Politics & Government

Politics
5:46 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

Democrats say budget deal kicks off next phase of fight about Michigan's future

The budget should be wrapped up soon. Democrats say the fight will continue.
user aunt owwee Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and legislative Republicans are expected to wrap up work this week on the budget. If they succeed, they will meet the governor’s target of finishing the budget four months ahead of the constitutional deadline.

Democrats, who are in the minority in the House and the Senate, have some objections, but expect to lose this week’s budget battle.

That won’t stop them from calling for using a revenue windfall to make sure schools don’t lose any money in the new budget.

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Politics
5:33 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

State unions call for cost-saving measures in budget

State employee unions are calling on lawmakers to approve government reforms that the unions say would save the state tens of millions of dollars.

A labor organization report says Michigan government has too many managers compared to workers who directly deliver services to the public. It also says the state spends more on outside contracts than it does on its civil service workforce.

Phil Thompson, with union SEIU 517M, says he knows time is running short to influence lawmakers on the current budget.

"Realistically we understand that the elements in this report aren’t going to be able to be handled in the next week or so. What we want to do is set the foundation for an intelligent, in-depth discussion that will generate savings in fiscal 2012, but more importantly to generate millions of dollars in savings in future years."

The state employee unions say efficiencies could save the state about $185 million dollars in the coming year, if lawmakers approved the changes before October.

Commentary
11:29 am
Mon May 23, 2011

Not Guilty As Charged

How many of the forty-four thousand prisoners sitting in our state’s prisons do you think are actually innocent of the charges which put them there? None? A handful? Maybe … one percent?

I talked recently with a man who is an expert on this, and what he told me was absolutely shocking. Jim Petro was Ohio’s Attorney General for four years, until he left office to make an unsuccessful run for governor in 2006.

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Politics
9:42 am
Mon May 23, 2011

Recall petition moves forward against State Rep. Al Pscholka

Calls to "recall Pscholka" have been made for several weeks. This protestor carries a sign during a protest against Benton Harbor's emergency manager on April 27th, 2011. Pscholka introduced the bill that grants emergency managers broader powers.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

One of the four petitions Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles filed to recall State Rep. Al Pscholka (R-St. Joseph) was approved by Berrien County election officials this morning.

Knowles needs to collect 6,718 valid signatures in Pscholka's district before the November 18th deadline. But the signatures are only valid for 90 days, so he has until that deadline to collect that many signatures before they expire.

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Politics
3:02 pm
Sat May 21, 2011

Congressmen from opposite sides of MI, political aisle, make friends

Congressmen Justin Amash (right) and Hansen Clarke (left) host a town hall meeting at the Gerald R. Ford Mueseum in Grand Rapids Saturday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A republican congressman from West Michigan and a democrat from Detroit held a joint town hall meeting today Saturday in Grand Rapids. The two freshmen lawmakers have bonded in the nation’s capitol and want to show people some politicians do get along.

Congressman Justin Amash is a tea party favorite from West Michigan. Congressman Hansen Clarke is a democrat from Detroit.  

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Politics
5:33 pm
Fri May 20, 2011

Budget deal reduces dollars for redevelopment

The new budget deal struck this week between Governor Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders cuts the amount of money for redeveloping abandoned factories and preserving historic buildings.

The governor says the state won’t need to rely so much on targeted incentives in the future.

The new budget will zero out brownfield and historic preservation tax credits, and replace them with a new fund to offer economic development grants.

$50 million will be set aside for brownfields and historic preservation.

That’s $15 to $20 million dollars less than the state targets now.

But Governor Snyder says the state can do a better job of choosing projects "and hopefully make those dollars go farther than they are today."

Mark Morante, with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, says the state will target only projects most likely to be completed.

In the past, many tax credits that were awarded went unclaimed. He also says the state won’t need to rely on incentives as much because tax changes will bring down the cost of doing business.

"With this six percent corporate income tax and roughly an 80 percent cut in corporate taxes in general, our job will be a little easier on that side of the table, so we will probably need less incentives," said Morante. 

Those tax reforms have been criticized as a tax shift onto individuals. But the governor and his Republican allies in the Legislature say that will be worth it if it creates new jobs.

Politics
1:01 am
Fri May 20, 2011

Recall battle

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan
(Official state portrait)

Thousands of people are expected to descend on the state capitol on Saturday to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s policies.    Organizers plan to kick off a petition campaign to have the governor recalled from office.  

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Politics
3:48 pm
Thu May 19, 2011

Detroit pension board agrees to debt payment changes

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Trustees of Detroit’s general retirement system have agreed to let the city spread out its debt payments over a longer period. It's just one of the changes the city’s mayor is seeking to balance the budget.

The change will save the city about $13 million, and if Detroit’s police and fire pension board trustees agree to a similar move, it bring the total savings to $65 million.

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Politics
3:37 pm
Thu May 19, 2011

Democrats feel slighted on budget deal

A budget deal was reached between Governor Snyder and the State Legislature, but democrats say they feel slighted by the deal.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature have reached a budget deal for the coming fiscal year.

The plan will use hundreds of millions of dollars from a tax revenue windfall to lessen proposed cuts to K-12 schools.

Democratic leaders say the plan violates a deal they agreed to last week, because the money doesn’t go directly to replace the cuts. Instead it will be used to urge schools to cut costs, and help make retirement payments.

"I think that we should motivate people to do the right thing and to find efficiencies where they can," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. "And if you want to incentivize them with extra dollars, I’m comfortable with that idea. But this violates the agreement that we had, and the agreement was that we would mitigate the per-pupil foundation allowance so that the dollars would get right into the classroom with the kids."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says negotiations could have gone more smoothly with Democrats.

"There was no malice, there was no intent to mislead or anything like that, we don’t have that kind of a relationship. But this is the first time that this group of people is actually getting together and negotiating a deal, so there may have been some improvements laid out, we could probably do things better than we did, and we’ll continue to work toward that."

There is about a week and a half left before Governor Snyder’s self-imposed, May 31 budget deadline.

Richardville says he expects the Legislature to meet that goal.

Politics
2:52 pm
Thu May 19, 2011

Computer outage at Secretary of State offices will not be fixed today

The Michigan Department of Management, Budget and Technology says the computer outage affecting Secretary of State branch offices will not be fixed before the close of business today.

A spokesman says technicians will work through the night, if necessary, to fix the problems.

The shutdown of a mainframe computer also prevents State Police troopers from conducting license and vehicle checks, but not from issuing tickets.

News Roundup
8:12 am
Thu May 19, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

State Senate: Public Employees Should Pay More Health Costs

The Republican-led state Senate approved a bill yesterday that would require most public employees to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs. Laura Weber reports:

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote. The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees. That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Michigan Jobless Rate Continues to Decline

The state’s unemployment rate was down to 10.2 percent in April. That’s a drop of one-tenth of one percent from March and, is a full three percentage points down from where it was at the same time last year. Job growth in the state, however, remains weak. The state added only three thousand jobs from March to April.

Report: Michigan’s Public Defender System “Abysmal”

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a, “constitutional crisis” according to the Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice. Sarah Cwiek reports:

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced a report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems."The report says Michigan has abdicated its “constitutional responsibilities” by failing to ensure its counties supply, train and supervise public defenders… Michigan’s public defender system was listed near the bottom another recent national report. The state ranks 44th in terms of per capita spending on public defense.

State Budget
6:37 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Legislative leaders meet to finalize budget targets

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder met with legislative leaders to refigure budget plans, now that the state is expected to collect more tax revenue than originally predicted.

An application on Snyder’s i-Pad reminds him every day of a looming, self-imposed budget deadline of May 31st. He says he and lawmakers are going to meet that deadline.

"There’s still work to be done, but we’re moving in a very positive direction, and we’re moving on a path to have the Legislature get the budget done by May 31st – so those countdown clocks could pay off.”

Details could be made public as soon as today.

Part of the deal appears to include about $25 million in tax credits for the film industry, and rolling back cuts to K-12 schools. That’s more money than Governor Snyder or the Legislature had originally proposed.

Politics
5:12 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Bing: Human Services Dept. investigation will continue 'until we uncover every instance of abuse'

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has suspended the director and several staff of the city’s Human Services Department. The department is believed to have misspent at least $200,000 intended for services to the poor.

Mayor Bing says an investigation is under way. He says it’s not clear yet how big the problem is, "but it is important enough to this administration, to this city and our indigent population that we act immediately to make sure that we right the wrongs."

Politics
4:26 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Report calls Michigan's public defender "abysmal"

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a “constitutional crisis.”

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced the report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems.”

It profiles 13 men who spent time in prison, even though there was evidence of their innocence.

One is Frederick Mardlin, who spent three years in prison for arson.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Senate bill passes - requires public employees pay 20% of health benefit costs

The Michigan Senate chamber.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Most public employees would be required to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs under a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate.

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen sponsored the measure. 

"Not all of us are all that excited all the time about doing these things," said Jansen. "In fact we know people that this impacts – in fact if you look in the mirror, it’ll impact each one of you sitting here today. But we know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that’s very subjective."

Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the state is asking too much from public employees – especially teachers.

"I heard Governor Snyder defend the $250,000 price tag for his budget director by saying 'you get what you pay for,'" Whitmer said. "Well isn’t that true for the most important people to our kid’s success as well? Why is that rationale sufficient for the governor paying taxpayer dollars, and not true for the people working every day to help our kids?"

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees.

That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Politics
1:54 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Film advocates push for preserving tax credit

Supporters of Michigan’s film industry are conducting an eleventh-hour push to convince Lansing politicians to keep the state’s generous film tax credit.

Nancy Skinner has been a vocal opponent of plans to scrap the credit and replace it with a much more modest grant program. She runs a Web site that’s brought in donations from thousands of people:

"And what we are trying to do is put names and faces to these numbers. The spreadsheet wars that are going on in Lansing? We want these folks to see the names and faces of people who will be affected by this."

The ads will run on Comcast cable channels over the next week. They emphasize the economic impact of the film industry, and the threat of a continued “brain drain” if the film industry pulls out of Michigan.

Just the threat of the elimination of Michigan’s 42 percent tax credit caused her to lose business, says Rose Gilpin. She and her partner Kathy Remski own Real Style Extras Casting:

"They evaporated immediately. Kathy and I right off the bat lost three projects in February right after the announcement was made. So immediately gone."

Legislation has been introduced to preserve the tax credit. The governor has proposed replacing the tax credit with grants totaling 25 million dollars for film and video projects.

Politics
1:33 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Michigan bill would freeze pay between contracts

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans in the Michigan Senate have approved a bill that would freeze pay and benefits for union-represented public employees including teachers working under expired contracts.

The bill that passed by a 21-17 mostly party-line vote Wednesday now returns to the Republican-led House, which already has passed the bill and could soon send it to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The bill calls for public employers to provide no more than current pay and benefits after the expiration date of a collective bargaining agreement until a new contract is in place. It would eliminate or freeze so-called step increases sometimes paid by school districts regardless of contract status.

Democrats say the bill dabbles in issues that should be left to local decision-makers.

Republicans say the changes would give unions more incentive to bargain.

Politics
12:23 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Find a dead body? New laws would require you to report it to police

One bill in the Michigan Senate would make failure to report the discovery a dead body a misdemeanor; a second bill would make failing to report a body for the purpose of fraud a felony.
David Goehring Flickr

If you discover a dead body in Michigan, you’re not legally required to report it to police. That would change under a proposal making its way through the state Senate.

Timothy McMorrow is the chief appellate attorney for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

"We had a case where a woman died in an apartment.  Her boyfriend, with whom she lived, did not  report it," McMorrow explains. "It was discovered about four days later when the woman's daughter came looking for her mother, wondering where she was, and was told that her mother had died."

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Politics
11:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Legislator acts to close lottery loophole

Leroy Fick of Auburn winning a $2 million prize after competing in the third episode of "Make Me Rich!", the Lottery game show.
Michigan Lottery

After news reports circulated that a lottery winner in Michigan was still using food stamps, one state senator has decided to try to close a loophole in state law.

Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland), released a statement saying he's proposing legislation that would require Michigan lottery officials to share the names of winners with various government departments and immediately remove them from all public assistance programs:

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Politics
10:49 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Michigan lawmakers seek compromise on next budget

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers may be closing in on a compromise plan related to education spending.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Wednesday negotiators are working on a proposal that would lessen the projected cuts to K-12 school funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder in February proposed cutting per-student funding by an additional $300 in the next budget year. The developing revised plan would provide $100 per student to all districts to offset or restore part of that cut. The cut could be reduced by another $100 per student if districts adopt so-called "best financial practices."

The proposal would cut university funding by 15 percent and community college funding by 4 percent.

Richardville stressed negotiators are still working toward the possible agreement. Talks are continuing between Senate, House and Snyder administration leaders.

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