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A Conspicuous $2.4 Million

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Flint, Michigan, has seemed like a hopeless case for a long time. Even before Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, Flint was undergoing deindustrialization. Politicians resisted, promising to reverse the trend. Failure after failure, they still desperately prove themselves interested in trying something, anything, to make the town “seem” vibrant and “cutting edge.”

Most recently, the Flint Mass Transportation Authority has exerted its rhetoric, its dreams, and its grant-writing skills to nab a $2.4 million bus.

The hydrogen fuel cell technology transit bureaucrats have set their eyes upon is quite leading edge, and I guess it seems a bargain, what with the recent drop in prices (“$3.5 million a few years ago,” according to the Michigan Capitol Confidential).

But the town could buy nine diesel buses for the same money, and it’s not as if they’re rolling in dough. Flint has had to order out for emergency management, suffering a tax base plagued by an official (read: underestimated)  unemployment rate of 18 percent.

So, of course, the transit authority hopes to pull in federal “stimulus” funds.

Ask yourself, though: how would a new, expensive bus stimulate Flint’s economy?  Luxury buses running on outré technology don’t exactly inspire businesses to invest in otherwise depressed towns.

As a rule, only rich people can afford leading-edge technology.

Sad to say, folks in government behave like rich people.

Only worse. Folks in government behave like rich people spending other people’s money.

And, now more than ever, the citizens of Flint can’t afford such conspicuous consumption.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Right Not to Be Ripped Off

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Michigan’s state House and Senate passed Right-to-Work bills last week, because, as Governor Rick Snyder said, workers “should be able to decide whether to join a union or not.”

Which exact bill will wind up on the governor’s desk is anybody’s guess, but one could be signed into law by Snyder as early as tomorrow. Both would prevent unions from requiring workers to join as a condition of employment.

Predictably, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook argues that legislators “want to force unions to . . . provide se+rvices, benefits and the protections to non-members who will not pay a penny for them. It defunds unions.”

That’s a rather one-sided way of looking at the issue. The cases of Michigan day care workers and home health care workers, both railroaded into union, tell a different tale.

Two years ago, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy challenged the bizarre unionization of 40,000 self-employed day care providers by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers, with dues skimmed “from the Michigan Department of Human Services subsidy payments made to some providers on behalf of qualifying low income parents.”

Then, there’s the $33 million SEIU has nabbed “from the elderly and disabled in Michigan . . . through a unionization scheme it orchestrated when Jennifer Granholm was governor.” Jarrett Skorup writes in Michigan Capitol Confidential that “tens of thousands of people are being forced to send money to the Service Employees International Union simply because they care for a friend or family member who receives a Medicaid stipend.”

After reviewing these two cases, the right-to-work is clearly part of an even bigger right: the right not to be ripped off.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Better Than a Thousand Boneheads

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, when they took over the early 20th century journal Smart Set, served it up with a great motto: “One Civilized Reader Is Worth a Thousand Boneheads.” That’s how I feel about my readers. I almost always enjoy the comments section of ThisIsCommonSense.com, and sometimes learn something important.

I especially enjoy it when my readers show they are on the right track, thinking of reforms that exhibit a sense of both justice and savvy use of incentives and disincentives to restrain the political class. Jennifer Gratz suggests “making the hurdle higher for politicians to get on the ballot”:

Tie ballot access for state-wide candidates to the same burden as initiatives. Names only appear on the ballot if they meet the same signature gathering threshold as a state-wide initiative: same requirements, same laws, same restrictions, same burdens.  Win in one state and politicians may stop messing with the I&R process. . . .


As I reported this weekend on Townhall.com, Michigan legislators are in “voter suppression” mode again. It’s no surprise, since politicians tend to “have their own, almost personal, reasons to disdain direct democracy. They see citizen action as direct competition. And so their ‘reform’ ideas so far put forth run the usual gamut of insiders’ vexation with ‘outsiders.’” Perhaps the only permanent solution to constraining their lust to restrict citizen input is to constitutionally put them on the same footing as citizens.

What better place than ballot access for statewide offices?

Were party-supported candidates and incumbents all required to get the same number of signatures onto the ballot as initiative measures, the insiders would just have to lower the required number of signatures.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Equally Unequal

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Two court cases come to our attention, courtesy of Cato’s Ilya Shapiro. Both involve the favoring of members of one group over another.

The Sixth Circuit ruled that a voter-approved amendment to the Michigan state constitution outlawing racial preferences in college admissions would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. The amendment states in part that Michigan public colleges and universities shall “not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. . . .”

In his dissent, Judge Richard Griffin writes: “The post-Civil War amendment that guarantees equal protection to persons of all races has now been construed as barring a state from prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.” Shapiro calls the decision Orwellian.

The other case involves California law banning sellers of eyewear who are not state-licensed optometrists and ophthalmologists from conducting eye exams and selling glasses at the same place of business. The law prevents national eyewear chains from competing effectively in California (since customers prefer to get their glasses and eye exams in one shop).

Cato joins an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the California case. Shapiro also says that because there are two conflicting lower-court decisions on the Michigan question, the Supreme Court is likely to add that case to its docket.

Let’s hope all further rulings are based on a clear-sighted respect for equal rights under the law.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Sore Insiders

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Party politics is often underhanded.

Many of our country’s founders knew this all too well, and tried to avoid the factionalism of party politics. But still, two political factions emerged, and our politics has been dominated by two parties ever since.

And believe me, the two insider parties work mightily to rig the system in their favor. The presence of “sore-loser laws” is a case in point.Gary Johnson

Now, political parties are private entities. They can choose whomever they want. Ideally, the ballots wouldn’t even list party affiliation. But “sore-loser laws” stretch in the other direction, preventing individuals from running in one party after losing a primary as a candidate for another party.

In this way, the parties use the law to secure their own positions. It has nothing to do with “democracy” or “voting rights,” everything to do with privilege.

In Michigan, whilom New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson ran in the primary as a Republican candidate for the presidency. Now, the Secretary of State is disallowing him from running as a Libertarian. You see, he’d filed some paperwork withdrawing his candidacy three minutes too late last November.

An amusing work-around may be in the offing, with a Texas businessman named Gary Johnson being groomed for the Michigan nomination. Take that, partisan insiders!

But regarding the Secretary of State’s ruling, the Libertarians smell a partisan rat, and are suing. It turns out they may have precedence on their side, since John Anderson had technically run afoul of the same law back in 1980, but nothing had been done to exclude him.

This time, Johnson’s more feared than Anderson was then. And, this time, the Secretary of State is a Republican.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Not-So-Total Recall

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Michigan has a recall law. Citizens can toss out an unrepresentative representative before you can say Ypsilanti — even if that politician hasn’t committed a crime or tweeted lewd photos of himself.

Well, maybe not Ypsilanti-simple: one must gather enough signatures to reach 25 percent of the contested office’s vote in the previous election.

Since 1954, when the recall provision was added to the Michigan Constitution, only three legislators have been successfully recalled. The first two were Democrats, back in 1983. The third happened just last month. Republican State Senator Paul Scott’s recall was placed on the ballot, largely through the efforts of the state teachers union, and he was voted out.

I wouldn’t have supported Scott’s ouster, but I support the right of citizens everywhere to oust away.

Michigan State Senator John J. Gleason disagrees. To Gleason, three recalls in 57 years are three too many. The Democrat introduced Senate Bill 629, which would gut the right to recall by disallowing it unless the legislator has gone on a crime spree or piled up serious ethical violations.

Just voting our liberties away wouldn’t qualify any longer.

“Nothing unites lawmakers more than making it easier to stay in office,” wrote Mackinac Center for Public Policy President Joe Lehman in the Detroit Free Press. “The voters’ right to recall lawmakers, for expressly political reasons, is a potent check against government overreach that the people should jealously guard irrespective of party.”

Joe’s talking Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

How Not To Be in Pictures

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Everybody wants to be in pictures, it’s said. Michiganders, who’ve been funding moviemaking with their taxes for years, should try digital cameras and YouTube. The state’s governor, Rick Snyder, has proposed a new budget slicing and dicing the state’s generous (read: foolhardy) film subsidy and tax credit system.

This is called a “blow to Hollywood.” One nifty headline dramatizes the new situation: “Michigan to Hollywood — Get Off My Lawn,” with photo of Clint Eastwood on the porch of his Gran Torino house, wielding a shotgun.

Over the top.

Tax credits and tax subsidies given only to moviemakers are wrong on several grounds, as I’ve argued before (see “Knot Cannibalism” and “Cinema Without Subsidy”). Of course, the red tape and high taxes associated with setting up any business are wrong, too. You may say that the state’s gotta raise funds, but it most definitely shouldn’t kill the geese that lay the eggs, golden or Technicolor.

Taxes should apply equally, all around. Low taxes evenly spread will entice businesses — including moviemakers — into an area, if other locales remain over-taxed and confusing.

Some will cry “jobs!” but the word isn’t magic. Real jobs can be measured. Michigan’s subsidies created mainly temporary part-time jobs for Michiganders. According to a commissioned study, “Michigan spent $378,240.74 per job in 2008; $586,779.18 per job in 2009.”

No film incentive, it turns out, “has generated as much revenues as it has taken from the treasury.”

Cut. Print.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.