More than 15 hundred people will meet in Lansing this week to discuss Michigan’s affordable housing needs.
Jess Sobol is the director of operations in the Community Development division within the Michigan Housing Development Authority. He says this week’s conference will give people from the non-profit and for-profit worlds a chance to meet and discuss ways of reclaiming ‘sustainable’ communities.
While controversy over budget cuts lingers, new statistics show that Michigan's prison system may have some system-wide problems that actually increase cost.The Chicago Tribune/A.P. reports:
Michigan often keeps inmates long after other states would have released them for similar crimes, driving up prison costs by millions of dollars a year and eating up a quarter of the state's general fund.
Both former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have encouraged the parole board to be more lenient when it comes to releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentences. Yet a bill that would require that inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence but no more than 120 percent failed to make it through the Legislature during the last two-year session.
That has left 8,000 inmates still behind bars who have served more than their minimum sentences, a practice that's costing Michigan taxpayers around $280 million annually.
It's likely to take years for the parole board to consider those 8,000 cases, which make up nearly a fifth of the prison population. On April 15, the parole board will shrink from 15 members to 10 under a Snyder executive order estimated to save around $500,000 a year in pay and benefits.
Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says he's presenting his 2012 fiscal year budget plan with a heavy heart. The city is facing a $20 million budget gap next year. Bernero says this requires a tough and painful response.
He's proposing eliminating 200 positions. One hundred and thirty of these jobs are currently filled. Bernero's budget fall particularly hard on the city's public safety department. More than 50 Lansing police officers would be laid off and three fire stations will be closed under Bernero's budget. Bernero says he doesn't relish cuts, but with employee costs being the largest part of the city's budget, he has little choice.
Bernero says the need for deep spending cuts might be lessened if state revenue sharing is not as deep as proposed by Governor Snyder. He says Lansing voters could help as well if they approve a millage increase on the May 3rd ballot.
But Bernero says he has to propose a budget now with the "cards" the city's been dealt. Bernero says the city has already made all the easy cuts.
Lansing Mayor, and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero delivers his city's 2012 budget to the Lansing City Council tonight. It's being reported this morning that Bernero will propose a budget that contains $20 million in cuts.
The Lansing State Journal reports:
In the run-up to Monday's formal budget presentation, Bernero's staffers have sent signals about the magnitude of possible cuts. Among the most notable: the potential closure of three fire stations and elimination of 60 positions in the Fire Department.
As the Lansing State Journal explains, Lansing, like many other cities and townships across the state, is, "caught between competing budget pressures. First is the drop off in revenue from local property taxes and from promised aid from the state government. City budgeters also have to cope with rising costs, particularly on pensions and on health care for workers and retirees alike."
There was another protest today at the state Capitol – the third rally this week. Hundreds of Lansing high school students walked out of class to march on the Capitol.
Some of the students sunned themselves on the Capitol steps, took pictures, laughed, and chatted on their phones, while others stood by the road and waved signs. They called out to passing drivers to honk if they opposed budget cuts called for by Governor Rick Snyder.
The United States has authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan, taking a tougher stand on the deepening nuclear crisis and warning U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to any part of the country as unpredictable weather and wind conditions risked spreading radioactive contamination.
The AP reports the "authorized departure offers voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya and affects some 600 people."
Protests in Lansing
In one of the larger protests at the Michigan Capitol this year, around 3,000 union supporters, school teachers, seniors, students, and others spoke out against bills in the Michigan legislature. The Lansing State Journal reports that 11 people were arrested after a 2 1/2 sit-in in the Capitol. MPRN's Laura Weber described some of the people she saw at the protest this way, "there were big, hulking men in hard hats, business people in suits, and young parents pushing strollers." One of the more controversial bills, one that gives power to Emergency Financial Managers to end void union contracts, was signed into law yesterday by Governor Snyder. Scott Davis of the Lansing State Journal reported:
In their biggest show of force yet this year, union members descended on the Capitol in a show of unity to protest several bills moving through the Legislature. It was the latest in a series of union-led protests in recent weeks - and a reflection of the ongoing battle by public worker unions in Wisconsin."It's beautiful," Joe Bowen, a retired automotive worker who traveled to the rally from Saginaw, said of the show of unity. "It sends a message that it's not fair. They are trying to pinch unions."
Michigan's Hoop Dreams
The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today and three teams in Michigan are hoping to advance.
Michigan State University plays UCLA tonight at 9:15 (TBS); the University of Michigan plays Tennessee tomorrow at 12:30 (truTV); and Oakland University plays Texas tomorrow at noon (CBS).
UPDATE: A growing number of angry labor-movement supporters are showing up at the state Capitol to protest Republican proposals to tax pensions and limit union control. A drum circle played on the Capitol lawn, surrounded by thousands of protesters with signs, a 15-foot inflated eagle, and flapping American and U-A-W flags.
There were big, hulking men in hardhats, businesspeople in suits, and young parents pushing strollers.
About a thousand protesters gathered on the state Capitol lawn today and they say there will be more people joining them throughout the week.
They are protesting many budget proposals from Governor Rick Snyder and in the Legislature, including a plan to tax pensions.
Hundreds of people from AARP chanted loudly in opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions to help end the budget deficit.
Many people held signs that read: “Recall Governor Snyder,” and “Recall The Nerd.”
Jeanette Stang held a sign that read “One-Term Nerd.”
Stang says her husband worked in an auto plant for 37 years, and now they have trouble making ends meet with increasing medical expenses and living off of their pension. Their Flint home is up for sale, and both of their adult sons have already moved out of state:
"Our sons both would not come to Michigan. They said Michigan has gone to pieces...Michigan used to be a beautiful state, and Michigan has really gone downhill…All he wants to do is keep taxing the little guy—tax these bigwigs that have their yachts and have their trips and everything else. Let the people who earned this money and worked hard all their life have their pensions and quick taxing us to death."
Snyder says seniors use government services just like all other taxpayers, and should be taxed on their pension income accordingly.
More protests coming
Labor movement protests at the state Capitol are expected to get bigger and louder as the week goes on and the Legislature votes on controversial issues.
The House is expected to give final approval to a package of bills that would give emergency financial managers more control over struggling communities and school districts, and strip control from local unions.
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: