Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Kentwood Teachers to Strike?

The teachers in Kentwood look increasingly likely to strike within the next couple of weeks. There was even an article in yesterday's Grand Rapids Press about a parent group in Kentwood attacking the school board over the issue. One wonders why they are not attacking the teacher's union as well.

Just what exactly is the bone of contention here? The foremost issue is that the Kentwood board is refusing to continue with the union-owned health care plan for teachers and other staff. This health plan, called MESSA, is more expensive for the board (thus the taxpayers) than any traditional health plan. In fact, MESSA is just resold Blue Cross, but it is resold by the union to the school district at an inflated rate. In addition, the union demands that 100% of the premium be paid for by the board. They reject any attempt at having the teachers pay for any of their own health care. How many of our readers have a plan that good?

What is the difference in cost? MESSA is $1,013 per month. The Priority Health plan is $790 per month. That means MESSA is 28% more expensive than Priority Health.

The board wants to cap its contribution to $916 a month, so that if the teachers were to choose to stay with MESSA, they would have to pay $97 per month for their health care premium. If the teachers were to choose to go with Priority Health, the board would pay the teachers an extra $126 per month. They would have no out-of-pocket premium expense.

But, wait, you may be asking. Isn't the Priority Health plan worse than MESSA? No. Both plans are comparable and the PH plan is in several ways better.

So that, in a nutshell, is why the teachers are probably going to engage in an illegal strike.

It's that simple. You're probably wondering why the union is so militant on this issue - it seems like a no-brainer. Well, since MESSA is a union-run health care plan, the union's leadership is very interested in maintaining their monopoly on school health care. It's a very lucrative business that would start falling apart if some school districts were allowed to stray from their control.

The school board and and administration have dug in, and we applaud them. They are trying to save the taxpayers some money and all they're receiving is grief for that effort.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Jenison Tax Revolt

On saturday, the residents of Jenison rejected a request by their school district for a "recreation millage" tax increase.

Two things should be noted about this vote. First, typical to the tax-raising crowd that wants to control the outcome of their requests, the vote was held on an odd election date - a Saturday. Usually they think that having elections on odd dates makes it unlikely that the average voter will turn out, so they notify those who are "friendly" to their tax increase about the election date, boosting the "yes" vote and potentially diminishing the automatic "no" voters. Thankfully, this practice has been stopped by last year's election consolidation laws, which will limit all such future tax increase requests to four specific election days a year.

Second, this is a trend by school districts to try and skirt Proposal A. That law stopped local school districts from raising money via property tax for operating expenses. Instead, funding for schools comes from the state via the sales tax, which we all pay. The recreation millage is a loophole in Proposal A which allows school districts to raise additional operating money by calling it "recreation" money.

As usual, the school district leaders are complaining that they don't have enough money to operate and that Lansing doesn't pay enough to operate the schools. Nevermind that these are the same school leaders who consent year after year to the teachers union's demands that they (the school district) continue to pay for the union-owned health insurance scheme, which is far more expensive than standard health insurance. Some estimates show that $400 million a year could be saved by Michigan school districts if health care were simply bid out, instead of being monopolized by the union's MESSA health care plan.

When was the last time we heard charter schools whining about budgets and funding? They don't have the option of raising taxes to build buildings, and they're doing just fine with what they've got.

But the stunning part is that the residents rejected the tax increase. We're constantly told by public school district leaders that they need more money. That line isn't working any more. Perhaps school districts should examine the expenses side of their budget, instead of always attacking the revenue side.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Assault Weapons Ban Expires Today

There was an article over the weekend putting a local perspective on the expiration of the federal "assault weapons ban."

First, what exactly did the assault weapons ban actually ban? It made it illegal to manufacture firearms with such evil things as a bayonet, flash supressor, pistol grip, or folding stock. What the ban did not do, is ban semi-automatic firearms. In fact, firearms that were manufactured before the ban went into effect were still legal. Everything the law banned was still available during the time period that the law was in effect.

What was the practical effect of the law? It basically outlawed the manufacture of firearms with certain cosmetic details. It also outlawed the manufacture of firearms magazines (clips) that could hold more than ten rounds. However, hundreds of thousands of 30 or more round magazines, imported before the ban, are still readily available.

The weekend GR Press article cites a statistic that in 1995, 3.5% of all gun crimes involved an assault weapon, but only 1.22 percent in 2002. But, it doesn't cite the statistic that all crime is down 55% in the last decade. In fact, crime in the United States is at a 30 year low. That's an inconvenient fact for the gun grabbers. But the point is this; all the weapons that were available before the ban went into effect were still available during the ban.

Even the US Justice Department's own study on the issue concluded that, "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence."

Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan is quoted in the GR Press article as saying:

"Before the ban, (magazines) were at 30 rounds, 50 rounds and 100 rounds. What is the value to anyone other than the military, with a magazine that shoots 100 rounds a minute?" Dolan asked. "I personally have a great deal of respect for hunters and sportsmen. These are made for hunting human beings, not hunting deer."

Has the chief read the Second Amendment lately? Or how about Michigan Constitution's Article I Section 6:

Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.

It's pretty clear that bearing arms isn't about hunting deer.

Besides, it's pretty damn hard to fire a semi-automatic rifle at 100 rounds a minute. It seems like the police chief would understand that a little better.

So, what do we conclude? The same as the government has concluded. The assault weapons ban was meaningless and it is a good that that it is expiring.

Far more detailed information on the ban is available at the AW Ban Sunset web page.

9-16-04 CORRECTION: Thanks to a pleasantly belligerent commenter, GR Pundit decided to consult our massive pool of firearms experts and conclude that it isn't so tough after all to fire 100 rounds a minute with a semi-automatic firearm. We regret this error, but rejoice in the fact that it will be easier than we thought to push back the hordes of invading Canadians when the world comes to that point.

Friday, September 3, 2004

A Blow to Corporate Welfare

In an interesting federal appeals court decision yesterday, many state programs which offer tax breaks and other incentives for business to stay in Michigan may be unconstitutional.

The 6th US Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, and several other states, ruled that a $300 million incentive package that the state of Ohio offered to DaimlerChrylser to keep a plant in Toledo is unconstitutional. Basically, the decision said that such tax breaks and incentives interfere with interstate commerce, which only the federal government can regulate.

It's an interesting and difficult argument, but apparently it worked. This means that similar programs in Michigan will come under the legal microscope.

Why does GR Pundit care about this? Because the state of Michigan, through such programs as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is regularly in the business of providing special tax breaks and other corporate welfare programs to keep business here. It makes it an uneven playing field for everyone else. Some businesses get to pay lower taxes by threatening to leave the state, while the rest (and us regular people too) then have to pay higher taxes to make up the difference. They say that such incentive programs "create jobs," when in fact they don't. A great real-world example of the harm of such programs can be found here.

Instead, the Michigan business environment should be made friendly for all business, not just a select few big companies that basically extort more concessions out of the government under threat of closure. Lower taxes for all, looser labor regulation, and less state bureaucracy would help all businesses in Michigan and create far more jobs than "targeted" special treatment for a few companies.

We'll keep an eye on this one...

For a longer explanation of this case, see this article.

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Democrats Against Democracy

Yesterday a federal judge ruled against Ralph Nader's attempt to get on the Michigan ballot as the Reform Party's presidential nominee. The Reform Party has split into two factions. The judge said that the Secretary of State shouldn't have to make the determination which Reform Party in Michigan is the real one, so a rejection of his nomination was allowed to stand.

However, Nader could still appear on the ballot as an independent, because the Michigan Republicans circulated nominating petitions. They turned in enough for him to qualify, but the Democrats cried foul. The state board of canvassers is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. The two Democrats voted to reject Nader's nominating petitions, which caused a deadlock, essentially rejecting his appearance on the ballot.

Of course the Nader campaign has gone to court to force the board of canvassers to put him on the ballot. He'll probably win, because we can't understand why the board could reject Nader if he had enough legitimate signatures.

The Democrats are the ones who have been kicking and screaming to keep Nader off the ballot. Now, we here at GR Pundit perfectly understand that Nader probably tends to take votes from the Democrat candidate, but how does that look? Isn't it a little more than hypocritical to call oneself a Democrat and yet want to limit the choices on the ballot? Maybe it's a new Democratic caucus: Democrats against Democracy. Or maybe they just want to limit the choices to what they approve of.

"But wait!" We hear our readers screaming, "The Republicans do it too!" Yes, we know. Both major parties do it. It's all about power and maintaining the status quo. Politics is about power; gaining and maintaining power. It's that simple. That's why we here at GR Pundit are thoroughly non-partisan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

GR Smoking Ban Defeated

Since we at GR Pundit were asleep at the wheel last week, we missed this one. The Grand Rapids City Commission was asked by a group called Smoke-Free Air for Everyone (SAFE) to pass an ordinance to ban all smoking in public places.

Thankfully, the commission had the guts to stand up to this one and say no. The nanny-state crusaders want to use the force of government to stop people from smoking basically anywhere, including workplaces and entertainment facilities. I'm sure the Grand Rapids Police Department has nothing better to do than arrest violent and dangerous smokers who are a clear threat to society.

The disturbing part is that Mayor Heartwell suggested that it be taken up at the county level. Instead of standing up for people's rights, he offered another avenue to impose their paternal tyranny.

The simple answer here is this: if you don't like the smoke, don't go there. Why should private property owners who open their doors to the public be forced, at gunpoint if necessary, to ban smoking at their establishment?