The Ann Arbor News. Sept. 22.
Electric vehicle charging a cost to consider for Ann Arbor DDA
In 2012, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority secured an $110,000 federal grant to install 18 electric vehicle charging stations in city owned parking lots. Over a year later, the DDA is claiming a steady demand for these stations and have a plan to double the number of these stations over the next five years. One concern that continues to be discussed with this investment in EV charging stations is who is on the hook for the electricity bill.
For 2012 through the first six months of 2013, the DDA paid over $3,800 for 29,241 kWh of electricity used, nearly double that of 2012. While this cost represents a mere sliver of the DDA's nearly $20 Million parking expense budget for 2013-14, we believe it is a cost that should be addressed in the near future by the DDA.
Dave Konkle, the DDA's energy programs director explained that the DDA isn't charging additional parking fees for the electricity usage because officials want to encourage more EV owners to come downtown. However, current residents and daily commuters, not outside visitors, regularly occupy a majority of these parking spots. As the managing body of downtown parking, it is the DDA's responsibility to respond to the demand for parking accordingly. The addition of charging stations has accomplished this but at an increased cost to the city over traditional parking spaces utilized by majority of drivers.
By subsidizing the cost of electricity and station installation, the city is influencing the economics of the electric vehicle market rather than responding to the needs of the city's parking for all drivers. We encourage the DDA to implement systems to offset the financial cost of providing this service to EV drivers before further investing in expanding the system.
Taking this proactive approach will open the door for the DDA to set a standard for other municipalities when investing in EV charging stations. Furthermore, it will prove the long-term financial viability for drivers and the city as more car buyers consider purchasing an electric vehicle.
Battle Creek Enquirer. Sept. 24.
SNAP judgments will hurt young, vulnerable
The proponents of cuts to the nation's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program say they would like to replace "the lifestyle of government dependency with the self-respect and upward economic mobility that comes from work." So would we.
So would the millions of Americans who supplement their meager wages with the government assistance. It just hasn't worked out that way in our so-called jobless recovery.
Congressional Republicans — all but 15 of them, anyway — insist on framing this debate by perpetuating the myth that shiftless, able-bodied Americans are gaming the system. A lot of those Republicans probably even believe it, although facts say otherwise.
The Republicans say their bill is designed to force people to return to the work force. But current rules limit SNAP benefits for adults deemed able to work to a total of three months over three years. And while federal law includes a work requirement for food stamp recipients, in the last year alone 45 out of 50 states were granted a waiver on that requirement because of high unemployment.
The GOP cites SNAP's growth as evidence of bloated bureaucracy, but it is actually one of the most efficient government assistance programs in operation, with an efficiency of 96.2 percent. The administrative expenses for SNAP amount to less than 5 percent of total cost.
Some Republicans have even denied these cuts will deprive kids of food, although it's difficult to imagine how they wouldn't when already hunger is so prevalent in our own community. Nearly a quarter of Calhoun County's children are "food insecure," meaning they are at risk of missing a meal.
Food stamp disbursements kept an estimated 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012, according to a Census report released last week. Looking at households that received SNAP funds in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of those households included children.
Republicans have argued the benefits are too generous, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House legislation would deny benefits to 3.8 million people who live on an average of $1.33 per meal.
Were the House Republicans who voted for this willing to look at facts, they'd instead be talking about the betrayal of U.S. citizens who are increasingly finding it impossible to realize the American promise of upward mobility in exchange for their labor and service to their nation.
It's been well documented that the bulk of our nation's income goes to the wealthiest Americans. In 2012, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earned more than 19 percent of the country's household income — their largest share since 1928.
And while the House bill would quite literally take food away from kids and vulnerable adults — and place enormous pressure on food banks and pantries that already struggle to meet the needs — it is quite generous to corporate farming interests.
The $20 billion in annual farm subsidies the House approved is but one example of how these so-called fiscal hawks choose their priorities.
As we've written previously, we'd welcome an honest debate about how to better manage assistance to low-income Americans.
We've joined calls by the Association of Health Care Journalists, for example, for the USDA to disclose what foods are purchased by SNAP beneficiaries and the profits specific retailers make from the program.
But we're not getting an honest debate from conservative Republicans. Instead, we're getting a steady diet of indifference to the plight of a growing number of Americans.
Lansing State Journal. Sept. 25.
Keeping the spirit of FOIA strong
Michigan's Freedom of Information Act will be 40 years old in 2016. That would seem long enough to assure that it is well understood and equally well followed by the public officials who entertain requests to review public records from citizens and the media.
Yet, exactly how the FOIA is followed can vary wildly from state department to state department. LSJ state government reporter Kristen Daum exposed the contrasts in special reports this summer:
— The Department of Technology, Management and Budget manages $32 billion in contracts with outside vendors and makes all available online for the public to review for free at any time.
— The Department of Transportation wanted "tens of thousands" to collect and prepare its contracts for a reporter's review.
— The Michigan Economic Development Corp. wanted $1,700 to prepare its contracts for review.
But, as it was meant to do, FOIA urges discussion of transparency and access. And after Daum's reports, officials at MEDC changed their thinking. Now they are working to make the material easy to review — for Daum or any other citizen. Despite the initial problems raised in response to Daum's requests, the FOIA arguably served its purpose: state officials are responding to requests that hold them accountable for their work.
Daum's pursuit of state contracts began after MEDC was criticized for hiring an Iowa firm to prepare a "Pure Michigan" travel guide. Daum set out to review all state contracts to see how much was spent in state. Her initial report found that 78 percent of spending managed by DTMB goes to Michigan companies.
MEDC is working to set its records into a system similar to DTMB. So far this year, it reports $16 million in payments on outside contracts, about 73 percent to Michigan companies.
MDOT, which had about $1 billion in contracts, walked through part of its website with LSJ staff, so Daum is now compiling basic details about its contract spending using those online resources. Some of that detail apparently was online at the time of the LSJ's request, although MDOT officials did not say that in their written response to the State Journal's FOIA request.
Officials who are willing to revisit these questions with an emphasis on transparency demonstrate a commitment to the letter and the spirit of FOIA.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. Sept. 25.
Misleading report highlights high cost of jobs program
So pretend for a minute that the state agency that oversees welfare, for instance, reported to the Legislature that 12 groups that got $64 million to meet 1,746 goals had a 75 percent success rate.
Then say it turns out the agency was not telling the truth, and that the groups that got all that money had reached only 19 percent of those goals and one of them had actually gone belly-up.
Then, just for yuks, say that the agency in question called the whole thing an "oversight." Imagine the reaction in the House and Senate; at the least, a call for heads on a platter would be expected.
That's the real-life situation the Michigan Strategic Fund finds itself in, as reported Tuesday by the Detroit Free Press.
On April 1 (that could have been a giveaway) the Legislature was told by Auditor General Thomas McTavish that 12 firms that received grants under the 21st Century Job Trust Fund's Centers of Energy Excellence Program created 75 percent of the 1,746 jobs they promised when they applied for the grants.
In fact, those companies (not counting one that went bankrupt), actually created only 19 percent of the jobs they promised, the Free Press report said. That's 331 jobs, not the 1,309 claimed, and more than $193,000 per job.
It turns out the Michigan Strategic Fund is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the same crowd that hijacked the Pure Michigan ad campaign in January when it took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to tout Michigan as the latest state to adopt right-to-work legislation.
At the time, Gov. Rick Snyder said he thought using the wildly successful Pure Michigan brand to push a political agenda like Right to Work was wrong, and would not be repeated. This time, the MEDC, through the Strategic Fund, said the misleading report to the Legislature was "an oversight."
It can be argued that giving away $64 million to create a paltry 1,746 jobs (even if it was 100 percent successful that would be more than $36,000 per job) as the Legislature threatens to make welfare recipients do public service work is totally out of whack.
While many states use incentives to boost their economies, that doesn't mean it's sound or equitable public policy.
If that's the strategy the Legislature and the Snyder administration have decided on. So be it. But they are also obligated to make that strategy work and tell the truth when it doesn't. This is another black mark against the MEDC; how many does it get?