politics

Commentary
11:14 am
Tue May 3, 2011

O Canada

Yesterday, America’s most important ally and trading partner had an historic election which rocked the foundations of that nation’s politics and has huge implications for the western hemisphere, the United States in general and Michigan in particular.

You would not, however, know anything about that from most of the mainstream media. National Public Radio has covered the Canadian National Election, far better than most, but I don’t even think they have paid enough attention to the story.

Most of the rest of the media, especially in Michigan, largely continues to be consumed with the aftermath of our government’s assassination yesterday of the supreme Al-Qaeda leader.

Yes, Osama bin Laden is still dead, and I don’t mean to minimize the implications of that story, or its continuing repercussions. But we knew about that yesterday.

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Education
12:18 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Governor Snyder: Move education system into one built for technological age

Governor Rick Snyder unveiled his vision for education in Michigan today. He says he wants education in Michigan to embrace a more modern worldview.
michigan/gov

In a speech at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's office in Detroit this morning, Governor Snyder laid out his plans for reforming Michigan's education system.

It's a system that Snyder said needs to be transformed from one "still rooted in the days of a mostly farm-based society to one that prepares students for the technological age of today and jobs of tomorrow."

Snyder says the need for reform is clear. In a message to the state legislature that outlined his broad plans, he noted the following statistics:

  • A total of 238 Michigan high schools have zero college-ready students based on the spring 2010 ACT test
  • Only 16% of all students statewide are college-ready based on the ACT taken in spring 2010 as a part of the MME
  • Fewer than 50% of students are proficient in writing based on fall 2010 MEAP data in grades 4 and 7 and spring 2010 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) data for grade 11
  • Michigan ranks 21st in the country in total current expenditures per-pupil, yet it ranks 39th in the nation when it comes to fourth grade math proficiency and 34th in reading proficiency

Here's a summary of Snyder's education plan:

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Politics
9:26 am
Tue April 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

State seeks concessions from unionized corrections workers

In these austere times, governments large and small are seeking to save money by getting union workers to reduce the benefits and/or wages.

The State of Michigan is seeking $95 million in concessions from those unionized employees who work in state prisons.

From the Associated Press:

The amount requested from the Michigan Corrections Organization represents more than half of the $180 million in concessions Gov. Rick Snyder wants from state employees in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, The Lansing State Journal reported Monday.

The union's members make up about 16 percent of the state's work force, but are being asked to make 53 percent of concessions. Michigan Corrections Organization executive director Mel Grieshaber criticized the state's actions.

"We are in sticker shock right now," he told the newspaper. "It's not fair. Our membership is angry about it. . . . It's very offensive. You won't find a more dangerous job in state government."

Kurt Weiss, A spokesman for the Office of the State Employer, the agency that oversees all collective bargaining negotiations for the state, said the Department of Corrections is the "only major state department in which employees are solely funded by the general fund," and Governor Snyder is trying to close a $1.4 billion dollar budget gap in the general fund.

Ford Motor Company has a solid first quarter

Ford announced is best first quarter earnings since 1998. According to the Detroit News, the first quarter earnings were...

$2.6 billion, or 61 cents per share.

The results, an increase of $466 million over the first quarter of 2010, far exceeded analysts' expectations of about 50 cents per share.

Operating profit of $2.8 billion was the strongest for a first-quarter since 2004 and $2.1 billion of that was from automotive operations as consumers continue to embrace the automaker's vehicles, which include new and fuel efficient models. Total revenue was $33.1 billion, up $5 billion from the same period in 2010.

"Our team delivered a great quarter, with solid growth and improvements in all regions," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said.

And unlike the gas price spike in 2008, Ford Motor Company and the other domestic automakers are much more prepared for the current price spike with more choices for smaller, fuel efficient cars... 

Michigan's average gas price above $4 per gallon

It hasn't happened since 2008. That was the year gas prices shot up and consumers started looking for smaller cars. AAA Michigan says the statewide average for gasoline is $4.04.

From the Associated Press:

The auto club says Tuesday that prices for self-serve unleaded fuel rose 6 cents per gallon since Monday to a statewide average of $4.04. That's $1.20 per gallon higher than last year at this time. AAA Michigan says the last time the average hit $4 was Sept. 19, 2008, when it was $4.03 per gallon.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily. It typically releases its gas prices report each Monday. But the auto club says it decided to put out a special edition of its gas prices report Tuesday because the average topped $4 a gallon.

Politics
10:29 am
Fri April 22, 2011

A look at the week in state politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

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.

Politics
4:39 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Mental health advocates blast prison drug policy

Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.
Simon Brass Flickr

A coalition of mental health advocates is calling on the state Department of Corrections to alter its policy of moving as many prisoners as possible from brand-name prescriptions to generic drugs.

The Department says the new policy will save taxpayers’ money without endangering prisoners’ health.

The Mental Health/Justice Coalition says the policy is too sweeping when it comes to inmates with mental illnesses. The Coalition includes inmates’ families, psychiatrists, judges, and attorneys.

Peggy Christian is the mother of an inmate:

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Politics
2:07 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Michigan Senators vote on education cuts today

Today's tweet from the Governor... "Let's focus on doing the right things to get our fiscal house in order and create an environment where jobs can grow."

For a state with $1.5 billion budget deficit and leaders who want to ease taxes on businesses - that means cuts.

The Appropriations Committee has voted on some cuts in education today.

From the Associated Press:

A Michigan Senate committee has voted to cut state aid to school districts by an additional $170 per student for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved the cut along party lines Thursday. The reduction would be in addition to a $170 per student cut already on the books for the current fiscal year that would be continued into next year. That makes the total reduction $340 per student.

The proposal advances to the Senate floor. The cuts recommended by the Senate panel aren't as deep as the additional $300 per student cut recommended by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, which would make the total cut $470 per student.

Most state departments will be cut next fiscal year as Michigan continues to struggle with budget problems.

The state's new fiscal year starts on October 1st. The State Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are hoping to finalize the budget by June 1st.

News Roundup
9:19 am
Wed April 20, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Lawsuits challenging emergency manager law start

Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System have filed a lawsuit challenging the new emergency financial manager law.

From the Associated Press:

The City of Detroit's two pension boards have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state's new emergency financial manager law, calling it unconstitutional.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit and names Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon. The lawsuit claims that emergency financial managers could remove pension board members for no reason.

Snyder's office says the governor believes in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise he wouldn't have signed it.

Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager, Joe Harris, was the first EFM to use broad new powers granted to him by the state.

Cleaning the lead out of Detroit homes

The federal government and private foundations will help fund a project to help get rid of environmental hazards in Detroit homes. From the Detroit Free Press:

The federal government will kick in $1 million to help make 100 homes in a targeted area of Detroit lead-free and safe from other hazards -- such as mold and radon -- and to train workers in environmental remediation techniques.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will present the funds to Mayor Dave Bing today.

The Freep reports that a study showed "60% of children in public schools in the city who scored below grade level on standardized state tests had lead poisoning."

Foundations, nonprofit partners, and state agencies are also expected to invest in the project.

Snyder to announce new leader for the Michigan Department of Corrections

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make the announcement this morning. From the Detroit News:

Snyder selected Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run the department, which takes the largest share of general fund dollars in the state's budget, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Snyder will make the announcement publically later this morning at a news conference in the governor's press auditorium, across from the Capitol in Lansing.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Johnson delivers first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
rick4mi.com

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson delivered what she says was the first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech in Lansing.

It's a speech Johnson says she plans to deliver the speech every year she is in office, "because I think there’s so much information and so many good things that are happening and I want people to know where we’re at, and where we’re going," said Johnson, "so you can judge – are we doing a good job or not?"

In the speech, Johnson said she is cutting costs in the Department of State.

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Education
4:42 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Senate budget panel scales back K-12 cut

Cuts are in the works for Michigan's K-12 public schools.
user frank juarez Flickr

A state Senate budget subcommittee has rolled back the size of Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed cut to K-through-12 schools.

The Senate subcommittee recommendation would still cut school funding by $170 per student, but that’s less than the $300 per student cut called for by the governor in his budget proposal.

State schools superintendent Michael Flanagan says more money for K-through-12 education is always welcome, but Flanagan says he’s concerned about what might have to be cut to make up that money.

"I don’t want to see pre-natal care for moms go at the expense of a couple of bucks in the formula, so that we actually have a bigger problem than we would have had, and I hope that’s what we can start to get people to think about is the continuum of services for kids – not just the K-12 issue."

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the budget recommendation tomorrow, along with budgets for universities, community colleges, and state agencies.

The governor has set a goal of wrapping up the entire state budget by June first.

Politics
4:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Officials receive training on new emergency financial manager law

More than 300 local officials and prospective emergency managers are in Lansing today and tomorrow to be trained in the state's new fiscal crisis law.

The law gives sweeping authority to emergency managers named to run school districts and local governments that can no longer pay their bills.

Terry Stanton of the Michigan Department of Treasury says the goal is for the state to intervene earlier to avoid the drastic step of a state takeover.

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News Roundup
7:53 am
Fri April 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Commentary
8:54 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Governor Snyder: Not a Politician?

There’s one thing everyone has agreed on ever since Rick Snyder burst on the scene less than a year and a half ago.

The man is not a politician.

Before he announced he was running for governor, Snyder’s name was barely known to anybody in political circles. He had never  been involved in politics at any level. When he began running his famous “nerd” commercial during last year’s Super Bowl, the verdict from the experts was clear: Clever commercial. Catchy concept.

Calling yourself a “tough nerd” might work in some sophisticated high-tech west coast place. But not in lunch-bucket, brawling, blue-collar Michigan.

And we all knew that Snyder’s lack of political sophistication will eventually do him in. That seemed to be confirmed when he began ducking most of the primary campaign debates. Not ready for prime time. Yet the non-politician won the Republican primary easily last August, leaving a prominent congressman and the state attorney general in the dust. The general election wasn’t even a contest.

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Politics
3:42 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Govenor Snyder and Republican leadership getting closer on budget deal

Republican leaders in the state legislature are getting closer to a deal on the budget.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leadership in the State House and Senate appear to be close to a deal on the budget.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican state lawmakers are reporting "significant progress" on proposals related to business and pension taxes for the fiscal year starting in October...

Two people with knowledge of the talks tell The Associated Press that the proposals include many elements of Snyder's original business tax plan. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been finalized.

The Republican governor wants to replace the state's main business tax with a 6 percent corporate tax applied to corporations with shareholders.

The plan would include taxes on pensions and other retiree income but it would be modified from Snyder's original proposal. The new proposal calls for phasing in or scaling back the tax.

Some lawmakers have been loathe to accept any taxes on pensions, but it appears a plan to phase in a pension tax may be more palatable.

Peter Luke of Booth Newspapers reports on some of the details of the agreement:

Under the phased-in alternative, the status quo would apply to those 67 and up, whose pensions would continue to be tax exempt.

A middle group of retirees 60 to 66 would be subject to a pension tax, but the first $20,000 of pension income for single filers -  $40,000 for joint filers - would be tax exempt.

Those younger than 60 would pay tax on all their pension income.

An AARP spokesman said they remain opposed to a tax on pensions, whether its phased in or not.

A public announcement of the agreement is expected to come this afternoon.

Detroit
2:48 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Locked out of Mayor Bing's budget presentation

Some people got locked out of today's Detroit City Council meeting, where Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was laying out a 5-year budget plan that called for cutting employee pension and health care costs.

Council security told citizens and several reporters that they couldn't come in because the hearing room was "filled to capacity."

That escalated into a dispute between security guards and the people who demanded their right to enter under the state's Open Meetings Act.

Detroit resident and volunteer organizer Felicia Sanders wanted to hear Bing's presentation.

"If you get up and you're willing to attend a meeting to fight and speak out for your city, you should be allowed to participate in the meeting."

Sanders and others questioned why the City Council didn't hold the hearing in a much larger public auditorium just across the hall.

Detroit
10:09 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Watch Mayor Bing's budget address to city council

Detroit Mayor David Bing presenting his budget to city council.
Detroit

Detroit Mayor David Bing is delivering his budget address to city council right now.

Bing says the budget he is presenting is a five year plan to eliminate the city's budget deficit.

He says the most important conversation the city has to have is with union employees about pensions and health care benefits.

By 2020, Bing says fringe benefits and pensions would consume half the city's general fund.

You can watch the speech here.

Detroit
11:06 am
Mon April 11, 2011

Former bodyguard releases Kwame Kilpatrick "tell-all" book

Walter Harris' book about his time within the Kwame Kilpatrick administration in Detroit.
amazon.com

Walter Harris, Jr. worked as a bodyguard for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for nine years.

Harris' whistle-blower lawsuit helped lead to the unraveling of  the Kilpatrick administration.

His book about his experiences, Badge of Honor: Blowing the Whistle, was released Saturday.

Harris was quoted in the Detroit News

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Politics
10:03 am
Mon April 11, 2011

Congress readies for more budget battles

As both sides sort out who won and who lost in the deal to keep the government running, the next phase of budget wrangling ensues.

The current-year budget deal struck Friday night still needs full congressional approval this week.

President Obama will deliver a speech Wednesday on the budget and the long-range deficits.

And sometime during the week, the House is expected to approve a new budget plan for next year that includes big changes in Medicare and Medicaid.

And none of that is to mention the looming battle about raising the federal debt ceiling.

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Government Shutdown
7:56 am
Sat April 9, 2011

Deal averting shutdown proves compromise is alive, if not well

Reports of the death of compromise in Washington are greatly exaggerated.

That's one important message from the 11th-hour agreement that averted a partial shutdown of the federal government Friday night.

"No compromise" has been the rallying cry of the Tea Party movement. Some Republican lawmakers have echoed that.

But the agreement reached Friday was the epitome of compromise. Republicans had come into the negotiations demanding $61 billion in spending cuts from the remainder of fiscal year 2011 which ends in September.

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Government Shutdown
11:15 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

Just in time, a deal to avert a government shutdown

Congressional leaders and President Obama reached a budget agreement a little more than an hour before a midnight deadline for avoiding a partial shutdown of the federal government. The agreement, which would slash about $38 billion in spending this year, was announced separately by the president, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

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