Detroit News. Feb. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Keep Michigan budget focused on recovery

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out her priorities for 2022 spending as the state moves on from a year dominated by job losses and other economic disruptions caused by lockdowns. While the budget is buoyed by a one-time influx of federal COVID relief dollars, the state can’t use that windfall as an excuse to expand government programs for the long term.

That federal funding stream won’t last, yet taxpayer-funded programs tend to live on once begun or increased in scope.

The governor’s challenge lies in working with a GOP-controlled Legislature that has sought to rein in her executive powers after being largely sidelined for the past year.

Whitmer and legislative leaders need to talk to each other as lawmakers work on their budget offering; this will make final negotiations much more straightforward. For instance, the House recently passed its own $3.5 billion COVID relief package as a counter to the governor’s larger spending plan. Members in that chamber were miffed the governor had put out a spending plan without first consulting them.

Republicans will need to counter some of Whitmer’s new spending ambitions.

The governor’s budget includes “a significant amount of strategic one-time investments made possible by the increase in federal aid and the effective job Michigan has done in managing the pandemic.”

It’s true the state is in a better fiscal position than predicted last year, but officials need to stay focused on getting people back to work and kids back in school. That’s the best path to recovery.

Whitmer is recommending “one-time funding” of $192.4 million out of the general fund to boost the size of two programs aimed at getting more residents higher education degrees. The Michigan Reconnect program to help people complete associate degrees would receive $120 million — a quadrupling of current funding. And $60.4 million would be directed to the Futures for Frontliners program that gives emergency workers tuition-free access to a degree or certificate.

These programs, while well-intentioned, don’t yet have a proven track record and it’s not the right time to expand them to such a degree, particularly since they’ll require additional resources in future years.

Whitmer also devotes significant funding boosts to K-12 schools, thanks to federal aid. She is rightly focusing on addressing gaps in student achievement after months out of the classroom.

Yet her plan stops short of incentivizing schools to reopen to in-person learning.

Whitmer also erred in axing $30 million in foundation grant payments for cyber schools. These charter public schools have offered families a huge service during the pandemic and have seen enrollment spikes as parents sought a better learning environment for their children after neighborhood schools closed and were unprepared for the online transition.

“There will be common themes between the governor’s recommendation and our developing proposal — and there will also be sharp differences,” Rep. Thomas Albert, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “We must remember that state tax revenues are declining sharply — our finances are propped up by artificial and temporary federal COVID relief. It’s not sustainable.”

Albert is right to be cautious. We hope the governor and lawmakers will be able to put their differences aside and iron out a budget that works for all Michiganians.

___

Alpena News. Feb. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Help the DNR with deer tests

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources needs more deer heads to avoid the possibility of burdensome new mandates imposed on area cow farmers.

Through an agreement with the federal government, the state must collect a specified number of deer heads harvested from specific parts of the state — including Alpena, Montmorency, and Alcona counties — to test the heads for bovine tuberculosis. Failure to meet the targets could result in a renegotiation of the agreement, which could mean more restrictions and mandated red tape for farmers.

As of last week, the DNR is still a few hundred heads short, News staff writer Crystal Nelson reported.

Presque Isle, Iosco, and Ogema counties met the requirements, but 53 more tests are needed in Cheboygan County, 151 in Crawford County, 77 in Otsego County, and 15 in Roscommon County.

The state wildlife veterinarian told Nelson any deer taken in 2020 can be included in the tests, and hunters still can turn in deer heads they may have stored, and it’s still possible for the state to make its targets.

But it needs your help, hunters, to do so.

If you took a deer last year: First off, congratulations. Secondly, please take the time to take the head into the DNR for testing

___

Traverse City Record-Eagle. Feb. 14, 2021.

Editorial: Idle opioid grant money highlights leadership problem

Money doesn’t solve problems, but it can accelerate solutions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to massive grants aimed at helping communities address one of our nation’s most pressing public health problems, that money was rendered idle for far too long.

We learned recently that tens of millions of dollars sent to Michigan and several other states to fund programs that help combat the opioid epidemic sat stagnant in state coffers. The money lingered during a period when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic drove a rise in substance abuse nationwide.

It’s a rise we witnessed firsthand as 911 call log data from counties across the Grand Traverse region showed a substantial increase in the number of calls for help when people overdosed.

Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating to watch gobs of money meant to fund organizations that help curb opioid-related deaths in our communities grind to a halt in our state’s bureaucratic coffers. And researchers who examined the slow flow say some of what was spent wasn’t particularly effective — it funded redundant, poorly attended training events and conferences.

Those millions don’t do anybody much good waylaid in state accounts as state officials scramble to find places to spend it.

But it’s the underlying problem the slow flow of grant money through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services signals that should concern us all.

Our nation is in the third wave of an addiction crisis that began in the 1990s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it has killed more than 450,000 Americans by overdose. The most recent, massive wave began in 2010 and drove our nation to a reckoning with its addiction to overprescribing painkillers.

The point is, the problem was no secret to public health officials, and the gush of money sent to help combat it didn’t simply appear without notice.

The inability of our state leaders — and many others — to move that money to where it’s needed most betrays overall lack of focus and leadership necessary to treat our country’s addiction problem.

Maybe addressing our opioid problem wasn’t a priority. Maybe nobody took the time to construct a meaningful plan. Maybe it simply wasn’t a politically rewarding enough issue to garner attention from our elected leaders.

It’s certainly a complex problem that won’t solve itself. And it’s clear it has received far too little leadership and attention during the past few years.

After all, money doesn’t solve problems, people do.

END