Politics & Government

Commentary
9:12 am
Wed April 27, 2011

A Royal Family for Michigan?

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Earlier this week, I was talking with a battle-hardened senior TV producer in her fifties who I don‘t think of as a romantic.

“I have to cancel a meeting Thursday night,” she told me. “I have to be up by 4:30 on Friday.”

“Are you catching an early flight?” I asked. “No.” she said. “I have to watch the royal wedding.”

Thanks to the time difference, monarchical devotees who want to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows live will have to rise before dawn.

I was impressed by that, and remember thirty years ago, when a similar wave of pan-royal excitement swept our nation when Charles and Diana were married. And then suddenly I realized that we’ve been sitting on a solution to a lot of our problems, both in this state and the nation. We need a royal family, and we’ve got the perfect candidate right here in Michigan.

I’m being perfectly serious.

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News Roundup
8:43 am
Wed April 27, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Deliver Education Address

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address about education reform this morning in Detroit. It’s being reported that the Governor will propose tougher education requirements for new teachers. Snyder has also said more attention should be given to children from before birth through their graduation from college. Snyder offered some hints as to what he might say today in an address earlier this week to an education conference in East Lansing. On Monday, the governor said student test scores are both “startling and scary.” He says he wants to relax school regulations to give teachers and principals more freedom and responsibility over educational decisions.

Severe Weather

Officials plan to survey parts of northern Allegan County to determine whether a tornado or high winds caused damage in the area, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The National Weather Service says the survey is planned for Wednesday in southwestern Michigan following damage from storms that moved through the state Tuesday evening. Two barns housing 40,000 turkeys at DeBoer Turkey Farm in Allegan County's Salem Township were toppled by the storms.

The Grand Rapids Press reports about a dozen other sites in the county were damaged…

The weather service says the storms also produced heavy rain that flooded some low lying areas. More rain was expected through Thursday, bringing with it the risk of more flooding.

Now Is the Time to Pay-Up

People and businesses that owe back taxes to the state of Michigan have until June 30th to pay up without paying fines and penalties, Rick Pluta reports. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people and businesses that owe the state unpaid taxes. From Pluta:

The state hopes to net $90 million dollars from the tax amnesty program.  State Treasurer Andy Dillon says if you owe, now is a good time to pay, "It doesn’t matter why you didn't pay your taxes – the penalties can be forgiven. And the penalties can be quite stiff. It depends on the tax that you’re talking about, but it can be as much as 25% of the liability that can be forgiven, and the sooner you pay it off, the sooner you stop paying interest on that obligation."

This is the third time since the 1980s the state’s offered amnesty to people and businesses with unpaid back taxes.

Education
6:51 am
Wed April 27, 2011

Snyder to deliver education address today in Detroit

Michigan Governor (R) Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address regarding the state's education system this morning at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan office in Detroit. As the Associated Press reports, an aide to Snyder says the governor will propose tougher education requirements that new Michigan teachers must meet before they can serve in the classroom. From the AP:

Snyder senior adviser Bill Rustem tells The Associated Press the state is producing more teachers than Michigan needs and can afford to raise standards.

Under Snyder's proposal, education majors would have to pass basic skills and subject matter tests before they do their student teaching.

Now, they can take the tests after they student teach.

Rustem says the governor also wants Michigan universities that offer teaching degrees to require more instruction and student teaching time.

Politics
11:04 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Detroit Council gets budget advice

The Detroit City Council heard some advice about the city’s budget situation Tuesday.

Council fiscal analyst Irvin Corley told them that Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed budget is “mostly reasonable.”

But Corley also warned that Bing’s proposal contains more than $200 million in “soft” revenue that might not materialize.

Corley says the Council should cut the Mayor’s budget further, and the two sides need to find an agreement that truly addresses the city’s fiscal problems.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Governor Snyder might bank potential $500 million windfall

Early revenue projections suggest Michigan may collect $500 million more than anticipated
Allan Cleaver Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he may want to bank the money from an unexpected improvement in tax collections – if the windfall exists.

Early revenue projections suggest Michigan may collect $500 million more than anticipated.

But Governor Snyder says he’s not ready to count that money as part of his budget plans.

He says the state may be better off putting it into savings.

“I’m bullish that we’re on a positive economic path, but to say we’re going to see just an upward curve without a few bumps, I would be careful about speculating that given the challenge of gasoline prices and such.”

Democrats want to use any windfall to scale back proposed cuts to schools. The next official revenue estimate comes in mid-May.

The House and Senate are continuing to work this week on budget proposals with an eye toward finishing before June first.

Politics
4:52 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

State police say data extraction devices only used for serious crimes

The Michigan State Police have data extraction devices that can strip information out of a cell phone, but they say they don't keep records on how often they're used.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

State Police officials told a legislative committee that devices designed to pull data from cell phones are only used to investigate the most-serious crimes and are not part of routine traffic stops.

State Police officials say the data extraction devices are rarely used – and never without a search warrant or the consent of a phone’s owner.

State Police Inspector Greg Zarotney says the devices are used when certain crimes are committed:

"Typically, and I would say overwhelmingly, they are used in high-level crimes to investigate child exploitation, homicide cases, high-level drug cases, those types of situations where we’ve obtained the cell phone either through a search warrant or their consent, and we’re doing some type of data extraction to build our case,” sais Zarotney.

But State Police officials do not know how often the devices have been used.

Representative Tom McMillan chairs the House Oversight Committee, and he says the possibilities created by new technology also pose new challenges to privacy.

"As technology evolves, we may need to think about how to assure the public of a negative – what we’re not doing," said McMillan, "I don’t know what that’s going to look like, how possible it is, but I do think that we ought to broach that and start looking at that."

McMillan might hold future hearings on electronic privacy and protecting people against overly intrusive searches of phones and personal organizers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is worried state police may be extracting personal data from cell phones illegally; a concern state police say is unfounded.

The Michigan State Police came under criticism for attempting to charge the American Civil Liberties Union hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to records on how the devices are used.

Zarotney says that’s because authorities don’t keep specific records on the devices, and gathering the information would have required inspecting thousands of police reports.

Politics
3:06 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

State of Michigan on unpaid taxes... "All excuses welcome"

A caterpillar ate all of his tax forms and disappeared into the night. What's your excuse?
screen grab from TV commercial

People and businesses that owe back taxes to the state of Michigan have until June 30th to pay up without paying fines and penalties.

There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people and businesses that owe the state unpaid taxes.

The state hopes to net $90 million dollars from the tax amnesty program. 

State Treasurer Andy Dillon says if you owe, now is a good time to pay:

"It doesn’t matter why you didn't pay your taxes – the penalties can be forgiven. And the penalties can be quite stiff. It depends on the tax that you’re talking about, but it can be as much as 25% of the liability that can be forgiven, and the sooner you pay it off, the sooner you stop paying interest on that obligation."

This is the third time since the 1980s the state’s offered amnesty to people and businesses with unpaid back taxes.

The program requires payment of all back taxes plus interest.

The amnesty program was approved by the Legislature last year to find some new revenue to help balance the budget.

The Michigan Tax Amnesty website declares "all excuses welcome."

Here's the program's TV spot:

Commentary
12:11 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Decency in Discourse

For some years, I have argued in favor of what has become the ultimate heresy in today’s political world. I think those of us who can afford it should pay more taxes.

No, not so people who are too lazy to work can sit on the couch and watch The Price is Right. Nor am I intent on subsidizing the birth of large numbers of out-of-wedlock children to non-working families, though I’ve been accused of that in less gentle terms.

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Rememberance
10:59 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Live coverage of Officer Zapata's Memorial Service

From WKZO.com:

The memorial service for Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officer Eric Zapata will be held beginning at 11am this morning at Miller Auditorium.  If you can't make the memorial service it will be carried LIVE below:

 

Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

Politics
9:26 am
Tue April 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

State seeks concessions from unionized corrections workers

In these austere times, governments large and small are seeking to save money by getting union workers to reduce the benefits and/or wages.

The State of Michigan is seeking $95 million in concessions from those unionized employees who work in state prisons.

From the Associated Press:

The amount requested from the Michigan Corrections Organization represents more than half of the $180 million in concessions Gov. Rick Snyder wants from state employees in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, The Lansing State Journal reported Monday.

The union's members make up about 16 percent of the state's work force, but are being asked to make 53 percent of concessions. Michigan Corrections Organization executive director Mel Grieshaber criticized the state's actions.

"We are in sticker shock right now," he told the newspaper. "It's not fair. Our membership is angry about it. . . . It's very offensive. You won't find a more dangerous job in state government."

Kurt Weiss, A spokesman for the Office of the State Employer, the agency that oversees all collective bargaining negotiations for the state, said the Department of Corrections is the "only major state department in which employees are solely funded by the general fund," and Governor Snyder is trying to close a $1.4 billion dollar budget gap in the general fund.

Ford Motor Company has a solid first quarter

Ford announced is best first quarter earnings since 1998. According to the Detroit News, the first quarter earnings were...

$2.6 billion, or 61 cents per share.

The results, an increase of $466 million over the first quarter of 2010, far exceeded analysts' expectations of about 50 cents per share.

Operating profit of $2.8 billion was the strongest for a first-quarter since 2004 and $2.1 billion of that was from automotive operations as consumers continue to embrace the automaker's vehicles, which include new and fuel efficient models. Total revenue was $33.1 billion, up $5 billion from the same period in 2010.

"Our team delivered a great quarter, with solid growth and improvements in all regions," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said.

And unlike the gas price spike in 2008, Ford Motor Company and the other domestic automakers are much more prepared for the current price spike with more choices for smaller, fuel efficient cars... 

Michigan's average gas price above $4 per gallon

It hasn't happened since 2008. That was the year gas prices shot up and consumers started looking for smaller cars. AAA Michigan says the statewide average for gasoline is $4.04.

From the Associated Press:

The auto club says Tuesday that prices for self-serve unleaded fuel rose 6 cents per gallon since Monday to a statewide average of $4.04. That's $1.20 per gallon higher than last year at this time. AAA Michigan says the last time the average hit $4 was Sept. 19, 2008, when it was $4.03 per gallon.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily. It typically releases its gas prices report each Monday. But the auto club says it decided to put out a special edition of its gas prices report Tuesday because the average topped $4 a gallon.

May 3rd Election
1:15 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Lansing voters have a choice: Higher taxes or deeper cuts in public safety

Millage increase opponents stand outside Lansing city hall
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing voters face a difficult choice in next week’s election.   Increase their city taxes or possibly see deep cuts in public safety.  

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Politics
6:47 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Muslim, Civil rights groups condemn Jones trial

Some Muslim and civil rights groups say Dearborn and Wayne County officials sent a bad message by prosecuting a controversial Florida pastor.

Terry Jones wanted to protest what he sees as encroaching “Sharia law” outside Dearborn’s Mosque of America last week.  But his plans were scuttled Friday, after a Wayne County jury found that his protest would “breach the peace.”

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Politics
5:18 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Snyder pushes back on stem cell rules in budget bills

Human embryonic stem cells
Nissim Benvenisty wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder says he is opposed to provisions in Republican budget plans that would restrict how money is spent on embryonic stem cell research at public universities.

Republican lawmakers are renewing efforts to enact additional rules surrounding the voter-approved amendment that allows public funds to be used for the research.

Voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in 2008.

Since then, Democrats have blocked efforts by opponents of embryonic stem cell research to demand reports or enact additional restrictions on  it, but now Republicans are in charge in the Legislature.

Governor Snyder is a Republican who supports the voter-approved amendment and stem cell research.

The governor says he wishes Republican lawmakers would leave stem cell research out of the debates on university spending:

"I think we need to focus on higher education, not stem cells. We passed a constitutional amendment on that topic some time ago and we need to follow through on what our voters said."

The governor has the authority to veto budget line items.

The governor and the Legislature are continuing to negotiate on the budget with the goal of having it wrapped up by June first.

Politics
3:35 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Senator Caswell makes changes to controversial thrift store policy

State Senator Bruce Caswell
facebook

A story by Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller about foster care expenditures went viral over the weekend, thanks to a post on Gawker. Gawker, it seems, caught wind of the story after the Michigan Messenger posted it.

The story deals with money that the state allocates to families to buy clothes for foster children.  

State Senator Bruce Caswell wanted to require foster families to purchase clothes at thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

From the original article:

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

The story originally aired on Friday, April 15. Since that time, we have received more than 270 comments - most people expressing their outrage over Caswell's proposal.

We received this comment from Sonja S. who says she was in foster care from ages 11-17:

Unfortunately, by demanding the money be spent in thrift stores, Mr. Caswell is doing emotional harm to the children. It doesn't matter what his motives are, the fact is that they're ill thought-out.

Senator Caswell said he received a lot calls after the story aired from people asking him to change his proposal.

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Politics
11:49 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Michigan's Legislative Black Caucus say they'll challenge the emergency manager law

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus will hold a press conference today at noon with the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Benton Harbor.

Also in attendance will be Congressman John Conyers and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Joe Harris, the city's state-appointed emergency manager, recently stripped power from local officials in Benton Harbor under the state's new emergency manager law.

The group says they will work to uphold voting rights as they plan to challenge the legality of the Emergency Manager law.

Fred Durhal, the chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said they "oppose this Draconian legislation.":

"Our coalition is prepared to ask the Justice Department to review this legislation and we will fight litigation to challenge its constitutionality," said Durhal.

Reverend Jesse Jackson is quoted in the media advisory saying, "the wind from Benton Harbor is blowing toward Detroit. This legislation usurps democracy by taking away voters rights in Michigan. Our constitution protects democracy, this inalienable right is non-negotiable."

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Politics
10:36 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Making Michigan's roads accessible to all

Making Michigan’s roads better is the job of a state appointed committee that holds its first meeting this week.  The legislature created the Complete Streets Advisory Council last year.  

Commentary
9:57 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Education Reform

The governor is supposed to deliver a major speech on education this week.

We also don’t know what he’s going to say, though his spokesperson indicates that he is going to talk about systems of education, and producing results.

And that much is hopeful. So far, most of the education debate across the state has been over the wrong question.  We’ve been arguing over whether teachers are paid too much and receive benefits that are too generous, and that’s not the point.

Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of public instruction, hasn’t said much about policy issues. But his predecessor, Tom Watkins, has been anything but silent. Now a business and education consultant, Watkins says we have seen the enemy, and it is the status quo. “We have one chance now to help prepare our kids and our state for the future,” he told me. “Let’s not blow it.”

Watkins, who was pushed out of his job by Jennifer Granholm midway through her administration, is a Democrat who has been cautiously supportive of some of Republican Governor Rick Snyder‘s initiatives. 

However, when it comes to education, Watkins asked a trillion dollar question in a recent Muskegon Chronicle column:

“If we had just discovered these two Michigan peninsulas, with 1.7 million school-age children, would we re-create the education system that now exists? The answer is a resounding NO!”

He thinks we need to go back to the drawing board. He urges our leaders, “Let‘s live up to our image as an ‘innovation state,’ one that sets the trend for new ways of doing things, and create new possibilities for learning, with more sense of urgency.”

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News Roundup
8:26 am
Mon April 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, April 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Plans Education Address

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to outline some of his ideas on school reform in an address to a conference of educators in East Lansing today. Snyder will offer even more details on his ideas for education in the state when he delivers a message to the legislature later this week. A senior advisor to the Governor says Snyder will say everything from better pre-natal care to an improved higher education system have to be part of a plan for fixing schools, Rick Pluta reports.

Big Cuts for Corrections?

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Republican state Senator John Proos who chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget, says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners.

Study Programs Continue in Japan

The University of Michigan says its study programs in Japan are on track due to a revised U.S. State Department policy, the Associated Press reports. The AP explains, “The agency had previously warned Americans against traveling to Japan following last month's earthquake and the nuclear accident that followed. The school says students must make sure they follow the university's international travel rules.”

Education
6:42 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Governor to address educators, unveil school reform plans

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League

Governor Rick Snyder will address an education conference in East Lansing today. He is expected to call for an across-the-board shakeup in how Michigan prepares students for 21st Century jobs.

Governor Snyder is expected to say Michigan falls short in critical measurements like third grade reading scores, eighth grade math scores, and its number of college graduates. At the same time, his budget plans call for less money for schools and universities.

Bill Rustem is a senior advisor to the governor. He says education reform can save money, but it needs to start before children are born and continue past high school.

“We’ve got to improve in a way that enables that whole system from pre-natal all the way through college to be a better system producing people who are smarter, better, and able to compete in the 21st Century.”

Details of the governor’s school reform plans will wait until later in the week when he sends an education message to the Legislature.

Politics
6:31 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Bay City preparing for budget deficit

Bay City is preparing for a 2011-2012 budget deficit
Ifmuth Flickr

From the Associated Press:

Commissioners in Bay City are bracing for another year in the red heading toward Monday's presentation of the proposed 2011-12 city budget. The Bay City Times reports a deficit similar to the $1.6 million faced this year is expected due to anticipated cuts in state funding.

The budget year begins July 1. Commission President Kathleen Newsham warns that the news is "going to be bad." City Manager Robert Belleman says no municipal layoffs are expected in the proposed budget and that money from a reserve fund will be used to cover a deficit.

Bay City registered $1.4 million in savings last year. Belleman says the city's revenue sharing from the state is down by at least a third.

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