"China beats the United States in standardized testing and will graduate seven times more engineers than we will this year. Those engineers in China can perform some of the most difficult calculations flawlessly. But almost none of them can create anything."
With that quote from then-MSU Professor Dr. Yong Zhao during a Michigan House Education committee hearing in 2010, I began to question high-stakes testing. I mean, I knew that China, with its communist system where most lived way below American standards, wasn't the engine of innovation. But if they had that many more engineers who did excellent on international standard tests, how could those engineers not be great? Great test scores equaled great students...right? Wrong. Just the opposite could be true. Within three years I would go from being one of the legislature's strongest advocates for high-stakes testing ("gotta hold teachers accountable") to one of the leaders opposing and stopping them.
Looking further into the work of Dr. Zhao and former Texas State Superintendent, Robert Scott (who did a 180 on high-stakes testing), brought me to the understanding that the more a state makes their statewide tests high-stakes, the more effort is made to focus instruction on whatever is on the test...to the detriment of all other instruction. What happens is a child no longer gets a well-rounded education. I've talked to superintendents. They tell me that with greater focus on the MEAP, they have seen band, art, sciences and many other classes disappear. If it's not on the test, the state is saying that it's not very important. And what school or district wants to be seen as having declining test scores?
Bottom line: Creativity is killed.
The drama over corporate welfare has already begun to play out in Lansing.
Scene 1: Senator Mike Kowall files SB25, that expands corporate welfare and state government picking winners and losers.
Scene 2: Representative Dan Lauwers files HB4122, that would eliminate taxpayer-paid film subsidies to Hollywood millionaires and billionaires.
Subplot #1: Governor Snyder. Though he was the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's first president, after it was created by Governor Engler in the 90s, candidate Snyder in 2010 ran against the government picking winners and losers via corporate welfare. To his credit, he pushed for corporate welfare subsidies to go through the appropriations process, instead of the uncapped, unlimited "tax credit" scheme that Governor Granholm used. He's also reduced the amount of money going to these schemes, though the residual Granholm promises still haunt Lansing. Lansing, though, still gives out hundreds of millions of extra handouts every year.
Subplot #2: Democrats. There are enough Republicans in the House opposed to corporate welfare to at least stop increased handouts, IF the Dems would unite against them. That hasn't happened yet, though there does seem to be some rumblings that Dems may start opposing crony capitalism. Then-state rep Justin Amash and I would regularly team up with MEA Democrats in bashing corporate welfare in floor speeches. The MEA back then wanted to stop the outflow to the well-connected businesses in order to refocus the money on schools, while Rep. Amash and I just wanted to use that money to cut taxes. Here's to hoping the MEA ramps up their anti-corporate welfare bonafides (they even paid for a wonderful Anderson Economic Group study that showed the harm of corporate welfare schemes in 2009).
These three articles caught my eye this week:
1. New bill in Lansing would allow police to obtain your cell phone location without a warrant
2. Michigan State Police want to use drones...but only for emergencies
3. The feds have a database and are tracking millions of vehicles, including Michigan vehicles, via "federal, state and local" license plate readers
The first article talks about a bill reintroduced by Rep. Kurt Heise. It would force cell phone companies to give law enforcement the location of a cell phone without a warrant in so-called emergencies. Who gets to define when an emergency occurs? The law enforcement agency. And the penalties for misuse - none. And as one legislator mentioned on a Facebook post of mine this week, "It is completely unnecessary, since the phone companies, after the unfortunate case of Kelsey whom the law is named for, readily give out this information upon request to law enforcement in emergency situations such as missing or abducted persons."
The second article has the state police wanting to use drones with cameras throughout Michigan...but only for "emergencies". The article indicates that they may be the first state police department in the nation to be given permission by the FAA to use drones throughout its state. Who did the state police NOT go to get permission? From Michigan citizens, via the legislature. As a matter of fact, law enforcement fought my efforts last session in the Michigan House to put reasonable restrictions on the use of government drones - to only allow their use in cases of imminent danger (eg. barricaded gunman...car crashes) and when they have a warrant. It also would have put guidelines for retention of data collected, require reporting and impose penalties for misuse. It did get a hearing by Rep. Heise's committee (and he was even a co-sponsor), but didn't get out of committee. It was clear from meetings I had with law enforcement that they wanted nothing less than unfettered use of drones.
The new state legislature is about to start voting on legislation. Now would be a good time to look back at some key votes that the returning Republican legislators took in the previous 2013 - 2014 session.
I prepared a scorecard. I think it is pretty enlightening.
I chose ten votes for the Michigan House and Senate. Nine of them were the same bill, same language, in both chambers. The State Senate did not hold a roll call vote on the Common Core legislation, but I wanted to include it in the House scorecard, so I chose a tenth bill that the Senate voted on, but the House did not take it up (an $841 million authorization for universities to keep building buildings - that due to continued technology advances, at least half of them would be mothballed within ten years or less).
The scorecard can be found by clicking HERE.
The ten votes I chose are:
1. Medicaid Expansion
2. Sales Tax Hike from 6% to 7%
3. Vehicle Registration Increase
4. Corporate Welfare vote - Making Gov. Granholm's "blown away" $75 million subsidy program permanent
5. Corporate Welfare vote - Extending the Hollywood subsidies
6. Cyber-bullying bill that is often used to silence free speech
7. Detroit Bailout
8. Minimum Wage Hike
9. EITC increase (subsidy increase to low-income workers)
10. (Senate) Authorize $841 million in university construction
10. (House) End the prohibition on Common Core
To be clear, there were several thousand votes during the last two years. Getting a low score on this scorecard doesn't mean the legislator is a liberal...but I chose these ten votes, because I think they show a lot about either their views on conservative issues or how they hold up under intense pressure from special interests, the Governor and others.
The scorecard shows that the House was much more conservative during the last session. It also shows that based on these votes, the new House leadership is substantially more conservative than the new Senate leadership.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we, you and I, need to be the ones who more publicly hold legislators accountable for their voting record. I would encourage you to utilize this scorecard to give some pointed questions to legislators and make sure they know that you will be watching them in the months and years to come. Going forward, this blog will be pointing out upcoming important votes, as well as good and bad legislation filed and votes cast. You may also find it useful to download the Mackinac Center's Votespotter app that will give real-time information and alerts on votes in Lansing.
My fellow Michiganders, due to my recent ankle injury, I've had a little more time to sit and contemplate this State of the State address.
I now realize that the last thing the state should be doing is reaching into your pockets for another $1.7 billion annually. That's not the way to grow our state's economy, nor help our families and it's certainly not the way to encourage job growth and businesses to relocate to our state. I therefore ask you all to vote "no" on the May 5th tax hike vote.
Speaking of encouraging job growth and businesses to relocate to Michigan, I now realize that taking money from all businesses and doling it out to certain select businesses is not something government should do. Within 90 days, I will shut down the corporate welfare arm of the state, the MEDC, and ask the legislature to use the $300 million to go for tax relief for all job providers.
And about roads - I have asked Speaker Cotter to dust off the initial House proposal from late last year, that raised the amount needed for roads without raising taxes and pass it over to the senate, where I will make sure this time they will not reject it and try to push higher taxes on our citizens.
And I am excited that both the House and Senate Republicans want to repeal Prevailing Wage. Once they get that to my desk, I will sign it and our taxpayer money for roads and school projects and other construction will go even further, saving hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year.
With official revenue estimates that came out this past week showing that the State of Michigan isn't taking in as many tax dollars as expected, word is circulating that Republican leaders in Lansing may be thinking about actually cutting expenses.
Now would be a good time to remind everyone what candidate Rick Snyder ran on in 2010: "Value for Money Budgeting".
Though he was not my choice in the 2010 primary, as a CPA and conservative, it was pretty exciting to hear candidate and fellow CPA, Rick Snyder, talk about the need for state government to measure the outcomes of tax dollars spent and then work to ensure those dollars are spent in a way that maximizes value. Admittedly, it is difficult to implement, because when you identify outcomes that are valued highly...it also means that you are saying other outcomes are not as valuable - which can ruffle feathers. Corporate welfare comes to mind as a "less valuable" way to spend our state money. Empty mass transit buses would be another. Billions have been identified.
During the four years I was in Lansing after Governor Snyder was elected, he visited our caucus seven or eight times. He often asked if anyone had general questions. I regularly asked him, "When are we going to implement 'value for money budgeting'?" The answer was always something like, "We're working on it." Yeah...
There has only been one Appropriations subcommittee chairman that has ever done Value for Money Budgeting - Senator Pat Colbeck. During 2011 - 2014, he chaired the Appropriation subcommittees over the Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Veterans Affairs. Unlike any other committee, his hearings entailed wrangling with the state departments over which metrics and performance measurements should be used and what outcomes should be expected with the taxpayer money allocated. That's the right way and he was able to get parts of his work into statute. Senator Colbeck's reward for being the only one who got it right? These next two years, it appears he is the only returning GOP Senator to not be appointed to a chairmanship.
Though it has been almost a month since that fateful day of December 18th, the last day of the 2013-2014 Lame Duck session in Lansing, I thought I should give some details about what happened.
That Thursday, the House and Senate convened at 10am. We finished 20 hours later, at about 6am on Friday. The Democrats in both chambers had their best day in four years. This happened mainly because, instead of working with conservative Republicans in the House to ensure there were no additional taxes coming out of citizens' pockets in order to fix roads, the Governor and Republican Leadership decided to steer left for the votes they needed to get a large tax increase.
There was little evidence that day that Republicans were in the majority. We saw Democrat-sponsored bills quickly brought up and passed – often with less than half the Republican members voting for them (no Hastert rule). This happened regularly, especially as it was clear that the Senate was having difficulty getting the 2/3 vote to put the tax hike on the May ballot. One could see deals being cut with Democrats – their liberal bills being approved – in order to get their support for the tax hike vote. Twice I tried to speak against parts of the sales tax hike package from the House floor and twice I was denied the ability to speak by the Republican leadership. They were intent on nothing negative being said about the massive tax increase legislation.
Well, it's that time again. A new session is starting in Lansing. Legislators will have their first session day this week...and they will begin introducing legislation.
And we will be watching.
Which Republicans will actually sponsor bad bills? Which ones will sponsor good bills? Michigan Liberty Rising intends to expose bad bills and highlight good ones.
Who will put their name to increased corporate welfare, increased licensing, high-stakes testing, more civil asset forfeiture and mandate more costly "alternative energy"? Who will push for the expansion of government? Hopefully the list will be short...but there will no doubt be a list. I hope you want to know. Those legislators need to be held accountable. They need to know that pushing harmful, special-interest agendas is not looked upon favorably.
On the other hand, who will introduce good legislation? Who will put forward transparency bills - in government spending, civil asset forfeiture, SWAT raids? Who will propose repeal of Common Core and high-stakes testing? Who will put forward bills to curb privacy intrusions by government - like license plate readers, military-style surveillance, and government use of drones? Who will champion our state utilizing the 10th Amendment to push back on the federal government. Who will defend the unborn?
Legislators' tongues are tied. At least the ones in the majority. We have to be their voice.
This may sound odd. Legislators should be able to say whatever they want - it's a [relatively] free country, right?
Well, retribution is alive and well in the legislature. If a Republican state representative in Lansing says something negative about a Republican state senator or that senator's bill or views...well, that representative's bills will have a lot harder time getting through the senate. The next day, on the senate floor, the offended senator simply walks over to the chairman of the committee where your bill is, and says, "Did you see what Rep. Smith said about my bill? Please make sure his bill HB8000 doesn't see the light of day." The committee chair likely has reason to keep the offended senator happy - at the very least, due to the need for future support of his bills - so he says, "okay". And that's it.
This can happen, even if the state rep's negative comments aren't directed at a specific senator or senator's bill...but rather, directed at legislation that the GOP-led chamber (state senate or house) eventually passes...like a state exchange, increased film subsidies or Medicaid expansion. A state rep who attacks those kinds of legislation is also viewed as attacking the senators who passed them....which will likely bring similar retribution.
Here's how it unfolds: Republican legislators introduce or begin moving bad legislation. There are all kinds of glowing press releases from those legislators (often leadership) and the supporting special interests, combined with smiling press conferences...and that's it. They get to be out in front shaping public opinion. The conservative legislators really aren't able to provide the opposing views - at least not as strongly as they would like. You simply won't see the good guys in the legislature holding a counter press conference or putting out press releases, bad-mouthing the bad bill.
Politics is a game.
In Lansing, getting legislation signed into law or stopping legislation is the objective.
In this game, there are three main winning strategies: 1. praise or criticize politicians; 2. campaign help - money and volunteer hours; 3. plenty of interactions with the politicians.
Special Interests, including government employee unions, know these strategies. They are quick to criticize or promote politicians or legislation and get their members to do the same. They give significant campaign money and can often provide a lot campaign volunteer hours. They get members and others to call, email and show up at district events and interact with the politicians.
Lobbyists know these strategies. They praise legislation backed by their clients. They don't criticize legislators, because doing so could come back to haunt them with their next client or effort...but they are quick to coordinate attacks or support for legislation opposed/supported by their clients. They get their clients to give big campaign money. Their job is to be in Lansing and continually interact with politicians and push or fight the legislation of interest to their clients.
Politicians know these strategies. They are quick to grab the microphone and praise each other and legislation. Criticizing is usually only left to politicians in the opposition party...and even then, it's tempered, because the legislation may change and be more palatable to them or they may someday work with the errant politician. They also know how to steer campaign support. They have plenty of face-time with other legislators.
So Special Interests, Lobbyists and Politicians all know how the game is played - whether its pushing the latest corporate welfare scheme, another centralized education plan, more funding for their interests, some attack on personal liberty or maybe the good guys are trying to roll back frivolous special-interest spending, these gamers are fully engaged.