Editorials for Business Review
From Business Review April 24, 2008, edition
Tom George sees himself as a referee in the current spat between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the commercial carriers doing business here. And, boy, are we glad.
Blue Cross believes its own reform proposal it saw flash through the state House in October is essential because BCBS contends: 1) the market is growing tremendously and 2) the market is unfair to the Blues, George says. (See Business Review’s Jan. 31-Feb. 6 edition for details.)
Opponents contend the BCBS plan would hike rates, hit the ill and elderly in particular with large rate increases and halt much of the state attorney general’s oversight. And some sources claim the market actually has shrunk.
So the Kalamazoo state senator, a practicing physician, rolled up his sleeves. After doing his research and holding hearings for the House insurance committee, which he chairs, he’s given birth to his own proposal — a good plan we think is comprehensible and evenhanded.
“The goal of my committee is to make Michigan healthier,” he says, pumping his fist into the palm of his hand.
George’s plan, among other actions, would allow BCBS to include behavior in its ratings (smoking, high-blood pressure and the like); prevent reunderwriting (raising premiums when people become sick or file claims); develop “fair rules” for rescission (canceling a policy); let Accident Fund expand into other lines of business; and create what he calls a Charities and Social Mission Fund.
That Fund would provide for the uninsured and be supported by the Blues’s revenue surplus. Blue Cross, George admits, “doesn’t like this part.”
The Senate committee’s last scheduled hearing will be April 30. Then George’s proposal will have to pass his committee, then the full Senate, then survive the House ....
It’ll be a tough fight, and George acknowledges he could use Gov. Granholm’s help, especially if and when it gets to the House. But it’s worth the struggle, he says, because this the biggest issue he’s dealt with during his tenure.
We urge the governor to lend a hand. After all, we’re talking about a lot of money and a lot of Michigan residents who need help.
From Business Review, March 13, 2008
Back when Congress agreed to extend daylight savings time by four weeks, our own U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph positively crowed.
"Not only will Americans have more daylight at their disposal for additional four weeks of the year, we will also be keeping our energy consumption as a nation down," said Upton, who championed the legislation in 2005.
"The beauty of daylight saving time is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier," chimed in U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, another proponent.
This past weekend we entered our early-start DST period. We can't verify if everyone feels sunnier. But we can reiterate a few things we suggested on this page when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was authorized: It's a bad idea. It doesn't work.
We'd noted that rejiggering clocks didn't make a lot of sense to us, for any reason, including saving energy.
Now comes a study out of Indiana (on top of earlier research from Australia with similar findings) indicating that adding DST ended up consuming more energy, not less.
Our neighbor to the south, as you know, has had a checkered career with clock watching. Some parts of Indiana stayed on standard time, some employed DST. Not everyone was always certain who did which.
Two years ago the entire state shifted to DST, no more stragglers. University of California-Santa Barbara researchers took that opportunity to track seven million Duke Energy meters for three years, covering before and after the switch. The findings were "clear and unambiguous," Matthew Kotchen, UC-SB economics professor and one of the researchers, told The Wall Street Journal. DST nailed Indiana customers for $8.6 million extra in electricity costs.
Sure, savings could be found by having lights on for shorter periods during DST afternoons. But all that and more was lost by running the furnace more in the mornings when people got up earlier, and the A/C when it was hot.
We sure Rep. Upton's heart was in the right place. Now he needs to take a look at the numbers.
He has plenty of daylight in which to do so.
Three days that rocked the region
From Business Review, May 01, 2008, edition
It’s seems unbelievable anyone could have slept through it.
We don’t just mean the 5.2-magnitude earthquake that had its epicenter in Illinois and rattled awake southwest Michigan residents early Friday morning, April 18.
We’re also referring to the announcements the following Monday and Tuesday some 50 miles apart. In Grand Rapids, at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Secchia Center, the future home of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, it was revealed fund raisers had reached $37.3 million in pledges — with another $2.7 million or so close to being pledged by a “major donor.”
Then in Kalamazoo came the unveiling of more details of MPI Research Inc.’s expansion in downtown Kalamazoo and in Mattawan by 3,300 new jobs. It was, in the words of Gov. Jennifer Granholm at the announcement lunch at the Kalamazoo Country Club, “the largest life-sciences-jobs announcement in Michigan history.”
As she told Business Review, the coincidence of the two economic developments — the MPI expansion and more good news from the ongoing Medical Mile life-sciences and health activity along Michigan Street – “are creating a center of excellence for Michigan.”
Now we can’t wait to feel those aftershocks. As our package of stories beginning on page 3 suggests, it should be an exhilarating experience.
Real estate professionals are smiling. Allen Edwin Homes’s Greg DeHaan tells us that “the people who live here have a renewed sense of confidence. If they were thinking about (buying) a home, they now feel good about it.”
Educators are smiling. “It ... puts us on the national map,” says Kalamazoo Valley Community College President Marilyn Schlack. So are economists — “The shot in the arm that it can create for downtown, I think, is vital,” says W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research’s George Erickcek.
Go ahead. You live in western Michigan. Smile.
A wrong turn
From Business Review February 07, 2008, edition
As one exasperated owner of a Van Buren County blueberry-farming operation asked us last week, “What are they doing to us?”
By “they,” he meant Lansing.
The subject of his anguish? Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land’s announcement, based on a decision by Attorney General Michael Cox, to deny driver’s licenses to nonpermanent Michigan residents.
This means all those migrant workers who’ll be coming into the state in the next few weeks won’t be legally permitted to drive.
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Alticor Inc., Grand Valley State University and Perrigo Co. also are unhappy about it and insisting something be done. That’s because this decision also affects nursery workers, students and, yes, even those scientists David Van Andel reminds us we’re just not as proficient as we’d like in growing here at home.
“Michigan has already lost 30,000 residents to recession. It can ill-afford to lose thousands of workers and students, which will be disastrous to its economy and universities,” contended Vivek Prabhu, the head of not-for-profit Immigration Voice’s Michigan branch.
Forty-four other states place varying restrictions on immigrant drivers, so Michigan isn’t alone. And much of the reasoning is perceived public pressure, under the heading of combatting terrorism.
Yes, we know we’re at war. But in our patriotic fervor to throw the widest inescapable net around all things non-native, we need to maintain some perspective.
Many of these nonpermanent residents contribute significantly to the welfare of our economy - from the fruit fields of Van Buren, Allegan and Ottawa Counties (Ottawa is the state’s number-one agriculture county, by the way) to the life-sciences labs in Kent and Kalamazoo Counties to the classrooms across our region ....
The Senate Transportation Committee responded pretty quickly, okaying bills Jan. 31 to reverse the decision, then sending them on to the full Senate. We urge equally fast action there, too.
After all, let’s not throw out the berries with the bath water.
More than numbers
From Business Review April 10, 2008, edition
We’re not going to pretend it’s only about the numbers.
Reporter Lynn Stevens’s package of stories this week for Business Review examines the statistics and viewpoints on the local economies in connection with native-American and other casinos in Michigan. It doesn’t delve into the effects of casino gambling itself on your business, your family, your community.
And for some casino opponents in western Michigan and elsewhere, that’s their key objection.
We see why they’re concerned. A study by David Hartmann, Western Michigan University professor of sociology, estimated some 301,050 Michigan residents, aged 18 and over, claim a “lifetime” gambling problem.
His 2006 figures for "problem gamblers" equated to approximately one out of every 50 adult residents.
Keystone, a South Dakota drug and alcohol treatment center, points out compulsive gambling is progressive.
“There is more to lose than money,” its Web site states. “This illness creates marital, employment and legal problems. (Eighty-nine percent of compulsive gamblers commit felonies.)”
Compulsive gambling, Keystone notes, “is as debilitating as alcohol or drug addiction.”
An equally visceral argument is made for the other side. As sovereign nations, native American groups shouldn’t need to negotiate setting up a legit business, some supporters contend.
And given the many treaties between those nations and the U.S. government that have been broken — not to mention the shockingly incompetent mishandling of their funds over the years by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — it’s easy to understand why they resent hurdles MichGo, 23 Is Enough and others put in their way.
When it comes to such emotionally inflamed views — and damn the numbers — it’s hard to imagine these foes ever sitting at the same negotiating table.
From Business Review April 03, 2008, edition
A few years ago when various media started devoting space and time to ethics advice columnists, we thought it was a bit, well, naff.
Early examples ran to the simplistic: An employee told me something in confidence that in no way affects our business. Is it OK to tell someone else? A client offered me a bribe. Is it all right if I take it?
Here’s a better question, we thought: Do intelligent adults in today’s business world truly need guidance on basic tenets of courtesy and honesty?
But now we’re not so certain. Maybe leaders we thought should know better really don’t.
We could start with the obvious. From our vantage point in western Michigan, we can’t claim to understand all nuances of each charge and allegation made against Kwame Kilpatrick way over on the other side of state. But dragging out this scandal is doing no good for the city with the nation’s number-one unemployment rate. A good leader would respond appropriately.
Closer to home, we’ve also scratched our heads over the ongoing sad story of Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner Bill French. French was convicted of misdemeanor extortion last year for asking a developer who was seeking a permit to donate $1,000 to a drain fund.
But now county administrators have a much murkier dilemma, as French suffered a stroke in August, and they’re struggling with when — if? — they should cut off the salary and benefits of a debilitated man.
Is that more complicated a knot than Richard Dauch earning some $10.2 million last year as CEO of American Axle & Manufacturing Inc.?
Workers at American Axle, with its headquarters in Detroit and a plant in Three Rivers, are on strike because corporate has asked them to accept pay and benefits cuts. So they likely won’t warm to the belief that large packages are needed to lure and retain good corporate leaders ... even if there is more than a nugget of truth to that philosophy.
And we bet they don’t think it’s fair.
So now we think maybe ethics advice columnists aren’t unnecessary. Apparently there aren’t enough.
From Business Reivew March 27, 2008, edition
We need to rethink how we do things in Michigan. The old ways died out, even if not everyone seemed to have been paying attention.
Instead of wasting time on taxing ski lift tickets and shoe bronzing — but not golf fees, apparently because golf courses had better lobbyists than ski-resort operators and shoe bronzers — there are folk in our state, thankfully, who’ve gotten the message.
Here’s one example. The Michigan Economic Developers Association has been looking at state incentives, and that group’s message is clear.
“We, as leaders, must take bold action if our great state is to return to economic vitality,” the report says, with no pussyfooting around. “We must move fast to create a more dynamic, flexible and comprehensive economic-development incentive strategy.”
“Incentives are geared toward manufacturers, and really toward big manufacturers,” says Randy Thelen, MEDA co-chairman and Lakeshore Advantage head, in our top story for March 27-April 2. And here’s what, for some, might be an heretical notion: That isn’t the best, or only, way to go, as the MEDA’s report implies by calling for a lowering of the current Michigan Economic Growth Authority incentive-threshold trigger of 50 or more employees.
Heretical thinking is what we need more right now. Which is why we applaud the state House for passing a bill last week — 94 to 14 — that would give $30 million over two years to promote tourism in Michigan. The plan now needs Senate OK.
Tourism isn’t about building automobiles. But it is our $18.8 billion industry, employing more than 200,000 and producing $1.1 billion in state tax revenue.
Agree or disagree, new ideas on spending and revenue need to be posted to our public consciousness for discussion, debate ... and action.