Politics & Government

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.  

Read more
Politics
6:47 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Muslim, Civil rights groups condemn Jones trial

Some Muslim and civil rights groups say Dearborn and Wayne County officials sent a bad message by prosecuting a controversial Florida pastor.

Terry Jones wanted to protest what he sees as encroaching “Sharia law” outside Dearborn’s Mosque of America last week.  But his plans were scuttled Friday, after a Wayne County jury found that his protest would “breach the peace.”

Read more
Politics
5:18 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Snyder pushes back on stem cell rules in budget bills

Human embryonic stem cells
Nissim Benvenisty wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder says he is opposed to provisions in Republican budget plans that would restrict how money is spent on embryonic stem cell research at public universities.

Republican lawmakers are renewing efforts to enact additional rules surrounding the voter-approved amendment that allows public funds to be used for the research.

Voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in 2008.

Since then, Democrats have blocked efforts by opponents of embryonic stem cell research to demand reports or enact additional restrictions on  it, but now Republicans are in charge in the Legislature.

Governor Snyder is a Republican who supports the voter-approved amendment and stem cell research.

The governor says he wishes Republican lawmakers would leave stem cell research out of the debates on university spending:

"I think we need to focus on higher education, not stem cells. We passed a constitutional amendment on that topic some time ago and we need to follow through on what our voters said."

The governor has the authority to veto budget line items.

The governor and the Legislature are continuing to negotiate on the budget with the goal of having it wrapped up by June first.

Politics
3:35 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Senator Caswell makes changes to controversial thrift store policy

State Senator Bruce Caswell
facebook

A story by Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller about foster care expenditures went viral over the weekend, thanks to a post on Gawker. Gawker, it seems, caught wind of the story after the Michigan Messenger posted it.

The story deals with money that the state allocates to families to buy clothes for foster children.  

State Senator Bruce Caswell wanted to require foster families to purchase clothes at thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

From the original article:

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

The story originally aired on Friday, April 15. Since that time, we have received more than 270 comments - most people expressing their outrage over Caswell's proposal.

We received this comment from Sonja S. who says she was in foster care from ages 11-17:

Unfortunately, by demanding the money be spent in thrift stores, Mr. Caswell is doing emotional harm to the children. It doesn't matter what his motives are, the fact is that they're ill thought-out.

Senator Caswell said he received a lot calls after the story aired from people asking him to change his proposal.

Read more
Politics
11:49 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Michigan's Legislative Black Caucus say they'll challenge the emergency manager law

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus will hold a press conference today at noon with the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Benton Harbor.

Also in attendance will be Congressman John Conyers and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Joe Harris, the city's state-appointed emergency manager, recently stripped power from local officials in Benton Harbor under the state's new emergency manager law.

The group says they will work to uphold voting rights as they plan to challenge the legality of the Emergency Manager law.

Fred Durhal, the chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said they "oppose this Draconian legislation.":

"Our coalition is prepared to ask the Justice Department to review this legislation and we will fight litigation to challenge its constitutionality," said Durhal.

Reverend Jesse Jackson is quoted in the media advisory saying, "the wind from Benton Harbor is blowing toward Detroit. This legislation usurps democracy by taking away voters rights in Michigan. Our constitution protects democracy, this inalienable right is non-negotiable."

Read more
Politics
10:36 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Making Michigan's roads accessible to all

Making Michigan’s roads better is the job of a state appointed committee that holds its first meeting this week.  The legislature created the Complete Streets Advisory Council last year.  

Commentary
9:57 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Education Reform

The governor is supposed to deliver a major speech on education this week.

We also don’t know what he’s going to say, though his spokesperson indicates that he is going to talk about systems of education, and producing results.

And that much is hopeful. So far, most of the education debate across the state has been over the wrong question.  We’ve been arguing over whether teachers are paid too much and receive benefits that are too generous, and that’s not the point.

Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of public instruction, hasn’t said much about policy issues. But his predecessor, Tom Watkins, has been anything but silent. Now a business and education consultant, Watkins says we have seen the enemy, and it is the status quo. “We have one chance now to help prepare our kids and our state for the future,” he told me. “Let’s not blow it.”

Watkins, who was pushed out of his job by Jennifer Granholm midway through her administration, is a Democrat who has been cautiously supportive of some of Republican Governor Rick Snyder‘s initiatives. 

However, when it comes to education, Watkins asked a trillion dollar question in a recent Muskegon Chronicle column:

“If we had just discovered these two Michigan peninsulas, with 1.7 million school-age children, would we re-create the education system that now exists? The answer is a resounding NO!”

He thinks we need to go back to the drawing board. He urges our leaders, “Let‘s live up to our image as an ‘innovation state,’ one that sets the trend for new ways of doing things, and create new possibilities for learning, with more sense of urgency.”

Read more
News Roundup
8:26 am
Mon April 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

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

Snyder Plans Education Address

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to outline some of his ideas on school reform in an address to a conference of educators in East Lansing today. Snyder will offer even more details on his ideas for education in the state when he delivers a message to the legislature later this week. A senior advisor to the Governor says Snyder will say everything from better pre-natal care to an improved higher education system have to be part of a plan for fixing schools, Rick Pluta reports.

Big Cuts for Corrections?

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Republican state Senator John Proos who chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget, says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners.

Study Programs Continue in Japan

The University of Michigan says its study programs in Japan are on track due to a revised U.S. State Department policy, the Associated Press reports. The AP explains, “The agency had previously warned Americans against traveling to Japan following last month's earthquake and the nuclear accident that followed. The school says students must make sure they follow the university's international travel rules.”

Education
6:42 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Governor to address educators, unveil school reform plans

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League

Governor Rick Snyder will address an education conference in East Lansing today. He is expected to call for an across-the-board shakeup in how Michigan prepares students for 21st Century jobs.

Governor Snyder is expected to say Michigan falls short in critical measurements like third grade reading scores, eighth grade math scores, and its number of college graduates. At the same time, his budget plans call for less money for schools and universities.

Bill Rustem is a senior advisor to the governor. He says education reform can save money, but it needs to start before children are born and continue past high school.

“We’ve got to improve in a way that enables that whole system from pre-natal all the way through college to be a better system producing people who are smarter, better, and able to compete in the 21st Century.”

Details of the governor’s school reform plans will wait until later in the week when he sends an education message to the Legislature.

Politics
6:31 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Bay City preparing for budget deficit

Bay City is preparing for a 2011-2012 budget deficit
Ifmuth Flickr

From the Associated Press:

Commissioners in Bay City are bracing for another year in the red heading toward Monday's presentation of the proposed 2011-12 city budget. The Bay City Times reports a deficit similar to the $1.6 million faced this year is expected due to anticipated cuts in state funding.

The budget year begins July 1. Commission President Kathleen Newsham warns that the news is "going to be bad." City Manager Robert Belleman says no municipal layoffs are expected in the proposed budget and that money from a reserve fund will be used to cover a deficit.

Bay City registered $1.4 million in savings last year. Belleman says the city's revenue sharing from the state is down by at least a third.

State Budget
1:01 pm
Sun April 24, 2011

Corrections Department budget may see big cuts

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences.  

Republican state Senator John Proos says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. 

 “Are they getting the proper education so they can be eligible for parole at their earliest release date? The longer we keep somebody past earliest release date, the most costly it is to us."

Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners. Proos chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget. The panel approved a spending plan that is well below Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal.

Politics
5:46 pm
Sat April 23, 2011

Republican lawmakers making progress on drafting state budget

Early drafts of Republican budget plans include some measures that Governor Rick Snyder did not call for in his proposal for the coming fiscal year. Among them are new rules on embryonic stem cell research conducted at state universities and publicly funded clinics.  

Similar measures were blocked in recent years by Governor Jennifer Granholm and Democrats in the Legislature. New Republican majorities are renewing efforts to enact new restrictions and reporting requirements over the objections of researchers. They say the proposed rules would quash their work.

Governor Rick Snyder supports embryonic stem cell research and the voter-approved amendment that allows it at publicly funded facilities. The governor has not taken a position on the budget language. Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.   

“We’re going to be looking at everything closely when it comes through. The governor’s been very clear and consistent that he respects the Legislature and the legislative process. It’s still got a long way to go. It’s just one step.”   

And legislative leaders say these early versions of the budget bills do not necessarily reflect what will come from the final round of negotiations. The governor and legislative leaders say they’re on track to wrap up the budget by their self-imposed May 31st deadline.

Politics
11:13 am
Sat April 23, 2011

Pastor briefly jailed, ordered to stay away from mosque for 3 years

Several hundred people attended an interfaith rally in Dearborn Friday.
Rina Miller, Michigan Radio

A controversial Florida pastor who planned to protest outside a Dearborn mosque Friday instead spent the day in court, and briefly went to jail.

Terry Jones last month burned a Quran in Florida, sparking deadly riots in Afghanistan. That prompted a jury to decide that his protest against Islam could lead to violence in Dearborn.

Jones refused to pay a symbolic $1 peace bond, leading to his arrest.

Susan Morgan of Dearborn attended an interfaith rally in a cold, hard rain outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library Friday afternoon, as the trial continued in the courthouse nearby.

“We’d really like our tax money to be spent someplace better, and not wasted on this," Morgan says. "This has been going on for three or four weeks for us here in Dearborn.”

Some participants in the rally said although they disagreed with Joneses’ message, they supported his right to free speech, including Ghada Saleh. She's originally from Lebanon, but has lived in Dearborn for 37 years.

“He has the right to express his opinion about whatever he wants," Saleh says. "But what he stands for is totally wrong. As a Christian person, he should know that burning the Quran is an insult to Jesus.”

Jones has been ordered to stay away from the mosque and adjacent property for three years.

Read more
Politics
5:37 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Terry Jones plans to hold rally this afternoon, counter-rally planned in Dearborn

The Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States. Pastor Terry Jones wants to hold a rally near the mosque.
Dane Hillard wikimedia commons

Update 5:37 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller is at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn and phoned in the above reports.

On their live blog, the Free Press reports that "several hundred people have gathered outside the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn for a Terry Jones counterrally, listening to speakers who have pleaded for peace and understanding.

Crowd members are carrying signs that say, 'We are Peace,' 'We Are Islam," and 'Hope, not Hurt.'"

Update: 4:32 p.m.

The Detroit Free Press reports that members of assorted police departments have gathered at the site of the planned counter-protest outside of the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. The Freep reports they have riot gear "on hand visible inside several vans, including helmets and sticks."

From the Freep:

Emergency crews from more than a half-dozen agencies are gathered outside the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

They are on guard for a scheduled 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. counter-rally organized by Detroit-area religious leaders in response to a Florida pastor’s desire to hold his own rally outside Dearborn’s Islamic Center of America, one of the nation’s largest mosques.

2:40 p.m.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organized a Quran burning last month, plans to hold his anti-Muslim rally tonight at 5 p.m. at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn regardless of the outcome of this afternoon's trial.

He said during the trial that he knows of 5 people from his church who will be there.

Prosecutors say more than 10,000 people could show up to counter protest his rally and they fear violence could erupt.

They liken Jones' intent to hold an anti-Muslim rally outside one of the largest mosques in the United States  to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

A counter-rally has been planned at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn 3 miles away from the mosque.

It's scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller will attend the rallies and file updates for us.

Politics
1:57 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Terry Jones in court, arguing for right to protest

Terry Jones (back to camera) and Wayne Sapp (on the stand) are arguing in court that they have a right to hold their anti-Muslim rally in front of a mosque in Dearborn.
screen grab from a Fox 2 News Detroit live broadcast

Update 1:57

Judge Mark Somers gave the jury instructions on how to evaluate the prosecutor's case against Terry Jones. The trial will decide whether Jones is allowed to hold an anti-Muslim rally outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

The jurors are to evaluate whether Jones is likely to breach the peace or not.

The jury's decision must be unanimous.

Update 11:52 a.m.

The trial is on recess. The parties and the jury are to return at 1 p.m.

Read more
Commentary
1:14 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Fighting for a Future

Here’s something you may not have thought about: Who are the Michigan Democratic party’s future leaders? The Republican landslide last fall eliminated a generation of politicians.

Today, the Democrats don’t have a single statewide officeholder, other than some judges and school and university board members.  Five of the six Democratic congressmen are elderly.

Read more
Politics
1:00 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

A look at who wins, who loses under Snyder's budget proposal

Michigan State Representatives Pscholka (left) speaks with Rep. Mark Ouimet (center) and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Michigan House Republicans

(This story originally aired on Marketplace)

Across the country, states are weighing competing funding priorities as they work to close gaping budget deficits.

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder isn’t just trying to erase $1.4 billion in red ink. He also wants to fundamentally remake the state’s tax code. Snyder says it’ll help reverse years of economic decline.

Re-writing the tax code

Read more
Politics
12:51 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Clergy urge community to avoid confrontation with Florida pastor

Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini leads the Islamic Center of America, where Pastor Terry Jones wants to stage his protest. Al-Qazwini says Jones is looking for publicity.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Muslim and Christian clergy say people should not confront the controversial Florida pastor who plans to protest jihad and Sharia law in front of a Dearborn mosque today.

Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini leads the Islamic Center of America, where Pastor Terry Jones wants to stage his protest. He says Jones is looking for publicity, and that’s his right:

"But when he calls himself a religious leader, a pastor, then he should hold himself to a higher standard, and that is our problem with him."

Reverend Charles Williams Junior says there will be no conflict in Dearborn if the protest goes forward tonight. And he says he hopes the reaction is the same elsewhere:

"We want to call on our brothers and sisters across the world: please do not respond to this ignorant fellow. Please do not respond."

Violent protests erupted in Afghanistan after Jones burned a copy of the Qur’an at his Florida church.

Jones is representing himself at a trial to decide whether he should be required to pay a hefty security bond to stage his protest. Jones says he’ll hold his rally as planned, whatever the jury decides. 

Politics
10:29 am
Fri April 22, 2011

A look at the week in state politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

Michigan Radio's All Things Considered host Jennifer White takes a look at state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants. On tap: Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manger uses his new powers and the state Senate looks to cut state aid for K-12 schools and higher education.

Pages