Politics & Government

Politics
9:25 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

Detroit Chief: No "critical, criminal" evidence left at shuttered crime lab

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee

The Detroit Police Chief admits the department left its former crime lab in deplorable condition. But Ralph Godbee also insists that no evidence that could compromise ongoing criminal cases was left behind there.

The Detroit Police Department shuttered its crime lab in 2008, after investigations revealed numerous problems with testing and handling evidence.

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Politics
9:16 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

Showdown looms over Detroit budget

The Detroit City Council has set up a meeting to override Mayor Dave Bing’s likely budget veto.

Bing said last week he’ll veto the Council’s budget proposal. He has until the end of this week to do so.

The two sides are at odds over the Council’s decision to cut an additional $50 million from Bing’s proposed budget.

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Politics
5:30 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

A conversation with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow about new farm bill

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its first hearing in Lansing today. It’s the first step in the creation of a new farm bill.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White spoke with Senator Debbie Stabenow about the new farm bill. Stabenow chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.  Here is the interview:

Senator Stabenow talks about the importance of the new farm bill.  And says agriculture provides 1 out of 4 jobs in Michigan.

"There is strength and diversity in Michigan agriculture," Stabenow says, and "it's important to have a safety net and help farmers manage their risk on the farm."

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Politics
5:23 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

House prepares to lower population requirements for Detroit's special taxes

A measure that would let Detroit continue to levy taxes on utility bills and income is likely to pass in the state House this week. 

The bill is necessary for Detroit to keep the income and utilities taxes because the law says to keep those taxes a city must have a population of at least 750-thousand. Detroit’s population slumped below that in the past decade. Now lawmakers from Detroit are calling for a change to reduce the population requirement to 600-thousand.

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Politics
5:04 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

Bills would address Detroit's dwindling population

user pablocosta creative commons

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The city of Detroit could continue charging a higher income tax rate than other Michigan cities under terms of legislation pending in the state House.

The bills that could come up for votes Wednesday also would affect utility user tax rates in Michigan's largest city.

Detroit likely needs changes in state law to keep some of its current tax rates because it is losing population. Census statistics show that the Motor City's population fell from 951,270 in 2000 to 713,777 last year.

Current state law allows higher personal income tax rates in cities with at least 750,000 people, affecting only Detroit. The law would have to change now that Detroit's population has dipped
below that 750,000 mark.

Detroit now charges an income tax rate of 2.5 percent for residents.

News Roundup
8:50 am
Tue May 31, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 31st
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Powerless

Utility crews continue to work to restore electricity to thousands of Michigan homes and businesses that lost power after a wave of severe thunderstorms and tornados. The Associated Press reports:

CMS Energy Corp. says it may take until late Wednesday to have all power restored. It says Sunday's storms blacked out more than 115,000 of its customers, and about 42,000 remained without service Tuesday morning. DTE Energy Co. says about 30,000 of its customers lost power, and about 4,000 remained blacked out Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service confirms that three funnel cloud touchdowns Sunday - one near Perry in Shiawassee County, one in the Three Rivers area in St. Joseph County and one in Coldwater in Branch County.No deaths or life-threatening injuries are reported.

Farm Bill

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow will hold the first field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill later today. Stabenow is Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The hearing, titled, “Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,” will, as Stabenow’s office explains, “focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill (which determines agriculture policies every five years), examining agriculture as well as energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that affect Michigan.” The hearing will be held at Michigan State University.

Countdown to Break

Leaders in the state Legislature say there is still a lot of work they would like to get done before lawmakers take a two-month summer break, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says some of the issues she expects to see in the coming weeks include education reforms, redrawing Michigan’s political maps, and whether the state should build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada. The Republican-led Legislature sent Governor Rick Snyder the state spending plan last week. The governor is expected to veto some items within that budget and sign them into law next week.

State Legislature
6:43 am
Tue May 31, 2011

Lawmakers to take up big issues in June

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Allieosmar Flickr

Leaders in the state Legislature say there is still a lot of work they would like to get done before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says some of the issues she expects to see in the coming weeks include education reforms, redrawing Michigan’s political maps, and whether the state should build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

“I expect most of that will be done before we break for the summer, yes. June ought to be a very busy time around here. Just because the budget bills get signed into law next week doesn’t mean we won’t be working very hard around here for the next month or so.”

The Republican-led Legislature sent Governor Rick Snyder the state spending plan last week. The governor is expected to veto some items within that budget and sign them into law next week.

Politics
4:20 pm
Fri May 27, 2011

Political Roundup

Photo by: contemplative imaging

The State Legislature completed work on a $46.5 billion state budget this week. It’s the quickest budget process since the 1960’s.

Michigan Radio’s Jenn White spoke with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Bill Ballenger, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.  You can hear the interview here:

Ballenger says  Governor Snyder had a clear plan coming into office, which helped get this budget passed so quickly. He also points to the strong Republican control.

These are the biggest margins of control since the years after World War II ended. This is how strong the majority is in the House and Senate with a Republican Governor. That is incredibly important.

Certain items in the tax structure and in this budget have gotten lots of attention from the public. Tax on pensions, the reduction of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the cuts to K-12 schools all have been on people’s minds.

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Politics
4:12 pm
Fri May 27, 2011

Election of President Obama changed perceptions of racism

Study shows election of President Obama changes perception of racism, not, not reality of racism
Pete Souza White House

The election of President Obama in 2008 made some believe racism in the United States had declined. That's according to a study from the University of Michigan. It measured perceptions of racism amongst Americans before the 2008 election and again in 2010.

Nicholas Valentino is a professor with U of M. He says it’s difficult to know how perceptions about racism are formed. But he thinks it might have to do with obstacles different racial groups face:

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commentary
10:30 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

When Governor Rick Snyder took office in January, he said he wanted to have the state budget signed, sealed and delivered by the end of May.

Nobody in Lansing took that seriously. In fact, if the budget had in fact not been completed until July, that would still have been seen as a remarkable victory. 

After all, we’ve become accustomed to lawmakers frantically struggling on September 30th, the last day possible, to pass a budget before the state would have to shut down.

True, this year is different in that the governor’s party controls both houses of the legislature. But the reforms that Snyder was calling on them to make were so revolutionary it was hard to see how he could possibly win early passage.

Well, we were wrong. Rick Snyder may officially be a “non-politician.” But he is in fact one of the shrewdest political operatives I have ever seen. People have consistently underestimated him, beginning with the famous “nerd” commercial which launched his candidacy. Everybody scoffs at Snyder, and he smiles and keeps on winning. Primaries, general elections, legislative fights. The governor got virtually everything important he wanted here.

Where he did have to compromise - on the pension tax, for example - one got the feeling that he had planned on compromise all along. With a series of wrenching moves, he changed the way the system works. He seems to have eliminated the structural flaw that for years has caused automatic billion dollar deficits. He did so at a terrific cost, balancing the budget, and providing huge tax breaks for business by cutting aid to the poor, to children, and to education.

But he got what he wanted, and now we’ll see what happens. Make no mistake: This is entirely a Rick Snyder, Republican Party budget. It did not get a single Democratic vote. If this pays off, if the lowered business taxes do create new jobs, Snyder should be able to waltz to re-election, and the political culture of this state may be forever changed. But if it fails - if the promised new jobs don’t materialize, and people keep falling through the tattered safety net - well, it will be clear who to blame. It will take awhile to know exactly what’s happening. But what does the governor do next?

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News Roundup
8:34 am
Fri May 27, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 27th

Legislature Completes the Budget

The Michigan Legislature completed work yesterday on a $46 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The process lacked all of the long hours and heated floor debate of recent years, Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber reports. Much of that can be attributed to a Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. In fact, not a single Democrat voted in favor of the budget. The budget includes cuts to K-12 education and public universities. It lifts the exemption on taxing some retiree pensions and reduces the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign the budget bills in the next few weeks.

Feds Eye Flint

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are auditing records from Flint City Hall, according to the Flint Journal. Reporter Kristin Longley writes a "city source" says the FBI accompanied the USDOE investigators:

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Energy is auditing the city's use of federal energy grant funds, a federal official confirmed today, following reports that federal officials are investigating Flint City Hall.

The DOE's Office of Inspector General has investigators in the city of Flint examining how a federal grant for weatherization of low-income housing is being spent, said Rick Hass, deputy inspector general for audits and inspections.

Detroit School Closures to Increase

The Detroit Public Schools says it’s increasing the number of school closures to 20 by the fall of next year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

That's up from the previously announced 14.  The Detroit Free Press reports district officials decided to keep open some schools that had been proposed for closure, and some proposed school mergers were changed. The district said Thursday the changes are the result of public input at more than 40 community meetings since April. DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts says the district still has too many schools for its shrinking student population, even though it has closed 130 buildings since 2005. That's half its schools.

Politics
5:46 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Proposal calls for inmates to pay state sales tax

Inmates would have to pay 6 percent sales tax on many items purchased from a prison commissary under a new proposal.
ruvilla.com

A Michigan lawmaker is proposing the state’s prisoners pay sales tax on items they buy from the prison commissary.

State Rep. Anthony Forlini, a R-Harrison Township, says inmates should not be exempt from the six-percent tax.

Forlini  laughs at the suggestion that it would be unfair to tax inmates because they’re not allowed to vote.

"To say that the regular public pays a sales tax and the inmates do not pay a tax is what's really unfair," Forlini says. "The fairness issue is treating us all alike."

Politics
5:34 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Court rules against Dearborn in leaflet case

A federal court has ruled that the city of Dearborn may not prevent people from distributing leaflets encouraging conversion to Christianity at an annual Arab-American festival.
The Arab American News.com

A federal court says Dearborn should not have prevented a Christian evangelist from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American festival last year.

The court ruled that the city of Dearborn violated the First Amendment rights of George Saieg of California at last summer’s event.

Saieg wanted to distribute leaflets encouraging Muslims to convert to Christianity.

Jack O’Reilly is Dearborn’s mayor.

He says the court made its decision because the Arab-American Festival does not charge an entry fee, and is not restricted to just festivalgoers.

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Politics
4:11 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Budget done early, schools and local governments can plan for cuts

The State Legislature has passed a budget, the earliest a budget has been passed in decades.
user aunt owwee Flickr

The Michigan Legislature has wrapped up its financial planning for the future.

The $46 billion state budget is done - they'll start spending the money October 1st (that's when the fiscal year starts).

The Associate Press writes:

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature has finished approving a new state budget that will cut state aid for education and many state departments...The quick resolution of next year's budget is a victory for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who wanted lawmakers to wrap up votes by May 31.

This is the earliest the state budget has been completed in 30 years, according to the Detroit News.

Early passage gives school districts, agencies, and local governments time to plan for their next fiscal years.

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Politics
2:20 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Feds investigating Flint City Hall

There are a number of federal investigations going on at Flint City Hall.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update 2:20 p.m.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are auditing records from Flint City Hall, according to the Flint Journal. Reporter Kristin Longley writes a "city source" says the FBI accompanied the USDOE investigators:

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Energy is auditing the city's use of federal energy grant funds, a federal official confirmed today, following reports that federal officials are investigating Flint City Hall.

The DOE's Office of Inspector General has investigators in the city of Flint examining how a federal grant for weatherization of low-income housing is being spent, said Rick Hass, deputy inspector general for audits and inspections.

Update 11:56 a.m.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody said Mayor Walling's press conference lasted all of 30 seconds. Here's the Mayor's full statement:

The Mayor confirmed there were a "number of ongoing federal investigations" underway.

10:34 a.m.

There's a federal investigation underway at Flint City Hall today. We don't know what federal officials are looking for at this point. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody will be at an 11:00 a.m. press conference being held by Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and will have an update for us later.

Kristin Longley from the Flint Journal writes:

In the past, the city has been the subject of reports from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development related to misspent grant funds.

It was unknown whether today's investigation was related to any of the OIG's previous findings.

Commentary
12:54 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Canada and the Bridge

We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.

Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.

But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.

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News Roundup
9:03 am
Thu May 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 26th
Brother O'Mara Other

Wet Weather Continues

Rain and storms are expected to continue in many parts of the state today. Most of the region is under some type of flood advisory, watch, or warning during the morning hours. Yesterday, rain caused flooding throughout the Southeast. Yesterday, "thunderstorms... dumped more than 4 inches of rain on parts of southern Michigan, causing widespread flooding of streets, expressways and basements,” the Associated Press reports.

State Senate Completes Budget

The Michigan Senate handed a state spending plan over to the state House yesterday, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval. The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children. Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Foreclosures Hurting Michigan's Real Estate Market

Foreclosed homes continued to drag down home sale prices in the state in the first quarter of the year, Steve Carmody reports. “Realty Trac reported nearly 32 percent of homes sold in Michigan in the first three months of 2011 were repossessed homes. The average price for a foreclosed home was just a little more than $70,000. That price is about a third less than similar homes on the market. A Realty Trac spokesman says that is keeping home prices from appreciating. Michigan is among a dozen states where foreclosed homes accounted for at least 25 percent of the homes sold during the first quarter of the year,” Carmody notes.

Presidential Visit
6:49 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Obama to visit Chrysler plant in Toledo next week

President Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio next Friday, June 3rd.
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, next week to discuss the car maker's repayment of a federal loan that saved the company from financial disaster two years ago.

The White House says Obama will visit the auto plant on June 3.

Chrysler announced Tuesday the repayment of $5.9 billion in U.S. loans and $1.7 billion in loans from the governments of Canada and Ontario. It covers most of the federal bailout money that saved the company after it nearly ran out of cash in 2009 and went through a government-led bankruptcy.

The company recently posted its first profit in five years and has bolstered its lineup of Jeeps and cars.

State Politics
6:44 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Snyder signs tax restructuring... Now what?

Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed a sweeping tax overhaul for Michigan yesterday.
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Two-thirds of Michigan businesses are in line for a tax rollback next year. The rest will pay a six percent tax on profits. Pensions in Michigan will be taxed for the first time. An income tax reduction will be delayed to save money to help balance a budget that reduces spending on schools, local governments, and higher education.

These are all details of a sweeping tax overhaul signed into law yesterday by Governor Rick Snyder.

Snyder made cutting and simplifying the taxes paid by businesses his marquee campaign promise, and he got to fulfill that promise just a few days short of five months in office.

“It will create jobs. I’m confident of that.”

The governor says Michigan’s business tax plan will be simpler, and fairer. Only a third of Michigan businesses – those with lots of shareholders and registered as “C” corporations under the tax code – will pay the six percent tax on profits after expenses.

The governor acknowledged some parts of the plan are controversial – especially taxing pensions. Next year, someone living on a $50,000 pension can expect to pay about $1,400 in state income tax.

Snyder says extending the income tax to people born after 1946 with pension income exceeding $40,000 means that share of the burden won’t be shifted to younger people.

“That’s going to help on that issue of keeping our young people right here in Michigan.”

And the governor – a former tech company CEO and venture capitalist -- says the state’s new business tax system should be solid enough to endure for another 50 years.

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Politics
5:17 pm
Wed May 25, 2011

School cuts likley as budget rolls through Legislature

The budget is on track to be signed next week.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate handed a complete state spending plan over to the state House today.

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children.

When talking about the K-12 schools budget, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said:

"Amidst a long day of voting on bad budgets, we find ourselves looking at the absolute worst of the worst."

The K-12 schools budget makes additional cuts in per-pupil funding with the possibility of offsetting those cuts by consolidating services and by encouraging other Republican-proposed “best practices.”

Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It appears any debate on this budget will be over by early next week.

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