Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Michigan's Budget - The Numbers

There seems to be some confusion lately about the state's general fund budget. Have there been cuts? Has revenue gone down? Are $440 million in cuts necessary to balance 2007-2008's budget? What is the impact of the new $1.5 billion in taxes just passed by the legislature?

The Budget

We'd like to go through the numbers and explain a bit how government budgeting works. Michigan, like most units of government, has several funds. The General Fund, the one that the legislature can spend on pretty much whatever it wants, is the budget that everyone refers to when there is talk of a deficit or the need for tax increases. The General Fund is about $9 billion of the state's total $40 billion budget. We discussed the total growth of the budget, as well as how government does accounting, in a previous post. Please follow that link and come back after you have read the explanation of the politicians' definition of a budget cut.

We've heard the Governor and many politicians talk about cutting the budget. However, when the numbers are examined, the state's General Fund has seen an increase in revenue every year of the Governor's term. However, there has been a reduction in spending, but only to match the government's revenue. You see, the state government has been good at spending more than it brings in, whether under Democrat or Republican control.

But wait! Governor Granholm boasts about having to cut billions from the state budget. From the Governor's office: "Since taking office in 2003, Governor Granholm has cut nearly $3 billion in state spending to resolve more than $4 billion in budget shortfalls - more than any other governor in the state's history." Really? Here's a list of the total annual General Fund spending during Governor Ganholm's tenure:
Fiscal Year - Spending (millions)
02-03 -       $8,830
03-04 -       $8,770
04-05 -       $8,702
05-06 -       $9,106
06-07 -       $8,966

In other words, in absolute numbers, a grand total of $268 million has been cut during the Governor's tenure. Just for fun, let's factor in inflation, so that 2002-2003 is our baseline. If that were the case, and spending had gone up just at the rate of inflation, then 2006-2007 spending would have been about $9.938 billion. Subtract actual spending, and the total possible cut the Governor could take credit for is $1.108 billion. You see, the Governor is using politician math where possible spending is taken into account when declaring a deficit or cut, not actual spending.

The New Taxes

According to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency, the entity that estimates for the State House how much money the state will bring in, 2007-2008 revenue will be about $8.186 billion. Governor Granholm proposes to spend $9.941 billion in 2007-2008. So this is the deficit that she's referring to when she has said that $1.8 billion in "cuts" have needed to be made to balance the budget. You see, it's not actual spending that is being cut, it is proposed spending. The new, higher income tax rate, along with the new 6% tax on services, will raise, according to estimates, somewhere between $1.4 and $1.5 billion this fiscal year. That brings our total General Fund Revenue to about $9.6 billion. That's an increase in spending, from 2006-2007, of 9%. That's an increase in revenue, if the tax hadn't passed, of over 17%. In one year! When's the last time you got a raise of 9% or even 17%?

But there's more! Governor Granholm, even after the passage of the new taxes, is declaring that $400 million of cuts still need to occur! But, as hopefully you have figured out, the cut is not in spending, but a cut in what she wants to spend!

What do the new taxes mean to the average Michigander? A $1.5 billion increase, divided by approximately 10 million residents of Michigan, equals a $150 tax increase per person. That includes every single man, woman, and child. According to the Census Bureau, there are about 3.7 million households in Michigan, which means that the tax increase is over $400 per household. That's in addition to the $7,183 annual cost of state government on a per household basis.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Minimal Reforms for Massive Tax Hike

The taxpayers of Michigan traded minimal reforms for a massive tax hike this past weekend. A new 6% service tax will apply to the following services:

Astrology services
Carpet cleaning
Consulting services
Investigation, guard and armored car services
Commercial landscaping services
Baby-shoe bronzing
Bail bonding
Coin-operated blood pressure testing
Check room services (coat checks)
Concierge services
Dating services
Social escort services
Fortune telling
House sitting
Coin-operated locker rental
Palm reading
Party planning
Porter services
Psychic services
Rest room operation services
Shoe shines
Singing telegrams
Wedding planning
Wedding chapel services (not churches)
Scenic transportation services
Skiing services
Tour operator services
Personal care (except hair care, including manicure, pedicure, etc.)
Security system services
Mini-warehouse and self-storage unit services
Business service center services (e.g., hire out payroll service)
Investment advice
Consumer-buying services
Discount-buying services
Genealogical investigation
Social introduction services
Numerology services
Pay telephone services
Personal fitness training
Personal shopping services
Coin-operated photographic machines
Phrenology services
Packaging and labeling
Specialized design services
Passenger and ground transport services
Courier and messenger services
Document preparation

Of course, the income tax also increased from 3.9% to 4.35%. What did we get in return? Two reforms, although they are important, they are not worth the tradeoff.

First, the Michigan Education Association (the teacher's union) runs its own health care plan called MESSA. MESSA health care is, by some estimates, 20% more expensive than market-rate health care plans. Part of the problem is that, for those familiar with how health care works, MESSA premiums are the same for single individuals and families. Most health plans today cost employers more based on whether the employee is single, married, or married with children. With MESSA, it doesn't matter, school districts get charged the same family rate, regardless of the employee's status. This translates to much higher costs. The other factor increasing costs for school districts is the fact that MESSA is just repackaged Blue Cross coverage, with a premium attached simply because it is union-run. Basically, MESSA is a money-laundering scheme for the teacher's union.

The bill that passed the legislature this weekend would require MESSA to publish its claims data, so competing health care plans could quote school districts their rate for the same plans. Previously, MESSA has vigorously opposed this because they will do anything to maintain their stranglehold on healthcare coverage for teachers in Michigan. In fact, the teachers union frequently threatens school boards with a strike if they attempt to bid out health care coverage, even though it is illegal for teachers to strike in Michigan. One MEA bumper sticker shows how militant they are - it reads "You'll get my MESSA card from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hand."

You understand why the union is so militant about protecting MESSA? Because it is a union cash cow. Now the legislature has finally stood up and made it easier for school districts to make sure that taxpayers get the best deal by allowing for competition in health coverage. Unfortunately, it only allows school districts to bid out care, it doesn't require it. This means that local school boards will still have to deal with union threats and potential strikes if they want to do the right thing.

Second, reforms to the state teacher retirement system were enacted. This is a very long-term reform because it will only effect teachers who start working after July 1, 2008. However, it is an important reform because it will increase the time in service requirements for teachers to be able to get health and pension benefits in retirement. Currently, teachers can work as little as five years to get free health care for life. Unfortunately, the reform does not include a phase-out of the defined-benefit plan. Nearly all other state workers have been transitioned to a defined-contribution plan, much like a 401(k), which is sustainable and a bigger benefit to retirees. The current defined-benefit plan will continue to be unsustainable and extremely expensive. This issue will have to be dealt with again in the future, so this bill just put the pain off on future legislators.

And that's it! We get those two watered-down reforms in exchange for more job-killing taxes. Only two local legislators voted in favor of the tax increases - Mike Sak and Robert Dean, both Representatives from Grand Rapids. We have heard rumors that the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance will target Robert Dean in their recall efforts. We wish them luck.

The good news is that the media is full of stories of ticked off Michiganders today. Lots of people are talking recalls, not just the MTA.

Michael Lafaive, of the Mackinac Center, put it best in an editorial in the Detroit News today:

"The state Legislature has kicked Michigan while it is down. Government is going to take another $1.48 billion out of the hands of residents and private job providers when they can least afford it -- and do so with a new tax on services, too.

Michigan is already ranked 50th among the states in economic growth. It has the highest unemployment rate (7.4 percent), and our per capita income growth is well below the national average. By one measure, people are moving out of Michigan in near record numbers. And the bad news just got worse.

Lansing's political class has pushed its service tax nose under Michigan's economic tent. Next year, if new revenues do not flow into the treasury at anticipated rates, or if the cost of state government rises, it will be easy to add even more businesses to the 23 now on the state service tax hook.

We should fear for Michigan's future. All the cheerleading by government officials won't overcome the fact that it is more expensive to work, live and invest in the Great Lakes State."

Recall 2007!!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Freedom Rang Across Michigan for 258 Minutes

Our state government shut down this morning at 12:01 am and remained shut down until 4:18am, when two Senate Republicans broke ranks and voted in favor of $1.5 billion in tax increases. Freedom rang across the land for 258 minutes, but alas, the politicians relented and voted to destroy more jobs by raising our state income tax to 4.35% from 3.9%, as well as adding a 6% sales tax to services.

Michigan, the land of the one-state depression, will get even worse. $1.5 billion extracted from the populace and added to the general fund budget is an increase in spending of 18% in one year. That's right, Governor Granholm has increased spending 18% in one year.

We'll have more detail on the vote and the associated reforms later today. We are also attempting to confirm that those who voted in favor of the tax hikes will be recalled.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Michigan Government Shutdown Countdown

It looks like we are on track for a state government shutdown at midnight Sunday evening. The governor went on TV last night to announce that all "essential" government services will continue. The question arises - then what isn't essential? Can we do without the non-essential "services?"

The legislature continues to debate a tax increase. Do you want an 18% income tax increase from 3.9% to 4.6%? Do you think that will help our state's economy? Do you think that serious government reforms should be part of the deal? Be sure to call your state senator and state rep today to let them know. They are set to reconvene at 1pm to continue the debate. This point in time is critical. We can either have long-term systemic government and budget reform, or just another fleece of the taxpayers.

Local Representatives and their contact information:
72nd District - Glenn Steil Jr., 517-373-0840,
73rd District, Tom Pearce, 517-373-0218,
75th District, Robert Dean, 517-373-2668,
76th District, Sak Michael, 517-373-0822,
77th District, Kevin Green, 517-373-2277,
86th District, Dave Hildenbrand, 517-373-0846,
Not sure who your Representative is? Go Here.

Local Senators and their contact information:
28th District - Mark Jansen - (517) 373-0797
29th District - Bill Hardiman - (517) 373-1801
30th District - Wayne Kuipers - (517) 373-6920
Not sure who your Senator is? Go Here.

The question always comes up. What could be cut so that taxes don't have to be increased? Here is the list of $1.9 billion in potential cuts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Budget Boondoggle

For those that still think that the state government has "cut to the bone" with no more that can possibly be cut, and that our income tax should be raised from 3.9% to 4.6% (as the Governor is pushing for), check out the below news clip from WXYZ in Detroit.

The short introduction is this: Governor Granholm is having a new State Police headquarters built to replace the one that the state currently leases from MSU for $1 a year. The price tag? $116 million - $42 million more than it would cost the state to build itself. And who is the contract going to for the construction? A friend and campaign contributor of the Governor's. The legislature has the power to stop it, but they haven't. The video is entertaining to watch - especially as the Governor tries to squirm away from the reporter's questions.

Video Part 1
Video Part 2
Video Part 3

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Term Limits: Leave Them Alone

Last week saw a Grand Rapids Press article on legislators debating the extenion of the current state term limits. Members of the state House are limited to three terms of two years and members of the state Senate are limited to two four year terms. A proposal, which may appear on the ballot in January for the newly-moved primary, would extend those term limits to 12 years for Representatives, but not effect the limits on Senators.

Some folks have even blamed the "inexperience" of legislators, due to terms limits, on the current budget morass. They say that lobbyists are running Lansing and that our legislators somehow don't know what they're doing.

Don't buy it. A study by the Cato institute has shown that there are numerous benefits to term limits:

  • Term limits remain popular with state electorates long after their introduction.

  • Term limits stimulate electoral competition in state legislative elections.
  • Term limits enable nontraditional candidates to run for seats in state legislatures. Female, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American candidates find it easier to enter term-limited legislatures than non-term-limited bodies. The record is more mixed for African Americans.

  • Term limits weaken seniority systems in state legislatures.

  • Term limits tend to weaken the leadership of a state legislature.

  • Term limits have not strengthened interest groups, state bureaucracies, or legislative staffs as predicted by critics of term limits.

  • Some evidence suggests that term limits foster public policies compatible with limited government.

There's even evidence that term limits lead to lower taxes in the long run. In other words, term limits foster a citizen-run government, not a government run by the political class. We need to protect that at all cost. The so-called arguments against term limits don't hold water.

The current budget problem is a sign of the health of term limits and a citizen legislature. The very fact that the legislature and governor are fighting so long over the issue is good for the state. It forces a very sincere debate on some very important issues. Instead of focusing on quick fixes and budgetary gimmicks, they are finally looking at real, long-term, systemic changes to make sure that our state operates effectively and efficiently in the future.

Long live term limits!

Friday, September 7, 2007

State Budget Meltdown - Enjoying the Spectacle

Both the Detroit News and the Grand Rapids Press have articles today about the apparent near-meltdown occuring in Lansing over the state government's budget. Apparently, late last night, the State House was flooded by all members of the State Senate, along with the Governor, in an effort to get the members of the House to agree to an increase of the state income tax from 3.9% to 4.4% (a 13% tax increase), as well as an increase in the state sales tax from 6% to 7% (a 17% tax increase). Ultimately the effort failed. According to the Grand Rapids Press, "...Democrats are paralyzed by 'political fear that if they stick their necks out, there will be voter retribution.'"

This is outstanding news. In case you're not aware, a taxpayer advocacy organization called the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance has been threatening to mount recall campaigns against legislators who vote in favor of any tax increase. Leon Drolet, the former State Representative who is leading the campaign, has been much-maligned over his efforts, but we applaud him and his organization. In fact, he is teaming up with the local taxpayer advocacy group Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility, who helped to defeat the GRCC millage last month. KCFFR filed the preliminary campaign reporting statements yesterday to begin the effort to recall Senators Bill Hardiman and Mark Jansen, as well as Representatives Robert Dean, Kevin Green, and Dave Hildenbrand, if those individuals decide to for in favor of a tax increase, according to the KCFFR web site.

People are talking about a possible government shutdown in October if the budget battle isn't resolved by that time. We can only hope for such a pleasant October surprise. The more gridlock in Lansing, the better off our state is. There are plenty more cuts that can be made, and it is our hope that those cuts see the light of day before job-killing tax increases are considered. Stay tuned for more Lansing fireworks.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Grand Rapids Community College Admits to Taxpayer Extortion

Today's Grand Rapids Press reports that Grand Rapids Community College is backing down from its prior threats to raise tuition if the millage that failed on Tuesday didn't pass. This is typical behavior of bureaucrats and those who love to spend other people's money. How often do we hear from city government politicans that if they don't raise taxes or get more revenue sharing that they will have to cut fire and police? It's the same concept - what we call taxpayer extortion. Remember how the mafia used to require "protection" payments? The concept here isn't too different. Bureaucrats threaten that crime will skyrocket, everyone's tuition will go up, trash won't get picked up, well, you pick your poison. It's the usual argument that the sky will fall if a tax increase isn't passed.

Well, GRCC did it and the taxpayers called the bluff. And guess what. They were bluffing. The frustrating part was the sheer amount of coverage this and related GRCC issues received in the GR Press in the run-up to the election. The bias was clear.

What do the bureaucrats have to say now? "Nevermind! Just kidding!"

It's time to pass a state law to require that all tax issues be kept on only the November ballot.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Grand Rapids Community College Fails (Again)

The perfidy of the GRCC board of trustees was called out by the taxpayers of Kent County last night. Out of over 63,000 votes cast, the second millage request in three months failed by 361 votes. Perhaps it was the fact that everyone just paid their summer property taxes and that was fresh on their minds. Or perhaps it was the fact that GRCC attempted to jerry-rig the election by holding it at a time when the majority of voters would be from the city of Grand Rapids (and outlying townships had nothing else to vote on).

Or perhaps it was a small group of taxpayers called Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility. The group opposed the millage request earlier this year for the disastrous waste of money called The Rapid. This time they opposed the GRCC millage request because of the clear contempt of the taxpayer showed by the GRCC board of trustees. According to the WOOD Radio news web site, KCFFR targeted the townships that GRCC expected to have a low turnout:

Dr. Eric Larson, head of the opposition against the vote via Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsbility says they targeted areas in outlying areas like Chester Township and Georgetown Twp. and were able to add to their "no" results with flyers, media print ads and the like.

It's probably safe to say that KCFFR's effort, no matter how small, invalidated the $100,000 that the GRCC supporters spent this time (again). What a great example of how local citizens can stand up and make a difference to stop the tax and spend steamrollers that run our local government entities.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Make Michigan Attractive to Business Again

The stunning inability of Michigan's politicians to talk about the 8,000 ton elephant in the room continues to amaze us here at GR Pundit. Michigan's economy is suffering a "single-state" recession for one primary reason - the United Auto Workers union. Why? Michigan's economy is/was so heavily dependent on the domestic auto industry that any disruption in that industry would surely affect the entire state. The United Auto Workers, along with the management of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, conspired over the decades to build extremely lavish and unsustainable benefits packages for unionized employees. However, there was a problem. Toyota. Japanese carmakers entered the market with superior products at lower prices. Suddenly, the domestic big three are completely unable to compete. Here's the rub: they are being prevented from competing because they simply can't reduce labor costs enough. The UAW is standing in the way of the necessary and painful reorganization that is required to bring the domestic auto industry into line with foreign car makers.

While the politicians in Lansing debate how best to tax businesses in Michigan, we notice the deafening silence on the issue that is truly the destroyer of Michigan's economy - forced unionization. This past Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an excellent editorial by Larry Reed of Midland's Mackinac Center. He outlines the case for ending forced unionization. The concept is called "right-to-work," which means that anyone is free to join a union or not. Today's law in Michigan states that if you join a company with a union, you are forced to pay dues.

We only need to look south, within our own United States, to see the contrast between a heavily unionized state and a non-heavily unionized state. Alabama, which is seeing new car factories being built like crazy, is the exact opposite of Michigan. In fact, according to the editorial, "If current trends continue, Alabama will eclipse Michigan in per-capita income in just three years. With base pay and bonuses, and especially when the cost of living is factored in, nonunion workers in many auto plants in the south are better off than their union counterparts in Michigan." That's a powerful statement.

Michigan needs to pass right-to-work legislation immediately. Another interesting point, according to the editorial, is that, between 1970 and 2000, right-to-work states created 1.43 million manufacturing jobs, while non-right-to-work states lost 2.18 million jobs.

The politicians can tinker with taxes all they want, but nothing will substantially change until the real labor environment in Michigan changes. Car factories are being built in the south, while car factories and manufacturers are shuttering in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Detroit Schools: 75% Dropout Rate

The Detroit News has a short article today on the dropout rate of Detroit Public Schools students. The article states that a report from Education Week, a weekly education newspaper, has done a study showing that Detroit's dropout rate is 75%. You can view the report's web page by clicking here.

However, the bureaucrats at Detroit Public Schools are going ape because they say the numbers are "totally erroneous." They say that they report a graduation rate of 67% to the state. So who is telling the truth? They both are. The difference is that Michigan school districts are only required to report the graduation rate of current seniors. In other words, they calculate it by taking the number of students who graduate from the 12th grade and dividing it by the number of students who started the 12th grade that year. The Education Week report takes the more realistic approach of taking the number of students who actually graduate from the 12th grade and divide it by the number who started the 9th grade. You see, many of the students who drop out do so before the 12th grade. Detroit Public Schools is misleading the public, as is the state of Michigan, by only reporting graduation rates of 12th graders.

So, we see that Detroit Public Schools is a failure by every definition of the word, yet they are still in business. Does anyone wonder why the enrollment at charter schools in Detroit is skyrocketing? Tens of thousands of students are stuck in a utter dismal failure of a school district because the cap on charter schools has been reached. Our governor continues to pander to the teachers unions and refuse to support lifting the cap. Meanwhile, another generation of kids is being denied an education, and consequently is comdemned to continue the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs, etc.

How about Grand Rapids Public Schools? The dropout rate at GRPS is slightly better - 52.8% of GRPS students actually graduate. Even more interestingly, the graduation rate of Godfrey Lee Public Schools (Wyoming) is only 37.8% and 49.1% in Kelloggsville Public Schools.The highest graduation rates in the area are at East Grand Rapids Public Schools (98.1%) and Forest Hills (97.9%). Unfortunately, charter schools are not listed in this report, but we do know that Black River Public School, a charter K-12 school in Holland, is ranked as the #2 school in the entire state by Newsweek.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

GRCC Election Engineering

Brief summary of the election two weeks ago:

  • The Rapid's tax increase passed (but at 58% Yes, compared to 66% Yes last time). Of the six cities in The Rapid's tax authority (Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, and Grandville), three of them voted NO on the Rapid - Grandville, Walker, and Wyoming. Fully half of the municipalities in The Rapid's service area voted no. However, alas, it doesn't matter how each city voted - the tax passes on a majority of the ccombined citizens of all six cities. So, in other words, residents of Grandville, Walker, and Wyoming, who never have had a choice about whether or not to be part of The Rapid, are subsidizing the majority of the riders in Grand Rapids. It's like that giant sucking sound Ross Perot talked about - though the money is flying out of Grandville, Walker, and Wyoming into Grand Rapids. Hopefully the group that opposed The Rapid will continue to expose the gushing wanton waste in The Rapid's budget.

  • GRCC's millage request failed. This was a surprise. The No votes won by a very slim margin. More on this later.

  • Grand Rapids Public Schools' request for a millage renewal on non-homesead property passed handily. It always does.

Now, for the fun part. Grand Rapids Community College's millage request failed. The result? They say they'll have to raise tuition 8%. If you are a resident of Kent County, you'll pay $79.50 per credit hour instead of the prior $73.50 per credit hour.

Well, that's unacceptable to the bureaucrats at GRCC. They have decided to call another election in August to have everyone vote on the tax increase again! Why? Because fewer people vote outside of the city in August elections, meaning that voters in the communities that voted no on the millage just two weeks ago are less likely to head to the polls in August. This outrage of blatant contempt and disregard for the citizens of Kent County is a disgrace. The trustees at GRCC need to be called to task for their behavior.

What's this? Their contact information?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Grand Rapids Area Tax Hikes - Vote on Tuesday, May 8th!

Don't forget to vote tomorrow (Tuesday, May 8th). There are three tax issues on the ballot in Grand Rapids, and everyone in Kent County gets to vote on the Grand Rapids Community College tax hike.

If you live in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, or Grandville, you get the pleasure of voting on the bloated and wasteful Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) tax hike of 18%. Some interesting fact on The Rapid:

  • Rapid buses carry an average of only six people at any given time

  • Even as the numbers of passengers has increased, the cost of The Rapid on a per-passenger basis is also going up, meaning the Rapid is getting less efficient with time

  • The Rapid’s web site misleads the public by under-reporting revenue by $18 million this year alone. Why do they hide the real cost of The Rapid?

  • The average transit bus gets only 3.65 miles to the gallon and spews 50 times more pollution than a car. Rapid buses add pollution to the environment, they don’t reduce it!

You can read more information on the waste at The Rapid by checking out the Rapid No web site at

All Kent County residents get to vote on the GRCC millage increase of 31%. The interesting part is that this property tax increase is permanent! It never expires.

Grand Rapids Residents Also get to vote on the Grand Rapids Public Schools operating millage. This tax is on non-homestead property only, but effects renters.

So, don't forget to vote on Tuesday, no matter where you live in Kent County.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Whole New Me

Grand Rapids Pundit has changed blog software once again. With this new package, we're allowed much more in terms of customization and flexibility. Do you like the new look?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Producers vs. Plunderers

This past weekend there was an article in the Grand Rapids Press about the benefits that Grand Rapids City Commissioners receive. We weren't even aware that Commissioners got both health care and pension benefits for their one day a week job.

It seems as though five Commissioners participate in the City's health care plan, though four of them make a voluntary contribution (James Jendrasiak pays nothing). The health care plan costs the city (consequently, us) $11,000 a year.

In addition, Commissioners receive pension benefits. Again, for a one day a week job.

One is reminded of the work of the great 19th century French economist, Frederic Bastiat. In his short treatise, entitled The Law, he separates people into two classes, those who produce something valuable and those who use the law to plunder the producers:

Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly.

Remember this the next time the City Commission complains more about how they need to raise taxes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bigotry at Cornerstone University

On Monday and Tuesday in Grand Rapids we will see the difference between those who call themselves Christian and those who act like Christians.

A bussload of young Christian gay men and women, called Soulforce, will be coming to Grand Rapids to protest bigoted anti-gay policies at two local colleges - Cornerstone University and Calvin College.

Each of the two schools has a policy that discriminates against gays. For instance, Cornerstone's student handbook has the following guideline:


Students are to exercise discernment in television viewing based on the above guidelines. Beyond considerations regarding the content of a program, the discerning believer must also consider the point of view or judgments that are made regarding certain issues. Subjects like racism or homosexuality may be portrayed in a program, but consideration should be given as to whether the subject is ultimately celebrated or condemned. "

So, basically, Cornerstone students are prohibited from watching anything on TV which casts a positive light on gays.

However, the most telling part of this saga is the reaction to the visit by both Conerstone and Calvin. To get any sort of in-depth coverage, one has to turn to the Detroit News:

As two Grand Rapids colleges they'll visit in late April illustrate, sometimes they're welcome, other times they're not.

Rex Rogers, the president of Cornerstone University who claims in his blog that gays are in the "grip of sin," warns Riders won't be allowed on campus because, in his view, their "purpose is to undermine and attack the very basic biblical values that we say we believe in."

Down the road, Calvin College also teaches that gay sex is wrong but is inviting Riders to a worship service, meals and to tell "what it's like to have been on a bus ride for two months on a cause you believed in," says Shirley Hoogstra, vice president for student life. The Riders offer her students a chance "to welcome well the stranger at your gate," she adds.

It sounds like Cornerstone is simply afraid to let students even talk to the Soulforce riders. They might actually make sense! Well, we can't have hearts and minds changed, now can we?

Of course, we believe that any private institution has the right to make its own rules and those who enter those institutions should understand and abide by those rules. However, the Soulforce people are simply attempting to change hearts and minds by showing people that gays are just regular people who want to live their lives in peace.

Cornerstone could take some lessons from Calvin on how to act like true Christians toward their fellow human beings.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Tax Ourselves into Prosperity?

State government is having a tough time these days. The Governor and Legislature are arguing over how to close a supposed $940 million deficit for this fiscal year (which ends in September). But wait. As GR Pundit readers already understand, the way government budgets its money is different from how normal people and companies budget. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Is this "deficit" due to a reduction in revenue? According to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, fiscal year 2005-6's General Fund revenue was $8.266 billion. Fiscal year 2006-07's General Fund revenue is expected to be $8.230 billion. That's a slight increase in reveues. So what's the problem? Well, spending, of course. According to the same agency, appropriations (spending) for 2006-07 are set at $9.2 billion. Houston, we have a problem.

So, as usual, Governor Granholm and the Democrats in the state House are proposing all sorts of tax increases, including a 2% sales tax on services, an increase in the death tax, higher taxes on cigarettes, higher taxes on insurance, and higher liquor taxes.

The problem here is that residents of Michigan already enjoy the 16th highest tax burden in the United States. The average tax burden is 10.6%, when combining all state and local taxes.

Any company or individual would cut back on spending to balance the budget. But, since government has a monopoly on the police and will put you in jail if you don't pay taxes, it's a heck of a lot easier, for politicians and bureaucrats, so simply force us to pay more tribute.

This is one of those times where having a split government is better for all of us. The Republicans and Democrats in the state have to fight it out to get an agreement. No rubber-stamping, as our Federal government was for the past six years.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Tax Attack 2007 - May 8th!

Grand Rapids residents need to be aware of tax attack 2007! There are three tax increase proposals on the ballot May 8th - did you know that? This is the problem with May elections - who pays attention?

Tax issues include the following:
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools - GRPS is asking for a renewal of their 18 mill non-homestead operating millage. Basically what this means is that GRPS depends on an 18 mill tax on properties that are not claimed as primary residences. The 18 mill amount has actually decreased to 17.8258 mills due to Headlee amendment reductions. This is generally a non-controversial issue since homeowners do not pay it, only businesses and rental property owners (thus renters).
  • Grand Rapids Community College - This one is a true tax increase. GRCC is asking for a an additional .56 mills, in addition to the current 1.7856 mills they already tax us for. That's a whopping 31% increase. The increase will bring an additional $11 million to the college each year in revenues. It will cost the average homeowner an additional $28 a year, or about $140 over the next five years.
  • Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) - We're no friends of the Rapid, as our readers should know. They are asking for a .17 mill increase to the .95 mills they already get in tax revenue. That's an 18% increase. The new tax will raise about $2 million a year for the Rapid. This will cost the average GR homeowner about $8 a year or $40 over five years.

All told, the two homestead tax increases will cost the average homeowner about $37 a year extra, for a total annual cost of $173 a year for both GRCC and The Rapid.

Oh, and Grand Rapids Public Schools board elections are on the ballot too - but does anyone even care any more?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

May 8th Transit Tax - Opposition Organizes

Did you know that you should be voting on May 8th? Probably not. And that's what the folks at the local bus service agency, the Interurban Transit Partnership (also known as The Rapid), are betting on. They are asking for a renewal of their .95 mill property tax, along with an increase of .17 mills.

As you may know, The Rapid's web site is at

It has come to our attention that opposition to the tax increase is organized this year. Check out (also apparently at Some of the facts surrounding The Rapid mirror what we've been saying for years. In short, it's a horrible deal. From the website:

  • "The average transit bus only gets 3.65 miles per gallon
  • Transit buses spew 50 times more pollution and 279 times more soot than a passenger car.
  • Each RAPID bus costs $9.40 per mile to operate. A typical car costs about $0.22 per mile to operate.
  • For each passenger that rides a RAPID bus, the RAPID loses $5.82. Taxpayers (that’s us!) make up that amount to the tune of $30.7 million a year!"
Wow! 3.65 miles to the gallon? We knew it was a bad deal, but just how bad wasn't this clear to us.

The best part of the site is the "This Pig Stinks!" campaign. We like it so much, we've added it to our menu at the right. This pig really does stink! We just hope the word gets out about this web site before the election. The taxpayers of Grand Rapids and the surrounding area need to understand the facts on The Rapid.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

23 is No Longer Enough

Grand Rapids' favorite son, Ambassador Peter Secchia, now appears as though he has changed his mind. Formerly the chair of "23 is Enough," an anti-Wayland casino group, Secchia now seems to believe that 25 is just right.

According to Sunday's Grand Rapids Press, Secchia has resigned his position at 23 and is now campaigning for a new casino in downtown Grand Rapids. One wonders why the change of heart.

The idea is that the GR casino would be basically a funding mechanism for the government, paying for the local pools, museums, parks, etc. While the idea seems to be in the right place, we're very skeptical of any government unit owning an running an enterprise that the private sector should. Each time one of these publically-owned enterprises comes into existence, it generally entails the creation of new bureaucracies and un-elected governance boards (such as the DDA, the money-losing Kent County Convention and Arena Authority, etc).

One is left to wonder, though, when Secchia makes a statement like this, "I'm talking about a casino like Detroit has, (but) owned by the city, county and local people who would share the profits..." Does Secchia plan to be one of the "local people" who shares the profits? Who would own the casino? Who would operate it? Will it be just another government boondoggle, like the current city-owned golf course?