Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saving Michigan By Whatever Means Necessary

Yes.  I am an opinionated blowhard expat.  I live thousands of miles away from the community where I was born and had lived in for over 50 years.  It was in Port Huron where I was educated, employed, and emeritus.  I still care.  I still have hope that Michigan can be a leader again.  But, that requires change and courage.

What can be done?

Let Michigan produce the best educated children in the United States.  We used to do a lot of things well and uniquely Michigan.  Let's get ahead of the nation again in the production of windmills and other green energy technologies.  Let's lead somewhere.  I challenge the Legislators to look back at all those wonderful Michigan Week booklets.  Do any of them still say we make great furniture, if not the best?  Do they still brag about our firsts, our bests, our domination in the market place with produce or products?  Look back at the oldest additions and the newest.  Then, Ladies and Gentlemen, may we still brag about something?  And, what have we done lately?

May, I offer a few ideas?

1.  Invest in public education.  Every expansion of K-12 education programs and higher education grants and programs will be an economic stimulus for every Michigan community.  Legislate lower class sizes, more school nurses, more school counselors -- create a few more jobs that help to ensure that Michigan children are receiving the best education possible.  Build better science labs. 
Put together the best support system and facilities.  Just do something to really improve education.  Michigan lawmakers should consider targeted tax increases to pay for public education improvements.  The State of Oregon was just now successful in doing just this.

Michiganders must realize that public education is the one of the more important government programs that exists.  Unfortunately, it has been under attack by those seeking political power, those seeking to break public school employee unions, those seeking to redistribute public tax dollars into the pockets of private for-profit corporations in the guise of "education reform", and those seeking some sick revenge against second grade teacher Miss Spinster because she hit their knuckles with a ruler for not paying attention in class.  Educating Michigan's children should be a priority mission where cost is somewhat of an afterthought.  Public education must not be seen as a business that can make cut after cut to produce a cheaper and still acceptable product.  Education should be seen as an investment.  The future will show the results of a sincere effort to pay for what must be done.  And, yes, listen to the teachers.  We know the importance of early childhood education, small class sizes, school nurses, school counselors, school librarians and media techs, and on and on......

Michigan will fail if it fails her children.

2.  Change the compensation and benefits for future public school employees (K-12 and Higher Education), including principals and other administrators, through a State-Wide Wage & Benefits law.  In fact, if the State of Michigan pays out a pension for a public service employee, perhaps, all new public service hires should be paid the same if they are not already being paid the same as are groups like the State Police, Judges, and State workers.  Yep, it will take a new law to allow the State of Michigan to take the power to negotiate wages and benefits for newly hired teachers, bus drivers, school administrators, etc. from the local school boards of education.  Local school boards could still negotiate the "extra duty pay" that Student Council sponsors, coaches, and other teachers receive for work outside of the school day.  Should a teacher from Memphis make more money than the teacher from Menominee for the same work?  Why does the Grosse Point teacher with 20 kindergartners get paid more money than the teacher with 20 kindergartners in Grand Rapids?

At the same time salaries and benifits are equalized from Petosky to Port Huron for all newly hired folks, the new hires could be enrolled in an entirely new retirement system or none at all, if wages were significantly higher and some form of retirement savings accounts are established.  This new system should make pensions more portable.

3.  Invest in children's health.  Spend the money for more school nurses.  Spend the money for more early health screenings through the local health departments.  Expand community health services for children and young adults.  Expand, not cut, Medicaid.

4.  Harness the wind and water resources for electrical energy production.  Find the funds or propose to the voters a special tax to provide the funds for the State of Michigan to produce green energy.  Use State land for wind farms and use whatever lake access needed for more farms.  Use the abundant and available fast flowing waterways for hydroelectric power production.  State land along the coasts of Michigan may prove to be prime areas for wind generated power.  The winds at the northern mouth of the St. Clair River could have incredible power production.  The waters that flow under the Blue Water Bridges have a strong current and if harnessed could also contribute to energy production.

The State of Michigan's investment in these renewable energy production projects would provide short and long term jobs and would sell electrical energy to the power companies and to communities.  The State should maintain control of the power generating and keep all of the profits for the people of Michigan.  I don't want to hear the pols bitch and say these jobs and facilities should be privatized.  The resources belong to all the people of Michigan and no corporation, foreign or domestic, should profit from them.

5.  Reform the State Legislature.  They won't do it, so maybe a petition drive to place the appropriate language before the voters will work.  What's appropriate?  No health care for life and no pensions.  Serving the public as a lawmaker was never meant to be a profession providing health care for life after only 6 years of service and a life-long pension after a few years "work" that is greater than that of a public service employee that serves the State for 30 years.  Make the legislature part-time and term limit every office.  And, I think Mr. Heidemann is right --- we ONLY need a unicameral legislature.  If we examine only the last 8 years in Michigan politics and governance it is plain to see that the two chamber system doesn't really produce any legislation that helps the people of Michigan.  The budget debacle and the business tax fight are great examples of why we need to eliminate some of the hoops that have to be jumped through to get anything done in the Michigan Legislature.  Really.  Do you call what they do in Lansing "governing"?

6 - 10 TBA

Do I really have to have a ten-point-plan?  What matters is that we need more voices with more ideas that may help.  My MEA buddies will be really upset with my radical ideas.  Unfortunately, some of them are only out to perpetuate a system that keeps them in a power position in the union.  (Gee, maybe if I am a good union boy or girl I can grow up to lead the MEA then get a great job in an administrative position in the MEA or MESSA when I retire from teaching..........)  We don't have to get rid of the unions.  We shouldn't.  They give each public service employee a voice and a route for redress if their employment contracts are violated.

And, really....shouldn't we be more concerned with Saving Michigan By Whatever Means Necessary?

Oh......and, please do something about the roads!

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