Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

Liz West / Flickr

Changes to a federal program often called "Heat and Eat" mean about 150,000 Michigan families will soon see reductions in their monthly food assistance benefits.

The cuts will average about $75 a month per family.

The Heat and Eat program offers higher food assistance benefits for families who live in northern states, where heating bills can be high.

But about 20% of the people enrolled in the program actually don't pay for heat. It's included as part of their rent.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility of new teachers losing their pensions, the latest in the Detroit bankruptcy trial, and how Aramark is under fire again.


Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are making their way through more than a dozen bills targeting human trafficking this week.

The bills would provide a safe harbor for victims, allow victims to sue their abusers, and eliminate the statute of limitations on trafficking offenses.

Jake Neher / MPRN

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan says she'll leave her post at the end of the year.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the former Michigan Supreme Court justice says she wants to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Corrigan was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 to lead the state's welfare agency. She served on the state's high court from 1999 to 2010.

Corrigan says she told Snyder she'd lead the department for four years.

Today on Stateside:

  • A Congressional report blistered the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over ignition defects in GM vehicles.
  • We looked at tax increment financing (TIFs): public dollars used with few questions asked.
  • We met the MSU professor leading the quest for a better potato.
  • We discovered how Detroit's techno music scene is winning fans around the world.
  • We asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality what Michigan is doing to protect our drinking water against cyanobacteria.
  • Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the genocide of up to a million and half Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. We asked a University of Michigan professor how the actions of 100 years ago are being felt in 2014.

* Listen to the full show above.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

 

A blistering Congressional report came out today on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's handling of a General Motors ignition switch problem.The defect is blamed in 19 deaths. 

David Shepardson is chief of The Detroit News Washington, D.C. bureau. He says the House Energy and Commerce Committee analysis really hauls NHTSA into the "congressional woodshed."

"They had ample information to have discovered this problem in 2007 but, for a number of different failures, didn't do it," says Shepardson.

The report says the NHTSA misunderstood how vehicles worked, lacked accountability, and failed to share information.

* Listen to the interview with David Shepardson above.

TIF mismanagement can lead to blight.
Flickr.com

 

Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a flexible tool for downtown development authority boards aiming to encourage private investment and increase the taxable value of their municipality.

TIFs enable portions of a city’s regular property tax to be used for economic development, without a vote from taxpayers. There are eight types of authorities in Michigan that can engage in this type of financing.

David Bieri is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.

Bieri explains the good and bad uses of TIFs. In the early 2000s, DDAs from Kalamazoo to Detroit addressed blight through brownfield remitigation. On the other hand, Bieri cites Bloomfield Park, the unfinished mini-city in Bloomfield Hills, as an example of TIFs gone bad: Blight was created rather than mitigated. 

User: bnosnhoj / Wikimedia Commons

A group in Detroit hopes that 158,000 signatures will be enough to persuade city officials to stop shutting off water to residents. 

The People's Water Board Coalition has been working on a petition over the summer that has three main goals: stop water shutoffs in Detroit, restore household water to those living without, and implement a water affordability plan. 

Today on Stateside:

  • The DIA director reacted to Detroit creditor Syncora's settlement with the city.
  • As Michigan businesses complain they can't find workers with the skills they need, is there another side to this "skills gap?"
  • Do you love the online quest for a sweet deal on airfare or hotel room? You may be wasting your time.
  • According to a new study, more than half of the birds in the U.S. will be forced to find a new place to live because of climate change. We found out what that means for birds in Michigan.
  • Health insurers and healthcare.gov are now gearing up for year two of the Affordable Care Act. We talked to director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan about what’s at stake.
  • We found out how the idea for the Aeron chairs sold by the Herman Miller Company of West Michigan came about. 

* Listen to the full show above.

Bank of the Oise at Auvers by Van Gogh, owned by the DIA
user: Maia C / Flickr

 

As the Detroit bankruptcy trial moves into its third week, the spotlight has often been trained on the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The discussion over whether the DIA can and should be forced to sell its treasures to help offset Detroit's insolvency has been one of the most hotly debated issues of the bankruptcy.

DIA director Graham Beal recently wrote a letter that was published in the museum's newsletter and then posted on Deadline Detroit under the headline "Museums Should Step Very Carefully 'In Times Of Crisis.'"

Here's an excerpt of the letter:

In the Great Depression, the DIA remained open and staffed, largely thanks to the secret support of Edsel Ford. The city of Detroit arts commissioners could have sold the van Gogh self-portrait, Matisse's The Window, Ruisdael's Jewish Cemetery, or even Breugel's Wedding Dance, but the thought never seems to have crossed anyone's mind.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council is slated to vote this week on a plan that would speed big city property transfers to the Detroit land bank.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr proposed the measure last week, allowing the city to transfer some city-owned properties directly to the land bank without Council approval.

It would move up to 45,000 tax-reverted properties to the Detroit land bank’s control, and convey any such land the city acquires in the future directly to the land bank.

Currently, the City Council has some say in how the city disposes of those properties.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Governor Rick Snyder has been fond of calling Michigan the "comeback state" for at least 2 1/2 years. So he naturally made it a part of his re-election campaign early on.

But as the Republican governor's campaign ramps up in the final two months of the race, he's tweaking his message. Now Michigan's on the "road to recovery."

Pollsters say the fine-tuning reflected in new TV ads is an attempt to align with voters who are more positive about the state's direction but also say the recovery hasn't helped them personally.

Democrats in Lansing are not waiting any longer to push civil rights protections for gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

And the fact that Democrats are now out in front, signals this is no longer about adopting a policy, this is now political.

For several sessions, Democrats have introduced legislation to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. But last year they were persuaded to wait by civil rights groups who at long last saw a policy success in their grasp. That’s if they could get a Republican to take the lead (because, of course, the GOP runs the show in Lansing).

This week, however, those hopes essentially fell apart as prospective Republican co-sponsors bailed, and GOP leaders put unacceptable conditions on taking up the bill.

Now, the sole, lonely Republican publicly backing LGBT rights in the civil rights law, says he has not given up. “We’re still working and talking with colleagues and educating,” said Republican state Representative Frank Foster. Interestingly enough, as we talked about last month on It's Just Politics, Foster lost his primary in August to a more socially conservative Republican. There's continued debate over whether or not  his loss was do in part because of his support for adding LGBT rights to Elliott-Larsen.

The Michigan State Capitol.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill to clarify that Michigan never intended to give out-of-state companies a lower tax liability in a 2007 business tax overhaul.

The legislation is designed to ensure the state isn't forced to pay $1.1 billion in refunds in 134 cases after a July ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court in a case involving IBM. The administration and lawmakers worried the court's 4-3 decision could affect other cases in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax years.

Snyder said in statement Friday that the bill is a "common-sense solution" encouraging companies to invest and create jobs in Michigan. The state estimates most of the $1.1 billion in refunds would have been paid in the fiscal year that starts in October, throwing the budget out of balance.

Today on Stateside:

  • State lawmakers return from summer break as a list of groups calling for them to pass LGBT protections is growing.
  • From Lansing to Detroit, in the weeks before the November election, what's at stake in the city's historic bankruptcy?
  • Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is on the hot seat after a big loss to Notre Dame. Should Hoke be worried about job security?
  • Interlochen Public Radio’s Linda Stephan reported on Indian mission churches facing financial pressures.
  • A story of failure from Failure Lab, featuring Kathy Crosby, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.

*Listen to the full show above.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Legislature is back in session. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says in the 20 session days left between now and the end of the year he wants to find a plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads and a way to ease term limits on Michigan lawmakers.

However, adding LGBT protections to Michigan's civil rights law is proving to be an ongoing battle in the Legislature.

I spoke with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

Here's our conversation.

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier / Flickr

You can be fired, denied a job or housing in Michigan if you are gay. Michigan's civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, does not include LGBT protections, the same way it does for race, ethnicity, and gender. 

But yesterday, Democrats at the state capitol proposed legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Elliott-Larsen. 

Jonathan Oosting of MLive says whether or not that public debate leads to action remains to be seen.

"There's certainly some belief that it's time to have this debate, although the way things went down this week has sort of raised some questions about how feasible it's going to be to get this through the Legislature," says Oosting.

* Listen to the interview with Jonathan Oosting above.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, the longest-serving member of Congress, was admitted into the Henry Ford Hospital earlier this week to treat an infection.

Dingell, 88, took to Twitter to announce his release:

ABC News reports that Dingell is expected back at the Capitol next week, "on Sept. 16 when Congress returns after a four-day weekend."

Gerald Rosen, the bankruptcy judge in charge of mediation, issed the order today.
Detroit Legal News

One big creditor, Syncora, appears to have agreed to a deal with the city this week.

That left one very big fish to fry - the bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co.

The city owes the group more than $1 billion, and they're not walking away from the money that is owed to them without a fight.

Now the bankruptcy court overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy has ordered FGIC, along with several others, into mediation with the city.

From the order:

It is hereby ordered that, unless otherwise excused by the mediator, the above-named noticed parties shall appear, with counsel and party-representatives with full and complete settlement authority, for continuing mediation on Friday, September 12, 2014, at 10:00 a.m., and continuing day-to-day thereafter as deemed necessary, until released by the mediators…

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports that FGIC negotiators walked out of talks with the city two weeks ago.

Now, with the Syncora deal close to inked, FGIC is being compelled to try it again.

In a statement Wednesday, FGIC said the firm remains open to a good-faith settlement following the Syncora deal.

“The latest deal reinforces our view that the city has abundant sources of incremental value available ...,” the company said. “However the issue at hand is their willingness to distribute this value fairly and equitably...”

Syncora went from a deal that was going to give the company around 10 cents on the dollar, to a deal that's giving them around 26 cents on the dollar.

Aside from Syncora and FGIC, the other creditors ordered into mediation are:

  • UBS AG
  • SBS Financial Products Co., LLC
  • Merrill Lynch Capital Services, Inc.
  • Ambac Assurance Corp.
  • Black Rock Financial Management
  • Official Committee of Retirees
  • Wilmington Trust Company, National Association, as successor to U.S. Bank National Association, as Trustee and Contract Administrator

Ian Freimuth / Flickr

We saw big news out of Detroit this week: a deal over a southeast regional water authority and a tentative deal between the city and one of its largest creditors.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are back to the state capitol after their summer recess. And the two big statewide races for governor and the open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan are heating up.

Today on Stateside, we take a step back and see how these events fit together and impact one another.

Daniel Howes is a columnist with Detroit News. He says the good news in Detroit this week shows that leadership matters.

"What you're seeing here is a remarkable alignment of both political and business leadership across the state behind this Detroit bankruptcy effort," says Howes. 

Rick Pluta is the capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and co-host of It's Just Politics. He says in the next few weeks, he's watching for what Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr puts in place in his final days to set the city up for what comes next. 

"A high level of control will have to be restored to the city," says Pluta.

* Listen to our conversation with Daniel Howes and Rick Pluta on Stateside today at 3 pm. We'll post the audio around 4:30 pm.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Environmentalists and others are trying to rally support in Michigan for proposed rules to force utilities to make power plants cleaner.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants tougher emission standards for the nation’s power plants.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30%  from 2005 levels by 2030. 

Today on Stateside:

  • The sound of Michigan-made music jumped right across the Atlantic to influence many artists and fans in Great Britain. We talked to a BBC host on how Brits are paying tribute to Michigan music.
  • An 11th-hour deal with Detroit satisfied one of the city's last two creditors.
  • Enterovirus 68 is making kids dangerously sick around the nation. Has it come to Michigan?
  • Is Canada a nation of science geeks? We looked into a new report about that.
  • When a proposed Detroit-Windsor bridge jeopardizes a ferry business, its owner decided to speak up backing the new plan.

*Listen to the full show above.

Ian Freimuth / Flickr

  

Two of the loudest voices objecting to Detroit's bankruptcy adjustment plan have been bond insurers Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation, known as FGIC. Both companies were left holding the bag in a $1.4 billion pension deal, the "swaps."

Things just got much colder and bleaker for FGIC. That's because Syncora and the city have struck an 11th-hour deal.

Syncora now is willing to receive 26 cents on the dollar of what it is owed, up from 10 cents under the city's previous plan, plus a package that includes an extended lease on operation of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and a parking deal.

President Obama and Vice President Biden meet with bicameral leadership of Congress regarding foreign policy in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2014.
Peter Souza / White House

President Obama will speak to the nation tonight at 9 p.m. from the White House. He's expected to lay out details of his plan to address the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Tune in to Michigan Radio for NPR's live coverage of the speech.

The president is expected to start speaking at 9:01:30 p.m. and the White House says the president's remarks will run approximately 15 minutes or less. 

More from NPR:

NPR News will provide live anchored special coverage hosted by Robert Siegel that will include the president's speech and analysis.  Robert will be joined in studio by Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman; White House correspondent Scott Horsley; Congressional reporter Juana Summers; and Middle East correspondent Deb Amos will join our coverage from the region.

In advance of the president's speech, NPR's Greg Myre addresses five questions "likely to determine the success or failure of any military mission." 

And the Washington Post tells us why Obama prefers giving these speeches from the East Room in the White House. 

A demolition in Flint.
Genesee County Land Bank

FLINT – Michigan is giving $2.6 million to Genesee County's land bank to demolish and improve 225 blighted properties in Flint's Civic Park neighborhood.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is making the grant with money from the federal Hardest Hit Fund.

The land bank now owns about half of the properties in the Civic Park area, and 71 more properties are recent tax foreclosures. The land bank says most are in need of demolition and greening because of deterioration and theft by metal and other scrappers.

State housing authority acting executive director Wayne Workman says the award will allow strategic demolitions and help preserve the neighborhood.

The Genesee County Land Bank also received $20 million last October to demolish, green, and maintain more than 1,600 properties.

Detroit's riverfront.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Judge Steven Rhodes has suspended Detroit's bankruptcy trial until Monday so the city can work out details of a deal with one of its major creditors.

News of the potential deal broke last night. Syncora, a bond insurer, stands to lose $400 million in Detroit's bankruptcy.

Alisa Priddle of the Detroit Free Press reports the deal the city is trying to work out with Syncora would be worth 26 cents on the dollar vs. 10 cents on the dollar under the city's current plan.

More from the Freep:

Among the goodies are $23.5 million in payment in the form of B-notes; a long-term lease on a centrally located parking garage; a 20-year extension of the lease to run the U.S. side of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel to 2040; and $6.2 million in credits towards the purchase of some parcels of land in the future.

The pause in the trial also gives the city time to reach other settlements with other creditors. One of the biggest is Financial Guaranty Insurance Co.

FGIC insured a deal made under the Kwame Kilpatrick administration that shored up the city's pension liabilities.

Here's how that deal was described by the Freep last spring:

Under former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit sold the pension obligation certificates of participation to boost funding at the city’s General Retirement System and Police and Fire Retirement System to nearly 100%. The city also bought so-called swaps, or derivatives, to permanently lock in steady interest rates around 6% on the arrangement. But three years later, as the national economy tanked, interest rates plummeted, souring the deal.

Robert Snell and Christine Ferretti of the Detroit News spoke with one of Syncora's lawyers, Ryan Bennett.

Bennett said the deal before Syncora now relies on the city settling its issue with FGIC. 

Bennett said he’s not aware of any deals in the works between the city and FGIC. But the holdout creditor could benefit as well from the “shared asset pool” and that Syncora’s tentative agreement “sets a path” for FGIC, he said.

The Freep's Priddle reports that an FGIC lawyer said they need to "better understand the deal" and it will affect the witnesses he calls when the bankruptcy trial resumes next week.

*This post has been updated.

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss how  Syncora, the biggest opponent in Detroit's bankruptcy trial, has reached a tentative agreement with the city. Fox and Lessenberry also discuss Detroit's new water authority, and what to expect from the legislature in the few weeks before the November election.

Jenny Lee Silver / Flickr

Democrats in the Legislature say women should get 90 days' advance warning if their employers are about to drop contraception coverage from company-provided insurance policies.

The legislation is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The court said business owners don’t have to cover contraception if they have a sincere moral objection.

State Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline, says women deserve time to make other arrangements if that’s the case. She says birth control drugs have more medical uses than just stopping pregnancies.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are working to fix a situation caused by a Michigan Supreme Court decision that could end up costing the state more than $1 billion this year.

The court ruled in July that certain out-of-state companies can calculate their tax liabilities using an old tax system that would cost them less. The state House approved legislation Tuesday that would reverse that decision.  

Lawmakers say the Supreme Court’s ruling was wrong.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

Legislation that would add LGBT protections to Michigan’s anti-discrimination law will probably have to wait until after the November election.

Some supporters of the measure hoped lawmakers would take it up before voters go to the polls in November. But the bill has not even been introduced yet.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he wants to take up the issue. Be he does not expect to hold a vote until the Legislature’s “lame duck” session.

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