Mercenary Research in the Service of Greed
News stories on the Michigan road tax proposal are replete with compelling, eye popping factoids about the costs poor roads impose on Michigan drivers. These factoids are so compelling that our colorless Governor cites them to sway voters in the upcoming sales tax proposal debate. Some examples:
- An inadequate transportation system costs Michigan residents a total of $7.7 billion every year
- Driving on rough roads costs Michigan motorists a total of $2.3 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs
- Driving on rough roads costs the average Detroit urban area motorist $536 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
- Driving on rough roads costs the average Michigan motorist $357 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
You are expected to conclude that a 16.67% sales tax increase is a just trifle to escape these ghastly financial burdens. These factoids are always attributed to “TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research organization”. Sounds like an independent, credible source – right? The adjectives ‘nonprofit’ and ‘research’ give you a high level of confidence in their pronouncements? Perhaps you should dig a little deeper than our conniving politicians and their lazy media scribes. The TRIP report they are mining for these factoids is: MI_Transportation_By_The_Numbers_TRIP_Report_Jan_2014
So who exactly is TRIP [www.tripnet.org]?
It is an empty front for a five person IRS 501(c)(6) category business organization in Washington, DC more properly known as Road Information Program, Incorporated. The IRS category is important in this case because legitimate nonprofit public research organizations register under IRS chapter 501(c)(3). IRS chapter 501(c)(6) is reserved for ‘business leagues’, such as chambers of commerce or realtor associations: “Encouragement of the use of goods and services of an entire industry” in the IRS lingo on page 50 of IRS Publication 557.
All nonprofits are required to file IRS Form 990 annually, describing their finances and major backers. The TRIP IRS Form 990 was actually filed under the Road Information Program, Inc. name and makes for some interesting reading. RIP had a budget of about $ 1 million in 2012, of which they spent just under $ 360,000 on their ‘researchers’ wages. Not much money to accurately assess road conditions across the entire USA. TRIP would set a new standard for efficiency in Washington, DC were it actually researching road conditions everywhere in America. Especially when the officers and a director are carving $ 194,000 out of the pot.
RIP has 112 voting members in its ‘governing body’, about a hundred of whom are listed at the end of their Form 990. A couple of insurers, but the rest are road construction contractors, contractor associations, paving equipment manufacturers & rental firms, and civil engineering firms. You get the picture, we’re not talking public interest here.
About those vehicle operating cost factoids
TRIP has generated cookie cutter reports for each of the 50 States with the very same metrics. They are using a computer program called HDM-4 which is being circulated around the globe by the World Bank. It is a very useful pavement management system program coauthored by Dr. Christopher Bennett in New Zealand [www.lpcb.org – strange mixed business/personal website, but the best collection of HDM-4 information – including an actual download mirror for the HDM-4 software package].
When it comes to the vehicle operating costs section of the HDM-4 program, Dr. Bennett is adamant that the accuracy of its results are entirely dependent upon calibration. Small changes in calibration coefficients can result in four fold errors in the program’s vehicle maintenance calculations. A Bennett HDM-4 Calibration Presentation reviews a Canadian HDM-4 vehicle operating cost example showing just that. Data mean little in a scientific computer algorithm, calibration coefficients dominate the outcome. Much the same type of coefficient gaming is done in the computer models which are used to demonstrate ‘global warming’.
So we have a contractor’s organization masquerading as a scientific research organization, producing eye popping factoids with a twitchy computer program, in support of additional road funding, being quoted verbatim by lazy journalists and our totally sincere Governor. How can democracy fail?
Two quotes I often heard my late father, Dr. Johan G. Westra, use:
"Figures don't lie, but liars figure!"
"People use statistics the way drunks use lamp posts, for support rather than illumination!"
Cost of the Road Tax Package Now $ 2 Billion Even
geniusCPA in Chief neglected to mention that the automobile registration fiddle in the road tax package will eliminate deductibility on Federal income tax returns, costing Michigan taxpayers another $ 100 million:
When Michigan last increased automobile registration fees, taxpayers were told it was not an issue because, as ad valorem taxes, the new rates could be deducted on Federal income taxes. Not any more.
The distribution of road tax package proceeds now stands at:
$ 1.2 billion >> MDoT and their quality contractors
$ 700 million > the Democratic base
$ 100 million > Obama, to reduce the Federal deficit
Even the Michigan Republican party establishment will have difficulty swallowing this. Most of them itemize their taxes.
And, the 30% Registration Fee Hike.
Now, factor in the 16.7% Sales Tax Hike collected every time the vehicles are sold used, and registered to the new owner...
Yeah was looking at the Anderson Economic Group thing.
Jack Spencer of the Mackinac Center smoked out another, less egregious astroturf research effort funded by the Michigan Corn Growers Association:
Ethanol Study Touted as Independent was Paid For by Corn Growers
By Jack Spencer | Jan. 30, 2015
A study paid for by the Michigan Corn Growers Association was recently reported in the news media as though it had been conducted independently. This public relations coup for the ethanol industry was pulled off by touting it as “a Michigan State University study” and omitting the fact that it was done on behalf of the Michigan Corn Growers Association. Reporters then assumed it was an academic study conducted independently of the ethanol industry.
On Dec. 17, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked MSU spokesman Jason Cody if the study “Greenhouse Gas Reduction in Michigan Due to Ethanol Fuel Use,” was an MSU study.
Cody’s response: “Yes, this was an MSU study conducted by researchers here on campus that focused on greenhouse-gas emission reductions due to ethanol fuel use in Michigan. The study found substantial reductions in emissions.”
On Jan. 26, after receiving a tip from a source, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked Cody if the Michigan Corn Growers Association had paid for the study.
More at the hyperlink. Suggests that Michigan journalists are a feeble imitation of the real thing. Doesn't help that an MSU spox would lie by omission, but here we are in the brave new world.