Zoe Clark

Reporter/Producer

Zoe Clark is a producer as well as the co-host of the Friday afternoon segment It's Just Politics on Michigan Radio. She produces Morning Edition, Jack Lessenberry’s daily essays, and Michigan Radio’s local interviews, including those by All Things Considered host Jennifer White and Morning Edition host Christina Shockley. She is also a substitute on-air host. She has been at Michigan Radio since 2006.

Zoe began her collegiate studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She holds degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science from the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor, where she was born and raised.

Email: zoeclark@umich.edu

Twitter: @ZoeMelina

Infographic on literacy.
Thea Card / Michigan Radio

It’s one of the most fundamental parts of our daily lives. Something you have probably taken for granted.

It's the ability to read.

In the United States, more than 40 percent of adults with very low literacy live in poverty.

One in five Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage.

And more than 70 percent of the U.S. prison population cannot read above a fourth grade level.

In collaboration with WBEZ's Front & Center project, Michigan Radio peels back the layers of low-literacy.

In our hour-long show, we explore the impacts that illiteracy has on our communities and what literacy, in an every changing digital world, will really mean in our future.

Literacy is a big issue of concern for our educational system. Illiteracy can prevent people from filling out a job application or earning living wage. It also affects your civic participation.

Take a listen to our show using the "listen" button above, and share your thoughts with us!

Zoe Clark: It's Just Politics, I'm Zoe Clark.

Rick Pluta: And, I'm Rick Pluta.

ZC: And, Rick, I think it’s only fair to say that Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol are not happy.

RP: Indeed, they’re mad.

ZC: Mad about the passage of an income-tax reduction.

RP: And they made their point known on the House floor.

ZC: So, of course, when it came time to actually vote, Democrats rallied together and voted a resounding, “No.”

RP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Zoe, don’t go that far. Yes, they railed against it. Said it’s too little by way of “tax relief” – that phrase that gets tossed about when we’re discussing tax cuts -- for middle class families compared to all the tax exemptions and credits that were scrapped last year by Republicans in the name of tax fairness.

ZC: Democrats say this is the wrong use of $90 million earmarked for so-called “tax relief.” They say it’s also pretty paltry and that Republicans are just playing election year politics. But they still voted for it. So, what gives?

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

House Passes Tax Rollback

The state House has approved an election-year tax reduction. The measures now head to the state Senate. Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta reports:

Last year, the Legislature delayed an income tax rollback. That helped balance the budget and pay for eliminating the Michigan Business Tax. This year, the Legislature wants to move up a reduction in the tax rate and increase the personal exemption. Republican Representative Jud Gilbert chairs the House Tax Policy Committee. He says it’s time for individual taxpayers to benefit from the state’s economic recovery. “I kind of take exception to the idea that this is somehow political pandering, election year politics,” Gilbert said. But, Democrats say that’s exactly what this tax cut is. And they say it’s paltry compared to the loss of a dozen deductions and exemptions last year that shifted more of the tax burden to low- and middle-income families.

Snyder Recall Over

Just two days after the failed attempt to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, an attempt to recall Governor Rick Snyder has ended. In an early morning press release, the group Michigan Rising says it's ending its effort to recall Snyder after months of trying to gather signatures to put the question on the state’s November ballot. "It has become abundantly clear that Michigan Rising was not going accomplish its goal of recalling Governor Snyder.  The results in Wisconsin crystalized how difficult a task it is to recall a sitting governor,” the press release states. There has never been a successful Gubernatorial recall in the state’s history.

Ambassador Bridge Owner Ramps Up Spending

A new report from a Washington-based watchdog group finds Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun is ramping up political spending as plans for a new, public  bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario move forward.  Sarah Cwiek reports:

The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington--or CREW--tracked campaign donations to members of Congress from Moroun’s family, company, and associates. It found well over a -million dollars in donations from 2004 through 2010. Melanie Sloan is executive director of CREW Executive Director. She says the Morouns are targeting Michigan members of Congress. An Ambassador Bridge spokesman dismisses the report as “misguided,” and accuses CREW of deliberately skewing facts and context.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

In an early Thursday morning press release, Michigan Rising says it's ending its effort to recall Republican Governor Rick Snyder. From the release:

"It has become abundantly clear that Michigan Rising was not going accomplish its goal of recalling Governor Snyder.  The results in Wisconsin crystalized how difficult a task it is to recall a sitting governor, even when the unions and the Democratic Party play a significant role in the effort.  To quote the words of Senator Ted Kennedy, `The work goes on.  The cause endures.  The hope still lives and the dream shall never die,´" said Communications Director Bruce Fealk.

The recall effort was well short of its benchmark to have 200,000 petition signatures by June 1."

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Budget Heads to Snyder

The state’s budget for schools, universities, and community colleges is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder. “This budget is a stark contrast to last year – when lawmakers passed widespread spending cuts, and many businesses saw a tax reduction. Democrats complain this budget does not make up for last year’s cuts to education. Governor Rick Snyder says he’s pleased the state put money into its rainy day savings, and was able to offer modest increases to schools and universities. The new budget will require universities to meet performance standards to qualify for their full funding. It could also penalize Michigan State University for requiring students to carry health coverage or buy it through the school. The spending plan also sets aside money for an election year income tax cut,” Rick Pluta reports.

Union Dues

A lawyer says a Detroit federal judge plans to block a new state law that stops school districts from deducting union dues from paychecks, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Union lawyer Mark Cousens says Judge Denise Page Hood ruled from the bench Tuesday and plans to issue an injunction today. The law took effect in late March but doesn't affect districts that still have active contracts with teachers and other union-represented employees. Unions say the law was retaliation by Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder after unions began collecting signatures to protect collective bargaining in the state Constitution. The law passed by only two votes in the House and two in the Senate. Supporters say teachers and other school employees can pay dues and fees without payroll deduction.

Bus Ridership Increases

Several cities in Michigan saw large increases in bus ridership in the first quarter of this year. But the state's largest city saw a decline. “Bus ridership on "The Rapid" jumped 12 percent in the Grand Rapids metro area. Ann Arbor's bus system saw a 9 percent increase, which officials also attribute to better service.  But in Detroit, bus ridership fell six and a half percent.  That's in contrast to almost every other major U.S. city, where bus ridership grew in the first quarter. Detroit's system is notorious for buses that don't show up or that break down,” Tracy Samilton reports.

Contemplative / Flickr

Every Wednesday we sit down with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to take a look at the political stories making news this week in Michigan. Today: the state budget is one step closer to being finalized, reports say an announcement on a new Detroit to Windsor international bridge could be coming soon, and we take a look at what Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin yesterday means for Michigan.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is continuing to push for the need to secure an additional international border crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The new bridge would directly connect Michigan’s freeway system with that of its most important trading partner, Canada.

Calley says the Snyder administration will continue to plow ahead with “the end-to-end border solution that Michigan manufacturing needs,” despite some anticipated pushback.

“We don’t have a final determination of the plan as of yet, although we’re zeroing in. I do expect that the owners of the Ambassador Bridge will continue the campaign of deceit and the campaign of lies on what the proposal actually is," Calley says.

wmrice / Flicker

It's a big day in Wisconsin as voters in that state are deciding whether or not to recall their Republican Governor Scott Walker. Here in Michigan, however, Republican Governor Rick Snyder is faring a little better.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Light Rail in Southeast Michigan?

Elected leaders and private backers of the proposed Woodward Avenue light rail line met yesterday with federal transit officials in Detroit. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Backers left the meeting with yet another 60-day deadline to try and secure federal funding. The so-called M-1 light rail project has had a lot of dramatic ups and downs in the past few months. Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing—at U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s urging—decided to switch an initial federal grant for the project to a regional rapid bus system in January. But M-1’s private backers, including Detroit businessmen Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert, have continued to push for the project. Federal officials are worried the rail proposal still lacks some key elements—including a regional transit authority to fund and operate it. Bing, Snyder and Penske said they’ll work on addressing those concerns before the two sides meet again in 60 days. The current M-1 proposal would extend just 3.4 miles down Woodward, connecting downtown Detroit and the New Center area.

New Pipeline Post-Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Enbridge Energy will take its plans for a new oil pipeline across the state of Michigan to state regulators this week. “The new pipeline will replace the one that ruptured in 2010, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. The Michigan Public Service Commission will meet with Enbridge officials tomorrow to discuss the company’s pipeline plan. The agency approved plans for another section of the same pipeline plan last month. The planned new pipeline is larger than the one it will replace,” Steve Carmody reports.

Anti-Bullying Policies

Every K-12 school in Michigan has to adopt an anti-bullying policy by tomorrow. “Michigan was the 48th state to pass a school anti-bullying law. Martin Ackley is with the Michigan Department of Education. He said the law is very important to help students feel safe. ‘The bottom line is to protect the kids who are being bullied because it is definitely not deserved and it’s not helpful to the kids, to the school, to the families, to the communities and the consequences are dire,’ Ackley said. Each school in Michigan will draft its own anti-bullying policy which will include state guidelines,” Emily Fox reports.

Intrigue. Deception. Conspiracy... Yes, it certainly feels like politics in Michigan is becoming a little more wrought with fraud-filled stories. In this week's It's Just Politics, we ask: are dirty politics the new normal in Michigan?

Zoe Clark: Allegations of fraud. That’s the big political story this week.

Rick Pluta: Petition fraud – it’s the new hanging chad.

ZC: Can we call this the “Hanging Thad” scandal?

RP: You are referring, of course, to Thad McCotter.

ZC: The Republican congressman from Livonia, failed presidential candidate and guitar hero is not disputing that he does not have enough petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

RP: He did own up. He released a statement, accepting “full responsibility” – his words -- for the screw-up...  And then he blamed someone else, that he had trusted the wrong people. 

ZC: That’s the way the pros do it! But it’s why he doesn’t have the signatures that’s so….. weird.

jpwbee / Flickr

Day two of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual Mackinac Policy Conference is winding down but that certainly doesn't mean the politics at the event is slowing. In a special Wednesday edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I take a look at the political gossip floating across the Island.

Matthileo / Flickr

Taxes, as we all know too well, are a powerful political issue. And the issue has come up yet again at the state Capitol. A cut in the state income tax has become part of the negotiations as Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature's top Republican leaders wrap up their budget negotiations. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I sit down to talk politics every Friday and today, in It's Just Politics, it is all the politics of taxes.

Rick Pluta: The governor and the Legislature have set this deadline of June 1 for wrapping up the next state budget.

Zoe Clark: And that's important, because - even though the state's fiscal year begins October 1 - schools, community colleges, cities, townships, and counties all have budget years that begin July 1. They all have budgets that are tied into state spending.

RP: Right. Now, in the final days of discussions, Republicans have put an income tax cut on the table. State House Republicans will roll out the legislation next week.

ZC: So, that begs the question: why are they doing it now?

RP: Well, for a year and a half, Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans because all the tax and budget reforms have focused on reducing costs for businesses: eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on 95,000 businesses and the proposal to eliminate the tax on industrial equipment.

ZC: At the same time, a dozen tax credits and exemptions claimed by homeowners, parents, seniors on pensions, and  poor families earning incomes were ended.

RP: And Democrats have been pounding Republicans with that incessantly and with an eye toward the November elections - when, we should note, all 110 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for election.

ZC: So now, courtesy of Republicans, a proposal for income tax relief.

RP: The main bills in the tax rollback package will be sponsored by state Representatives Holly Hughes and Ed McBroom, Republicans representing districts that are considered marginally - 51, 52 percent - Democratic.

ZC: And Democrats most certainly want those seats back.

RP: Exactly, and this shows Republicans intend to put a fight in these seats by giving their incumbents these bills. One accelerates a reduction in the income tax rate; the other increases the personal exemption. But the bottom line is Republicans want the message to be: Republicans equal tax cuts. Democrats, however, have already revealed their counterattack.

ZC: And the counterattack is really what their message has been all along. Since last year, GOP hegemony in Lansing has meant tax cuts to businesses while seniors, homeowners, and working poor families all lost tax breaks that they've counted on, as well as reductions for schools, universities, and local governments.

RP:  Right, so Democrats say this so-called "tax relief:" 50 cents a week, nine dollars a person per year  is pretty meager compared to the costs that everyone has had to pick up in the name of improving the business climate.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit Budget

The Detroit City Council has approved a new budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st but, the Council spent a lot more time talking about Detroit’s consent agreement with the state—and whether to challenge it in court—than about the budget. “The budget that Council approved by a six-three vote is pretty similar to the one Mayor Dave Bing’s office proposed in April. The Council restored some money to the budget. But it mostly preserved the nearly $250 million in cuts the mayor proposed. They didn’t have much choice, because the city’s consent agreement requires Detroit to spend within its means. A decision on whether to take the consent agreement to court is expected early next week,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

State Prison Shakeup

The state Department of Corrections plans a shakeup of its network of prisons and holding facilities to add space for alleged parole violators. Rick Pluta reports:

The last remaining prison within Detroit’s city limits will close, and be converted to a holding facility for people accused of parole violators. A prisoner re-entry facility in the Thumb will also close, while a shuttered prison in Muskegon will re-open. Russ Marlan is with the state Department of Corrections. He says the department has few alternatives right now when dealing with parole absconders – either ship them to the state prison complex in Jackson or let them go free. Some Detroit lawmakers complain the move will make it harder for some families to visit inmates and weaken the support system for prisoners once they’re released.

Camp Take Notice

People who live at a large homeless encampment near Ann Arbor are worried they might be evicted. “About 65 people live at Camp Take Notice. Residents and their supporters held a rally last night to pressure the state to let them stay. The tent city sits on Michigan Department of Transportation property. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation says the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years.  He says there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate,” Mercedes Mejia reports.

Contemplative Imaging / Flickr

Every Wednesday morning we check in with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry to talk about the week's political news in the state. On tap for this morning: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that review teams that are deciding whether or not a city or school district is in financial crisis can meet behind closed doors, some Detroit officials say the consent agreement the city has with the state is illegal, and we take a look at a big shake-up in the state Republican party leadership.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit Consent Agreement

Officials with Detroit’s law department say they expect to go to court to challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Last week, Detroit’s top lawyer suggested the agreement was illegal because the state owes an outstanding debt to the city.  State officials say that premise is all wrong. Some City Council members oppose a legal challenge, calling it pointless and counterproductive. But council member Kwame Kenyatta took the opposite view. He says if city lawyers are right and the agreement violates the city charter, that’s a serious problem. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declined to comment on the legal challenge.

Flint Teachers

The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers. Earlier this month, the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools. Board documents say the district selected teachers for layoff based on recent evaluations. Statewide teacher tenure legislation last year put an end to seniority-based layoffs. The board must adopt a budget by June 30.

Kalamazoo River Update

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated. “Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.  Jennifer Gray is a state toxicologist. She says a draft report released this week by the Department of Community Health shows no organic oil-related chemicals have turned up in any of the water wells.  But she says a few wells have tested positive for iron and nickel. Gray says testing will continue for years to come," Steve Carmody reports. A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

Green Energy Futures / Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Teacher Benefits

A state House committee will go to work this morning on legislation that would make some big changes to teachers’ retirement benefits. Rick Pluta reports:

The state manages the school employees’ pension fund. Governor Rick Snyder says the system is under-funded. He wants the Legislature to enact a plan to make sure it doesn't require a taxpayer bailout years down the road. Teachers’ unions say the governor is overstating the liabilities on the system. They say Republicans are using the numbers to force more costs onto school employees. One of the proposed changes would end retiree health care insurance for new hires.

Double Taxation?

Republican State Senator David Robertson wants to end what he calls a form of double taxation on new car sales. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Currently in Michigan, when you apply the trade-in value of your old car to the purchase price of a new car, you pay sales tax on the entire price of the new car.  Sen. David Robertson says that's not fair. He says most states only tax people on the difference between the value of the trade-in and the new car. Changing the tax means the state would lose $250 million in tax revenue a year, so he's proposing to phase in the tax change over six years.

Mayors Say ‘No’ to Occupy Groups

Two Michigan mayors who supported Occupy Wall Street protestors in their cities last year say they won't allow encampments on city property this year. “Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says Michigan's capital city won't let protestors stay in a downtown park past closing time.  Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje agrees. ‘We wouldn't tolerate tents in our parks or people sleeping overnight.  It was a special circumstance, it was a one-time thing,’ Hieftje explains. With warm weather in full swing, Wall Street protestors are expected to make a return,” the Michigan Radio Newsroom reports.

Immortal Poet / Flickr

Every week, Rick Pluta and I take an inside look at state politics in It's Just Politics. This week we focused on the defection of Representative Roy Schmidt. But, there's SO much more going on in politics this week: Wednesday was the filing deadline for local and state races across the state and, so, Pluta and I thought it was only right to do a little round-up of who's in and who's out...

Politics can be messy. Politics can be confusing. But, that certainly doesn't mean politics can't be a total thrilling joy-ride. Every Friday afternoon Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta  sit down for a fast-paced spin around Michigan politics.

ZC: It’s Just Politics. I’m Zoe Clark.

RP:And, I’m Rick Pluta.

ZC: We start this week with a tale of intrigue, deception,  and – dare I say it? Betrayal.

RP: Yes, Zoe. A defection. This has not happened in Lansing since the 1990s. Democrats thought they had a reasonably safe seat in the 76th state House District in Grand Rapids... Competitive but marginally Democratic with a strong incumbent in Representative Roy Schmidt.

ZC: But then….A tergiversation,  a flip.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Court of Appeals Takes Up EM Repeal

It’s now up to the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine whether voters will have a chance to approve or reject the state’s emergency manager law. Rick Pluta reports:

The court held an hour-long hearing on the question yesterday. The referendum drive wants the court to order the question onto the November ballot. That’s after a state elections panel deadlocked along party lines, effectively blocking the referendum. The board’s two Republicans said the print size on the petition was too small. Attorney Herb Sanders says if the court lets that decision stand, it would send a grim message to more than 200,000 people who signed the petitions. Opponents of the referendum say if the rules were not followed to the letter, the question should not be allowed on the ballot.

Detroit Consent Agreement Legal?

Detroit’s top lawyer says the city’s consent agreement with the state is not legally binding. “Corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon sent a letter to Governor Snyder’s office calling the agreement “void and unenforceable.” The letter cites money the state owes the city—and says Detroit’s charter forbids it from entering into agreements with debtors. State officials called Crittendon’s letter “confusing.” They say city officials must have known these things before entering into the consent agreement,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

MI “Stand Your Ground” Law

More than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law after the fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the Associated Press reports. "The lawmakers on Thursday announced the measure to repeal 2006 laws passed by bipartisan majorities in the Legislature and signed by then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Backers say such laws protect innocent lives. Detractors say they can become a license to kill and are prone to misuse. Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida's targeted by civil rights and anti-gun violence groups," the AP reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

MI Economic Outlook

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped by two-tenths of a percentage point in April to 8.3 percent. Rick Pluta reports:

That news came amid predictions that Michigan’s economic recovery will continue, but at a slower pace than it has. George Fulton is a University of Michigan economist.  He says Michigan’s jobless rate remains high, but the state has been outpacing the nation in creating new jobs. “The largest job gains have been the higher wage sector and we see job growth continuing for the next few years, but not quite at the pace we saw last year,” Fulton says. Fulton says that’s largely because of an expected slowdown in car and truck sales, plus overall slow growth in the national economy. Still the mostly good economic news was enough to convince state budget officials to up their revenue projections based on expected income improvements and more consumer spending.

Balancing the State’s Checkbook

Michigan's budget will have about $300 million more this year than state economists predicted in January. “That money is the result of a combination of higher-than-expected tax payments and fewer people receiving Medicaid and other state services. The news came from today's revenue estimating conference in Lansing. State budget director John Nixon says he thinks much of the extra money may go into the state's rainy day fund. Or it may be set aside in case the state loses legal fights over collecting income taxes on public pensions or having state workers pay more of their pension costs. Officials also estimate the state will have about $100 million more to spend in the budget year that starts Oct. 1,” reporters in the Michigan Radio Newsroom explain.

MI More Optimistic

Michiganders are becoming more optimistic about the economy, according to new results out today from Michigan State University's State of the State Survey.Michigan Radio's John Wilson reports:

The survey says state residents haven't been this positive about the economy since 2005, with 54 percent of survey participants characterizing their financial situation as "good" or "excellent" and 61 percent expecting things to get even better in the year to come. MSU notes, “In the fall 2011 survey, conducted from mid-September through early November, only 46.2 percent of those answering the survey called their financial situation "excellent" or “good.”

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Michigan’s Budget

A conference today at the state Capitol will determine how much money the Legislature will have to work with for the current and upcoming fiscal years. “Preliminary estimates suggest the state is in for a windfall adding up to tens of millions of dollars. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he’s not interested in committing that money to new spending. He says the surplus is not all that big compared to the total budget… The Legislature has set a target of having the budget wrapped up by June 1st,” Rick Pluta reports.

GOP Senate Candidates

Yesterday was the deadline for candidates seeking state or federal offices to file to run in Michigan. And, it looks like the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary will be crowded as five candidates have filed nominating petitions. They are former judge Randy Hekman, businessman Peter Konetchy, co-author of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions Gary Glenn, former-congressman Pete Hoekstra and charter school CEO Clark Durant. The winner of the August 8th primary will face Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in November.

Anti-Fracking Ballot

People who oppose a form of oil and gas drilling known as "fracking" are officially launching a petition drive to ban the practice in the state. Tracy Samilton reports:

"Horizontal hydraulic fracturing" uses slant drilling to inject chemicals or water into rocks to fracture them, in order to extract oil or natural gas. LuAnne Kozma is the campaign's director. She says fracking uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate water. A spokesman for a company with exploratory wells in Michigan says the state has some of the most rigorous safety regulations in the nation for fracking. Petition organizers must get more than 322,000 signatures by July 9th, to get the issue on the November ballot.

allieosmar / Flickr

Every week we check in with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to get an update on what's happening in state politics. On tap for this week:

The state holds a revenue estimating conference today... we'll get a better idea of how much money the state will take in and the political consequences of a possible budget surplus. Yesterday was the filing deadline for candidates who want to run for many local and statewide elections. We ask: who's in, who's out, and what were the big surprises. And, a petition drive is underway to ban"fracking" in the state constitution.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

The Impact of EITC Cuts

A new report says Michigan's low-income working families will pay an estimated $244 million more in state income taxes next year due to reductions in the state's earned income tax credit, the Associated Press reports. “The Michigan League for Human Services released a report yesterday that shows the state earned income tax credit in 2009 reduced taxes for low-income families by $349 million. That savings will drop to $104 million for 2012,” the AP explains. A spokeswoman with the League says the tax credits boost the economy because poor families spend the money right away.

Political Ad Buys

Five politically conservative groups appear to be pooling their money to buy political ads on Michigan TV stations. Lester Graham reports:

The public files of Michigan’s TV stations reveal four different political non-profits and a super PAC are taking turns buying ads critical of President Obama.  Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, keeps track of this kind of political spending. Often this political money is reported nowhere else. “Millions of dollars have been spent in Michigan, characterizing the Obama administration and its policies, and there will be no accountability for who's behind that,” Robinson says. Most of the groups do not have to reveal who their donors are. Record-breaking amounts of money are expected to be spent in an attempt to influence voters this election year.

MI Budget Boost

A new report says Michigan is collecting more in tax revenues than previous guessed. Steve Carmody reports:

The state House Fiscal Agency reports that revenues in the General Fund and School Aid Fund are running nearly $200 million higher than previously estimated for this fiscal year. The agency predicts revenues will also be slightly higher in the next fiscal year. “General Fund revenues are fluctuating more than school aid. It does appear at this time that there may be more money in school aid,” says Ari Adler, the spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger. Adler says legislative leaders hope to pass a budget for next year by the end of the month. The next fiscal year begins October 1st.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Individual Tax Cut?

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says a tax rollback for individual filers could be part of an overall plan to cut taxes for manufacturers. “The state Senate has approved a proposed phase-out of the tax on most manufacturing equipment. The package now goes to the state House. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he wants to roll into it a reduction in the state income tax or some other tax on individuals. Calley says he and Gov. Snyder are open to the idea. Democrats have complained that the tax reductions enacted by Republicans in Lansing over the past year and a half have all been directed at businesses,” Rick Pluta reports.

Pure Michigan

The Obama Administration wants to step up efforts to promote the U.S. as an international tourism destination and that’s welcome news to the folks who run the “Pure Michigan” campaign. Steve Carmody reports:

Michigan tourism officials know people from foreign countries come here to vacation, but they don’t know how many. And that’s important to know when they’re planning how to spend the “Pure Michigan” campaign’s $25 million advertising budget. This year, only about one percent, or about $250,000, is being spent to promote Michigan as a tourism destination in Europe, mainly in England and Germany. Nothing is being spent in Asia. Right now, the “Pure Michigan” campaign is focusing on regional promotions with some national ads, .and “a modest effort” in Canada.

Northern MI Wildfire

Officials say two wildfires in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula burned nearly 400 acres before being brought under control by fire crews, the Associated Press reports. “WWTV/WWUP reports the first fire started in Ogemaw County's Foster Township and burned about 125 acres on Sunday. The second fire was about four miles away and burned about 250 acres. No injuries were reported. People along a mile-long section of roadway near the first fire were evacuated Sunday but since have returned home. There's no word of structure damage.The cause of the fires is under investigation,” the AP explains.

Every Friday Rick Pluta and I take a look at state politics in It's Just Politics (you can check out this week's edition here.) But, it can be pretty darn hard to fit all of the week's political stories into just five minutes.

So, if you're as much of a political junkie as we both are, take a listen to an extended version of It's Just Politics.

On tap for this afternoon: the politics behind the state Senate's vote to rollback Michigan's personal property tax, the controversy surrounding Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway's sketchy-looking real estate deals, and allegations that state Representative Lisa Brown fired an employee for being pregnant.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta and I take a look at the politics of taking credit for a good economy. Governor Snyder says Michigan's economy is improving but that's not the story that Mitt Romney wants to tell.

Zoe Clark: Rick, I have a great idea for this week's show!

Rick Pluta: Actually, Zoe, I think maybe it was someone else’s idea first.

Mitt Romney: “So, I’ll take a lot of credit...”

RP: That’s our cheap setup for the fact that Mitt Romney paid a visit to Michigan this week.

ZC: Indeed, he campaigned this week at Lansing Community College.

RP: Prior to hitting the ground here in Lansing, Romney gave an interview with an Ohio TV station, where he said President Obama really followed his plan - the Romney plan - for the bailout of the auto industry.

ZC: And, so, there’s this disconnect. Was the bailout bad? Or, wasn’t it? Governor Rick Snyder – a Romney supporter -- says it’s time to just stop talking about it.

Rick Snyder: “I think too much time is spent on the whole bailout question. It worked, it's done, it's over with. There's  other ways it probably could have been done. But, the point is it was successful."

RP: So, move on, folks. There’s nothing more to see here. Let’s change the subject. And this speaks to the sometimes awkward dance between governors and presidential candidates -- when they are from the same political party.  Rick Snyder is telling people things are looking up.

Snyder: “Now, if you look at where we're at, we’re the comeback state in the United States today.”

RP: The “comeback state,” outpacing the nation in job creation, manufacturing on the rise. And Mitt Romney?

Romney: “These last few years have been hard on the people in Lansing and frankly they've been hard on the people of America. “

ZC: Not hearing that relentless positivity there.

RP: This guy’s harshin’ my mellow. 

ZC: Rick Snyder does say there’s more work to be done. That Washington needs a healthy dose of what’s working in Michigan. But that’s not Romney’s message.

RP: Right. Where Rick Snyder says life is good and getting better, Mitt Romney says you’re worse off than you might have been. It’s not good, and whatever might be good is going to head south without some change.  

ZC: This dichotomy is not new. In the 1990s, the economy was booming John Engler was the Republican governor of Michigan, Bill Clinton, the Democratic president. When it came to that success…

RP: Credit for a good economy wasn’t a problem for Governor Jennifer Granholm. With George W.Bush in the White House, the economy was bad and it was a battle of blame. And it became mutually assured political destruction - we saw that by the time the time both of them office - Bush in 2009, Granholm on January first of 2011 - they were both pretty unpopular.  

ZC: That speaks to a few things, but one of them is people seeking office will cast a lot of blame for the bad, lay claim to the good, but there are really a lot of things outside their control that will decide the state of the economy and the state of their popularity.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Senate Passes Industrial Tax Phase Out

The state Senate voted yesterday to phase out a tax on most industrial and business property in Michigan. "The tax is a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Senate Republicans amended their original plan so it now provides some assurances it won’t force big cuts to education and other services. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the tax on industrial equipment, in particular, is so unique it drives investment elsewhere. Democrats say the rollback is part of a pattern in Lansing of shifting the tax burden from businesses to individuals," Rick Pluta reports.

Bing Appoints a Detroit CFO

Jack Martin has been appointed chief financial officer in Detroit. Sarah Hulett reports:

The CFO is one of two key positions in the effort to turnaround the city's troubled finances. Martin served as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, and in January he was picked to be the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park schools. The Detroit native says he also helped turn around Washington D.C.'s municipal finances. Martin will work alongside a still-unnamed program management director, and a financial advisory board. He starts the job on Monday with a yearly salary of $220,000.

Snyder Talks Bridge in Canada

Governor Snyder visited Windsor, Ontario yesterday to discuss plans with Canadian officials for another bridge across the Detroit River. Ken Silfven, a spokesman for the Governor says the administration, “remains committed to a Canadian-U.S. collaboration to build a span to supplement the privately owned Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The Windsor Star reports that U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson also attended the meeting. Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has been fiercely battling the proposal with ads and lobbying. He seeks to add a span to his own bridge instead,” the Associated Press reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Tuition Breaks for Veterans

Veterans who come to Michigan after retiring from military duty could soon get a tuition break at community colleges and universities. “A state House committee approved legislation yesterday that would waive the residency requirement for veterans to qualify for in-state or local tuition rates. State Representative Holly Hughes is one of the sponsors. Hughes says the tuition break would also encourage veterans to settle in Michigan once their service is complete. Universities and community colleges say the legislation does not make up for their lost revenue from the tuition breaks,” Rick Pluta reports.

Mandatory Sentences?

A bill in the Michigan Senate would impose tougher penalties on habitual criminals. Rina Miller reports:

A three-time felon who commits a fourth serious offense in Michigan would get a mandatory 25-year sentence under the proposal. The bill has the backing of State Attorney General Bill Schuette as well as law enforcement groups. The Attorney General's office says the mandatory sentence for fourth offenses would include assault with intent to murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and manslaughter. State Senator Steve Bieda says he'd like to refine the bill to give judges more sentencing discretion depending on the severity of the crime.

DNR Auction

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned off state-owned oil and natural gas drilling rights yesterday. More than $4 million dollars was made by leasing some 91,225 acres of land. “The money raised from these biannual auctions has been steadily increasing since 2000, hitting peaks in 2008 and 2010. In the first auction of 2008, the state leased all of the 149,000 available acres for more than $13 million. The last time the state had a 100 percent lease rate was in 1981. The first auction in 2010 had a 99.6 percent lease rate and raised an unprecedented amount: more than $178 million,” Suzanne Jacobs reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Election Results

Voters from more than 200 communities turned out yesterday for local elections. In West Michigan, the nearly $100-million-dollar Grand Rapids Community College millage failed. Voters in other parts of the state, however, seemed more willing to spend on education. The Ann Arbor Public Schools technology bond passed with 70 percent in favor of the bond. Voters also approved a bond proposal in the Bloomfield Hills School District. In Brighton, voters narrowly approved an $88 million bond issue. A one-percent city income tax was defeated in Ypsilanti. And, voters in the Lansing area defeated a proposal that would have added a surcharge on their water bills to pay for a sludge dryer in Delhi Township.

Romney Campaigns in Lansing

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney returned to Michigan yesterday to deliver an address at Lansing Community College. Rick Pluta reports:

Romney spoke to a crowd of about 500 people. He went on the attack against President Obama’s handling of the economy. Michigan is outpacing the nation in new hiring, but Romney says the recovery is anemic, and the President mishandled the rescue of the domestic auto industry. He says the President’s rhetoric has not matched his results. The Obama campaign says the resurgence of the auto industry and hiring in the manufacturing sector are proof the president’s policies are working. The Obama and Romney campaigns say they intend to wage a battle for Michigan, which has voted with the Democratic nominee for president in the last five elections.

Snyder Signs Taser Measure

People with concealed pistol permits in Michigan will soon be able to carry Tasers. “Governor Snyder signed the bill into law yesterday. The rules will be the same as those that apply to people authorized to carry firearms in Michigan. More than a quarter-million people in Michigan have concealed pistol licenses. Michigan joins 44 other states that allow people to carry Tasers in public,” Sarah Hulett reports.

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