A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

November 11, 2019

The Detroit News. Nov. 6, 2019

DIA’s broken vow a slap in the face

Promises made to taxpayers in exchange for their money should not be casually broken. Nor should cheap tricks be used as a shield against the consequences of breaking those promises.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is guilty on both counts in its decision to ask voters for an early renewal of the 10-year operations millage that passed in 2012.

At the time, the DIA vowed it would not seek to renew the millage, pledging it would use the tax dollars as a bridge to keep the doors open while it raised money for an enhanced endowment.

But on Monday, the DIA board voted to seek a renewal next spring, citing changed circumstances that make keeping its promise impossible. Specifically, the board says the demands of the grand bargain that spared the museum from the auction block during Detroit’s bankruptcy has slowed endowment fundraising.

That may be a fair reason to break the no-renewal vow. If so, the case should be made to taxpayers in an above-board election.

Instead, the DIA will attempt to place the extension on the ballot of what will be a low and selective turnout election — Michigan’s partisan presidential primary on March 10.

It’s a low tactic that makes the decision to break the promise to taxpayers even more unsavory. The board knows turnout election will be light and heavily Democratic, since the Republican presidential nominating race is not as competitive.

We’ve long taken the position that tax and bond issues should not be snuck through in obscure elections, but instead go on the November ballot to assure maximum participation by those who will be paying the bills.

In defense of its request, the DIA notes that it had to raise an unexpected $100 million to pay for its share of the grand bargain. It’s endowment now stands at $232 million, up from the $92 million on hand before the millage was approved, but short of the $300 million the museum said at the time it needed to sustain operations tax-free.

Today, the DIA says it would need a $600 million endowment to live without the millage. That may be in part because spending has ballooned to $38 million annually from about $25 million before the tax, which raises about $26 million a year.

In the seven years since the millage was approved, the DIA has expanded services to the community and enhanced the museum experience. It remains a valued cultural asset for the region — that’s why we supported the millage in 2012 and the grand bargain during the bankruptcy.

But compounding the ill will of a broken promise by seeking the renewal in such an underhanded manner is a slap in the face to a community that has sacrificed for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Before it goes to voters, the millage renewal must be approved by the arts authorities of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. At the least, the counties should insist that if a renewal is sought, the request should be made on the November ballot.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). Nov. 7, 2019

Wiping slate clean is right thing to do

Everybody makes mistakes, some bigger than others. People have the right to overcome their past transgressions and move on, hopefully in the right direction, with the smaller offenses playing less of a role in a person’s future.

The Michigan House on Tuesday passed legislation that would overhaul expungement laws and make it easier for hundreds of thousands of people to have clean criminal records.

This is especially pertinent with the recent legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Michigan. Someone convicted of a minor pot-related crime back in the day wouldn’t face such a conviction nowadays.

Seven bills, approved with bipartisan support in the Republican-led chamber, were sent to the Senate for future consideration, the Associated Press reported.

One measure, starting as early as 2022, would provide for the automatic expungement of certain crimes without the need for applications to be filed. Other measures would shorten the waiting period before people could ask to set aside misdemeanor offenses and let those with misdemeanor pot convictions to clear the offenses — if they wouldn’t have been crimes before voters’ legalization of pot in 2018.

It’s not just marijuana-related offenses that come into play. The bills would make many traffic offenses eligible for expungement. They also would let more people with multiple crimes apply, plus they would require multiple felony offenses to be treated as a single conviction if they take place within 24 hours.

Talk about making a clean slate.

We’re not talking about serial killers wiping their records clean. The issue here is allowing people convicted of misdemeanors and other relatively minor offenses to not have those transgressions follow them the rest of their lives.

A goal of Tuesday’s legislation presumably would be to remove barriers to unemployment, housing and other issues.

Looking at the issue long term, if someone’s past marijuana conviction kept them from being employed in certain jobs, that person would have more trouble paying taxes or being a fully productive member of society.

To look at it another way, were someone to use marijuana now in a manner that would have led to a conviction a few years ago, the outcome likely would be different.

This is just leveling the playing field.

We believe the legislation will let more people learn from their pasts and move on with their lives.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. Nov. 7, 2019

Absentee but extremely engaged

We checked the box to vote for no-reason absentee ballots when the question came up in 2018.

We weren’t alone.

Michigan voters screamingly affirmed the “Promote the Vote” Proposal 3 question two-to-one, putting same-day voter registration and other changes in motion.

Tuesday’s election was our first road test.

Unofficially — tallies aren’t official for another few weeks — not only do we want absentee ballots, but we will use them.

Clerks across the state reported record numbers of returns; absentee votes made up 30 percent of voters in Rochester; 32 percent in East Lansing.

Not to be competitive, but we can beat that.

Unofficially, 39 percent of Leland Township voters used absentee ballots to chime in on the early childhood services millage (it passed).

Traverse City numbers showed 49 percent absentee rates, up from 42 percent in the last election and 37 in the one before.

Absentee ballots even overtook the sewer question in Northport, with far more absentee voters than the old fashioned kind — 66 percent of the vote in Leelanau Township and 75 percent of the vote in Northport Village.

We feel like no-reason absentee voting is a good move that accommodates our modern lives.

But we should also accommodate the people who count them.

Currently clerks can’t start counting absentee ballots until the polls open on Election Day. We will may need to revisit this, as more and more of us use the absentee option.

Already absentee restrictions seem quaint. Young children will look confused when we tell of the days when we needed to be of a certain age or have a valid reason to absentee vote. “Why?” they will ask us.

We won’t remember, and will consult the internet to answer them.