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Michigan Congressman Fred Upton met with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning during its "Legislative Connection Series" (tickets for the event went for $25 to $50).

The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Upton talked about the future of energy in the country.

According to the report, Upton said gas prices might hit $4 a gallon by Memorial Day because of political instability and a moratorium on new off-shore drilling.

Higher gas prices, said Upton, will lead to more people buying up plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric cars. Something Upton feels the power grid is not ready for. From the article:

"We're going to need 30 to 40 percent more electricity by the end of the next decade, and we're not prepared," said Upton, Republican of St. Joseph.

Upton said he favors the development of more nuclear power plants and is going to look into why it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in this country.

Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health / Michigan Governor's office

Governor Snyder says he wants you to understand the state's budget crisis. He's rolled out a guide to help you do that.
It's called the "Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health."
Michigan Radio's Morning Edition Host, Christina Shockley, spoke with Lester Graham this morning.

Graham heads up Michigan Watch, Michigan Radio's investigative unit.
Graham took a look at the Guide and gave us his first impressions. You can listen to the audio here:

National Weather Service

Gearing up for snow

People in the state are gearing up for the coming storm that's expected to dump around a foot of snow in the region in less than 24 hours. Survival instincts are kicking in as people flock to grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports some plow drivers are getting their sleep now in anticipation of staying up for the next couple of days. Andy Northey, the owner of R & A Lawn Maintenance and Landscaping in Plainwell, said:

"We're not going to be able to keep up with all the snow that’s expected," said Northey, whose company clears snow from residential and commercial properties from Allegan to Kalamazoo to Battle Creek. "Absolutely no way."

The Detroit News reports that Delta airlines is allowing people to change their flight plans without charging an extra fee:

Delta and other airlines encouraged passengers to change their travel dates. Anyone scheduled to fly this week can switch their flight to a time through Feb. 8 without incurring a fee, said Delta. The waiver involved Michigan and 19 other states expected to be hammered by the storm. The states range from Nebraska to Maine, and Wisconsin to Oklahoma.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the southern part of Michigan as the dense snow band travels across the state. The warning takes effect around 5 p.m. for the western part of the state and around 7 p.m. for the eastern half. The warning will last through much of the day tomorrow.

Snyder releases report on state's finances

Governor Rick Snyder released the "Citizen's Guide to Financial Health" yesterday around 3 p.m. The Governor said the report is "a plain-English, easy-to-understand look at Michigan's financial situation and the challenges ahead."

One of the more controversial parts of the report said that state employees are over-compensated compared to their private sector counterparts. Many state employees and union members are disputing the numbers in the report. The Detroit Free Press said that Snyder called the report a 'call to action':

"Here are the facts; let's solve the problem," he told 430 people who attended the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit in Lansing. "Now we can have an intelligent discussion about what we need to have to put the state on the road to success."

Snyder is expected to release his budget proposal for the state's next fiscal year on February 17th.

Red Cross looking for blood

Bad winter weather has hampered the Red Cross' blood supply. They've made pleas before, and now with a big storm bearing down on the Midwest, they're renewing those pleas. Monica Stoneking, communications manager for the American Red Cross, was quoted in today's Bay City Times:

"Those who live in the path of the storm are asked to schedule a donation time when it is safe to travel," Stoneking said. "All blood types are needed, but there is a special need for donors with O-Negative and B-Negative blood."

The Red Cross says 18,000 expected blood donations have gone uncollected over the last several weeks due to bad winter weather.

Legislators are looking for places to trim the budget as they stare at a $1.8 billion budget hole.

Reducing state employee compensation is on the list.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released a report today that says public employees are making more than twice their private sector counterparts.

The Detroit Free Press says the "Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health," may be sending a signal about "one way the new governor expects to address...the budget shortfall." From the Freep:

He said the overall compensation of the average private sector workers fell 13% from 2000-09 while rising 19% for state employees and 13% for local government workers. For state workers, the average annual compensation -- $53,453 in salary, $31,623 in fringes and $13,000 for insurance-- was more than twice that of the private sector, the report said.

The governor was quoted as saying, "I'd be careful about over generalizing on this data but it does show an important trend that needs to be addressed."

Rick Pluta from the Michigan Public Radio Network reports:

Public employee unions and advocates for human services question some of the data used in the report. They also say they’d like to see Snyder’s plans for investing in schools and infrastructure, as well as protecting people hurt by the economy.

The Pure Michigan campaign will run out of money mid-year without an infusion of more funds.

A state House committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow on a plan to tap into a state-operated venture capital fund to keep the Pure Michigan campaign on the air for the rest of 2011.

Earlier efforts to come up with an acceptable fee or tax to pay for the campaign have failed.

Governor Snyder will roll out a citizen’s guide to the financial troubles facing the state, local governments, and school districts before a meeting of business leaders in Lansing this afternoon.

The governor is a retired investor and certified public accountant. He says the guide will give the public an easy-to-grasp outline of the condition of government finances in Michigan.

Governor Snyder says the state’s official financial report runs more than 200 pages and is too big and complicated, and it’s filled with too much bureaucratic jargon for most people to understand.

Snyder says his administration has picked what he considers the most critical information, such as the state’s revenue-to-expenditures, its reserves, and long-term obligations such as pensions, and put it into an easy-to-follow 13-page briefing:

“So I think this will be a big help in terms of the stage for a more-informed discussion, where all the public can participate because we’ll all have better facts to work off of and we’ll see how far beyond our means we’ve actually spent.”

Estimates peg the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year at about $1.8 billion.

The governor will present his plan to balance the budget later this month.

Governor Snyder makes no bones about wanting to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax. Some details of his plan were revealed today.

But by getting rid of the business tax, the state will be left with $1.5 billion tacked onto its existing projected deficit for the next fiscal year.

Today, the Governor spoke to the Michigan Press Association at the Detroit Marriott. In his speech, he addressed how he plans to make up the shortfall.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to include most tax breaks in the budget rather than burying them in the tax code...Snyder says it's imperative to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax, which he considers "a dumb tax." To make up the revenue lost by having a lower corporate income tax, he wants to look at existing tax breaks and get rid of those that aren't moving the state forward. The governor says tax breaks should be included in the budget so they can be debated and weighed on their merits.

The Detroit Free Press reported on Snyder's speech as well. The Governor said that one of the "biggest tasks as the chief executive of the state is to find the elusive “they” in state government." From the Freep:

Snyder said his first days in office were a revelation. “The IT guys were in hooking up my computer and I had a square screen,” he said, explaining that it didn’t make sense because the larger, landscape computer screens are better and less expensive. “They told me ‘It’s been 10 years and they said that’s what we had to do,’” Snyder said the IT guys told him. “Almost on a daily basis, I hear about ‘they’ and they tend to have a different opinion that I have. I need to find out who they are and where they reside.

Proposals for different ways the state delivers payments to local governments for services are bubbling up at the state Capitol.

A bill in the state Senate would distribute revenue sharing payments to cities, townships and villages based on population.

Legislation to repeal the Michigan law that requires every item on store shelves to carry a price tag has been introduced in the state House.

Governor Rick Snyder called for an end to the 35-year-old item-pricing law last week in his State of the State address.

He says the law is outdated, and repealing it would send a message that Michigan is a business-friendly state.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Republicans at the state Capitol are working to get rid of a tax credit for working poor people.

But people who support the Earned Income Tax Credit say the money helps poor people keep their jobs.

Without the credit they might have to go back on welfare, an they say that would cost the state more money.

Gilda Jacobs, director of the Michigan League for Human Services, says all lawmakers have constituents who claim the credit:

"We have some districts where 18% to 20% of the people are filers of this, and they’re putting multi-millions of dollars back into small businesses. So we kind of need to ask people to see this up-close and personal and to really be open to understanding what this is all about."

Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says the state cannot afford the Earned Income Tax Credit right now:

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is very new in Michigan. It didn’t exist a couple of years ago. It was added at a time where I believe we couldn’t afford it. So as we look at how we are going to revamp Michigan and how we are going to move forward, we have to evaluate things that we can maybe no longer afford, however we do have to look at that with a broader tax structure, and we have to understand that the best social program is a good-paying job.”

Bolger says eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit will be part of a large package of reforms that are expected to be introduced soon in the House.

Supporters of the tax credit say they have a lot of work to do to convince lawmakers that getting rid of it would hurt people in their districts.

Steve Carmody

Retailers say they are more hopeful than they’ve been in many years that Michigan is close to repealing the law that requires them to put a price sticker on every item they sell. But unions and Democrats say they will put up a fight to preserve what they say is a significant consumer protection.

James Hallan is the president of the Michigan Retailers Association. He says store-owners were pleased to hear in Governor Rick Snyder’s State of the State address that he is on their side. And Hallan says retailers hope the Legislature’s large Republican majorities will go along with scrapping the 35-year-old law.

“We have a new administration that is progressive. We have a legislative body that is progressive, and technology has come a long ways from where it was in 1976. Cell phones were not around in 1976. You look at all the new technology, and it’s time we embrace this and not walk away from it."

But not everyone is on board. Chris Michalakis is with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He says the item-pricing law remains popular with the public.

“What we’re hoping is our Republican governor and our Republican majorities in the House and the Senate will listen to consumers and members of their community and when they look to change this law, do it in a way that voters are comfortable with and do it in a way that protects consumers and protects jobs.”

Employee unions say the law remains popular with the public for a reason and, if anything, the item pricing law should be more strongly enforced.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state could be headed toward a two-year budget cycle.

Governor Rick Snyder and many lawmakers say they need to start thinking farther into the future when putting together a budget.

However, creating a two-year budget cycle would require an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. The Legislature would have to put it on the ballot for voters to approve.

State Senator John Proos says that could and should happen, but it will take time. He says in the meantime lawmakers can create a two-year projection:

"That’s something that every year instead of scrambling to fix a budget hole and not really telling the whole story about what our budget will look like out into the future, this will give us the time instead to say our revenue picture and expenditure picture is going to look like X. Once we’ve made that determination, then we can say are we actually getting value for the tax dollars that we’re spending."

Proos is expected to introduce a measure that would amend the constitution to create a two-year budget cycle as well as a part-time Legislature.

Proos says for now it’s important to complete work on the budget by Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline.

In the world of corporate business, bonuses, perks and cash incentives rule the day. They're used to drive productivity.

Governor Snyder, a former corporate president, is bringing that mentality to Lansing.

Now, he says he wants to reward local governments that find better, cheaper ways to provide services.

Rick Pluta, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, says Snyder's budget proposal will call for cash incentives that encourage cities and townships to innovate.

Rick filed this report saying the Governor's announcement was a small bit of welcome news to local officials bracing for more budget cuts from the state:

Governor Snyder outlined his idea at a drop-by with local government officials meeting in Lansing.

He says local governments provide most of the services that people use, and the state should reward the ones that find ways to consolidate, cut costs, and innovate:

"So it's really to create an environment to say, here's a positive incentive to be the very best...so people first and foremost in Michigan and then people around the country and the world will look at Michigan are going to look and say, these people have their act together, this is the place to be, this is the place to have your kids grow up and succeed."

The governor provided few details.

He says those will wait for his budget proposal next month, and a special address on government reform that he will deliver in March.

Fred Thompson / Flickr

The farm lobby has been pushing hard to increase the amount of ethanol allowed to be mixed into gasoline. And it seems like the Obama Administration is obliging.

The vast majority of today's ethanol comes from corn. The alcohol is mixed in gasoline to make it burn more cleanly.

Right now, the standard is 10% (a 10% ethanol, and 90% gasoline mix is most likely in your gas tank right now).

The EPA increased the allowed amount of ethanol to a 15% mix last fall for cars made after 2007.

Now, the Associated Press reports the EPA is poised to allow the 15% mix for more cars. From the AP:

Two people familiar with the decision said late Thursday the agency is expected to announce on Friday that 15 percent ethanol in gasoline is safe for cars manufactured between 2001 and 2006. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

Gov. Rick Snyder
gophouse.com

Update - 1/20/11, 6:35 a.m.:

Republicans and Democrats say they're encouraged by what they heard from Governor Rick Snyder last night. The Republican delivered his first State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Lansing. Laura Weber sent this report:

Democratic lawmakers say they are eager to work with Governor Snyder on many of the issues he brought up, but their optimism is tempered with caution.

They say they’re waiting for Snyder’s budget proposal in February. "At this point the voters have given him the ball, he needs to advance it up field, and I think the next big play will be on February 17th where we’ll really get to see what their priorities are and how they’re going to balance the budget," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

Republican lawmakers say they are most eager to work with Snyder to reform or eliminate Michigan’s complicated business tax.

Update - 1/19/11, 8:58 p.m.:

For those wishing to keep track of the goals laid out in the State of the State address, Governor Snyder announced a new website. The "Michigan Dashboard." The information on the website claims to tell you "how the state performs in areas that affect you and your family."

Update - 1/19/11, 8:20 p.m.:

Here's the audio of Governor Snyder's State of the State address:

Michigan Senate Democrats

The Democratic response to Governor Snyder's State of the State address was delivered by Gretchen Whitmer, leader of the Michigan Senate Democrats. You can watch the response on the Michigan Senate Democrats website. The transcript of Whitmer's speech follows:

Good evening,

The election this past November saw Michigan government turn the page on an unproductive time of Michigan history.

In what's been called a symbolic move, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a repeal of the new health care law this week (maybe tomorrow).

It's symbolic because the law isn't likely to be repealed. A vote isn't expected to come up in the Senate, and even if a repeal bill DID pass the Senate, President Obama would more than likely veto it.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, spoke with supporters of the federal health care law.

Corvair Owner / Flickr

What's the "State of the State"?

We'll all find out what the new governor thinks tomorrow night, but not before.

The Associated Press reports:

Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver his first State of the State address Wednesday, but he won't be putting out a written copy of the speech. His spokesman says the new Republican governor doesn't tend to work off a prepared text, so there's no written copy to release. The governor's office also doesn't expect to provide a transcript of the 7 p.m. speech immediately after Snyder delivers it at the Capitol. The talk will focus on economic development and job creation and is expected to be about 40 minutes long. It will be broadcast live statewide. Former Govs. Jennifer Granholm and John Engler usually released embargoed copies of their remarks before their State of the State speeches. Their speeches also were posted online after they spoke.

You can hear a live-broadcast of tomorrow night's "State of the State" on Michigan Radio starting at 7 p.m.

Pay close attention!

Library of Congress

The recent attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords life sparked new debate about the state of public discourse in our country. How could this have happened? What does this type of violence say about us? Have we reached a breaking point?

As the news rolled in, and it appears the violence might have been the work of a mad-man, hearts were still broken, but there seemed to be some relief that the act seemed less about our politics, and more about a lost soul.

Events like these are unsettling, and it often makes me wonder what it was like for Americans when the violence was more directly tied to our political discourse.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis in 1968. Violent riots followed in what surely must've felt like an unraveling of American society.

Michigan House Republicans

Jase Bolger, Michigan’s new Speaker of the House, says he wants to see a four-year cap on certain welfare benefits in the state.

Bolger took the gavel for the first time on Wednesday, but the Republican speaker wasted no time outlining changes he wants to make in the state.

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.

Dave Hogg / Flickr

Prosecutors have dubbed the five men accused of pocketing millions of dollars in exchange for contracts with the city of Detroit the "Kilpatrick Enterprise."

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was indicted in federal court today, along with Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick; former city contractor Bobby Ferguson; former Detroit Water Department head Victor Mercado; and former city official Derrick Miller.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody caught up with Michigan Congressman Hansen Clarke. Carmody asked Clarke about his reaction to the Giffords tragedy:

The annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit has often been a place for local members of Congress to meet and greet constituents.

But this weekend's assassination attempt on an Arizona congresswoman is raising questions about security.

Detroit Congressman Hansen Clarke says this weekend's assassination attempt on an Arizona congresswoman has affected his security plans:

"We are implementing some of the procedures recommended by the U. S. Capitol Police, but I feel confident that those will be adequate."

Clarke was sworn in for his first turn in Congress just days ago.

One of the first people he met was Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Clarke says the two talked about both being graduates of Cornell University.

He expressed sadness on the attempt on Giffords' life, but he says that danger is just a fact of life that all elected officials must face:

"I'm not going to change how I work.   I'm going to be as open and available to the public.  I think that's very important.  I represent the taxpayers. I'm paid by the taxpayers.  I'm hired by them to work for them.  They need to know that their government is open and available to them."

In case you missed it, Michigan's Ted Nugent talked with CNN's Anderson Cooper about Sarah Palin's prospects for the presidency (spoiler alert - he wouldn't vote for her if she was running today). Here's the interview:

flickr - cliff1066

As a way of proving how fiscally conservative they are, some members of Congress are choosing to sleep in their offices on Capitol Hill.

Ashley Parker writes about the "Couch Caucus" in a New York Times piece today.

Michigan Democrat Hansen Clarke is featured in the article. He's a freshman Congressman from Michigan's 13th District (Detroit area).

Clarke is quoted in the article about why he's choosing to sleep in his office:

"Washington is not going to be a home for me — I’m only there to work. I need to be able to work up to 20 hours a day and still get some decent sleep, and if I sleep in my office I’ll be able to do that.

The Times reports the members choosing to sleep in their offices are spread across party lines, but mostly male members of Congress are choosing to do so. Parker writes about the critics of the practice:

They...complain that the practice can feel like a macho boys club, that it promotes a fierce anti-Washington sentiment that hurts bipartisanship and that, frankly, it just seems weird.

The offices are equipped with basic furniture, sinks, and bathrooms. But there are no sleeper sofas, and no showers. Members head to the gym in the office building to wash up.

flickr - republican conference

The new Congress gets started today in Washington D.C. and Michigan's 6th District Representative, Fred Upton, will chair a congressional committee with broad powers.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce oversees a wide range of issues:

  • energy
  • telecommunications
  • consumer protection
  • food and drug safety
  • public health
  • air quality and environmental health
  • interstate and foreign commerce

Fred Upton is kicking off his chairmanship by targeting the EPA's goal to limit carbon emissions that have lead to global warming.

camp.house.gov

Today is the first day of the new republican controlled House of Representatives. Officially, along with the Senate, they're known as the 112th Congress. The members will be sworn in this afternoon.

The Washington Post blog "The Fix" has a list of 10 members of Congress to watch. Republican Dave Camp, of Michigan's 4th district, is listed as one of the ten:

Camp may be the most powerful member of Congress you've never heard of. He's the chairman of the mighty Ways and Means Committee and, though low profile, will have considerable sway over health care, taxes and trade. That's a wide -- and important -- palette.

The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over revenue for the U.S. government (taxes) and "other related issues" - things like unemployment benefits, tariffs, trade agreements, Social Security, and Medicare.

Map of U.S. House of Representative seats gained and lost in Census count
U.S. Census Bureau

Officials in the Obama White House say they're not concerned about the new Census numbers.

The Associated Press reports that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he "doesn't expect the results of the new census to have a 'huge practical impact' on national politics."

NPR quotes Gibbs as saying:

"I don't think shifting some seats from one area of the country to another necessarily marks a concern that you can't make a politically potent argument in those new places."

The results of the 2010 U.S. Census has shifted seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from traditional democratic strongholds in the East and Midwest, to some of the republican strongholds in the South and West (see map above).

Apportionment map from U.S. Census data
U.S. Census Bureau

Update 1:30 p.m.:

It's confirmed. Michigan has NEVER lost population in U.S. Census data history. I asked Vince Kountz of the U.S. Census Bureau in Detroit. He looked at the books and never saw population drop for the state of Michigan. He went back to the 1810 Census, before Michigan was a state. There were 4,762 people in the Michigan territory back then.

  • We had 9,938,444 people in the state in 2000
  • We now have 9,883,640 in the state in 2010.

12:02 p.m.:

The Census numbers are out. You can take a look at what they found with this map.

The US Capitol
Jonothan Colman / Flickr

This week the U.S. Census will release its initial population totals for the country and the states. That data will begin the scramble to redraw Michigan’s congressional districts.

Michigan will probably lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives when the new census numbers come out (going from 15 to 14 seats).

The state’s incoming Republican governor and Republican controlled legislature are expected to redraw congressional boundaries so they can favor Republican candidates.

Boarded up houses in Flint, Michigan
creative commons

Update 11:30 a.m.:

Just hours after city officials in Flint called a news conference about tying the homicide record, The Flint Journal is reporting that the record appears to be broken. Police are now at the scene of a potential slaying:

Police are at the scene now at Harriet and Donald streets, where there was a report of a man in vehicle who appeeared to be shot. If the death is considered a homicide, it would be the city's 62nd. The highest number of homicides ever previously recorded in the city was 61 in 1986.

Update 11:20 a.m.:

The Flint Journal made a map showing where homicides in the city have taken place. There have been no arrests in 25 of the 60 homicides noted.


View Flint homicides in a larger map

10:12 a.m.:

The City of Flint is holding a news conference this morning about the city's homicide rate. The 61st homicide was recorded last night making this year the worst on record since 1986.

In a press release issued last night, city officials said "police responded to a call at a home in the 600 block of West Ridgeway, on the city's north side, just before 7:30 Sunday evening."

Three people were found shot inside the home. One was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mayor Walling said

"We have reached a tragic milestone in Flint, tying the homicide record established in 1986. Residents must continue to be vigilant about reporting crimes and providing police with information that will get criminals off the streets. I applaud the swift work of our hard working police officers in apprehending a suspect within hours of the city's latest homicide."

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