Politics & Government

Politics
2:07 pm
Fri March 18, 2011

Judge blocks controversial Wisconsin union bargaining law

Joe Gratz Flickr

A judge has temporarily blocked Wisconsin's controversial new law affecting collective bargaining rights in the state. Here the update from the New York Times:

A judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday that prevents Wisconsin’s new law cutting collective bargaining rights for public workers from taking effect, at least for now.

The decision, issued by Judge Maryann Sumi of the Dane County Circuit Court, temporarily bars Wisconsin’s secretary of state from publishing the controversial law, one of the procedural requirements for it to come into effect in the state.

Publication had been expected late next week, but Judge Sumi’s ruling delays that until at least March 29, when she plans to hold a full hearing on a lawsuit that questions the validity of the collective bargaining law based on the speedy manner in which it was carried out earlier this month.

An appeal is possible even before then.

Opponents of the measure said they hoped the decision was but the first of many that would ultimately undo legislation that has split the state and drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state capital over a matter of many weeks.

Supporters of the measure, however, said the judge’s decision was merely a blip, certain to be overturned as various legal efforts make their way fully through the court system.

Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has said that the law will shield taxpayers and improve Wisconsin's business climate.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
9:17 am
Fri March 18, 2011

Report: How Snyder's tax plan would affect you

Your state taxes are likely to change.
Allan Cleaver Flickr

Ever since Governor Rick Snyder released his budget plan last month, people have been looking at the details and wondering how they might be affected by the plans.

For people with pensions and the working poor, it's been clear, you would pay more if Snyder's plan is approved. But how much more?

The Detroit Free Press, in a series of reports, is seeking to break down the numbers. In their first report What Snyder's income tax plan means for you they summarize their findings this way:

Parents with low-paying jobs would stop getting state income supplements worth as much as $1,000.

High-income retirees with generous pensions would pay thousands of dollars more.

But taxpayers in brackets that cover most Michiganders would see little change in their state income tax bill under Gov. Rick Snyder's sweeping proposals.

The Freep provides some detailed examples of how the tax proposals might affect certain people.

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News Roundup
8:22 am
Fri March 18, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

President Obama orders review of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

In light of the unfolding crisis at the crippled nuclear reactors in Japan, U.S. officials say they will review the safety of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S.  There are four nuclear reactors operating in Michigan (Fermi 2, Palisades, and D.C. Cook Unit 1 and Unit 2).

From the Associated Press:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a "comprehensive review" of the safety of all U.S. nuclear plants following what U.S. officials are calling the dangerous and complicated situation at Japan's damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors.

President Barack Obama took the rare step and called upon the independent commission to conduct the review.

"When we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people," Obama said Thursday.

The nuclear industry agreed a review is a good idea. Anthony Pietrangelo of the Nuclear Energy Institute said they will look at the events that unfolded in Japan and "we will learn from them, we will get that operating experience, we will apply it and try to make our units even safer than they are today."

GM Halts Production at truck plant after parts shortage from Japan

Tremors are being felt in the auto industry after the Japanese earthquake.

From the Associated Press:

A shortage of parts from Japan will force General Motors Co. to halt production at its pickup plant in Shreveport, La., next week, the company said Thursday.

It's the first time a U.S.-based automaker will stop production in North America over parts shortages caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Toyota Motor Co. and Subaru have already slowed North American production to conserve parts that they normally import from that nation.

Reuters reported earlier this week that some automakers in Europe might be affected as well.

Tough night for MSU at NCAA Tourney

The Michigan State men's basketball team lost last night to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament 78-76.

The Spartans pulled close at the end of the game after trailing by as many as 23 points in the second half.

The Lansing State Journal:

"We got off to such a bad start," a red-eyed Izzo said afterward. "And yet I'm so proud of these guys. They've been knocked down so many times this year."

Down two with the ball, MSU senior guard Kalin Lucas was called for traveling with 0.2 of a second left on the clock, erasing a late chance at a halfcourt shot to win it.

After struggling through his worst offensive night in several weeks, Lucas got MSU within three points with a free throw and 42.2 seconds left. Lucas missed the second free throw that would have cut it to two.

The men's basketball teams at the University of Michigan and Oakland University play today.

Politics
6:59 am
Fri March 18, 2011

Michigan Republican casts only "present" vote to defund NPR

Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan's 3rd Congressional District.
US Congress

The bill to "defund NPR" passed the House mostly along party lines. Most republicans voted "aye" and all Democrats voted "nay" (seven Democrats are listed as "not voting" on the bill).

Seven Republicans voted "nay" and one voted "present."

Michigan Republican Justin Amash was the lone member who voted "present" on the bill.

He explains why on his Facebook page:

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Politics
5:16 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Union workers boo governor at Ford event

Ford asembly line workers Jerome Harris Sr., left, and Bille Rowe were among those who wore red T-shirts in solidarity with other Midwest union members.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder was greeted with boos at an event to celebrate the launch of the new Ford Focus today.

Workers at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant wore red T-shirts to show their solidarity with union workers whose collective bargaining rights are threatened.

Snyder says he wasn’t rattled by the reception.

"I respect people for having differing opinions, particularly when you’re talking about fundamental change."

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Politics
4:26 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Snyder hopes Emergency Manager law will help struggling cities and schools avoid takeovers

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R)
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Rick Snyder says he expects teams of financial experts will soon start visiting cities and school districts showing early signs of financial stress. That’s part of the new state’s new fiscal emergency law he just signed.

Critics say the law gives too much authority to emergency managers appointed to run local governments that can no longer pay their bills. But the governor says too little attention has been paid to the early assistance the state is offering to local governments. 

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Politics
4:17 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Michigan legislature debating extending jobless benefits

(Flickr Steve Rhodes)

The unemployment benefits of 35 thousand jobless Michiganders are about to expire.  There is some debate whether the state should act to extend their benefits by another 20 weeks.    The debate is between those who say the benefits are critical to jobless workers and business groups that say they don’t want to be forced to pay for those benefits.  The clock is ticking.  

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Politics
3:36 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Democrats want to put collective bargaining right in state constitution

St. Sen. Bert Johnson, Detroit (D)
(courtesy of the Michigan State Senate, Democratic Caucus)

Democrats in the state Legislature want to voters to decide whether collective bargaining rights should be protected in the Michigan Constitution. But they will need a two-thirds majority in a Republican-led House and Senate to get the question on the ballot.   

State Senator Bert Johnson says without a constitutional amendment, collective bargaining rights are subject to change. 

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Politics
12:48 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Important census data coming to Michigan next week

A U.S. Census Bureau form sent to a Michigan address last year
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state of Michigan will receive detailed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau next week.  The information will have far reaching effects.  In December, Michigan learned its population slipped by about 54 thousand , to just under 9.9 million people.  Now the details. 

The new census data breaks down Michigan’s population into a number of subsets, including race and ethnicity.  

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News Roundup
8:22 am
Thu March 17, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

U.S. has bleaker outlook on nuclear crisis in Japan

In another sign that U.S. officials differ from their Japanese counterparts on the nuclear crisis unfolding there, U.S. officials have authorized the evacuation of American citizens.

From the Associated Press:

The United States has authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan, taking a tougher stand on the deepening nuclear crisis and warning U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to any part of the country as unpredictable weather and wind conditions risked spreading radioactive contamination.

The AP reports the "authorized departure offers voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya and affects some 600 people."

Protests in Lansing

In one of the larger protests at the Michigan Capitol this year, around 3,000 union supporters, school teachers, seniors, students, and others spoke out against bills in the Michigan legislature. The Lansing State Journal reports that 11 people were arrested after a 2 1/2 sit-in in the Capitol. MPRN's Laura Weber described some of the people she saw at the protest this way, "there were big, hulking men in hard hats, business people in suits, and young parents pushing strollers."   One of the more controversial bills, one that gives power to Emergency Financial Managers to end void union contracts, was signed into law yesterday by Governor Snyder. Scott Davis of the Lansing State Journal reported: 

In their biggest show of force yet this year, union members descended on the Capitol in a show of unity to protest several bills moving through the Legislature. It was the latest in a series of union-led protests in recent weeks - and a reflection of the ongoing battle by public worker unions in Wisconsin."It's beautiful," Joe Bowen, a retired automotive worker who traveled to the rally from Saginaw, said of the show of unity. "It sends a message that it's not fair. They are trying to pinch unions."

 

Michigan's Hoop Dreams

The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today and three teams in Michigan are hoping to advance.

Michigan State University plays UCLA tonight at 9:15 (TBS); the University of Michigan plays Tennessee tomorrow at 12:30 (truTV); and Oakland University plays Texas tomorrow at noon (CBS).

Politics
5:00 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

Snyder to sign Emergency Financial Managers bills at 5:30pm

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R)
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder’s office has just announced he plans to sign the controversial Emergency Financial Manager bills this afternoon. Unions oppose the bills, because they will enable state appointed financial managers to void union contracts in cities and school districts with serious financial problems.

Politics
4:48 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

Budget protests continue in Lansing

Thousands 6rally on at the state capitol building
(photo by Laura Weber/MPRN)

UPDATE:  A growing number of angry labor-movement supporters are showing up at the state Capitol to protest Republican proposals to tax pensions and limit union control.  A drum circle played on the Capitol lawn, surrounded by thousands of protesters with signs, a 15-foot inflated eagle, and flapping American and U-A-W flags.

There were big, hulking men in hardhats, businesspeople in suits, and young parents pushing strollers.   

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Commentary
2:45 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

You Never Can Tell

The governor’s made some decisions that are wildly unpopular. Unions are upset. Taxpayers are upset. His own party isn’t too sure he is right.

Behind closed doors, leaders of the opposition party are rubbing their hands in glee. They think they know a one-term governor when they see one.

That’s what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, to be sure, and also, to a lesser extent, in Lansing. Democrats are convinced that if Governor Snyder indeed manages to tax pensions, cut education, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit, he’ll be toast.

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Budget protests
9:58 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Rallies against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget continue

Rich Fink addresses the crowd in the Heritage Hill neighborhood Tuesday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

More than 60 people in Grand Rapids rallied against Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts Tuesday night. Protestors took over a normally quite block in a residential neighborhood.

Speaking into a microphone and speaker set up on a sidewalk, Rich Fink told the crowd he’s a proud member of the Jenison Education Association.

“They are after the middle class and it’s time that we say enough is enough.”

Their signs say they’ve had enough of cuts to public education, fair wages, benefits and most prominently Governor Snyder.

60-year old retired General Motors worker Gregg Shotwell is not against balancing the budget. But he says Snyder’s plan to create jobs by lowering taxes for businesses won’t work. 

“They’re not going to use that tax break to create jobs. Because there’s not going to be greater demand for their products or their services if we’re all making less money.”

Snyder says replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a flat 6% tax on corporate income is "simple fair and efficient."

Shotwell was among many other retired UAW workers who are very upset about Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. But Shotwell says the proposed cuts to public education is what brought him out to the protest.

“Our children are the future and you can’t expect to improve the state of Michigan, improve our economic future if you’re going to sabotage education and this is sabotage.”

If lawmakers approve Snyder’s budget, state funding to public universities would be cut 15 percent. K through 12 schools would be cut by a little more than 4 percent.

Politics
6:27 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Students protest selection of Governor as U of M commencement speaker

The University of Michigan’s selection of Governor Rick Snyder as its Spring commencement speaker has sparked a protest.

U-of-M Senior Rick Durance, a history major and progressive activist, started an online petition asking University Regents to withdraw the invitation.  As of 6:15 p.m. Tuesday evening, 3,759  students have signed it.

Durance says Snyder is a poor choice because he wants to make deep cuts to state funding for K-12 schools and universities. 

Durance says it appears the Governor is only interested in helping business people. 

"This in fact is not the proper person to be speaking for us or representing us at this particular junction of our lives," says Durance.

University of Michigan spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham says it's a time-honored tradition since 1967 for the newly elected governor to present the commencement address.

She says the school is very pleased that Governor Snyder, a three-time alum of the University, was able to accept the invitation.  

Durance says there will be a 1:00 rally on Wednesday on campus against Snyder as commencement speaker. 

But he doesn't favor a commencement boycott, should the petition fail in its goal.    He says students who oppose Snyder should join protests in Lansing.  But at commencement, students should act with decorum.  

"I've already invited people, my parents are going to be there.  I want to be there.  I would not miss my own graduation for the world."

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State Legislature
4:30 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Item pricing repeal and emergency manager bills clear legislature

Lawmakers moved on the item pricing and emergency fincancial manager bills today.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Two controversial measures have cleared the Michigan Legislature and will soon await Governor Snyder's signature.

One would repeal the law that requires store owners to put price tags on most items in their stores, and the other would grant sweeping power to emergency financial managers.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he agrees with Governor Rick Snyder that Michigan’s item pricing law is outdated, and it’s time to allow retailers to upgrade their systems.

"I've been a proponent for, I don’t know, most of my career I’d say," said Richardville.

Once signed into law, store owners will soon no longer be required to put price tags on almost every item on their shelves.

Richardville says removing price tags will not hurt customers or confuse seniors:

"I don’t think anybody’s trying to maliciously cheat senior citizens. I think if the market demands such, people will make it easy to see what the prices are. Whether it’s individual item pricing, or something different, I think the store owners are pretty responsive to their customers," said Richardville.

Democrats say price tags protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.

The item pricing vote fell mostly along party lines, but that wasn’t the only partisan bill moving through the Legislature.

The Republican-led House also gave final approval to a proposal that gives more authority to emergency managers of cities, townships or school districts.

The legislation passed on party-line votes.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rick Hammel says there are many "union-busting" pieces to the emergency manager bills, including elimination of collective bargaining rights at the local level.

"And on top of that, doing away with contracts of other folks that are just doing business with the local unit of government, so a lot of things that are really problematic for us in this," says Hammel.

Democrats railed against the measure for eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.

Representatives for the labor movement say they will be at the Capitol all week protesting those and other Republican proposals.

Politics
4:01 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Feds target Medicare fraud in Detroit, nationwide

Two top Obama administration officials want people to know that cracking down on Medicare fraud is a “Cabinet-level priority.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius talked about those efforts at a Wayne State University summit Tuesday. The two have been holding “Health Care Fraud Prevention Summits” across the country.

Sebelius says government agencies and law enforcement are now using new tools to root out that fraud.

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Budget Protests
1:41 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Protests heat up for the week at state Capitol

About a thousand protesters gathered on the state Capitol lawn today and they say there will be more people joining them throughout the week.

They are protesting many budget proposals from Governor Rick Snyder and in the Legislature, including a plan to tax pensions.

Hundreds of people from AARP chanted loudly in opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions to help end the budget deficit.

Many people held signs that read: “Recall Governor Snyder,” and “Recall The Nerd.”

Jeanette Stang held a sign that read “One-Term Nerd.”

Stang says her husband worked in an auto plant for 37 years, and now they have trouble making ends meet with increasing medical expenses and living off of their pension. Their Flint home is up for sale, and both of their adult sons have already moved out of state:

"Our sons both would not come to Michigan. They said Michigan has gone to pieces...Michigan used to be a beautiful state, and Michigan has really gone downhill…All he wants to do is keep taxing the little guy—tax these bigwigs that have their yachts and have their trips and everything else. Let the people who earned this money and worked hard all their life have their pensions and quick taxing us to death."

Snyder says seniors use government services just like all other taxpayers, and should be taxed on their pension income accordingly.

More protests coming

Labor movement protests at the state Capitol are expected to get bigger and louder as the week goes on and the Legislature votes on controversial issues.

The House is expected to give final approval to a package of bills that would give emergency financial managers more control over struggling communities and school districts, and strip control from local unions.

Budget Protests
1:09 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Seniors rally in Lansing against pension tax

Retired Battle Creek school teacher Connie Cole Burland waves a sign at a state Capitol rally to oppose Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax pensions.
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio Network

Hundreds of senior citizens gathered in front of the state Capitol today to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not collect an income on pensions. Snyder’s proposal would change that.

Connie Cole Burland, a retired Battle Creek school teacher, says it’s not fair to ask her to pay more if Snyder follows through on his plan to cut taxes for most businesses.

 "We gave them 40-plus years of service. We had a deal when we retired, and this is tax hike. You can call it whatever you want, but this is a tax hike. We had a deal."

Governor Snyder says it’s reasonable to ask retirees with good pensions to pay the income tax when younger people with smaller incomes have to pay it.

He says it is part of the “shared sacrifice” necessary to fix Michigan’s budget troubles.

Some Republican lawmakers are looking for an alternative to taxing pensions.

State Legislature
12:46 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

State Senate passes item-pricing repeal

The Michigan Senate has passed the item-price repeal
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Michigan's law requiring individual price tags for most retail items appears headed for extinction, the Associated Press reports. The state House has already approved the bill, so the measure could soon be headed to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. Snyder called for the repeal of the 35-year-old law during his State of the State address in January. From the Associated Press:

The Republican-led state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill by a 24-13 vote that would repeal the item pricing requirement... Retail trade groups support the change, saying the current law results in higher prices. The revised regulations would require retailers to post an item's price where it can be clearly seen but would not require price tags on individual items.

Unions say grocery store jobs would be lost if item pricing is repealed. Some Democrats oppose repeal, saying it would do away with consumer protections.

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