Last night a gentleman who appeared to be in his late sixties approached me after Michigan Radio's Issues and Ale event in Royal Oak. He appeared frustrated. "My father always taught me that taxes were the price we pay for civilization," he said.
Governor Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say they have worked well together to approve many measures so far this year – including the expansion of power for emergency financial managers.
But one area they do not seem to agree on is how and where to reform taxes.
Richardville said "we actually have been disagreeing quite a bit," but he says those disagreements are fine because they are still listening to each other.
"It’s not about disagreement, it’s about passion. Everybody that got elected ran as hard as they could to get here, and is passionate about getting here," said Richardville, "but we have respect for the other passions in the room, so we’re going to get there."
Disagreement over taxing pensions
One area where they disagree is Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.
Snyder says he stands by his plan, even after receiving a cool reception from many Republican legislators:
"For higher income people, for people who have the wherewithal to say they’re also contributing to our system – I think that’s a fair answer. Because that’s the part of it that is, people shouldn’t just look at what they’re asked to give up, but when you look at where they’re ending up. Are they being treated fairly in respect to the other citizens in our state?”
Governor Snyder often stresses that low-income people on pensions would not be subject to painful tax increases.
Some Republicans state senators say there is no pension tax they would agree to, even one that only focuses on the very wealthy.
Democrats feel left out
Democratic lawmakers say they have been left out of negotiations so far.
Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says many of the Republican proposals are the reason why thousands of angry people have protested at the Capitol in recent weeks.
"I think we would do well – all of us here in this Legislature – to realize what it being said out on the front steps of the Capitol, what is being said out on the lawns of the Capitol. I think these are not crazy people – these are people who have elected all of us. These are people who go out, and they vote, and they vote in numbers and they’re carrying their concerns to the Capitol."
Johnson says Democratic lawmakers have been ignored in much of the work that has been done so far. He says Snyder will soon find that he needs Democratic votes as he tries to approve parts of his tax plan that are unpopular with Republicans.
Governor Rick Snyder will join House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville at a press conference tomorrow.
They plan to outline the progress they’ve made closing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.
But it may be a little awkward, because Snyder still has not reached a deal with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville on his plan for major tax reforms.
Snyder says he hopes the Legislature adopts his plan to tax pensions, and eliminate the business tax in favor of a corporate income tax on profits, but he says he is not pushing his plan too hard just yet.
"Well I’m not leaning on anyone," said Snyder. "I’m having a positive discussion, as I always like to have, about how we can work best together. And I think good partnership opportunities there, and we’re going to continue that dialogue. We’re making positive progress."
A House panel is debating tax plans similar to what Governor Snyder wants.
Leaders in the state Senate are talking about alternatives to Snyder’s plan.
So far, the budget plans include salary restraints on public employees and requiring them to pay more for their benefits.
Some lawmakers say members of the Legislature should take pay cuts and pay more of their benefits too.
But Governor Snyder is staying out of those salary debates.
"Well, we’re three branches of government, and I look at it as they take an opportunity for leadership in an area that affects them. We have more than enough to do in the executive branch."
Snyder has been criticized for paying salaries as large as $250,000 to some of his cabinet members.
Snyder is a self-made millionaire who takes an annual government salary of one dollar.
Governor Snyder says he expects consumers will benefit from lower prices and better service now that retailers do not have to assign workers to put price tags on almost every item on sale.
The governor signed a law today that repeals the requirement.
Michigan was the only state in the country to have such a sweeping price-tag law.
The new law requires retailers to prominently display prices near items on sale.
Governor Snyder says he does not expect consumers will be inconvenienced:
"And I always like to ask the question: When people went out of state, when we went on vacation, or people went out of state and went into a grocery store, I don’t know many of us who as we purchased these goods, we stopped in the aisle and yelled we were outraged because there wasn’t a sticker on them," Snyder said.
Mark Murray, the president of the Meijer retail chain, says his stores do not expect to lay off people because of the new law.
He says the new law will allow his stores to compete with shopping clubs that were not covered by the item-pricing requirement, and retailers in neighboring states.
"They don’t have to item price. This is a competitive leveling of the playing field, and we believe we can take advantage of it to grow sales in every store and have that, in turn – hours are related to how much we sell," said Murray.
But retail employee unions say they fear there will be layoffs.
Item-pricing was popular with much of the public. The law just signed by Snyder has a provision that makes sure the new law cannot be reversed by a citizen referendum.
The U.S. Census Bureau released detailed data on the state's population. Earlier this year, we heard that Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population. Now we can take a more detailed look.
The big news to come out of the data was the number 713,777.
That's the population in Detroit. According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit's population hasn't been this low since 1910:
four years before Henry Ford offered $5 a day to autoworkers, sparking a boom that quadrupled Detroit’s size in the first half of the 20th Century.
Detroiters reacted to the news in this video, saying crime, a lack of employment, and poor schools are reasons people have left the city:
MPRN's Rick Pluta had reaction from Governor Snyder:
Governor Rick Snyder says the U.S. Census Bureau information shows Michigan cannot continue down the path it has been on for many years:
"It’s time to step up. It’s time for bold action, and thoughtful action, and that’s the message we’re on, and the path we’re on, and I just hope people join us in that effort," said Snyder.
"I think this decline in population for the state really just reemphasizes the issue we’ve been facing; we are in a crisis in the state, and we need to take an approach and an attitude to say we need to reinvent Michigan."
Detroit’s population presents a problem as the Legislature deals with the state budget, which operates on the assumption that Detroit is the only city with more than 750,000 people.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has said the city will challenge the Census numbers. Bing was quoted in the Detroit Free Press:
"We are in a fiscal crisis, and we have to fight for every dollar," Bing said in announcing that the city will seek a recount. "We can't afford to let these results stand."
The city stands to lose investment from the state and federal government if they can't get the numbers to add up to 750,000.
Like many states, Michigan’s been forced to borrow money from the federal government – almost $4 billion - to cover its jobless claims as unemployment reached peaks not seen in three decades (higher than 14%).
The auditor’s sample found thousands of cases where the state accidentally overpaid benefits that were never recovered.
The audit also found instances where the state failed to detect cases of fraud that would have also been punished with big fines.
The unemployment agency is disputing some of the findings where the auditor determined there was fraud. The agency says in the other cases, it’s taking steps to fix the problems uncovered by the Auditor General.
Last January, the Michigan Civil Service Commission approved domestic partner benefits for state employees. The benefits were scheduled to go into effect on October 1st.
The ruling went against the Snyder administration's wishes, and the state legislature has been working to overturn the ruling. The State Senate passed a resolution against the domestic partner benefit ruling earlier this month.
Today, the State House is expected to vote on a resolution which would overrule the MCSC's January decision.
If the House approves the measure, it will be the first time in the history of the MCSC that a decision by the body was overturned by the legislature. Republicans are also seeking a ballot initiative to remove the MCSC from the state constitution, and in the meantime has been working to strip the body of much of its power.
Heywood reports "the House currently has a 63 member GOP majority. But approving this resolution requires a two-thirds super majority, which means 74 votes, so 11 Democrats need to cross party lines in order for the bill to pass."
As MPRN's Rick Pluta reported, the Snyder administration said it objected to MCSC's decision because of the cost - estimated at around $6 million.
The rules were expected to cover 70% of all state employees. Their unmarried partners and dependents who have lived with them for a year or more would be eligible for the benefits. The eligibility is the equal for gay and heterosexual couples.
The benefits had to be equally available to gay and heterosexual couples because 59% of Michigan voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. The "defense of marriage amendment" is now part of the Michigan Constitution.
A sniper's bullet hit Boothroyd's Kevlar helmet while on patrol in southern Afghanistan.
Boothroyd thought the helmet stopped the bullet, but the bullet was later found lodged behind his right ear - millimeters away from a main artery and his spinal cord.
From the article:
Boothroyd III travels back to Midland this week with his wife Ashley Boothroyd from Maryland. Their 2-year-old son, Paul Boothroyd IV, is with his grandparents waiting for his parent’s return to Michigan.
He enlisted in the Marines following high school. After acing a linguistics test, the Marines sent him to school, where he learned to speak modern and traditional dialects of Arabic, including Iraqi.
After his time off in Midland, Boothroyd III plans to return to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina awaiting his next tour of duty. He says he appreciates his time off, but wants to return to the Middle East.
Boothroyd says he looks forward to "get back to the fight."
Earlier this month, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills that ban the practice of partial-birth abortions, a practice that is already banned by federal law. The federal law was also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.
Supporters of SB 160 and SB 161 say a state law is necessary so local officials can assist federal authorities when enforcing the law.
These are some examples of anti-abortion bills moving in the Michigan legislature.
Ahern writes about bills aimed at preventing insurance companies from covering abortions unless the coverage is added as a separate rider on a policy. From the LSJ:
Within two months of being sworn in, GOP legislators introduced 11 bills backed by Right to Life.
The most sweeping change would come from two bills awaiting action in the House committee on health policy.
Introduced by Rep. Jud Gilbert of Algonac, they would prohibit insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman adds the coverage as a rider on her policy and pays for it separately from her monthly premium...
The bills don't apply to emergency abortions in which the mother's life is at risk, nor do they ban insurance coverage outright. But abortion rights advocates fear they would essentially have that effect.
Sarah Scranton of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan says "we have looked in states that already have this and we have not been able to find one insurance provider that offered a rider for abortion coverage. Women don't plan for unplanned pregnancies. These riders don't exist."
If passed, the law could also apply to insurance plans that will be created under the federal health care law.
In 2014, health care exchanges are expected to be set up under the federal health care law. These group plans will be available to people who can't afford individual private plans. Ahern writes in a "last-minute" compromise, President Obama accepted a "clause that allows states to require the separate abortion riders for insurance plans purchased through the exchanges."
The governor’s made some decisions that are wildly unpopular. Unions are upset. Taxpayers are upset. His own party isn’t too sure he is right.
Behind closed doors, leaders of the opposition party are rubbing their hands in glee. They think they know a one-term governor when they see one.
That’s what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, to be sure, and also, to a lesser extent, in Lansing. Democrats are convinced that if Governor Snyder indeed manages to tax pensions, cut education, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit, he’ll be toast.
Two controversial measures have cleared the Michigan Legislature and will soon await Governor Snyder's signature.
One would repeal the law that requires store owners to put price tags on most items in their stores, and the other would grant sweeping power to emergency financial managers.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he agrees with Governor Rick Snyder that Michigan’s item pricing law is outdated, and it’s time to allow retailers to upgrade their systems.
"I've been a proponent for, I don’t know, most of my career I’d say," said Richardville.
Once signed into law, store owners will soon no longer be required to put price tags on almost every item on their shelves.
Richardville says removing price tags will not hurt customers or confuse seniors:
"I don’t think anybody’s trying to maliciously cheat senior citizens. I think if the market demands such, people will make it easy to see what the prices are. Whether it’s individual item pricing, or something different, I think the store owners are pretty responsive to their customers," said Richardville.
Democrats say price tags protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.
The item pricing vote fell mostly along party lines, but that wasn’t the only partisan bill moving through the Legislature.
The Republican-led House also gave final approval to a proposal that gives more authority to emergency managers of cities, townships or school districts.
The legislation passed on party-line votes.
Democratic House Minority Leader Rick Hammel says there are many "union-busting" pieces to the emergency manager bills, including elimination of collective bargaining rights at the local level.
"And on top of that, doing away with contracts of other folks that are just doing business with the local unit of government, so a lot of things that are really problematic for us in this," says Hammel.
Democrats railed against the measure for eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.
Representatives for the labor movement say they will be at the Capitol all week protesting those and other Republican proposals.
Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.
Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.
Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.
Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.
But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:
"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.
The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.
For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.
The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan.
Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.
State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).
Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:
"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.
If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."
In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself "Working Michigan."
Today, within the framework of the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, the Kalon Tripa, the political leadership, and the people’s representatives are directly elected by the people. We have been able to implement democracy in exile that is in keeping with the standards of an open society.
As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect. During the forthcoming eleventh session of the fourteenth Tibetan Parliament in Exile, which begins on 14th March, I will formally propose that the necessary amendments be made to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, reflecting my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.
Today’s House hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response” has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.
Democrats and rights groups say he’s guilty of “modern-day McCarthyism,” and is using religion to divide Americans.
A former U.S. House of Representatives candidate is suing Facebook.
Majed Moughni is a lawyer from Dearborn. He ran during the Republican primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by John Dingell in 2010. His campaign strategy involved using his personal Facebook page to gain as many friends as possible across the voting district. But Facebook shut down his account in June before the August primaries for sending too many friend requests. Moughni says this also shut down his campaign.
Now he’s suing Facebook, but he’s not asking for money. He wants the social media company to stop using an automatic system to delete accounts and to restore his personal page. He says there should a way for Facebook users to appeal account deactivation:
“We think a multi-billion dollar corporation should at least have a live person that you can communicate with, a call-in center, that you can, you know, at least file a petition if your account was wrong deactivated – you should be able to get some recourse.”
Moughni said uprisings in Egypt and Libya prove how important Facebook is. But in his next campaign, he will use more than just Facebook.
UPDATED: According to the DetNews.com, a spokesman for Facebook said the account was disabled by an automated system that "is designed to prevent spammers and fakes from harassing our users and polluting the ecosystem." He also said that the "system always warns a user when they are nearing thresholds that will have features blocked or their account disabled. These warnings come as a pop-up that must be clicked through."
Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved in the Senate today.
The measure passed 26-12 along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Similar bills passed in the House in late February. The chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. More than 1,000 union members demonstrated opposition to the bills Tuesday, chanting loudly outside the chamber doors as senators worked through details of the legislation.
This follows yesterday's news that then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) was videotaped slamming conservatives and questioning whether NPR needs federal funding during a lunch with men posing as members of a Muslim organization (they were working with political activist James O'Keefe on a "sting.")
NPR's Board of Directors is responsible for the governance of NPR. Chairman Dave Edwards released a statement to staff and member stations. In the statement, Edwards said Schiller resigned:
It is with deep regret that I tell you that the NPR Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Vivian Schiller as President and CEO of NPR, effective immediately.
The Board accepted her resignation with understanding, genuine regret, and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years.
But NPR's media reporter, David Folkenflik, says that's not the case. This from NPR news:
NPR's David Folkenflik talks with Renee Montagne about the latest developments, saying CEO Vivian Schiller was ousted in the wake of the controversy over News Analyst Juan Williams' firing last year and gaffes by an NPR fundraiser that came to light Tuesday in a secret video.
Folkenflik said the latest development, the secret filming of a top NPR fundraiser making disparaging remarks about conservatives, was the last straw for NPR's Board.
Snyder says the bills are important for the state's agriculture industry.
The program aims to help farmers evaluate their operations to better identify and prevent possible environmental problems. About 1,000 farms have become verified through the program. Thousands more are in earlier stages of the verification process.
Critics of the bills say they're too much carrot and not enough stick.
They worry large farms could increase pollution without strict state oversight.
Anne Woiwode of the Michigan Sierra Club, a group that has long battled against pollution from large-scale livestock operations, says the new measures protect polluters.
Opponents say the legislation violates the Clean Water Act and jeopardizes the state’s water quality program.“With just barely 2 months in this new legislature and Governor, it appears the course toward weakening Michiganders’ well-being is off to a jump start here,” Michigan Sierra Club Director Anne Woiwode said via e-mail.
Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, reported that Governor Snyder said it was important to him to put the voluntary program into law:
"Because our Ag community is a critical part of our state," said Snyder. "It’s one of our largest industries. It’s one of our greatest opportunities, and it was one of the areas that supported us over this last decade of really tough times."
Teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees plan to march on the state Capitol tomorrow.
They oppose a measure in the Senate that expands the authority of emergency managers named to run troubled local governments and school districts.
Unions say the measures strike at their bargaining rights.
Union leaders hope for a big enough turnout to persuade Senate Republicans to delay a vote.
Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts.
Mark Gaffney, president of the AFL-CIO of Michigan, says that’s unfair when the state is also looking to cut money for schools and local governments:
“You’re saying to a city that it’s easy to get a dictator and you’re taking money away from that city that puts you at the point where you might need him or her.”
Republicans say the measures offer local governments early help to avert a financial takeover, but once it happens, emergency managers need crisis tools to set things right.
Scott Kincaid, a member of Flint City Council, favors keeping the law and the authority it grants emergency managers.
"These bills give them unlimited authority to do certain things that, currently, we were able to solve our problems without doing those things. The system works right now, and I’ve experienced it. And it worked very well. We had financial problems in our community and we turned them around in 18 months."
Flint was placed under an emergency manager in 2002. The city recently asked the state for the authority to sell bonds to cover a $17 million budget shortfall and meet its payroll.
The state Senate is expected to vote on the emergency management bills as soon as tomorrow.
A former Grand Rapids judge is the first Republican to formally launch a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
This opens the campaign for a Republican primary that’s still more than a year away.
Former probate judge and conservative activist Randy Hekman is the first but by no means the last Republican to launch a primary campaign.
Big political names including former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis are among those eyeing the race.
Hekman says he intends to run on reducing the national debt and getting more people to support hometown churches and charities.
“You’ve got to change hearts of people because they’re core of our problem – the problem beneath the problem is in my opinion this self-centeredness.”
"I believe that we need local charity. I believe, for example, if every man, woman, and child that has an income in our country could tithe 10 percent of their gross income, that would be one-point-four trillion dollars that could go to charity that could meet this need in a much more efficient and human-based and human-centered way than currently."
The winner of the Republican primary in 17 months will face two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on the November 2012 ballot.
Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.
Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.
Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.
He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:
"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.
"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.
Governor Rick Snyder is defending some of his controversial budget plans.
He says taxing pensions is the right thing to do, even though some Republican lawmakers say they will not support that plan.
And Governor Snyder says his proposal to cut funding for universities by 15% this year is necessary, but he says it will get better for the schools in the future:
"We shouldn't have to walk away from our universities. Again, I'm a big, long-term advocate of we need more students going through our universities. Higher Ed is very important in our state, actually we're a very fortunate state in having the high-quality institutions that we have.
We have a tough budget situation and we need to deal with that, but if you look forward to 2013 we’re able to show that hopefully this is the bottom point in terms of where we go with higher education funding."
Snyder also told building-trade union members that he wants to work with unions to help balance the budget, not against them.
He says he is not interested in Republican proposals in the Legislature to strip unions of their power.
Dozens of Latinos and Arab Americans joined faith leaders from around Michigan at the state Capitol calling on lawmakers to reject a House immigration bill similar to the controversial immigration law in Arizona.
The House Republican proposal would require police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is a suspicion that the person could be an undocumented worker.
Imam Mohammed Mardini of the American Islamic Center in Dearborn says a similar controversial law in Arizona has caused a lot of problems with how to determine who should be targeted:
"One Congressman suggested that you could tell an undocumented immigrant by their shoes. Let us face it – the police aren't going to be pulling over any suspected Canadians."
But Republican Representative Dave Agema says the intention of the bill is genuine, not racist.
"You're going after anyone who happens to be here illegally and they've already broken a law, that's why the police officer has detained them."
Agema says his proposal would save the state money in health care costs for illegal immigrants, but the protesters say it would cost the state money in additional law enforcement personnel.
Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to bring more immigrants to the state who have advanced degrees.
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling spent much of last night address talking about what’s working in his city. But he also talked about what he thinks would help the city deal with a growing budget deficit, ‘shrinking the size of city hall.’ Walling wants to drop funding for some city commissions and eliminate some executive positions.
"My proposed changes would save the city of Flint $6 million over 4 years. Over $15 million dollars over 10 years. Its not the whole solution. But its an important part of it. Its an important part that makes a difference."
The city of Flint wants to cover its $17 million budget deficit by raising funds on the bond market.
It has to get permission from the State Administration Board to do that. So far, the Board has tabled its decision.
If the city can't raise bond money, it might be facing bankruptcy or a state takeover.
You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.
Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.
So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.
They say there are now more than 1,000 such groups around the country, the first time the SPLC has seen the number of "hate groups" top 1,000 since it started counting them in the 1980s.
From the SPLC press release:
Several factors fueled the growth: resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.
A hate group is defined by the SPLC as a group that has "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."
The SPLC lists 35 "hate groups" in Michigan on their map.