Politics & Government

Politics
1:46 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Michigan Senate passes controversial emergency manager bill

The Michigan Senate passed the bill that around 1,000 union members loudly asked them not to pass.

From the Detroit News:

Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved in the Senate today.

The measure passed 26-12 along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Similar bills passed in the House in late February. The chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. More than 1,000 union members demonstrated opposition to the bills Tuesday, chanting loudly outside the chamber doors as senators worked through details of the legislation.

Read more
Governor Snyder
12:58 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Snyder defends his budget proposal in Lansing

Governor Rick Snyder continues to defend his budget proposal
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder spoke to the Michigan Association of Broadcasters' Great Lakes Broadcasting Conference and Expo in Lansing this morning. As the Associated Press reports, the Governor continued to defend his idea for reinvesting the state:

...Snyder says Michigan citizens need to think about what's best for everyone rather than just themselves if the state is to reinvent itself.

...the Republican governor defended his nearly $2 billion in business tax cuts and the income tax changes he wants to make to offset that, including a tax on pensions.

He says people naturally object to changes that will affect their bottom line. But he believes "we are at a 'we' moment, and we can do this."

Snyder has been criticized for proposing deep cuts to public education, universities and local governments at the same time he's slashing business taxes and asking for people to pay more in income taxes.

He says a new approach is needed.

Commentary
11:45 am
Wed March 9, 2011

Funding Education

Mike Simeck, the superintendent of schools in Berkley, Michigan, has something in common with Governor Snyder -- or at least, with the way the governor ran his businesses:

He believes in proven results. “I run an organization that is the largest employer in our city, where I would hear from our client base immediately if we begin to fail,” he told me last night at ten o’clock, after each of us had put in more than a full day.

“I run this thing based on empirical evidence, on data and results, and as a result, we’ve been successful.”

That‘s no idle boast. Berkley is a small but diverse district with a little less than five thousand students. Roughly speaking, they are two-thirds white; one-quarter black, one eighth Hispanic and Asian.

He has affluent kids from Huntington Woods, working and middle class kids from Berkley, poor kids and Orthodox Jews from a slice of Oak Park. They run lean and mean and get results.

Want proof? More than four out of every five Berkley students who apply to the University of Michigan get in. Their ACT scores are way over the national average. Simeck, who’s been in his job for four years, says this is no accident. When other school districts outperform Berkley, they study them and make changes.

That’s helped lead to Berkley High being recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s “public elite”  high schools.

Read more
Media
10:53 am
Wed March 9, 2011

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller out

Vivian Schiller in 2009 sitting with Mark Cuban (left) and Bob Garfield (right)
David Berkowitz Flickr

Update 10:53 a.m.

The second hour of the Diane Rehm Show will focus on what the departure of NPR's CEO Vivian Schiller will mean for the network, and federal funding for public broadcasting.

The program starts at 11 a.m. on Michigan Radio.

10:29 a.m.

This news came from the NPR's news blog this morning:

NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned, NPR just announced.

This follows yesterday's news that then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) was videotaped slamming conservatives and questioning whether NPR needs federal funding during a lunch with men posing as members of a Muslim organization (they were working with political activist James O'Keefe on a "sting.")

NPR's Board of Directors is responsible for the governance of NPR. Chairman Dave Edwards released a statement to staff and member stations. In the statement, Edwards said Schiller resigned:

It is with deep regret that I tell you that the NPR Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Vivian Schiller as President and CEO of NPR, effective immediately.

The Board accepted her resignation with understanding, genuine regret, and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years.

But NPR's media reporter, David Folkenflik, says that's not the case. This from NPR news:

NPR's David Folkenflik talks with Renee Montagne about the latest developments, saying CEO Vivian Schiller was ousted in the wake of the controversy over News Analyst Juan Williams' firing last year and gaffes by an NPR fundraiser that came to light Tuesday in a secret video.

Folkenflik said the latest development, the secret filming of a top NPR fundraiser making disparaging remarks about conservatives, was the last straw for NPR's Board.

You can hear the interview with Folkenflik here.

Politics
4:44 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Unions clog Capitol over emergency manager bill

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011. There were more union protests today.
MEA

More than a thousand union members crowded into the state Capitol today.

They were protesting a proposal to give emergency financial managers more control over cities, townships, or school districts.

The labor movement is upset the bills would eliminate collective bargaining rights and dissolve union contracts.

The gavel reverberated in the Senate chamber as protesters in the gallery cheered, breaking the rules that prohibit demonstration during session.

They applauded Senate Majority Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer as she condemned the proposal for not having a salary cap.

Whitmer says it does not make sense “to vote for a bill that allows an emergency financial manager to make more than our governor.”

Outside of the chamber, hundreds of workers packed the three open floors of surrounding the Capitol rotunda – a scene similar to the pictures of protestors in Madison-Wisconsin.

They screamed for the recall of Republican lawmakers who support the emergency-manager bills.

But republican lawmakers appeared unfazed by the raucous crowd, and they plan to move forward with the proposal they say will keep many cities and school districts out of financial ruin.

State Legislature
1:44 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Protesters begin to rally in Lansing

Protestors have arrived at the Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Update 1:44 p.m.

The Detroit News reports the Michigan Senate is expected to pass the Emergency Financial Manager bill despite the protests taking place in the capitol. From the Detroit News:

A bill to give broad authority to emergency financial managers to fix a governing body's finances is expected to pass in the Senate on Wednesday despite boisterous union protests that punctuated today's session.

Senate Republicans voted down more than 20 Democratic amendments as more than 1,000 union members chanted "Kill the Bill" outside the Senate chamber. Their chants were audible as the chamber debated the bill, as were the catcalls of protesters crammed into the gallery above the Senate floor.

The union members protesting the bill say it would make emergency financial managers too powerful, "allowing them to toss out union contracts, overrule elected officials and dissolve city councils and school boards."

10:59 a.m.

Protesters have arrived at the state Capitol to show their opposition to a measure that would give more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Laura Weber sent this report from Lansing:

The state Capitol is jammed this morning with a raucous group of union members and supporters who are opposed to a proposal to grant more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Hundreds of protesters are chanting "kill the bill" loudly outside of the Michigan Senate chamber as lawmakers prepare to vote on the controversial measure.

Still hundreds more are on the Capitol lawn rallying against the emergency manager bills. The package of bills would strip unions of collective bargaining rights, and dissolve union contracts, if an emergency manager was put in place to take over the finances of a struggling city, township, or school district.

The Associated Press reports there are around 1,000 people demonstrating:

...protesters are at the Capitol objecting to bills that would give broad new powers to emergency financial managers appointed by the state to run struggling cities and schools.

The Senate plans to vote on the measures Tuesday. The House passed the bills two weeks ago.

Groups opposed to legislation they consider anti-union are holding the morning rally and also are chanting inside the Capitol.

Local officials warned during a Monday news conference that the financial manager measures would take away voters' rights by removing the authority of elected school board members, mayors and council members.

Workers warn that the bills could allow financial managers to terminate union contracts.

Supporters of the legislation say it would lead to earlier intervention in financially troubled communities and schools, avoiding bigger crises.

Commentary
9:02 am
Tue March 8, 2011

Taxing Credibility

Two plus two equals four. Simple, right? That’s math even a journalist can understand. Unfortunately, the legislature and a large section of the general public doesn’t quite seem to get it.

State government is currently on course to run a huge deficit for the next fiscal year. State budget deficits are illegal, under Michigan’s Constitution. That budget has to be balanced by September 30.

Four months ago, we elected a ton of Republicans to the legislature who pledged they wouldn’t vote for any new taxes, no matter what. We elected a Republican governor who said he was going to deeply cut taxes on business, because he believed that was the only way to attract new jobs and industry to this state.

So we voted for no new taxes of any kind, less taxes on business, and we‘ve got a big budget deficit to start. And now we are shocked, shocked, that the governor is insisting on making huge cuts in state spending.

Well, we shouldn‘t be.

We voted for this. And, we tolerated the last governor, and several different past legislatures, refusing to deal with our problems. We put things off till we couldn‘t do it any more.

And now, we have to fix it. What‘s worse, we have to do this when we are still mired in the effects of the worst recession since World War II. Yes, I know the recession is officially over.

The economists say so, anyway. But hard times are not even close to over in Michigan. The auto industry is never coming back the way it was, and we need a new economy.

Read more
News Roundup
8:46 am
Tue March 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 8th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Protests, Vote Planned on Emergency Financial Manager Bill

The state Senate is planning a vote today on a measure that would give more power to state-appointed emergency financial managers. Opponents of the bill including teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees plan to protest today at the Capitol. Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts, Rick Pluta reports. Union leaders say they hope for a big enough turnout at the Capitol to persuade Senate leaders to delay a vote on the legislation.

‘Asian Carp Czar’ Returns to MI

John Goss, the Obama Administration’s so-called “Asian carp Czar, will be in Michigan today to talk about long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Federal officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also attend the meeting. The Corps wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp of the Lakes. But, many say that’s not fast enough. Last week, Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp announced legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways.

Embridge to Step Up Clean-up Efforts

It’s been 8 months since a broken Enbridge Energy pipeline leaked more than 800,000 gallons of oil near Marshall, Michigan. Winter weather has reduced the size of the cleanup response but now, Steve Carmody reports, the next phase of the cleanup is about to begin. Enbridge says it will focus this Spring on removing oil that is still resting on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Politics
7:50 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Unions to protest changes to emergency manager laws

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees plan to march on the state Capitol tomorrow.

They oppose a measure in the Senate that expands the authority of emergency managers named to run troubled local governments and  school districts.

Unions say the measures strike at their bargaining rights.

Union leaders hope for a big enough turnout to persuade Senate Republicans to delay a vote.

Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts.

Mark Gaffney, president of the AFL-CIO of Michigan, says that’s unfair when the state is also looking to cut money for schools and local governments:

“You’re saying to a city that it’s easy to get a dictator and you’re taking money away from that city that puts you at the point where you might need him or her.”

Republicans say the measures offer local governments early help to avert a financial takeover, but once it happens, emergency managers need crisis tools to set things right.

Scott Kincaid, a member of Flint City Council, favors keeping the law and the authority it grants emergency managers.

"These bills give them unlimited authority to do certain things that, currently, we were able to solve our problems without doing those things. The system works right now, and I’ve experienced it. And it worked very well. We had financial problems in our community and we turned them around in 18 months."

Flint was placed under an emergency manager in 2002. The city recently asked the state for the authority to sell bonds to cover a $17 million budget shortfall and meet its payroll.

The state Senate is expected to vote on the emergency management bills as soon as tomorrow.

Election 2012
7:30 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Republican challenger for Senator Stabenow's seat

A photo in the U.S. Senate in 2007. Randy Heckman hopes to be in a similar photograph in 2013.
US Senate

A former Grand Rapids judge is the first Republican to formally launch a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

This opens the campaign for a Republican primary that’s still more than a year away.

Former probate judge and conservative activist Randy Hekman is the first but by no means the last Republican to launch a primary campaign.

Big political names including former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis are among those eyeing the race.

Hekman says he intends to run on reducing the national debt and getting more people to support hometown churches and charities.

“You’ve got to change hearts of people because they’re core of our problem – the problem beneath the problem is in my opinion this self-centeredness.”

"I believe that we need local charity. I believe, for example, if every man, woman, and child that has an income in our country could tithe 10 percent of their gross income, that would be one-point-four trillion dollars that could go to charity that could meet this need in a much more efficient and human-based and human-centered way than currently."

The winner of the Republican primary in 17 months will face two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on the November 2012 ballot.

Politics
4:39 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

MEA plans rally in Lansing as Senate considers financial manager bills

A protester at Saturday's MEA-sponsored rally in Lansing
Michigan Education Association

The Michigan Education Association, along with the Working Michigan coalition, is planning a protest rally in the capitol tomorrow. From the MEA's website:

"Working Michigan, a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting working families and Michigan’s Middle Class Dream, will be holding a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 8, to protest the package of "Emergency Financial Manager" bill that is currently in the state Senate."

According to the Detroit News, the state Senate may vote on Tuesday to bestow broad powers to emergency financial managers including the ability "to toss out union contracts and suspend elected officials in communities and school districts that are operating at a deficit."

The MEA is protesting what it calls a series of "attacks on Michigan workers."

Politics
11:21 am
Mon March 7, 2011

AARP organizing rally to oppose tax on pensions

AARP is organizing a rally to be held in Lansing
nasaimages

Organizers for AARP Michigan say their rally will be held on the east steps of the State Capitol Building on March 15th from 11 a.m. to 1p.m..

From the AARP Michigan blog:

The rally was the brainchild of AARP member and retiree Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, who launched the effort on Facebook with the help of her daughter.  Woodward says she's heard from thousands of seniors who say new taxes on their pensions and other income will make it difficult to pay their bills. Many also object to elimination of a tax credit for low-income working families, and proposed cuts to schools, universities and local police and fire protection and road maintenance.

State Legislature
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Pension tax alternatives on the table for legislators this week

Michigan Senators plan to discuss alternatives to a pension tax this week
user lincolnblues Flickr

Michigan legislators are planning to discuss alternatives to Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposals this week.

One hot button issue is Snyder's plan to place a tax on pensions. That tax is estimated to raise $900 million.

It would go a long way in eliminating the state's budget deficit which is estimated around $1.5 billion.

It's angered a lot of seniors, and lobbying groups, like the AARP, are putting pressure on legislators in Lansing to keep the tax exemption on pensions in place (the AARP plans to hold a rally in Lansing on March 15th).

Laura Weber, with the Michigan Public Radio Network reported that Michigan Senate Republicans are meeting early this week to try to come up with alternatives to the pension tax plan.

Weber spoke with Republican State Senator Tory Rocca who said his opposition to taxing pensions is simple:

"It’s a tax increase, and on top of that it’s a tax increase on senior citizens, and if you look at what their cost of living is and what their cost of living increases are, they tend to have a higher cost-of-living increase than other people because a lot of their cost-of-living is weighted toward health care, which does increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year."

The Associated Press reports that State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville didn't say whether Snyder's pension tax plan had enough support to win approval.

But he did say that if legislators want to scrap the tax plan, they'll have to find money elsewhere. From the AP:

Richardville said that if the Senate opposes pieces of Snyder's proposal they will have to balance it out by cutting programs or finding revenues somewhere else within the budget.

That's $900 million more, which could mean more proposals out of Lansing for bigger cuts.

Commentary
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Shared Sacrifice?

If you want to see why this recession was different from others in recent history, spend a little time over at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

They’ve been seeing and feeding people they’ve never seen before, people who never imagined they’d need help.

The other day, I went to see Dr. Chad Audi, the mission’s President and CEO. Not only is their caseload flooded, he said, “more and more we are seeing the working homeless.”

These are people who have jobs, but still have no place to live. The Rescue Mission does what it can to get them into housing, but the need is far greater than it used to be -- and for many, the ability to give is less.

Incidentally, there are some who think of the mission as just a soup kitchen, possibly because of their mass appeals for help with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless. A soup kitchen was pretty much what it the mission was when it was founded a century ago. Founder David Stucky kept people alive with food from his own pantry during the worst of the Great Depression.

Read more
State Legislature
6:45 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Senate ready to vote on Emergency Financial Manager bills

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

The state Senate is expected to vote this week on a proposal to give emergency financial managers more control when they take over the budgets of cities, townships or school districts.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says the purpose of the proposal is to help communities that are in financial trouble fix their problems before they have to be taken over by an emergency financial manager.

He says it sets warning signs so problems can be dealt with earlier. But he says if emergency managers do step in, they need to have total control of the situation.

“The emergency manager would be able to make some very difficult decisions, and we know that we have to have somebody with the power to do that under extreme situations."

Unions oppose the proposal because it would allow managers to throw out contracts.

Governor Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to approve the increased power for emergency financial managers during his State of the State speech.

election 2012
1:46 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

First republican announces candidacy against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

Hekman hopes to replace sitting U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the U.S. Capitol building in 2012.
Jonathon Colman Creative Commons

A former Kent County judge is the first republican to declare he’s running against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election.

Randy Hekman has a number of titles. He’s pastor of Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, CEO of  research consulting firm Hekman Industries. He directed and helped start the Michigan Family Forum; a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy. He served in the Navy, is an attorney and sat on the bench in Kent County probate court for 15 years.

Read more
Commentary
11:12 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Primary Problem

If you haven’t been traumatized enough by this seemingly endless winter and the governor’s budget proposals, I’ve got something that may really give you nightmares.

It’s presidential election time again. Now, you may be saying wait a minute. Wasn’t the last congressional election only four months ago? Well, yes. But the presidential election is next year, and the candidates are already out campaigning, though none of them are calling it that. I am aware that people who don’t know each other yet will meet, fall in love, and have babies before we finally get around to voting a year from November.

But presidents have a far longer gestation period. And one sure sign that the election season is on is that the leaders of our two great political parties are once again attempting to screw up the Michigan primary.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this, and last time, the Democrats managed to make themselves the laughingstock of the nation, by holding a primary that was both ruled illegal and invalid and which did not have a guy named Barack Obama on the ballot. 

Early indications are that they’ve learned nothing from their mistakes. Here’s the problem. For many years, the election calendar has worked like this. Iowa goes first, with a set of caucuses which pick that state’s delegates in January. Then, New Hampshire follows with the nation’s first primary election.

Then a couple other small states follow in February, and after that, the other states can do whatever they want. This is a good system, because it allows candidates without much money to be seen and tested in small states where you don’t need millions.

Iowa and New Hampshire are also now swing states that switch sides frequently in November. But Michigan party leaders are jealous. They want to go first. Last time they broke party rules and held a January primary which was a farce.

Read more
News Roundup
9:18 am
Fri March 4, 2011

In this morning's news...

News Roundup: Friday, March 4th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Slow and Slippery Commute

Freezing rain across parts of mid and southeast Michigan has led to a slow and sometimes dangerous commute this morning. There were numerous closures of lanes on freeways from Brighton to the metro-Detroit area. The National Weather Service in White Lake Township says the freezing rain is expected to change to rain by noon, the AP reports. A Winter Weather advisory is in effect for parts of the state. Temperatures are expected to reach the 40s today.

UAW President Blasts Snyder

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder’s budget proposal is an attack on workers, seniors and the poor in Michigan. “This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country" King said at a press conference yesterday. King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples, Sarah Hulett reports.

Asian Carp Legislation

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed things up, Steve Carmody reports:

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lake but that’s not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years… we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible,” Stabenow said.

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago. But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.

State Legislature
6:41 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Marijuana Clubs come under fire in state Senate

Medical Marijuana
Troy Holden Flickr

People with medical marijuana cards may soon be unable to smoke together in their support groups. A bill approved by a state Senate committee would prohibit so-called “marijuana clubs” or bars.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones says people who gather to smoke marijuana away from their homes could easily become a danger on the roads to other drivers.

 “There’s really no good reason for people to gather and consume marijuana. If somebody really needs to know how to use it, their care provider can go to their home and teach them. They don’t need to gather in a bar-like atmosphere.”

Medical marijuana supporters say the bill is a continued attempt by lawmakers to add rules to the constitutional amendment approved by voters. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters by a wide margin in 2008.

Greg Pawlowski is a representative of medical marijuana support groups. He told lawmakers that regulation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is an attempt to stifle the voices of patients. 

 “I applaud you so much for taking the time to talk to us, but now you need to hear what we have to say, and not talk amongst each other that we’re wrong. Because this is not an issue of being right or wrong, this is a human issue. I should not have to be a second-class citizen and have to have a patient card.”

Politics
8:30 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

UAW president rips governor, says policies are attack on middle class

Bob King, President of the UAW, says Governor Snyder's policies are an attack on middle class
Pobrecito33 Flickr

The fight over workers’ rights in Wisconsin and Ohio has become familiar fodder for news stories in recent days. But labor leaders in this state say Republicans in Michigan are just as hostile to unions.

UAW President Bob King says you need look no further than Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal to see an attack on workers, seniors and the poor.

King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples.

"This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country," King said at a press conference today.

King says Snyder has also made some anti-union moves.

He says the Snyder administration is undermining bargaining rights for home health and day care workers. And Snyder supports legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to set aside union contracts, and suspend collective bargaining in troubled cities and school districts.

Pages