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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Politics
10:21 am
Tue June 12, 2012

Romney to conclude battleground bus tour in Michigan

publiceye.org wikimedia commons

A five-day, six-state bus tour by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will wind up next week in his home state of Michigan.

Romney last visited Michigan in May.

The Michigan swing with three stops will cap off a tour of half a dozen states deemed potential battlegrounds by the Romney campaign.

A survey of voters released last week suggests Michigan could be a toss-up between Romney and President Obama.

The president has made almost a dozen trips to Michigan to talk about green energy jobs, or to proclaim the success of the automotive rescue package. His campaign will spend this week calling attention to businesses that benefited from the auto recovery. Romney – who was born in Detroit -- opposed government loans to keep Chrysler and GM solvent through bankruptcy.

State Legislature
6:34 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Lawmaker hopes Michigan will follow California’s example on term limits

Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Barely a week ago, California voters approved changes to the state’s term limits law. California will now allow state lawmakers to serve up to a dozen years in one chamber before they are forced out of office and, a Republican legislator in Michigan hopes this state will follow California’s example.

California’s old term limits law was similar to the one in Michigan that allows lawmakers no more than six years in the House and eight years in the Senate. 

Republican state Senator John Pappageorge says Michigan has suffered because state lawmakers are inexperienced and never learn to work together.

Pappageorge says the idea of tweaking term limits is popular with Michigan voters. But he says politicians are reluctant to change them.

“The bean counters on the Democrat side say, ‘This will help the Republicans.’ The bean counters on the Republican side say, ‘This will help the Democrats.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to overcome.”

Pappageorge says he still hopes to amend term limits in Michigan before he is termed out of office in 2014.

It's Just Politics
6:59 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Just how does a politican decide whether or not to back an income tax rollback

Zoe Clark: It's Just Politics, I'm Zoe Clark.

Rick Pluta: And, I'm Rick Pluta.

ZC: And, Rick, I think it’s only fair to say that Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol are not happy.

RP: Indeed, they’re mad.

ZC: Mad about the passage of an income-tax reduction.

RP: And they made their point known on the House floor.

ZC: So, of course, when it came time to actually vote, Democrats rallied together and voted a resounding, “No.”

RP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Zoe, don’t go that far. Yes, they railed against it. Said it’s too little by way of “tax relief” – that phrase that gets tossed about when we’re discussing tax cuts -- for middle class families compared to all the tax exemptions and credits that were scrapped last year by Republicans in the name of tax fairness.

ZC: Democrats say this is the wrong use of $90 million earmarked for so-called “tax relief.” They say it’s also pretty paltry and that Republicans are just playing election year politics. But they still voted for it. So, what gives?

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Politics & Government
5:46 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Voters still in limbo: Court rules on ballot measure challenging emergency manager law

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals says the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law should go on the November ballot. But the judges say they don’t agree with the precedent governing their decision.

The court found the referendum campaign was in substantial compliance with state election law. That’s despite a question over whether a portion of its petition was printed in the wrong font size. But the court said it does not agree with the earlier decision that governs the case. So the court delayed enforcement of its decision, and called for a rarely used procedure that’s usually used to reconcile conflicting case law.

A majority of the 28 judges on the state Court of Appeals would have to vote to convene a “super-panel” of seven judges to decide whether the precedent was wrongly decided. That could clear the way for the Court of Appeals to keep the referendum off the ballot.

Transportation
7:37 am
Mon June 4, 2012

Federal, state and local leaders meet today to discuss light rail in Detroit

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will visit Detroit today. He’ll meet with a wide-ranging group of government officials and business leaders on the future of light rail transit in the city. The M-1 project on the main thoroughfare of Woodward Avenue could eventually connect with a regional system.

Governor Rick Snyder plans to attend. He says light rail is part of a strategy to make Michigan’s largest city as attractive to entrepreneurs and young people as Chicago or Boston.

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Crime
6:29 pm
Sat June 2, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court clears way for Detroit vote on marijuana

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court has cleared the way for Detroiters to vote on whether their city will be the first in the state to legalize marijuana.

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It's Just Politics
5:30 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

Dirty politics: The new normal in Michigan?

Intrigue. Deception. Conspiracy... Yes, it certainly feels like politics in Michigan is becoming a little more wrought with fraud-filled stories. In this week's It's Just Politics, we ask: are dirty politics the new normal in Michigan?

Zoe Clark: Allegations of fraud. That’s the big political story this week.

Rick Pluta: Petition fraud – it’s the new hanging chad.

ZC: Can we call this the “Hanging Thad” scandal?

RP: You are referring, of course, to Thad McCotter.

ZC: The Republican congressman from Livonia, failed presidential candidate and guitar hero is not disputing that he does not have enough petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

RP: He did own up. He released a statement, accepting “full responsibility” – his words -- for the screw-up...  And then he blamed someone else, that he had trusted the wrong people. 

ZC: That’s the way the pros do it! But it’s why he doesn’t have the signatures that’s so….. weird.

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COURTS
5:35 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Court ruling clarifies how criminal defendants treated in medical marijuana cases

eggrole flickr

An opinion today by the state Supreme Court adds some definition to Michigan’s 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The court made a series of rulings on what’s allowed for defendants who’ve been  charged with drug crimes and don’t have a state- issued medical marijuana card. The court says a doctor’s diagnosis is a defense for someone charged with possessing marijuana without a medical marijuana card.

But the Supreme Court says there are limits. The court says there’s no going to a doctor after being busted for a diagnosis that a patient would benefit from medical marijuana. And a diagnosis has to have been made after voters approved the law.

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Politics
5:26 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Gov. Snyder: Michigan should be center of N. American manufacturing

Gov. Rick Snyder
michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder says Michigan can be the leading center of manufacturing in North America – if the state makes the right moves.

The governor says his plan is based on the direction he sees the global economy taking.

“There’s going to be one spot that’s going to be the standout place on each continent that’s going to be the place that makes stuff and you’re going to have global organizations that are saying, when I go to a different continent, I’m going to go to the place that’s  the best at making something,” Snyder told attendees of a business conference on Mackinac Island.   

The governor says Michigan’s history, engineering expertise, and related activities such as agriculture can all combine to make the state attractive to global manufacturers. He says a new international bridge in Detroit is also part of the plan. He accuses the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who would compete with another border crossing, of spreading lies about the cost of the project to taxpayers.  

It's Just Politics
8:56 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

Mackinac Policy Conference: A political free-for-all

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The Grand hosts the annual Mackinac Policy Conference put on by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
jpwbee Flickr

Day two of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual Mackinac Policy Conference is winding down but that certainly doesn't mean the politics at the event is slowing. In a special Wednesday edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I take a look at the political gossip floating across the Island.

Politics
5:55 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

Michigan AG says investigation into McCotter petitions coming

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (far right) of Michigan.
Republican Conference Flickr

A formal investigation into possible election fraud by a congressional campaign will wait until after a state board meets next week.

The Board of State Canvassers is expected to formally reject petitions filed by Congressman Thaddeus McCotter’s re-election campaign. The petitions can then be turned over to the state Attorney General's office.

Attorney General Bill Schuette says the delay has not stopped his office from communicating with elections officials on the case.

"So it appears there is a problem, but we’ve not received anything officially yet from the Secretary of State’s office, and when we do, we’ll review it in a thorough fashion," said Schuette.

The Secretary of State’s office says it appears hundreds of signatures on McCotter’s nominating petitions were faked.

Schuette said it's a textbook example of how not to collect signatures.

"It's kind of elementary. When you run for class president, you gotta get the signatures to have the election, and it appears there’s a huge problem here," said Schuette.

McCotter has acknowledged problems with his petitions and says he plans to run as a write-in candidate on the Republican primary ballot in August.

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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