Musings on the Ann Arbor Skatepark, the Driver Responsibility Act and unemployment stats
Musings on the news of the past week:
The Ann Arbor Skatepark project is on a roll. Supporters of the effort say it now looks like they can proceed, after securing a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. That is a pivotal piece of funding for the group, which has been seeking to raise $1.1 million to build and maintain a skate park at Veterans Memorial Park. The timing of the state grant could not have been more fortuitous. Supporters of the skate park project faced a Jan. 1 deadline to raise enough money to quality for a $400,000 matching grant from Washtenaw County, and for the donation of land for the project from the city of Ann Arbor. That deadline having been met, it now looks like the project is a go. Skate park supporters estimate there are 5,000 skateboarders in the city who could use the park, and thousands of others across Washtenaw County. But in this tough economy, raising money has been a challenge. We commend them on their perseverance and the long hours they’ve put into this cause. It’s paid off for them -- and more importantly, for the young people in our community who will gain a new recreational asset.
One of the more ill-conceived and punitive laws passed by the Legislature in recent years has been overhauled, and it’s about time. Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that eliminates some of the double fees imposed by the Driver Responsibility Act of 2003. The reforms were passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate. We agree with state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, who called the reform measure a “long overdue fix.’’ In an editorial published in October, we argued that the Driver Responsibility Act has resulted in no reduction in bad driving or traffic accidents, while heaping millions of dollars in unreasonable fines on drivers. We would have supported outright repeal of the law, but we’re satisfied with the Legislature’s recent action to eliminate the recurring fees that have been imposed for minor infractions like driving with an expired license or failure to show proof of insurance. That was the most unjust element of the law, and we’re glad to see it go, particularly because it had such a disproportionately harsh impact on people of low income. The changes don’t go into effect until October 2012, but at least motorists in Michigan who commit minor infractions in the future will get a fairer shake than they do now.
It’s been three years since the state’s unemployment rate has been in the single digits, so it looks like that number is headed in the right direction, if not necessarily for all of the right reasons. Unemployment in Michigan fell to 9.8 percent in November, compared to 11.4 percent the same month a year ago. That’s good news in that the state added 1,000 net jobs between October and November, and 59,000 over the past year. But that only accounts for part of the reason that the unemployment rate fell. The bad news is more unemployed people have either left the state or stopped actively looking for a job, and that’s helped drive down the unemployment rate as well. Whether you prefer to view the glass as half empty or half full, you have to at least appreciate that the economic indicators point to a slow, steady economic recovering in the coming months. University of Michigan economists recently projected that the state will grow nearly 70,000 jobs by the end of 2013. For the recession-wracked state of Michigan, recovery can’t come soon enough, but at least the recent indicators suggest that it’s on the way.