Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. May 21, 2022.

Editorial: Tax cuts are better than tax rebates

Michigan finds itself in the rare spot of having more money coming into the state budget than it needs to run the state. Both Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agree that at least some of the $6 billion in extra funds should be returned to taxpayers.

But they are far apart in how to accomplish that goal.

Whitmer wants one-time rebate checks of $500 a person, something she says will help residents deal with inflation immediately.

Lawmakers have already passed a bill, with some bipartisan support, that would cut the income tax rate to 4% from 4.25%, a longtime goal of Republicans. The price tag for the legislative package is $2.6 billion, which would make it one of the largest tax cuts in Michigan history.

In general, tax cuts are better than tax rebates as a means of lowering the tax burden and creating a more attractive environment for residents and businesses.

Tax cuts impact long-term behavior since families can adjust household budgets to reflect the lower burden, perhaps increasing savings or making large purchases they might otherwise not be able to afford.

Cuts will return the surplus more gradually to taxpayers, but provide a more lasting benefit.

Rebates flush a lot of money through the economy all at once, and then they’re gone. The extra cash is likely to be spent as soon as it arrives, used to pay off debts or stashed in the bank.

Rebates don’t permanently change the spending power of residents, and are typically used as a means to stimulate a sluggish economy. And to build goodwill with voters ahead of an election.

Michigan’s economy doesn’t need a jolt. The risk of rebates in the current environment is that they could add to inflation by pouring more money into an economy that is already unable to meet demand.

Any tax relief should be broad based. Along with the rebates, Whitmer is asking for targeted tax cuts for certain constituency groups, including government retirees. The benefit to residents would be uneven.

The Republican plan provides relief across the board by lowering the rate and increasing personal income tax deductions. Their bill would also boost the earned income tax credit and provide a $500-per child nonrefundable credit.

The debate over how to distribute the surplus should take into account the economic forecast. The economy is creating jobs and incomes are rising, but inflation is eroding buying power and destroying consumer confidence. Turmoil in the corporate world is tanking the stock markets.

An Anderson Economic Group forecast raised “the real possibility we will see a recession in 2022-23,” citing increasing interest rates, declining growth in the first quarter, and a drop in real earnings for the past four quarters.

Policymakers in Lansing must carefully weigh whether today’s surplus will turn into tomorrow’s deficit. It’s a lot easier to cut taxes when a state is flush with cash than it is to raise them when it’s broke.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 22, 2022.

Editorial: One guiding principle to untangle guardianship flaws

We wish for heroes and villains.

We need people to inspire us onward in a flawed world; we need people to blame for the flaws.

But our desire for clarity can create polarity. Our search for simplicity can miss the point.

The Record-Eagle’s nine-month dive into Michigan’s guardianship and conservator system found few heroes or villains, and fewer simple answers.

The more reporters investigated, the more tangles they found.

Many working in the system had both insight into its flaws and also reasons for them — changed policies, realities of funding and staffing, jurisdiction issues, delineation of duties, client privacy, fragmentation and more.

Those in the system juggle these, with the responsibility to decide what’s best for someone else, while walking a tightrope between ardent family members who disagree with each other on what “best” is. The difficulties are no doubt immense.

But we let one faction guide our reporting: The people for whom the system is built.

Vulnerable adults. The elderly. Those incapacitated by circumstance and illness. The guardian/conservator system is meant to serve them — not those orbiting around them.

But time, and time again, we found the system serving itself, the absence of the voices of the individuals in question creating both a vacuum and an opportunity for exploitation; a lack of accountability and transparency allowing repeated and unnecessary incompetence and abuse.

“Unguarded’s” findings bear repeating:

— Probate courts aren’t built to audit and monitor what guardians do with their wards.

— Protocol changes by the state judiciary, made in the name of reform, weakened state oversight.

— Three employees in the Attorney General’s office are tasked with keeping a watchful eye on more than 1,600 vulnerable individuals who have no family members interested in their well-being.

— Reform efforts have come and gone with little to show, the result of repeated efforts by judges and professional guardians to resist oversight changes. Those efforts are being revived today.

— “Good” guardians are sorely needed, but the job often pays pennies and encourages professional guardians to oversee as many wards as possible.

Progress is possible, and long overdue.

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force — a body of 100 officials, lawyers, elder advocates and politicians — put forward several fixes to improve life for the state’s elderly.

Of nine, two have been realized — banks must now report suspected fraud of vulnerable adults and there’s a new form for law enforcement to use when reporting that fraud.

The other seven stalled in the House, “revised” by special interest-influence to dilute caps on the number of wards a guardian can be appointed to serve, remove requirements for guardians to personally visit their wards and debate certifications for guardians and conservators, including requirements for minimum training and professional standards.

Lobby groups for those in the system, like for judges and guardians, opposed the initial recommendations.

This isn’t the end of the story, as all of us will be needed to fix what is broken.

We will continue our reporting on every side of this complicated problem.

But the answers can be simple if we let one principle guide us — who does the system serve and how does it serve them?

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Mining Journal. May 21, 2022.

Editorial: DNR personnel, many others stand ready to battle wild fires

As warmer weather advances in on the region, many people are focused on getting outdoors. However, fire season has arrived along with those warmer, drier conditions, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters are preparing for the upcoming season using a variety of methods and equipment.

Keith Murphy, DNR fire management specialist, recently explained ways the DNR handles fire outbreaks in the region at the agency’s Incident Coordination Center in Harvey.

For example, an Upper Peninsula Fire Dispatch map is located in the ICC, a tool the DNR uses to handle firefighting strategies.

“We call it the puzzle palace because we just move puzzle pieces around here,” Murphy said.

Each magnet, he noted, represents a piece of equipment, with red magnets representing fires. Also, staffing sheets are received daily from the fire supervisors at each unit, which is noted on the map. When staff gets called to a fire downstate, for example, resources have to be shifted from places without fires.

“Just looking from here, there’s nothing but two pieces of equipment in Seney for the entire east U.P.,” Murphy said. “Then we’ll start moving.”

That’s why the map comes in handy.

“It’s pretty simple, but when you stand back and look at it, you can see your gaps right away,” Murphy said.

Pre-determined response plans are in place for high-hazardous sites such as jack pine fields and wildland interface, such as K.I. Sawyer and Gwinn, Murphy said.

“If a fire would drop in there, we’d call a zone dispatch for the Sands Plains, and then all kinds of equipment comes in from surrounding area,” Murphy said. “We don’t have to have start calling people to get them there. They automatically respond.”

Murphy said the agency tries to perform advanced training in the winter, with equipment getting readied in February in March.

“Dependent on the snow loads, we try and have everything ready by March 15 because they could go anywhere in the state,” he said. “If it’s a normal year, the southern Lower (Peninsula) melts faster and quicker, sooner, so then we’ll shift our resources down there and do a bunch of scrap burning.”

Usually each March, staff trains in required duties such as radio communications and fire-shelter training, with watch-out situations and standard fire orders developed from problem fires examined each year, he said.

We’re glad to see the DNR and its staff preparing so well for the season up ahead, as these activities can save lives, structures and lands in our region when wildland fires burn. But beyond the DNR’s preparations, we encourage individuals to do their part in wildfire prevention during these warm, dry months. For example, before any burning, people should go online to Michigan.gov/BurnPermit to assess conditions and get fire safety tips at Michigan.gov/PreventWildfires.

Taking these simple steps to prevent wildfires can keep our lives, structures and lands safe and we hope all readers take them to heart, as fire prevention can truly be a life-or-death matter.

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