Cynical Synapse

Sat, 29 Oct 2011

Snyder’s Romneyesque Approach to Michigan Transportation

Filed under: Driving, Government, Governor, Hypocrits, Michigan, Politics, Roads, Taxes, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 1:48 pm

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Although I’ve got to give Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) credit for thinking outside the box, splitting hairs doesn’t change the growing deviation from his own campaign rhetoric. While more subtle than flip-flopping Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Snyder is still back-pedaling from previous positions. Regarding his proposals for road and transit improvements, the disconnects are more significant than they appear at first glance. As a reminder, here’s candidate Snyder’s view on transportation funding in October 2010:

Asked if he’d support increasing Michigan’s gas tax, given that the state has the nation’s worst-maintained roads, Snyder said no, “because we need to get efficient first” with the state’s existing transportation funds. …

“So let’s get efficient about where we’re deploying these dollars. There’s a much better way to do things, and that’s what we should focus on first.”

First, the Governor wants a revenue-neutral change in the fuel tax. Snyder’s plan eliminates the 19-cent “current gas tax on consumers”, shifting it to a percentage at the wholesale level. Wow! I won’t have to pay state gas tax anymore! Except, does anyone believe wholesalers won’t pass the cost of that tax onto retailers? Is the average retailer likely to discount his pump price by the amount of the wholesale tax passed to him? As the Brits would say, not bloody likely. While this proposal is initially revenue-neutral for the gas tax, a percentage tax on wholesale fuels will go up as prices rise. The proposal includes another hidden tax increase. Michigan levies sales tax, presently 6% on goods sold, including gasoline. Retailers don’t include the current 19-cent gas tax when calculating the sales tax. Since the wholesale tax will be part of the price retailers pay, it will now become subject to the 6% sales tax. On day one of a wholesale tax, Michigan will collect more than a penny per gallon in additional taxes from consumers. So much for “revenue-neutral”; never mind Michigan’s fuel taxes are already among the highest in the country.

fuel tax comparison by state

Next up, Snyder figures Michigan needs an extra $10 per month from every vehicle registration. Sounds minimal, but that’s $120 per year, on top of what you’re already paying for license tabs. As Stephen Henderson noted, it disproportionately impacts poor people.

It’s a big hit to people’s wallets in a state still struggling to rebound from a decade-long recession. A family with three cars registered to one person would have to fork over $360 extra all at once.

From my perspective, the increased vehicle registration fees are neither logical nor beneficial. Snyder says they will raise about $1.4 billion for roads. They will also price many out of their cars in a state with few functioning transportation options. Don’t be surprised if there is an increase in license plate thefts or cutting their corners off to get someone else’s current year tab. Here’s a novel concept: how about charging heavier weight vehicles for the road damage they cause? A 5,000-pound car exerts a mere 2,500 pounds per axle while Michigan allows up to 17,000 pounds—nearly seven times that of the car—per axle. Financing road repairs also needs to ensure non-resident users pay their share, not just Michiganians. Earlier this year, a bipartisan legislative report said Michigan needs $1.4 billion more for roads each year. Coincidence? I think maybe not.

road workers

Snyder also proposed voluntary elimination of county road commissions, folding their responsibilities into general county government. Such a move would save money by eliminating a separate bureaucracy and improve accountability, through county commissioners, to county residents. Since I absolutely abhor my road commission, I’m tempted to support this proposal. The only problem is Snyder wants counties to be able to levy their own $40 vehicle registration fees on top of the state’s. In the 3 car example, the cost now skyrockets to $780, based on a $100 per car average at present, plus the added $120 state and $40 county fees.

Having nothing to do with the state of Michigan’s roads, or fixing them, Snyder also suggested the red herring of so-called “high-speed buses” on key metro Detroit routes. What he means is rapid-transit buses, which often operate in dedicated lanes, but are still subject to speed limits, traffic lights, and road conditions, like standard buses. The concept of dedicated lanes means either removing lanes from availability to motorists or spending money to add sole-use lanes. Personally, I’m not sold on the idea of bus rapid transit, but what concerns me about the Governor’s plan is its creation of yet another transit agency in Southeast Michigan. Say what? Just over a week ago, I posted on metro Detroit’s two dysfunctional bus systems. How is adding another layer going to fix that? How does this fit with Snyder’s push for local governments to consolidate?

Let’s summarize.

  • Candidate Snyder said no new gas tax, but even his “revenue neutral” proposal increases taxes consumers would pay on fuel
  • Candidate Snyder wanted to eliminate transportation administration/funding inefficiencies, but the Gov. Snyder wants taxpayers to fork over $1.4 billion instead
  • Gov. Snyder wants to eliminate Michigan’s extra layer of county road commissions, but will allow counties to charge vehicle registration fees on top of taxes
  • Gov. Snyder wants local governments to consolidate services, but he proposes adding another transit agency to those already preexisting in southeast Michigan

Gov. Snyder ran on the claim he was a political outsider. What he’s showing us is the same smoke and mirrors approach used by seasoned politicians.


 

Mon, 17 Oct 2011

A Tale of Two Dysfunctional Systems

Filed under: Budget, Customer service, Detroit, Economy, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:17 pm

city and suburban buses in downtown Detroit

Detroit and its suburbs enjoy bus service from not one, but two dysfunctional systems. Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses primarily serve the city while Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses serve the suburbs, including forays into downtown Detroit. It’s not at all uncommon to see buses from one, the other, or both, chasing each other—even leap-frogging as one stops while another goes to the next stop. As many as half of DDOT’s buses are in the shop waiting to be fixed. Even former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick knew way back in 2004 that DDOT was a broken system. As for SMART, individual suburbs can opt out, so the system has traverse these unserved areas to connect those that are served. Declining property values left SMART underfunded by its millage, so the system plans to lay off 123 and cut or eliminate service on 36 routes.

Nine years ago, Southeast Michigan was on the cusp of a solution called the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority (DARTA). After years of negotiating and political maneuvering, the Michigan House and Senate had passed the necessary legislation. Then, in a moment of extreme self-importance and political spitefulness, the Jaba-the-Hut-esque John Engler (R) vetoed the bill mere nanoseconds before his rotundness rolled out of office as his term as governor expired. Thanks, John. The region has been paying the price ever since.

Peter Rogoff, Mayor Dave Bing, Sec. Ray LaHood, Gov. Rick Snyder

Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was in metro Detroit today to meet with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) regarding transit in Southeast Michigan. During a press conference with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, LaHood announced $928.5 million in grants to over 300 projects nationwide. For once, Michigan faired well, snagging about 5% of the grant money. Ann Arbor will get $3.8 million, DDOT $6.8 million, and SMART almost $5 million of Michigan’s $46.7 million share to fund 16 projects.

The elephant in the room is still getting city and suburbs to put their differences aside and craft a true, workable transit solution for Southeast Michigan. Imagine how much farther along we would be if Engler hadn’t been such a jackass.
 

Well! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously on Southeast Michigan transit:

Mon, 10 Oct 2011

Snyder Pulled a Romney; Wants Higher Michigan Gas Taxes After All

Filed under: Budget, Deceit, Government, Governor, Hypocrits, Michigan, Politics, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 2:02 pm

Southfield Freeway reopens after summer closure

Michiganians want good roads and there is no doubt a good transportation infrastructure is important to Michigan’s economy. Of course, this takes money and there’s no secret Michigan is struggling with budget deficits. Last month, a bipartisan legislative committee recommending doubling Michigan’s road funding. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) even made a propaganda film, using my tax dollars, to justify it. And now, Gov. Rick “No New Gas Tax” Snyder flip-flopped, à la Romney, and climbed on board the tax increase steam roller.

I want good roads, just like everybody else. But I’m not convinced MDOT is spending our money as wisely as they say. I get the whole Federal-State match thing, but to squander 20% on stupid stuff to get the 80% is not solving the problem. I offer Exhibit A: mile marker signs with the direction, highway designation, and, in urban areas, placed every 1-2 tenths of a mile. If someone needs to be reminded what highway they’re on and which direction they’re going every 2/10ths of a mile, they shouldn’t be driving. Even if these markers cost the same as the originals, which they don’t, the cost has skyrocketed 5 times; for no significant value. The irony is the example pictured was part of a Detroit News article warning how bad Michigan’s roads are going to get. And don’t even get me started on the project a few years ago when the replaced all of the big green signs for better night visibility. Why not replace them as they wore out or got damaged?

West Michigan variable message sign

As Exhibit B, I offer Michigan’s so-called Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), intended to facilitate traffic around greater Grand Rapids and southeast Michigan (metro Detroit). The most visible aspect of ITS are the nearly 100 variable message signs (VMS) like the one pictured, including those at Grayling and Clare for which there is no traffic congestion justification. The VMS routinely depict messages about as useful as the one pictured near Grand Rapids. With fall approaching, you can expect them to say “Don’t veer for dear.” I spend a lot of time on the road and I think I can count one one hand the number of times a VMS has assisted my travels in any meaningful way.

But ITS is more than just useless electronic signs. It includes nearly 270 closed circuit TVs, not counting the out-state ones like those in the upper peninsula, obviously with no congestion management purpose. And it includes two manned operations centers. MDOT’s website shows 3 people in the metro Detroit center, presumably a typical shift of staff that “oversees a traffic monitoring system”“. Neither these MDOT employees nor the VMS they are masters of contribute substantially to reducing congestion. At what expense are we gaining such miniscule benefit?

I-94 west to I-696 west

For Exhibit C, I offer the I-94/I-696 interchange. MDOT completely reconstructed this interchange in 2010 to the same exact specifications as existed previously. Here’s the problem with that: two lanes exit from I-94 east and west each to become four lanes of I-696 west, except the right lane becomes exit only in a quarter mile at Gratiot, a major arterial. Why didn’t MDOT add another lane to accomodate this and allow four lanes to continue past Gratiot? Gratiot’s westbound on-ramp restores the fourth lane. The same intersection was previously rebuilt, again to the same standards, in the late 1990s. So, despite changes in traffic volumes and flows, MDOT has rebuilt the I-94/I-696 interchange twice to 40-year-old (1968) design criteria.

While I could keep going on, let me finish with Exhibit D, the 30 MDOT transportation service centers across the state. This includes five in metro Detroit alone. At least MDOT plans to consolidate some service centers. I hope they reduce their seemingly large fleet of red minivans, with several to a dozen or more at each service center.

Before MDOT expects additional state revenues for road projects, they need to show they’re fiscally responsible and working smart with what they get. The additional lanes at the reworked Okemos/I-96 interchange is proof they can when they want to. Oh, and don’t use my tax dollars to lobby me about your funding.
 


 

Previously on Michigan Roads:

Mon, 30 May 2011

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes

Placing US flags at the tombstones of the fallen

There are 5000 reasons to remember Memorial Day as we mark 9-1/2 years in fight against evil we used to call the Global War on Terror. For Michigan, 197 service members died in this conflict, defending our freedoms and way of life. In recent years, Dearborn’s parade honors its fallen veterans without resources or family for their own burials.

I appreciate Gov. Rick Snyder (R) carrying on the tradition started by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm (D), of lowering US flags to half-staff for Michigan’s military personnel killed in action. I understand he also calls the families. While we can never know what this means to them, I suspect it helps in some small way. There is formal recognition for the sacrifice of their loved one.

As a Michigan Army National Guardsman, I have 12 fallen comrades. Last Thursday, we held a memorial service for them. It moved me to post a note on Facebook, which I repost here as my 2011 tribute to those who gave their lives in our defense.

For several years now, the Michigan National Guard has held an annual memorial service to honor our comrades-in-arms who gave their lives in the Global War on Terror. These have taken place during the two-week Annual Training period on the day of the Memorial Parade and Pass-in-Review. There is a monument to the fallen heroes, along with a plaque bearing each of their names, outside the Camp Grayling chapel.

The services were started to honor the service of those who paid the ultimate price, as a means for their families to cherish the memories of their loved ones, and as proof to the families the Michigan National Guard will never forget them. When I was assigned to Joint Force Headquarters staff, I didn’t attend the memorial services out of respect for the families. As a Battalion Commander, I was invited to the 2010 service, and rightfully so. I never knew SPC Richard Goward or SGT Matthew Soper and both gave their lives before I assumed command of the Battalion of which their units are now part. But they are my Soldiers. And I particularly remember SPC Goward—he was the Michigan Guard’s first casualty in the Global War on Terror.

Michigan has decentralized how it conducts Annual Training, so the memorial service was moved to Lansing and conducted today, fittingly, right before the Memorial Day weekend. Since I work full-time for the Guard in Lansing, I was able to attend. While I wanted to be there, I did not expect the service to be as amazing as it was. You usually expect these to be solemn events at which you pay tribute and your respects. We did that today, but, for me, it was bigger than that.

Michigan gold star license plate

I don’t, personally, know any of our fallen heroes. Yes, two were from my Battalion and one lived where I live. That gives their paying the ultimate price a degree more connectedness, though all the other fallen since 9/11 are no less heroes. Today, my friend LTC Randy Brummette spoke about SFC Michael Hilton, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. LTC Brummette commanded a small team, of which SFC Hilton was part, that also consisted of a Soldier I went to basic training with and another who was one of my company commanders when I took command of the 246th Transportation Battalion. LTC Brummette’s words were personable and emotional. And SFC Hilton is real to me even though I never knew him. I am truly fortunate for such an opportunity that most will never know.

Here are the Michigan Army National Guard Citizen-Soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country and in response to the heinous, cowardly attacks of 9/11/2001:

  • SPC Richard A Goward, 32—14 April 2003
  • SPC Craig S Frank, 24—17 July 2004
  • SSG Ricky A Kieffer, 36—15 March 2005
  • SPC Timothy D Brown, 23—04 November 2005
  • PFC John W Dearing, 21—21 November 2005
  • SGT Spencer C Akers, 35—08 December 2005
  • SPC Dane O Carver, 20—26 December 2005
  • SGT Joshua V Youmans, 26—01 March 2006
  • SGT Matthew A Webber, 23—27 April 2006
  • SGT Duane J Dresky, 31—10 July 2006
  • SGT Matthew J Soper, 25—06 June 2007
  • SFC Matthew L Hilton, 37—26 June 2008

As the names of these brave Warriors were read today, I reflected on their contributions and the debt we all owe them, as well as all service men and women. But I also realized we have more fallen heroes than we typically consider.

In addition to SPC Goward, SGT Soper, and SFC Hilton, I also thought of SGT Anthony Burch. SGT Burch is an unsung fallen hero who committed suicide just 2 days into my command of the 246 Transportation Battalion. I never knew him, but he was an amazing person, by all accounts.

As a society, I suspect we take for granted and do not truly understand the value and worth our service members truly give and bring to the Global War on Terror. I’m sure it’s not callousness or lack of empathy. But for me, this has been personal since the beginning. I hope this helps you understand why.

SGT Burch is an unsung hero because his death is not attributed to combat. As an Iraq veteran, however, his family knows Tony Burch is no less a hero than those who died in direct combat.

Previously on Memorial Day:

Sun, 02 Jan 2011

Synder Has One Tough Row to Hoe

Filed under: Budget, Business, Economy, Government, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 8:19 pm

Rick Snyder being sworn in as governor

Michigan’s 48th Governor, Rick Snyder, is no H. Ross Perot. But he had a certain similar appeal during the campaign and enough Michiganders are fed up with business as usual that he won the election. I’m pleased he edged past charlatans like Mike Cox, Pete Hoekstra, and Mike Bouchard. But Snyder will need more than optimism from his inaugural address if he is to succeed.

We need to move from negative to positive. We need to stop looking in the rearview mirror and look toward the future. We need to stop being divisive and become inclusive.

Snyder’s campaign catch phrase was he’s “one tough nerd.” Well, he’s got one tough row to hoe if he’s going to implement positive change in Michigan; there is a lot that needs fixing.

Synder and his appointments

For a guy who wants to reinvent Michigan, I’m a little concerned he’s not making such a good start. Snyder’s first cabinet appointment was Andy Dillon as State Treasurer. This is a positive move how? Former Speaker of Michigan’s House Mr. Dillon missed more votes than any other state legislator! He presided over the Democratic House that failed to complete budget work and forced state government shutdowns in all but the last year of his tenure as speaker. To avoid a fourth shutdown, Dillon caved to Senate Republican budget proposals. There’s a man with moral fortitude and obvious budget experience for you—not! Snyder’s also surrounded himself with a bunch of former Gov. Engler hacks.

Beyond cabinet choices, Michigan has serious systemic issues that can’t just be wished or hoped away. To start, there is state government’s structural deficit, which actually precedes Gov. Granholm’s two terms in office. It remains to be seen if Michigan can live within the 2011 budget, some of it’s “revenue” is based on one-time fixes. As a result, Michigan’s 2012 budget shortfall is project to be at least $1 billion. In fact, Michigan’s Senate Fiscal Agency says the deficit could reach $1.85 billion for fiscal year 2012. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s biggest failure was her lack of leadership, especially in her second term. So, she passes the structural budget deficit she inherited to Gov. Snyder, who I’m sure is blown away.

Michigan Works job fair

At the fundamental root of Michigan’s current crisis are jobs. Simple as that. For 50 months Michigan had the worst unemployment in the US, surrendering that dubious position to Nevada in June. Michigan’s unemployment rate is still 49th, tied with California at 12.4%, as if that’s anything worth bragging about. Part of the problem is a relatively business-unfriendly environment in the state. Michigan has the 3rd highest business tax rate and the 6th highest unemployment tax rate in the country. So, except for targeted tax incentive industries, like filming and movies, why would a business locate in Michigan?

While there are many others, I’m going to end with Michigan’s dysfunctional political process. New State Treasurer Andy Dillion admitted being part of the dysfunctional system. Granted, Snyder has Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature, but that’s no guarantee. Like chief executives at all levels of government, unless Snyder can get the legislature behind his plans, he will accomplish nothing. His forays into bipartisanshp and forays into inclusivity could turn very quickly on him when he gets down to making hard decisions. Decisions, I might add, left over from his cronies’ former boss, big ole John Engler.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010

Snyder Picks Dead Guy and Dead Weight for Key Leadership

Filed under: Government, Governor, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:31 pm

Pam and Dick Posthumus

Michigan’s Governor-elect Rick Snyder (R) named a top aid and State Treasurer designate today. Snyder is surrounding himself with a bunch of former Gov. John Engler hacks, a trend that is starting to concern me. My main issue with the former governor, besides his size, is how Engler torpedoed transit for metro Detroit mere nanoseconds before leaving office. As for Snyder’s choices, one of these seems purely politically motivated. So much for no more politics as usual.

Synder appointed Dick Posthumus his legislative affairs advisor. Posthumus—the dead guy—was Lieutenant Governor under John Engler (R) but lost a bid for the governorship to Jennifer Granholm. So, besides having sat around the State Senate during Engler’s administration, Posthumous was a State Senator for 16 years. He might be why voters approved term limits in the first place. And why does the Governor need a legislative affairs advisor at taxpayer expense to begin with?

Andy Dillon

Next up is current state House Speaker Andy Dillon (D), slated to become State Treasurer. Dillon, like Snyder, was a venture capitalist before his 6 years in the State House. Dillon said he was reluctant to accept appointment as treasurer. Concerning state government, he said:

I would term it as a dysfunctional system. I’m kind of excited about the opportunity to work with people who are a little more aggressive on change.

Now there’s commitment and enthusiasm for you. That’s just the start of the issues I have with Dillon (D-Redford), who Snyder named as his appointment to State Treasurer. Sorry, Rick. Do you expect Dillon to show up for work any more often than he voted in the House? Andy Dillon—the deadbeat—missed more votes than 95% of state House members. I don’t see that as an enviable track record. Nor does it qualify him to be State Treasurer.

money

As for Dillon’s budget experience, does anyone think he’s qualified after narrowly averting Michigan’s fourth government shutdown in as many years? Never mind Dillon recessed the State House for the summer in 2009. Or how Dillon caved to Republican Senate budget cuts for 2010, making him a DINO—Democrat In Name Only.

Previously on Dillon:

Fri, 09 Jul 2010

Bouchard Grasps at Immigration Frenzy

Filed under: Government, Governor, Legal, Michigan, Opportunists, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 6:05 pm

Oakland Co. Sheriff Mike Bouchard

Immigration reform and enforcement are hot topics, of late, especially with Arizona’s new immigration law. After much ringing of hands, the US Justice Department filed suit against Arizona, disputing the constitutionality of the law. At issue, from the Feds’ perspective, is the state usurping Federal authority. The common counter heard to such a claim is states wouldn’t need to if the Feds were doing their jobs.

A grand opportunist, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Mike Bouchard has his own immigration enforcement scheme to put him in the limelight. You see, Oakland County’s Sheriff is in fourth place among Republican hopefuls for Governor. It’s actually a Federal program in which local law enforcement reports illegal immigrants to the Feds. Under the program, electronic fingerprints of arrestees will be sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine if the suspect has legal status or not.

While Bouchard claims he’s been working on this for years, and over 400 other jurisdictions participate, the timing couldn’t be more to his personal advantage. Any benefit to his constituency is just an added bonus. Michigan’s director of Reform Immigration America, Ryan Bates had this to say.

What we are seeing from Sheriff Bouchard is indicative of the politics of immigration being played out in the governor’s race.

Oakland County Sheriff's armored car

As for Bouchard’s other grandstanding and opportunism, why is his name on the Department’s armored car? He served in the Michigan House in 1990, but ran for the Michigan Senate the next year. He served in the state Senate until he accepted appointment to fill the remainder of Sheriff John Nichols’ term after he passed away. Why? Bouchard would say it’s because law enforcement is in his blood. I submit it’s the fact the Sheriff makes a third again as much as a state legislator. Don’t misunderstand—there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make more money. But term limits, which took effect in 1992, would have soon left Bouchard out of a job in the state Senate.

Bouchard was re-elected Sheriff in 2000, 2004, and 2008; his present term runs to 2013. He obviously has higher aspirations, however, since Bouchard ran for US Senate in 2006. During that race, he had no problem collecting his $130,969 salary as Sheriff even though he spent a lot of time on the campaign trail. Oakland County taxpayers are, once again, underwriting Bouchard’s political ambitions as he collects his Sheriff’s salary while out on the campaign trail. That seems unethical to me.

A slick way for Bouchard to get his name out is his Student of the Month bumper stickers, a program he started as a State Senator. It sounds good, but what value does it really add? Just like Bouchard touts his role in Michigan’s sex offender registry. The problem is, sex offender registries don’t change crime rates. It’s just grandstanding on Bouchard’s part. Since only 2-4% of predators on social networking sites were convicted sex offenders, the registration program is both ineffective and costly. According to the US Department of Justice, New Jersey’s sex offender registry costs have grown nearly 7 times, from just over a half million dollars in 1995 to $3.9 million in 2006.

oaklandsheriff.net

There are those who question Bouchard’s ethics in office. Is it an abuse of office to have your children checked on by out-of-state police agencies? Others wonder what Mike Bouchard is up to.

A discrimination/wrongful discharge lawsuit about the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is at the vanguard of issues. The suit has surfaced a number of issues within Bouchard’s administration of the Oakland Sheriff’s department. In fact, there are numerous allegations of wrong-doing in the Oakland Co. Sheriff’s Department under Bouchard.

He says he knows how to get state government back on track. In fact, Bouchard hasn’t been part of state government for a decade. And with the issues in the Oakland Co. Sheriff’s Department, why should Bouchard even be a serious contender for Michigan’s top job?

Previously on gubernatorial candidates:

Fri, 18 Jun 2010

Michigan Surrenders Top Jobless Spot

Filed under: Business, Economy, Government, Governor, Life, Michigan — cynicalsynapse @ 6:56 pm

People need jobs

Even though the state has added jobs in the past year, Michigan’s May unemployment rate is still 13.6%, seasonally adjusted. Never mind it’s the same rate as a year ago. Still, Nevada edged Michigan for highest unemployment in the US, ending Michigan’s 50 month reign.

So, is Michigan better off? Well, not really. Michigan’s job gains are largely temporary. Government jobs increased about 7,000, mostly for census workers. As for 6,000 additional jobs in manufacturing, they’re mostly seasonal food processing. According to Bruce Weaver, an economic analyst with the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, 662,000 Michiganians are still looking for jobs. About the new jobs, Weaver said:

This was more diffuse hiring in the manufacturing sector, mostly in durable goods and seasonal manufacturing, like food processing.

Blueberry pickers

Duh! I worked at a pickle plant several summers and I picked blueberries as a kid. So I know what “seasonal food processing” means. Like Stimulus jobs, it’s smoke and mirrors. In September, the seasonal jobs will be gone and Michigan may well lead the country in unemployment rates again. Anyone who is patting themselves on the back for Michigan’s current unemployment rate is an idiot or an opportunist hoping to fool voters in the August primaries. Still, voters will see the real jobs landscape before the November general election.

Incidentally, my experience picking blueberries was just fine. Did I like it? Not really. Did I feel exploited? Not at all! I was 12 or 14 at the time, so, to me, this is a non-issue. And, in any case, I suspect blueberry pickers, whether minor children or migrant workers, or both, don’t largely impact the workforce and employment statistics.

Where does that leave us? Aren’t you blown away yet?


Sun, 23 May 2010

The Incredibly Arrogant Mr. Cox

Filed under: Behavior, Detroit, Government, Governor, Kwamegate, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 9:06 pm

Mike Cox

People in Michigan know Mike Cox is a Republican candidate for governor. Cox currently serves as the state’s Attorney General. Does that job qualify him to be governor? Well, it’s the gig Jennifer Granholm had before she became governor. It’s no secret how she fared.

As for Cox, he’s a love him or hate him kind of guy. His 2006 opponent, Amos Williams, characterizes Cox as “too aggressive, a bully”, and an opportunist. Funny—opportunist is the word that comes to my mind, too.

Rev. Al Sharpton delivers eulogy

Why, on earth, would Cox feel a need to say anything publicly about Rev. Al Sharpton giving the eulogy at Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ funeral Saturday? Saying he was “disgusted but not surprised,” Cox characterized Sharpton as someone who “parachutes in to get his name in the paper,” then leaves after creating “a worse racial divide than existed before.” While I don’t disagree with Cox on this one, I also find myself uncharacteristically siding with Rev. Sharpton. He said, “For [Cox] to play politics and try to get votes off the deaths of two young people speaks more of him than it does me.” Reminds me of Hoekstra using the Christmas Day terror attempt for fundraising.

Taking his chances with Detroit voters, who are largely Democrats and African-American, Cox is more direct than just his remarks about Sharpton. In April, Cox appealed the ruling against DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. The judge’s ruling stemmed from the Detroit School Board lawsuit alleging Bobb exceeded his authority. Cox is clearly betting on out-state voters by pandering to Granholm’s appointed financial manager. At the same time, Cox is telling Detroit voters they don’t matter by taking a stand against their elected School Board. The Board’s lawsuit claims Bobb is interfering in non-financial matters of the District and that he has no business meddling in academics.

Manoogian Mansion and slain stripper Tamara Greene

Cox has been plagued by what he called “an urban legend”, the rumored 2002 wild party at the Manoogian Mansion, official residence of Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The murder, some months later, of stripper Tamara “Strawberry” Green is tied to the party at which she allegedly dance. Following Attorney General and Michigan State Police investigations in 2003, Cox said there’s no evidence of the party. Now, a retired Detroit Police dispatcher has testified the party happened and heard that Mike Cox attended. Cox is not helped when folks like Michigan State Police investigator Mark Krebs testified Cox interfered with the investigation into the party. So, the rumors persist and many believe Cox is involved in a cover-up.

Mike Cox also broke trust with his wife. The AG was involved in an affair in 2005, but the couple stayed married. While people make mistakes, his violation of private trust does call into question Cox’s commitment to the public trust.

Ironically, Michigan’s top law enforcement officer had more illegaly posted Cox campaign signs along Michigan highways in the days preceeding last year’s Republican summit on Mackinaw Island. I know Cox didn’t plant them, but his campaign did, and he’s responsible for his campaign. Never mind the cost to the taxpayers for state police and road workers to remove them.

Mike Cox and asian carp

True to his smugness, Cox has started running attack ads on his Republican primary rivals. In one of those, Cox’s ad features a man who plans to vote for Rick Snyder, a Republican primary rival. The unwilling extra, Derek Moss, wants to be removed from the ads. He said, “I find it appalling [Cox] is using my image in a shameful attack ad on another opponent.”

Other examples of opportunistic grandstanding by Mike Cox abound. Consider his lawsuit against the health care reform law. How much did that cost the citizens of cash-strapped Michigan? And what will that do for them before the law takes effect in 2014, long after this fall’s election? Then there’s the periodic forays in the news with Cox joining other Great Lakes AGs on the asian carp issue. That might make sense for Michigan, but Cox is playing to to political advantage.

When taken together, it seems pretty obvious that Cox plays to special interests and is out to make Mike Cox look good. Michigan doesn’t need a media governor or one that likes to grandstand. Michigan needs a governor that can lead, make tough and fair choices, and get the job done. Mike Cox falls a little short.

Previously on gubernatorial candidates:

Sat, 15 May 2010

Demolishing Romney’s Boyhood Home Metaphor for Gubernatorial Candidates?

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, Governor, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 5:15 pm

Mitt Romney's boyhood home in Detroit stands abandoned

Mitt Romney long ago left Michigan. Politically, he’s the former Governor of Massachusetts and ran an unsuccessful bid for US President. In my mind, he has no business in Michigan politics. Still, Romney has endorsed Hoekstra for Michigan Governor. Never mind the quid pro quo here, since US Rep. Pete Hoekstra endorsed Romney in his Presidential bid.

As if to make a point about Romney’s irrelevance to Michigan politics, Romney’s boyhood home in Detroit is slated for demolition. The house is a 5,000 square foot structure in upscale Palmer Woods, so I’m surprised it’s abandoned. Like so many others, it’s fallen on hard times, leaving it on the list for the wrecking ball.

Mitt Romney

I’ve already said Hoekstra is not gubernatorial material. But I have issues with most of the candidates for Michigan Governor. I’ll be posting those concerns over the next few weeks.

Mitt Romney has never been involved in Michigan politics. He was opposed to a government bailout of the automakers. Even though he grew up here, he is not a friend of the Great Lakes State. Michigan voters need to vote based on what’s best for Michigan, not what charlatans like Romney imply is best.

So, Romney has no business in Michigan politics. And his endorsement for Governor is probably the least qualified, capable, or trustworthy. Bulldozing Romney’s boyhood home closes the chapter on his access to Michigan voters. To the voters’ advantage.

Previously on gubernatorial candidates:

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