Politics & Government

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.

Politics
3:10 pm
Wed May 25, 2011

Sweeping changes to Michigan's tax laws, will jobs follow?

It's official.

Governor Snyder has just signed "the most sweeping tax change in the state since 1994," according to the Associated Press:

It cuts overall business taxes by about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year and replaces the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent income tax on corporations with shareholders. Some of those companies will pay more, but most companies won't pay the tax.

In the Detroit Free Press, AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said the tax overhaul won't create jobs.

Gaffney questioned whether a small coffee shop owner who receives a tax cut would hire someone. He said that depends on more business, and more business depends on customers having more disposable income.

"I hate to think Michigan is going to be the next experiment in supply-side economics," he said. "There's a reason they call it trickle-down, it's a trickle."

The Governor's mantra has been that cutting taxes will lead to more jobs in Michigan.

When MPRN's Rick Pluta asked the Governor for empirical evidence how he knows lower taxes will lead to jobs, Snyder said, "It's basic economics in terms of cost structures. There was some polling done by the Small Business Association that actually went out and asked their members about what would you be doing with these resources and they got good feedback to say that a lot people would be looking at creating jobs."

The unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 10.2% right now - that number doesn't count the chronically unemployed - people who have fallen off the unemployment rolls.

Commentary
11:47 am
Wed May 25, 2011

McCotter for President?

There was a fair amount of attention paid yesterday to the news that Thaddeus McCotter, a 45-year-old Congressman from Livonia, is seriously considering running for president. There are certain problems with this. First, outside his district, almost nobody has ever heard of him, even in Michigan.

He hasn’t been a very effective fundraiser, for himself or others, and he has a quirky sense of humor.

He does play a mean guitar - President George W. Bush, who had trouble remembering his name, used to call him, “the rock n’roll dude.” McCotter’s played before the troops in Iraq with a pickup Congressional band called the Second Amendments.

All of which is very nice. But… President? The last House member to be elected President was James Garfield, back in 1880, an era when party bosses picked the nominee.

Several congressmen and women have tried in recent years, and pretty much either sunk without a trace, or hastily pulled out in time to get renominated for Congress.

Just a few days ago, McCotter declined to take on U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow next year, something that would be a much more logical step for a congressman. So - where did this presidential boomlet come from? When I first asked this, people told me there was this great column by S.E. Cupp, touting McCotter for president.

That was even more puzzling, because I had never heard of Cupp. Turns out she is a conservative columnist for the New York Daily News, who saw McCotter in Iowa last month autographing copies of his book, “Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age.” Cupp was impressed by a sign McCotter had put up, saying: “Unsigned, twenty dollars. Signed ,fifteen dollars.  No haggling.“  Now you’ve got to admit, that’s cute.

But Presidential?

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News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed May 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Tax Restructuring

Governor Rick Snyder will sign his proposed tax-overhaul into law today. The measure has already been approved by both the Republican-led state Senate and House. The measure cuts taxes on some businesses by about $1 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The bill also ends tax exemptions on some retirees’ pensions and shrinks the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The governor says the legislation will create jobs but many Democrats who oppose the measure say it will hurt seniors and low-income families.

Lansing Lawmakers Move Forward on Budget

The state Senate has started approving parts of the state's budget for the next fiscal year, including a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent. Laura Weber reports:

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years. The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday. Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding. Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Detroit Budget: Bing v. City Council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'll veto the Detroit City Council's budget bill that cuts spending by $50 million more than the mayor wants. Vincent Duffy reports:

Detroit City Council voted 8-1 in favor of their plan. But Mayor Bing says adoption of his $3.1 billion dollar budget is crucial if Detroit is to avoid having Governor Rick Snyder step in and appoint an emergency manager to steer the city out of a $155 million dollar deficit. But many on the council say the mayor’s budget is overly optimistic and the $200 million dollars in cuts he proposed is far short of what's needed. The city's new fiscal year starts July 1.

Politics
5:12 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Bing vows to veto city council budget

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'll veto the city council's budget bill. The council budget cuts spending by $50 million dollars more than the mayor wants.

 Detroit City Council voted 8-1 in favor of their plan. But Mayor Bing says adoption of his $3.1 billion dollar budget is crucial if Detroit is to avoid having Governor Rick Snyder step in and appoint an emergency manager to steer the city out of a $155 million dollar deficit.

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Politics
5:06 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Michigan Legislature on target to meet Governor Snyder's May 31st deadline

There’s one week left for the legislature to meet the governor’s deadline for passing a state budget before the end of May.

Governor Rick Snyder says negotiations are still on pace to wrap up by May 31st.

“There are still lots of things, because it’s a very large document, that we need to get through," Snyder said. "But that's all part of the process and it's coming along in a positive way."

Snyder says it would be acceptable if the final deal isn’t ready until a few days the May 31st deadline:

“Passing it anytime in May or June is a big success over our history," said Snyder. "So I view it all as positive. I just like to hit deadlines that we talked about. So a practical matter it would be good to get it wrapped up because there’s a lot more work to be done. So the sooner the better. And we’re on a path to get that done."  

Snyder and Republican legislative leaders announced a deal last week that settled many of the larger budget issues including the size of funding cuts for education.

Democrats complain that they were left out of budget negotiations.

Politics
4:55 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

House votes to lift age restriction on hunting

The state House has approved a measure that would eliminate the age restriction on children who hunt with an adult.

Currently, the state does not allow children under the age of 10 to hunt.

Republican state Representative Peter Petallia sponsored the bill. The measure would allow a child of any age to hunt, fish, or trap with an adult 21 years or older who has a license and has taken a hunter safety course.

"We spend too much time today behind TVs and computer screens and not enough time monitoring what youth are doing," said Petallia. "This gives us some an opportunity to get them out, spend some time with them and introduce them to our sport."

A handful of lawmakers voted against the bill. Some said children under 10 should not handle firearms. A few said hunting seasons with youth spook deer and other game before the regular season begins.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Politics
4:50 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Budget bills start rolling through Senate

The Republican-led state Senate has started approving parts of the budget.

That includes a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent.

Universities could face bigger cuts if they don’t hold tuition increases at or below 7.1 percent.

Democratic state Senator Morris Hood says tuitions are already too high.

"Our profound disinvestment has led to tuition increase after tuition increase, making a degree even harder to attain," said Hood. "We’re passing this problem onto our already struggling constituents. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we are sending a clear message; the wrong message."

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years.

The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding.

"The K-12 budget is one of the more complicated budgets and made some adjustments during targets," said Richardville. "That one being also being one of the biggest budgets has the highest propensity to have some problems with it. But I think those problems will be mostly technical. I don’t anticipate any problems with getting the budgets passed."

Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Politics
1:32 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Gov. Snyder confident budget deadline will be met

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

There’s one week left for the legislature to meet the governor’s deadline for passing a state budget before the end of May.  Governor Rick Snyder says negotiations are still on pace to wrap up by May 31st .   

“There are still lots of things…because it’s a very large document…that we need to get through.  But that’s all part of the process….and its coming along in a positive way.”     

But if the final deal isn’t ready until a few days later, Snyder says that would be OK.  

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Politics
12:54 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Report: Thaddeus McCotter considers presidential run

Michigan U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-11th District) told Politico he's mulling over a run for the White House.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter U.S. House of Representatives

The man President George W. Bush once dubbed "that rock and roll dude" is considering a run for the White House.

In a interview with POLITICO, McCotter said he thinks the Republican electorate is not happy with the choices they have "and want to take a look at new people."

McCotter said his party must address four big issues:

  • "the challenge of globalization
  • the war for freedom against terrorists
  • the rise of Communist China
  • and whether moral relativism erodes a nation built on self-evident truth"

When asked how he thinks he can become a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, McCotter said it's easier for candidates to get their word out these days. From POLITICO: 

McCotter said the revolution in communication and media has made it easier for aspiring politicians who don’t have the sort of name identification or personal wealth that traditionally determined who could mount a national campaign.

“It’s easier to get your message out today, and people will take a look at it — and if they like it, maybe they vote for you,” he said.

Pressed further, the Michigander quipped: “I’m from Detroit — we live to prove the doubters wrong.”

McCotter plays lead guitar in the Second Amendments, a rock and country band made up of members of Congress. He was in the national spotlight recently when he had a little "Led in the Head" during the government shutdown debate: 

 

McCotter says he'll decide within the next two weeks whether he'll make a run for the White House.

Commentary
11:55 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Chrysler Resurgent

What goes around comes around, and if you live long enough, you get to see it come around more than once.  I’ve now been through two Chrysler near-death experiences in my adult life.

That includes two controversial loan or loan guarantee cycles, two cases of triumphant resurgence, and as of today, two triumphant moments in which the loans were paid back early.

Wasn’t it just the other day that Lee Iacocca was standing on a stage, grinning from ear to ear, and presenting a huge signed check to pay off the last of his generation’s loan guarantees?

Actually, that was 1983. We were still worried about the Soviet Union and there wasn’t any World Wide Web, but it wasn’t all that long ago. Today, it will be Sergio Marchionne pushing buttons to execute wire transfers to pay off loans.

But it feels pretty much the same. In between, we had interludes in which Chrysler sold itself first to the Germans, then the Italians. I hope somebody realizes that they are running out of former Axis nations to partner with. The only one left has its hands more than full with Toyota and the aftermath of the tsunami.

Seriously, what will happen today is good news. It is also a stinging rebuke to those who argued in 2009 that the government should just let General Motors and Chrysler die. That would have plunged us into deep depression.

Now the company is back on its feet - or almost. One thing that is important to remember is that Chrysler is not really an independent company any more. There is no more Chrysler Corporation. It is now the Chrysler Group, LLC. And to all intents and purposes, it is a division of the Italian automaker Fiat.

Fiat, which already has a controlling interest in Chrysler, will be majority owner by the end of the year. The Italian automaker’s stake in Chrysler may eventually rise to about three-quarters, with the remaining share sold as stock to the general public.

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News Roundup
9:03 am
Tue May 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Chrysler to Repay Government Loans

Chrysler is expected to pay back its federal loans in full today. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Chrysler will wire-transfer nearly $6 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $1.5 billion to the governments of Canada and Ontario. Chrysler used some cash from Fiat for the transaction - and refinanced the rest with loans from private banks and investors.The U.S. Treasury still holds about eight and a half percent of Chrysler stock. Fiat could end up buying that stock in the future. As of today, Fiat owns forty-six percent of Chrysler

Crime in Michigan's Largest Cities

The FBI released its preliminary Uniform Crime Report yesterday. The report lists crimes reported in cities with more than 100,000 people. The report shows a decrease in violent crimes in Detroit from 18,000 in 2009 to 17,000 in 2010. Flint, however, had the highest violent crime rate in the nation last year, according to the data. Flint set a record for homicides in 2010.

Plan to Stop the Carp

A new plan has been released by federal and state officials on how to deal with the threat of Asian Carp, an invasive species that many worry could destroy the Great Lakes’ eco-system. Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reports:

The plan includes stepping up tracking of the invasive fish species and contracting with Illinois fishermen to catch the carp before they can reach Lake Michigan. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says the best way to prevent Asian Carp from reaching Lake Michigan is to close man-made canals linking the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River. Illinois business interests and politicians are opposed to closing the canals.

Al-Qaida Bomber Leaves a Fingerprint

The FBI has a fingerprint and forensic evidence linking al-Qaida's top bomb maker in Yemen to both the 2009 Christmas Day airline attack and the nearly successful attack on cargo planes last year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Investigators have pulled a fingerprint of Ibrahim al-Asiri off the bomb hidden in the underwear of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. Counterterrorism officials say the explosives in that bomb are chemically identical to those hidden inside two printers that were shipped from Yemen to the U.S. last year.

Politics
5:46 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

Democrats say budget deal kicks off next phase of fight about Michigan's future

The budget should be wrapped up soon. Democrats say the fight will continue.
user aunt owwee Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and legislative Republicans are expected to wrap up work this week on the budget. If they succeed, they will meet the governor’s target of finishing the budget four months ahead of the constitutional deadline.

Democrats, who are in the minority in the House and the Senate, have some objections, but expect to lose this week’s budget battle.

That won’t stop them from calling for using a revenue windfall to make sure schools don’t lose any money in the new budget.

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