Politics & Government

Politics
4:22 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

State workers balk at call for more cuts

State workers protest outside Cadillac Place in Detroit Monday.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

State workers say they’ve already sacrificed their fair share to help alleviate Michigan’s budget crisis.

That was the rallying cry of hundreds of union workers who protested outside state offices in Detroit Monday. Governor Snyder wants another $260 million in concessions from state workers

Read more
Politics
1:58 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

Airport projects halted in Michigan, other states

Contractors at airports in Traverse City, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek have been ordered to stop work by the FAA.
user thienzieyung Flickr

Update 1:58 p.m.

In a press release, the Federal Aviation Administration says they had to order contractors at airports around the country to stop working after Congress failed to pass legislation that reauthorized funding on 'critical airport modernization projects.'

The deadline for the FAA funding extension passed last Friday night.

U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood is quoted in the press release:

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”
 
“Unless Congress acts quickly, more work on projects critical to our nation’s aviation system will come to a halt. Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification.  The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
 

Here's a list of airports affected by the stop work orders.

The FAA says "nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday" and that the work-stoppage could "significantly increase the ultimate costs of construction for taxpayers."

12:21 p.m.

KALAMZOO, Mich. (AP) - Obama administration officials say contractors have been told to stop work on airport modernization projects across the country including the Kalamazoo, Traverse City and Flint areas because Congress has failed to pass legislation necessary for the work to continue.

Officials said Monday that stop-work orders have been issued for dozens of major projects.

The Federal Aviation Administration says they include a $14.4 million tower construction project at Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, an $11 million tower construction project in Traverse City and a $1.9 million tower fire remediation project in Flint.

The House and Senate are at a stalemate over air service subsidies for rural communities and a Republican proposal that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize, among other issues.

Commentary
11:00 am
Mon July 25, 2011

Michigan's Immigrant Problem

Over the past year, you’ve probably heard of the controversy in Arizona, where the legislature last year passed a tough law designed to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. This was followed by similar laws in other states, including Utah, Alabama, and closer to home, Indiana. Court battles are now going on over whether these laws are constitutional, since immigration policy is normally seen as the responsibility of the federal government.

Many who oppose these laws say they intimidate legal immigrants and even those whose ancestors may have been citizens for centuries, but may vaguely “look Mexican” or “look Arabic.”

Farmers and growers in a number of states have reported difficulties recruiting the migrant workers they depend on, precisely because of such laws. Nevertheless, a number of proposed Arizona-type laws are being talked about in the Michigan legislature.

Well, Michigan does have an immigrant problem, but not the one you might think. We need more immigrants - lots more. Throughout history, immigrants have been the most productive, most industrious and most job-creating members of American society.

Here in Michigan, and especially in Detroit, they are needed more than ever. In case you didn’t notice, we were the only state in the union to actually lose population over the last decade.

The population of Detroit is in virtual freefall, with now probably fewer than seven hundred thousand in a space meant for two million. The best thing for our dying central city would be a large infusion of talented, hard-working immigrants.

Read more
News Roundup
8:57 am
Mon July 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, July 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Contract Talks Begin

Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers kick off today. Tracy Samilton reports that, although the union and auto companies are on better terms than perhaps any other time in history, it could still take weeks to reach a deal. Car companies want to reduce their labor costs and other issues will include health care, pensions, and how many skilled trades workers there should be. The current contract ends September 14th.

Unconstitutional Recalls?

State House Speaker Jase Bolger says the process citizens use to launch recall campaigns in the state is unconstitutional. Bolger is facing a recall campaign himself and has filed suit to block it, Sarah Hulett reports. From Hulett:

State House Speaker Jase Bolger has filed suit to block the recall against him. At issue is the fact that county election commissions are made up of a judge, the county clerk and the county treasurer. Bolger says that violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution. More than a dozen state officials – including the governor and attorney general – are currently the targets of recall campaigns.

Cooler Temps thru Wednesday

We’ll have a bit of a weather ‘cool down’ over the next few days. But, of course, when temperatures were in triple digits, calling it a ‘cool down’ is only relative. “High temperatures are expected to be around 85 degrees today with low humidity levels… The somewhat cooler weather will continue Tuesday. But the heat and humidity will return Wednesday and Thursday, with highs hovering again around the low 90s,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

Politics
7:11 am
Mon July 25, 2011

MI Congressmen Benishek, Clarke going on road

U.S. Reps. Dan Benishek and Hansen Clarke of Michigan have announced plans to tour together in each other's districts. The joint tours will be focused on ways to promote job creation in northern Michigan and Detroit.

Both are freshmen in Congress.

Benishek is a Republican from Crystal Falls whose district encompasses parts of the northern Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula. Clarke is a Democrat from Detroit, and his district includes a portion of his home city and a number of its suburban communities.

Benishek and Clarke's offices say the lawmakers are planning to embark on the first joint tour in the U.P. on July 29. Benishek then will travel with Clarke in Detroit on Aug. 12.

Politics
6:49 am
Mon July 25, 2011

State to open contract talks with request for concessions

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MIchigan
Aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions will open contract negotiations this week. The first topic of bargaining will be whether state workers will give up the salary and benefits they’ve already been promised.

The new state budget is not balanced yet. For one thing, the budget assumes millions of dollars in savings in employee costs. State state worker unions have yet to agree to those cuts. In fact, the state can’t even begin to negotiate unless the unions agree to re-open the current contracts. Kurt Weiss is with the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

“We know it’s a significant number. We know it’s a painful number.”

Weiss says the alternative to concessions is layoffs and privatizing services. The largest amount of money would come out of the state Department of Corrections.

State employee unions say state government is currently top heavy with managers and has too many contracts – and the Snyder administration should look those first before looking to squeeze more from frontline workers or lay them off.

Politics
4:40 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

State workers to rally ahead of contract talks

Gov. Rick Snyder signs the 2011-2012 budget as Republican lawmakers look on. The governor is banking on $145 million in concessions from state employee unions as part of that budget.
michigan.gov

State workers are scheduled to rally in Detroit tomorrow to protest wage and benefit cuts. Governor Snyder is seeking $145 million in concessions from state employees for the fiscal year that starts in October.

An official with one of the largest state employee unions, Ray Holman of UAW Local 6000, says over the last decade the state has shed more than 12,000 positions.

"And what that means for the average, for example, Department of Human Services caseworker, is they may have 700 to 1,000 families they’re responsible for."

Read more
Politics
4:30 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

Lawmaker: Recall process is unconstitutional

A target of one of the many recall efforts active in the state right now says the process citizens use to launch the campaigns is unconstitutional.

State House Speaker Jase Bolger has filed suit to block the recall against him. At issue is the fact that county election commissions are made up of a judge, the county clerk and the county treasurer. Bolger says that violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

"The constitution specifically prohibits one branch of government from having authority under another branch when it’s under their purview. So we think it’s an important legal question that ought to be answered."

More than a dozen state officials – including the governor and attorney general – are currently the targets of recall campaigns.

Politics
4:19 pm
Sun July 24, 2011

Speaker orders cuts for state House staff

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).
gophouse.com

The speaker of the Michigan House has ordered representatives to cut their office budgets by almost 14 percent. Smaller cuts were also ordered for Democratic and Republican party staff and non-partisan House of Representatives staff.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says the cuts are necessary to keep the state’s budget balanced. He says the reductions do not necessarily mean there will be layoffs.

Read more
Politics
3:29 pm
Fri July 22, 2011

AP: Federal officials subpoena Flint city records

Officials in Flint have been asked to produce documents and audio and video recordings as part of a federal probe into at least $1.3 million in grant spending by the city.

The Flint Journal is reporting through a Freedom of Information Act request that it has learned federal officials have subpoenaed the records from four city departments.

Documents, check stubs and e-mails from the past two years are being sought. Federal authorities also conducted a May 25 raid at Flint City Hall.

Many of the records requested pertain to city economic development workers and personnel files of two administrators. The newspaper says both administrators cited the investigation and declined to comment.

A federal grand jury was convened July 6.

Mayor Dayne Walling says the city is cooperating in the probe.

Commentary
10:00 am
Fri July 22, 2011

Building the Future

I had dinner the other night with perhaps the most amazing man in Michigan, a man who has been hard at work creating the future for more than half a century .

I’m talking about the inventor Stanford Ovshinsky, a man whose life story is better than any novel, and who has more than four hundred patents to his name. If you have a laptop computer, you have him to thank for the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers it.

His inventions include the processes that makes solar cells practical, and the first rewrittable CDs and DVDs. Five years ago, he left the company he had founded to do all these things -- Energy Conversion Devices -- and promptly started a new firm. Ovshinsky Innovation, LLC.  After all, he was then barely in his mid-80s.

Today, he and his wife Rosa, a Chinese-born physicist, are hard at work on photovoltaics, which means harnessing a form of solar energy for practical purposes.  Ovshinsky is convinced that he can bring down the cost of solar energy considerably below coal, and and that hydrogen is the automotive fuel of the future.

By the way, he has a long and distinguished track record of making predictions that those in the know laughed at -- and then proving them wrong. There are those in many countries who think he may be the greatest living scientist. What makes that especially amazing is that he never even graduated from high school.

He does, however, have at least seven honorary doctorates from distinguished schools including the University of Michigan.

Ovshinsky still works more than full-time; after all, he doesn’t turn 89 till November. He usually wears a three-piece suit, and is the most sartorially distinguished inventor I have ever met.

Read more
News Roundup
8:38 am
Fri July 22, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, July 22nd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

New Asian Carp Evidence

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species. The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways. Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes. The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

Gov’t to Chrysler: Bye-Bye

The U.S. Treasury Department says Italian automaker Fiat SpA has bought the U.S. government’s remaining holdings in Chrysler. “Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department for the government's 98,000 shares. Fiat has run the company since it emerged from bankruptcy protection in June 2009. Treasury provided a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler and its financing arm after the recession hampered auto sales and sent Chrysler and General Motors to the brink of collapse. The funds came from the government's $700 billion bank bailout fund,” the Associated Press reports.

Michigan in the “Toxic 20”

Michigan ranked seventh worst in air population in a study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution came from coal and oil-fired power plants. The NRDC used data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory. Ohio had the worst air population, followed by Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

State Law
6:40 am
Fri July 22, 2011

Law clarifies graduated license rules

YoungladAustin Flickr

A new law seeks to clear up some confusion on when teen-aged drivers may have other teens in a vehicle with them. Governor Rick Snyder signed the law yesterday. It says teen drivers may carry passengers between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to and from school, church, or work-related activities.

Jack Peet is the traffic safety manager for AAA of Michigan. He says it was good to make the law more clear. But he says the law could have been made better if it placed some new restrictions on passengers in vehicles driven by teens. He says passengers increase the likelihood that a teen will be in a fatal crash.

 “So limiting those to no teen passengers in the vehicle would be our preference and we’re just talking about drivers there. Obviously, adding teen passengers during that time frame increases the risk for those teen passengers as well, so this would make teens a lot safer if there were stronger restrictions on that.”

Peet says it would make sense to at least have a no-passengers rule when a teenager first gets a license to drive without an adult in the car.

Politics
6:35 am
Fri July 22, 2011

New law requires earlier DNA tests for inmates

Michigan prison inmates will have to submit to DNA testing soon after they're locked up rather than waiting until just before they're released under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The state began collecting inmates' DNA samples in 1994, but inmates currently aren't required to provide a sample until they're released on parole, placed in a halfway house or discharged after serving their full sentences.

Supporters say the new law Snyder signed Thursday will help police solve cold cases sooner by giving them the ability to match inmates' DNA to unsolved crimes while they're still in prison.

Prison inmates now will have to give a DNA sample within three months of incarceration.

Education
4:00 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

The politics behind teacher tenure

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Allieosmar Flickr

This week, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that dramatically changes teacher tenure rules here in Michigan. To take a look at the politics behind the controversial bills, we spoke with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former state Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

Politics
11:54 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Teacher tenure law requires new "evaluation tool" for educators

Gov Snyder will appoint a commission to come up with a tool to measure teacher performance.
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The new teacher tenure law that Governor Snyder signed this week makes it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling.  As Rick Pluta reports, the law "eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions."

The devil is in the details

Read more
Commentary
10:37 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Why Borders Mattered

I was in my early twenties before I discovered Borders’, which then had been open for two or three years. The sensation when I first walked in was what I felt when I first visited the Library of Congress.

Overwhelming excitement, and despair. How could I ever possibly read all the books worth reading? You would need lifetimes to do it. Yet, here, at least, I could visit a sort of cathedral of the mind.

I remember how excited I was in my early thirties when Border’s opened its second store a stone’s throw from my first house in the Detroit suburbs. Another Borders, right here!  I think I understood how people in Appalachia felt when the Tennessee Valley Authority brought them electricity, back in the nineteen-thirties.

I will soon be sixty, and before that, Borders will be gone. A last-ditch attempt to save the bookstores failed last week, when the creditors concluded they’d probably do better with just a straight liquidation than they might if the latest venture to save them failed.

There are all sorts of theories about why Borders couldn’t be saved. Some said e-readers, some said the Internet. Some say the stores expanded too fast and moved beyond their core competence of selling books. One man said he knew Borders would die the day he found himself buying skin moisturizer there.

Read more
News Roundup
9:06 am
Thu July 21, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, July 21st

Heat, Humidity Continues

It’s official, the Detroit News reports: Michigan is in the middle of a heat wave. From the News:

The National Weather Service declares a heat wave when there are five or more consecutive days of 90-degree weather or three or more consecutive days of 95-degree temperatures. Today is expected to top out at a sweltering 100 degrees with high humidity. It is the fifth straight day of at least 90-degree temperatures. The heat and humidity will combine to make it feel like 110 degrees outside…  The 100 degree high would set a record.

Changes to Binding Arbitration

A local government's ability to pay will be the top factor for an arbitrator to consider when settling labor disputes involving police and fire departments under terms of legislation signed yesterday by Governor Snyder, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The legislation… will speed up arbitration in some cases by requiring the process to be completed within 180 days. The expenses of arbitration would be split between the local government and the union involved. Snyder says making a community's ability to pay the top priority could help prevent "drastic cuts" that could lead to layoffs of public safety personnel. Michigan has relied on binding arbitration to help resolve public safety personnel labor disputes for decades.

Jobless Rate Rises Slightly

Michigan’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 10.5 percent in June. There were 8,000 more unemployed people in Michigan last month – a total of 496,000 people looking for work. When part-timers, people who would like to work full-time, and those who got discouraged and stopped looking for work are counted, the rate of unemployment and under-employment was 19.6 percent.

Election 2012
7:58 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Romney outraises Obama in 2nd quarter in MI

Former Republican Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney outraised President Obama in Michigan in this year's second quarter.
Gage Skidmore Flickr

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney outraised his GOP competitors and President Obama in Michigan during the second quarter of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Romney raised $884,124 in the quarter that ended June 30th, while President Obama raised $393,428. Romney is a Michigan native whose father, George W. Romney, was Michigan’s 43rd Governor.

Republicans trailing behind Romney were Texas Congressman Ron Paul with $46,106; former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty with $22,450; businessman Hermain Cain with $16,100; Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann with $10,185; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich with $9,775; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with $1,650; and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson with $1,500.

Read more
Teachers
5:45 pm
Wed July 20, 2011

New law dramatically alters teacher tenure (audio)

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a package of bills that reshapes teacher tenure in Michigan. The bills remove seniority protections and make it easier to fire teachers who have been identified as “ineffective”.

Michigan Public Radio Networks’ Lansing bureau chief, Rick Pluta talks about what this means for teachers and how state leaders plan to implement the new law.

 

Read more

Pages