for names familiar here in the U.S., the Obama administration used the occasion to push for a crackdown on corporate tax inversions — an ongoing problem draining the nation’s economy of revenue by the billions. Inversions are tax avoidance schemes in which corporations affiliate with foreign holding companies as a means to relocate as a phony headquarters overseas to enjoy the benefits of lower tax rates. Losses to the U.S. tax base are estimated to potentially be well over $100 billion, but GOP defenders of the shell game claim it is necessary because U.S. corporate taxes are too high.

Also in recent news is the story of Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based firm that announced earlier this year their intention to merge with Tyco International Ltd. to take advantage Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Johnson does plenty of business in Michigan.

Cheating Michigan

Fortune magazine lists the top inversion offenders, and not surprisingly Tyco made the list. But, are there any companies from Wisconsin’s neighbor to the east on the naughty list? Two Michigan companies made the top-tier — Perrigo PLC and Delphi Automotive PLC.

channel islands

Delphi Automotive headquaters. Image: Wikipedia

Perrigo, an over-the-counter drug manufacturer out of Allegan, also files under an Emerald Isle address. In recent years the company sued the FDA for not moving fast enough on approving a controversial OTC testosterone cream. By avoiding U.S. taxes, they are not paying their fair share in supporting the work of the FDA — thus, American tax payers doubly bear the burden of their corporate greed.

Delphi, a well-known automotive parts manufacturer from Troy, has incorporated itself for tax purposes in the Channel Islands. They benefitted handsomely from the auto industry bailout at great tax payer expense, but they weren’t yet done screwing-over cash-strapped Michigan.

Cheating Michigan Extra: Once, Twice, Thrice, and Beyond

Perrigo and Delphi have something else in common — they’ve both enjoyed untold tax breaks from their ex-pat home of Michigan. The corporate subsidy tracking database provided by Good Jobs First offers a glimpse into their stateside tax shenanigans. Over the years, Perrigo has bilked Michigan tax payers and communities out of at least $40.6 million in the form of multiple tax abatements and rebates. It is impossible to know exactly how much money was involved because, until recently, the record keeping was spotty at best — which is also the case with over two dozen property tax abatements awarded to Delphi.

Oh, and Johnson Controls, they’ve nicked Michigan too, for a whopping $317 million. They additionally took numerous property tax rebates for which full data is not available. Of the reported amount, there was a $168.5 million “megadeal” — a term used by Good Jobs First to describe obscenely large tax breaks which are often brokered by a corporation as terms for continuing to do business within a state or community — also known as extortion.

Some would have us believe that these kinds of tax dodges are simply the price of doing business with “job creators.” Unfortunately, the cost of the tax giveaways is often upside-down compared to the gross payroll generated. In other words, another kind of bad deal Michigan simply cannot afford.

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Lansing’s Death Panels — Bad Public Policy is Killing Michigan, Literally

Death by Infrastructure — It’s More than Flint

Michigan’s voters, motorists, and lawmakers alike aren’t kidding themselves into believing the paltry roads budget plan enacted last fall is anywhere close to what’s needed to keep the state safely on the move, especially since the skint deal won’t even phase-in for a number of years — conveniently after its promoters have left their current office, while hundreds will have lost their lives navigating unsafe roads.

The Michigan Department of Transportation issued a report a few weeks ago that laid bare the true nature of the hazardously underfunded scheme Lansing put forth — a plan that’s leading the state’s crumbling transportation network down the same rabbit hole as Flint’s water system. How many people are destined to lose life and limb on recklessly neglected roads? As it stands, Michigan drivers will find out the hard way — but this time around, the blame can be placed squarely on the legislature for turning a blind eye to the scope of the problem — failing in its core responsibility to adequately fund the state’s basic infrastructure needs for the health and safety of the public.

The roads plan, crafted and supported largely by GOP lawmakers, offers a mere $1.2 billion per year, and that, only when it fully takes effect in five year’s time. While that may sound like a lot of jack, MDOT puts it in perspective with a cost comparison for reconstructing and maintaining roads on a per lane-mile basis, based on a variety of quality levels and lifespans.

MDOT per lane-mile

Source: MDOT Roads Task Force Report 3/16

By that math, Michigan could at best address only several hundred miles of road lanes with a twenty year lifespan, per year. That estimated “design life” (shorter than the shelf life of a Hostess Twinkie) is the current standard in the state. Long-term cost savings could be had with increased upfront investment — something that’s not going to happen with the current shrink-the-government mentality ruling Lansing. Lawmakers built trip wires into their roads plan that lockdown funding disbursements, making them subject to future approval based on the state’s ability to demonstrate it can build longer-lasting roads. According MDOT figures, Michigan’s roads are currently losing value at the rate of $3 million per day.

Not surprisingly, Michigan doesn’t stack-up well against other states on infrastructure reinvestment. A longitudinal study of state-level funding issued earlier this year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Michigan was sorely lagging. Between 2002 and 2013, the state ranked third worst in the category of percentage of gross domestic product dedicated to infrastructure — logging a net decrease over the period. Michigan has been allocating only 3.4 percent of its budget to infrastructure projects — tied with Vermont for second worst in the nation — leaving motorists to pay the price for the state’s neglect.

MDOT graphic

Source: MDOT

It’s more than roads, bridges, and water supply. Brick and mortar public schools are badly in need of attention, particularly in Michigan. Detroit Public Schools are beyond a disgrace for the state, yet Lansing continues to dither on proper funding. With deadly mold, vermin, and lack of proper heat and water, DPS is the poster child for the national trend of ignoring infrastructure needs in areas of chronic poverty.

CBPP chartThe CBPP reports that nationwide infrastructure spending is at a 30-year low at a time when it is most optimal to shovel money into long-term upgrades.

The investment will improve state economies, now and in the future.  Higher-quality and more efficient infrastructure will boost productivity in states that make the needed investments, lifting long-term economic growth and wages.

Opportunities to finance infrastructure investment abound. Today’s historically low interest rates are especially favorable to such borrowing, and state and local debt is below pre-recession levels.

As with many states under Republican control, Michigan’s tax revenues have been irresponsibly slashed. Under the Snyder Administration, massive corporate tax breaks have eroded the state’s ability to reinvest in the future. Part of the spending must come from rolling-back those corporate giveaways. Businesses place a premium on quality of life issues when deciding where to locate — the Flint fiasco, bad roads, and crumbling schools are making a persuasive argument for businesses to swipe-left on the Great Lakes State.

Moving forward, lawmakers will be tempted to rely heavily on public-private partnerships, or P3s, which draw on private capital to bankroll infrastructure improvements. The nonprofit privatization watchdog group, In the Public Interest, warns that these arrangements must be carefully crafted to protect the interests of citizens. ITPI offers the following best practice guidelines to states and municipalities that enter into contracts with the private sector:

  • Incorporate job quality and equity policies, like prevailing wage standards and apprenticeship utilization requirements, into P3 enabling legislation and/or project contracts.
  • Incorporate targeted hire programs into the construction, operations, and maintenance of infrastructure to ensure that disadvantaged communities, like low-income families, women, people of color, and those with a criminal record, have real opportunities.
  • Create Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs) that establish targeted hiring goals, training opportunities,  and jobs for communities of need.
  • Establish boards or other advisory bodies for oversight of equity programs and policies.

If properly implemented and managed, ITPI believes P3s can be a useful tool to create jobs and build communities. Yet, privatization screw-ups are another problem proven to plague the Snyder administration. Sloppy governmental oversight is just as large a concern as is falling prey to greedy contractors. Michigan has a bad track record for both.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Motorists Beware — Highway Bandits with Badges

Highway Piracy, American Style

Planning on a safe domestic vacation over spring break? Be warned then of a growing epidemic of highway piracy across the country.

Yep, one of the most unsafe places to travel is right here in the good ol’ United States of America, especially in states like Michigan. Don’t count on the cops helping you though– because they’re the ones lying in wait to take your cash, maybe even your car, along with everything in it. It’s become so hazardous along most well-travelled vacation routes across the nation, that the State Department should issue a warning.

As a parent, I was horrified to learn that my 23-year old daughter nearly fell victim last week to a law enforcement asset seizure scam while she was traveling through Tennessee on her return trip from Universal Orlando Resort in Florida after visiting Harry Potter World to see the shop were they sell magic wands and capes.

The shakedown was conducted by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Her ordeal is so commonplace in the state that the ACLU has issued warnings to motorists passing through. Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee, Hedy Weinberg, explains:

“The thousands of people who will be traveling Tennessee’s highways for the holidays may not realize the serious financial risk they take when driving through our state.”

They want your cash and valuables, and are willing to exploit civil asset forfeiture laws to get it. These laws allow troopers to seize travelers’ belongings on the mere suspicion that they were involved in a crime. The simple act of carrying vacation money is considered suspect. The abuses in Tennessee are so grave, the ACLU has additionally set-up a survey to catalogue the true scope of the offenses by law enforcement. The problem is certainly not contained to Tennessee. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of safe states to motor through.

Anatomy of the Police Scam

Here’s how these state-sanctioned rackets work — a scenario repeated untold times on any given day across the nation.

In my daughter’s case, her and her driving companion were traveling north on I-75 in a vehicle with Michigan plates — clearly vacationers, making them an easy mark for Tennessee state troopers, who were a notable presence along the route. While passing another vehicle, they exceeded the speed limit by 6 miles per hour — not the type of offense that would typically warrant a police stop. Nonetheless, they were pulled-over for that reason, or so they were initially told.

Her friend, who was driving, was immediately ordered to exit the vehicle, and was placed in the back of the patrol car. This occurred before they ran a check on his driver’s license. Minutes later, another patrol car approached, and the officer started grilling my daughter with a series of leading questions, starting with an inquiry as to how long she had known her companion. Next came a lengthy interrogation which was clearly intended to lead her to believe her friend was a known drug dealer. She answered honestly, denying all of the implied allegations. At this point, my smart, hardworking, college-graduated, Harry Potter-loving daughter was placed in the back of the other patrol car, with no explanation given.

While sitting in the back of the trooper’s car, she listened as the dispatcher relayed over the police radio that neither of them had any record.

Yet, the troopers proceeded to conduct a thorough search of their vehicle, and all its contents, including my daughter’s intimates. If they were looking for drugs, they found none.

The thing is, they weren’t really looking for drugs at all. They were searching for cash — the kind of cash vacationers are known to carry. They found none of that either.

This offense occurs with shameful regularity in Tennessee, among other states — cops confiscating vacationers’ spending money under immorally lax civil asset forfeiture laws. Laws which allow the police to seize money without a whiff of a crime. Weinberg describes the scam:

“Each year, Tennessee law enforcement agents seize millions of dollars simply by asserting that they believe the assets are connected to some illegal activity, oftentimes without ever pursuing criminal charges.”

When the officer released my daughter he admitted, “we go through about 30 or 40 of these before we find anything” — as if to imply they had legitimate grounds for abusing 4th Amendment protections as a matter of routine.

With no money found — they were permitted to leave. No speeding ticket was issued, nor mentioned again.

Lawmakers Unite to Smack Down the Cops

Both Tennessee and Michigan lawmakers have been battling to rein-in the notoriously criminal excesses of their “boys in blue.”  Talk of a legislative remedy came to a head last fall in numerous states, with promises to revisit the problem in 2016. This is the kind of public policy issue that resonates well on both sides of the aisle — as we’ve seen in Michigan, where a number of bipartisan remedial measures were enacted last year, but more are still necessary. Both states had earned a “D-” rating from the Institute for Justice on their civil asset forfeiture laws. They were joined by dozens of other states — particularly along the heavily travelled I-75 corridor.

Asset Seizure map

State grades on forfeiture laws. Source: Institute for Justice

Michigan has a long way to go on this issue. I spoke with Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53) about the pace of reform. He believes the state is making some progress with last fall’s legislation, but clearly has much more to do. Irwin termed the package of proposals enacted late last year as “important reforms”, yet admitted they “didn’t end the abuses of asset forfeiture law.” Under the new statute, law enforcement agencies are now required to report to the state on all assets seized, and to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that the action was warranted. Irwin contends that the problem won’t be properly addressed until Michigan law requires a conviction for forfeitures.

Just this week, an additional reform, introduced by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-36), passed in the Michigan House. If approved by the Senate, it would eliminate the bonding requirement for retrieval of seized assets. The current law forces property owners to post a 10 percent bond just to challenge a forfeiture. Irwin supports this reform, explaining:

“As a citizen you shouldn’t have to pay to exercise your 5th Amendment right to due process.”

Irwin cited recent changes in New Mexico law as a model for appropriate reforms. The Tenth Amendment Center, an avid states’ rights organization, agrees that advances in the southwestern state are a good example of sensible civil asset forfeiture reform. Taking a swipe at the situation in Tennessee, the organization put out this statement:

“Tennessee legislators need to disregard the hysterical whining of police lobbyists afraid of losing their cash cow and aggressively pursue asset forfeiture reform.”

Earning the only “A” grade from the Institute for Justice, New Mexico leads the way — where assets may only be seized if all of the following criteria are met:

(1) The person was arrested for an offense to which forfeiture applies.

(2) The person is convicted by a criminal court of the offense.

(3) The state establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture.

Michigan lawmakers need to take a cue from New Mexico and step-up to protect traveling citizens and vacationing motorists from highway bandits with badges.

BONUS: Below is a short video from the Institute for Justice describing the massive scope of the problem — guaranteed to make your blood boil.

Beware the highway bandits folks! Enjoy your Easter weekend and spring break holiday.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

UPDATE: Feds reaffirm support of asset seizure laws.

UPDATE: Michigan Family a case study of asset forfeiture abuse.

 

 

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