Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener. He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.


It's Just Politics
5:43 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Michigan's same-sex marriage trial has political implications for state's GOP

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

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5:38 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

School districts' budget picture appears to be brightening

State schools chief Mike Flanagan says schools need to be more proactive about looming financial problems.
MichigansChildren YouTube

The list of Michigan school districts that have budget deficits is shrinking, and more districts are digging out of debt. That was the report today from the state Department of Education to lawmakers.

There are 46 districts on the deficit list today, compared to 50 at the end of last year.

“I’m encouraged that we’re trending in the right direction as far as the number of schools heading into deficit and the number of schools heading out of deficit,” said State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate K-12 budget subcommittee.      

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Politics & Government
5:40 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Potholes spur debate over road funding

Terrible roads have lawmakers asking for emergency money, and the governor renewing his call for long-term funding.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in the state House want to more than double the amount of emergency money for Michigan roads being ripped apart by nasty winter weather.

Last week, the state Senate approved $100 million to help fix potholes and plow roads. On Wednesday, a state House panel added another $115 million dollars for roads to the bill.  

“I think people are going to look at that and say that’s the way we’re giving back to the public – better roads as quickly as possible, a lot of it going to locals,” said Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

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4:58 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Michigan gay marriage goes on trial

Jayne Rowse (left) and April DeBoer hope to overturn Michigan's gay marriage ban.
DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

Michigan’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is now on trial before a federal judge.

Ahead of opening arguments today, demonstrators supporting and opposed to the gay marriage ban in front of the courthouse as April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse showed up with their attorneys. DeBoer says they initiated the lawsuit so she and her partner could adopt the children they’re already raising together.

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It's Just Politics
3:44 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Auto no-fault overhaul is GOP’s ‘Holy Grail’

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

A political controversy in Lansing that just won’t die is back: auto no-fault insurance. There is yet another Republican effort to muscle through an auto no-fault overhaul, this time being led by state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

There’s a lot in this proposal, released just yesterday, but one of the main things is a cap on the state’s currently unlimited medical benefits if you are injured in a crash. Under the Bolger plan, these benefits would top out at $10 million. Other parts of the proposal include limits on hospital fees and payments for in-home care, incentives to avoid litigation, and a guaranteed rate rollback in the first two years of coverage.

Essentially, there is something in this plan for all of the special interests that have a stake in the auto no-fault system – hospitals, insurance companies, trial lawyers – to dislike. But, Bolger says, bring it on.

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10:43 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

GOP lawmakers try to revive no-fault overhaul

Lawmakers consider a $10 million cap on no-fault medical benefits.

At the state Capitol, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, says he still hopes to get an overhaul of Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law through the Legislature this year.  He rolled out a new plan to end Michigan’s unlimited lifetime medical benefits coupled with the promise of a rate reduction.

“We do seek to ensure more drivers, make our auto insurance more affordable,” said Bolger at a news conference to announce the proposal.

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10:32 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Milliken joins effort to win parole hearings for juvenile lifers

Former Michigan Gov. Bill Milliken is joining the call for parole hearing for juvenile lifers
Flickr user Still Burning Creative Commons

Former Michigan Gov. William Milliken says more than 350 prison inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles deserve a chance at freedom. Milliken – along with more than 100 law school deans and retired judges and prosecutors – filed a brief today with the state Supreme Court.

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Politics & Government
11:22 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Minimum wage campaign begins collecting names

The group wants to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017. It would also end the exemption that allows employers to pay less to workers who earn tips.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The campaign to raise Michigan’s minimum wage will now begin collecting signatures.

A state panel gave the petition campaign the OK to go ahead. The Board of State Canvassers said the petition complies with the law, and now the campaign has until mid-May to collect 258,000 valid signatures. That would put the question to the Legislature. If lawmakers don’t adopt it, then it would go on the November ballot.

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11:08 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Gov. Snyder warns Michigan to get ready for new round of weather troubles

Snow, rain, and freezing rain are all part of the forecast for the Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula could be in for a blizzard.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

A new round of harsh winter weather is on the way. Snow, rain, and freezing rain are all part of the forecast for the Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula could be in for a blizzard.

Dealing with this year’s record and near-record cold and snow is already busting budgets as overtime, equipment, and supply costs are going higher than planned.

“This is a record winter in terms of cold, snow and we still have more to come,” said Gov. Rick Snyder.  

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Environment & Science
8:42 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

Experts say it's time to plan for the worst when it comes to Asian carp

The USGS says it could take decades to deal with Asian carp threat. State officials say that's too long to wait.
flickr Kate Gardiner

State lawmakers say they’re concerned about the time and expense of plans to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. And some experts say it’s time to plan for the worst.

State invasive species experts say Michigan does not have the luxury of waiting for a final plan to ensure Asian carp don’t infest the Great Lakes and upset the food chain. 

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It's Just Politics
4:12 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

GOP focusing on “brand management”

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week on It’s Just Politics: a couple of interesting events of which we’re taking note. The first item out of D.C., where the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week quickly and quietly approved an increase to the nation’s debt ceiling. No big arguments. No conditions. Which is an anomaly. Raising the debt ceiling has become a battle over the nation’s fiscal soul.

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Politics & Government
8:09 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Snyder budget chief leaves for academia

Snyder's budget chief, John Nixon, is leaving to return to his home state of Utah.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s influential budget chief is leaving the administration to take a job in his native state. John Nixon will depart March 1 for the University of Utah.

Nixon pushed very hard to pay down long-term debt, put more money into the state’s savings account, and get public employees to pay a bigger share of their benefits.

“We’ve been able to do some pretty impressive stuff,” said Nixon. “I know the budget’s in structural balance. I think we’ve laid a strong fiscal foundation for the state that’s going to help move it into the future.”

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Politics & Government
6:25 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Decision on backyard livestock coming soon

A final decision on backyard farms is expected next month.
sierravalleygirl Flickr

The Michigan Commission on Agriculture and Rural Development is about to hold its final hearing on a controversial new rule. It would end Right to Farm protections for people who raise chickens and other livestock in residential areas.

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Politics & Government
6:09 am
Sat February 8, 2014

President Obama signs farm bill at Michigan State University

“A jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a conservation bill, a research bill. It’s like a Swiss Army knife,” said Obama, highlighting that the legislation is about more than just farming."
Rick Pluta MPRN

About 500 people packed a Michigan State University campus hall Friday to witness President Barack Obama sign the new federal farm bill.

The event capped years of negotiations and some tough compromises with Congress on the complex legislation. President Obama said he’s always glad to return to Michigan to cheer the auto industry recovery. Now, he says, it’s time to do the same for agriculture and rural America.

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It's Just Politics
3:47 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Just how many ballot questions will you be voting on in November? Good question...

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

In 270 days – come Election Day 2014 – it’s not just candidates you’ll be voting for, there are likely to be plenty of ballot questions, too. And, much like 2012, when there were half a dozen ballot questions, we might just see a repeat of Ballot-o-palooza.

Ballot questions can sometimes get people who might not be super-invested in voting for a candidate to actually get out and vote for a particular issue. For example, 2004, when a slew of anti-gay marriage ballot proposals may very well have helped George W. Bush win reelection.

But it’s not easy to get ballot questions passed. Voters tend to shy away from passing new laws via ballot. In fact, if you don’t start out with more than a 60% approval of your question, the chances are you won’t win come Election Day.

In 2012, $154 million dollars were spent on ballot questions and yet all six were defeated.

Which raises the issue: Money spent on ballot questions is often money that would otherwise be spent on other campaigns. Thus, the decision to go to the ballot with a certain issue raises lots of questions: Is it the best use of money, personnel, volunteers? How will it affect turnout – that’s if it affects turnout at all.

What will this year’s dynamic be?

Well, look for news early next week on the minimum wage ballot drive that would initiate a law raising Michigan’s minimum wage to somewhere between $9 and $10 an hour.

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Politics & Government
10:59 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Part-time Legislature, petition reform ballot campaigns OK’d

LucasTheExperience Flickr

A state elections board says it’s OK for two more petition drives to start collecting signatures to get on the November ballot.

The Board of State Canvassers gave the go-ahead to a petition drive to make being the Michigan Legislature part-time. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would limit regular sessions of the Legislature to no more than 60 days.

“It requires the Legislature, Michigan’s legislature, just like is done in a vast number of other states, to get their work done in a specific period of time and to spend more time with their constituents,” said Matt Davis, an attorney for the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-time Legislature.

Another petition was approved to make it easier to run petition drives to put questions on the ballot. Put Citizens in Charge wants to make it easier to collect petition signatures and tougher to knock a question off the ballot for technical violations. Among other things, it wants to preempt efforts to outlaw paying circulators by the signature, and allow out-of-state petition circulators.

Both ballot campaigns have until July 7 to collect almost 323,000 signatures.

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4:35 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Court: Local laws can't pre-empt medical marijuana law

Voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 2008.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled against a city that tried to ban medical marijuana within its city limits.

The sale and possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law. So the city of Wyoming, outside Grand Rapids, tried to outlaw medical marijuana by banning any substance outlawed by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

A medical marijuana user with a state-issued card sued the city, and won.

Politics & Government
5:01 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Snyder spending plan proposes more money for schools, universities, local governments

Budget Director John Nixon, Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley deliver the administration’s 2014-15 spending proposal to state lawmakers.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal calls for more money for schools, universities, and local governments. The governor presented his budget proposal Wednesday before a joint hearing of the state House and Senate appropriations committees. He says the plan is a frugal budget, but it makes badly needed investments.

“The investments are working that we’ve made over the past few years,” said Snyder. “They’ve been strong investments, good investments, but let’s finish the job we’ve started.” 

The governor also called for an election year tax break.

A homestead property tax credit – that could be claimed against last year’s taxes – would target more than a million low- and middle-income families. The governor says it would send help to taxpayers that need it the most. 

He also asked for more money for roads, healthcare, early childhood education, and law enforcement – as well as a large deposit in the state’s “rainy day” savings.

The budget proposal was met with mixed reactions from school groups, local governments, and Democrats.

Many public school officials in Michigan say the 3% funding boost is helpful. But they say it’s not nearly enough to offset years of inadequate funding from the state. And they it’s not clear how much of that money will have to go to things like teacher retirement costs.

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Politics & Government
6:28 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Snyder extends heating fuel emergency, asks for federal help

Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder and other Midwestern governors have asked for federal assistance to help ease a shortage of propane gas throughout the region.

“We hope, with this request, that the federal government will join us in taking every possible action it can to help increase propane supplies and resolve this problem as soon as possible,” Snyder said in a written statement.

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Politics & Government
10:47 am
Sat February 1, 2014

President Obama will visit East Lansing next week

President Barack Obama
White House portrait

President Obama will pay his first visit to Michigan in 14 months.

The White House will release details next week on the president's scheduled Friday visit to East Lansing.

He is expected to promote elements of the economic program he rolled out in his State of the Union address. Among other things, the president called for an increase in the federal minimum wage.