Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Martin Howrylak Wants an Economic Disaster

It's really important to Martin Howrylak to appear like he's helping.
If you you look at his Facebook feed, you'll find it stocked with self-congratulatory photographs, like when he volunteered to put up cones at the Clawson Freedom Run. You'll find him bragging about the “work” he's putting into state education issues. You'll find him “co-sponsoring” useless proclamations, like HR 396, a resolution to “condemn Boko Haram for its violent attacks on civilian targets.”
All of it is about maintaining the illusion that Martin Howrylak is helping Troy. But if you were to strip away the veneer that Martin Howrylak presents, you'll find the heart of a radical, aching to destroy Michigan's economy and schools.
How do I know this? Easy. Martin is co-sponsoring the “taxpayer freedom act,” an economic experiment that would blow an $8.3 BILLION dollar hole in Michigan's economy. And we can know the effects of such a radical experiment by looking to a place where it's already been tried on the small scale.
Kansas.
You see, Kansas is the home of the Tea Party sugar daddies, the Koch Brothers. Through a massive pile of campaign contributions, the Koch Brothers were able to lock down the Kansas government. So when the Tea Party took control, theyturned the keys to the governor's office over to Koch Industries and converted the state into an amusement park for all the crazy Tea Party ideas. They promptly passed a massive tax cut, blowing an $800 million dollar hole in the state budget.
Did they know it was going to be a terrible idea? Yep.
With revenues dropping like Martin Howrylak's popularity, the Tea Party went even more radical.
Because the $700 million dollar surplus vanished, the Tea Party made massive cuts in funding for state education. Which, of course, led to increases in class sizes, laying off of teachers and staff, and the elimination of essential services. Not stopping at the public schools, there were enormous budget cuts for colleges and universities, libraries, and local health departments. The cuts to public education were so severe, Kansas parents sued the state to ensure their kids received a quality public education.
With the economic disaster that the Tea Party has wrought in Kansas, it's vital to remember that Martin Howrylak has proposed cuts to Michigan's budget 10 times as large as the cuts made in Kansas. Ten times the size of the cuts ensures ten times the size of the economic disaster.
Yep, Martin Howrylak needs to maintain the illusion that he's helping because he can't talk about the economic disaster he wants to bring about. Because if he were honest, you'd recognize what a threat Martin Howrylak is to your homes, your schools, and your family.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Martin Howrylak: Paid to Produce Gibberish!

When Martin Howrylak campaigns, he joyfully lists all the things he has stopped from happening. He sends out glossy mailers listing all the things he's fought against.
Did Martin Howrylak want a the pension plan for city workers? No! Did Martin want a city subsidized convention center in Troy? No! Did Martin Howrylak want Sanctuary Lake golf course? No!
So we know that Martin Howrylak is fully capable of saying no.
But that was then. This is now.
As you probably know, the Michigan Legislature failed miserably to back Governor Snyder's plan to fix Michigan roads.
But just what is Howrylak's position on Governor Snyder's plan? It is a “yes?” Is it a “no?”
Well, Martin Howrylak told us exactly what he thinks. On June 5th, Martin held a “town hall” meeting to address Michigan's crumbling roads. At this town hall he was asked, point blank, “Will you back Governor Snyder's proposed $1.3 billion new funding for Michigan roads?”
This was his answer:
I presume that one's for me. The, the, the challenge is “how,” because, uh, I need, I need, I need a package of bills that will be presented to me and, uh, the leaders in both chambers are not inclined to put a bill up on the, on the board, the voting board, that is going to fail. And so, the um, my desire, and I think I alluded to it earlier was to create that funding, uh, the revenue stream into the Michigan Transportation Fund to accommodate the needs of uh, transportation in the State of Michigan and I will add that there is also a need for other transportation alternatives in addition to roads but this is of course, uh, a roads town hall but, um, I think we need to come to the realization that there's a limitation on the ability, if you will, to cheaply move far out from a population center and commute in to a population center for work and that's the whole “can you have your cake and eat it too” thing so, um, inevitably if you're going to have transportation, roads, any sort of a cap on infrastructure, you need to have a mechanism in place to maintain it and, uh, as we build out and there's more to maintain and build so, uh, and then finally I will add that, um, I think the fuel tax, whether that's diesel or gasoline is the simplest way of, of, of getting critical mass when it comes to transportation funding, and so that earlier chart that we had put up that had the blue line and the red line shows that if they had back in the late 90s built in a mechanism to accommodate the increasing costs which would be labor and materials for the most part of maintaining roads we probably wouldn't be here today because it would be self correcting and so ideally and the governor, I will tell you, in many different areas, and I like to say it because of his accounting background, likes to set a, um, a self correcting mechanism, adjustments in whatever that rate is so you don't have to keep coming back to the legislature and people won't accuse you, it's politically unpopular to be advocating for adjustments which are perceived as tax increases but the truth is that labor costs go up, asphalt costs go up, other road material costs go up, so you need to find that right balance and I think realistically, it's going to be a piece of this and a piece of that will get us to that, to that level and there's a real desire especially after the, the long period of economic decline in the State of Michigan to prioritize in two areas, one roads and, uh, excuse me, I'm not trying to say “one or two” but two main areas are roads and education and to use expanding revenue from the economy that is on the rebound in to those two areas before we put it into other areas. That's unequivocally hearing, um, if you feel differently let me know and I'll make sure I try to accommodate your needs as well, but those are the two areas where there's a great desire to really focus on and we are seeing increased tax collections and fee collections as the economy rebounds and those, those collections are increasing at a much greater rate than the rate of inflation, not to belabor the point, yes I do want to see our roads taken care of.
Don't believe me? Go watch it for yourself.
Yes, folks, when asked a direct “yes” or “no” question about fixing Michigan roads, Martin Howrylak now produces gibberish worthy of a below average toddler.
But here's the really sad part. Michigan is currently under single party rule. Republicans control the house, the senate, and the Governor's office. And they don't have enough courage to address the single most important issue to Michigan's voters.
And now Martin Howrylak is on summer vacation, getting taxpayer money to tell you about all the wonderful things he's doing as your Representative. But remember, when you hear him talk, be careful not to step in the gibberish. Getting that stuff off your shoes can be tricky.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Martin Howrylak – The Little Truck That's Bad at His Job


Troy City Council meetings have become boring affairs ever since the ol' teabag was tossed into the trash with the banana peels and coffee grounds. But there are still things to be learned at City Council meetings.

Like how bad Martin Howrylak is at his job being Troy's Representative.

Come with me to a recent City Council meeting.

At the May 19, 2014, City Council Meeting, Troy police officer Milt Stansbury gave a presentation about the enforcement of the frost laws in Troy. Frost laws are regulations in effect during the early spring thaw period when roads are prone to thaw-weakening. This year, the frost laws were in effect from March 19th until April 28th, the longest period enforcement that he has ever seen.

Because of the frost laws, businesses are required to either reroute each vehicle or lighten the loads to the per-axle statutory limit. (By the way, Michigan's statutory axle limit is the highest in the nation, at a maximum of 164,000 lbs. per truck. That makes Michigan's axle weight the highest in the nation and more than twice the federal weight limit.)

Now, the question arises as to whether or not such high axle limits damage the roads. According the Michigan Department of Transportation, the answer is “no,” as long as as the weight is evenly distributed over an appropriate number of axles.

In Troy, there are only two uniformed officers on patrol for trucks with loads evenly distributed and within their axle limits. Last year, these two officers stopped 120 trucks to discover all of them were well past their axle limits. The most dangerous of these overloaded trucks was an 11 axle monster, well past it's load limits, with 10 of it's brake lines completely non-functional.

To repeat, for clarity, last year, Troy police officers discovered an 820 ton truck, severely overloadedwith less than 50% of it's brakes in working order, driving on Troy's roads.

And here's the rub: According to Officer Stansbury, the trucking industry knows that there is very little enforcement of axle limits in urban areas. So the industry routinely overloads semis, knowing they won't be caught. Which means that Troy PD stopped only a fraction of the overloaded trucks throttling down our roads.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have 820 tons of steel and God-knows-what barreling down at me without reliable brakes.
Which takes me back to Martin Howrylak. I would expect that, after his many years on Troy City Council, Howrylak would know this. And because his current job is to represent Troy, he would do something about it.

Nope.

Instead of doing his job, Howrylak has sponsored a bill to place a second amendment monument on the capitol grounds. He's sponsored a resolution to declare April 27-May 3, 2014, as Black April Memorial Week. But he sure hasn't sponsored any laws to stop an industry endangering us all by knowingly breaking the law with impunity.
In the end, Martin Howrylak either knows about this problem or he doesn't. If he does, he's done nothing to fix it. If he doesn't, what is he doing in Lansing?

More proof that Martin Howrylak is bad at his job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Tragedy of Martin Howrylak


You may have heard that Troy City Council is spending $10.5 million dollars for comprehensive concrete pavement replacement on County roads. It's worth digging into the numbers to understand where this outlay is coming from. Troy is the biggest contributor to the total amount, allocating $5,100,000 from the General Fund Balance. $2,338,000 is being contributed by the Oakland County Road Commission, while the Federal Government is contributing $1,891,000. The entity contributing the least to these absolutely essential repairs is the State of Michigan, tossing in $1,000,000.

Seeing these numbers, there is one question that should leap immediately to mind: Why is the State of Michigan contributing less than the Federal Government?

The answer is simple: Martin Howrylak.

You see, Martin Howrylak is a member of the Tea Party, and doesn't believe that government is good for much. When Martin ran for the House seat, he promised a few of things. First, he wanted cut salaries for all the legislators. Next, he wanted to make the State Legislature part time. Finally, he wanted to eliminate the state income tax.

Do any of those strike you as the promises of a guy who believes that governing is a good way to protect our roads and schools? I would argue, “No.” These are the ideas of a person who believes that government should be sold to the highest bidder for scrap.

So just how is Martin doing in his quest to plow the Michigan government into a pylon on crumbling Michigan roads?

Has Martin introduced any bills that would reduce one dime from the $71,685 he receives as a Representative? Nope. Why would he? Would anybody willingly give themselves a pay cut?

Has Martin introduced any bills that would make the State Legislature part time? Nope. That might affect his salary, plus, the job of Representative is easy when you don't take it seriously.

Has Martin introduced any bills that would eliminate the state income tax? Actually, yes.

Martin is co-sponsoring a bill that would repeal the Michigan individual income tax. The only problem is that it would blow a $8.3 BILLION dollar hole in the State budget, leaving little for the repair of roads, schools, and extra police protection.

Now, compare Martin's goal of blowing up the State budget with a fact he recognized in his March 2014 newsletter: The extra monies Michigan has allocated for road repair is a temporary fix, and “larger solution” is necessary to repair our roads. (And isn't it interesting how little Troy is getting out of the extra money the State is spending?)

So Martin Howrylak believes that we need a “larger solution” to repair our roads, but he also wants to blow up the state budget. Does that make any sense? And does anybody believe that Martin Howrylak wants to be part of a larger solution for Michigan's crumbling infrastructure?

Of course not. And understanding why is quite simple. Martin Howrylak is just another Tea Party politician who will say what he needs to say to keep his job. And that's just the tip of the tragedy.

The larger tragedy of Martin Howrylak are the opportunities Troy loses. A good Representative would work hard to ensure that our children get the best schools. A good Representative would find funding in the state budget to get more police on Troy's streets in order to improve safety. A good Representative would work to return the $20,000,000 that Lansing plundered from Troy's budget.

So ask yourself: Do you believe that Martin Howrylak is up to the responsibility of making sure Troy is safe and secure? Because when you look at the evidence, all Martin Howrylak has accomplished is fiddling while the everything crumbles.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do Sakwa's Bidding. Or Get Sued.

For the Tea Party, government corruption and incompetence is an element of faith. Government is always reckless and irresponsible, with private enterprise virtuous and successful. And when it comes to the Troy Transit Center, one Troy Tea Party leader thinks that Troy is engaged in a “government land grab from private citizens.”

But is this true? Is Gary Sakwa an innocent bystander being taken advantage of by an out-of-control government?

Perhaps looking at the actions of Gary Sakwa in other municipalities will give us the answer. So let us look to a neighboring community, Northfield Township, and their adventures with Gary Sakwa.

In 2002, Sakwa purchased 100 acres in Northfield Township for $6.56 million, intending to get the land rezoned. At the time, the property was a 100-year-old farm, zoned for agricultural use. Sakwa wanted to turn it into high-density housing, with up to four homes per acre. The township board granted Sakwa's application, and limited the development to 450 homes.

However, the citizens of Northfield Township didn't want the property rezoned to high-density housing. The people took to the streets. The residents of Northfield Township organized a successful referendum, reversed the decision of the board, and left the property zoned for agricultural use.

But the citizens weren't done. The supporters of the referendum ran for township board and won. They promptly rezoned the property to allow only one home per two acres, because they wanted to maintain the “rural” character of the land.

Now, at this point, you should be wondering how Sakwa would react. Would they follow the will of the people, and develop 50 homes? Would they recognize the sovereign will of the people to determine what kind of community they wanted?

Don't be silly. Sakwa cranked up the lawyer machine. And sued. For somewhere between $20 million to $30 million in damages.

And after seven years of litigation, the circuit court judge dismissed Sakwa's case, stating, “[Sakwa] presented no evidence that it engaged in, or made significant expenditures for, planning development or construction of the site.” In other words, after spending $10,000 per acre for land appraised at $3,500 per acre, Sakwa didn't work with the township to develop the land in a mutually beneficial way. Sakwa simply demanded a massive payout because he didn't get exactly what he wanted.

In describing his actions, a Northfield Township activist stated Sakwa was engaging in “an intimidation plan, plain and simple: 'If you don’t do what we want, then we’ll make you pay.'”

(Is any of this starting to sound like the ringing of a Transit Center shaped bell?)

Now, after seven years and a massive loss, did Sakwa finally come around and agree to work with the people of Northfield Township?

Nope. Sakwa took his case to the court of appeals. Sakwa believed that Northfield Township was engaged in an “unconstitutional governmental taking.” Sakwa argued that not rezoning the property to allow them to maximize their profits created a loss of value. Therefore, the people of Northfield Township had to pay.

Luckily, the Court of Appeals ruled that the only rights Sakwa had were those he possessed when he purchased the property, namely to use the land for agricultural development. In fact, when Northfield Township rezoned the property to low-density housing, Sakwa's rights were “substantially expand[ed],” in allowing residential development to occur.

Now, the Troy Transit Center matter is slightly different. Because Sakwa chose to sue Troy over the Transit Center after being initially for the development. Even Councilman Henderson recognizes this. On his Facebook page, in response to question about this alleged, “land grab,” Henderson writes, “[Sakwa] was allowed to manipulate that entire piece of property only because of the transit center property deal.” Acknowledging that Sakwa was initially in favor of the Transit Center, Henderson now believes that “[Sakwa] is sticking it to us” because Sakwa either “has it in for the city or sees a big pile of money.”

So the moral of the story seems to be clear: If a municipality doesn't comply with the exact wishes of Gary Sakwa, it can expect to be on the receiving end of a massive lawsuit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Management Keeps Troy Strong

Troy's budget season is fast approaching, which means that like Canadian Geese returning from southern climes, Troy's Tea Party will soon return to honk at City Council meetings. We expect them to start shrieking about Troy's Unassigned Fund Balance and how poor city policies are destroying Troy.

So before the disinformation campaign begins, let's review Troy's bond rating, it's relationship to the Troy's unassigned fund balance, and how management policies can effect Troy's bond rating and economic prospects.

What is a Bond Rating?


At the February 03, 2014, City Council Study Session, Bobby Bendzinski of Bendzinski & Co. gave a presentation about Troy's bond rating. Troy was awarded a AAA bond rating from three independent rating agencies. (Fitch currently rates Troy as AA+.) Essentially, a bond rating determines how safe a bond issuer is for investing. The higher the bond rating, the safer the investment, because it helps investors know about your ability to pay and how well your city can handle any emergencies that may arise. Mr. Bendzinski noted that Troy currently has a higher bond rating than the United States of America, making Troy the “best of the best,” in the company of the only other Michigan cities to possess a AAA bond rating, Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham.

What about Troy's unassigned fund balance?


In a memo dated August 26, 2013, Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick explained that a fund balance is, by definition, “the difference between the entity’s assets and liabilities.” From a financial standpoint, a healthy fund balance is a “good indication of financial strength.”

In the same memo, Mr. Kischnick explained that unassigned Fund Balance is approximately $23,454,866, making the unassigned Fund Balance 43.5% of the total budget. (The Fund Balance is “unassigned” because it's money not yet been assigned to important projects, like alleviating debt or investing in infrastructure.)

Troy has a sizable unassigned Fund Balance because there have been a reduction in General Fund Expenditures. The reduction in those expenditures have come primarily from “employee concessions, layoffs and early retirements.” In other words, Troy has a large savings account because we have lost a great deal of our workforce. We've lost police officers, entire departments, and lots of other employees.

How do management policies affect Troy's AAA bond rating?


So when Troy's management adopted a policy of cutting staff and departments to the bone, it resulted in a sizable unassigned fund balance. And as you can probably guess, a healthy fund balance is one important factor in obtaining an excellent bond rating. Other major factors in ensuring an excellent bond rate can be summed up in one word: Flexibility. The more flexiblity in management polices, the higher the bond rate. Other policies that contribute to the economic health of Troy include the three-year budget plan, maintaining a healthy fund balance, carefully investing a percentage of the unassigned fund balance, and using millages to support city assets.

So to summarize Mr. Bendzinski's advice, he recommended several policies to keep Troy strong. First, keep the unassigned fund balance at 20% of the total budget, miminum. Keeping it closer to 30% would be ideal. Next, carefully invest a percentage of the unassigned fund balance in projects that bring revenue into the general fund. Finally, ensure the library continues to be funded through it's own millage. According to Mr. Bendzinski, if Troy were to end the library millage, it would not only hurt Troy's bond rating, it would be the equivalent to “not charging for water and sewage...it would be a very bad thing.”

Good management practices have helped Troy maintain a AAA bond rating. Remember that when Troy's Tea Party appears before council and starts making unsubstantiated accusations.

Cross posted at Troy Patch.