The Republican-led state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill by a 24-13 vote that would repeal the item pricing requirement... Retail trade groups support the change, saying the current law results in higher prices. The revised regulations would require retailers to post an item's price where it can be clearly seen but would not require price tags on individual items.
Unions say grocery store jobs would be lost if item pricing is repealed. Some Democrats oppose repeal, saying it would do away with consumer protections.
More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:
Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."
Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.
AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.
She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.
Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.
State Sen. John Pappageorge R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.
He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.
"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."
As protests continue in Madison over a controversial bill removing collecting bargaining rights from some public unions, attention is drifting to Michigan.
Governor Snyder has responded to reports and protests by saying that he does not want to follow Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's example, reiterating in an interview with WXYZ that he is eager to solve problems--including the specifics on $180 million dollars worth of concessions from state employees--through the collective bargaining process, and that he "was hired to solve Michigan's issues."
But whether Governor Snyder wants attention from national media or not, it is happening, including a ten-minute report on last night's Rachel Maddow Show.
But what does the law actually say? What is an Emergency Financial Manager? How are they appointed?
And if the title wasn't a clue, the explanation is a little long.
From the FAQ:
What triggers the Act?
Among the conditions specified in the Act are the failure by a unit of local government to pay creditors, the failure to make timely pension contributions, and payless paydays. In addition, certain officials, or residents, of a unit of local government may request a preliminary review under the Act, as may either the State Senate or House of Representatives.
What happens when the Act is triggered?
The State Treasurer conducts a preliminary review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. Once that review is concluded, the State Treasurer reports the result to the Governor. If a serious financial problem is found to exist in the unit of local government, the Governor then appoints a financial review team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government.
What is the purpose of a Financial Review Team?
...[A] Financial Review Team...conduct[s] a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. A Financial Review Team generally has 60 days (generally 30 days in the case of school districts) to complete its work and file its report. A Financial Review Team report must reach one of the following three conclusions:
-- A serious financial problem does not exist in the unit of local government, or
-- A serious financial problem exists in the unit of local government, but a Consent Agreement containing a plan to resolve the problem has been adopted, or
-- A local government financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the serious financial problem.
If the third conclusion is reached, or if a unit of local government signs, but subsequently violates a Consent Agreement, then a financial emergency is determined to exist in the unit of local government and an Emergency Financial Manager is appointed.
Who appoints Emergency Financial Managers?
For units of local government other than school districts, Emergency Financial Managers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of the State Treasurer, the Director of the Department of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Emergency Financial Managers for school districts are appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate
New Powers for EMFs
But a bill passed by the Michigan Senate this week expands the Emergency Financial Managers' powers to include ending union-approved contracts. Holland radio station WHTC reports:
After days of debate and protests, the State Senate passes a bill to give more power to emergency financial managers appointed to cities or school districts. The 26-to-12 vote, which followed party lines, will allow emergency managers to cancel workers union contracts.
Democrats have said passing the bill would undermine collective bargaining in the affected communities or schools, while Republicans contend the legislation would help target municipalities or districts before their financial problems reach critical levels.
Six localities or school districts are currently affected by the law. From the Chicago Tribune:
The current state law related to emergency financial managers is affecting about a half-dozen local communities and schools at this time. Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place.
The bill has passed the House and the Senate and is on its way back to the House, where approval is required for some minor changes.
The Detroit News reports the Michigan Senate is expected to pass the Emergency Financial Manager bill despite the protests taking place in the capitol. From the Detroit News:
A bill to give broad authority to emergency financial managers to fix a governing body's finances is expected to pass in the Senate on Wednesday despite boisterous union protests that punctuated today's session.
Senate Republicans voted down more than 20 Democratic amendments as more than 1,000 union members chanted "Kill the Bill" outside the Senate chamber. Their chants were audible as the chamber debated the bill, as were the catcalls of protesters crammed into the gallery above the Senate floor.
The union members protesting the bill say it would make emergency financial managers too powerful, "allowing them to toss out union contracts, overrule elected officials and dissolve city councils and school boards."
Protesters have arrived at the state Capitol to show their opposition to a measure that would give more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Laura Weber sent this report from Lansing:
The state Capitol is jammed this morning with a raucous group of union members and supporters who are opposed to a proposal to grant more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Hundreds of protesters are chanting "kill the bill" loudly outside of the Michigan Senate chamber as lawmakers prepare to vote on the controversial measure.
Still hundreds more are on the Capitol lawn rallying against the emergency manager bills. The package of bills would strip unions of collective bargaining rights, and dissolve union contracts, if an emergency manager was put in place to take over the finances of a struggling city, township, or school district.
The Associated Press reports there are around 1,000 people demonstrating:
...protesters are at the Capitol objecting to bills that would give broad new powers to emergency financial managers appointed by the state to run struggling cities and schools.
The Senate plans to vote on the measures Tuesday. The House passed the bills two weeks ago.
Groups opposed to legislation they consider anti-union are holding the morning rally and also are chanting inside the Capitol.
Local officials warned during a Monday news conference that the financial manager measures would take away voters' rights by removing the authority of elected school board members, mayors and council members.
Workers warn that the bills could allow financial managers to terminate union contracts.
Supporters of the legislation say it would lead to earlier intervention in financially troubled communities and schools, avoiding bigger crises.
The Michigan Education Association, along with the Working Michigan coalition, is planning a protest rally in the capitol tomorrow. From the MEA's website:
"Working Michigan, a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting working families and Michigan’s Middle Class Dream, will be holding a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 8, to protest the package of "Emergency Financial Manager" bill that is currently in the state Senate."
According to the Detroit News, the state Senate may vote on Tuesday to bestow broad powers to emergency financial managers including the ability "to toss out union contracts and suspend elected officials in communities and school districts that are operating at a deficit."
The MEA is protesting what it calls a series of "attacks on Michigan workers."
Interim hospital CEO Patrick Salow says a 10 percent decline in patient numbers over the past year is forcing the staffing cuts. He says the layoffs will affect the hospital’s nursing staff, but the layoffs will also affect other divisions like the finance department.
“If we’ve got fewer patients, so there’s fewer bills to send out, do we need as many people to process bills for example."
The total layoff will be between 100 and 150 hospital employees.
‘Food deserts’ are a growing problem in Michigan cities. Two Michigan State University professors believe they have an idea that might help.
'Food deserts’ are created when local supermarkets close and there’s no place where people can walk to buy fruits, vegetables and other fresh food.
MSU professors Phil Howard and Kirk Goldsberry wanted to see how bad the problem is in Lansing. Goldsberry says he was surprised that large sections of the capitol city are ‘food deserts’. He says, in many cases, if you want fresh food, you must drive to Lansing’s suburbs.
“The suburbanization of groceries has placed our best markets in commercially zoned in non-residential, automobile oriented areas. Essentially geographically separating our best produce sections from our most densely populated neighborhoods.”
Protesters were in Lansing again today to speak out against several proposals in the Republican-controlled state Legislature that they say will strip unions of the rights. That includes a measure approved by the state House that would give more control to emergency financial managers appointed to run cities and townships, or school districts. The state Senate is considering a similar measure.
Nick Ciaramintaro is with the union AFL-CIO of Michigan. He told lawmakers that more power for emergency financial managers means less democracy for local governments.
"Kill the Bill....Kill the Bill" shouted hundreds of municipal labor union members as protests continued for a second day at the state Capitol in Lansing. Hundreds of unionized firefighters and police officers marched on the Capitol.
They are calling on the Legislature to reject a bill that would repeal the requirement that puts local government labor disputes into binding arbitration.
Local government officials say binding arbitration leads to expensive settlements. Unionized workers say binding arbitration is a fair way to settle disputes, and its a concession unions made in return for giving up the right to strike. Jason Sneft is a firefighter from the city of Jackson.
“This is probably step in a long couple years of many steps of trying to eliminate union actions.”
Drivers honked their horns in support as uniformed firefighters and police officers lined both sides of the street in front of the Capitol. The binding arbitration measure is not scheduled for a vote yet.
The House is expected to vote on another bill that would give state-appointed local emergency financial managers the power to discard union contracts.
Rick Pluta, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, filed a report on the protests in Lansing saying they were organized by "public employee unions, and attracted state and local government workers as well as teachers who had a snow day." From Pluta's report:
They’re fighting against anti-union bills sponsored in the Michigan Legislature, and to show support for union rallies in Madison-Wisconsin and Colombus-Ohio.
Sally McNamara is a teacher in the Adrian Public Schools:
"I’m here supporting the children of our state and our nation. Are we in debt? Are we in trouble? You bet we’re in trouble. Is it really hard-working people who are driving us down in the gutters? No. It’s not."
Pluta says dozens of Tea Party protestors also gathered to rally in favor of the proposed budget cuts.
Protestors came to Lansing today to voice their opinion on the proposed cuts by the Snyder administration and to protest bills in the Michigan legislature they see as anti-union.
The Detroit News reports that "unofficial estimates put attendance at close 1,000" people:
After a brief rally and march to the Capitol, members streamed across to the House office building to call on legislators, and about 200 construction workers poured into a hearing room where testimony was to be taken at noon on a bill to repeal prevailing wage requirements.
Members plan to cram the gallery of the House chambers this afternoon where lawmakers are slated to discuss bills that would grant authority to emergency financial managers to toss out collective bargaining contracts.
The Detroit Free Press says the protestors in Lansing were inspired by the protests taking place in Wisconsin:
Many protesters...said they thought Snyder's proposal was an attack on unions similar to a bill being pushed by Wisconsin's new Republican governor. They said they were inspired to turn out by eight straight days of protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people to the Wisconsin Capitol.
The Detroit News reported on Tea Party protestors who turned out in smaller numbers in Lansing today. They're supporting Governor Snyder's proposed cuts and some hope Snyder will take a similar stand on unions that the legislature is taking. From the Detroit News:
Tea party supporters Annamaria Evans of Clarkston, Pat Miller of South Haven and Jack Stone of Lake Orion said they want Michigan to end collective bargaining rights for public employees, just as Walker has proposed in Wisconsin.
Miller, a member of the Southwest Michigan Tea Party Patriots, said he wants to see Snyder get as tough on unions as the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature is.
Republican state Representative Dave Agema introduced a bill yesterday that would amend the state's constitution to create a part-time legislature, rather than the full-time legislature that Michigan currently has.
The Associated Press calls it a, "long-shot" as efforts to make the legislature part-time have failed in the past. Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry agrees. He says he doesn't think the bill will go anywhere.
The AP reports:
Advocates say it would save money and force lawmakers to be more efficient when conducting business at the state Capitol.
Agema’s amendment would limit the Legislature, which convenes on the second Wednesday of every January, to 150 consecutive days of session. Budget bills would have to be completed by June 15; it’s now Sept. 30. Extra days could be scheduled, but only for extraordinary reasons that aren’t specified.
Lansing mayor Virg Bernero delivered his sixth state of the city address last night. He had a lot to say about past accomplishments, but said next to nothing about the city’s projected $15 million budget deficit.
Look around and see for yourself, it’s happening in Lansing.
Lansing mayor Virg Bernero told the audience during his state of the city address. To that end, Bernero spoke a lot about recent business investment in the capitol city.
He didn’t speak directly to Lansing’s projected $15 million budget deficit. He did suggest part of the budget problem can be found across the street from Lansing city hall at the state capitol.
City budgets across Michigan are on life support. The loss of property tax values means the loss of property tax revenue. High unemployment means the loss of income tax revenue. And the continued failure of state government to manage its own budget problems has cost of tens of millions in state shared revenues.
Bernero also said Lansing needs to work with its neighbors to deal with a variety of regional problems.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero delivered his sixth State of the City address last night. As Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports, he had a lot to say about past accomplishments but said next to nothing about the city's projected $15 million dollar budget deficit:
"Look around and see for yourself, it's happening in Lansing," Bernero said. That was the theme of Lansing mayor Virg Bernero's state of the city address.
To that end, Bernero spoke a lot about recent business investment in the capitol city. He didn't speak directly to Lansing's projected $15 million budget deficit.
He did suggest part of the budget problem can be found across the street from Lansing city hall at the state capitol.
"City budgets across Michigan are on life support. The loss of property tax values means the loss of property tax revenue. High unemployment means the loss of income tax revenue. And the continued failure of state government to manage its own budget problems has cost of tens of millions in state shared revenues," Bernero said.
Bernero also said Lansing needs to work with its neighbors to deal with a variety of regional problems.
However, later today, that figure could change. That's because economists are meeting today for what's called a "revenue estimating conference" at the state Capitol. The economists will come up with an estimate of just how much money the state can expect to receive through the next fiscal year. As the state's website explains:
The Revenue Estimating Conference held each January is a major part of the budget process. During the conference, national and state economic indicators are used to formulate an accurate prediction of revenue available for appropriation in the upcoming fiscal year. This conference first convened in 1992, pursuant to Act No. 72 of the Public Acts of 1991. The principal participants in the conference are the State Budget Director and the Directors of the Senate and House Fiscal Agencies or their respective designees. Other participants may include the Governor and senior officials from the Department of Treasury.
One of them would be limiting Bridge card recipients to a maximum of four years of lifetime benefits. The bridge card provides food - which is federally funded - and some cash assistance.
Bolger says the state could save $45 million immediately with a cap on benefits:
We want to help people break the cycle of dependency... government should not create that cycle. And that's what happens. People get caught in that system, and it's not good for the human spirit. People want the opportunity to provide for themselves, and that's what we want to help them do.
Bolger says he wants the four-year benefit allowance to be enforced retroactively. He also wants to go after businesses that participate in welfare fraud.
As the Associated Press reports, the majority of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House will be new to their jobs:
The turnover is caused partly by the state's term limits law and a strong showing by Republicans in last year's elections. Republicans built on their advantage in the Senate and grabbed control of House from Democrats.
Lawmakers will begin the new session with a new Republican Governor and a projected $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.
The start of the new year often brings in a lot of talk of good will. For those in politics, it's talk of bipartisanship.
In Michigan, that spirit is likely to dissolve quickly as the state faces a $1.8 billion budget deficit in the next fiscal year (the state's next fiscal year will start October 1st, 2011).
Peter Luke on MLive.com highlights the discussion beginning to take shape among the leaders in the state legislature.
Republicans pretty much control everything in Lansing now, and the first item they say they plan to cut are salaries and benefits for state employees.
Jase Bolger, the new Speaker in the State House of Representatives, said state employee benefits are definitely on the table if the state is going to close the enormous budget deficit gap:
"There are significant dollars that need to be saved through our compensation models, not just salaries, but the entire compensation."
In his recent piece on the looming budget deficit, Michigan Radio's Lester Graham points out that slashing state employee salaries and benefits only gets them a small percentage of their overall $1.8 billion dollar goal.
Governor Rick Snyder begins his first full week of work at the state Capitol today, Laura Weber reports. Snyder was sworn in as the state's 48th governor on Saturday. He told a crowd in front of the Capitol building that the state needs to move into the future with a positive attitude.
It is also time to be bold. I’ve been cautioned by many that expectations are already too high. We shouldn’t walk away from high expectations, it’s time to deliver on high expectations.
It's expected that Snyder will start signing his first executive orders to reorganize state government as soon as this week.
The City of Lansing is facing a potential $15 million budget deficit. City Finance Director Jerry Ambrose says there is a growing chasm between Lansing’s projected spending needs fiscal year 2012 and the city’s projected revenue. FY2012 begins June 30th, 2011. Ambrose says the city expects to spend $118 million next year delivering city services, but city revenues are only expected to reach $103 million. Ambrose says in a written statement:
Leaders in the state legislature have called lawmakers back to the Capitol today for a final meeting of this year's legislative session. The news comes after lawmakers had called it quits earlier this month. As Laura Weber of the Michigan Public Radio Network reports, lawmakers have to go back to Lansing to correct a few procedural mistakes from the earlier lame-duck session:
The state Senate has a few bills sent back from the House for final approval, including a measure that would lower the minimum age for blood donation from 17 to 16. The House also needs to meet Wednesday to approve a resolution to adjourn for the year. But it's unclear if enough lawmakers can be wrangled on short notice to return to the state Capitol to vote.
Lawmakers might enroll and send to Gov. Jennifer Granholm legislation allowing sale of the Michigan School for the Deaf site in Flint to a developer who wants to redevelop the property and keep the school open. Bills that would regulate billboards for sexually oriented businesses are among the others that need final approval or procedural votes before they can be sent to Granholm.
Well, it appears that state lawmakers aren't quite done with this year's lame duck legislative session.
It's been announced that both the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate will convene at the state Capitol tomorrow. The news comes after lawmakers declared their two-year session was done on December 3rd.
However, the Associated Press reports, that neither chamber is expected to take up any controversial issues:
The House is expected to deal with legislation cracking down on human trafficking and a few other issues. The Senate will deal with bills that can't be sent to GovernorJennifer Granholm because they didn't get an immediate effect vote or because they were changed by the House. Lawmakers aren't expected to take up insurance coverage for autism, teacher tenure rules or other sensitive subjects that were left unaddressed before adjourning earlier this month.
Lawmakers worked throughout Thursday night and into early the early morning hours on Friday to complete their 2009-2010 legislative session.
Lawmakers approved $10 million dollars for the 'Pure Michigan' advertising campaign. Governor Granholm had wanted $25 million for the campaign. Democratic state Representative Dan Scripps said the deal could have been better:
You know, we’ve put two options on the Senate’s desk, and the governor’s put a third one, and essentially they punted and raided from another pot and I just don’t think that’s the way to go. We can do better than this.
Efforts to enact teacher-tenure reforms that would make it easier to fire teachers failed as did a law that would require insurance companies to cover autism treatments for children.
Lawmakers might finalize a plan to distribute more than $300 million in federal money to Michigan schools. It's not clear if lawmakers will agree on a way to raise more money for the state's Pure Michigan tourism advertising program.
In an article titled, "After failed bid for governor, it's business as usual for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernro," the LSJ reports:
Bernero wants to turn his attention to economic development... and preparations for 600 new jobs at General Motors Co.'s Lansing Grand River plant. There's also "a few other things we haven't even yet announced economic-wise," Bernero said. Lansing's cash-strapped budget also should keep him occupied, he said. "I am the mayor," Bernero said. "I'm excited about doing the job and I'm excited about where we are...You'll have to stay tuned."
Last year, Bernero won a 2nd four-year term as Lansing mayor.
When asked whether he would run for another political job, Bernero told the LSJ, it was, "hard to say," and that there's, "plenty of time to think about it."