Seven Michigan communities are getting help from the federal government to clean up contaminated industrial sites. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson says her agency is awarding brownfield cleanup grants to Lansing, Albion, Inkster, Northville and three other Michigan communities.
Time is running out for the city of Lansing to win new contract concessions from its labor unions. Meanwhile, another round of layoff notices will soon go to some city employees.
Lansing’s mayor’s office continues to negotiate with union leaders seeking 3 million dollars in concessions before the city’s new budget takes effect July 1st. Mayor Virg Bernero says the city and the unions are talking in good faith to avoid possible layoffs.
On the heels of a failed millage and a $14.7 million budget shortfall, the Lansing City Council approved a budget last night that would eliminate more than 100 city positions. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody was at the council meeting and reported that dozens of firefighters and police officers could be laid off as well. Mayor Bernero said the cuts in the budget were unavoidable:
"Over half the budget is in police and fire. And yet, we have insulated police and fire up to this point…because the deficit was too large. But even now, we are doing everything we can to mitigate the effects on police and fire."
The Lansing State Journal reports that the city will attempt to reduce the number of cuts through employee concessions:
Slightly more than 100 city workers could lose their jobs under Lansing's fiscal 2012 budget, though the city will attempt to preserve up to 61 of them by seeking employee concessions.Under the new budget, approved 5-3 by the City Council on Monday night, $3.3 million in state funds will be matched for every dollar gained in concessions before the fiscal year begins July 1.
New Emergency Manager starts at Detroit Public Schools
Roy Roberts a former GM executive, had his first day on the job yesterday. The Detroit Free Press reports he'll work alongside outgoing Emergency Manager Robert Bobb until Bobb's contract ends "no later than June."
Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported that Roberts says the district "must undergo a 'cultural change' and reject a 'Rodney Dangerfield kind of mentality' for students to succeed.
Roberts has to balance a budget deficit of $327 million, and he can do that with broadened powers granted to him under the state's new emergency manager law.
Cwiek reports that Roberts "says he doesn’t have plans to dismiss the elected school board or throw out union contracts, though."
The Freep reports that Roberts is working under a one-year, $250,000 contract.
Snyder calls for less humility and more unity
Governor Rick Snyder gave a speech to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids yesterday in which he asked for "less humility, a bit more swagger and a lot more unity among Michiganders," according to Chris Knape from the Grand Rapids Press:
“We're too negative,” Snyder told what was billed as a record Econ Club crowd gathered at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. “We look in the rear view mirror too much to say, 'this is what we've always had, so we've got to keep that going.'"
Snyder also lambasted the taste for political winners and losers in the state.
“Too often they will view they won something because somebody else has lost,” he said.
Knape reported that Snyder had "generally positive responses from the business-heavy crowd," except for one element in his speech - tax credits - Snyder's explanation "landed with a thud," according to Knape.
The Lansing city council voted 5 to 3 last night to approve a city budget that deeply cuts police and fire in the capitol city. Lansing, like many Michigan cities, is struggling with declining tax revenues and rising health care costs.
Last night, the city council approved a budget that lays off more than a hundred city employees, including dozens of police officers and firefighters.
Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says the cuts in public safety are unavoidable.
Lansing police officers are waiting to see if they will receive layoffs notices. The city council next week is expected to approve a city budget that will include deep budget cuts in public safety. The city is facing a 20 million dollar budget deficit.
Early drafts of Republican budget plans include some measures that Governor Rick Snyder did not call for in his proposal for the coming fiscal year. Among them are new rules on embryonic stem cell research conducted at state universities and publicly funded clinics.
Similar measures were blocked in recent years by Governor Jennifer Granholm and Democrats in the Legislature. New Republican majorities are renewing efforts to enact new restrictions and reporting requirements over the objections of researchers. They say the proposed rules would quash their work.
Governor Rick Snyder supports embryonic stem cell research and the voter-approved amendment that allows it at publicly funded facilities. The governor has not taken a position on the budget language. Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.
“We’re going to be looking at everything closely when it comes through. The governor’s been very clear and consistent that he respects the Legislature and the legislative process. It’s still got a long way to go. It’s just one step.”
And legislative leaders say these early versions of the budget bills do not necessarily reflect what will come from the final round of negotiations. The governor and legislative leaders say they’re on track to wrap up the budget by their self-imposed May 31st deadline.
Across the country, states are weighing competing funding priorities as they work to close gaping budget deficits.
In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder isn’t just trying to erase $1.4 billion in red ink. He also wants to fundamentally remake the state’s tax code. Snyder says it’ll help reverse years of economic decline.
Michigan Radio's All Things Considered host Jennifer White takes a look at state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants. On tap: Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manger uses his new powers and the state Senate looks to cut state aid for K-12 schools and higher education.
A few hundred Tea Party supporters held a rally at the state Capitol. American flags and bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” umbrellas peppered the crowd at the rainy gathering. The group appeared more concerned with actions by the federal government than with the Republican-controlled state government.
Gail Goniwicha is a banker from Royal Oak. She says she likes the job Governor Rick Snyder is doing.
"I was very happy that he’s trying to get the unions to pay and do their fair share. I as a person contribute to my retirement and my medical every month, it comes out of my paycheck. I don’t believe anybody gets a free ride in the United States,” Goniwacha said.
Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's pleased the group expects their elected officials to be frugal with taxpayers’ money:
"This is an important day because it’s part of the building blocks of a new Michigan. A new Michigan that has less taxes, less spending, less regulation, less government, and more freedom. And everybody here says let’s all work together to build a new Michigan that has more jobs, more paychecks and more freedom.”
A few signs in the crowd called to stop the proposed bridge project between Detroit and Canada. Governor Snyder hopes to get that plan before lawmakers soon, but a House committee has omitted the proposed funding for the bridge from its version of the state budget.
This week’s guest for “What’s Working” is Julie Powers, the Director of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council. Ms. Powers has been involved in the planning and organizing of a day of community service in Lansing, set to happen this year on May 14th. The event is entitled, “Adopt-Your-Place.”
Volunteers will be led by event organizers in such tasks as water testing and clean-up along the Grand River, planting and mulching public gardens throughout the area, clearing trails, repairing eyesores, and generally giving some TLC to local sites in need.
Budget talks are ramping up at the state Capitol with just more than a month and a half left before Governor Rick Snyder’s self-imposed budget deadline.
Governor Snyder still stands by his May 31stbudget deadline, even as many lawmakers say they do not think a deal will be reached before this summer. Legislative leaders point out that the earliest a budget has been done was in June. That was back in the early 1990s, when the state was flush with revenue. But Governor Snyder says there’s no reason he and lawmakers cannot reach a deal before the Legislature’s summer break.
One area of the budget that appears to be a sticking point is education spending. The governor has proposed deep cuts to per-pupil funding for K-through-12 schools, and a 15% reduction to state payments for public colleges and universities.
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."