Automaker’s profit a gain for Michigan

What a week for Ford Motor Co.! The strongest of the Detroit Three automakers — at least the one to survive without government money — announced a surprising third-quarter profit of almost $1 billion. It also refinanced a big chunk of its long-term debt, and two credit-rating agencies boosted Ford’s outlook.

After a wretched couple of years for the auto industry, Michigan should be applauding. Maybe this homegrown company is back from the brink. If that is the case, that should be welcome news for local suppliers and the economy.

Ford turned a three-month profit for a few reasons, some of them distinctly short-term. The government-sponsored Cash for Clunkers gambit drove up sales of new vehicles for the entire industry.

The company, meanwhile, has benefited from its ability to forgo government assistance and avoid bankruptcy. GM and Chrysler this year had the opportunity to reorganize their companies, but many customers view them as tainted goods. Ford can tout that it is here to stay and that it survived without taxpayers footing the bill.

That is a public-relations issue and one that likely will fade along with public bitterness toward government bailouts. What will matter more is Ford’s efforts in designing new cars that the public wants. Encouragingly, the first reviews of the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid have been strong.

Can Ford keep this momentum going? The answer is far from clear. For one, union employees rejected a modified contract last week, in part because of the belief that Ford is improving financially. Labor costs remain a key concern for the company to build affordable vehicles.

Ford’s own predictions highlight their ambivalence. Officials predict the company will return to consistent profitability, but not until 2011, as the effects of the recession wear off. So, for now, Ford is back in the black and has many reasons for confidence. Is this company — and Michigan — bouncing back after hitting bottom?


A chance to rewrite term limits?
Michigan residents still want term limits on state legislators. Yet they might be willing to tweak a restriction that often shoves elected officials out the door too quickly.

A poll released last week from the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Research concludes that 75 percent of those surveyed want term limits.

Today, those limits force people out of the state House after six years and out of the Senate after eight years.

The poll found that a majority would allow lawmakers to return to office after a four-year hiatus, or to spend their entire 14 years in either the House or the Senate.

“There’s a general feeling for some term limits, but people are not wedded to these particularly restrictive term limits,” survey director Charles Ballard told Gongwer News Service.

Polls say only so much. Term limits can change only at the ballot box.

Still, the sentiment could be significant.

No one can be happy with the quality of our state lawmakers these days, and a leading cause is these too-restrictive limits.

Lawmakers ought to have a chance to learn the ropes and invest themselves in improving state government without a ticking clock counting down the minutes until they must leave.

And if they are not doing their job, don’t let term limits do the people’s work: Vote them out.

These results offer an opportunity. Term limits might be here to stay, but maybe they can be rewritten.