Mackinac Policy Conference Review

Last week, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce held its annual Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Donna Murray-Brown and I were fortunate enough to attend the conference this year on behalf of MNA. One difference in the conference this year, was the lack of lawmakers. Michigan legislators stayed behind in Lansing to put the finishing touches on the FY’12-13 state budget.

This year’s theme was on making Michigan and Detroit a place for global competitiveness. To help attendees think about Michigan in a global setting, the Detroit Chamber had two very high-profile foreign affairs experts, Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman. Both had very similar messages, Michigan and the United States can no longer think of itself as the sole “super power” on the global stage – both in foreign policy and economic progress. Both Zakaria and Friedman came to the same recommendations, improve US infrastructure (including wireless deployment), open up immigration policy, and invest in K-16 education. Detroit Public Television has both sessions on their website, you can view each of them here.

Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman were not the only ones touting the need for Michigan to invest in the future. Numerous keynote speakers and panelists also reiterated the point: if Michigan is going to succeed, it must invest in the future.

One slightly low point of the conference was the “Fab Five” panel, where the leaders of Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties, and Detroit Mayor, David Bing discussed regional collaboration. There was much more of the usual bickering around turf and who should pay for what, instead of broader discussion of a vision of what regionalism looks like for the Detroit area, which would have built upon what the other keynote speakers proposed. There is always next year…

 

Submitted by Christina Kuo, Senior Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Despite differences, education is central to both State and Federal Budgets

These past few weeks have demonstrated the challenges of creating sound, effective budgets at the state and national level. The Michigan and federal budgets, however, paint two very different pictures of the health of their constituents.

The recession over the past four years has not been kind, but there seems to be a glimmer of hope in Michigan. After several consecutive years of painful cuts, it appears the financial outlook is more optimistic with 2012’s budget surplus. Education funding increased by 0.2%, public safety funding is also set to increase, and the “Rainy Day” fund will grow by an additional $130 million, according to the State Budget Office. At the Federal level, by contrast, the deficit still weighs heavily on programs most Americans take for granted, but rely on – the President offered a 52% decrease in Education, a 35% decrease in Labor, and slight increases for Health and Human Services (3.7%) and the Corporation of National and Community Service (1.3%).

Still, there are some common commitments between the two budgets, such as improving performance and affordability of education. President Obama promotes a ‘Race to the Top’ and links financial aid to universities that keep their tuition under control. Governor Rick Snyder also wants to link increased spending in education to improved performance, best practices, and college tuition restraint. And they are politicians from two different parties.

Despite the other differing priorities of the two budgets, it is clear that superior education for future generations must be a priority for education beyond high school. Whether it is community college, traditional four-year, or vocational – higher education has become increasingly important to achieve personal financial security.

Submitted by Michelle Eichhorst, Public Policy Fellow for Michigan Nonprofit Association

New Year, New Language

Going through my Twitter timeline after Christmas and before New Year’s Day, I found every single list imaginable for “year-in-review” or “what-to-expect in the coming year.” One that I actually read was #nonprofitresolutions that the Chronicles of Philanthropy was running, here is the link ow.ly/8e3O4.

Two things struck me about this list: 1) the nonprofit resolution from the executive director of the The Evergreen Group, Howard Kucher. He believes that nonprofits should call themselves “social benefit organizations,” instead of by their tax status. 2) That out of the 20 nonprofit leaders that were quoted, only three called for more advocacy and organizing! I kind of feel like these two things are somehow related.

My professional background (nonprofit lobbying and advocacy, and electoral campaigns) really identified with what Mr. Kucher was getting at! A change of language can change perception, both by those who adopt the label and by those hearing it. Maybe if organizations start calling themselves “social benefit” orgs, then it will force us to think of the things we CAN and SHOULD do, i.e advocacy and lobbying, instead of the things we can’t do based on the regulations we have to follow.

By changing the labels, it also allows organizations to think beyond their charitable missions, to ones that include the economic value and contribution of the organization beyond the direct benefit to their constituents and clients. Nonprofts Social benefit organizations need to show more than how many people go through their programs; they need to also show their greater value to society. Yes, I know you fed 200K families last year, but what does that mean? How does that impact the community that I live in?

Maybe by changing the language we use, the sector will finally start advocating and lobbying. It is a new year, so a girl can dream…

Submitted by Christina Kuo, Senior Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs for Michigan Nonprofit Association

I WILL: Part One

It is hard to believe, but on September 11, 2011, it will have been ten years since the attacks.

I remember the events like it was yesterday… It was my senior year in high school, and I was in Mr. Christner’s Amercia in the World Today class. In the middle of our lesson someone popped their head into the classroom, said what had happened (at that time only one plane that had crashed into one of the towers), and left. Mr. Christner quickly turned the television on and we watched as events unfolded for the rest of class.

Now, I am sure many of you are gawking at the fact my teacher let us watch what was happening, but I was (and still am) thankful he did. I am also thankful that I was taking that exact class, that exact year, at that exact time because the next day Mr. Christner dived into teaching about the different religions, countries, thoughts, perspectives and how they brought us to where America was at that time; it truly was America in the World Today. He provided information that was enlightening and he helped us fully grasp what had happened. His curriculum around September 11 also taught us not to stereotype, judge, or discriminate people who were Muslim or of Middle Eastern decent. The teachings and insight he provided were a steady ship amongst the unknown and panic that was happening around us. He taught us to be informed, knowledgeable citizens.

Now, ten years later September 11 is the National Day of Service and Remembrance. The website, 911day.org, is providing a way for people to pledge what they will do this year on September 11, whether it be a good deed, charitable activity, or other plans, to honor the 9/11 victims, survivors, and those that rose in service.

After thinking of all the different activities I could put into action for my 9/11 pledge, it all came back to Mr. Christner’s class. I will: continue to learn from those around me, seek the truth, and keep myself and others educated to help dispel stereotypes and prejudice.

As you think to the past and the future, what will you do on 9/11 in Tribute? Visit www.911day.org to post your commitment.

For more information: 911day.org, michigan.gov/volunteer

Submitted by Ashley Branoff, Communications Coordinator for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Small Steps

Many advocates wonder if their efforts are making a difference. Those of us in the engagement business often measure success by the number of individuals who take action or by the various laws or policies that are changed as a result of our mobilization efforts. Then there are times when success is measured by what doesn’t happen or by extremely small, but extremely important, steps.

Making changes to Michigan’s redistricting process is one of those difficult mobilization efforts for which successful actions may be difficult to realize. The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative has been working hard to ensure that lawmakers seek the input of the public as the lines for voting districts are redrawn. A decade ago, lawmakers were working in private conference rooms to cut deals and draw maps to secretly preserve incumbencies among both Republicans and Democrats. Once finished, the maps were hastily passed through both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, quickly signed into law, and even debated in court filings before the entire process and map formulas became public.

Ten years later the overall process remains the same. The Legislature gets to draw its own maps provided it remains within the general rules laid forth by the Michigan Constitution, Michigan Supreme Court cases and those requirements provided for by the Voting Rights Act. Within these boundaries, demographers are helping politicians privately pick their constituents. Members of both parties are working behind the scenes to ensure they are not drawn out of their own district or pitted against a challenger in their own party.

And yet, we know this prior to the final decisions on the district lines, albeit barely before the critical votes. Many of my colleagues involved in the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative are frustrated by the lack of change in the system, the haste with which the Legislature and the Governor are moving to dispense this “insider’s game,” and the general lack of interest by the public in the dysfunctional nature of our Redistricting process in Michigan. So you ask, what did all our work accomplish? We accomplished what we asked our lawmakers to do: we increased the transparency of one of the most covert, public processes in Michigan.

At www.DrawtheLineMichigan.org you can see the media traffic over the past two months as lawmakers were asked how the maps would be drawn, what input the public would have on the process, which lawmakers would be making the decisions, and what the impact would be on vulnerable populations. Read the quotes from the leadership in the House and Senate where Senate Majority Leader Richardville and House Speaker Bolger were asked to explain how public comment would be sought and how this time, the process would be different. Look at the work that individual citizens did to draw their own maps using the common electronic media and public information tools available to anyone.

This week we will see quick passage of the legislation that will define the voting boundaries for Michiganders for the next ten years. While many may not like either the outcome or the process used, we can take solace in knowing that we brought the process into the light and injected the important principles of transparency, citizen engagement, competitive districts, and fairness into the debate over redistricting. These small victories may not be what many had hoped for in helping to form our more perfect union, but it’s an important start.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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End of an Era, or The Start of Something New

It is unbelievable that 4,000 people from around the country descended on New Orleans to either memorialize an era of remarkable achievement for volunteering and national service or to look to the future growth of this movement. I say unbelievable because this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service provided great content, great speakers, and untold opportunities to learn, serve and network with people who know and understand the power of service. This conference has been a bold joint convening hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Points of Light Institute (POLI) – a relationship that has given rise to a number of highly successful mobilizing efforts including this, the largest gathering of leaders and practitioners in our sector.

Yet this relationship also leads to some strange scenarios like the one we witnessed last week in the Big Easy. While we celebrated the great work of thousands of volunteers who responded to the natural and man-made disasters that have plagued the Gulf Coast region, there was an underlying concern that a storm of a different kind waited just around the corner. And like the BP oil spill and levee failures that taxed the resources and spirit of the Gulf residents, the appropriations for the CNCS (or potential lack thereof) could be a tragic failure of our commitment and ingenuity.

Despite the dark cloud on the horizon that CNCS funding cuts represented, the thousands gathered were not, and could not, be empowered to have a robust dialogue on how to overcome this challenge. Why? Because the CNCS cannot be in a position to lobby its own constituencies in support of their own existence. Strange, yet true. So, while conservative icon and successful Governor Haley Barbour thanks the national service field for coming to the rescue of Mississippi, participants are left to say, you’re welcome and not, you’re welcome and please tell your friends. As a POLI board member, I felt somewhat like the married couple that doesn’t talk about the challenges brought on by the in-laws. On the one hand they can be troubling and meddlesome, and on the other, without them, neither of us would be here.

Next year’s conference will be held in Chicago, and will not be in partnership with the CNCS. Correctly, in my opinion, the CNCS has decided not to renew its contract with the POLI and seek other means to provide professional development opportunities for grantees that may or may not involve the Chicago gathering. I concur with their decision because it will allow them to demonstrate that they are making prudent and careful future decisions on their resources that a national conference with high profile champions could give lawmakers a chance to call into question.

We have to convince our support network to communicate the tremendous value of our mutual work and the need for financial support of our cause. This summer is an excellent time to engage elected officials in their districts and educate and explain the power, impact, and genuine need for national service, especially as we seek to make every public dollar go further. If we don’t, we may well have celebrated the end of an era in the Crescent City rather than realizing the dawn of a new beginning.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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The Path of Least Resistance?

What do voters think about the current budget debates at the state and federal levels? If we go by the major headlines, we want cuts to the public budgets and no new taxes. Or do we?

Now that the realities of the proposed cuts are coming into focus, it is unclear if the budgets proposed so far actually meet the expectations of the public that will be impacted by the changes. Such is the nature of major change—it all looks good from afar, but when it comes to our own sacrifices, we see ours as too large and others as too small.

The gridlock at the federal level with the near-federal government shutdown will be amplified as Congress and the White House debate the 2012 budget. But we are now realizing the cuts of the current budget compromises. Included in those, hidden away in the obscure portion of the Labor Health and Human Services budget, is a small dollar amount cut with large implications—the elimination of funding for Learn and Serve America funds. These are important dollars that help young people not only learn experientially (especially important for those “hard to reach” students), but also promote the school climates we all agree are important to quality learning.

At the state level, a small cut of $675,000 in the massive Department of Human Services budget will not only eliminate all support for the Michigan Community Service Commission, but also turn away more than $13 million in federal funding for national service programs all across Michigan.

To balance our state budget, lawmakers are proposing the elimination of tax credits that have leveraged millions to help local communities through community foundations, food pantries, homeless shelters, arts organizations, and colleges and universities.

Do voters really believe that eliminating support for sound, proven, affordable (bordering on cheap) programs that solve problems that government cannot afford to address directly makes any sense? We may never know, because there is little talk about what the voters actually want.

The Center for Michigan has been working hard to identify what Michiganders want to see in a Michigan budget, but few if any of their suggested reforms have received enough support. They have even developed a tool for citizens to identify how they would balance the budget.

A flood of recent polling indicates that voters are not supporting many of the proposed cuts to programs. Slate Magazine reports all political ideologies oppose the cutting of Medicare – 92% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, and 70% of Tea Party Members. Regarding revenues, the recent Gallop poll shows that Americans do not want lawmakers to remove charitable incentives.

Clearly there is a strong sense that people know that changes are necessary, but the proposals on the table are largely looking to impose change on those least likely to present strong opposition as opposed to changes the voters are telling pollsters they would like to see.

At no other time is the voice of the nonprofit sector more necessary than now.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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