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.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

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.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

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Economy
4:57 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Gov. Snyder urges Michigan businesspeople to hire veterans

Gov. Rick Snyder tours the Detroit auto show.
Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder today asked  businesspeople to make a special effort to hire veterans returning from overseas duty. It’s the topic of one of the sessions this week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Island conference.  It’s attended by 1,500 of the state’s business and political leaders.

The governor says returning veterans face an unemployment rate of about 30 percent, something he calls “unacceptable.”

“So we need to help these people,” Snyder said. “So I ask you to do everything possible to make the session and to hire ‘em. That would be great. Thank you.”

The governor recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit Michigan National Guard units. He’s made job training and connecting veterans to jobs a part of his workforce development initiative.

It's Just Politics
5:46 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

State Republicans say they want income tax relief... can Democrats afford to vote 'no'?

Republicans in Lansing say they want income-tax relief... can Democrats afford, politically, to say "No?"
Matthileo Flickr

Taxes, as we all know too well, are a powerful political issue. And the issue has come up yet again at the state Capitol. A cut in the state income tax has become part of the negotiations as Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature's top Republican leaders wrap up their budget negotiations. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I sit down to talk politics every Friday and today, in It's Just Politics, it is all the politics of taxes.

Rick Pluta: The governor and the Legislature have set this deadline of June 1 for wrapping up the next state budget.

Zoe Clark: And that's important, because - even though the state's fiscal year begins October 1 - schools, community colleges, cities, townships, and counties all have budget years that begin July 1. They all have budgets that are tied into state spending.

RP: Right. Now, in the final days of discussions, Republicans have put an income tax cut on the table. State House Republicans will roll out the legislation next week.

ZC: So, that begs the question: why are they doing it now?

RP: Well, for a year and a half, Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans because all the tax and budget reforms have focused on reducing costs for businesses: eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on 95,000 businesses and the proposal to eliminate the tax on industrial equipment.

ZC: At the same time, a dozen tax credits and exemptions claimed by homeowners, parents, seniors on pensions, and  poor families earning incomes were ended.

RP: And Democrats have been pounding Republicans with that incessantly and with an eye toward the November elections - when, we should note, all 110 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for election.

ZC: So now, courtesy of Republicans, a proposal for income tax relief.

RP: The main bills in the tax rollback package will be sponsored by state Representatives Holly Hughes and Ed McBroom, Republicans representing districts that are considered marginally - 51, 52 percent - Democratic.

ZC: And Democrats most certainly want those seats back.

RP: Exactly, and this shows Republicans intend to put a fight in these seats by giving their incumbents these bills. One accelerates a reduction in the income tax rate; the other increases the personal exemption. But the bottom line is Republicans want the message to be: Republicans equal tax cuts. Democrats, however, have already revealed their counterattack.

ZC: And the counterattack is really what their message has been all along. Since last year, GOP hegemony in Lansing has meant tax cuts to businesses while seniors, homeowners, and working poor families all lost tax breaks that they've counted on, as well as reductions for schools, universities, and local governments.

RP:  Right, so Democrats say this so-called "tax relief:" 50 cents a week, nine dollars a person per year  is pretty meager compared to the costs that everyone has had to pick up in the name of improving the business climate.

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Politics
6:36 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

State to convert Detroit prison to holding facility for parole violators

The state Department of Corrections plans to close two prisons and convert one of them to a holding facility for alleged parole violators.         

Prison officials say there’s a shortage of housing for felons suspected of violating parole.

“Every day, there are situations with those parolees where we have to put them into custody while we investigate circumstances surrounding alleged parole violations," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. "So, right now, we either put them in a van and drive them back to our reception center, or we let them walk out of the parole office.”

 The Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit and an inmate re-entry facility in Caro will be closed. The department will also re-open a shuttered prison in Muskegon as part of the shakeup.

 The shakeup will close the last remaining prison in Detroit, and it will force inmates in the facility to be moved out of the city. Detroit lawmakers say that's a bad idea.

 “Just because people go to prison doesn’t mean that they should be disconnected from their families and support systems that will help them become rehabilitated and better citizens," said Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Deiroit). "Because that’s what this thing is about – is punish them for the crimes that they’ve done, but not cut them off from family and other relatives.”

Durhal says the two prisons that are closing are two of the state’s newest correctional facilities. Corrections officials say the shakeup will cost another $10 million a year. But they say it’s less expensive than other options for dealing with parole violators.

Politics
6:51 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Governor Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders reach budget deal that could lower income taxes

www.michigan.gov

 It appears a budget deal between Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature’s Republican leaders could include an election year tax cut. An early version of the proposal would accelerate a drop in the state income tax rate and increase the personal exemption.

The governor and G-O-P leaders want to wrap up the budget by the end of next week.

 Governor Snyder says he was skeptical at first, but he says revenue projections look promising enough to at least start talking about a tax cut for individuals and families.

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Politics
4:58 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Legislators move to exempt drink pouches from Michigan's bottle deposit law

A state House committee has voted to exempt drink pouches from the state’s 10-cent bottle deposit law. The pouches are made of plastic, aluminum, and paper. They are not biodegradable or recyclable. Harold McGovern is the president of a beverage wholesale company. He said there are environmental benefits to pouches.

"It's a fraction of the up-front emissions from the standpoint of a carbon footprint. More importantly, the emissions on the transportation cycle - whether it’s delivery to our warehouse, whether it’s delivery to stores - also has dramatic incremental savings because of the weight difference between aluminum, glass, and this pouch technology," said McGovern.

If the House bill becomes law, it would preempt a state Treasury determination that the deposit could apply to alcoholic drink pouches. Environmental groups say the state should not encourage packaging that’s not recyclable.

Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Politics
3:02 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Michigan Catholics sue Obama administration over birth control mandate

St. Mary Cathederal in Lansing
stmarylansing.org

The Michigan Catholic Conference has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block an Obama administration rule that requires employer health plans to offer contraception coverage. The Catholic church opposes birth control.

The Catholic Conference offers health coverage to about 10,000 employees and their dependents at Catholic parishes, schools and charities across the state.

Paul Long is the president of the Michigan Catholic Conference.

“Inasmuch we provide this benefit, this mandate would be very restrictive upon us," Long said. "We felt that we needed to act in a way that was in keeping with who we are and being able to continue to provide the plan that we’ve always provided.”

The lawsuit says the contraception requirement violates the church’s religious freedom. It was filed at a federal court in Ohio. Franciscan University of Steubenville-Ohio is also part of the lawsuit.

Politics
6:13 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Governor Snyder pushes for teacher pension reforms

A state House committee goes to work this morning on a plan that would force teachers and other school employees to pay more for their retirement benefits.

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders say the plan is necessary to ensure the long-term solvency of the retirement system.

There are a lot of details to work out, but the bottom line for public school employees is, one way or the other, they will pay more for retirement benefits and retirement health care. Governor Snyder says, overall, he supports the plan. “Cause it’s striking the right balance about taxpayer long-term liabilities and employees who have benefits," Snyder says.

Retired teacher Thom Housman asks, "What’s going to happen next year? What more can they take from teachers next year?" Housman says Republican leaders at the state Capitol have targeted teachers time and time again to address budget troubles regardless of promises that have been made to school employees.

Politics
5:18 pm
Sat May 19, 2012

Anuzis, Hughes out: Shakeup at GOP state convention

There was a shakeup in the leadership of the state Republican Party at a convention today in Detroit. GOP delegates voted to replace the state’s two representatives on the Republican National Committee. Both new committee members promised to push for a more conservative direction.

“I think the convention wants to move to the right, they want constitutional conservatives, moral conservatives, and fiscal conservatives in office,” said State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville), one of the winners. 

Agema is ranked as the state House’s most-conservative lawmaker. He unseated veteran Republican activist and former state party chairman Saul Anuzis.

Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn beat state Representative Holly Hughes for the other Republican National Committee spot. Land says the convention was looking for new faces.

 “You know, I’m a term limits fan, and eight years is good and that’s what a lot of others have served in the past and I think people just wanted to see a change,” Land said.

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Politics
12:30 pm
Sat May 19, 2012

Ron Paul supporters unhappy with results of Michigan Republican Party Convention

Republican presidential canidate Ron Paul

The Michigan Republican Party holds its convention in Detroit today.

The state GOP is choosing delegates to the party’s national convention in Tampa-Florida this summer.

Supporters of Ron Paul say they were denied delegates they deserved.

Paul failed to win a single committed delegate in Michigan’s February 28th presidential primary. But Paul supporters hoped to lay claim to a large share of the state’s officially uncommitted delegates. They got six out of 30 voting delegates headed to Tampa. But Paul supporter John Ettinger of Linden in Genesee County says they deserved more.

"It was a completely rigged numbers game no matter what," says Ettinger.

Matt Frendeway is the Michigan Republican Party spokesman. He says Paul supporters simply failed to win enough delegates to the state convention to get what they want.

“That’s what campaigns are about," says Frendeway.

Frendeway says the party followed long-established rules for allocating national convention delegates. Most of Michigan’s delegates went to Mitt Romney, who won the state’s GOP primary.

Politics
3:26 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears arguments on EM ballot question

District I offices of the Michigan Court if Appeals in Detroit
Mike Russell wikimedia commons

The question of whether voters should get to weigh in on the state’s emergency manager law now rests with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

A panel of the court heard arguments today both for and against putting the referendum on the November ballot.

A coalition of labor and other activist groups collected more than 220,000 petition signatures to do just that.

But the state Board of Canvassers blocked the question based on a complaint that some of the type on the referendum petitions was in the wrong size.

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Politics
4:07 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

More revenue than expected for Michigan's next fiscal year

Michigan's budget will have about $300 million more this year than state economists predicted in January.

That money is the result of a combination of higher-than-expected tax payments and fewer people receiving Medicaid and other state services.

That came from today's revenue estimating conference in Lansing.

State budget director John Nixon says he thinks much of the extra money may go into the state's rainy day fund. Or it may be set aside in case the state loses legal fights over collecting income taxes on public pensions or having state workers pay more of their pension costs.

“What we’ll do is with the one-time money, we’ll look for one-time expenditures," said Nixon. Budget Stabilization Fund is obviously a piece, a good place to put one-time money, as well some of the other spending pressures we have in the budget.”

Officials also estimate the state will have about $100 million more to spend in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

Nixon says he doesn't think that will mean radical shifts in the budget bills lawmakers hope to finish by month's end.

The budget news accompanies forecasts that Michigan’s economy will continue to grow at a slow pace – with many of the new jobs coming from higher-paying fields. Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped again in April, hitting 8.3 percent.

When people who have quit looking for work are counted, as well as ­part-time workers who’d like to be full-time, Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 17.8  percent.

Election 2012
7:51 am
Wed May 16, 2012

MI GOP Senate primary could be crowded

Former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra is one of five candidates running in the GOP's August 8th Senate primary
Republican Conference Flickr

Five candidates have filed to run in Michigan’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. Yesterday was the deadline for candidates for most state and federal offices to submit their petitions to appear on the August primary ballot.

The campaign is already underway as the five GOP hopefuls appeal to prospective Republican primary voters. They’re arguing over who is the most conservative and who presents the best chance for the GOP to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Retired judge Randy Hekman says he’ll put his conservative credentials up against anyone else in the field.

“We’ve got 90 days to show who we are, how we differ from others, how we’re going to fix our country, move ahead and win this thing," Hekman says.

Former congressman Pete Hoekstra, charter school CEO Clark Durant, businessman Pete Kontechy, and Gary Glenn – co-author of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions — have also filed.

“Jobs is going to be the Number One issue that I’m going to be talking about, but then you’ve also got some cultural issues. President Obama did me a favor last week when he came out and endorsed so-called homosexual marriage," Glenn says.

Their petition signatures still need to be officially counted and certified. Candidates also have until Friday to change their minds about putting their names on the ballot.

State Legislature
6:39 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Lt. Gov Calley: Individual tax cut could be part of business tax rollback

Matthileo Flickr

An election year tax cut could be in the offing for individual filers in Michigan.

State House Republican leaders want to bring that into the discussions on phasing out a tax on industrial equipment.

Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans with the complaint that tax reforms enacted over the past year and a half have all been directed at helping businesses, while many of the exemptions and deductions enjoyed by individual filers have been scrapped.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says a tax rollback for individuals and families has not yet been put on the table, but he and Governor Rick Snyder are open to the idea if that’s what the Legislature’s GOP leadership wants.

Calley says he hopes a debate over reducing the income tax or some other tax cut for individuals does not slow down a tax rollback that would encourage more investment in manufacturing in Michigan.

Politics
8:07 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Ralliers in Lansing call for measure to ban use of "foreign" laws by courts

About 150 people met in Lansing yesterday to support a bill banning foreign or religious laws in Michigan. The measure would forbid courts from using such laws in their deliberations. A lot of the commentary at the meeting was directed against Sharia laws that are used in some Islamic traditions. 

Tom Craig of Spring Lake attended the rally. “The thing I’m concerned about is foreign influences in our court system. I think the United States was founded on its constitution, not the constitution or the will of some foreign country,” Craig says.

Republican state Representative David Agema sponsored the measure. “It’s just simply protecting your constitutional rights, whether state or federal, from any foreign law that allows you to lose it in a court of law and progressive judges are allowing this to occur, so the purpose is to clarify public policy. That’s what this bill does,” Rep. Agema says.

The rally and the legislation was condemned by the Michigan Catholic Conference. The conference says the law could lead to courts meddling in religious affairs.

State Legislature
8:02 am
Fri May 11, 2012

Michigan Senate votes to phase out industrial tax

Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted to phase out an industrial tax that’s a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Republicans amended their original plan to make sure much

of that money for local services and education would be replaced.

State Senate Majority Richardville says if money from the state falls below a certain level, communities could return to taxing industrial property.   

“It’s kind of a poison pill, as we call it in legislative jargon, where, if we don’t keep our promises than the whole program disappears, so it forces the state government to say we will keep you at the level we say it will,” Richardville says.

Richardville acknowledges there’s no way to guarantee schools and local governments won’t see some reductions. The money for the replacement would come from the sunset of other tax breaks.

Republicans say Michigan’s tax on business and industrial property is unique in the Midwest and drives investment elsewhere.

The Senate rejected efforts by Democrats to link the tax phase-out to job creation targets.

Election 2012
9:01 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Road To The White House Goes Through Michigan

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 6:21 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

George Orwell once said that those who control the past, control the future. If you can revise history to fit your point of view, it gives you power. So, it should be no surprise that presidential candidates are struggling over some recent history - the auto bailout.

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Politics
7:01 am
Mon May 7, 2012

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney coming to Lansing this week

MItt Romney
(courtesy of MittRomneyCentral.com)

Mitt Romney will make his first visit to Michigan this week since the state’s February presidential primary. The apparent Republican presidential nominee will deliver a speech in Lansing.

Mitt Romney won a narrow victory over Rick Santorum in the Michigan Republican primary.

Romney will speak at Lansing Community College tomorrow afternoon. His speech is expected to focus on the economy, and he will say President Obama’s policies have failed to sufficiently lift middle class families.

The visit is a hint that Republicans may consider Michigan a battleground state.

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Politics
4:26 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears cases on emergency manager law

The state Court of Appeals heard challenges today to the determinations that Flint and Detroit face financial emergencies.

The challenges say state review teams violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not deliberating in public.
    
Attorney Andrew Paterson says the public has a right to know how a review team goes about its job.

"It is determining the financial condition of a local unit of government and it is reporting on that financial condition,” said Paterson.

Attorneys for the state say the review teams are not public bodies under the open meetings law.

The state says the teams only offer advice, and it’s ultimately up to the governor to decide whether cities and school districts are in financial emergencies.
    
Flint is currently being run by an emergency manager and Detroit is operating under the terms of a consent agreement with the state.

Politics
6:39 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Michigan lawmaker wants to allow marijuana dispensaries

Eggrole Flickr

A Republican state lawmaker has proposed a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. Right now, the future of dispensaries is waiting on a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

State Representative Mike Callton says he did not support the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2008.

“I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane," Callton says. He says the voter-approved law has too many loopholes that create questions and problems. “Obviously, 62 percent of voters, whatever, wanted some form of compassionate care for people, but I think the people who put that referendum together really did a disservice to the people of this state.

Callton wants to legalize dispensaries – and he wants to allow them to buy growers’ surplus marijuana and keep it off the black market.  The bill would ban felons from running dispensaries; and would allow communities to license the facilities and decide where they could be located.

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