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
4:12 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Michigan AG: Prison releases should not be part of corrections cuts

It costs about $35,000 per year to keep someone in prison in Michigan.
Derek Key Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should save money in the corrections budget by cutting the costs of incarceration - not by closing more prisons or releasing more inmates.

Schuette says he hopes that's the strategy Governor Rick Snyder will display when he unveils his budget proposal on Thursday.

Schuette says he advised the governor to focus on reducing the cost-per-inmate by bidding out more prison services:

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Politics
9:23 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Snyder says Medicaid provider payments will not be cut

Governor Rick Snyder says his budget will not call for cuts in payments to doctors, clinics, and nursing homes that take Medicaid patients.

Snyder administration officials say it is important to maintain those payments at their current levels to make sure providers continue to see patients.

The governor’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher, says that is a less costly alternative to people showing up at emergency rooms when they get sick:

"We want people having a medical home, having a physician’s office, having that physician really guiding as far as quitting smoking, leading a healthier life, we're going to see much lower healthcare costs down the road if people take those steps right now."

Lasher says there will be other changes in Medicaid.

There are almost two million people in Michigan in the health coverage program for low-income people.

Medicaid makes up about 20% of the state budget.

Politics
3:36 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Democrats call for law to allow unmarried couples to adopt

Wayan Vota Flickr

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for a law that would allow unmarried couples to adopt children. Right now only married couples or individuals can adopt children. 

State Representative Jeff Irwin says it makes sense to allow couples who want to adopt but can’t get married to share the rights and responsibilities of raising children.

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Politics
3:26 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Democrats call for law to allow unmarried couples to adopt

Wayan Vota Flickr

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for a law that would allow unmarried couples to adopt children. Right now only married couples or individuals can adopt children. 

State Representative Jeff Irwin says it makes sense to allow couples who want to adopt but can’t get married to share the rights and responsibilities of raising children.

"It’s a pro-family bill. It would assure that in a situation where you’ve  got two loving parents who want to take on the obligations of parenthood that both of those individuals are afforded the opportunity to help a young person in this state by being a parent.”

"Kids thrive in situations where they have two parents, and they struggle in situations where they have one, and so the state should be taking every possible opportunity to allow people to adopt kids in such a way as to ensure as many kids as possible have two parents.”

Irwin says joint adoptions would also make it easier to settle visitation and child support issues when a couple breaks up.

It’s not clear how Michigan’s ban on gay marriage or treating same-sex couples as if they are married would affect the effort to allow joint adoptions.

The state Supreme Court could also weigh in on the issue. A lower court recently denied a woman joint custody of the children she was raising with her same-sex partner before they separated. That woman has appealed the decision.

Irwin says no Republicans have signed up to support the legislation. Both the House and the Senate have G-O-P majorities.

Governor Snyder
8:34 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Snyder makes bold prediction

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

The crowd at a fundraising dinner for the Michigan Political Leadership program was maybe hoping Governor Rick Snyder would drop some clues on what’s going to be in his budget proposal next week.

The governor revealed almost nothing about his spending plan. But he did make a bold sports prediction. Governor Snyder said:

"Before I finish office, the Lions will be in the Super Bowl – how’s that?"

The governor did not say if that would be in the next four years – or if a championship season for the Lions would require a second term. The Lions record last season was six victories to 10 losses, following a winless season in 2009.

Politics
4:21 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Study: State employees underpaid

A study commissioned by a union-backed think tank says reports that state and local government employees in Michigan are overpaid compared to workers in the private sector are wrong.

The study is by the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute.

It says college-educated public employees earn 21% less than private sector workers with degrees.

It also found local government workers were compensated at about the same rate as their private sector counterparts.

Jeff Keefe is the Rutgers University management and labor relations professor who conducted the study:

"So the study concludes that state government employees are under-compensated in the state of Michigan, while local government employees are neither over- or under-compensated in the state of Michigan."

The report takes into account education, salaries, and benefits.

Ethan Pollack, with the Economic Policy Institute, says employee compensation is not the biggest factor behind the state’s budget trouble:

 "Michigan isn't significantly different than the deficits you are seeing all across the country…This is not about over-compensation of public sector workers. This is [about] two things. The cyclical deficit is from the recession, and the structural deficit is health care costs."

The Economic Policy Institute says its seven-state study found growing health care costs, and not employee compensation, are the biggest factor in budget deficits.

Law
3:57 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Can children testify in court behind screens?

The Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it is appropriate to allow children to testify in criminal cases behind screens that shield them from seeing defendants.

The court agreed today to take the case.

The U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers in court.

In the case going before the Michigan Supreme Court, an eight-year-old girl testified that her brother-in-law had repeatedly raped her over a period of years, and exposed her and her brother to pornography.

The jury did not believe the man’s defense that the girl made up the charges to break up his marriage.

The defendant says he was deprived of his right to confront the primary witness against him because she testified from behind a one-way screen.

The screen shielded her view of the defendant, although he could see her.

A therapist said that was the only way she could testify without risking serious emotional damage.

The defendant says the shield prejudiced the jury against him, and that the Constitution requires witnesses to look defendants in the eye when testifying against them.

State Budget
7:47 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Public employees dispute Governor Snyder's state financial report

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Public employees are taking issue with Governor Rick Snyder’s citizen’s guide to the state’s finances. They say it presents an incomplete and inaccurate picture of employee compensation in the public and private sectors.

Unions say the data in the guide does not compare similar jobs in the public and private sectors. They point to half a dozen studies that paint a different picture than the Snyder administration’s data.

Nick Ciaramitaro is with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees:

"Salaries tend to be a little lower, benefits tend to be a little higher in the public sector, but if you look at total compensation, which is what the governor says he wants to look at, we’re very close or a little behind the private sector."

Ciaramitaro also says the data in the guide may not take into account unpaid furlough days taken by state and local workers.

The governor acknowledges the numbers in his guide are a broader overview of compensation trends, but he says he’s open to looking at other data before he presents his first proposed budget later this month: 

"I’m happy to have people react to it whether they agree with it or don’t agree with it because that may bring other data forward that may be worth considering as part of this process. It’s an open  dialogue. This is how you actually set the framework to have the open discussion you’d really like people to have.”

Snyder says that discussion will influence his administration’s budget plans. The governor will present his budget proposal to the Legislature on February 17th.

Politics
5:27 pm
Tue February 1, 2011

Pure Michigan campaign seeking public and private dollars

Screen grab from Pure Michigan ad
Pure Michigan

A measure to fully fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign for the rest of the year appears poised for a vote next week in a state House committee.

Tourism officials and travel-related business owners showed up at the first hearing to support the legislation.

Dan Musser’s family owns the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. He says the national ad campaign has helped draw a growing number of out-of-state visitors to the island.

"Our potential is even greater than our success at this point, but if the campaign is not fully funded, we’ve wasted the opportunity for the Pure Michigan brand to reach its full potential. That potential brings tax revenues to the state, supports and creates jobs for Michigan residents."

Musser also says Mackinac Island is splitting the cost of a $1 million nationwide Pure Michigan ad purchase with the state’s tourism agency, Travel Michigan.

The ad will use the Pure Michigan brand to specifically promote Mackinac Island to travelers.

The Henry Ford in Dearborn will also share the costs of national campaign promoting the museum and the Pure Michigan brand.

Travel Michigan says about 30 other resorts and regional tourism offices  are also forming Pure Michigan ad partnerships with the state.

Weather
5:18 pm
Tue February 1, 2011

Gov. Snyder activates the State Emergency Operations Center

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Rick Snyder has ordered the State Emergency Operations Center to be activated to track events related to the coming winter storm.

The governor says he's also ordered the Michigan National Guard to be ready to help local governments deal with emergencies that may arise.

The governor says he's also instructed state agencies to make sure hospitals, prisons, and other essential facilities are adequately staffed.

Politics
3:56 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Pure Michigan campaign heads for a House hearing

The Pure Michigan campaign will run out of money mid-year without an infusion of more funds.

A state House committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow on a plan to tap into a state-operated venture capital fund to keep the Pure Michigan campaign on the air for the rest of 2011.

Earlier efforts to come up with an acceptable fee or tax to pay for the campaign have failed.

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Politics
11:57 am
Mon January 31, 2011

A "citizen's guide" to the state's financial troubles

Governor Snyder will roll out a citizen’s guide to the financial troubles facing the state, local governments, and school districts before a meeting of business leaders in Lansing this afternoon.

The governor is a retired investor and certified public accountant. He says the guide will give the public an easy-to-grasp outline of the condition of government finances in Michigan.

Governor Snyder says the state’s official financial report runs more than 200 pages and is too big and complicated, and it’s filled with too much bureaucratic jargon for most people to understand.

Snyder says his administration has picked what he considers the most critical information, such as the state’s revenue-to-expenditures, its reserves, and long-term obligations such as pensions, and put it into an easy-to-follow 13-page briefing:

“So I think this will be a big help in terms of the stage for a more-informed discussion, where all the public can participate because we’ll all have better facts to work off of and we’ll see how far beyond our means we’ve actually spent.”

Estimates peg the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year at about $1.8 billion.

The governor will present his plan to balance the budget later this month.

Governor Snyder
7:10 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Making the state's finances easier to understand

Governor Rick Snyder will release what he hopes will be an easier-to-understand state balance sheet today
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder will speak later today in Lansing to the group Business Leaders for Michigan. He will release an outline of the data he thinks people need to understand the state’s budget crisis. He's expected to talk about his plans to reshape the state’s tax on businesses.

The Snyder administration has been circulating a draft version of a plan to scrap the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax in favor of a six-percent corporate income tax.

But the governor cautions his business tax reform plan remains a work in progress:

There’s a lot of speculation going on, and it’s a good dialouge to have out there in the public. I think we’re going to have a great plan based on simple, fair, and efficient.

The governor says he’d like to make paying Michigan’s corporate tax so simple it can all fit onto a single page. He wants it be an overall tax cut on Michigan’s business sector -- though some companies will pay more, some will pay less, and some will pay no business tax at all.

Manufacturers and other businesses say they are withholding judgment until they see how it might affect their bottom lines.

Politics
4:04 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Repeal of item pricing law introduced in the legislature

Legislation to repeal the Michigan law that requires every item on store shelves to carry a price tag has been introduced in the state House.

Governor Rick Snyder called for an end to the 35-year-old item-pricing law last week in his State of the State address.

He says the law is outdated, and repealing it would send a message that Michigan is a business-friendly state.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Commission approves partner benefits over Snyder administration objections

Gregory Roberts

Most state employees will be allowed to carry their live-in partners on their health insurance benefits starting October first.

The state Civil Service Commission has approved domestic partner benefit agreements with two public employee unions and non-unionized state workers.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration objected to the Civil Service Commission’s adoption of the policy because of the added cost.

The agreements were worked out between state employee unions and Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration before she left office. The new rules will cover 70% of all state employees, although just a small fraction are expected to file the affidavit for unmarried partner benefits.

Unmarried partners who’ve lived with a state employee for a year or more and their dependents will be eligible.

The rules apply equally to same-sex partners and male-female couples. Courts have ruled that is the only way public employers such as universities, cities or the state can offer benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees without running afoul of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Auto/Economy
5:13 pm
Mon January 24, 2011

Retailers have item pricing law in their sights

Steve Carmody

Retailers say they are more hopeful than they’ve been in many years that Michigan is close to repealing the law that requires them to put a price sticker on every item they sell. But unions and Democrats say they will put up a fight to preserve what they say is a significant consumer protection.

James Hallan is the president of the Michigan Retailers Association. He says store-owners were pleased to hear in Governor Rick Snyder’s State of the State address that he is on their side. And Hallan says retailers hope the Legislature’s large Republican majorities will go along with scrapping the 35-year-old law.

“We have a new administration that is progressive. We have a legislative body that is progressive, and technology has come a long ways from where it was in 1976. Cell phones were not around in 1976. You look at all the new technology, and it’s time we embrace this and not walk away from it."

But not everyone is on board. Chris Michalakis is with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He says the item-pricing law remains popular with the public.

“What we’re hoping is our Republican governor and our Republican majorities in the House and the Senate will listen to consumers and members of their community and when they look to change this law, do it in a way that voters are comfortable with and do it in a way that protects consumers and protects jobs.”

Employee unions say the law remains popular with the public for a reason and, if anything, the item pricing law should be more strongly enforced.

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Politics
4:34 pm
Thu April 1, 2010

Emergency Financial Manager appointed in Benton Harbor

A state panel has named an emergency financial manager to run the city of Benton Harbor. Governor Granholm declared a financial emergency in Benton Harbor in February.

State officials say Benton Harbor's financial troubles include a deficit that has been growing by double digits. The city asked for an emergency infusion of cash from the state last month to make its payroll.

A state board named former Detroit auditor general and chief financial officer Joseph Harris to run the city, with the power to control all spending and renegotiate union contracts.

Terry Stanton is a spokesman for the state Treasury. He says drastic action is needed at times to set a city's finances right.

"The state is only as financially strong as the units within the state and, unfortunately, sometimes it's a long ways down the road before the state can step in," says Stanton.

Benton Harbor is the third city in Michigan being run by an emergency manager. The others are Pontiac and Ecorse.

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