Politics & Government

Politics
4:17 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Governor Snyder making changes to get budget proposal through Senate

Governor Rick Snyder is working to get his budget through the State Senate. He hopes to have an agreement on the next fiscal year's budget by May 31st.
user aunt owwee Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder continues to negotiate with lawmakers to try to get his budget proposal through the Senate.

Parts of his proposal are facing a tough sell, even among his fellow Republicans.

The Snyder administration changed its position on eliminating the earned income credit, and now says families should still be able to claim it, but at a reduced rate.

Families eligible for the state credit in 2009 claimed an average of $432 per household. The Michigan League for Human Services says the reduced credit will still allow eligible families to take $140 off their 2011 tax bill, or add part of it to their return.

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Politics
3:41 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Unfunded state mandates, local governments & the Headlee Amendment

Michigan Hall of Justice, Lansing, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tomorrow, the Michigan Supreme Court will consider a rule change that could put local governments in a stronger position to challenge unfunded state mandates.  

The Headlee Amendment is a state constitutional amendment meant to reduce unfunded state mandates on local governments, like requiring but not necessarily providing extra money for special education programs. 

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Politics
3:41 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Snyder's "disapproval" rating goes up

Governor Rick Snyder's poll numbers are in.
Russ Climie Tiberius Images

Michigan voters are not happy with Governor Rick Snyder according to a new EPIC/MRA poll.

Two months ago, Snyder's disapproval rating was at 36%.

Today his disapproval rating sits at 60%.

The disapproval of his performance seems to have influenced how voters view Snyder personally as well.

More voters have an "unfavorable" opinion of Governor Snyder today than they did back in February:

  • In February, the poll showed 44% "favorable" and 27% "unfavorable"
  • Today, the poll shows 41% "favorable" and 43% "unfavorable"

What "high-value target" does Snyder need to find to turn these poll numbers around?

Politics
3:38 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Detroit officials eye immediate, long-term money problems

Charles Pugh
Charles Pugh

The city of Detroit is ramping up efforts to cobble together a budget and a five-year deficit elimination plan.

Detroit City Council members got a copy of Mayor Dave Bing’s deficit elimination plan Tuesday.

The Council wants more cuts than Bing proposed. They say that’s necessary to avoid a possible state takeover of the city’s finances.

Council President Charles Pugh says a Council work group believes the city should cut at least $120 million from the upcoming budget.

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Commentary
2:01 pm
Tue May 10, 2011

Life after GM

The top brass of General Motors were happily bound for Ohio today, to the newly revived automaker’s transmission plant in Toledo.

They are announcing the creation of four thousand new jobs, there and elsewhere.  What was once the world’s biggest corporation is once again hugely profitable -- less than two years after bankruptcy and near-corporate death.

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Developing
11:12 am
Tue May 10, 2011

Instead of axing it, plan calls for reducing the tax credit for the working poor

Governor Rick Snyder's administration has agreed to restore a reduced version of the state income tax credit for working poor families.

The reduced tax break will allow families that qualify to claim 6% of the federal earned income credit on their state taxes.

In the past families could claim 20%.

Snyder's original proposal called for elimination of the credit.

News Roundup
8:53 am
Tue May 10, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Other

Funds for High Speed Rail

Michigan has been awarded almost $200 million for high speed rail projects. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Detroit yesterday to make the announcement. Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other Michigan lawmakers were on hand. The money will help pay for upgrades to a stretch of track between Detroit and Kalamazoo. The improvements will also help speed-up trains to 110 miles-per-hour. Michigan received the funds after Florida’s governor turned the money down.

State Senate to Take-Up Snyder Tax Measure

A Michigan Senate panel is set to hold a hearing on a broad tax proposal that's a key part of Governor Snyder’s strategy for the state, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it…

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Another Round of Federal Funds for Education

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Jennifer Guerra reports. From Guerra:

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants. It’s not clear just yet how the money will be used, but some analysts say it’s likely the money will go toward improving early education.

John Austin is president of the Michigan Board of Education. He says "early childhood education expansion of pre-K to all interested is a fantastic investment." It would cost about $300 million to expand pre-K and kindergarten access to all children in Michigan, says Austin.

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded 13 states and the District of Columbia Race to the Top funds. Michigan has yet to win any Race to the Top money.

Politics
8:41 am
Tue May 10, 2011

Immigration Agents Accused Of Crossing A Line

Jose Luis (left) says he sought refuge inside Hope of Detroit Academy after he dropped his kids off because immigration agents were waiting outside the school.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under fire for what critics are calling aggressive and overzealous tactics.

ICE officials say they are concerned enough that they're reviewing a recent incident involving immigration agents.

But the union that represents agents is complaining that ICE isn't standing behind its officers.

A Ghost Town

The principal of Hope of Detroit Academy, Ali Abdel, says he was helping out with morning safety patrol on March 31, just like he does most mornings.

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State Legislature
6:40 am
Tue May 10, 2011

State Senators to take up tax reform bill

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

A state Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later today on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposal. The Associated press reports:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it.

Some Republicans are opposed to taxing retiree income and to measures that would delay lowering the state's personal income tax rate.

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Politics
5:53 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Snyder wants to scrap tax breaks for cleaning up old industrial sites

Motor City Industrial Park. Governor Rick Snyder wants to get rid of a tax credit that helps defray the costs of cleaning up old industrial sites. He wants to replace the credit with up-front grants.
Alaina Buzas Flickr

A state Senate committee opens hearings tomorrow on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposals.

Altogether, two dozen tax breaks could disappear if the governor’s plan is adopted.

Ending the tax exemption for pensions has gotten a lot of attention, but the plan would also largely eliminate the use of tax breaks that encourage the re-use of old factories and historic buildings.

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Politics
5:50 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

Michigan gets almost $200 million for Detroit-Chicago Amtrak line

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood presented a novelty check at Detroit's Amtrak station.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Michigan will get just under $200 million to boost rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the official announcement alongside state and local officials in Detroit Monday.

The federal money comes with no strings attached. Officials say it will let them upgrade a stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

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Politics
4:00 pm
Mon May 9, 2011

The fiery debate over roll-your-own cigarette machines

User inc_hip Flickr

Smoke shop owners are feeling the heat in Michigan as 300 shops received warnings in March from the Michigan Department of the Treasury, according to the Detroit News.

The offense?

Using an "automated roll-your-own machine," which the Department of the Treasury claims amounts to the illegal manufacture of cigarettes.

The smokes from the machine can be up to 50% cheaper than buying brand name cigarettes.

From the Detroit News:

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Politics
11:03 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Recall petition against State Rep who introduced EFM laws denied

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles reviews recall language at his office in city hall. Most of Knowles' power was stripped away by the city's state appointed emergency manager.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Election officials in Southwest Michigan rejected language for a recall petition against State Representative Al Pscholka this morning. They rejected the language because they said it wasn’t clear enough.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles filed the recall petition. Knowles wants to recall Pscholka for supporting the state’s new law that gives emergency managers more power over cities and school districts with major financial problems.

Knowles says the new laws “trash democracy.”

 “For specific reasons, that it allows super powers for dictatorship for a emergency financial manager; doing away with municipal governments and school boards.”

The law has provisions that could allow an emergency manager to ask the governor to remove elected officials from office.

Pscholka's response

Pscholka says most of people he talks to in Benton Harbor say they support the law. 

“Most of them really are kind of sick and tired of the financial mismanagement, the patronage, and really what some folks would describe as corruption.”

He says residents in Benton Harbor are being used as political pawns. He notes the city has had financial problems for several years.

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Transportation
11:02 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Details of higher speed rail project announced today

New funding for higher-speed rail in Michigan.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

Passenger rail in Michigan will get some upgrades because of a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Most of $199 million granted to the state will go toward improving the rail lines between Detroit and Chicago so passenger trains can travel faster.

The improvements are expected to allow trains to travel at top speeds of 110 m.p.h. rather than 95 m.p.h. The Department of Transportation says the improvements will cut 30 minutes off the time to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

Senators Levin and Stabenow put out a press release this morning with some of the details of the plan.

They say the track will be improved between Kalamazoo and Dearborn:

[the] rail project will rehabilitate track and signal systems to allow trains to travel at 110 mph for the 135-mile stretch. The current obsolete signal system will be replaced with a positive train control system, improving safety. The grant fully funds the state's request.

Levin and Stabenow say $2.8 million in Recovery Act funds will also be used to start the process of building a new train station in Ann Arbor:

The Ann Arbor Station's $2.8 million will be used to complete a preliminary engineering and environmental study required to design and construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor Station is the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan, but only has single-tracking capacity, forcing intercity trains to block the mainline while serving the station. By constructing a passing track, more than one train will be able to service the station while others can pass unimpeded.

The money being spent in Michigan is part of $2 billion in new spending on rail service across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation made the spending announcements today.

Rail passengers in Michigan will see new locomotives and passenger cars as a result of the spending. Seven higher-speed locomotives and 48 new passenger cars will run between Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is attending the press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for today at 2:30 today in Detroit. We'll hear more from her later.

Commentary
10:37 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Hope and Despair in Detroit

Two years ago, a band of young idealists crisscrossed Detroit, collecting signatures. They had a goal: To make the city a better place to live, with a decent, responsive, functioning government.

They thought the place to start was revising the city charter to  elect a council that would be responsible and responsive. For years, all nine council members have been elected at large, which meant they are in charge of everything and nothing.

They easily could and did ignore constituents they found annoying. Not that this mattered much; as it now stands, Detroit council members have the power to approve the budget and major city projects, but they are powerless to do small everyday things.

They cannot, for example, even ask the lighting department to replace a burned out bulb in a street light.

Worse, the system is set up to produce the worst possible results. Voters are supposed to select nine names from a primary ballot that may include two hundred names. Nobody can possibly know enough to do that, so they pick familiar-sounding ones.

In recent years, this had led to the election of a former school board member famous for being corrupt and the bizarre wife of a congressman who set new standards for bad behavior. Both are in jail now. In recent years, the council has also included an ex-congresswoman who lost her job after holding a fundraiser in a strip club and a once-famous singer who often did not appear to realize where she was or why she was there.

Well, the idealists made things happen. They got voters to approve writing a new charter, and this November, it will be on the ballot. If voters approve, Detroit in the future will have only two at large councilpersons. The other seven will represent manageable-sized districts of just over one hundred thousand residents each.

Other things the new charter would do include creating an inspector general who would investigate waste, abuse, fraud and corruption in city government, and enact mandatory disclosure rules on contractors and lobbyists making political contributions.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad.

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News Roundup
8:25 am
Mon May 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 9th, 2011

Budget Debate Continues in Lansing

Governor Rick Snyder enters a critical week as he tries to sell his tax and budget plans to state lawmakers, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The governor is still trying to build support from his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. There’s wide agreement on scrapping the Michigan Business Tax and switching to a corporate profits tax while giving most businesses a tax cut. But even a lot of Republicans are balking at a new tax on pensions as well as ending nearly two dozen tax breaks. A state Senate committee is expected to hold hearings and vote on the governor’s tax plan this week - with a Senate floor vote as soon as Thursday.

Train Money

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be in Detroit this afternoon for an announcement regarding high speed rail. The Obama administration designated billions of dollars for high speed rail projects in Illinois, California and Florida. But, Florida’s governor passed on the federal funds. It now appears Michigan may end up getting some of the money that was originally supposed to go to the Sunshine state… we’ll find out more at today’s announcement in Detroit.

Plane Cleared to Fly After “Security Threat”

It was reported yesterday that a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to San Diego had to be diverted to New Mexico on Sunday over what authorities called a, “potential security threat.” The plane has now been cleared to take off again. From the Associated Press:

Albuquerque International Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron says the 107 passengers aboard the flight were interviewed, as was the crew. He says passengers will be allowed to continue their trip. Jiron has declined to specify what the nature of the potential threat was. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher also declined to clarify. The flight was diverted at 10 a.m. MDT. Jiron says it was cleared to fly again around 12:30 p.m. but doesn't know what time the plane would take off.

Politics
1:01 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Michigan may get more federal money for high speed rail

The future of passenger rail service in Michigan may take a big leap forward today. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation will be in Detroit this afternoon for an announcement concerning “high speed rail." 

Michigan’s been down this track before. State transportation officials had high hopes last year when the Obama  administration planned to invest billions of dollars in developing  high speed rail projects across the country.  

State officials lobbied hard for the federal government to upgrade the  rail link between Detroit and Chicago, so trains could travel between the two cities at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. But, while the administration designated billions of dollars for projects in Illinois, California and Florida. Michigan only received a small amount of money to upgrade some Amtrak stations.  

But, Florida’s new governor decided his state didn’t want the two billion dollars the Obama administration was offering.  It appears Michigan and New York may end up splitting the money. We’ll find out  specifics later today. 

Florida’s not the first state to say “no” to federal high speed rail  money.  Wisconsin and Ohio also declined.  

Amtrak reported last month that ridership is rising on all three  passenger rail lines it operates in Michigan.

Politics
3:01 pm
Sun May 8, 2011

The race for Flint mayor begins

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tuesday is the deadline for anyone who wants to be the mayor of Flint to get their nominating petition filed with the city clerk. More than 2 dozen people have expressed an interest in being Flint’s next mayor, including the man who currently holds the office.  

Dayne Walling plans to turn in his nominating petitions before Tuesday’s deadline. He’s been mayor since a special election a few years ago.  

“I’ve been in the position for less than 2 years at this point.  A lot of the work we’ve had to do has been to clean up the old messes.”  

Not everyone is happy with the job Walling’s done as mayor. Under Walling’s watch, violent crime has soared as budget cuts forced the city to lay off police officers.

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Politics
5:31 pm
Sat May 7, 2011

Protesters rally against Gov. Snyder at Blossomtime Parade

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles (second to left) yells "traitor!" at Governor Rick Snyder as he walks down Main Street in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

People came from as far away as Wisconsin to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s appearance in a parade through St. Joe and Benton Harbor Saturday afternoon. The governor of Michigan is invited to be the Grand Marshall of the parade every year.

“They asked me some time ago to participate in this wonderful festival and event and I’m happy to be here. And to the degree that people are exercising their democratic rights, I respect that. But it’s mainly about a quarter of a million people having a great day enjoying a wonderful part of Michigan.”

About 150 protesters mixed in with those gathered to watch the Blossomtime parade. They followed Snyder throughout the parade chanting “Recall Rick now!” and “Shame!” But there were some cheers of support mixed in with the demands to recall Snyder.

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Politics
4:15 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Breaking News: Attorney General files lawsuit challenging Civil Service Commission's authority

User cedar bend drive Flickr

Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a lawsuit challenging the state Civil Service Commission's authority to approve contracts that allow benefit plans to cover the live-in partners of unmarried state employees.

The lawsuit says the commission exceeded its authority under the state constitution.

The contracts extend benefits to unrelated adults in a household -- that includes same-sex partners -- as well as their dependents

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