Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. December 2, 2023.

Editorial: Recipe for growth shouldn’t include tax hikes

If Michigan could wave a magic wand and make the wish list from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s growth council come true, it likely would create a more pleasant state in which to live and work.

But the ambitious proposal won’t come to life magically. It will require massive tax hikes that will offset any benefits that might be gained. Or it will demand a top-to-bottom reprioritizing of current spending to free up the necessary funds to finance the improvements and reforms.

The draft recommendation from the Growing Michigan Together Council suggests a revamping of both Proposal A and the Headlee Amendment, which put the brakes on the ability of local governments and school districts to raise property taxes.

“That should be a huge warning flag for taxpayers,” says economist Patrick Anderson.

And it should prompt them to seriously weigh whether making it more expensive to live and do business in Michigan is worth the bet that all the shiny new things the growth council promises will actually come in return.

A draft proposal released late last week focuses on improving schools, creating high-paying jobs and building “vibrant and inclusive communities.”

Many of its ideas are hard to argue with, particularly addressing the chronic underperformance of the education system and finally fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Others, such as bringing mass transit to Michigan’s cities, have proven elusive, despite expensive past initiatives.

The ideas are not the problem, though; it’s how to fund them.

The proposal doesn’t come with a price tag. An estimate from Fund MI Future, a coalition of progressive groups that was not involved in the council’s work, pegs the cost of upgrading Michigan’s schools and infrastructure at $10 billion annually.

To put that number in perspective, it is roughly equal to the revenue raised each year from the 6% sales tax.

Whitmer’s council has the growth equation backwards in assuming higher taxes will produce an environment that will lure younger residents and job creators to the state.

There’s no model to support that premise. To the contrary, Tennessee is the nation’s 9th fastest growing state; it has no income tax, yet sharply improved its schools despite spending about $1,700 less a year than Michigan per pupil. Tennessee’s 7.6% state and local tax burden is lower than Michigan’s 8.6%.

With Nashville, it is home to one of America’s fastest growing and most vibrant cities. And its business attraction efforts were superior enough to lure Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion electric vehicle investment away from the automaker’s home state.

So, what’s Tennessee doing? Lowering taxes even further. In May, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the largest tax cut in the state’s history, returning $400 million to residents and businesses.

That’s the competition.

Grand Rapids restaurant owner Johnny Brann Jr., writing for the West Michigan Policy Forum, says “tax hikes will make me wonder whether it’s worth raising my family here. If I were younger, the decision would be a no brainer: Leave. That’s what countless young people are already doing. They’re looking for greener pastures.”

Brann is expressing the reality, proved by New York, Illinois and California, of what motivates the decision making process on where to live, work and do business.

What Whitmer’s growth council is engaged in is a well-intentioned fantasy.

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Alpena News. November 30, 2023.

Editorial: Talk to school boards about new evaluations

Since 2011, when Republicans controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office, 40% of a public school teacher’s job performance evaluation has been based on their students’ performance on standardized tests.

Proponents of the law mandating such evaluations say it ensures administrators grade teachers on how well they perform their primary task: making sure students learn. Opponents say standardized tests do not fully measure student achievement because some students learn well but test poorly and that the law creates an unfair burden on teachers who sometimes struggle to bring up to par kids whose home-life struggles make it difficult for them to perform well academically.

Now, Democrats control the Legislature and the governor’s office, and they’ve amended that law to say that, starting next school year, no more than 20% of a teacher’s evaluation can be based on standardized test scores. The law leaves it up to administrators and teachers union to decide at the negotiating table exactly what percentage of the evaluation will be based on test scores.

That is a monumental shift. In a district with poor test scores — often the district with the largest share of students who come from low-income families — dropping from 40% to 20% (or lower) could mean the difference between many teachers keeping or losing their jobs.

Now that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed the new law, school administrators and teachers unions will probably head to the bargaining table this winter or spring to iron out the exact percentage.

Residents — both parents of the schoolchildren taught by the district and taxpayers who pay the teachers’ salaries — need to talk to their local school boards about what kind of percentage they’d like to see.

Should districts settle on the maximum 20% so test scores mean more of a difference between a good or a poor job performance rating? Or should they go lower and instead base more of the evaluation on other measurements, such as administrator observations of how well the teacher teaches in the classroom?

School boards should take residents’ wishes into account when they head to the negotiating table with the teachers union.

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Mining Journal. December 1, 2023.

Editorial: State keeping close eye on AI, its potential impact on elections

Our state is taking action in an attempt to make the 2024 election cycle a bit less hectic, if at all possible.

Michigan is joining an effort to curb deceptive uses of artificial intelligence and manipulated media through state-level policies as Congress and the Federal Elections Commission continue to debate more sweeping regulations ahead of the 2024 elections, as reported by The Associated Press.

Campaigns on the state and federal level will be required to clearly say which political advertisements airing in Michigan were created using artificial intelligence under legislation expected to be signed in the coming days by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

It also would prohibit use of AI-generated deepfakes within 90 days of an election without a separate disclosure identifying the media as manipulated.

Deepfakes are fake media that misrepresent someone as doing or saying something they didn’t. They’re created using generative artificial intelligence, a type of AI that can create convincing images, videos or audio clips in seconds.

There are increasing concerns that generative AI will be used in the 2024 presidential race to mislead voters, impersonate candidates and undermine elections on a scale and at a speed not yet seen.

Candidates and committees in the race already are experimenting with the rapidly advancing technology, which in recent years has become cheaper, faster and easier for the public to use.

The Republican National Committee in April released an entirely AI-generated ad meant to show the future of the United States if President Joe Biden is re-elected. Disclosing in small print that it was made with AI, it featured fake but realistic photos showing boarded-up storefronts, armored military patrols in the streets, and huge increases in immigration creating panic.

In July, Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, used an AI voice cloning tool to imitate former President Donald Trump’s voice, making it seem like he narrated a social media post he made despite never saying the statement aloud.

Experts say these are just glimpses of what could ensue if campaigns or outside actors decide to use AI deepfakes in more malicious ways.

So far, states including California, Minnesota, Texas and Washington have passed laws regulating deepfakes in political advertising. Similar legislation has been introduced in Illinois, New Jersey and New York, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen.

Under Michigan’s legislation, any person, committee or other entity that distributes an advertisement for a candidate would be required to clearly state if it uses generative AI. The disclosure would need to be in the same font size as the majority of the text in print ads, and would need to appear “for at least four seconds in letters that are as large as the majority of any text” in television ads, according to a legislative analysis from the state House Fiscal Agency.

Deepfakes used within 90 days of the election would require a separate disclaimer informing the viewer that the content is manipulated to depict speech or conduct that did not occur. If the media is a video, the disclaimer would need to be clearly visible and appear throughout the video’s entirety.

Campaigns could face a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both for the first violation of the proposed laws. The attorney general or the candidate harmed by the deceptive media could apply to the appropriate circuit court for relief.

Federal law is limited in its ability to regulate AI at the state and local levels, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in an interview, adding that states also need federal funds to tackle the challenges posed by AI.

“All of this is made real if the federal government gave us money to hire someone to just handle AI in our states, and similarly educate voters about how to spot deepfakes and what to do when you find them,” Benson said. “That solves a lot of the problems. We can’t do it on our own.”

Regardless of which side of the aisle you align yourself with, we can all agree that this is a great move for our state. The 2024 election is already shaping up to be a grisly affair, and our state should do whatever it can to limit some of the chaos and misinformation.

Voters have a right to know the truth about the candidates on the ballot, and this move will help to aid that process.

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