FINCH: Right idea, wrong approach

Lame Duck has historically been a volatile time for legislation in this state.

The most “controversial” items get passed to avoid discussion from the opposition. It is not uncommon for 40 to 50 percent of all legislation passed in a Lame Duck year to go through that small 10-12 day window, with the most controversial issues coming on the last couple of nights. This is how our system is set up, so you can’t fault the ruling party for using this loophole to their advantage. The negative is pretty obvious; the public doesn’t get to weigh in on the topic before it’s too late.

It appears that re-elected Gov. Rick Snyder is adamant on getting road improvement concessions during Lame Duck, so he will be holding other legislation hostage; there will be much “horse-trading” as the last day approaches. He has been quoted warning legislators to not send any legislation unless there is a connection to the passage of a road plan. We won’t know until the 11th hour whether this threat has any teeth.

One issue that will really hurt northern schools is the passage of more restrictions on the School Bond Loan fund (SB 955 & 978). While legislators are trying to punish southern districts who have mortgaged the future with volatile student counts, mixed economic conditions, nostalgic school and community members, and/or a history of poor decisions by school boards bowing to local pressure, their solution traps everyone else. Instead of addressing the problem, the legislators’ solution is to deny ALL school districts the ability to borrow money to extend “old millage” rates to improve facilities without increasing taxes. This type of strategy has worked well in northern districts as historically northern taxpayers are less likely to add new debt millage, but are more willing extend old rates to raise additional funds. In contrast, suburban southern schools routinely support passage of new school bond debt because of their ability to raise significant dollars with a small millage.

Senator Darwin Booher was the lone Republican senator to oppose this legislation last week because he understands the problem needs to be addressed at the core, rather than punish all schools. Yes, there are school boards that just worry about tomorrow, putting off the tough decisions because of internal and/or community pressure, but why should the whole state suffer? The Legislature needs to design regulations that focus the Department of Treasury on districts that shouldn’t be allowed to extend their debt— make the proposal process more stringent. Don’t punish school districts that can make the tough decisions and set up economically stable districts here in the north. We need to be ready to reject the principles behind SB 955 and 978 when the House version arrives to the table … right idea, wrong approach.

Dr. Finch can be reached at cfinch@moisd.org and followed on Twitter at CFinchMOISD