Politics & Government

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.

Commentary
10:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Bring Back the Posthumus Rules

I am aware that there’s a battle over whether to put the state’s unexpected surplus in the rainy day fund or to use it to help the schools. I know that libraries are in a fight for their very existence all over Michigan, and Detroit City Council is proposing crippling cuts of something like 75 percent to the city’s cultural jewels, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum.

However, none of that was featured very prominently in any of the newspaper or commercial station news reports I heard while driving across the state yesterday. What was treated as big news was that former Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, were denouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger via Twitter.

Granholm told the world, or at least that portion of it who follow her tweets, that this indicates that maybe we need more women governors, and advised men to keep their pants zipped.

Her husband, a leadership consultant, tweeted “Men: Can we talk maturely, openly and seriously about sex and fidelity?”

The ex-governor’s spouse then appeared to denounce the Arnold as a masculine ideal, and added that it was time to replace machismo - I am paraphrasing here - with brains and heart.

That’s all sensible advice. It also would be nice to think those tweets will be enough to dissuade the next millionaire movie star from impregnating his housekeeper, but I am skeptical.

Nor do I know why we are treating whatever the Granholm-Mulherns are tweeting about this as newsworthy. Yes, I know. He was a governor; she was a governor, it’s about sex, sex sells, et cetera.

However, this also reminds me of one of the few genteel customs in our politics that we seem to have lost in just the past few years. Until now, it has been the convention for defeated candidates and outgoing officeholders to quietly disappear, at least for a year.

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News Roundup
8:28 am
Wed May 18, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Other

Budget Negotiations

Lawmakers at the state Capitol will continue today to resolve the differences between their various state budgets. The Associated Press reports:

Joint panels of House and Senate members are scheduled to begin formal conferences on the budget Wednesday and Thursday.

The House and Senate have approved different versions of the next budget and compromises must be reached before a spending plan can become law.

A key factor for the overall budget plan will be determining how deep to cut state aid to K-12 schools. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed an additional $300 per student cut for the fiscal year that starts in October, on top of a $170 per student cut that's already on the books.

Some Senate Republicans are among the many lawmakers seeking to make the school cuts less deep.

Cities want Emergency Managers?

Jackson’s Mayor has asked the state to review the city’s finances. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports that’s the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager for the city. From Samilton:

Mayor Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.  She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. The state has also been asked to look at Allen Park’s finances, and Flint’s Mayor says he wants a state review, too. A new state law allows an Emergency Manager to set aside union contracts, along with elected officials' powers.

Obama Job Approval

A new poll finds President Obama's favorability rose among Michigan voters after Osama bin Laden's death. But, as the Associated Press reports, the poll, “finds that most state voters are unhappy with how he's handling the economy. The EPIC-MRA poll released Tuesday showed 53 percent of 600 likely voters polled May 9-11 had a favorable opinion of the Democratic president, up 9 points since February. Forty percent had an unfavorable opinion and 7 percent were undecided. A third gave him a positive job rating on handling the economy, while 66 percent gave him a negative rating and 2 percent were undecided.”

Politics
5:32 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

"Judge can stay" says Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court says a judge appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm as she was preparing to leave office can stay on the bench. The state attorney general challenged the appointment, arguing it should have been made by Governor Rick Snyder after he took office at the beginning of this year.

Governor Jennifer Granholm filled the vacancy in December after she named Judge Amy Krause to the state Court of Appeals. Krause had just won re-election to the Lansing district court in November. Granholm named Hugh Clark to fill the balance of Krause’s term as well as to the new term that began January first.

Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the appointment to the new term. Schuette said it should have been made by the new governor, Republican Rick Snyder.

A bipartisan majority on the state Supreme Court ruled timing worked in favor of Granholm making the appointment. The court said Granholm held office until noon on January first, while Judge Clark’s new term began that morning. The ruling also means Governor Snyder will have the power to name people to jobs that begin the day he leaves office.

Politics
5:29 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

State asked to review Jackson, Allen Park's finances

The state is looking at requests to investigate the finances of two Michigan cities.

Jackson’s Mayor has asked for a state review of the city's books.  That's the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager. 

Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.    She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. 

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Politics
5:26 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Part of projected budget windfall expected to go to schools

Part of a projected budget windfall is expected to go toward reducing proposed cuts to Michigan’s K-through-12 schools.

The question floating around the state Capitol is how much of a projected boon in tax revenue collection will go toward reducing cuts to per-student funding, and how much will go toward paying for pensions or into the state’s “rainy day” fund.

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Politics
2:16 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Former Governor Granholm comments on Schwarzenegger's love child

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Schwarzenegger revealed that he fathered a child with another woman.
user schumachergirl1956 Flickr

I didn't think a Michigan angle would present itself on the Arnold Schwarzenegger story, but hold on a sec... we have Twitter!

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm suggested on her Twitter page that people should elect more women governors:

Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped, for Pete's sake.

The Arnold "hash tag" (#Arnold) is how Twitter users are organizing their conversation around this story - first revealed by the Los Angeles Times:

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, separated after she learned he had fathered a child more than a decade ago — before his first run for office — with a longtime member of their household staff.

Shriver moved out of the family's Brentwood mansion earlier this year, after Schwarzenegger acknowledged the paternity. The staff member worked for the family for 20 years, retiring in January.

I imagine there will be a multitude of angles revealed on this California shocker in the coming days and weeks.

Politics
12:27 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Poll: Michigan voters split on Obama job rating

President Obama's poll numbers went up after Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden.
Marc Nozell Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A poll finds that President Barack Obama's favorability rating rose among Michigan voters after Osama bin Laden's death.

The poll, however, finds that most state voters are unhappy with how he's handling the economy.

The EPIC-MRA poll released Tuesday showed 53 percent of 600 likely voters polled May 9-11 had a favorable opinion of the Democratic president, up 9 points since February. Forty percent had an unfavorable opinion and 7 percent were undecided.

A third gave him a positive job rating on handling the economy, while 66 percent gave him a negative rating and 2 percent were undecided.

Half gave Obama a positive job rating for conducting foreign affairs and waging the war in Afghanistan.

The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Commentary
10:27 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Miracle League

The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball for nearly two months now, but for Steve Peck, the start of the season that really counts is still more than two weeks away.

He’s the non-salaried, happily genial commissioner of the Miracle League of Michigan, where everyone is a true all-star.

The Miracle League is designed to give children with every kind of physical and mental disability the chance to play baseball.

One little boy named Dylan can’t walk, but thanks to his able-bodied buddy, has no trouble rounding second base. The parents of Jennifer, a little girl with Down’s syndrome, say they’ve been blown away by how much self-confidence playing has given her.

Peck, a radio host and marketing and communications consultant, says he thinks this may be the most rewarding thing he’s ever done. It started almost eight years ago, when by chance he saw an HBO special about the first-ever Miracle League, which had been founded in Rockville, Georgia in the late 1990s.

The kids played on a special rubberized diamond, so that wheelchairs and walkers could move around. Every child was able to get hits, make runs, and round the bases, thanks to the assistance of a volunteer buddy. There was nothing else like it in the country.

Peck was inspired. Why should Georgia have all the fun?  He went to work and got the City of Southfield to donate some prime land in their civic center complex.  He raised the $325,000 necessary to have the special rubberized field built, and got the league going.

That was eight years ago. Things have been expanding ever since. There are various levels of play now. Some are non-competitive, where everyone just scores runs and has a good time. In others, they play for keeps.  There are now some Miracle Leagues groups where challenged adults can participate.

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News Roundup
9:21 am
Tue May 17, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara creative commons

Lansing City Council makes cuts

On the heels of a failed millage and a $14.7 million budget shortfall, the Lansing City Council approved a budget last night that would eliminate more than 100 city positions. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody was at the council meeting and reported that dozens of firefighters and police officers could be laid off as well. Mayor Bernero said the cuts in the budget were unavoidable:

"Over half the budget is in police and fire.  And yet, we have insulated police and fire up to this point…because the deficit was too large.   But even now, we are doing everything we can to mitigate the effects on police and fire."

The Lansing State Journal reports that the city will attempt to reduce the number of cuts through employee concessions:

Slightly more than 100 city workers could lose their jobs under Lansing's fiscal 2012 budget, though the city will attempt to preserve up to 61 of them by seeking employee concessions.Under the new budget, approved 5-3 by the City Council on Monday night, $3.3 million in state funds will be matched for every dollar gained in concessions before the fiscal year begins July 1.

New Emergency Manager starts at Detroit Public Schools

Roy Roberts a former GM executive, had his first day on the job yesterday. The Detroit Free Press reports he'll work alongside outgoing Emergency Manager Robert Bobb until Bobb's contract ends "no later than June."

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported that Roberts says the district "must undergo a 'cultural change' and reject a 'Rodney Dangerfield kind of mentality' for students to succeed.

Roberts has to balance a budget deficit of $327 million, and he can do that with broadened powers granted to him under the state's new emergency manager law.

Cwiek reports that Roberts "says he doesn’t have plans to dismiss the elected school board or throw out union contracts, though."

The Freep reports that Roberts is working under a one-year, $250,000 contract.

Snyder calls for less humility and more unity

Governor Rick Snyder gave a speech to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids yesterday in which he asked for "less humility, a bit more swagger and a lot more unity among Michiganders," according to Chris Knape from the Grand Rapids Press:

“We're too negative,” Snyder told what was billed as a record Econ Club crowd gathered at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. “We look in the rear view mirror too much to say, 'this is what we've always had, so we've got to keep that going.'"

Snyder also lambasted the taste for political winners and losers in the state.

“Too often they will view they won something because somebody else has lost,” he said.

Knape reported that Snyder had "generally positive responses from the business-heavy crowd," except for one element in his speech - tax credits - Snyder's explanation "landed with a thud," according to Knape.

Politics
12:15 am
Tue May 17, 2011

Vote to end oil subsidies must overcome filibuster

Congress is expected to vote this week on whether to take away 4-billion dollars in subsidies to oil companies. 

Oil company executives testified in Washington last week that they need tax subsidies to help them find new, American sources of oil. 

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she doubts that’s the case.  She says the subsidies amount to 1% of the companies' profits, and it’s fair to ask them to contribute that amount to paying down the national debt. 

Stabenow says the testimony by the leaders of the oil companies shows they are “out of touch."

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Politics
11:32 pm
Mon May 16, 2011

Lansing city council approves budget with deep cuts in public safety

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Lansing city council voted 5 to 3 last night to approve a city budget that deeply cuts police and fire in the capitol city.    Lansing, like many Michigan cities, is struggling with declining tax revenues and rising health care costs. 

Last night, the city council approved a budget that lays off more than a hundred city employees, including dozens of police officers and firefighters.  

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says the cuts in public safety are unavoidable. 

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Politics
6:39 pm
Mon May 16, 2011

State government has more money to spend (but should it?)

State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Budget officials were briefed Monday on how Michigan’s economic recovery is shaping up, and what that means for the state budget. The news was mostly good – it appears there’s another $430 million available to help balance the budget. 

 Now that it’s agreed Michigan’s economy is improving and there’s more revenue, the arguments have started about how to use that money.  

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