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For The Week Of February 18, 2017 Through February 24, 2017

It’s Been Warm Lately, Which Really Is Not A Good Thing, For Farmers Anyway

By John Lindstrom
Posted: February, 24 2017 3:38 PM

At the annual Michigan Farm Bureau luncheon earlier this week each table had a small basket of apples.

“Enjoy those apples while you can,” said one Farm Bureau official. “We may not get many this year.”

Ah the joys of a warm February. Playing golf months early. Getting out the grill. Putting the top down on the car. Buying cheap apples.

Skiers are not the only ones who like winter. Farmers do too. Snow and cold are important to a number of crops, and nature has an internal calendar based on the temperature. And the warmer temperatures of the last several weeks are causing concern for crops, especially fruit but also cover crops.

This year has not yet hit the astonishing heatwave of 2012, when the temperature in Lansing hit 85-degrees on March 21 and high temperature records collapsed all across the state and the Midwest. Yes, people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in shamrock-themed bathing suits that year, but it also meant that Michigan’s apple trees budded and blossomed a month earlier than usual.

And by late April that year a major freeze swept across the state, killing much of the young fruit on the trees. By autumn of 2012 if you could find apples, one needed a second mortgage to afford them.

“If we don’t get some more winter soon,” the Farm Bureau official said, “It could be bad.”

Which means more than just pawning an engagement ring for a dozen Galas. A relatively scorching winter could have a big effect on the state’s agricultural exports, hurting one of the state’s top industries. That, of course, could affect farm revenues which in turn affect state revenues which further, in turn, could affect policy decisions.

Yes, warm winters mean lower utility costs, which mean consumers will save money, and theoretically could afford some of the higher commodity prices. But they may spend that money on apples from Washington or New York State rather than from Michigan growers, which again hurts that sector of the economy, hurting the state.

Now the polar bear in the room one must tread lightly around is the question of climate change. But this bear might not be hibernating when one considers this warm spell coming after 2016 was determined to the warmest year on record, and the third consecutive year the warming record was beaten – which includes 2014 and 2015 which had bloody cold winters in our part of the world.

Some cooler temperatures may sweep into the state over the next week, which could bring some relief to the farm community. But if March overall stays warmer, then summer may be less fruitful this year.

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Leonard Speakership Suffers Major Wound

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: February, 23 2017 1:17 PM

House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), just six weeks since accepting the gavel as the new speaker on the Rostrum of the House chamber, faces a crisis like no other speaker I have seen.

It is one he could have, should have, avoided, and one surrounding his decision to make cutting the income tax his top priority for the term.

That a tax cut was a House Republican priority is not the reason he lacks a functional majority today. The problem was how he and his team sought to pass it.

He lent his support to legislation that would have cut the income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent and then repealed the entire tax over the next 40 years, wiping out $9.75 billion, nearly the entire General Fund. This was a bill that had no chance of making it past Governor Rick Snyder to become law and turned into a food fight with the governor that included Mr. Leonard sending an email to supporters that Mr. Snyder’s team interpreted as a shot at the governor.

And as it would turn out, it also was a bill that had no chance of even getting out of the House. A big chunk of the House Republican Caucus and virtually all Democrats saw the bill as extreme.

The resistance should have been a sign to apply the brakes and determine what it would take to get to 55 votes. Or perhaps the speaker should have sacrificed the message of putting tax relief first to instead go for an issue that would be more unifying for the caucus to get a quick early win, maybe repealing the Common Core State Standards.

Instead, Mr. Leonard had the House take up the bill Tuesday and drop the repeal provision, phasing the tax down over four years to 3.9 percent. That there was not the support Tuesday to immediately pass the bill should have again been a signal to slow down and regroup.

But Mr. Leonard continued to press ahead. For 12 hours starting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the House was “in session.” I put that in quotes because not a damn thing was taking place, not one vote on another matter until midnight neared. There were several long caucus meetings, one-on-one meetings, milling around, the more than 40 new members no doubt taking in the drama, maybe the subject of the NBA trading deadline on Thursday came up, who knows.

The longer Mr. Leonard kept the House in session, the more pressure for the House to pass it and the more attention was paid to exactly how short of votes he was.

The word spread that Mr. Leonard was well short of the 55 votes needed. Perhaps 10-15, maybe as few as five. At any point, Mr. Leonard could have pulled back and called it a day to keep working behind the scenes for those votes. Live to fight another day, as the saying goes.

Finally, at 1:45 a.m., the speeches concluded, a new amendment adopted, the House was set to vote on HB 4001*. It would be a Pyrrhic victory to be sure, Mr. Leonard having had to drag his caucus over the finish line in a way that would hardly leave Mr. Snyder or Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) shaking in their boots. But it would at least be a win.

Except when the votes went up on the board, there was a little more red for no votes than green for yes votes. Our House reporter squinted at the voting board and thought, “That looks short.”

Now usually in the House when this happens the majority party moves to clear the voting board so the defeat is not recorded. That would have been bad enough on this night, a humiliating surrender. Instead, the House did in fact record the vote, 52 yes and 55 no, with a motion to reconsider made and the bill shelved for another day, maybe. Instead of raising the white flag for the day, Mr. Leonard sent his caucus on a Kamikaze mission.

Mr. Leonard said his caucus wanted the vote recorded. But this also had the feel of payback, putting all those Republicans who resisted the legislation – most of whom backed Mr. Leonard’s opponent last year to lead the House Republican Caucus and thus become the speaker – on the record against a big tax cut. Have fun defending that in a Republican primary, seemed to be the message.

There were many points in the past week where Mr. Leonard could have showed more patience and played a longer game. Instead, he decided to go for the quick strike, failed to lay the necessary groundwork and now finds himself with 22 months left in his speakership, a caucus bitterly divided, a governor and Senate majority leader very unhappy with his early moves, his signature issue in flames and the path to fixing those problems unclear.

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