Detroit News. February 10, 2024.
Editorial: Don’t risk teacher pensions to grow government
Spend now, pay later was Michigan’s longtime operating strategy. The state ignored its mounting future obligations in favor of adding new programs and projects.
Former Gov. Rick Snyder put an end to the practice with an ambitious plan to pay down the state’s unfunded retiree pension and health care debt, a step that assured the solvency of the benefits while also providing more money for classrooms.
The measures Snyder and a Republican Legislature put in place have greatly reduced the unfunded liability and kept the state on track to wipe it out entirely by 2038.
In her new budget, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is abandoning that disciplined approach. She wants to dip into teacher pension payments to reclaim $670 million for growing the size of government.
The governor claims the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System is now 99% percent funded, so socking away so much additional money is unnecessary.
She isn’t telling the whole story. Combined, the teacher pension and health care funds are indeed in much better shape than they were when Snyder began the accelerated paydown schedule.
But the future obligation still totals roughly $35 billion. And while the governor boasts she has reduced state debt by $18 billion since taking office, that, too, is inaccurate. The $18 billion is the amount Michigan made in payments, but the debt total decreased by just $2.4 billion, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. Anyone with a mortgage understands the math — not every dollar of the monthly payment reduces the principle.
It may be that Michigan will knock down its unfunded retiree obligations to zero before 2038, but it’s too early to declare the mission accomplished.
“We’re making progress, but it’s not the time to back off,” says Jase Bolger, who was the Republican House speaker when the first of the debt reduction policies were put in place. “It really is a raiding of the teacher’s pension fund.”
Putting retiree pensions at greater risk might be justified in a time of emergency. That’s not the case this year. Michigan just spent down a $9 billion surplus provided mostly by federal COVID relief funds. It used the bonus cash to fund a host of new spending programs.
Now Whitmer is on the hunt to find more sources of revenue to keep the spree going. She’s already engineered a $700 million tax hike by clawing back last year’s income tax rate reduction.
The $670 million from the pension payments will be used in part to extend to all Michigan households, even the wealthiest, the state’s free pre-school program, which already covers low- and middle-income families.
The governor also proposes ending means testing for community college scholarships and making them universal as well.
Whitmer’s agenda returns the state to its undisciplined budgeting past. It is reckless to ditch a law that promises to protect teacher retiree benefits and frees school districts of crushing pension payments while such a sizeable debt still exists.
The health of pension systems depends on more than just the amount of money paid into them. They are also impacted by interest rates, the stock market, investment decisions and inflation. Should any of those factors turn in the wrong direction, the condition of Michigan’s systems would be less robust.
Michigan is better positioned for the future thanks to Snyder’s responsible foresight. Reverting to the bad fiscal habits of the past risks undoing a decade of hard work.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. February 11, 2024.
Editorial: Refreshingly real views of our readers
In the weeks and months leading up to the Feb. 27 primary election in Michigan and the presidential election in November, it’s important for voters to share their views and debate their opinions.
What we’ve seen thus far on TV and online seems manufactured — like some sort of oddball product — with the intention of selling a particular candidate or a point of view. Like much of American politics these days, it’s theater with a lot of histrionics and little substance.
So, instead, we offer thoughtful commentary – and it comes directly from you, the reader, through Pulse of the Voters.
In the past six years, our Pulse of the Voters project has become a tradition for the Record-Eagle during election season. This year, we put the word out in early January with some questions about the two most likely presidential candidates, got a healthy response and started publishing readers’ comments later that month.
We knew we were achieving a balance of sorts – and that fact was confirmed by complaints from both liberals and conservatives. We surely don’t expect someone to thank us for publishing an opposing point of view. Yet, when both sides complain about the other’s point of view simultaneously, we achieve some imperfect sort of equity. At least both sides seemed equally unhappy.
Finding a balance of views can be tough to achieve because people’s opinions don’t necessarily fit a rigid profile. Those who call themselves staunch conservatives may not fit that precise definition in the eyes of other conservatives. And, in the eyes of some liberals, even the phrasing of a question may expose what they view as a right-wing conservative bent.
But, down the road, those criticisms may not matter so much if we hold fast to our goal: To allow readers to express their views and the basis for their opinions. Those initial comments should draw vigorous rebuttal and, over time, we should achieve a balance of viewpoints, pro and con, that reflect the political spectrum.
And so we asked voters what’s on their minds right now as they prepare to vote?
The Record-Eagle’s parent company, CNHI, conducted an unscientific online survey from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2. (CNHI newspapers participating in the survey are primarily located in the Midwest, South and Northeast with a strong footprint in Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and upstate New York. Complete list of CNHI papers: https://www.cnhi.com/newspapers/ )
The condition of the U.S. economy is top of mind for those readers who were surveyed across 22 states. Respondents were asked to choose three issues as their leading concerns as the 2024 presidential election cycle kicks into high gear.
The combined choice of economy/inflation/national debt was picked by 64% of the 1,340 respondents, followed by immigration/national security at 54% and abortion/reproductive rights at 38%.
“The economy is No. 1 and it’s going to be No. 1 – maybe even by a larger margin,” said Chris Ellis, political science professor and co-director of the Institute for Public Policy at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. “That is the thing driving people’s undecided votes at this point. Even though a lot of economic data is good, there’s still a perception of insecurity.”
The remaining issues prioritized by the respondents were, in order: Climate change/energy policy, election integrity, foreign policy, crime, education and social justice. Last, but not insignificant, were “other” fill-in responses included in 9% of surveys, which was led by the preservation of democracy in the U.S.
Respondents in the CNHI survey were predominantly male, age 60 and older. There was a near-even split in political affiliations — 34% Democrat, 34% Republican and 32% independent or third party.
About 53% of the respondents said they voted for President Joe Biden with 41% having supported Trump. Looking ahead to the November general election, nearly 48% said they’d choose Biden, 37% said they favor Trump and 14% are either undecided – or are planning to vote for a different candidate.
The “other” selection in this category allowed write-in explainers. About 70 said they’d vote for Republican Nikki Haley, while nearly 50 said they’d prefer to vote for anyone other than the presumptive nominees, Biden or Trump.
Now it’s your turn: What do you think and why?
Alpena News. February 10, 2024.
Editorial: Watch out for tax scams
It’s the dreaded tax season, which means the pain of filling out all those forms for state and federal taxes, perhaps cutting checks to the government, and definitely scammers on the hunt for your money.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office says scammers pretend to be IRS or state government officials to try to steal people’s money. If you owe the IRS money, they might pretend to have a great way to settle that debt “for pennies on the dollar,” only to rip you off.
We urge everyone to watch out for scams and guard their funds and their identities carefully.
Some tips to help you do so, according to the Attorney General’s Office:
— Know that the government will not email, call, or text you unless you reached out to them that way first, and they will never ask for your personal information through those means.
— Know that the government will never offer you grants or money.
— Know that the government will never demand money through email, call, or text. They will send you a letter letting you know what you owe and offering payment options.
— Know that the government will never ask for payment via gift card, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or a pay app.
More information and tips can be found online at michigan.gov/consumerprotection/scams/government.
Stay safe out there, Michigan.