politics

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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Government Shutdown
6:41 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Not all will suffer if the government does shut down

[We asked NPR's Linton Weeks to think about some things that might benefit from a federal government shutdown. Here's what he reported back.]

We have all heard dire predictions surrounding the possible closing down of the federal government.

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Government Shutdown
4:51 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

GOP-controlled House passes stopgap spending bill

President Obama says another round of talks with congressional leaders has helped, but there is no deal yet to avert a government shutdown.

Obama said he hoped to be able to announce a deal on Friday but "there's no certainty yet." He said he told House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he wants an answer in the morning.

He said there were "a few issues that are outstanding.

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Government Shutdown
2:52 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

How a shutdown would affect Michigan

A federal government shutdown looms as leaders in Congress disagree on budget cuts.
user kulshrax creative commons

A shutdown of the federal government seems more likely as leaders in Congress don't seem to have a clear handle on where their disagreements lie.

The New York Times outlined the disagreement... over their disagreements...

  • Senate Majority Leader, Hary Reid (D-NV), said, "the numbers are basically there, but I am not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement, as I was 11 hours ago. The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology."
  • And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)  told reporters, "there is no agreement on a number. I think we were closer to a number last night than we are this morning. We're going to have real spending cuts. I don't know what some people don't understand about this."

So, a shutdown of the federal government is getting closer.

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Government Shutdown
9:44 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Essential Vs. Not: Which Jobs Wouldn't Shut Down?

Originally published on Fri April 8, 2011 4:27 pm

In Washington, D.C., and at federal agencies across the country, the big question employees are asking on the eve of a possible government shutdown is: Am I essential or not? Workers and agencies that are deemed essential will be kept on the job if a shutdown occurs.

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Commentary
11:24 am
Wed April 6, 2011

The Price of Civilization

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.

"Why don't people seem to realize that today?"

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Politics
5:31 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Snyder and Republican leaders point to progress and sticking points

Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican leadership in the State House and Senate outlined progress and sticking points.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

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.

Politics
5:34 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder and Republican leadership to outline progress on budget tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder outlining his plans in his State of the State address last January.
Michigan House 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.

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