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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Election 2012
7:09 am
Fri February 24, 2012

In Michigan, Obama Team Builds On 2008 Foundation

Originally published on Fri February 24, 2012 4:50 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, when Mitt Romney speaks today at the Detroit Economic Club, he will be met by protesters and a banner that reads: Romney Said Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. That was the headline on a 2008 opinion piece that Romney wrote opposing a taxpayer bailout for two of the Detroit car companies, GM and Chrysler.

And Democrats are missing no opportunity to remind voters of that, as we hear from Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Michigan school system almost out of cash, legislators work to keep kids in classes

Governor Rick Snyder and leaders in the Legislature hope to begin voting tomorrow on a plan to keep Highland Park students in school when the district runs out of money this week.

Control of the district reverted to the school board after Snyder removed the emergency manager to comply with a court ruling.

House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said the district won’t get any more money while the school board is in charge.

He said the district is guilty of mismanaging its funds.

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Politics
3:59 pm
Tue February 21, 2012

Emergency manager "de-activated" at Michigan's Highland Park schools

Update 3:59 p.m.

The governor will ask the Legislature to pass emergency measures by the end of the week to allow Highland Park students and state aid payments to switch to another district or a charter school.

The governor challenged the Highland Park school board to offer its own solution or ask for a hearing this week that could wind up with the governor re-appointing an emergency manager.

3:44 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder says Highland Park schools emergency manager is being "de-activated" to comply with a court ruling.

A judge ruled last week that a state review team that recommended a takeover violated Michigan's open meetings law.

Snyder says the review will start over with an open meeting and a chance for the public to comment. The governor will announce an interim plan for the district this afternoon.

The governor says the Highland Park school board is now back in charge, but out of money. He says schools could close as soon as Monday without an emergency solution.

Politics
5:35 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

Romney shows "love" for Michigan, autos as he stumps for votes

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is campaigning in Michigan ahead of the state's primary.
user gageskidmore Flickr

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney spoke to a business luncheon today not far from where he grew up in Oakland County as he stumped for Republican support in Michigan’s presidential primary.

Protestors outside carried a banner that said “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” -- a reminder of what Romney famously said in 2008 as he opposed the taxpayer-funded auto industry bailout.

Inside, Romney said he loves the auto industry and still drives a Ford Mustang – and defended his history as a venture capitalist to a chamber of commerce lunch largely filled with businesspeople.

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Politics
5:28 pm
Wed February 15, 2012

Oakland County redistricting loses in court

A judge has overturned a state law that scrapped Oakland County’s new commission map and gave Republican elected officials the power to draw a new one.

The challenge was filed by Democrats who say the law was simply a GOP power grab.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a struggle for political power in the former Republican bastion that’s now a battleground county.

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Politics
11:56 am
Wed February 15, 2012

Voters' rights groups oppose Michigan's election law changeup

Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called for some new election rules to discourage vote fraud.
usesr muffet Flickr

The state Senate has approved some prospective changes in Michigan voting laws.

The measures would require training for people who register voters, and make people who pick up absentee ballots show a photo ID or sign an affidavit affirming their identity.

Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called for some new election rules to discourage vote fraud.

“Michigan has a good election system, a very good election system, but we want to improve that even more,” said Ruth Johnson’s spokesman Fred Woodhams.

The measures have raised concerns with voter-rights advocates.

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Politics
5:06 pm
Mon February 13, 2012

Opposition to Lansing casino from Governor Snyder and Attorney General Shuette

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General oppose a plan to build a casino in downtown Lansing.
user images_of_money Flickr

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and state Attorney General Bill Schuette have told a northern Michigan Indian tribe they will do whatever is necessary to stop a casino from being built in downtown Lansing.

The proposed casino would go up just a few blocks from the state Capitol.

The Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewas already operates five casinos in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The tribe has proposed a new casino in downtown Lansing on a parcel that is not currently considered tribal property.

The governor and the attorney general say that means the land cannot be used for a tribal casino.

“This project just cannot fly the way the law is set up currently,” said John Sellek a spokesman for the attorney general.

“The way they are trying to do it just will not work. If they want to try to get the law changed, that’s something they could do, but, otherwise we would be forced to go to court because the way they want to do this is just plain illegal,” said Sellek.

Tribal spokesman Roger Martin says the legal argument is a new one, but he says the project complies with the law.

“It’s pretty clear. We have the right to take this land into trust,” said Martin. “We intend to vigorously pursue what we believe is our right for this project. We’re very confident in the legal theory that we have.”

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero also backs the project.

Bernero says he “respectfully disagrees” with Governor Snyder, his adversary in the 2010 race for governor.

State Budget
7:06 am
Fri February 10, 2012

Snyder budget focuses on student performance

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder calls for a slight boost in spending in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year – with more money for police, schools, and universities. The governor says this year’s spending plan is built on tough decisions made last year.

Snyder was flanked by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and Budget Director John Nixon as he took a seat in front of a packed house. He presented his budget plans to a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees. The governor started out with a short history lesson, reminding lawmakers of how things have changed since his budget presentation from a year ago. “It was a mess,” Calley said.

In 2011, the governor called for taxing pensions; taking $400 million dollars from the School Aid Fund to help pay for universities –  which still saw a cut in funding – and concessions from public employees. “We had to address a billion and a half dollar deficit. We addressed that. We had to ask for shared sacrifice from many people, a lot of difficult decisions and I appreciate a lot of understanding by a lot of people,” Snyder said.

This year, the economy has improved, and so has revenue. The governor called for modest increases to money for schools and universities – much of it linked to improving student performance. Local governments could also see more if they find ways to become more efficient.

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Politics
4:28 pm
Thu February 9, 2012

Hoekstra yanks controversial ad

Republican U.S Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra is changing his campaign ad strategy - after a storm of criticism and mockery over a television ad deemed by many as insulting to Asians.

The ad depicted a young Asian woman riding a bicycle on a dirt road among rice paddies.  Speaking in broken English, the actress refers to Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow as "Debbie Spend it Now."  

A website featuring the ad was also taken down from the internet. A new Hoekstra ad makes no mention of the China ad, but does take on the criticism.

"In  spite of what the media says," says the ad, "this race is really our chance to tell Washington to 'spend it not.' Not on Obamacare. Not on a failed stimulus. Not on a Solyndra." Solyndra is a solar panel manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy after receiving federal loans.

Hoekstra's rival for the Republican nomination, Clark Durant, condemned the original China ad as demeaning and hypocritical.

Politics
4:37 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

Michigan counties could scrap their road commissions under new legislation

Under legislation passed today, County Commissions in Michigan can decided whether or not to keep their Road Commissions.
Ingham County

Legislation that would allow counties to scrap their road commissions is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

Once the governor signs the bills, it would be up to county commissions to decide whether to get rid of their road commissions, and take over their responsibilities.

The bills cleared the state House today along largely party-line votes.

State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) voted against the measures.

She says it would be too easy for county commissions to divert money currently used for plowing and repairs to other purposes.

“I have sincere concerns about what will happen if the county road commissions are absolved into the county board and what will happen to those road funds,” said Byrum. “Currently, they’re designated to be used on roads but, I just - I have some serious concerns.”

But State Representative Dale Zorn (R-Ida) says county commissions won’t abolish their road commissions unless it makes financial sense.

“Because that, I believe it will work in some counties. In some counties, it won’t be as advantageous for them to do,” explained Zorn. “It really depends on how much money is being paid in the cost of administrative services.”

Road commissioners say the legislation puts too much local politics into road management.

Politics
7:24 am
Mon February 6, 2012

GOP lawmakers to question MSU on student health plan

Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

A legislative subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for later this month on Michigan State University’s new policy that this year’s freshmen carry health insurance. Students that don’t have coverage will be enrolled in a university plan.

State Representative Bob Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee. He says the Michigan State rule sounds a little too close for his comfort to the federal health care law, and its mandate that everyone has to have insurance.  

“If MSU is mandating that students buy health insurance, it’s definitely something to look into. It sounds like the early onset of Obamacare and I don’t know that that’s their right to put it in.”

Genetski says the policy should wait until there’s a Supreme Court ruling on the federal health insurance mandate.

In published reports, MSU officials say mandatory coverage makes sense because it encourages students to get health care when they need it. They say a sickness can quickly sweep across campus when students forego a visit to the doctor.

Kids Health
4:33 pm
Thu February 2, 2012

Sex traffickers lured to big events like the Super Bowl

Crowds gather in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
YouTube indianapublicmedia.org

The Super Bowl this weekend in Indianapolis will attract thousands of football fans and people who like a big party.

It will also lure human traffickers who set up in hotels so paying clients can have sex - sometimes with children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 100,000 kids in this country between the ages of 12 and 14 are drawn into a life of prostitution every year.

There is an outreach effort trying to connect with teens trapped in that life.

Project SOAP is in Indianapolis this weekend.

It conducted a similar operation before the North American International Auto Show last month in Detroit.

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Politics
3:05 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

Governor Snyder pays himself back

Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

An end-of-the-year campaign finance statement shows Governor Rick Snyder took more than $800,000 from his campaign account last year. He used the money to partially repay himself for cash he lent the campaign while running for office.

Governor Snyder worked for just one dollar last year. But he did take $825,000 from his campaign account to partially pay himself back for $6 million in loans from his personal fortune to his campaign. Seven payments last year were a start toward reimbursing the retired tech executive and venture capitalist.

The numbers are unusually large, but it is a common practice for politicians to lend their campaigns money and then re-pay themselves after the election.

The Snyder campaign money came primarily from individual contributions of up to $3,400. The governor does not accept PAC donations.

At the December 31st book-closing, the Rick Snyder for Michigan Fund had $534,000.

The governor has indicated he intends to seek reelection in 2014.

Environment
4:37 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Gray wolves in Michigan officially off endangered list

Gray wolves in Michigan are no longer on the federal government’s endangered species list.

The decision shifts the responsibility for managing wolves to Michigan wildlife officials.

It also means that farmers and pet owners can shoot wolves that attack livestock or dogs.

Ed Golder is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The important thing here is that people have greater power to address issues with wolves and we certainly want to help with that,” Golder said. “We encourage people to find non-lethal means to deal with wolves and we are available for consultation on that, but where these particular instances are occurring with livestock and with dogs, people have some power that they didn’t have before.”

Even though wolves in Michigan have been removed from the federal endangered species list, Golder said wolves remain on the state's “protected species” list -- and it is still illegal to hunt or trap wolves that don’t pose an immediate threat to dogs or livestock.

The gray wolf was once nearly extinct in the Upper Midwest. There are now nearly a thousand gray wolves in Michigan, mostly in the Upper Peninsula.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story said "wolves remain on Michigan’s “threatened species” list." The animals remain on the state's protected species list. The copy has been corrected above.

Politics
3:54 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Michigan will get another emergency manager, Snyder names EM for Highland Park schools

Jack Martin when he was the CFO for the U.S. Department of Education. He will officially be the emergency manager of Highland Park public schools on Monday, January 30.
U.S. Dept. of Ed.

Governor Snyder named an emergency manager, Jack Marin, for the Highland Park public schools. today. His appointment will be effective on Monday, January 30.

Update 4:00 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder says it’s "unacceptable" that that Highland Park School District may not have enough money to finish the school year. Snyder made the comments following a tour of a factory in West Michigan Friday afternoon.

Highland Park Schools has already borrowed money from the state to make payroll. The district will need more money in order to pay teachers and other employees next month. But Snyder says it’s unclear where that money will come from.

“I can’t give you the answer other than to say I want to make sure these kids finish the school year and we’re going to work with the legislature or other places to see if we can really make that happen as quickly as possible," Snyder said, following the tour. 

Update 3:54 p.m.

The Highland Park school district is the sixth public entity in Michigan to be placed under the control of a state-appointed Emergency Manager.

That’s after Governor Rick Snyder concurred with the findings of a review team that the school district is deep in debt with no credible plan to fix its finances.

Jack Martin will assume the role of Highland Park public schools emergency manager on Monday. Miller is a certified public accountant and the former chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Education.

Martin said his first task will be to determine how quickly Highland Park is losing students, and how that will affect the district’s finances in the coming school year.

"We want to get an accurate forecast, as best we can, of what the student population’s going to be; try to match the expenditures to what the revenues will be; and we’ll make adjustments to expenditures as we feel are necessary to sustain the district and manage the deficit," said Martin.

Martin will have 45 days to submit a preliminary plan for addressing the deficit to the state treasurer.

3:03 p.m.

Here's more about Jack Martin from a Department of Treasury press release:

Martin is founder and chairman of Martin, Arrington, Desai & Meyers, P.C. and has 40 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. Martin was chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Education after serving as CEO and managing director of Jack Martin & Co. Certified Public Accountants and Consultants and acting CEO of Home Federal Savings Bank of Detroit.

2:03 p.m.

Michigan will have six emergency managers operating in the state.

Governor Snyder has just named an emergency manager for Highland Park public schools.

More from MPRN's Capital Bureau Chief Rick Pluta:

Governor Rick Snyder has affirmed a state of financial emergency exists in the Highland Park public schools and named an emergency manager to run the district.

The governor has named Jackie Martin to be the emergency manager.

The neighboring Detroit public school district is also being run by an emergency manager, as are the cities of Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Flint, and Ecorse.

Politics
4:34 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Decision on emergency manager for Highland Park schools expected soon

Governor Rick Snyder says he will decide no later than tomorrow whether to place an emergency manager in charge of the Highland Park public schools.

Snyder says he understands that parents are concerned about what could happen to the school district if it is taken over. But he says it’s important the school district is able to stay open to students for the rest of the year.

"Well the main answer on all of this is let’s make sure that kids can finish the school year because Highland Park got themselves in a situation where they couldn’t meet their payroll," Snyder said.

 Snyder’s office has received phone calls from about 100 concerned parents in Highland Park since a financial review panel determined there is a financial emergency in the district.

Detroit Public Schools is the only school district in the state currently run by an emergency manager.

The governor says he wants families to be assured that Highland Park students will be able to finish the school year.

Politics
4:58 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

Lawsuit seeks Michigan auto injury claims data

user H.L.I.T/Flickr

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that the MCCA fee is $145 per driver. It is, in fact, $145 per insured vehicle. If you own, and insure, two cars, the fee would be $290.

 

A coalition of trial lawyers, unions and victim advocates is going to court seeking data on accidents and insurance payments.

Lawmakers who want to change Michigan’s no-fault insurance system say the current system is unsustainable. But fans of no-fault say the data will show the system is financially sound.

The problem is the information is held by an industry group that does not want to release the information. The group sets an annual assessment on drivers to pay the health care bills of the most-critically injured people.

“This knowledge is being hidden from us, from the Legislature, from the public," said George Sinas, a personal injury attorney who opposes plans to change no-fault. "We are deeply committed in this lawsuit in seeking an end, in seeking a lifting if you will of this shroud of secrecy.”  

Sinas says the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association should be forced to release the information because it was created by the Legislature, and because every driver has to pay the fee.

But the insurance industry disagrees.

"The MCCA is not a public body," said Pete Kuhnmuench, president if the Insurance Institute of Michigan, an industry association. "It’s not even a policymaking body. It’s a payment mechanism. It collects assessments from insurance companies and then it reimburses insurance companies for expenses they have relative to a private contract.”

Kuhnmuench says state insurance regulators make sure the MCCA assessment is fair and that consumers are protected. The MCCA assessment on every insured vehicle in Michigan is $145 this year.

Politics
6:56 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Snyder to address business leaders on 2012 plans

Photo courtesy of Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder will follow his State of the State address with another speech today to the state’s business leaders and immigration policy is expected to play a prominent role in his talk. 

Governor Snyder announced in his State of the State address that he’s forged an alliance with unions and businesses to lobby Congress to relax some immigration laws. Snyder wants to keep educated immigrants in the country. 

Mike Finney is the CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and one of the governor’s top advisors on business issues. He says right now immigration rules force out many potential entrepreneurs after they earn advanced degrees from Michigan colleges and universities.

“It seems only logical that we would at least create opportunities for them to offer up that intellect to help grow businesses here in this country and, of course, in the state of Michigan.”

Finney says the governor also wants to improve efforts to match workers with the skills they need to land a good job.

State of the State 2012
6:19 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Snyder's State of the State focuses on unfinished tasks

thetoad flickr

Governor Rick Snyder used his 2012 State of the State speech last night to strike an optimistic tone about Michigan’s future, and to refocus attention on what he says is unfinished business from last year.

In his second State of the State address, Governor Snyder got to start off with some good news – Michigan’s unemployment rate fell in the final month of 2011 to the lowest it’s been in over three years.

“Unemployment in the last 12 months has dropped from 11.1 percent to 9.3percent," the Governor said to applause.

And Snyder says that’s evidence his strategy of “relentless positive action” – he used his trademark phrase twice in the speech – is working.

Now a fair amount of that drop is because so many people have quit looking for jobs that they’ve dropped out of the workforce. Adding those people, as well as those who are working part-time but wishing for full-time jobs puts Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment closer to 19 percent.

But, despite lingering challenges, the governor says things are moving in the right direction: Michigan’s finances are looking up, and he says 2012 should be a time to build on the successes of 2011.

“We are on that path. We’re getting it right. We are getting it done.”

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Politics
5:31 pm
Tue January 17, 2012

Legislation to get tough on unions has labor crying foul

A package of Republican bills in the state Legislature would boost penalties for public workers who go on strike. The legislation would also let employers sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses, and make it more complicated for unions to get dues deducted from employee paychecks.

The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings on the package today. 

“It’s just to give clarity," said Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Auburn Hills), who chairs the committee. "Strikes that are illegal are really illegal. We’ve seen people try to get to the gray areas and we’re trying to reduce the gray and make it as black and white as we can.”

Union leaders say it’s been years since there’s been any kind of public employee strike in Michigan, and they say the measures are really just meant to harass unions.

“It’s not enough to draw and quarter somebody; You also have to waterboard them and, besides that, shoot them through the heart," said Mary Ellen Gurwitz, an attorney with the Michigan AFL-CIO. 

Hearings on the bills are expected to continue next week.

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