Crazy is as Crazy Does

I am about to fill you in on a crazy news story that has gained traction over the past week.  It’s true, not a joke, not satire, not an article from The Onion.  It falls into the category of “you can’t make this stuff up” , but then again that is exactly what some crazy lunatics in Texas just did.

Jade Helm 15

It all started when the  Pentagon scheduled some training exercises called Jade Helm in the southwest for this summer. The right wing bloggers and conservative commentators picked up on a training map for the Jade Helm 15 exercise and thought is was real, even though the military has performed many similar exercises in the state of Texas in previous years.1,2,3

jadehelm

An image in which Texas is labeled “hostile” territory began making the rounds on conservative message boards and blogs last month.– Newsweek

The politically paranoid have molded this into a conspiracy theory of epic proportion.  They believe that President Obama is sending the US military into Texas to impose martial law and take away people’s guns.

Oh and that’s not all!

Do you remember the story about a number of Walmarts throughout the country closing for renovations a few months ago?  “These Walmarts are going to be military guerrilla-warfare staging areas and FEMA processing camps for political prisoners. The prisoners are going to be transported by train cars that have already been equipped with shackles.”³  Huh?

Can you believe it?  When you read around on the internet the story is elaborate with claims of underground tunnels linking all the Walmarts and internment camps.  It is just crazy talk.

Read the 3 links to stories at the end of this article to get more info on the actual conspiracy story and background

The Texas Governor

texasNonetheless, the incredibly detailed conspiracy story is not actually the weirdest part of this whole thing.  And it is not the reason why I am even mentioning it to you.  There are many conspiracy stories all over the internet from both sides of the aisle that get ignored by the main stream media on a regular basis.

But this story is not ignored.

What makes this story different is that the Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to deploy the Texas State Guard in order to stave off the Obama takeover of Texas.  Really?  Huh?  The Governor?

Gov. Abbott deployed the Texas State Guard to watch over the United States Military to make sure the right’s of the Texas residents are not infringed. 

Say what?

USarmyWhy on earth is a Governor of one of the largest states in the United States of America placating the lunatic fringe?  Does Gov Abbot actually believe that the US Army is going to take over Texas?  If so, maybe the non-lunatic voters in Texas need to know this fact about him before the next election and then I would hope that most Texans would vote the lunatic Governor out of office.  Apparently, the lunatics have truly taken over the asylum of the Republican Party at this point….at least in Texas…but sadly I think nationally.

The real problem

The real problem in all of this is a really, really scary problem.  And The New York Times proposed the most relevant question to shine a light on this problem:

when Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive to the Texas State Guard to keep watch over the military operation, seeming to give those concerns some official credence, it raised a more credible question: To what degree has the extreme become mainstream in Texas?¹

As we make fun of the lunatic fringe and their conspiracy theories, we need to be extremely cognizant of what is becoming mainstream.  We can’t sit back and let these stories go unchecked.  We can’t allow elected officials in higher offices to placate ridiculous theories just for the purpose of gaining votes.  We need to point it out, discuss it, and even ridicule it as much as possible so that most reasonable people understand how outlandish these stories are. Letting it fester just gives the stories strength.  It allows the stories to become real even though there is no reality in them.

Elected officials may think they are being fair and considerate to listen to and placate all their constituents ideas, claims and accusations, but it leads to irreparable harm.  Crazy is as crazy does.  If people are claiming that the earth is flat, you say NO IT IS NOT.  If Texans think the US Army is going to invade Texas and take it over, you remind them that Texas is already a part of the United States and there is no need for a takeover.  The federal government already controls Texas.

You denounce nonsense.

I am sure that there will be much more to come on this story in the weeks ahead.  Now that the mainstream media (and not just the bloggers and conspiracy websites) have picked it up, I am sure that the presidential candidates will need to weigh in on the issue.  Keep an eye out and let’s see how far this goes.

Below is a video from Hardball with Chris Mathews that discusses the issue ~12 minutes

 

non causa pro causa

-MOTL

¹Manny Fernandez, Conspiracy Theories Over Jade Helm Training Exercise Get Some Traction in Texas“.  NYTimes, May 6, 2015.

²Taylor Wofford, “Jade Helm: The Conspiracy Theory That’s Divided Texas Politicians”. Newsweek, May 5, 2015.

³Wade Goodwyn, “Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover.” NPR, May 2, 2015.

zombie

Posted in Interesting Reads, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Crazy is as Crazy Does

It’s easier to fool people, than to convince them that they have been fooled

The Title “It’s easier to fool people, than to convince them that they have been fooled”  is a quote by Mark Twain

I came across this Salon Article the other day that I thought was worth sharing.  Although it’s from a few years ago (September 2012), I think it shows a good example of why I think the Democratic Party needs to start a new “Proud to be a Democrat” marketing campaign.  I wrote about this back on February 16, 2015 in an “Open Letter to the Democratic Party” .

republican-elephantThe Salon piece, “Why I left the GOP” was basically a “come to Jesus moment” for Jeremiah Goulka in regards to how he feels about the Republican Party and its philosophy.  In it he describes his background and how he feels left behind by the Republican Party.  Jeremiah describes it like this (separate excerpts):

“I always imagined that I was full of heart, but it turned out that I was oblivious.  Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their deserts.  As I came to recognize that poverty is not earned or chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people.”
“The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in.  Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal.  For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets.  Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people.  My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.”
“My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.”
“Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful.  I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned.  I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).”

You really should read the entire piece here to get the entire gist of his transformation. What is missing from the piece though is a new dedication to the Democratic Party.  He talks about voting for John Kerry out of anger after the Abru Ghraib pictures and then makes this comment:

“I might still have stuck it out as a frustrated liberal Republican, knowing that the wealthy business core of the party still pulled a few strings and people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe remained in the Senate — if only because the idea of voting for Democrats by choice made me feel uncomfortable.  (It would have been so… gauche.)”

No matter how much he separates himself from the Republican conservative viewpoint he still can’t bring himself to vote directly for a Democrat by choice.  This is what needs to change.

The Democratic Party needs to bring those who are unhappy with the conservatism into our fold.  It needs to have people want to be a part of our liberal movement and not just part of an anti-conservative group.  We need to make ‘being liberal’ an acceptable choice, not “gauche”.  In other words, we need people to be proud to be a Democrat. 

I put forth some ideas on how to do that in my post “An Open Letter to the Democratic Party”.  If you have other ideas on how to do this, write to the DNC (Democratidem donkeyc National Committee) or the MDP (Michigan Democratic Party) yourselves and let them know how much this is needed.  It is not enough to have people vote for the Democratic candidates for lack of an alternative.  We need to enhance our brand and convince people to join us, after all they do believe in the same things as we do.  They just need a new group to make them feel accepted and proud….and not so gauche.

Read the entire article here to see the struggle of his transformation.

tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis

-MOTL

******************************************************

cropped-butterfly.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on It’s easier to fool people, than to convince them that they have been fooled

A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist

logoThere has been some talk lately about Washtenaw County replacing their appointed county administrator with an elected county executive.¹  This idea was introduced at the county board’s retreat on February 28.  The current county administrator, Verna McDaniel, will be retiring soon, so Commissioner Andy Labarre thought it would be a good time to discuss the idea before they appoint a new administrator.

Washtenaw County has a board of nine commissioners, elected by district, all  with equal power. They hire a professional administrator to run day to day operations. The administrator reports to the board collectively, meaning he/she can only be hired or fired with a majority vote (5 of 9).

Changing to an elected County Executive would change the power structure of the county government. Is this needed?  Is this necessary?  It appears to me to be a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

Background

In Michigan all local governments are organized in to 2 types of units: (source:  Michigan in Brief)

  • General-law units may organize themselves and exercise authority only in the way that the state constitution and statutes have specifically set forth for this type of government.
  • A charter (home-rule) unit has more control over its organization and broader authority than does a general-law unit. The unit’s charter sets forth the taxing and borrowing limits (subject to state law), number of departments, and types of services to be delivered to residents.

All cities are home ruled units where the residents adopt the type of government they want using a charter.   Cities can adopt a council-manager  form of government with an appointed city manager or a strong mayor-council option.(source:  Michigan in Brief)

For a more in-depth look at the council-manager vs strong mayor options watch this video by Kirk Westphal and the  Michigan Local Government Management Association, where mayors, councilmembers, city managers and professors describe the two predominant forms of local government in the U.S. — council-manager and strong mayor — and talk about how each impacts its citizens.

All Michigan Counties, but 2, are General Law units.    However, Michigan State ACT 293 allows counties to adopt a charter with voter approval.  Wayne County adopted their charter in 1980 and Macomb County fairly recently in 2009.    (source:  Michigan in Brief)

CHARTER COUNTIES
Act 293 of 1966
AN ACT to provide for the establishment of charter counties; to provide for the election of charter commissioners; to prescribe their powers and duties; to prohibit certain acts of a county board of commissioners after the approval of the election of a charter commission; to prescribe the mandatory and permissive provisions of a charter; to provide for the exercise by a charter county of certain powers whether or not authorized by its charter; and to prescribe penalties and provide remedies

The remaining General Law counties have the option to centralize their government using Michigan State ACT 139  Optional Unified Form of Government using either an elected County Executive or an appointed county administrator.  Oakland County and Bay County  have adopted the unified form with an elected county executive.  (source:  Michigan in Brief)

[I realize that most people think that Oakland county is a charter county, but I have found no evidence of that anywhere]
OPTIONAL UNIFIED FORM OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Act 139 of 1973
AN ACT to provide forms of county government; to provide for county managers and county executives and to prescribe their powers and duties; to abolish certain departments, boards, commissions, and authorities; to provide for transfer of certain powers and functions; to prescribe powers of a board of county commissioners and elected officials; to provide organization of administrative functions; to transfer property; to retain ordinances and laws not inconsistent with this act; to provide methods for abolition of a unified form of county government; and to prescribe penalties and provide remedies

Using ACT 139 appears to be a way for counties to switch to an elected county executive without having to go through the process of writing a charter.

A Solution to what?

signSo why even consider this proposal to have an elected County Executive instead of an appointed county administrator?  What is the benefit to doing this?  Let’s ask some basic questions to find out if there are any benefits.

Can an elected County Executive help the county administration run more efficiently?

Not really.  It puts in another layer of management that has no real purpose. The County Executive won’t have much power because much (perhaps most) of county government is not under the control of the County Administrator, and thus wouldn’t be under the control of the Executive. The Sheriff employs the most people in county government and he’s autonomous. The courts are independent and controlled by the Chief Judge. The roads are controlled by an appointed Road Commission.  The water/drain system is controlled by the Water Resources Commissioner. The clerk operations (court records, marriages, elections, etc.) are controlled by the County Clerk Register of Deeds. The prosecutor is elected and autonomous.  Yes, there are other departments in county government such as the health department, human services and basic administrative departments, but do we really need an elected official to over see them?

Having an elected executive instead of a county administrator does not make things more efficient, but rather would be no different in day to day operations for the few departments that would report to the position.  Our county government is working just fine right now.

Can an elected County Executive help the board of commissioners run more efficiently?

No, and in fact it injects politics into the process.  It would impose another layer of political bickering and partisanship.  If the executive is given voting or veto privileges the board of commissioners lose some of their power.  With loss of power comes more debate and more bickering. Think about how well  President Obama and congress get along.

Some might feel that another check and balance might be good, more discussion is good, more bickering is good.  I simply say that if it aint broke, don’t fix it.  We don’t  need to make things more complicated versus not broken.

Can an elected County Executive be more qualified to do the job?

No.  Any resident of the county can run for the county executive position.  The pool of potential candidates is relatively small due to the fact that they have to be a resident of the county. There are no pre-reqs that qualify someone for the job.  It is a crap shoot on what you end up with.  The main responsibility of the administrator/executive is to prepare the county budget.  This is not a simple thing to do.  It is not something one can outsource.  The public may unknowingly elect someone whose administrative budget skills are not that great.  If the elected executive does a poor job or does something unethical, the public is stuck with them until the next election.  If the elected county executive is popular, but does a poor job, they still could be returned to office by an unknowing electorate.  That would be not good for the budget and therefore not good for the county.

On the other hand, if you appoint a county administrator, the board can do a national search and find a candidate that has the appropriate skills for the job and who fits into the culture.  If the administrator does a poor job or turns out to be incompetent or unethical the board can fire them and replace them.

michiganCan an elected County Executive represent the county in a beneficial manner throughout the state?

Yes, an elected county executive can represent the county as a centralized voice that represents our interests publicly in public transit, economic development, etc.  Washtenaw county is now an engine of economic growth and a voice dedicated to issues pertaining to that would definitely benefit us.  A centralized voice representing Washtenaw county on the State level and in the Metro Detroit area could lead to some beneficial partnerships.

However, most of our county is rural, we can’t get away from that fact.  Would an executive who reflects those ideals really be elected by rural Washtenaw County voters who don’t appreciate those things? Probably not. Remember how poorly the county wide bus millage played.

Maybe this could be accomplished through another mechanism such as one of our 9 county commissioners taking on the liaison role for specific areas.  One commissioner can be the centralized voice for transportation, another for economic development, etc.  We could use the system we have now to get this benefit that we desire.

Not needed

antiI’m not convinced that the switch from a county administrator  to an elected county executive would benefit the county. The cons seem to outweigh the pros at this point for me.  Although I see benefit in having a centralized voice representing the county throughout the state, there really is no direct benefit to the county  itself.  There is no problem that is solved by implementing this change in Washtenaw County.  It just seems like an unnecessary waste of time at this point.

This is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. County government works just fine and we shouldn’t meddle with the structure at this time.

imperium in imperio 

-MOTL

 

***************************************************************

¹Ben Freed, Could Washtenaw County elect its top official? Mlive.com March 3.2015.

 

map2

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Washtenaw County | Comments Off on A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist

Vote NO on Proposal 1 on May 5, 2015

I was going to wait a few more weeks to write about Proposal 1 that is on the May 5, 2015 Special Election ballot, but the Ann Arbor City council has a resolution to support Proposal 1 on their March 16 agenda, so now is the time.

Red_CheckmarkOn May 5. 2015 in a statewide special election, voters will decide whether to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7% and to change the way the fuel tax is calculated. This proposal is in response to deteriorating road conditions in Michigan.  The fuel tax has not been increased for nearly 20 years, so our tax revenue for road repair has been inefficient at best.  Almost everyone believes that we need to increase tax revenue in order to fix our deteriorating roads.  The question for voters is really about how to go about increasing that revenue.

This is a very complicated proposal that I feel is not the most practical or efficient way for repairing our roads.  I believe that many are not looking at the details of the proposal and think that the end justifies the means.  But what if the means are bad for the state and the residents in the long run?  What if the end is not what you expected?  Will our roads get repaired ASAP or in 5 years?  Will road repair be prioritized once more fuel tax revenue is collected?  Lets see.  There is a lot of info to go over so lets start at the beginning.

Ballot Language

Here is the actual ballot language you will see on your ballot.

PROPOSAL 15-1

A proposal to amend the State Constitution to increase the sales/use tax from 6% to 7% to replace and supplement reduced revenue to the School Aid Fund and local units of government caused by the elimination of the sales/use tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles operating on public roads, and to give effect to laws that provide additional money for roads and other transportation purposes by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Eliminate sales / use taxes on gasoline / diesel fuel for vehicles on public roads.
  • Increase portion of use tax dedicated to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Expand use of SAF to community colleges and career / technical education, and prohibit use for 4-year colleges / universities.
  • Give effect to laws, including those that:
    • Increase sales / use tax to 7%, as authorized by constitutional amendment.
    • Increase gasoline / diesel fuel tax and adjust annually for inflation, increase vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes.
    • Expand competitive bidding and warranties for road projects.
    • Increase earned income tax credit.

Should this proposal be adopted?

YES [] NO []

Taxes

state sealLets break this into parts so you can actually understand what is happening here.  Currently we have a state sales tax of 6%.  We pay this sales tax on everything including fuel.   The only exceptions are for food and prescriptions.  The revenue generated by the state sales tax is constitutionally earmarked for the following:

  • School aid fund ~75%
  • General Fund ~15.9%
  • Local Revenue Sharing ~10%
  • Transportation Fund ~1%

That means we cannot use sales tax revenue for anything else, including fixing the roads.

Michigan has a state fuel tax of  19 cents  per gallon on the purchase of gas.  This tax can be and is used to repair and maintain the roads.  However, the amount was set almost 20 years ago and it has not kept pace with  the demand for repairs in our aging infrastructure.

There is also a 18% Federal excise tax on fuel that I won’t really refer to because nothing in the proposal will actually affect that tax as far as I know.

The Proposal

Decision-MakingThe Michigan legislature’s did not opt for the simplest solution of just raising the gas tax to cover the badly needed road and infrastructure repairs. Their reasoning is that it was just too big an increase for one tax (the fuel tax).  Instead they came up with a very complex plan that distributes an even higher increase between 2 different taxes ( the sales tax and a reformulated fuel tax).2  

The first step in their plan is to eliminate the sales tax on gas/fuel.  Why?  This tax was not going to fund road repair anyway.  They would then replace the flat 19-cents per gallon tax that we pay now, with an initial 41.7-cent per gallon fuel tax based on a formula that includes wholesale fuel prices and inflation..  Yes that is 41.7 cents…a 22.7 cents difference.  That might seem like a lot but isn’t.  Remember that the fuel tax is a flat tax per gallon and the sales tax that it replaced was a percentage.  A simple example is this

Old system:  $2.50 / gallon + 6% sales tax ($0.15) + $0.19 fuel tax =$2.84
New system:  $2.50 / gallon + $0.417 fuel tax = $2.92

Old system:  $4.50 / gallon + 6% sales tax ($0.27) + $0.19 fuel tax =$4.96
New system:  $4.50 / gallon + $0.417 fuel tax = $4.92

 There really is no noticeable effect at the pump for the consumer when the new formulation is initiated.   It appears that we are paying the same taxes that we paid before, but this new tax no longer includes the 6% sales tax.  It is a hidden tax increase until inflation rises and thus the fuel tax increases. Only then will people recognize the tax increase.  Nonetheless, we should have more tax money at the end of the day dedicated to repairing roads and infrastructure.

The problem with this part of the proposal is how they are calculating the 41.7 cents fuel tax.  I have looked everywhere for a real calculation but came up empty.  The best I could find to explain the new formula is this description in the Free Press 2 :

 “the fuel tax would be tied to a complex formula that pegs it to the Consumer Price Index, a common measure of inflation. The minimum fuel tax could never rise more 5 cents per gallon over the rate of inflation (which is also capped, under the formula, at 5% a year). But the fuel tax rate would never go down, even in the unlikely event that the inflation rate is negative.”

It will be impossible to ever predict what the future price of gas and the fuel tax will be.   Depending on inflation we could have a very  volatile tax.  Although consumers won’t notice a a tax increase in the beginning, as inflation rises the gas tax rises.  However there is a cap on gas taxes to prevent gas tax decreases in the case of deflation.  This new fuel tax can go up and up, but will NEVER go down.

There is no certainty with this plan.  Other states have done this but not with great success.  Massachusetts  implemented a 2013 transportation law designed to help fuel tax revenues keep up with inflation and then revoked it in November of 2014.  The residents were not happy with it and wanted the legislature to vote on increases every year instaed.   I agree with this.  The legislature should have to do their job and if the residents want their roads fixed then, they have to agree to pay for them and support their legislators who cast votes for tax increases.  I would gladly pay for this same increase if it was just a simple hike in the fixed gas tax /gallon and not linked to inflation.

Consequences

consequencesSo in a convoluted way, this new gas tax formula will technically give us more tax money  to fix our roads.  But in doing so, the legislature has just created a dire situation with the Michigan State budget.  It eliminated the 6% sales tax on fuel that used to go to the schools, the general fund, and the local municipalities.  That is a huge hit on the budget.  So now we have the second part of our tax increase.  The legislature is asking you to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7% in order to replace the lost revenue from the elimination of sales tax on fuel.

But I ask you, why do we need to eliminate the sales tax on fuel at all?  There are 9 states including Michigan that impose some state sales tax on gasoline (CA, CT, GA, HA, IL, IN, MI, NY, VA).  Michigan is not alone in this.  Charging sales tax on fuel is not prohibited or negative in any real way.  Why fix a system that is not broken?   We could raise the 19-cents per gallon gas tax to maybe, 30 cents per gallon and still keep the 6% sales tax.  After all buying fuel is a purchase.  It makes sense.

The issue lies with how the conservatives define gas taxes.  Currently Michigan has a total tax of 41.4 on fuel purchases, but only 19-cents is a fuel tax, the rest is state sales tax (6%) and federal taxes (18%).  When Michigan is reported on in the media though, Michigan has the 6th highest fuel taxes in the nation because they use the 41.4% number which includes the sales tax.  Conservatives have many voters convinced that our taxes are higher than most other states, when that is completely not true.  We cannot fix our roads right now because we are actually underfunded compared to most other states.  Paul Egan of the Free Press reported it this way:3

Of the 41.4 cents in state taxes Michigan motorists pay on a gallon of fuel, only 19 cents is a fuel tax dedicated to transportation. The other 22.4 cents is all sales tax, and under Michigan’s constitution, most of it goes to schools and local governments and very little of it can be spent on roads.
Remove that 22.4 cents from the equation and Michigan’s 19-cent fuel tax ties with Arizona for ninth-lowest among the states.
“Including the sales tax skews Michigan tremendously,” said Jeff Cranson, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“It’s very disingenuous of the AFP (Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group) and others to make the point about what we spend on fuel taxes without noting that as a matter of public policy, our state decided to use sales tax on fuel to fund other things so what you pay at the pump is not a true user fee for roads.”

Here is a table of the actual fuel rates that each state charges.  Click  in upper right corner to zoom in or pop out (enlarge).

gas_rates


source: www.taxpolicycenter.org

As you can see, Michigan clearly has a much lower fuel tax then described.  It is disingenuous for politicians to declare that Michigan has a high fuel tax when we don’t and it is even more disingenuous when they claim that our fuel tax is not spent on the roads.  Our sales tax is not spent on the roads because it is not supposed to be, the fuel tax of 19 cents per gallon is.

So now you are being asked to raise the sales tax to replace the sales tax revenue on fuel that will be lost when they rework the fuel tax formula.  This new complex formula is not needed or necessary.  Remember they could have just simply raised the 19 cent per gallon fuel tax and kept the sales tax.  This new complex formula is only being used to disguise the tax increase initially while convincing you that you are choosing to raise sales taxes to cover the schools, the general fund, and local municipalities.  Reality is that we are replacing the elimination of the fuel sales tax with an increase of sales tax overall.

A problem I have with it is this.  Sales tax on fuel purchases is more likely to be more consistent that sales taxes on other purchases.  When you are using the sales tax to fund schools and such, consistency is good.  When the economy is down, people cut back on many things, shop less, eat out less, etc.  Fuel purchases are the last thing they cut back on.  After all we still have to drive to work.  We will be trading a consistent level of tax revenue for tax revenue that is not predictable and could decline at any time.  Although, they say that the 1% increase in sales tax should cover the elimination of the 6% tax on fuel, it is riskier to rely on a sales tax system that is based on retail sales that can decrease at any time for any reason.

A much better way to raise revenue in a more consistent manner would be to raise the income tax instead of relying on a retail sales tax.

Why an increase in the sales tax is a bad idea

decision-making-process1So now you might be saying to yourself,

‘so what, I want the roads fixed.   I am willing to pay more to fix the roads and allow a sales tax increase to help the schools, local municipalities and the general fund.  I don’t care if it is one tax increase or two tax increases.  I don’t care how it gets done.  Just get it done.’

Let me tell you…You should care.

Allowing the GOP to raise the sales tax instead of simply raising the fuel tax or the income tax to cover expenses is dangerous.  IMO, it is actually part of the GOP plan to eliminate the income tax altogether and go to a 100% consumption tax (sales tax) revenue system in Michigan.  If you are willing to raise the sales tax for road repairs, then why not raise it again the next time we are desperate for revenue? Why not for schools?  Why not for prisons?

Over the last few of years Gov. Snyder  moved business over to a 6% flat corporate tax and gave huge business tax credits.  The State lost out on a lot of revenue and it wreaked havoc on the state’s budget. 4,5     Chad Livengood of the Detroit news explained the effect on the budget this way 5 :

To alleviate an immediate $325 million deficit blamed on surging business tax refunds, Snyder proposed slashing spending in state agencies by $207.3 million this year and shifting $166 million in community colleges payments to the School Aid Fund. Among the biggest losers were community health, prisons and film incentives.

There is less revenue to go around and thus our schools and roads suffer.  So while they are convincing you to increase the sales tax  to fix the roads because we have a revenue shortfall, they are still cutting income taxes and other business taxes leading to a large general fund deficit. The Governor and GOP led legislature are shifting the tax burden from business on to the individual every time the can. See their 78 point action plan that calls for repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law and income tax cuts.  If Proposal 1 passes there will be another ask in the near future to raise the sales tax again to cover all these tax cuts that are in the plan.

Don’t believe me that this could happen? That they want to eliminate the income tax? Well take a look at this. State Rep. Bob Genetski already attempted to repeal the state income tax and put it on the November 2o14 ballot for voter approval.7   House Bill 4898 was introduced in the house, but referred to the committee on tax policy.  Although, the bill appeared to have died in committee,  this idea is out there and is being actively acted upon.

Gov. Snyder appeared to be against Genetski plan for the reason that “It would be difficult for the state to both cut or eliminate income tax while paying off the debt, Snyder told MLive.  “You have to hope for a major supply-side impact if you are going to cut your tax revenues to pay down debt”

Translation for me is that they need to find away to replace the lost revenue or Snyder won’t back it.. Hhmm…maybe voters, under duress, agreeing to raising sales taxes to cover expenses is the way to replace revenue.  Just saying.

The contradiction in Prop 1

contradictionSupporters of the sales tax proposal claim that this is all about safety, that our roads are dangerous and that we need to approve Proposal 1 to fix the situation.  We see commercials of mothers and their children driving on deteriorated roads and under bridges that have plywood installed to catch falling concrete.  When I hear that something is dangerous and related to safety, I tend to think that the solution should be immediate.  If the solution does not come quickly, then how “dangerous” could the situation have been?  I also tend to think that if something is actually “dangerous” and purposely delayed that the situation falls under negligence and dereliction of duty for an elected official.

Well Proposal 1 does not appear t0 prioritize road repair or the safety of our roads.  It would phase in new road funding while concentrating on paying down infrastructure debt first.  Say what?!?  We have “dangerous” roads, crumbling bridges with falling concrete and our legislatures want to pay down debt before actually fixing the roads?  Huh?  WTF?

Year 1 2015-2016
$865 million will be used to pay down debt.
$368 million will be distributed to state and local road agencies for repairs

Year 2 2016-2017
$468 million will be utilized for debt pay-down.
$764 million will be distributed to road agencies for repairs

Year 2018
all $1.25 billion will be distributed to road agencies for repairs

Now MDOT didn’t ask for a phase in or help with paying down debt.10  So why do our legislatures think that the debt payments should take precedence?  They believe that the money will not be used efficiently, they will not get enough bang for their buck.  Jonathan Oosting at Mlive reported on their reasoning:10 

The ramp up was pushed by House Republicans, who were concerned that putting too much new money into the system right away would drive up demand — and subsequently prices — for road construction and materials.
It’s really allowing the industry to know how big the program is going to be,” said (MDOT Director Kirk) Steudle. “It will give the industry a year or two to gear up, and it’ll provide opportunities for people who want to come into the market as well and provide more competition.”
Steulde said several lawmakers contacted him last year about the prospect of “induced construction inflation.” For instance, he said, if three county road commissions in one region all try to buy hot asphalt from the same local contractor at the same time, prices might rise due to demand.

Really?  Saving money trumps protecting their citizens? If you want me to go along with a plan I hate, a plan that changes our tax structure to a conservative benchmark, a plan you labeled as “dangerous”, you don’t tell me that  the price of asphalt is the more important than concrete falling on my head.

I find this deplorable.  All the safety rhetoric that is being spouted right now to get voters to approve this is nothing but a bait and switch.  This is not about “Safe Roads”, it is about using our deteriorating roads to convince  the voters to shift the tax system to a consumption tax (sales tax) system.  It is sort of a non-sequitur logic where  they relate a non-related issue to the issue under discussion.

In order to have safe roads, we must approve a sales tax increase to help the schools and local municipalities

When in reality we just needed to raise the gas tax to have money to repair the roads.

 

Vote No on Proposal 1

cropped-decisionmaking2.s600x600.jpgI’m voting no on Proposal 1.  The end does not justify the means.  It is blackmail pure and simple.  I should not have to vote for a convoluted tax restructuring plan to feel safe on the roads.  I do not believe that this is the only option and that there is no Plan B.   There are other options, the GOP in Lansing just refuse to consider them. WE need to MAKE the legislators consider them.

If there is one thing everyone in this state agrees upon, whether your an urbanite, rural folk, small towners, suburbanite, is that we need to fix the roads.  And most of us realize that we need to pay for it.  The question is not IF we need to fix the roads but HOW to fund it.  The proposal gives us one option where we chose yes or no.  That does not mean we are not willing to pay for any road repair at all.  That does not mean we are refusing ANY tax increase, we are just refusing THAT tax increase that was proposed.

Some elected officials believe that Prop 1 needs to be supported because there is not another credible/doable plan on the table.  I don’t really care about credible/doable.  I care about logical and what the right thing to do is. Everything has a consequence and if the logical thing cannot even be considered by our current legislature than we need to replace the current legislature. The only way to do that is to have the consequence actually affect the voter.  Rhetoric will never change the electorates mind, but feeling the pain of bad roads will.  It is shortsighted to just think about “now” instead of the future and the precedence it will set.

Voting for something you don’t like or want because of fear or blackmail is not good for the future. We need to just say no to irrational and poorly thought out plans. We should force the Michigan legislature to come up with a new plan even if we have to suffer with bad roads for another year. After all, Prop 1 doesn’t really fix our roads immediately. Remember most of the new fuel tax goes to pay down debt in the first 3 years.  Roads are the perfect situation for this. We get the government we vote for. If people want a decent plan to fix our roads, then we need to vote in decent representation. There are consequences to voting in ultra conservative, no-taxes under any circumstances types. If you want your roads fixed, then vote for a candidate who thinks it’s the responsibility of the government to actually FIX the roads.

We all need to take a lesson from President Obama…the President Obama of today, not from his first year in office.  When President Obama first took office he tried to compromise with the Teapublicans and forge deals with them.   Every time he did, they moved the goalpost and then tried something more extreme the next time.  Now President Obama simply says NO.  Just last month the Teapublicans were refusing to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unless Obama rescinded his executive order on immigration.  The year before, they refused to fund the government unless Obamacare was dismantled.  Should Obama have given in because funding the government and the DHS are critical?  NO, he didn’t and shouldn’t.

With Proposal 1 we must have our roads repaired.  It is unquestionable.  Why settle for a sub par proposal that does not even give us what we need which are roads repaired immediately.  We say no and insist on a new proposal.  We wait them out or throw them out.

aasealThe Ann Arbor City council will be discussing a resolution in support of Proposal 1 at their Monday, March 16 meeting.  I am not sure how they plan on voting on this except that the resolution endorsing Proposal 1 is submitted by CM Warpehowski and Mayor Taylor.  I am quite shocked that they are even considering this.  Elected Officials might potentially vote yes at the ballot box on the proposal because they feel like they have no choice and feel nervous about the outcome, but it is a completely different thing to SUPPORT it.  SUPPORTING it implies you agree with its contents, that you think it is reputable, that you think it is acceptable.  Proposal 1 is none of those things. Prop 1 uses fear about road conditions to force the electorate to agree to a change in our revenue collecting system in Michigan.  I do not see how any true Democrat could endorse Proposal 1.  City Council is not required to to show their support.  They can simply stay silent on the issue.  Why they are choosing to bring this unpopular and ill conceived plan to council for support is baffling to me.

Some Democratic elected officials may feel that it shows leadership to support such an unpopular plan that they feel  is a solution to a critical problem. But as I pointed out many times, this solution does not fix our problem.  It is ill conceived with ulterior motives written into it. It is not the most logical or the most efficient solution to the problem…simply raising the fuel tax is.  Real Leadership is standing up for the right thing,  not for what what they think may be good enough out of fear of the unknown.

For those who are afraid that if we vote no that the state legislature will do nothing to fix the situation or make drastic cuts somewhere else to fund the road repairs, I say this. They HAVE TO do something.  Just like congress had to fund the government and the Dept of Homeland Security.  I would rather take one step back in order to take 2 steps forward.  If we give up now, why don’t we just concede our government over to the ultra conservatives.

I am voting no and I hope you do too.

Non Sequitur

-MOTL

*********************************

1 Jonathan Oosting, Michigan sales tax: Where does the revenue go? And what could an increase mean for road funding?  Mlive.com, February 18, 2013

2 Detroit Free Press Editorial Board, Roads 101: What you need to know about Proposal 1.  Freep.com, February 28,, 2015

3 Paul Egan, Gas tax 101: Why Michiganders pay high gas taxes for crummy roads. Free Press/WZZM13ABC, December 2, 2014.

4 Andrea Goodell, State Rep. Bob Genetski crafts bill that would repeal Michigan income tax.  Holland Sentinel.com, June 28, 2013.

4 Chad Livengood, Michigan business tax credit liability to soar to $9.4B.  Detroit News, February 19, 2015.

5 Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein, Snyder pitches education boost, health cuts.  Detroit News, February 12, 2015.

6 Jonathan Oosting, Michigan House GOP unveils ‘most bold agenda’ yet calling for prevailing wage repeal, income tax cut.  Mlive.com, February 5, 2015

7 Andrea Goodell, State Rep. Bob Genetski crafts bill that would repeal Michigan income tax.  Holland Sentinel.com, June 28, 2013.

9 Shandra Martinez, Get rid of income tax? Gov. Snyder explains why policy forum economist’s idea isn’t good now.  Mlive.com, September 29, 2014.

10 Jonathan Oosting, Michigan Proposal 1 would pay off debt, ramp up road funding over three years.  Mlive.com, March 12, 2015

cropped-taxes.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ann Arbor City Council, Elections, Teapublicans, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Vote NO on Proposal 1 on May 5, 2015

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

Dear Democratic Party,

I am a loyal and dedicated member who is dismayed year after year as the conservative movement takes a stronger foothold in this country.  For the last 20 years, people have abandoned the Democratic Party due to the strong marketing campaign by the conservative right that convinces people to vote against their best interest.  I astounds me how this works year after year.  Something needs to be done to turn this around.

There have been many books written on the issues of why people vote against their best interest. There’s the infamous:

200px-WhatsthematterwithkansasWhat’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) is a book by American journalist and historian Thomas Frank, which explores the rise of populist anti-elitist conservatism in the United States, centering on the experience of Kansas.

And another not as well known book where the voter is classified more as inattentive and ignorant rather than stupid such as the title suggests:

indexJust How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter is a political book by author Rick Shenkman.  The book argues that although the American government has gained global political power since the late 19th century, American voters have become increasingly ignorant of politics and world affairs, and are dangerously susceptible to political manipulation.

Video interview with the author Rick Shenkman on The Alcove with Mark Molaro.  It is about 30 minutes in length, but very interesting.

These books make valid points about how the voting public is uniformed and inattentive.  They discuss why voters chose simplistic issues to base their votes on rather than being more informed.

I am writing to ask the Democratic Party to seriously think about changing your messaging in the next election cycle.  What has been done in the past 20 years has not been enough to counter the republican spin machine.  The Democratic Party has always held most of the labor vote, the women’s vote and the academic ‘so called’ elite vote, but it falls short with the middle class vote at times.  The Republicans have made a large group of liberal leaning and independent voters feel embarrassed to proclaim that they are a Democrat or to want to vote democratic.

I say this because of my experience with some of my friends and colleagues who say they vote Republican, but when pressed for their views on the issues they clearly identify with the liberal side.  When I point that out to them and ask why they aren’t voting for the Democrat, they say oh no ‘I’m a Republican’.  They say this as if being a Republican is reputable, but being a Democrat is not.  Some identify as an Independent but have never and probably never would vote for anyone other than a Democrat.  So why don’t they just call themselves a Democrat?   It is all about perception.

Now most of these friends and colleagues of mine who claim this, are middle class individuals who may or may not have gone to college.  They seem to think that their status in life aligns with being a Republican/Independent and never will with being a Democrat.  I believe that they think this way because honestly the Democratic message is never pitched to them directly.

The Democrats pitch their message to all the different social groups: LGBT, African American, labor/union groups, the poor, etc., but never to the ordinary middle class  directly.  The days of the labor/union vote, which is shrinking every year, carrying the Democratic candidates to victory are in the past. The Democratic Party needs the middle class to be part of the party once again and to be proud of it.

My idea is this.  The Democratic Party needs to start a campaign that makes it desirable to stand up and declare that ‘I am proud to be a Democrat’.  There should be two types of advertising campaigns, using both print and TV commercials that would show the pride in being a Democrat.

Professional who are proud to be a Democrat Campaign

dem donkeyThe commercials would show a professional, with their name and occupation stating a democratic party value and that they are “Proud to be a Democrat”.

Example 1 Picture of a pharmacist or nurse or doctor,  Hi I’m Joe Smith, I’m a pharmacist/nurse/doctor, and I believe in the Affordable Care act.  I’m proud to be a Democrat.

Example 2 Picture of a scientist in a lab coat, Hi I’m Jane doe, I’m a molecular biologist and I believe that investments in medical research arenecessary and can save lives.  I’m proud to be a Democrat.

Example 3 Picture of a Business owner, Hi I’m Pat Jones, I’m a business owner and I am worried about income inequality.  Workers should be paid a decent wage and should have mandatory sick leave.  I’m proud to be a Democrat.

Example 4 Picture of a Farmer, Hi I’m Paul Tractor, I’m a farmer and I believe that genetically modified foods are bad for our health and the environment.   I’m proud to be a Democrat.

These are simple statements, but when repeated on a regular basis can have a real impact.  It can show that other professionals just like them , who think like them, are proud to be a Democrat. Do you remember the Chrysler Superbowl commercials (2011, 2012, and 2014) that showed the American pride for an American import?   That feeling you get when you watch these commercials is pride.  That’s the feeling we want people to feel.

Simplify the Messaging Campaign

Badge - 2008 electionThe second campaign would simplify the language of the issues.  Too many times the politicians use buzz words and phrases that become talking points, but many people don’t clearly understand what the issue is.

For example, the buzz term of the year is income inequality.  All the talking heads on TV refer to it, it is rumored to be a main campaign issue for the Democrats, but does anyone really understand what it is?  Income inequality is simply the gap between the rich and everyone else.  Do people understand why this is an important issue and how it affects their everyday lives?

This ad campaign would focus on commercials using words on the screen posing a question.  A question that show how the issue affects them directly.  It ends with the issue instead of leading with it.

Example 1
Do you believe that the executives in your companies deserve large raises and bonuses while the labor force is mandated to no or little raises in a year when there is little profit for the company?
We don’t either.
Lets stop the income inequality gap from getting out of control.
Vote Democratic Party.

Example 2
Do you believe that religious groups should be allowed to preach to our children in public school.
We don’t either.
Separation of church and state means that public school children will not be influenced by a religion that is not of your choosing.
Vote Democratic Party.

Example 3
Do you believe that health insurance companies should be allowed to refuse policies to those with pre-existing conditions such as cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.?
We don’t either.
Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) mandates that a person cannot be refused coverage because they were once sick or are still sick.
Vote Democratic Party.

Example 4
Do you believe that your employer should be allowed to mandate that you follow their religious beliefs just because you work for them?
We don’t either.
A woman’s’ health care options are between her and her doctor.  Employers should not be allowed to chose whether she has access to affordable birth control which is a legal prescription.
Vote Democratic Party.

I know that these are simplistic, but my point is to actually simplify the message.  We need people to feel the effect of the outcome before they realize the topic.

So to all those who are at the helm of the Democratic party, please think about changing the messaging of our ideas and campaigns.  Bring the pride back.  Explain how each issue actually affects people’s lives instead of just talking about the issue academically.  I find that most voters actually agree with the views and beliefs of the Democratic Party , yet they still vote against their best interest at times.  There needs to be an active campaign to change this trend.

If my ideas don’t seem to be adequate, then please do something novel, new, or trendy in order to grab the attention of the public.  We have lost both houses in congress to the Republicans and I would hate to see us lose the White House in 2016.

Sincerely,

MOTL

 tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis

notes take down

Posted in Elections, Uncategorized | Comments Off on An Open Letter to the Democratic Party