Politics & Government

Politics
5:17 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Governor Snyder's tax overhaul plan passes the House

Governor Snyder's tax plan has passed the State House.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Update 5:14 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan began working its way through the Legislature today as it cleared the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The Republican tax reform bill would replace the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax with a corporate profits tax.

Two-thirds of Michigan businesses would not have to pay the tax.

Part of the revenue lost to the state would be made up by eliminating dozens of tax breaks.

Many of them go to businesses and charities. Also gone would be earned income credit for working poor families and the income tax exemption for most seniors on pensions.

“This is a turnaround moment for Michigan,” said Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger. “Today’s winners are our local small business owners. Today’s winners are the unemployed because now those small business owners can create jobs.”

Democrats say it’s not fair to make working families and seniors make up the difference while most businesses pay less. Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says it's not a fair trade.

“This legislation is not a shared sacrifice and should not be adopted. Today is just another day another day to give an 82% tax break to wealthy, corporate special interests. Another day to take from our children, our seniors, and our working poor."

The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

3:41 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan has begun its march through the Legislature.

It won the approval of the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The measure would scrap the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax.

It would be replaced by a corporate income tax that would not be paid by two-thirds of the state’s businesses.

Part of that lost revenue would be made up by ending many tax breaks for businesses, working poor families, and seniors on pensions.

Politics
5:06 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Mayor Bing says Detroit is at a tipping point, could need emergency manager

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was in Lansing today asking the Governor and state representatives for help.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says the city is at a tipping point and could be assigned an emergency manager if the state doesn’t let it extend income and utility taxes.

Bing met privately with Governor Rick Snyder and lawmakers today.

He  says if the state does not allow Detroit to extend taxes, the city will lose about $100 million in revenue:

"Then I think we’re looking at an emergency financial manager," said Bing, "and I don’t think the state wants to go in that route, nor do we. So we need the support from the Legislature up here to make sure they make the necessary changes to give us the support that we need."

Bing needs legislation for the tax extension because of Detroit’s massive population loss. That drop disqualified the city from laws written for the state’s largest city.

Bing also wants Detroit’s 48 unions to make large concessions to help close a $200 million deficit.

Politics
4:41 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Jackson residents face difficult choice in Tuesday's public safety merger vote

Red-and-white signs can be found all across Jackson these days. The signs, which look very similar, carry very different messages: Some encourage city residents to vote for merging Jackson's police and fire departments, while others oppose it.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson voters will be asked next Tuesday if they want to merge their city police and fire departments.  It’s a decision that is dividing the southern Michigan city. Jackson, like many Michigan cities, is struggling to balance its budget. Tuesday’s vote to create a public safety department is a result of that. 

Interim City Manager Warren Renando says Tuesday’s vote is about better allocating what little money the city has left to spend.  

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Politics
12:21 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Two Michigan Congressmen call for Syria sanctions

Syrian protesters
cell phone picutre via Associated Press

Two Michigan Congressmen are urging President Obama to renew—and strengthen—sanctions against the Syrian government.

Livonia Republican Thaddeus McCotter and Detroit Democrat Hansen Clarke say they both support renewing targeted sanctions that lapse next month.

Both Congressmen also support strengthening those measures to include freezing Syrian officials’ U.S. assets, and prohibiting business with American companies.

Both say the sanctions should also be extended President Bashar Al-Assad’s, and other top official’s, families.

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Commentary
11:06 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Snyder and the Schools

There was lots of reaction to Governor Rick Snyder’s special message on education yesterday, some of it within minutes after he stopped speaking. What isn’t clear is how many of those doing the reacting had actually listened, or read what he had to say.

Actually, he proposed a number of things that liberals and  progressive education experts should have been happy with. Chief among them was paying more attention to childhood development.

“Early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth that affects a child’s development and readiness for school,” he said.

He added that our goal should be to create a “coherent system of health and early learning,” to nurture and watch over these children from before they are born, through the third grade.”

Snyder went on to address the threat of alcoholism and premature birth. Hard to see how progressives could fail to agree.

But if he is serious, how is he going to pay for any of this? The governor didn’t explain that, or offer any new money to accomplish what he wanted done. I expected Democrats to say something like “Great ideas. But we don’t need more unfunded mandates.”

However, while the Dems bashed the governor, they seemed to virtually ignore his actual education proposals.

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News Roundup
9:04 am
Thu April 28, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 28th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Addresses Education Reform

Governor Rick Snyder addressed education reform in Detroit yesterday. The governor said Michigan does not have to spend more money to improve the performance of a failing education system, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The governor say it’s largely a matter of reallocating resources to reward success and to craft a system that reflects Michigan’s new economic realities.

Governor Snyder says his education plan would refocus schools on student advancement and performance, empower teachers and hold them responsible, and offer parents more options when schools are failing.

The governor says recent test scores show too many students do not graduate from high school and, for those that do, too many are not ready for college or for 21st Century jobs.

Rally Against EFM in Benton Harbor

About 200 people rallied in Benton Harbor yesterday against Joe Harris, the city’s emergency financial manager, Lindsey Smith reports. Harris is the first Emergency Manager in the state to exercise broad new powers that Governor Snyder signed into law last month. The law gives emergency managers more power to fix financial problems in school districts, cities and villages, Smith explains. Three cities (Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac) and Detroit Public Schools are currently run by emergency managers. Harris plans to unveil his plan to turn around the city tonight.

House Committee OK’s Measure to 'Decertify' Teachers' Unions that Authorize Strikes

The Michigan House Education committee has approved a bill that would decertify a teachers’ union if its teachers vote to go on strike, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

Individual teachers could also be fined or fired under the legislation. It’s currently illegal for teachers to strike in the state. The Michigan Education Association has been asking its members if they would be willing to take part in a work stoppage.

Politics
5:26 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Benton Harbor called "ground zero" in fight over emergency manager powers

Benton Harbor's state-appointed emergency manager Joe Harris. Harris was the first emergency manager to use broad new powers granted to him by the state legislature and Governor Rick Snyder.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The emergency financial manager of Benton Harbor, Joe Harris, says the city will have a budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.

Harris says that’s because the new powers given to emergency managers allowed him to do his job more effectively.

Harris says that means he could leave Benton Harbor after two years of work, rather than the five years he originally thought it would take to turn the city around.

But not everyone is thrilled with the work Joe Harris has done, or with the new laws that granted him sweeping power over Benton Harbor.

Some big names have focused on Benton Harbor recently.

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Politics
4:53 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Rally in Benton Harbor against Emergency Manager's takeover

Benton Harbr Mayor Wilce Cook told the crowd "We the people have a right to determine our own destiny, not have someone else do it."
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

About 200 people attended a rally in Benton Harbor against Joe Harris, the city’s emergency financial manager. Joe Harris was appointed to take over the city’s troubled finances last year by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Harris is the first Emergency Manager in Michigan to exercise broad new powers Governor Rick Snyder signed into law last month. The law gives emergency managers more power to fix financial problems in school districts, cities and villages. Three cities (Benton Harbor Ecorse and Pontiac) and Detroit Public Schools are run by emergency managers.

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Politics
3:54 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Moroun family donates $1.5 million to candidates in 2009-2010

Detroit's Ambassador Bridge
Di Bedard Flickr

The powerful Moroun family donated just under $1.5 million to political candidates during the 2009-2010 election cycle.

The Morouns own the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge. They are also against building a new international bridge, which Governor Snyder is in favor of constructing.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

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Commentary
9:12 am
Wed April 27, 2011

A Royal Family for Michigan?

  • Audio processing, please check back momentarily.

Earlier this week, I was talking with a battle-hardened senior TV producer in her fifties who I don‘t think of as a romantic.

“I have to cancel a meeting Thursday night,” she told me. “I have to be up by 4:30 on Friday.”

“Are you catching an early flight?” I asked. “No.” she said. “I have to watch the royal wedding.”

Thanks to the time difference, monarchical devotees who want to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows live will have to rise before dawn.

I was impressed by that, and remember thirty years ago, when a similar wave of pan-royal excitement swept our nation when Charles and Diana were married. And then suddenly I realized that we’ve been sitting on a solution to a lot of our problems, both in this state and the nation. We need a royal family, and we’ve got the perfect candidate right here in Michigan.

I’m being perfectly serious.

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News Roundup
8:43 am
Wed April 27, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Deliver Education Address

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address about education reform this morning in Detroit. It’s being reported that the Governor will propose tougher education requirements for new teachers. Snyder has also said more attention should be given to children from before birth through their graduation from college. Snyder offered some hints as to what he might say today in an address earlier this week to an education conference in East Lansing. On Monday, the governor said student test scores are both “startling and scary.” He says he wants to relax school regulations to give teachers and principals more freedom and responsibility over educational decisions.

Severe Weather

Officials plan to survey parts of northern Allegan County to determine whether a tornado or high winds caused damage in the area, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The National Weather Service says the survey is planned for Wednesday in southwestern Michigan following damage from storms that moved through the state Tuesday evening. Two barns housing 40,000 turkeys at DeBoer Turkey Farm in Allegan County's Salem Township were toppled by the storms.

The Grand Rapids Press reports about a dozen other sites in the county were damaged…

The weather service says the storms also produced heavy rain that flooded some low lying areas. More rain was expected through Thursday, bringing with it the risk of more flooding.

Now Is the Time to Pay-Up

People and businesses that owe back taxes to the state of Michigan have until June 30th to pay up without paying fines and penalties, Rick Pluta reports. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people and businesses that owe the state unpaid taxes. From Pluta:

The state hopes to net $90 million dollars from the tax amnesty program.  State Treasurer Andy Dillon says if you owe, now is a good time to pay, "It doesn’t matter why you didn't pay your taxes – the penalties can be forgiven. And the penalties can be quite stiff. It depends on the tax that you’re talking about, but it can be as much as 25% of the liability that can be forgiven, and the sooner you pay it off, the sooner you stop paying interest on that obligation."

This is the third time since the 1980s the state’s offered amnesty to people and businesses with unpaid back taxes.

Education
6:51 am
Wed April 27, 2011

Snyder to deliver education address today in Detroit

Michigan Governor (R) Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address regarding the state's education system this morning at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan office in Detroit. As the Associated Press reports, an aide to Snyder says the governor will propose tougher education requirements that new Michigan teachers must meet before they can serve in the classroom. From the AP:

Snyder senior adviser Bill Rustem tells The Associated Press the state is producing more teachers than Michigan needs and can afford to raise standards.

Under Snyder's proposal, education majors would have to pass basic skills and subject matter tests before they do their student teaching.

Now, they can take the tests after they student teach.

Rustem says the governor also wants Michigan universities that offer teaching degrees to require more instruction and student teaching time.

Politics
11:04 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Detroit Council gets budget advice

The Detroit City Council heard some advice about the city’s budget situation Tuesday.

Council fiscal analyst Irvin Corley told them that Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed budget is “mostly reasonable.”

But Corley also warned that Bing’s proposal contains more than $200 million in “soft” revenue that might not materialize.

Corley says the Council should cut the Mayor’s budget further, and the two sides need to find an agreement that truly addresses the city’s fiscal problems.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Governor Snyder might bank potential $500 million windfall

Early revenue projections suggest Michigan may collect $500 million more than anticipated
Allan Cleaver Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he may want to bank the money from an unexpected improvement in tax collections – if the windfall exists.

Early revenue projections suggest Michigan may collect $500 million more than anticipated.

But Governor Snyder says he’s not ready to count that money as part of his budget plans.

He says the state may be better off putting it into savings.

“I’m bullish that we’re on a positive economic path, but to say we’re going to see just an upward curve without a few bumps, I would be careful about speculating that given the challenge of gasoline prices and such.”

Democrats want to use any windfall to scale back proposed cuts to schools. The next official revenue estimate comes in mid-May.

The House and Senate are continuing to work this week on budget proposals with an eye toward finishing before June first.

Politics
4:52 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

State police say data extraction devices only used for serious crimes

The Michigan State Police have data extraction devices that can strip information out of a cell phone, but they say they don't keep records on how often they're used.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

State Police officials told a legislative committee that devices designed to pull data from cell phones are only used to investigate the most-serious crimes and are not part of routine traffic stops.

State Police officials say the data extraction devices are rarely used – and never without a search warrant or the consent of a phone’s owner.

State Police Inspector Greg Zarotney says the devices are used when certain crimes are committed:

"Typically, and I would say overwhelmingly, they are used in high-level crimes to investigate child exploitation, homicide cases, high-level drug cases, those types of situations where we’ve obtained the cell phone either through a search warrant or their consent, and we’re doing some type of data extraction to build our case,” sais Zarotney.

But State Police officials do not know how often the devices have been used.

Representative Tom McMillan chairs the House Oversight Committee, and he says the possibilities created by new technology also pose new challenges to privacy.

"As technology evolves, we may need to think about how to assure the public of a negative – what we’re not doing," said McMillan, "I don’t know what that’s going to look like, how possible it is, but I do think that we ought to broach that and start looking at that."

McMillan might hold future hearings on electronic privacy and protecting people against overly intrusive searches of phones and personal organizers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is worried state police may be extracting personal data from cell phones illegally; a concern state police say is unfounded.

The Michigan State Police came under criticism for attempting to charge the American Civil Liberties Union hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to records on how the devices are used.

Zarotney says that’s because authorities don’t keep specific records on the devices, and gathering the information would have required inspecting thousands of police reports.

Politics
3:06 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

State of Michigan on unpaid taxes... "All excuses welcome"

A caterpillar ate all of his tax forms and disappeared into the night. What's your excuse?
screen grab from TV commercial

People and businesses that owe back taxes to the state of Michigan have until June 30th to pay up without paying fines and penalties.

There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people and businesses that owe the state unpaid taxes.

The state hopes to net $90 million dollars from the tax amnesty program. 

State Treasurer Andy Dillon says if you owe, now is a good time to pay:

"It doesn’t matter why you didn't pay your taxes – the penalties can be forgiven. And the penalties can be quite stiff. It depends on the tax that you’re talking about, but it can be as much as 25% of the liability that can be forgiven, and the sooner you pay it off, the sooner you stop paying interest on that obligation."

This is the third time since the 1980s the state’s offered amnesty to people and businesses with unpaid back taxes.

The program requires payment of all back taxes plus interest.

The amnesty program was approved by the Legislature last year to find some new revenue to help balance the budget.

The Michigan Tax Amnesty website declares "all excuses welcome."

Here's the program's TV spot:

Commentary
12:11 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Decency in Discourse

For some years, I have argued in favor of what has become the ultimate heresy in today’s political world. I think those of us who can afford it should pay more taxes.

No, not so people who are too lazy to work can sit on the couch and watch The Price is Right. Nor am I intent on subsidizing the birth of large numbers of out-of-wedlock children to non-working families, though I’ve been accused of that in less gentle terms.

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Rememberance
10:59 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Live coverage of Officer Zapata's Memorial Service

From WKZO.com:

The memorial service for Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officer Eric Zapata will be held beginning at 11am this morning at Miller Auditorium.  If you can't make the memorial service it will be carried LIVE below:

 

Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

Politics
9:26 am
Tue April 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

State seeks concessions from unionized corrections workers

In these austere times, governments large and small are seeking to save money by getting union workers to reduce the benefits and/or wages.

The State of Michigan is seeking $95 million in concessions from those unionized employees who work in state prisons.

From the Associated Press:

The amount requested from the Michigan Corrections Organization represents more than half of the $180 million in concessions Gov. Rick Snyder wants from state employees in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, The Lansing State Journal reported Monday.

The union's members make up about 16 percent of the state's work force, but are being asked to make 53 percent of concessions. Michigan Corrections Organization executive director Mel Grieshaber criticized the state's actions.

"We are in sticker shock right now," he told the newspaper. "It's not fair. Our membership is angry about it. . . . It's very offensive. You won't find a more dangerous job in state government."

Kurt Weiss, A spokesman for the Office of the State Employer, the agency that oversees all collective bargaining negotiations for the state, said the Department of Corrections is the "only major state department in which employees are solely funded by the general fund," and Governor Snyder is trying to close a $1.4 billion dollar budget gap in the general fund.

Ford Motor Company has a solid first quarter

Ford announced is best first quarter earnings since 1998. According to the Detroit News, the first quarter earnings were...

$2.6 billion, or 61 cents per share.

The results, an increase of $466 million over the first quarter of 2010, far exceeded analysts' expectations of about 50 cents per share.

Operating profit of $2.8 billion was the strongest for a first-quarter since 2004 and $2.1 billion of that was from automotive operations as consumers continue to embrace the automaker's vehicles, which include new and fuel efficient models. Total revenue was $33.1 billion, up $5 billion from the same period in 2010.

"Our team delivered a great quarter, with solid growth and improvements in all regions," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said.

And unlike the gas price spike in 2008, Ford Motor Company and the other domestic automakers are much more prepared for the current price spike with more choices for smaller, fuel efficient cars... 

Michigan's average gas price above $4 per gallon

It hasn't happened since 2008. That was the year gas prices shot up and consumers started looking for smaller cars. AAA Michigan says the statewide average for gasoline is $4.04.

From the Associated Press:

The auto club says Tuesday that prices for self-serve unleaded fuel rose 6 cents per gallon since Monday to a statewide average of $4.04. That's $1.20 per gallon higher than last year at this time. AAA Michigan says the last time the average hit $4 was Sept. 19, 2008, when it was $4.03 per gallon.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily. It typically releases its gas prices report each Monday. But the auto club says it decided to put out a special edition of its gas prices report Tuesday because the average topped $4 a gallon.

May 3rd Election
1:15 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Lansing voters have a choice: Higher taxes or deeper cuts in public safety

Millage increase opponents stand outside Lansing city hall
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing voters face a difficult choice in next week’s election.   Increase their city taxes or possibly see deep cuts in public safety.  

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