The Detroit Free Press. August 12, 2015.

U.S. parks fund deserves renewal, permanent funding

It seems everything in Washington, D.C., can generate controversy these days — even the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Created in 1965, the fund uses energy royalties to acquire and enhance America's parklands. In theory, it's about $900 million annually; in practice, the amount is smaller, as the U.S. Congress diverts funds paid into the fund by energy companies toward other programs or budgets.

Now, the Land and Water Conservation Fund's existence is imperiled.

The law that created the fund is set to expire at the end of September, and the bill that would reauthorize it is stalled, although it has bipartisan support.

Sections of most major national parks were acquired using conservation fund dollars, including the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan.

The fund operates another program that offers federal matching grants for local park improvements, such as biking or hiking trails, community parks and playgrounds. All told, Michigan parks have received $322 million from the fund since its inception.

Both parts of the fund's work are important and don't absorb tax dollars. Ongoing acquisition is crucial, even in established parks, to provide a robust barrier between public lands and private development. Matching grants bring needed money to local parks.

As federal programs go, this fund is like ice cream — that someone else is paying for.

So why the opposition?

In part, ideology. Some Republican lawmakers don't believe the federal government should purchase or hold land, or think the fund's proceeds would be better applied elsewhere. Some lawmakers believe states are best suited to decide which lands become part of public parks and to make those purchases. Others say federal purchase of private land — which then leaves the tax rolls — harms local governments.

Two bills are under discussion in the U.S. Senate. One would reauthorize the fund, and the other would reauthorize the fund while providing for its full and permanent funding (i.e., all money paid into the fund are spent for its stated purpose).

Michigan Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, have signed on as cosponsors to the latter. Just three Michigan members of the U.S. House of Representatives — Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield — are cosponsors of that chamber's bill to permanently reauthorize the fund .

The fund's work should find fans on all points of the political spectrum — a secular environmentalist motivated purely by science, and a devout person of faith who believes the biblical charge to serve as good stewards of creation should support this conservation work equally.

This is a program that works and benefits all Americans. If Congress can't pull together on something as benign as the conservation fund, we'd give grim odds for bipartisan cooperation on any subject more challenging.

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The Detroit News. August 12, 2015

Job opportunities await in auto industry

The auto industry is having a very profitable year, which is good news following its tumultuous past decade. With record vehicle sales and lower gas prices, there's improved momentum for the industry as a whole. Now it just needs to convince the next generation of that.

Negative perceptions about the auto industry and careers in it are a growing problem, both for the automakers and the future of the state. Changing those perceptions and better preparing students for high-tech manufacturing jobs is critical.

"We do not have the appropriate skill set being developed," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, who is also working on a new program — Building America's Tomorrow — focused on preparing urban kids and young women specifically for high-tech, skilled manufacturing jobs.

"Across the industry, the number one problem executives are talking about is talent," Cole said.

Companies, specifically Detroit's Big Three, are trying to incentivize young people to work for them. FCA US in May announced employees at their dealerships can receive a college degree for no cost and no debt. Ford Motor Co. has started academies in Detroit schools and other cities around the country to train students for future jobs, and the GM Foundation has worked with United Way to infuse STEM education into Detroit area schools.

But negative perceptions and lack of appropriate training persist.

According to a survey conducted last year by MICHAuto, less than half of young people ages 17 to 24 believe the auto industry offers global opportunities to work and live, or that it involves a culturally diverse group of colleagues. Just 55 percent of young people's "influencers" — parents of 12-17-year-olds, leaders of youth organizations, high school and college educators, career and academic advisers — believe the industry is such.

Those numbers have real-life implications. In five years, 10 million jobs will be unfilled with the current skill shortage; in 15 years, 30 million jobs.

Emphasizing math and science in K-12 education, as well as better informing students on the high-tech, global opportunities available in the industry, can help close this gap.

Jobs today in the auto industry — and more broadly, manufacturing jobs — are "very high-tech, very clean," added Cole.

These jobs are also critical for Michigan's economy. For every one job in the auto industry, nine additional jobs are created through outlets such as suppliers, manufacturers, and dealers.

That's part of Gov. Rick Snyder's recent push to attract and retain talent in the industry. A new initiative, "We Run on Brainpower," was announced at the center's Briefing Seminars in Traverse City last week.

The goal is to attract more much-needed, high-quality workers of all kinds to the industry.

And there's good reason to consider the auto industry or manufacturing in general.

With self-driving cars in the future, some companies kids do consider cool — Google, Uber and Apple, for example — are making big bets on that technology. The message should be that you can be an automotive engineer and still have a career with a hip, cutting edge company.

And few industries are as globally competitive as the auto industry. Companies based in Detroit — and throughout the nation — provide a unique platform for global experiences.

Michigan relies on the automotive industry, and the future talent to fill its roles. It's time to change outdated perceptions about these careers and help young people embrace them.

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The Times Herald. August 14, 2015.

Lansing: Make good on tuition promise

Of the many ways Native Americans have been mistreated since Europeans invaded, it's hard to imagine anything more cynical in recent decades than what Lansing lawmakers have done.

Eighty years ago, the state wanted room to expand Central Michigan University. A Native American boarding school was in the way, though, so the state offered a trade. If the Indians would give up the boarding school, the state would offer free tuition to public colleges and universities.

As with many such deals between Indians and the government, one side didn't mean it.

The promise was made in 1934, but the state didn't make good on it until 1976 when Gov. William Milliken helped push through a law guaranteeing free college tuition to tribal members. The law, Act 174 of 1976, says, "A Michigan public community college or public university or a federal tribally controlled community college described in subsection shall waive tuition for any North American Indian who qualifies for admission as a full-time, part-time, or summer school student, and is a legal resident of the state for not less than 12 consecutive months."

The law has survived several attempts since 1976 to rescind it.

Worse, the state has never fully funded it, creating an expensive unfunded mandate for colleges and universities. About 1,000 Native Americans attend college free each year, at a cost to colleges of about $8.5 million. The Legislature has failed to hold up its end of the Mount Pleasant bargain, reimbursing them only $3.8 million.

Colleges and universities are forced to make up the difference. That $4.7 million burden is an obvious disincentive. They suffer a financial penalty every time they tell someone about the law.

The state suffers financially. Natives Americans are one of our most disadvantaged populations, suffering high unemployment, low incomes and the gamut of social, health and other woes that come with poverty and dependence. The Economic Police Institute offers a solution in one sentence: "High educational attainment is the factor most likely to increase American Indians' odds of securing employment."

Lansing must make good on its promise. It must fully fund the promise it made to Michigan's indigenous peoples. And we all need to tell Michigan's Indian residents that they can go to college.

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The Petroskey News. August 14, 2015.

Keep fireworks out of public's hands.

The Fourth of July passed more than a month ago, but in many Northern Michigan neighborhoods the skies still light up with fireworks into the overnight hours on some days.

If you're lucky, the pyrotechnics are limited to Friday and Saturday nights when, unless you work weekends, there is the option to sleep a little later the next morning.

But others aren't so fortunate. Often times, it's a random Tuesday night when seemingly out of nowhere a flare goes up into the sky and explodes, kicking off an obnoxiously loud backyard display.

It was 2011 when Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder agreed to allow consumers to set off more explosive fireworks. Three summers later and the novelty still hasn't worn off. By some accounts, this summer has been the worst yet.

The new law was supposed to provide a financial boost both to retailers who sold the consumer-grade fireworks and local public safety departments who must respond to complaints or emergencies related to them. Except local public safety officials say those resources haven't come to the extent they expected and instead such fireworks have become yet another concern for emergency responders.

The state law forbids local government officials from enacting ordinances that prevent people from using consumer-grade fireworks on the day before, the day of and the day after 10 national holidays, such as the Fourth of July. The law allows local governments to establish certain hours during which fireworks use is permitted.

All five cities in Charlevoix and Emmet counties have fireworks ordinances allowing consumer fireworks to be used only on the days surrounding the national holidays listed above. Petoskey's and East Jordan's ordinances further prohibit their use between the hours of 1-8 a.m. on those days. Violators are guilty of a municipal civil infraction.

But for residents outside of those jurisdictions, laws are far less restrictive as even existing policies are hard to enforce.

This editorial board recommends strongly state legislators repeal the 2011 law. Allowing the public to use more explosive fireworks comes with far greater risk than it does reward. These devices cause harm to people, property and pets, while also placing an unnecessary burden on police, fire and EMS personnel who must service calls related to injuries and complaints.

State Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, is leading the charge in Lansing to repeal the law. His proposed changes allow for fireworks use only during public community displays, fairs and other professional entertainment uses.

"We've tried allowing residents to buy and shoot large fireworks. But the complaints from neighbors and the damage they've caused, or nearly caused, in many communities has proved the 2011 law to be a bad idea," he said in a June news release.

We agree with Yanez — a three-year trial has shown these fireworks have no place in our neighborhoods.