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Author: Elizabeth Hicks

Someone has to pay for student debt forgiveness and it doesn’t solve the problem

Elizabeth Hicks was invited to Steve Gruber Show to talk about student loan forgiveness

Listen to the interview here

Government regulations would threaten this beloved Christmas symbol

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, harsh government regulations are putting you in jeopardy.

With Christmas so close, many of us in Michigan have enjoyed a common holiday tradition this year: finding the perfect fresh Christmas tree to put up in our home. Unfortunately, harsh state regulations could put Michigan’s Christmas tree production in serious jeopardy.

Christmas trees are a big deal in this state, so much so that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently declared December “Michigan Christmas Tree Month.” Ranking third in the nation for the number of Christmas trees harvested, Michigan provides about 2 million trees to the national market every year, generating roughly $40 million in value.

With over 500 Christmas tree farms over 37,000 acres within the state, this industry is massively important and affects many Michigan residents.

However, growing Christmas trees is no easy feat. According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, it takes about seven years to grow a tree to commercial height, although it can take as many as 15 years in some cases.

Additionally, it is common for tree farms to plant around 2,000 trees per acre, although only about 1,250 on average survive as infestations from pests, insects and disease are common. Fortunately, there are many innovative solutions to prevent infestations and ensure that Christmas tree farmers are able to optimize their yields.

One of the innovative solutions listed in Michigan State University’s 2021 Michigan Christmas Tree Pest Management Guide is neonicotinoids or neonics, a type of insecticide with a chemical structure similar to nicotine.

Neonics have been used extensively in agriculture because they effectively target insects and pests while being significantly less harmful to wildlife than most other insecticides.

Unfortunately, there have been calls to restrict neonics in Michigan that would result in severe economic harm to our Christmas tree farms. Just earlier this year, a bill was introduced to the Michigan House that contained language banning the use of neonics, claiming that the insecticide would kill bee populations.

At one time, many believed that a decline in bee populations were a result of widespread use of neonics and substitutes such as sulfoxaflor, although this has since been debunked. In reality, the supposed drop-off in honeybee colonies was a result of how beekeepers tracked the number of bees they managed. According to research from an international group of ecologists, the number of global honey bee colonies has actually increased by 85% since 1961.

If neonics were banned in Michigan, it could economically destroy the state’s Christmas tree farms and industry, leaving many farmers out in the cold after working tirelessly to make our holidays special over the years.

Instead, legislators should “branch” out from bad policy and embrace the innovative scientific solutions that will keep Christmas in Michigan merry and bright.

Originally published here

Electric Vehicles Could Be Iowa’s Next Renewable Frontier, If There’s The Will

In many ways, Iowa is a pioneer in renewables with wind turbines generating 60% of the state’s electricity last year and the state leading the nation in biofuel production.

Electric vehicles could be another step Iowa could take in the renewables sector and leaders at multiple levels have said they want to explore it.

“A project that we’re working on here in Dubuque is to electrify our entire fleet, as much of our vehicles in the city fleet, as we possibly can,” said Dubuque Mayor-elect Brad Cavanagh. “So we’re talking about 10- to 15-year plan of electrifying our bus fleets, all the cars that we have.”

Cavanagh wants to use money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to install more electric vehicle charging stations.

Read the full article here

The Shady Side of Student Loan Forgiveness

As the collective student loan debt in the U.S. surpasses $1.7 trillion, President Joe  Biden’s administration is gearing up to provide over $11.5 billion in student loan relief for nearly 600,000 borrowers. In addition to the fiscal nightmare this will pass onto taxpayers, it has also created a predatory market that thrives on selling student data and information.

Student loan debt has been accumulating at an alarming rate, increasing by more than 100 percent in the last decade alone. Perhaps more alarming is that of the 43.2 million student borrowers in debt within the United States, each owes an average of $39,351. Currently, there are some student loan forgiveness programs through the federal government for specific circumstances, such as for public employees or doctors who work in rural areas. But one loan forgiveness program in particular is becoming increasingly problematic: Borrower to Defense Repayment (BDR).

BDR loan forgiveness operates on the basis that a college defrauded a student by failing them on the educational services provided. While there are surely legitimate claims through BDR, there are also alarming loopholes within the rules that allow for massive amounts of student debt to be unjustifiably forgiven at the taxpayers’ expense. As noted in a study from the University of Chicago, student debt forgiveness favors the top 20 percent of earners, meaning it is more of an expensive bailout for educated and generally well-off individuals at the expense of all taxpayers, many of whom did not even go to college. Interestingly, those who rack up large amounts of student debt typically come from more affluent families and run up their tab by attending out-of-state private schools, while those from lower-income backgrounds are more likely to make cost-saving decisions and reduce the amount of debt they take on. If the loopholes within BDR loan forgiveness persist, then taxpayers could be on the hook to pay for the billions of dollars worth of loans forgiven.

What’s perhaps even more alarming is just how these BDR claims are coming to fruition. Recently, a handful of companies have popped up with information or offers to assist those looking for help with the loan forgiveness process. Although these services seem well-intentioned, their goals are actually quite nefarious. They specificallymarket to students to collect their data to sell to trial attorneys as leads for potential lawsuit claims, all unbeknownst to the student. As one might suspect, this has turned many trial attorneys’ dreams into reality, as more frivolous class action lawsuits are being filed against colleges thanks to these predatory recruiting ads. This is effectively opening up every private educational institution to massive claims or losses.

While calls for student loan forgiveness continue, it is important to look at what is specifically driving this debt to skyrocket. One key factor driving student loan debt is federally-backed student loans. Research shows that for every dollar of federal aid, institutional grant aid is reduced by $0.83, meaning the intended reduction of costs from federal aid is offset significantly by reductions in institutional aid and leads to students increasing their loan amount since they are not actually benefiting from more affordable tuition. In addition to federally-backed student loans, overly bloated administrative costs are also driving up tuition prices. Administrative costs cover non-instructional staff who are not directly contributing to educating students within the classroom. Although administrative staff is shown to have very little impact on graduation rates, administrative costs managed to increase by 61.2 percent from 1993 to 2007. Today, the cost of tuition is up 361 percent since 1963 (inflation-adjusted), and the average student attending a 4 year-public college will need $26,615 for the academic year when factoring in the price of tuition, room and board, books, and other necessities.

With the price of a college education being so expensive, it is understandable how collective student loan debt within the United States got to the amount it is at today. However, there are better solutions to address this debt than pushing the financial burden into taxpayers through loan forgiveness schemes. Instead, policymakers should address the rapidly rising costs of attending college and close the glaring loopholes within Borrower to Defense Repayment. Not only would this save billions of dollars and actually make college more affordable, but it would also minimize the opportunity for predatory companies to take advantage of vulnerable students by invading their privacy and selling their information to tort lawyers.

Originally published here

States: The Next Battleground in the Switch to EVs

There is no doubt that the electric vehicle revolution is here, especially after President Joe Biden’s executive order outlining the target of making half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be EVs. Although this is an exciting step forward in reducing emissions that contribute to the climate crisis, Biden’s bold proposal is destined to fail if outdated state regulations remain on the books. Specifically, dealer franchise laws that ban direct-to-consumer sales for electric vehicles.

Currently, 29 states have regulations that either limit or completely ban consumers from purchasing vehicles directly from a manufacturer. If you live in one of the 17 states that has a complete ban, that means you can only purchase an EV from a licensed dealership. This outdated law, which does nothing but protects the dealer franchise model from innovative competition, all but ensures consumers in those states don’t have access to vehicles manufactured by companies like Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, and Lordstown. For example, in order for a consumer in Alabama to purchase an EV from one of those manufacturers, they would have to buy their car in Florida, load it on a flatbed, and drive the flatbed to an Alabama DMV office to register it. If the bans and onerous hurdles remain in place, it is naive to think Biden’s mandate would be even remotely achievable.

What makes these bans on direct-to-consumer sales even more problematic is that consumers are already purchasing cars online, in the used vehicle market, which is legal nationwide. We have seen an increase of online vehicle purchases as consumers prefer the transparent pricing, quick buying process, and convenience of having their vehicle delivered directly to their home. So the question remains if you can buy a used car online, what justification could exist to ban you from buying a new EV online?

The answer is uncomfortable where state politicians are beholden to the dealer franchise model and the power they flex in lobbying state lawmakers. It is an irritating, yet simple, example of the existing industry lobbying to restrict consumer access to maintain its market share.

Getting rid of outdated laws would drastically expand consumer choice, and help lower prices, but the benefits are not limited to one’s pocketbook. In addition to financial considerations, allowing for direct-to-consumer sales eliminates the possibility of a car salesperson inflicting any personal biases they may have onto the buyer, making the experience more comfortable for consumers as a whole.

Another glaring issue with the direct-to-consumer sales bans is they often limit or ban EV companies from having service centers throughout all 50 states. For example, if you own a Tesla in South Carolina and need it to be serviced, you will have to drive to another state to visit a service center. Depending on what needs to be done to the vehicle, that could pose a significant safety risk for all drivers and passengers on the road. Eliminating the direct-to-consumer sales ban is crucial as it will not only increase EV accessibility for consumers but will also help keep America’s roads safe.

Beyond problematic direct-to-consumer sales bans, consumers are often hit with exorbitant registration fees when they purchase an EV. As it stands, 28 states currently have higher registration fees for EVs than for standard gasoline vehicles. Ohio, for example, charges $31 to register your standard passenger vehicles, $100 for hybrid vehicles, and $200 for fully electric vehicles, which is actively discouraging consumers from owning EVs. Those higher registration fees were created to offset the state’s lost revenue from gas taxes to help pay for infrastructure and administrative costs, but it is unfair that EV consumers who make the greener choice and use less gas are being forced to carry the financial burden. Instead of perpetuating revenue-generating penalties onto EV consumers, a better path forward would be embracing technology neutrality in registration fees by treating standard passenger vehicles and EVs the same, which is the approach Florida has taken.

Although some consumers want access to EVs, Biden’s executive order won’t help them get it if changes aren’t made at the state level. In order to reach the ambitious 2030 goal, Biden should work with states to reduce the harsh regulatory barriers currently preventing consumers from fully accessing and embracing electric vehicles. If these laws aren’t changed, the EV boom may end up fizzling out.

Originally published here

Nebraska should end these in-state obstacles to electric vehicle progress

One of the core components of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is adequately preparing the country for the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. The Biden administration has earmarked $174 billion for transportation electrification, which has sparked a flurry of investment from auto manufacturers.

GM announced they will be opening a $2.3 billion plant in 2023 to manufacture 500,000 EV batteries, Honda has committed to sell only EVs by 2040, Hyundai will invest $7 billion for U.S. EV production, and Ford has announced that half of all Lincolns produced could soon be emissionless. Even here in Nebraska, EV consumers communities like Norfolk and Kearney are building out their charging stations.

But unfortunately for consumers in Nebraska, poor policy at the state level is acting as a major hurdle. Nebraska, who currently ranks tied for last in the U.S. Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index, is actively discouraging the purchase of EVs with their ban on direct-to-consumer sales, and their disproportionate licensing fee for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Under the guise of consumer protection, Nebraska has made it illegal for electric vehicle manufacturers, like Tesla, to sell directly to consumers. Dealer franchise laws, which ban direct sale, are a decades-old policy implemented to protect consumers from vertical integration and monopolization. In today’s age of limitless information at your fingertips, and healthy competition in the auto industry, this restriction is far past its expiration date. It does nothing but impede consumer choice while providing no consumer protection value. That’s why many EV manufacturers have opted out of the dealership model entirely. And, we know from the success of direct-to-consumer platforms in the used car market (where direct sale is legal) that online purchasing is on the rise.

Beyond the ban on direct-sales, Nebraska also punishes EV consumers with higher license and registration fees. The standard registration fee for vehicles in Nebraska is between $15. For consumers making the eco-conscious choice to buy and register an EV, the registration cost is over 500% higher, at $75. This is incredibly discriminatory, and a much better approach would be to simply treat EVs on par with standard passenger vehicles.

Unfortunately, some legislators have justified the additional fee to help recover lost gas tax revenue, but that runs counter to the purpose of gas taxes. The purpose of the gas tax, currently at 28.7 cents per gallon in Nebraska, is to encourage consumers to reduce their emissions, which is exactly what EV consumers are doing when they purchase an EV. It’s strange that the reward EV consumers get for their eco-friendly decision is inflated fees exponentially higher than the alternative. It is unfair that these consumers now shoulder more of the financial burden when they are, in fact, responding to gas taxes as intended by the tax.

On top of being relatively easy to implement, these policy changes have the added benefit of encouraging EV purchases without taxpayer manufacturing subsidies, or complicated tax credits, which have rightfully been criticized for favoring the wealthy.

At the end of the day the EV revolution is well on its way. By simply getting out of the way, legislators in Nebraska could enhance consumer choice, lower costs, protect the environment, and do so without all of the logistical issues that come with corporate welfare and boutique tax credits.

As the famous idiom goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The tide is certainly rising for electric vehicles, but with misguided regulations handcuffing consumers, Nebraskans may end up watching from the shore line.

Originally published here.

Alabamians may not share in the electric vehicle revolution

One of the core components of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is adequately preparing the country for the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. The Biden Administration has earmarked $174 billion for transportation electrification, which has sparked a flurry of investment from auto manufacturers.

GM announced they will open a $2.3 billion plant in 2023 to manufacture 500,000 EV batteries, Honda has committed to only sell EVs by 2040, Hyundai will invest $7 billion for US EV production, and Ford has announced that half of all Lincoln vehicles produced could soon be emissionless. Even here in Alabama, Mercedes has committed to hiring an additional 400 workers at its Tuscaloosa County plant to keep pace with the demand for EVs

But unfortunately for consumers in Alabama, poor policy at the state level is acting as a major hurdle for the EV boom. Alabama, which currently ranks tied for last in the US Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index, is actively discouraging the purchase of EVs with their ban on direct-to-consumer sales, and their disproportionate licensing fee for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Under the guise of consumer protection, Alabama has made it illegal for electric vehicle manufacturers, like Tesla, to sell directly to consumers. Dealer franchise laws, which ban direct sales, are a decades-old policy implemented to protect consumers from vertical integration and monopolization. In today’s age of limitless information at your fingertips, and healthy competition in the auto industry, this restriction is far past its expiration date. It does nothing but impede consumer choice while providing no consumer protection value.

That’s why many EV manufacturers have opted out of the dealership model entirely. Due to the innovative nature of electric vehicles, a traditional franchised dealership model may not be the most effective way to get these eco-friendly vehicles to market. Operating a stand-alone dealership increases costs, and adds a middle-man to the sale process, which can often inflate prices for consumers. And, we know from the success of direct-to-consumer platforms in the used car market (where direct sale is legal), that online purchasing is on the rise.

Beyond the ban on direct-sales, Alabama also punishes EV consumers with higher license and registration fees. The standard registration fee for vehicles in Alabama is $65. For consumers making the eco-conscious choice to buy and register an EV, the registration cost is over 300% higher at $265. This is incredibly discriminatory, and a much better approach would be to simply treat EVs on par with standard gas-powered vehicles.

Unfortunately, some legislators have justified the additional fee to help recover lost gas tax revenue, but that runs counter to the purpose of gas taxes. The purpose of the gas tax, currently at 26 cents per gallon in Alabama, is to encourage consumers to reduce their emissions, which is exactly what EV consumers are doing when they purchase an EV. It’s strange that the reward EV consumers get for their eco-friendly decision is inflated fees exponentially higher than the alternative. It is unfair that these consumers now shoulder more of the financial burden when they are in fact responding to gas taxes as intended.

On top of being relatively easy to implement, these policy changes have the added benefit of encouraging EV purchases without taxpayer manufacturing subsidies, or complicated tax credits, which have rightfully been criticized for favoring the wealthy.

At the end of the day, the EV revolution is well on its way. By simply getting out of the way, legislators in Alabama could enhance consumer choice, lower costs, protect the environment, and do so without all of the logistical and ideological issues that come with corporate welfare and boutique tax credits.

As the famous idiom goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats”. The tide is certainly rising for electric vehicles, but with misguided regulations handcuffing consumers, Alabamians may end up watching from the shores.

Originally published here.

Opinion: Iowa shouldn’t be last in access to electric vehicles

The tide is certainly rising for electric vehicles, but with misguided regulations handcuffing consumers, Iowans may end up watching from the shore line.

A major component of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is adequately preparing the country for the electric vehicle, or EV, revolution. The Biden administration earmarked $174 billion for transportation electrification, sparking a flurry of investment from auto manufacturers.

GM announced it’ll be opening a $2.3 billion plant in 2023 to manufacture 500,000 EV batteries, Honda committed to sell only EVs by 2040, Hyundai will invest $7 billion for US EV production, and Ford announced that half of all Lincolns produced could soon be emissionless. Even here in Iowa, EV consumers can now charge their vehicles for free at the famous World’s Largest Truck Stop on Interstate Highway 80.

Unfortunately for Iowan consumers, poor policy at the state level has created a major hurdle. Iowa, which currently ranks tied for last in the US Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index produced by our organization, the Consumer Choice Center, is actively discouraging the purchase of EVs with a ban on direct-to-consumer sales and disproportionate registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Under the guise of consumer protection, Iowa made it illegal for electric vehicle manufacturers, like Tesla, to sell directly to consumers. Dealer franchise laws, which ban direct sales, are antiquated policies implemented to protect consumers from vertical integration and monopolization. With today’s digital economy and healthy competition within the auto industry, this restriction is far past its expiration date as it limits consumer choice while providing no consumer protection value.

That’s why many EV manufacturers have opted out of the dealership model entirely. Operating stand-alone dealerships increases costs and adds a middle-man into the sale process, often inflating prices for consumers. And, we know from the success of direct-to-consumer platforms in the used car market that online purchasing is on the rise.

Beyond the direct-sales ban, Iowa punishes EV consumers with higher registration fees. Consumers making the eco-conscious choice with EVs must currently pay the standard registration fee as well as an additional fee of $97.50, although that fee will increase to $130 on Jan. 1, 2022. This is incredibly discriminatory; a better approach would be to simply treat EVs on par with standard passenger vehicles.

Unfortunately, some legislators have justified the additional fee to help recover lost gas tax revenue. The purpose of the gas tax, currently at 32 cents per gallon in Iowa, is to encourage consumers to reduce their emissions. It’s unfortunate that the reward EV consumers get for their eco-friendly decision is inflated registration fees that shoulder more of the financial burden when they are in fact responding to the gas tax as intended.

These policy changes are easy to implement and have the benefit of encouraging EV purchases without taxpayer manufacturing subsidies or complicated tax credits, which have rightfully been criticized for favoring the wealthy.

The EV revolution is here, and by simply getting out of the way, legislators in Iowa could enhance consumer choice, lower costs, protect the environment, and do so without all of the logistical issues that come with corporate welfare and boutique tax credits.

As the famous idiom goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The tide is certainly rising for electric vehicles, but with misguided regulations handcuffing consumers, Iowans may end up watching from the shore line.

Originally published here.

Biden’s broadband plan may hurt providers, consumers

It is no secret that access to reliable, high-speed internet is more important now than ever before, especially given how we spent this past year. We now rely heavily on virtual connections for school, work and perhaps a few never-ending Netflix marathons in an attempt to stay sane throughout lockdowns.

With a more online life, it’s not surprising that broadband usage increased 40% over the last year. Many suspect this level of demand for broadband will continue, but there are millions of individuals across the country who do not yet have access, including 368,000 rural Michigan households.

It’s estimated that there is over $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit that is lost among Michigan residents disconnected from the internet, making it clear that we need to find a solution to end this digital divide.

President Joe Biden recently proposed $100 billion to expand broadband through the American Jobs Plan. While this may seem like a worthy infrastructural investment to some, the fine print of the plan proposes lackluster solutions that create a stormy future for Michigan consumers.

A glaring issue is the prioritization of government-run broadband networks with “less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.” It’s well documented that these networks are ineffective 𑁋 a Phoenix Center study found that prices in markets with a municipal provider are higher than those in markets without one.

Michigan allows municipal broadband networks only in unserved or underserved areas and if their benefits outweigh the costs. However, local governments have been giving municipal networks advantages over private providers by providing subsidies and privileged regulatory treatment to showcase the illusion of compliance.

This happened recently in Marshall, and the results were dreadful. According to a report released by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance highlighting failed government-run broadband networks, Marshall’s fiber broadband network, called FiberNet, cost $3.1 million and serves only a fraction of its population. It’s worth noting that private broadband services are also available in Marshall.

Another key issue with Biden’s plan is that it exclusively prioritizes building out fiber broadband. While fiber may be a great option for some, it’s not always practical for rural communities due to the high costs and installation process required. Rural households can be located miles apart, and with fiber installation costing as high as $27,000/per mile, the estimated demand from rural communities often does not offset the costs of building fiber networks in those areas.

Innovative solutions like Elon Musk’s Starlink project, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet access across the globe, should be encouraged. By the end of this year, there will be over 1,000 satellites providing internet to more than 10,000 customers worldwide through Starlink. This is an exciting development because satellite networks are often cheaper, more efficient and can provide faster speeds to rural households than fiber.

The final major issue with Biden’s plan is that it vows to get America to 100% broadband coverage, but this doesn’t take into account all consumer preferences. According to Pew Research, 15% of Americans rely on smartphones and don’t have broadband services. Although it’s not certain as to why, one potential reason is the frequency of free Wi-Fi available in many public spaces which may result in some households opting out of paying for broadband.

To help Michigan live up to its full economic potential, it’s crucial that we get the 368,000 rural households access to high speed internet quickly. The state should embrace private internet service providers, practice technology neutrality by not favoring one broadband type over another and encourage more innovations that benefit consumers.

Originally published here.

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