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

The Michigan unemployment rate (red line) graphed with the overall labor force in Michigan (blue line).
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s monthly unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% (the red line in the graph above). That’s the lowest it’s been in 14 years, and it matches the national average.

But the drop this month is due mostly to fewer people out looking for work.

More from the Michigan Department of Labor, Technology and Budget office press release:

MSU football players approach the field.
Matt Radick / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Court of Appeals says Michigan State University must release the names of student-athletes who may be suspects in criminal cases.

MSU redacted the names of witnesses, victims, and suspects from campus incident reports requested by the sports network ESPN as part of its investigation into which colleges are most lenient with student-athletes who are suspected of crimes. ESPN did not object to striking the names of witnesses and victims, but said the names of the suspects were necessary to its investigation.

cindygamrat.com

One of the key figures in a cover-up scandal that’s rocked the state Capitol is expected to speak out tomorrow.

State Representative Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, has remained silent and out of public view since the scandal broke last week. House leaders are looking into allegations that she and state Representative Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, tried to force their office staffs to be part of a scheme to cover up their extra-marital affair. Both are vocal social conservatives and part of the tea party movement. 

Wikimedia Commons

A group of unions has launched a petition drive to double Michigan’s corporate income tax and use the additional revenue for roads.

Union leader Tom Lutz is with the Citizens for Fair Taxes Campaign. He says corporations should have to give back about half the net tax reductions that resulted from the state’s 2011 business tax overhaul.

Federal Department of Corrections

A federal appeals court says U.S. marshals in Detroit were on the wrong side of the law when they tried to deny a newspaper access to booking photos of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and police officers accused of corruption.

But the judges in the case also say they were forced to this particular result, and they’re not happy with their decision.

Courser web site

State Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, claims Michigan Republican leaders are on a campaign to destroy him as he faces an internal investigation into abusing his office to cover up an extra-marital affair.

Courser posted a rambling, 27-minute audio statement on the internet where he acknowledged being a “broken messenger” (using the phrase multiple times), but blamed the “Republican establishment” for trying to bring him down. 

Melissa Gilbert, the actor who gained fame playing Laura Ingalls on TV’s Little House on the Prairie, says she’s running for a mid-Michigan congressional seat as a Democrat.

  Gilbert made the announcement via e-mail and social media. Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District seat is currently held by freshman Republican Mike Bishop. Gilbert has lived in Howell since 2013 with her husband, actor Timothy Busfield. He is a Michigan native.

Michigan lawmakers and the Snyder administration are writing up new energy policy. It’s a big deal that almost no one is paying attention to. And that means the issue will be driven by special interests.

Courser web site

The state House leader has ordered an investigation into whether two Republican lawmakers used their publicly funded offices to try and cover up an extra-marital affair.

State Representatives Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) have been Tea Party favorites and alliance of two often at odds with their own party’s leaders.

The Detroit News obtained audio recordings made by a staffer where Courser can be heard outlining his plan to create a fake scandal in an effort to paper over the real one.

Holland BPW

President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions will have a profound effect on Michigan’s energy policy overhaul, but no one agrees yet on how.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration says it’s withholding judgment. Valerie Brader is the director of the Michigan Agency for Energy and the governor’s top advisor on energy policy.

A group of unions is launching a petition drive to raise the corporate income tax rate in Michigan. But is that really their end game?

UGA College of Ag & Environment / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A homeowner in Howell has to pay the city for cutting the grass in the public right of way in front of his house. That’s the decision from a federal appeals court.

  

Lawn-mowing in Howell became a federal case after the city pulled a tree from the strip between the sidewalk and the curb and replaced it with saplings without the homeowner’s approval.

The Mackinac Bridge on a warmer day.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The National Wildlife Federation says it’s making plans to sue the federal government.

The environmental group says the U.S. Department of Transportation is not enforcing a law that requires “worst-case” disaster plans for underwater pipelines to be on file.

Medical Marijuana
Dank Depot / Creative Commons http://tinyurl.com/oall5zn

Having a Michigan medical marijuana card does not provide sweeping immunity from drug charges, according to a ruling from the state Supreme Court. But, at the same time, the unanimous opinion says prosecutors can’t argue a single misstep proves a cardholding caretaker under the law is a drug dealer.

There is no stopping him.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can’t stop talking. But, is that really such a bad thing for his fellow Republicans?

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A union-led petition drive is trying to increase the state’s Corporate Income Tax rate from 6% to 11%. The revenue would be used to fix roads.

Increasing the rate by 5 percentage points would generate about $900 million a year toward Governor Rick Snyder’s goal of $1.2 billion in new revenue for road repairs. It would also be a major change to the 2011 business tax overhaul engineered by Snyder and Republicans in the Legislature.

Governor Rick Snyder has affirmed a finding that Michigan's most-populated county is in a state of fiscal crisis.

The determination by the governor is the next step toward forcing the county to accept an agreement that includes big cuts to get to a structurally balanced budget.

The initial review was requested by Wayne County Executive Warren Evens, who says the county does not have to follow Detroit into emergency management and bankruptcy.

Thomas Hawk / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A state review team has confirmed a financial emergency in Wayne County.

The governor will have 10 days to decide whether he agrees that Wayne County is in dire straits. But no one expects the governor will take that long.

Updated story 4:38 PM:

So, there’s definitely no deal on road funding.

The state House and Senate floor managers have let it be known there will be no attendance taken and no roll call votes this week. After that the Michigan Legislature is on a break until mid-August.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says he hasn’t given up on getting a deal for more than a $1 billion in new road revenue through the Legislature. Lawmakers adjourned this week without voting on a roads package.

But, at an event in Detroit, the governor said he’s still confident a deal can come together in 2015.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Democrats in the Legislature are calling for changes to how legislative districts are drawn.

The effort is built off a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The decision says voters can take the power to draw district lines away from the Legislature and hand it to an independent commission.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the days of an energy pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac are numbered. But, a task force led by Schuette does not recommend that day should come anytime soon.

“You wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct pipelines underneath the straits today,” Schuette said at a news conference to roll out the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force report. “And so, if you wouldn’t do it today, how many more tomorrows will the pipelines be operational?”

A prison block
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state of Michigan is terminating its contract with Aramark to provide prison food services.

The state and Aramark say the decision to end the $145 million contract was mutually agreed upon.

Aramark has faced fines and other sanctions since the company took over prison food services in December of 2013.

It looks like we won’t be seeing an LGBT rights question on the statewide 2016 ballot.

Yet, it was not that long ago that it seemed a near-certainty that LGBT rights groups were ready to go to the ballot next year to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act if the GOP-led Legislature refused to act.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow voters to take the authority to draw congressional district lines away from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions has many Democrats and progressives in Michigan very happy.

There’s been lots of rejoicing among those who’ve hated gerrymandering – the drawing of district lines to benefit one party over the over.

Gray wolves.
USFWS / Flickr

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it won’t change the status of the gray wolf in Michigan and other Great Lakes states from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Michigan wildlife officials cheered the decision, even though it denies them a measure of flexibility to manage wolves in the western Upper Peninsula.

 A state panel says Wayne County is in a state of “probable financial stress.” It was a unanimous determination by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board. 

Board member and state Treasurer Nick Khouri says now the state will send in a review team to examine the books in Michigan’s most-populous county, which includes the city of Detroit and its suburbs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Photo courtesy of Governor Snyder's office

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a bill that stops local governments from adopting their own ordinances that cover wages and working conditions.

The new law does not affect existing ordinances, but it does preempt nascent efforts to adopt local “living wage” and mandatory sick leave ordinances. In a written statement, Governor Snyder says it makes sense to ensure consistency in local ordinances that regulate jobs and employment.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage has many people happy and relieved. None more so, politically speaking, than Republicans who’ve wanted to see the issue go away.

Moderate Republicans like Governor Rick Snyder have always detested getting wrapped up in the culture wars. 

Nicholas Eckhart / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A deli worker at a Kroger supermarket is filing an employment discrimination complaint against the company and her union. She says it’s because a jointly run health benefits fund refused to accept
her wife after the two were legally married last year.

Stephanie Citron married her same-sex partner during the brief window last year when it was legal in Michigan. Once she went full-time with Kroger, she learned that her health benefits fund only covers the
spouses of opposite-sex married couples.

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