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

(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

 

The state says Chesapeake Energy signed lease agreements with eight landowners, assuring them that mortgages on the property would not be a problem.  The options shut out competitors from buying leases. The allegations say Chesapeake then used the mortgages as a pretext to cancel the contracts.

Chesapeake is the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas. In a statement, the company says the charges are “without merit,” and will fight them in court.

Chesapeake is also facing a separate criminal lawsuit in Michigan. It alleges the company was part of a collusion scheme to keep down the cost of leases up for auction. The other company that was charged has pleaded no contest.

Joe Gratz / Flickr

A group of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys goes to work Thursday on finding new and better ways to collect fines and fees from defendants, and to ensure that people are not sent to jail because they don’t have the money to pay.       

An NPR investigation identified Michigan as one of the states where judges sometimes send defendants to jail for failure to pay – even when that’s not because they won’t pay, but they can’t. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that’s unconstitutional.      

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration will argue for flexibility to meet proposed new federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions. The rule was made public today by the EPA. It calls for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared to emissions in 2005.

“We support that goal. We think it’s a legitimate goal. Our issue is – and there’s a lot of detail yet that we haven’t gone through – will the state be given the flexibility, and will it be an orderly transition?” said Dan Wyant, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He says the state is already on a path to meet the 10 percent renewable energy target required by a 2008 state law. But he says future goals should be broader than forcing a transition to alternative fuels.

“We know it can be disruptive – reliability and affordability can be impacted if we go too fast, too hard, too soon,” said Wyant. He said, for example, Michigan will ask the Obama administration to count utilities’ efficiency efforts against emissions targets.

The final version of the rule won’t be adopted until next year following a public comment period.  A legislative workgroup is starting to plot Michigan’s next energy strategy. Michigan is also part of the Midwestern Power Sector Collaborative, which is pondering a regional approach to complying with the new emissions standards.  

This week at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island, Governor Snyder joined the chorus of people calling for an update to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights act to include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people… sort of.

There is a lot of spoon-feeding to the press here on the Island – a litany of press conferences and media scrums. And, yesterday, one of those press conferences was held by a group of business leaders who want LGBT protections rolled into the civil rights law.

Meanwhile, at almost the exact same time as these business leaders were making their announcement, the Governor was talking to us, telling us he thought the legislature ought to take the issue up.

But, did he actually endorse it? “I’m encouraging them to say there’s been a lot of dialog and discussion on this. It’s been healthy in the public and I think it could be an appropriate topic for the legislators to take up. I would appreciate that,” the Governor said. And, that statement is fairly typical of the multiple exchanges we had with the governor on this topic.

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he’d like the Legislature to amend Michigan’s civil rights law to add protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

“I don’t believe in discrimination and I think it would be great if they, the Legislature, looked at it later in the year,” said Snyder.

The governor says he’d lawmakers to first deal with the Detroit bankruptcy and road funding. But he thinks action on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act could take place before the end of the year. The governor is attending the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, where a group of business leaders has endorsed adding LGBT rights to the civil rights law.

Inside the Michigan Senate.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The $195 million Detroit rescue package moves to the Michigan Senate this week after easily clearing the state House by wide margins.

Gov. Rick Snyder is hoping for speedy action to get the deal wrapped up no later than early June.

“I would remind people our work is not done,” Snyder said. “I’d like to thank the House for their wonderful work, but we still have work to get done in the Senate. Hopefully, we can get that done in a prompt fashion, but this is a great opportunity to move Michigan ahead.”

Veteran Congressman John Conyers’ name will appear on the August primary ballot. That’s the ruling of U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman, who struck down Michigan’s requirement that only registered voters can circulate candidate nominating petitions.

Earlier today, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson ruled that a problem with petition circulators threatened to bring an end to Conyers’ almost 50-year congressional career. Judge Leitman quickly followed with a ruling that requiring petition circulators to be registered voters violates free speech rights, and is not consistent with other court decisions. 

Also, Michigan does not have the same requirement for people who circulate petitions to put a question on the ballot.

Leitman issued an order that puts Conyers name into the Democratic primary, where he’ll face Detroit pastor Horace Sheffield.

If Conyers is reelected, the icon of the civil rights movement will be the dean of the House.


In Lansing yesterday with the state House approving that $195 million for Detroit, a lot of us were anticipating a close vote. A very close vote.

There was a lot of back and forth about how many votes the Republicans would have to put up and how many the Democrats would have to put up. But, in the end, it wasn’t even close.

Other than the dust-up over the Detroit Institute of Arts millage the package passed by big lopsided margins and overwhelming Republican support. Which, when you think about it, is a very interesting dynamic: overwhelming GOP support for the state coming to the aid of a city run by Democrats.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The $195 million state contribution to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement cleared its first major hurdle today, as the state House approved the payment by a wide margin.

Applause erupted as the final bill in the Detroit package was approved by a lopsided majority. 

There were plenty of complaints about parts of the bills – such as years of post-bankruptcy state oversight, and the big withdrawal from the state’s “rainy day” savings.

The package also includes financial oversight requirements that could last for many years.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

There could be a vote this week on a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage – even though almost no one is happy with what the legislation would do.

The measure would boost Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.20 an hour, but potentially short-circuit a petition drive to raise it even higher – to $10.10 and index it to inflation. The bill cleared the state Senate last week, and hearings just opened before the House Government Operations Committee.

Business groups are in a bind. They don’t like the petition drive, but see the Senate bill as barely an improvement.

Thetoad / Flickr

UPDATED AT 10:30 on 5/22/14 with a correction.

Legislation providing $195 million to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement is on its way to the floor of the state House. A state House committee approved its part of the so-called “grand bargain” today. It’s designed to help pull the city out of bankruptcy, guard against the sale of city owned masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and minimize cuts to pensions.

But timing is becoming tight for the Legislature to approve the state’s part in the so-called “grand bargain.” 

Mike Duggan

There could be a first vote tomorrow in the Legislature on an almost $200 million deal to aid the city of Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan was one of those who testified prior to the historic vote. Duggan says, overall, he supports the plan.

“I want you to be comfortable we’re not going to be coming back in two years, four years, six years – that we’re going to solve this once and when we do solve it once, you’re going to be proud of how progress is made,” Duggan told the House Committee on Detroit’s Restructuring and Michigan’s Future.

Congressman John Conyers is asking Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to put his name on the August Democratic primary ballot. The veteran lawmaker is asking the state’s top elections official to reverse a decision by the Wayne County clerk.

In the filing, Conyers' legal team says two nominating petition circulators should not have been disqualified for not being registered voters.

Conyers says they were registered, but, in fact, that shouldn’t matter because the requirement itself is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.


So now that the Michigan Senate has approved a new, higher minimum wage, with bipartisan support (14 Rs, 10 Ds) no less, this is practically a done deal. Right?

Not so much. The headlines and stories that said it would “kill” the petition drive are speculative and premature.

This Senate bill is – at the bottom of it all – an effort to pull the rug out from under the ballot drive to raise the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's a cause beloved by Democrats and progressives.

So why then did 10 out of 12 Senate Democrats go along with it? Particularly after some had already blasted the proposal as a gimmick and too paltry – especially for workers earning the lower tipped wage?

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

The long, harsh winter slowed the state’s economic recovery. And it took a bite out of tax revenues, leaving Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature with less money to work with as they put the finishing touches on a new state budget.

A budget conference today looked at all kinds of factors affecting the state’s economy, to come up with a new revenue forecast for lawmakers to use.

There are still a few variables that could affect the state’s short and long-term economic future. New home building is one. The auto industry is another.

Michigan Radio

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was in Lansing today.  He told a state House committee Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement and recovery plan cannot succeed without an infusion of money from taxpayers.


Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, may have just turned up the heat in the fight over increasing Michigan’s minimum wage. But the petition campaign – headed by Raise Michigan – is already planning its pushback.

Richardville proposed yesterday his own legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15, and a boost for tipped workers, too. But, really, this is not so much about raising the minimum wage as derailing the petition drive underway to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour plus a really big raise for tipped workers.

The Richardville proposal is separate from an earlier bill sponsored by Senator Rick Jones, R-Eaton Rapids, that would also raise the minimum wage. That one also meant to blunt the petition drive.

Both were introduced because it appears the petition drive is on track to turn in the necessary number of signatures before the deadline at the end of the month. Under the Michigan Constitution, once those signatures are certified, the state Legislature would have 40 days to vote it into law. If it doesn’t – the question goes on the November ballot.

And the polling shows, it’s pretty popular. Popular enough, Democrats hope, to boost turnout among their voters who tend to stay home in mid-term elections.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

The state House has approved a transportation funding package that would ensure about $450 million a year is spent on to road repairs and maintenance.

That’s still far short of the $1.2 billion Gov. Rick Snyder wants to fix and maintain roads.      

But supporters of the plan say it’s a good first step.

“Good roads equal good jobs, and a strengthened economy, so let’s work together to put Michigan back to work,” said state Rep. and House Transportation Committee Chairman Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

The state of Michigan would tap into its “rainy day” savings to put almost $200 million toward the Detroit bankruptcy settlement under bailout legislation introduced today. The savings account would be repaid from tobacco settlement money.

The state payment is part of a so-called “Grand Bargain” to mitigate cuts to pensions, and ensure that works owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts aren’t sold off as part of the city’s bankruptcy.

endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com

The November ballot could be crowded with hunting questions.

A state elections panel today certified petition signatures for a referendum on Michigan’s wolf-hunting law. That’s in addition to a referendum on an earlier version of the law.  

Meanwhile, a third petition drive is underway that would preserve the wolf hunt.          

All this could lead to some confusion on the November ballot, and the outcome of the election.

Chris Thomas is Michigan’s director of elections. He said, historically, the practice has been the one with the most votes wins.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) says he’s very concerned that war-weary Americans are growing more withdrawn from world events.

Rogers gives up his congressional seat next year as well as his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee to pursue a new career as a talk radio host. The lawmaker has served in Congress since 2001 and has intelligence chairman since 2011.

Rogers says he sees plenty of evidence that the U.S. may be entering a new isolationist period.

(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

An energy company has agreed to pay a $5 million fine and plead no contest to a misdemeanor anti-trust charge as part of a plea deal. Under the bargain, Encana Oil & Gas USA also promised to help the state pursue legal action against another oil company.


Update: 1:25 PM, Monday, May 5th, 2014

 

Well, blow the “trumpet of shame” on us. Right after we predicted here that the prospective challengers to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would fall short, Wes Nakagiri goes and turns in 33 signatures from the ranks of Michigan Republican State Central Committee to get his name placed in consideration at the party’s summer convention. The rules require at least three signatures from committee members in at least three congressional districts. It appears Nakagiri’s crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, but the Michigan GOP’s policy committee still has to affirm the signatures. That could happen at its July meeting, if not sooner. Calley’s still the odds-on favorite to win re-nomination.

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We’ve talked quite a bit already about the friction within the Michigan Republican Party between the GOP establishment and its perpetually perturbed Tea Party wing. The Tea Party’s restless longings are coalescing lately around the possibility of toppling Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley from the ticket.

It almost happened four years ago as many in the Tea Party deemed Republican nominee-for- governor Rick Snyder as insufficiently conservative, and tried to put one of their own on the ticket in place of One Tough Nerd’s choice, then-state Representative Calley. And when that effort failed (but not by much), they felt robbed.

“In politics, you know, they do whatever it takes! They scratch! They claw! They bite!” said one angry delegate to the 2010 GOP summer convention.Tea Partiers now harbor some hopes of pulling it off this year as a payback for the Medicaid expansion, Common Core, the autism insurance mandate and other Snyder administration initiatives.

But Lieutenant Gov. Calley seems to have warded off that challenge – for the moment.

gophouse.com

Gov. Rick Snyder says he’s sensing progress in negotiations with the Legislature to put $350 million of state money toward Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement. That money would help fund pensions and ensure the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts don’t get put up for auction.

Snyder says the bargain has to include an end to legal challenges to the bankruptcy. He would also like to have a financial oversight panel to help manage the city’s finances post-bankruptcy.

LiveStream

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is spending a couple of days in Lansing for closed-door meetings with state officials. His primary mission is to convince reluctant state lawmakers to support the Detroit bailout package.

The state’s share, which would have to be approved by the Legislature, is $350 million dollars. That would help mitigate cuts to pension benefits as part of the city’s bankruptcy, and ensure the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts are safe from the auction block.

Susie Blackmon / Flickr

A state agriculture commission has adopted a new rule on livestock in residential areas. It gives local governments more authority to ban or regulate raising farm animals in backyards.

It’s Michigan minimum wage redux. This week, conservative Republican state Senator Rick Jones introduced a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. The measure would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.65 to $2.75 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican lawmaker wants to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Craig Camp / flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan needs to do more to attract seasonal migrant laborers to work on farms this spring and summer.

Last year, Michigan asparagus farmers lost about 2 million pounds – or 10% of their crop – because they didn’t have enough workers. Michigan competes with Texas and California for farm labor, and Gov. Snyder says there are already concerns that Michigan won’t be able to lure enough agriculture labor this year.  

“And so we want to get the word out to people, particularly in that category, to say: Please, come to Michigan. You’re welcome here.”

History suggests that this election year should be friendly to Republicans. That’s because Republicans are more likely to turn out in mid-term elections than Democrats, and the party out of the White House, especially in a president’s second term, tends to have an advantage. With about six and a half months to go before the November election, a lot of Republicans are harboring hopes that this is going to be a good year to be a Republican.

But here’s a question: Which kind of Republican is it best to be this year?

In Michigan -- just like nationally -- there’s some tension between the three threads of the GOP coalition. That’s the  Establishment Republicans, the Tea Party, and the Liberty Movement.

We’ll get a better idea of how big this fight is (and if it’s a fight at all worth talking about) after this coming Tuesday’s filing deadline. We’ll see exactly where and how many Tea Partiers will “primary” an establishment Republican figure, and where the Republican establishment (and by that we mean chamber of commerce Republicans) will try to dislodge a Tea Partier from Congress or the Legislature.

Michigan Attorney General

  State Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked a federal appeals court to put the legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage on a fast track. Schuette is defending Michigan’s ban.

Schuette’s filed a motion with the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to skip a hearing before a three judge panel and go directly to the entire 15-judge court. That could shave months, maybe as much as a year, off the appeals process. Schuette says the question needs to settled regardless of who wins in the end. 

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