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Wednesday, January 29,2014

Political notes from around town

by Walt Sorg

Economist says Snyder’s call for balanced federal budget an ‘exceptionally bad idea’

Gov. Rick Snyder may have warmed the hearts of Republicans with his support of a federal balanced budget amendment in his State of the State message, but Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard calls the concept “an exceptionally bad idea, the low point of his speech.”

 

In an interview on City Pulse’s radio show last week, Ballard said a federal constitutional requirement for a balanced budget would “turn the next recession into a Great Depression” by requiring either higher taxes or less spending in a recession. Either choice, he said, would amplify an economic slowdown. (The interview is available at lansingcitypulse.com.)

He compares a federal balanced budget requirement to requiring a family to have a balanced budget. If families couldn’t go into debt, he noted, few people would be able to buy a home.

 

Ballard is equally dismissive of legislative calls to use a projected $900-millionplus state surplus to fund an election-year tax cut. He noted that Michigan is near the bottom of states in its support for higher education and in the percentage of adults with college degrees. Multiple studies have shown a direct correlation between median income and education attainment.

He also cited the state’s crumbling transportation system and major reductions in local revenue sharing as priorities that would suffer even more with an election-year tax cut.

Bolstering Ballard’s assessment of Michigan is a new study by Politico. com ranking Michigan as the 36th “best state” (with New Hampshire No. 1 and Mississippi the worst). Michigan ranked last among the Great Lakes states on the Politico list; Minnesota leads the region and was ranked second nationally.

Politico considered state metrics including high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy and crime rate to compile its rankings.

Report ranks Ingham County low for voting access A new report from the Center for American Progress has local elections officials scratching their heads. The report ranks Ingham County as one of the state’s worst for voting access. The rankings are based on percentages of voter turnout, voter registration, provisional ballots cast, provi sional ballots rejected, absentee ballot rejection and voter registration removal rate.

The average of those rankings placed Ingham County as the state’s seventh worst.

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope noted that clerks have no control over how many people register.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said she agreed there are state rules that obstruct voting access “for millions of Michiganders,” but added that the report does not “reflect the real issues with access.” The tabulation for voters being removed from the rolls, she said, likely reflects the transient nature of MSU’s 45,000 students, which make up 16 percent of the county population.

“Students are often removed from the voter rolls when they graduate and move to a new county or state,” Byrum said.

Troubling findings on optical scanning voting systems Another election-related report, from the Michigan Election Reform Alliance, questions the accuracy of vote counts when optical scanning systems are used. MERA audited sample precincts in the 2008 and 2012 elections where optical systems were used and found vote-count errors of up to 0.48 percent. More than a dozen races statewide were decided by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The organization is calling on the Legislature to transition to a “more transparent, accurate, and verifiable tabulation system” for future elections. In the interim, MERA urges “implementation of a program of random hand count audits to verify the accuracy of machine-produced results.” (Full disclosure: I am a member of the MERA council.)

East Lansing voting statistics guru Mark Grebner calls the MERA findings troubling. “Imagine if a bank couldn’t keep track of deposits better than $1 per $200,” he said, “or if the Department of Corrections wouldn’t fine a half percent of the inmates at any given time.”

Conservative blog getting mothballed One of the most prominent conservative blogs in Michigan is shutting down, at least for now. According to RightMichigan.com editor Jason Gillman: “Alice doesn’t live here anymore. The lease is up, the rent is too high, and it’s time to find new digs. As of February 10, 2014, RightMichigan.com will be mothballed.”

Gillman, a former Grand Traverse County commissioner, has been editor and chief writer for the blog since 2010. RightMichigan.com, which Gillman says gets thousands of hits daily, was founded in 2007 by Nick DeLeeuw, who stepped aside when he joined Mike Cox’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign for governor. Gillman said it’s possible it could be reactivated.

Gillman regularly skewers Democrats, but he’s not bashful about taking on fellow Republicans. His most recent posts include criticism of Snyder’s call for immigration reform, leading his commentary with this observation: “The Nerd is sounding more like Obama by the day.”

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