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A roundup of recent editorials in Michigan newspapers

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The Flint Journal. April 8.

Michigan teen joined by friends in court brief

This is a sad, sad day for our community.

Today we know the sad fact that money will soon run out for 39 Flint firefighters.

Today we know despite greater need, despite greater risk, despite our pleas, that the federal government has denied the city of Flint's request for $7.9 million to continue propping up its fire department.

Today we know that the federal government ignored the 700 people who signed a petition calling for the grant to be renewed, ignored our elected officials, ignored the fact that this one need brought together all corners of our community with a resounding appeal for Flint to get this funding.

Today we know that even though the sacrifices being made here to build a stable community that would no longer need this funding are huge they apparently are still not good enough.

This community is scrapping and fighting every step of the way toward a brighter tomorrow. Investors are pumping millions into our community. Residents have lost their democratic right to choose their own leadership and yet still agreed to a massive tax increase to do their part to ensure public safety during a financial crisis.

This community is working hard to recover from a devastating loss of manufacturing and a history of mismanagement while at the same time forcing structural change to deal with the scars of blight and population decline.

This community already has received the grant twice before. We get it: A third grant is a lot to ask.

But the need is simply unquestionable.

Of course, local officials here will cobble together a solution and try to make do the best they can. We appreciate the determinedness with which they have graciously accepted notification that Flint's request was denied. We're not feeling quite so gracious.

It seems almost laughably cruel to point out that the funding our community did not get was a Staffing for Adequate Funding and Emergency Response — otherwise known as SAFER — grant.

Today we know that our community will not have adequate funding.

Today we know that our community — as it continues to struggle with the highest arson rate among large cities in the nation — will most certainly not be safer.

Whatever spreadsheets FEMA officials analyzed, whatever scores they crunched, whatever data they used to come to their conclusion, whatever bureaucratic rules determined that Flint should be denied do not matter.

Open your eyes: This community needs SAFER. That's clear to anyone willing to actually look.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency failed us. FEMA failed by refusing to see the real need in this community. FEMA failed all taxpayers by refusing to spend its precious grant dollars in the areas with the most need.

That's just sad.

_____

The Grand Rapids Press. April 4.

Too many questions remain unanswered after Ionia prison escape

One prison escape is one too many. Michigan is fortunate that convicted killer Michael Elliot was caught just one day after he escaped Ionia Correctional Facility, and no one was killed in the process. The Department of Corrections should immediately implement the security action plan developed to prevent another prison break.

Facing life in prison without parole for four killings, Elliot felt he had nothing to lose when he escaped Feb. 2 The prison is filled with others in a similar situation ready to capitalize on a vulnerable system.

The state's prison system has basically one job: keep prisoners in prison. An investigation of the incident showed there was a disturbing lack of oversight that set the stage for Elliot to plan his escape in just four months.

Two months later, two issues have yet to be addressed: Elliot's access to white clothing that allowed him to blend with the snow, and the failure of microwave sensors to detect his movements during his escape. Both have been studied, internally and with a recent review by wardens. But a fix for either has yet to be implemented.

The biggest issue to address is human error. Elliot slipped past laser beams, wire barriers and security cameras like a character in a spy-caper. Prison guards didn't follow protocol in resetting alarms after a previous test or taking an informal headcount. Combined, these failures suggest an overall incompetence. While the state can spend additional millions beefing up the prison's security system, ultimately it is only as good as the staff that uses it.

There was no loss of life, but there was a victim. A Belding woman, whose car was hijacked, and taken hostage by Elliot during a stop in Ionia, for a few terrifying hours feared she might die. Credit is due to the 911 dispatcher who directed her to take refuge in a gas station restroom and lock the door. Who knows how long she will be haunted, or those in the area will be shaken by this escape.

Elliot said he waited until Super Bowl Sunday because he figured guards would be distracted by the big game. The investigation showed guards don't have access to a television or electronics, but it was obvious they weren't closely watching the surveillance video that day. And it wasn't just a lack of attention on that day. In Michigan's most secure prison, Elliot was able to access a hook, hobby craft scissors, belt buckle, white long underwear and white shoes to facilitate his escape.

Two employees, an officer and shift commander, remain suspended as they move through the disciplinary process that could result in termination. Prison officials and staff should be held accountable, and without a lower-level employee being offered up as a scapegoat. The results of an independent investigation by Attorney General Bill Schuette's office needs to answer many questions. When this review will wrap up is unclear.

Ultimately, there needs to be enough checks and balances to make sure one person's mistake doesn't lead to a crisis that puts the public at risk.

_____

The Mining Journal (Marquette). April 7.

Decision makers should take note of new education study

It seems as though a new study is released every day outlining some problem or success story we should all pay attention to.

It's easy to get lost in the sea of numbers. It's also easy to ignore or forget studies that do highlight real issues.

We hope this doesn't happen with the Education Trust-Midwest's recent report on the state of education in Michigan.

Titled "Stalled to Soaring: Michigan's Path to Educational Recovery," the report showcases some worrisome material in the way of the progression of learning for Michigan kids.

It seems this educational system we have is failing miserably.

The report ranks Michigan in the bottom five states for student learning progress in fourth-grade reading and math over the last decade.

It also counts Michigan as one of only six states in the nation to post negative student growth in some subjects, citing fourth-grade students that are learning at lower levels today than they did in 2003 in reading.

Those are some scary findings. Especially when one considers the 21st century workforce these kids will inherit once they graduate.

We need workers with a good educational foundation to help drive forward Michigan's economy.

We need smart people with the technical skills and creative minds to bring Michigan back to its former glory.

We need our fourth-graders to read at or above proficiency. We need them to excel in math.

We hope this study receives serious examination by those that have the power to better the educational system that is so clearly lacking in this state.

_____

Lansing State Journal. April 7.

Don't abandon bigger push to fix Michigan's roads

It's heartening to see some Michigan lawmakers taking a stab at a long-term solution for the state's road funding shortfall.

It's worrisome that the proposal would eventually provide about half the annual revenue increase needed to assure good quality infrastructure going forward.

And it's troubling that the proposal still dances away from the need for a tax or fee increase to permanently solve the problem of dwindling funds for Michigan's roads and bridges.

House Speaker Jase Bolger last week (April 3) proposed a plan that would put $450 million toward roads in fiscal 2015 and at least $500 million annually by 2018.

That's short of the $1.2 billion per year that Gov. Rick Snyder has called for, although the governor made a point of not criticizing the plan, saying he'd like to see it discussed.

Bolger's plan adopts an idea Snyder put forth sometime ago, eliminating the 19 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax and replacing it with a 6 percent wholesale tax. That's expected to be revenue neutral at the beginning, but will grow with inflation — an important advantage over the current flat tax, which has not increased since 1997. Because of increased fuel economy and people driving less, when adjusted for inflation the state's road fund is at its lowest level in 30 years.

The House plan also calls for converting the current 15 cents per gallon diesel fuel tax (which has not been increased in 30 years) to a 6 percent wholesale tax. That change would raise an additional $47 million next year.

The proposal would use some general fund dollars to reach the $450 million figure, which House officials believe they can do by trimming Snyder's budget proposal. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Senate Republicans are concerned about "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Others who are reluctant to support the proposal say their concern is that it doesn't go far enough in raising new revenue to meet Michigan's need for quality roads and bridges.

As Snyder notes, it's difficult to criticize a proposal that at least starts this serious and much needed discussion. Conventional wisdom holds that getting such a major change passed in an election year is unlikely.

The mistake lawmakers must avoid is failing to fully address the road problem. The worst mistake they could make isn't increasing taxes. It's tossing around ideas and once again doing too little.

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