Politics & Government

Politics
1:32 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Making sense of redistricting

Michigan State Capitol
user cncphotos / flickr

The 2010 Census figures, released last month, announced that Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population in the last decade. Now it is up to the states to redraw their congressional districts based on the findings of the Census.

Redistricting can play a big role in the political makeup of both state and federal representation. In Michigan, citizens are waiting to see how the Republican-dominated Legislature will handle the task of reshaping the state’s congressional districts.

The main objective of redistricting is to create congressional districts with roughly equal populations in each district, says John Chamberlin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

“It takes account of the fact that people move around the state or people move out of the state. In 2010, if you looked at the populations in state House districts, for instance, there are disparities. So redistricting resets the clock back to roughly equal populations.”

Each state handles the task of redistricting differently. In Michigan, redistricting is treated as legislation, with the Legislature creating a bill for passage by the governor. Because the Republican Party controls the Michigan state Senate, House, and governorship, the task of redistricting will fall solely to the Republicans.

Due to the fact that Michigan lost population since the last redistricting took place, the state will lose one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through redistricting, the Michigan Legislature must determine where to combine districts in order to eliminate the district of one U.S. Representative, explains Chamberlin.

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Politics
12:26 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Sterling Heights honor student faces deportation

Ola Kaso, left, and her sister Nevila Wing. Barring an extraordinary action on the part of Congress and President Obama, Ola and her mother will be deported in June.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

With immigration reform bogged down in Congress and perennially on the back burner, the Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive deportation agenda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a record number of people this year.

If the agency has their way, one of them will be Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old girl from Sterling Heights. She’ll be forced to leave just days after she graduates high school as one of the top students in her class.

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Commentary
12:09 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Drunken Sailors

I’ve been following the Michigan legislature’s attempts to approve various sections of the state budget, and the cliché that first came to my mind this morning was the wrong one. I was tempted to tell you that they have been behaving like drunken sailors.

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News Roundup
7:53 am
Fri April 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Politics
4:11 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Political Roundup

We’re getting a roundup of this week’s state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week Governor Snyder and GOP leaders announced they had come up with a tax deal. Demas says the biggest part of the deal is that they modified the pension tax, which was controversial.

If you are on a pension right now, if you are 67 and older you are not going to have to worry anymore, they have taken that off the table. If you’re younger than 67 you will be taxed more than you would have previously. But that means that instead of the almost $1 billion that was suppose to raised it will only raise $300 million. So to make up the difference we will see more budget cuts. And the income tax will stay at the 4.35% rate. It will not drop down to 4.25%.

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State Legislature
3:59 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

House effort fails to reject partner benefits

 State House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes to reverse health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees. The new policy will treat unmarried employees with live-in partners the same as married employees, and it will apply to people in same-sex relationships. A two-thirds majority vote isrequired to reverse  the contracts approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

GOP lawmakers said the Civil Service Commission decision undermines “traditional families” and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is looking for other avenues to block the new policy from taking effect October first.

"I’m going to continue to explore the legality of their decision. I believe they made an end run around the constitution. I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to consult with attorneys to see if something can be done about their illegal decision,” Bolger said.

Democrats say the Legislature should not rescind agreements collectively bargained with state employee unions.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has also been asked for an opinion on whether state employee live-in partner benefits violates Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

Politics
3:33 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Inkster Judge investigated for spending after audit

Judge Sylvia James is on leave while being investigated by the State Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court began the investigation of Judge James after frequent charges of financial mismanagement by Inkster city officials.

The state supreme court is investigating Inkster’s chief judge. An audit found several unusual expenses were paid for with court money. Judge Sylvia James has been placed on paid administrative leave because she could not explain why court funds were used to pay for travel, clothing, and other expenses.  Retired judge Vladimir Washington will take Judge James’ place.

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Politics
3:29 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Tea Partiers rally in Lansing

A few hundred Tea Party supporters held a rally at the state Capitol. American flags and bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” umbrellas peppered the crowd at the rainy gathering. The group appeared more concerned with actions by the federal government than with the Republican-controlled state government.

Gail Goniwicha is a banker from Royal Oak. She says she likes the job Governor Rick Snyder is doing.

"I was very happy that he’s trying to get the unions to pay and do their fair share. I as a person contribute to my retirement and my medical every month, it comes out of my paycheck. I don’t believe anybody gets a free ride in the United States,” Goniwacha said.

Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's pleased the group expects their elected officials to be frugal with taxpayers’ money:

"This is an important day because it’s part of the building blocks of a new Michigan. A new Michigan that has less taxes, less spending, less regulation, less government, and more freedom. And everybody here says let’s all work together to build a new Michigan that has more jobs, more paychecks and more freedom.” 

A few signs in the crowd called to stop the proposed bridge project between Detroit and Canada. Governor Snyder hopes to get that plan before lawmakers soon, but a House committee has omitted the proposed funding for the bridge from its version of the state budget.

Commentary
12:46 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Soaking the Poor

President Obama came under fire yesterday for proposing that the richest Americans pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, especially with deficits soaring out of control.

Republicans, some of whom are running for president, said this would hurt the economy‘s ability to create jobs.

They said this was just one more wrong-headed left-wing proposal to solve economic problems by “soaking the rich.”

Well, that’s a battle that will be fought out on the national stage, likely throughout next year’s presidential campaign and beyond.

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Election 2012
9:37 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Fourteen Mich. U.S. House members to run again

U.S. Capitol Building
Crazy George Flickr

All but one of Michigan's 15 representatives in the U.S. House say they'll run for re-election in 2012, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

...according to an Associated Press survey of members this week and despite a coming redistricting process that in some cases could vastly impact the physical makeup of their districts.

The lone holdout in the delegation is Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia, who declined to provide a "yes" or "no" response to whether he would run again next year, saying only that he was focused on serving his constituents.

District boundaries will be redrawn based on U.S. Census counts, and Republicans who lead the state House and Senate control the process.

Michigan was the only state to lose population in the past decade and will drop one of its congressional seats.

State Legislature
1:03 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

House panel approves cut to Michigan universities

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

A state House panel has voted to cut aid to the state's 15 public universities by about 15 percent. The Associated Press reports:

The Republican-led state House appropriations subcommittee dealing with higher education funding approved the plan by a party-line vote Wednesday. The measure next goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

The funding plan started by the House is similar to one proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder but it has a few differences.

The House plan calls for an across-the-board funding cut of 14 percent to each of the state's 15 public universities in the budget year starting Oct. 1. Another 1 percent would be weighted depending on how much state aid each university gets on a per-student basis.

Funding cuts could be higher if universities don't agree to certain tuition restraints.

It's been a busy couple days at the state Capitol as Governor Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders announced yesterday that they had agreed on a tentative tax deal. And, earlier today, a GOP-led Senate committee approved measures to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs.

Governor Snyder has said he wants a completed state budget for the new fiscal year by May 31st. The state is currently facing a projected $1.5 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

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Election 2012
12:25 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Sen. Stabenow has $3 million for re-election bid

Senator Debbe Stabenow (MI-D)
USDAgov Flickr

Michigan's Democratic Senator Debbie Stabeow has $3 million on hand for her 2012 re-election bid, according to the Associated Press. From the AP:

The Associated Press on Wednesday obtained a copy of the Stabenow for U.S. Senate committee's April quarterly report, which is due to the FEC by Friday.

In it, the committee says Stabenow raised nearly $1.2 million in the period that ran from Jan. 1 to March 31 and has $3 million on hand in the run for her third term in the Senate.

Stabenow was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000. The only Republican to declare candidacy for the seat so far is Randy Hekman, a former Kent County judge. He announced his candidacy last month.

Other possible GOP candidates for the Senate seat include former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra,  former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party Saul Anuzis.

State Legislature
10:26 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Lawmakers move to shift health care costs

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

Proposals to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs have advanced in the state Legislature, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A Republican-led Senate committee approved the measures Wednesday on party-line votes. Republican Sen. Mark Jansen of Kent County's Gaines Township says the measures could come up for votes on the Senate floor later this month.

The legislation would affect employees with the state, local governments, public school districts, public universities and other public employers.

Republicans say the measures are needed to help public employers control costs. Democrats say health care costs should be bargained in contracts.

Local units of government could exempt themselves from the act by a two-thirds vote of its governing body.

 The legislation is Senate Bill 7 and Senate Joint Resolution C.

Commentary
8:54 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Governor Snyder: Not a Politician?

There’s one thing everyone has agreed on ever since Rick Snyder burst on the scene less than a year and a half ago.

The man is not a politician.

Before he announced he was running for governor, Snyder’s name was barely known to anybody in political circles. He had never  been involved in politics at any level. When he began running his famous “nerd” commercial during last year’s Super Bowl, the verdict from the experts was clear: Clever commercial. Catchy concept.

Calling yourself a “tough nerd” might work in some sophisticated high-tech west coast place. But not in lunch-bucket, brawling, blue-collar Michigan.

And we all knew that Snyder’s lack of political sophistication will eventually do him in. That seemed to be confirmed when he began ducking most of the primary campaign debates. Not ready for prime time. Yet the non-politician won the Republican primary easily last August, leaving a prominent congressman and the state attorney general in the dust. The general election wasn’t even a contest.

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News Roundup
8:24 am
Wed April 13, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 13th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder, GOP Leaders Come to Tax Agreement

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the state House and Senate outlined a tentative tax agreement yesterday afternoon in Lansing.  The plan includes a compromise on taxing retiree pensions. From Rick Pluta:

Michigan is one of just a handful of states that does not tax pensions. The deal between Governor Snyder and GOP leaders would shield people 67 years old and older from a pension tax. The governor originally wanted to tax all pensions, but he says compromises were necessary.

The plan also calls for scrapping the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate income tax. That’s part of an overall tax cut for most businesses to spur job creation.

The plan would eliminate the tax break for working poor families, but offer some new tax relief for low-income homeowners and renters.

The plan must still be approved by the House and the Senate.

Bing Outlines Budget

Mayor Dave Bing proposed his budget for Detroit yesterday. The mayor warned that the city’s unions will have to make contract concessions in order to keep Detroit out of the hands of a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager. The city is facing a $155 million budget deficit. Bing said the deficit could grow to over a billion dollars in the next five years unless cuts are made now. Bing proposed $200 million in cuts and revenue in his budget proposal.

New Auto Jobs

The Detroit Three are poised to create new auto jobs for the first time in years, Tracy Samilton reports.  But, Sean McAlinden, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research, says auto manufacturing jobs will never recover to their former levels. McAlinden says the Detroit Three will likely hire 35,000 people in the next five years. That’s only about a third of the people who lost jobs with the auto companies in the past few years.

Budget Protests
7:50 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Protest expected today at state Capitol

Thousands of teachers, public employees and their supporters are expected to protest at the state Capitol today.

Organizers say a rally scheduled for Wednesday could be the biggest yet for the state's current budget cycle, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney says Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers are moving ahead too quickly with budget plans.

Unions are upset about proposals they say would undermine collective bargaining rights. Other groups are upset about proposed cuts to education funding and other programs.

Snyder has said the protests are part of the democratic process.

State Legislature
7:44 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Snyder, Republican leaders come to a tax deal

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the state House and Senate have come to a tentative tax deal
Ifmuth Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature have struck a tentative bargain on tax reform and the state budget. The plan delays an October 1st income tax rollback and includes a compromise on taxing pensions.

Michigan is one of just a handful of states that does not tax pensions. The deal between Governor Snyder and GOP leaders would shield people 67 years old and older from a pension tax. The governor originally wanted to tax all pensions, but he says compromises were necessary. Governor Snyder:

“So it’s a transitional plan that I think addresses the shorter-term requirements while being structurally sound for the long term.”

The plan also calls for scrapping the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate income tax. That’s part of an overall tax cut for most businesses to spur job creation.

The plan would eliminate the tax break for working poor families, but offer some new tax relief for low-income homeowners and renters.

The plan must still be approved by the House and the Senate.

State Legislature
6:53 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Redistricting hearings begin

West Michigan had the most population growth in the last ten years, while the east side of the state saw the biggest regional population declines in the state. That’s according to state demographer Ken Darga. He testified before a state House panel on redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts.

Detroit is expected to lose a few seats in the Legislature after Michigan’s political maps are redrawn. The city saw a 25 percent decline in population since 2000. State demographer Ken Darga says it’s unclear right now how political clout will shift around the state:

“We’ll have to see how the numbers—how the districts are drawn. It certainly does though, it does increase the political clout of areas that are growing, and decrease the political clout of areas that are declining in population.”

The state’s political maps need to be redrawn before this fall. But some Democrats fear Republicans will force the redistricting process through this spring. They say they hope the process is open and fair, and they say the only way to do that is to take time to draw the new lines.

Politics
3:42 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Govenor Snyder and Republican leadership getting closer on budget deal

Republican leaders in the state legislature are getting closer to a deal on the budget.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leadership in the State House and Senate appear to be close to a deal on the budget.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican state lawmakers are reporting "significant progress" on proposals related to business and pension taxes for the fiscal year starting in October...

Two people with knowledge of the talks tell The Associated Press that the proposals include many elements of Snyder's original business tax plan. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been finalized.

The Republican governor wants to replace the state's main business tax with a 6 percent corporate tax applied to corporations with shareholders.

The plan would include taxes on pensions and other retiree income but it would be modified from Snyder's original proposal. The new proposal calls for phasing in or scaling back the tax.

Some lawmakers have been loathe to accept any taxes on pensions, but it appears a plan to phase in a pension tax may be more palatable.

Peter Luke of Booth Newspapers reports on some of the details of the agreement:

Under the phased-in alternative, the status quo would apply to those 67 and up, whose pensions would continue to be tax exempt.

A middle group of retirees 60 to 66 would be subject to a pension tax, but the first $20,000 of pension income for single filers -  $40,000 for joint filers - would be tax exempt.

Those younger than 60 would pay tax on all their pension income.

An AARP spokesman said they remain opposed to a tax on pensions, whether its phased in or not.

A public announcement of the agreement is expected to come this afternoon.

Detroit
2:48 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Locked out of Mayor Bing's budget presentation

Some people got locked out of today's Detroit City Council meeting, where Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was laying out a 5-year budget plan that called for cutting employee pension and health care costs.

Council security told citizens and several reporters that they couldn't come in because the hearing room was "filled to capacity."

That escalated into a dispute between security guards and the people who demanded their right to enter under the state's Open Meetings Act.

Detroit resident and volunteer organizer Felicia Sanders wanted to hear Bing's presentation.

"If you get up and you're willing to attend a meeting to fight and speak out for your city, you should be allowed to participate in the meeting."

Sanders and others questioned why the City Council didn't hold the hearing in a much larger public auditorium just across the hall.

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