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Government > Politics and Prejudices

Tax the brewskis!

Brew tariff could solve education budget woes

 

Published 6/16/2010

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More from Jack Lessenberry

Shaming our state (10/6/2010)
Instead of making hard decisions, our pols just kick it down the road

Making real change (9/29/2010)
Why we could use a constitutional convention

Bought and paid for (9/22/2010)
Moroun's millions and Mike Bishop's flip-flop

Everyone who knows anything about economics knows that Michigan's only hope for the future is a better-educated workforce.

Our old-fashioned muscle-based, assembly-line economy is gone. There will be virtually no more high-paying jobs for unskilled high school graduates, ever, and no hope for dropouts.

That doesn't mean everyone needs a four-year university degree. But it does mean today's students need to become highly skilled, flexible and entrepreneurial. Yet our selfish and shortsighted politicians have their minds only on their wallets and next elections.

So they keep cutting what they spend on education.  Last year they cut the per-pupil allowance by at least $165 per student statewide, and some districts lost much more.

Michigan's Legislature has to adopt and pass a balanced budget every year. Not every calendar year, or even a normal, July 1-starting fiscal year. Our cockamamie fiscal year starts Oct. 1, which means the lawmakers have to enact a balanced budget by Sept. 30, or watch state government shut down until they do.

By the way, unlike the federal government, Lansing can't run a deficit. This year, the lawmakers were working on trying to balance the new budget early, so they could leave to campaign for whatever jobs they were running for next — and then they got a nasty shock.

The current year's budget isn't balanced after all, and lawmakers suddenly have to plug a $243.5 million hole. At the same time they learned that, they found out that the school aid fund has more money than they thought — about $280 million.

Now, the lawmakers could behave responsibly and balance the books by raising revenue. Or they could snatch it away from the schools and throw it into the gaping deficit hole.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm earlier said she wouldn't allow the schools to be cut by a penny. But the princess of vacillation began stammering incoherently, and by week's end seemed to favor raiding the school aid fund, which her comrades are only too happy to do.

You just know, too, that whatever she and they say now, more cuts to education are coming next year, thus speeding us further toward becoming the nation's economic backwater.

In an effort to save money, the state did enact a law designed to pressure teachers to retire, so they can be replaced with new ones just out of school who won't have to be paid as much.

They expected to lose 28,000 teachers that way. (Never mind the fact that a new graduate won't be able to do half as much for the students as, say, my former wife, who won multiple awards as the best advanced placement history teacher in the state, but who was pushed into leaving.)

However, far fewer teachers took the retirement than anticipated, even though staying means they will lose 3 percent of their incomes, and get smaller pensions than if they were to retire now. That's because some of them are in their early 50s, know what they are doing is important, and just aren't ready to leave.

So we are likely to see more damage to schools ... unless they adopt my brilliant solution: Raise the tax on beer, damn it ... and give the money to the schools. That's right, raise the tax on beer. They haven't touched the beer tax since they lowered it in 1966 — to less than 2 cents a bottle — and it has stayed there since.

When you consider inflation, that's less than one-fifth of what it was. No other product in Michigan has maintained the same tax rate for 44 years. Had the beer tax been indexed to inflation, a bottle of suds would now cost about a dime more, and the state would have an additional $275 million a year. 

Beer is not a necessity. Nobody is forced to consume beer. Those who do probably would barely notice an extra dime per bottle. Research elsewhere shows no sign that raising the beer tax hurts consumption, except possibly among illegal high school-age drinkers.

We could make a historic decision and declare that our children's future is more important than really cheap beer. Or we could keep drifting to hell.


Marching against unfair credit:
Here's something I didn't know: There is no correlation between one's credit history and driving record. Yet if you have a drunk driving conviction, your credit score automatically goes down — even if you have a perfect record.

On the other hand, if you get behind on your bills and your credit score slips, your auto insurance rate then soars — even if you have no tickets or infractions whatsoever. You also pay higher premiums if you don't have a college degree.

Doesn't sound fair, does it? I got that information from Butch Hollowell, who is now the state of Michigan's insurance consumer advocate. If you are reading this on Wednesday, June 16, there's a People's March on Unfair Credit Scoring Practices, which begins with a press conference at the Hall of Justice in Lansing around noon.

There's a reason to do this now: The House passed a bill that outlaws the use of a policyholder's level of education, occupation and credit history in setting rates. But — surprise, surprise — it has sat untouched on the desk of Economic Development Committee Chair Alan Sanborn in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

If you agree this is unfair, you might want to let Sen. Sanborn and your own state senator know. Even if the bill isn't passed, there is still hope; the Michigan Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision by Aug. 1, on whether the executive branch, meaning the governor, can unilaterally ban these unfair practices.


Moroun watch:
The Free Press, which for years ignored or was tone-deaf to Matty  Moroun's megalomania, did an admirable job last Sunday detailing the vast amounts of cash he's given politicians in what it is reasonable to conclude were attempts to buy support.

Wonder why Republicans in the state Senate seem determined to block the building of a new internationally owned bridge two miles downriver from Moroun's Ambassador Bridge?

After all, most statewide GOP officeholders want the new Detroit River International Crossing Bridge. Republicans in the Ohio state Senate voted unanimously for it. What's the state Senate's problem? Could the fact that Moroun and his family and top retainers have given the Michigan Senate Republican Campaign Committee $85,000 have anything to do with it?

Not that he doesn't try to rent Democrats too. As I reported last week, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, also known as mother of Michigan's most famous convict, has gotten huge sums from the Morouns.

Federal law limits how much an individual can give a candidate, but allows larger amounts to be donated to, say, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. According to a document supplied to me by a highly placed source, the Morouns gave the DCCC $110,800 between June 8 and Sept. 30 last year alone.

Most or all of that money will wind up being funneled to Kwame's mommy's re-election campaign, I was told by the source, a former Democratic congressman. Would you be surprised to know that CCK has been, in the Free Press' words, "a strong Moroun ally"?

Naturally, as a dewy-eyed idealist, I was utterly shocked.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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