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


It's Just Politics
2:11 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Gov. Snyder has to sell Detroit bailout* to a skeptical Legislature – and quickly

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

* "This is not a bailout"

Gov. Rick Snyder used the phrase “this is not a bailout” five times in the 26 minutes he used to announce the first details of a “grand bargain” to settle the Detroit bankruptcy and the fight over pension benefits.

The governor’s plan would commit as much as $350 million over 20 years to help dig Detroit out of bankruptcy and keep the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts off the auction block.

The money would most likely come from what Michigan is getting from the national tobacco settlement, that 15-year-old cash cow that’s been tapped for college scholarships, economic development, Medicaid – the list goes on. And now it might be part of the Detroit bailout (but don’t call it a “bailout").

So, there’s this plan and a revenue stream to go along with it. Now, the governor just has to sell it to the Legislature.The Michigan Constitution requires every dollar that goes to the state to go through the Legislature’s appropriations process.

And we wouldn’t exactly call this a done deal or an easy sell. After all, this is an election year. And Republicans, especially those west of Lansing and north of Clare, have little reason to go along with a political hot potato like aid for Detroit. At least two Senate Republicans, probably more, are looking at primaries. Plenty of House Republicans are also looking over their shoulders for a Tea Party primary challenge. Politically speaking, there are probably more reasons not to do this than to do this.

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Politics & Government
5:35 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

Snyder breathes new life into balanced budget amendment efforts

Credit Tiberius Images / Flickr

It took a push from Gov. Rick Snyder, but efforts to put Michigan on record as supporting a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution are moving again at the state Capitol.

Gov. Snyder supported the idea last week in his State of the State address. Today, a state House committee held its first hearing on two resolutions calling on Congress to convene a convention of the states to draft a balanced budget amendment. 

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9:33 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

Michigan's 2013 jobless rate: 8.4%

Michigan's December unemployment rate was 11.7 percent
Khalilshah Flickr

Michigan’s unemployment rate last year averaged 8.4%. That’s down from 8.9% in 2012. 

The state's annual jobless rate has gone down now for three years in a row. But while hiring is up, much of the decline in the rate is also due to people who’ve quit looking for jobs and are no longer measured as part of the workforce. 

Officially, there are 394,000 unemployed people in Michigan. The average length of unemployment is 39 weeks. The combined rate of unemployment, people who’ve stopped looking for jobs, and under-employment is 15.3%. That is also a drop from the previous year, when the unemployment and underemployment rate was 16.6%. 

Politics & Government
9:21 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

Mental health commission report says resources, better coordination needed

Credit Michigan House Republicans

A state commission that’s looking at an overhaul of mental health services has released a sweeping set of proposals.

The last big overhaul of the mental health system wrapped up in the early 1990s, when most of the state’s psychiatric hospitals were closed.  

This commission convened by Gov. Rick Snyder found there are still barriers to helping people with mental health issues live productively. 

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It's Just Politics
1:37 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

GOP can’t control Agema while Dems confront the ‘Obama Quandary’

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Before we dive into this week's It's Just Politics, we gotta give a shout out to the Washington Post who named co-host Rick Pluta one of Michigan's best state capitol reporters in America. Cheers, Rick!

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

“We are reinventing Michigan,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in last night's State of the State address; an address that could (in a much-abbreviated form) double as a reelection campaign speech. It was filled with a lot of good news of revenue surpluses, money for early childhood and schools, etc.

A little something for everyone.

For conservatives -- who have not fully embraced this governor -- Snyder joined the call for a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution. For moderates and independents, Snyder used the speech to try quell some of the controversy that’s being created within and about the Michigan Republican Party.

Here’s what he said: “Publicly tonight, I’d like to make a call to all citizens of Michigan, to ask us to have a greater degree of civility and respect towards others of different backgrounds and different views. The future of Michigan is dependent on having people understand that differences are a positive power, that we can find common ground and let’s work to bring Michiganders together, not divide us.”

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Politics & Government
10:39 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Immigration, school year changes and other highlights from Gov. Snyder's State of the State address

Gov. Rick Snyder delivering his 2014 State of the State address.
MIGOP Instagram

Gov. Rick Snyder put services for immigrants and seniors at the top of his to-do list for 2014 in his State of the State speech yesterday.

The governor also promised to extend pre-school to every child in the state that wants to attend, and trumpeted the state’s economic recovery as he prepares to seek a second term.

"We are reinventing Michigan," Snyder said. "Michigan is the comeback state."

Snyder noted that hiring is up, and more people are looking for work — although Michigan still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and many families living in poverty.

But the governor says things are getting better and the state’s improved budget position and the prospect of a revenue surplus is evidence of that. He said much of that money — more than a billion dollars over the next three years — should be used on infrastructure, investments, and savings. But he also said taxpayers should get some of it back.

“There’s going to be some opportunity for tax relief,” Snyder said.

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5:57 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

Appeals court sides with Snyder over teachers’ unions

Joe Gratz Flickr

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a law that requires teachers and public school employees to pay more for their retirement health and pension benefits.

The law was challenged by teachers’ unions, which say it illegally changes public school employees’ contracts without their consent. The 2012 law requires teachers to pay more for their benefits, accept lower retirement health and pension benefits, or move into a defined contribution 401 (k) plan. The law has been a big tension point between teachers’ unions and the Snyder administration.      

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration says it was a necessary measure to get a handle on long-term retirement costs. The administration says it reduces unfunded liabilities by $15 billion, and makes the system more stable. 

It's Just Politics
1:29 pm
Sat January 11, 2014

Snyder and the appearance of political 'cronyism'

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Control – the ability to command and direct events – is the elusive ambition of politicians. Politicians seek office promising to get things done or, in some rare cases, to stop something from getting done. But, mostly, they want to control their fates. We all want that, of course, but, it is not that simple.

Public life is complicated and messy.

Take, for example, Gov. Snyder. In just less than a week, Snyder will deliver his fourth State of the State address. He’ll wax on about the accomplishments of the last three years as he also proposes an agenda for this year and lays the groundwork for his reelection bid.

And, yes, we say his reelection bid. Though the governor has not yet announced he will seek reelection, as we’ve talked about before on It’s Just Politics, Snyder is certainly already acting like a candidate. The governor’s reelection campaign has already bought airtime, just like they did four years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday. (One more reason we know Snyder will run again: He’s said the Detroit Lions will be in the Super Bowl before he leaves office… yet another thing he can’t control.)

Going into the 2014 election, Gov. Snyder and other Republicans would like to be focused on good news like revenue surpluses and balanced budgets. But something always seems to get in the way. And, this week, that was the continuing drama surrounding former state Treasurer Andy Dillon’s personal and professional life.

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Politics & Government
6:46 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Snyder cool to tax cut talk

Governor Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder is decidedly cool about the tax cut fever sweeping the state Capitol. That fever stems from a projected budget surplus for the current fiscal year that could be more than a half a billion dollars in this fiscal year.        

“Let’s get the facts first and then let’s make sure we’re being fiscally responsible for the long term,” he told reporters this week. “Because it’s not just about looking at rollbacks. It’s looking at the best long-term solution for our citizens.” 

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Politics & Government
9:04 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

Snyder: Thaw and freeze a concern

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Many schools will remain closed for a third day tomorrow due to cold temperatures and sidewalks that need to be cleared. At least half a dozen deaths have been linked to the  cold temperatures. And officials continue to advise drivers to take it slow and beware of ice.

Gov. Rick Snyder says there’s still plenty of work to do to clean up from the storm.

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Environment & Science
9:25 am
Tue January 7, 2014

Keeping carp out of Great Lakes could take years and cost billions

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium (perhaps a face only its mother could love).
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

A new report says a permanent solution to the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes could take years to build and cost billions of dollars.

The report says it’s very possible for the invasive species to slip from the Mississippi River system into the Great Lakes. And that it’s possible for the species to live in the lakes and grow in population.

The report was prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Congress.

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Politics & Government
5:10 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

Governor: Stay home, or drive slowly

Governor Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder is asking people to stay home if possible for the duration of the cold snap that’s plunged to near-record cold temperatures.

“Stay inside as much as you can. Stay warm,” he said, adding that people who do venture onto the roads should go very slowly.

“In particular, when you’re going out there on the road, if you’re on one of our highways or freeways, really slow down on the ramps,” Snyder said. “That’s where we’re seeing a large number of the incidents really happen is people are really getting on the ramps and going at excessive speeds. Even though they may think they’re going slowly, go even slower, please.”

The state Department of Transportation says at least 2,500 snow plows have been deployed to clear highways and local roads. Almost every school in the state is expected to be closed for a second day so children are not subjected to below-zero wind chill.

Shiawassee and Cass counties have declared states of emergency because of the cold.

It's Just Politics
1:35 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

Michigan’s budget surplus: More money, more problems? Sure, but it beats the alternative

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Lansing these days could be renamed Surplus City, where we’re just looking for ways to spend the money that Michigan is expected to rake in this year. It appears our deficit days are behind us; we are now looking at a tidy little budget surplus. Early estimates put the number in the hundreds of millions of dollars range but we’ll get an official projection a week from today when the state holds the next revenue estimating conference.

People come to the Capitol and watch as economists talk about, ya know, economic things and come up with an official budget number. And one thing is certain: No matter how big the surplus is, there will be more ideas on how to spend it than actual money to spend. And, there’s already a list including road funding and more money for schools and universities.

Democrats also say they want to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Property Tax Credit. And, there will likely be talk about more money for local governments. These are things that Democrats, as the minority party in the Capitol, would typically have little influence over. But they have a little more to work with right now. That’s because, for one thing, it’s an election year, if -- as expected -- Republicans put more money into schools and universities -- it becomes harder for Democrats to use those as campaign issues. There’s also controversial questions like road funding and auto insurance, issues that aren’t likely to get resolved without some measure of Democratic cooperation.

So, we are faced here, with a fiscal philosophical question: What is a budget surplus?

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Politics & Government
5:10 pm
Thu January 2, 2014

Schuette denies contradiction in birth-control coverage statements

Attorney General Bill Schuette (R-MI)
Michigan Attorney General office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he supports efforts to block federal health insurance mandates that require contraception coverage in employer-funded health plans.

But he says he also supports a woman’s right to access birth control.

“There’s a difference between abortion and birth control, and anybody who’d want to limit the choices and options for a woman on birth control is absolutely bonkers, nuts, and crazy,” Schuette says.

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7:37 am
Tue December 31, 2013

Washington approves Michigan medicaid plan

Credit 401(k) 2013 / Flickr

Michigan’s plan to expand Medicaid health coverage to more than 300,000 low-income residents has been approved by the federal government. The state’s plan will require co-pays and health care savings accounts.

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Politics & Government
8:54 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

Snyder signs bill to allow bigger political donations; preempt issue ad disclosure

sushi ina flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that outlaws efforts to require disclosure of the donors behind so-called “issue ads.” It appears to be a reversal of one of his campaign pledges.  

The governor came out against anonymous issue ads in a 2010 campaign white paper. Issue ads tell people to “call” or “contact” a politician without expressly advocating for how they should vote.

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Politics & Government
5:24 am
Fri December 27, 2013

Schuette expects Detroit pension case to reach nation's highest court

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to decide whether Detroit’s public employee pensions are protected from bankruptcy.  

Schuette is challenging a federal judge’s decision that cutting pension benefits is on the table as part of the bankruptcy.

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Environment & Science
1:46 pm
Wed December 25, 2013

Weather, altered behavior could be reasons few wolves killed in state hunt

The federal government wants to turn management of gray wolves in the western Great Lakes over to the states.

The state Department of Natural Resources says hunters are unlikely to bag the limit of 43 wolves before the season ends on December 31. In fact, it’s been two and a half weeks since the last wolf was taken on December 5.        

State wildlife officials say an extreme cold snap in the Upper Peninsula may be responsible. They say it’s also possible wolves have learned to avoid hunters.

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5:37 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

6th Circuit puts parole hearings for juvenile lifers on hold

Mich. Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette says the Supreme Court ruling should not apply retroactively.
(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has delayed an order that Michigan make a plan to hold parole hearings for prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life in prison for murder.

A federal judge ruled last month that Michigan is taking too long to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It said automatic life without parole for juveniles is “cruel and unusual punishment.”  

Deborah LaBelle is the attorney representing a group of juvenile lifers who sued the state. She says the Sixth Circuit decision is a disappointment.

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Politics & Government
4:56 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

Board approves $350 M loan deal for Detroit

Peter Martorano Flickr

A state board says the city of Detroit may borrow up to $350 million to pay off investment swaps that went sour. But the deal still needs the approval of a federal bankruptcy judge.

State officials say the deal to refinance the debt, if it’s approved, will free up money the city can use for police, fire, lighting and other services.

The international bank Barclays would lend the city the money to pay off two other banks.

But federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has not given his OK. He says the city should push for better terms to terminate the deal with Bank of America and UBS that turned out to be a financial disaster. It costs the city about 5% of its annual revenue, and state and city officials say it played a big part in driving Detroit to bankruptcy.

The arrangement was made in 2005, while Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor. If the banks don’t agree to renegotiate, the city could also try to challenge the legality of the arrangement.

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