Politics & Government

Politics
10:54 am
Wed February 16, 2011

Budget battles target greenhouse gas rules

A new poll showed that the majority of people in Michigan support EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses
Michael Caven flickr

The details of the United States and Michigan budget cuts are beginning to leak out.  The United States Congress is trying to come together on a plan to cut a huge amount of spending. Governor Rick Snyder will be delivering his budget proposal for next year on Thursday.

One area of debate is how the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A new statewide poll shows voters in Michigan would support these rules, but Republicans in the US Congress are moving against them this week.

Al Quinlan conducted the poll funded by the Energy Foundation, a pro-renewable energy group.

"We asked people simply whether they favor or oppose the EPA regulating these emissions the results were 64% favor, 27% oppose. And there was broad based support across partisan lines."

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton is a leading opponent of EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses.

Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom

News Roundup
7:08 am
Wed February 16, 2011

In this morning's news...

Report: "Fireworks" over part of Snyder's Budget Plan

Chris Christoff, the Lansing Bureau Chief for the Detroit Free Press, says Governor Snyder plans to "eliminate Michigan's generous income tax exemptions for retiree pensions and IRA withdrawals as part of his budget plan" to be released tomorrow. Christoff wrote "a source familiar with the plan" says doing away with the tax exemption could generate more than $1 billion in revenue. From the Free Press:

Many expect Gov. Rick Snyder to set off political fireworks Thursday when he unveils a budget and tax revision plan he says will be simple, fair and efficient...Perhaps nothing will boom louder than a plan to tax pensions and other retirement income the same as all other income -- at 4.35%.

A Snyder spokesperson would not comment on the "speculation." Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, told the Freep that Snyder will "will hear from a lot of retired employees in this state that are not going to be happy with that one." And an aide to republican State Senator Jack Brandenburg said the plan is "a nonstarter."

The Associated Press writes that Michigan's benefits for retirees are one of the most generous in the country:

The Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says Michigan's benefits are twice as generous as those of second-place Kentucky. A retired couple in Michigan can have more than $100,000 of income without having to pay any state income tax...

Political pressure in the past has made it hard to reduce senior tax breaks to help the state's bottom line, even as Michigan steadily loses more to the tax breaks as the number of older taxpayers grows.

Governor Snyder will release his budget plan tomorrow.

Prison staff fear privatization is coming

Almost everything in the state is on the chopping block. There has been talk of privatizing parts of the prison system as a way to save money. The Associated Press says the Governor's budget plan will look at cutting around 10 to 20% out of the state's corrections budget.

State workers in prisons fear that will mean privitization. The Associated Press spoke with United Auto Workers Local 6000 spokesman Ray Holman:

The Prison support staff fear the governor may outsource their jobs to private companies to save money.

"If you're cutting $400 million ... you're going to have to go after something," said Holman, whose union represents tens of thousands of state workers, including prison support staff. "We stand to take a substantial hit." 

Former GM exec may return as advisor

The Detroit News says former GM executive Bob Lutz may return to the company as an advisor. From the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. has been in talks with former product chief Robert Lutz about bringing him back as a paid consultant, The Detroit News has learned.

The details were unclear Tuesday, but the 79-year-old Lutz continues to have a close relationship with GM, and the two have been in discussions about formalizing an advisory role, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Lutz was known as a plain speaking executive at GM who was skeptical of the commercial appeal of electric cars and hybrids. As the Guardian reported when he retired in 2010, Lutz once described global warming "as a total crock of shit."

The Guardian writes that Lutz "predicted the internal combustion engine would reign supreme for at least a further decade, and that it would be "years and years" before alternatives make up even a tenth of the market."

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Politics
4:43 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Another step toward eliminating the item pricing law

The item pricing law gives retailers indigestion.
Shawn Campbell Flickr

Update 4:23 p.m.:

Rick Pluta, from the Michigan Public Radio Network, says the House will likely vote on a repeal of the Item Pricing Law tomorrow. Pluta spoke with the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Lisa Lyons. She says individual price tags wouldn't be required, but stores would be required to prominently post prices so consumers know how much things cost:

"It does eliminate the antiquated requirement that every item be priced which has been in effect since before I was born, but it also upholds and provides for consumer protections that Michigan shoppers have come to know, expect and they deserve," said Lyons.

2:06 p.m.

The Michigan legislature is a step closer in repealing the state's Item Pricing Law.

The law requires that most items on store shelves carry an individual price tag.

The Lansing Bureau of the Detroit Free Press reports:

Legislation to rescind the requirement that almost all retail goods sold in Michigan be individually priced cleared its first hurdle in the state House this morning, winning approval in the Commerce Committee on a 16-3 vote. The measure was approved after its sponsors agreed to an amendment that will require retailers to clearly display prices in close proximity to the item for sale.

Governor Syder has said that a repeal of the law will send a signal that Michigan is a business-friendly state. Retailers say the law is antiquated and drives up prices.

Rick Pluta reported for the Michigan Public Radio Network that

The last effort to repeal the law was five years ago, but it failed under the threat of a veto by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Proponents of the law say the individual price tags protect consumers from being overcharged.

Politics
4:12 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Michigan AG: Prison releases should not be part of corrections cuts

It costs about $35,000 per year to keep someone in prison in Michigan.
Derek Key Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should save money in the corrections budget by cutting the costs of incarceration - not by closing more prisons or releasing more inmates.

Schuette says he hopes that's the strategy Governor Rick Snyder will display when he unveils his budget proposal on Thursday.

Schuette says he advised the governor to focus on reducing the cost-per-inmate by bidding out more prison services:

Read more
Politics
2:50 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Flint's financial plan on hold

The weather ball in Flint can't predict the city's economic future.
Jame Fairbrother Flickr

Update 3:50 p.m.:

The city of Flint did not get approval today from the state for a $20 million bond.   The city needs the money to pay its bills.

The state Treasurer’s office asked the State Administrative Board to table the bond request, which it was expected to approve. The Treasurer’s office is concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan to deal with its long-term debt.   

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is optimistic the city will get some help from the state. 

“I’m confident the city of Flint and the state Treasurer’s office will work together on a short-term, if not a long-term solution here in the next few weeks.”

Flint faces a multi-million dollar budget deficit.   The city has laid off police officers and dozens of other employees and has reached pay cuts with other city unions. But it still might have trouble making payroll in the coming months. 

Update 2:50 p.m.:

The State Administration Board put off a decision on the city's budget plan this morning. The city wants to borrow money in the form of $20 million in bonds to cover its budget deficit.

The Flint Journal has an update from Flint City Councilman Josua Freeman:

By the end of this month or next month, the city will only have about $500,000 in cash on hand, Freeman said. That's not nearly enough money to meet the payroll expenses of $1.5 million to $2 million every two weeks, he added.

"If nothing changes and we don’t improve our cash flow, we're not going to have enough money to operate," Freeman said.

If the city cannot make payroll, a state takeover or Chapter 9 bankruptcy might be next.

12:42 p.m.

The city of Flint wants to issue bonds to cover it's $17 million budget deficit, but state officials have yet to green light that plan.

The State Administration Board was scheduled to vote on that plan today, but it appears plans have changed.

The Flint Journal is reporting the Board voted to remove the city's request from its agenda today. The Journal reports that led to a cancelation of a Flint City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow:

Tomorrow's City Council meeting to discuss a $20 million bond request from the state has been canceled.

The meeting, which was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, was canceled after The State Administration Board voted to remove the city's request from its meeting agenda this morning...That move came at the request of the state treasurer's office...City Council President Jackie Poplar said she was made aware of the situation and had no comment until she receives further information.

Commentary
12:49 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Grappling With The Budget

I was looking at President Obama’s proposed next year’s budget yesterday, trying to get some clues for how all this would affect Michigan. Suddenly, I was hit by a revelation.

Nobody really understands this budget, I thought. Nobody understands this budget because nobody really can understand it. It is too big, too vast, has too many contours and moving parts.

Read more
Changing Gears
9:25 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Leadership Series: Cleveland's Quiet Mayor (Part 2)

Mayor Jackson at the podium
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Our Midwest reporting project Changing Gears is looking at the role of leadership this week. Yesterday, we heard about Detroit Mayor Dave Bing determined to remake his troubled city. Today, we hear about another mayor in our region faced with challenges.

Normally when politicians go to certain kind of events—the ones where they all put on hard hats and pretend to shovel—they usually make speeches about how great this new development will be for the city. Not so much Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

Read more
Politics
9:23 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Snyder says Medicaid provider payments will not be cut

Governor Rick Snyder says his budget will not call for cuts in payments to doctors, clinics, and nursing homes that take Medicaid patients.

Snyder administration officials say it is important to maintain those payments at their current levels to make sure providers continue to see patients.

The governor’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher, says that is a less costly alternative to people showing up at emergency rooms when they get sick:

"We want people having a medical home, having a physician’s office, having that physician really guiding as far as quitting smoking, leading a healthier life, we're going to see much lower healthcare costs down the road if people take those steps right now."

Lasher says there will be other changes in Medicaid.

There are almost two million people in Michigan in the health coverage program for low-income people.

Medicaid makes up about 20% of the state budget.

Politics
5:19 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Decision day for Flint's finances

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

By some estimates, the city of Flint is facing a $17 million budget hole.

Flint's Mayor is hoping state officials will allow the city to go to the bond market to overcome the budget deficit.

The State Administrative Board is meeting tomorrow to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the city's request.

The Flint Journal reports:

A state board made up of Michigan's top elected officials (or their delegates) is expected on Tuesday to consider the city's application to issue $20 million in bonds, part of Flint Mayor Dayne Walling's budget plan.

The State Administrative Board meeting will take place at 11 a.m. in the Lake Superior Room of the Michigan Library and Historical Center in Lansing. The meetings are open to the public.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that without the money, Mayor Walling said the city will have trouble making payroll in March:

“There is nothing more important for our city right now than the bond.   We’ve been carrying a crushing load of past deficits on our shoulders.  And we’ve come to the point where the pooled cash is not there to make payroll throughout the entire month of March without an infusion of cash,” said Mayor Walling.

If state officials do not approve of the bond plan, the state may eventually takeover Flint’s finances.

Politics
3:36 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Democrats call for law to allow unmarried couples to adopt

Wayan Vota Flickr

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for a law that would allow unmarried couples to adopt children. Right now only married couples or individuals can adopt children. 

State Representative Jeff Irwin says it makes sense to allow couples who want to adopt but can’t get married to share the rights and responsibilities of raising children.

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Politics
3:26 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Democrats call for law to allow unmarried couples to adopt

Wayan Vota Flickr

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for a law that would allow unmarried couples to adopt children. Right now only married couples or individuals can adopt children. 

State Representative Jeff Irwin says it makes sense to allow couples who want to adopt but can’t get married to share the rights and responsibilities of raising children.

"It’s a pro-family bill. It would assure that in a situation where you’ve  got two loving parents who want to take on the obligations of parenthood that both of those individuals are afforded the opportunity to help a young person in this state by being a parent.”

"Kids thrive in situations where they have two parents, and they struggle in situations where they have one, and so the state should be taking every possible opportunity to allow people to adopt kids in such a way as to ensure as many kids as possible have two parents.”

Irwin says joint adoptions would also make it easier to settle visitation and child support issues when a couple breaks up.

It’s not clear how Michigan’s ban on gay marriage or treating same-sex couples as if they are married would affect the effort to allow joint adoptions.

The state Supreme Court could also weigh in on the issue. A lower court recently denied a woman joint custody of the children she was raising with her same-sex partner before they separated. That woman has appealed the decision.

Irwin says no Republicans have signed up to support the legislation. Both the House and the Senate have G-O-P majorities.

Detroit
2:05 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Bing gathering ideas from New Orleans

New Orleans
Ron Reiring Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is in New Orleans gathering ideas on how to rebuild a devastated city.

The Associated Press reports:

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to discuss that city's recovery more than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the 9th Ward and

other parts of the Gulf Coast. Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas says that both mayors were

preparing to take a walking tour of parts of New Orleans on Monday, and that the city bears "a lot of similarities to Detroit."

Bing is working to strengthen Detroit's most viable neighborhoods while formulating plans to deal with huge swaths of vacant land. He has said incentives will be used to encourage people to move into certain areas of Detroit, which has lost more than half its population since peaking at nearly 2 million in the 1950s. He plans to present a study April 1.

Michigan Radio traveled to New Orleans last year to learn some lessons as well. Rebuilding Detroit Schools: ATale of Two Cities looked at school reform in Detroit and New Orleans. The program explored successes and failures in New Orleans to see whether the lessons learned in New Orleans could offer some insights for education reform in Detroit.

Changing Gears
11:15 am
Mon February 14, 2011

Leadership Series: Dave Bing Reimagines Detroit (Part 1)

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing - "the Detroit he inherited was, in his words, nearly bankrupt — financially, ethically and operationally."
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

How important is the quality of leadership to the economic vitality of a city? And what role can leaders play in the transformation of our region? Changing Gears is exploring these questions in a three-part series on leadership.

We start with the man who may have the toughest job of any big city mayor: Dave Bing of Detroit.

He has to keep his economically depressed city running, while convincing residents that Detroit must shrink to survive.

One of those residents is David Dudley.

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Politics
12:36 pm
Sun February 13, 2011

Personal property tax proposal spurs debate

State Sen. Mike Nofs wants to eliminate the personal property tax Michigan businesses must pay.
facebook.com

The Michigan Small Business Tax isn’t the only tax getting attention right now: A lawmaker from Battle Creek wants to eliminate the personal property tax that businesses pay.

State Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, says Michigan doesn’t create a very welcoming climate for business.

Nofs wants to get rid of a tax that businesses pay on things like equipment and furniture.

Michigan’s current personal property tax is based on a community’s millage, and generates revenue for local governments.

Read more
Politics
3:54 pm
Fri February 11, 2011

Detroit and suburbs reach deal on water and sewage

Patrick Brosset Flickr

An agreement between Detroit’s mayor and suburban leaders could end years of wrangling over how the city’s massive water system is run.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department serves more than 4 million people in Southeast Michigan. It’s been the center of controversy for years. Suburban customers have complained about rate hikes and cost overruns, and they’ve demanded more say over how the department is run. 

The tentative deal seeks to address those issues. And Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch says it could serve as a model for regional cooperation:

"Of all the regional issues that we’re at odds over, this is one that if we can show we can make it work, we can certainly apply the same formula to all the other challenges in the region." 

The plan calls for Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties to each choose an appointee to the board that oversees the department. A supermajority would be required to approve rates and contracts.

Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano says it’s a good deal for everyone:

"This thing’s been a political football for decades now. And in the past, the parties weren’t able to come together and have a common basis. And plus Mayor Bing is not the previous administration. And I think that went a long way in galvanizing where everybody could work together."

The deal requires the approval of a federal judge. The water department has been under federal oversight since the late 1970s for environmental violations.

Politics
3:21 pm
Fri February 11, 2011

Mubarak steps down

From the BBC's live coverage of celebrations in Egypt's Tahrir Square. BBC correspondent says Mubarak's resignation has turned the "whole of the Middle East upside down."
BBC News

Update 3:21 p.m.:

President Obama made remarks today about the events in Egypt:

Obama said in Egypt "the wheel of history has changed at a blinding pace,"  and that the United States will continue to be a "friend and partner of Egypt" and "asks for a peaceful transition to democracy."

Obama said the people in Egypt are saying, "for the first time in my life, I really count," and that the "people of Egypt call for a government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations."

Obama said the events in Egypt were peaceful and powerful - "this is the power of human dignity and it can never be denied."

Obama likened the events in Egypt to people in Germany taking down the Berlin Wall, Gandhi's movement in India, and Martin Luther King's movement here at home. He said it was "non-violence - moral force - that bent the arc of history toward justice once more."

"There's something in the soul that cries out for freedom," Obama said.

Update 3:00 p.m.:

President Obama's press conference:

[Live stream has ended]

Update 2:39 p.m.:

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra spoke with Mohamed El-Sayed today. El-Sayed is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan. He was born and raised in Egypt and gave this heartfelt reaction to the events unfolding today in Egypt:

MOHAMED EL-SAYED: Well I want to tell you that this was the moment of my whole life. People might not believe it, but it is the truth. You just live your life and there is a moment that you would like to have lived.

GUERRA: What do you mean by that?

MOHAMED EL-SAYED: What I mean by that is in your whole life, there is a moment that you wish to see happen and when it happens, you thank God that you're alive to see it because in a way you start thinking that it might not happen at all. And then you lose hope. And then suddenly you get hope again and then it happens and then you feel: I am really glad that I'm witnessing this moment, not just because it's a historical moment and you're part of the people, it's just because you have lived your life wishing that the people of Egypt would see what the people in the U.S. take for granted: their freedom, their ability to talk and govern themselves.

Update 1:15pm:

President Obama was scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. today. He's now schedued to speak at 3 p.m.:

Update 12:58 p.m.:

The military now heads up Egypt. The BBC reports:

The head of the new high military council, Field Marshal Tantawi, has greeted crowds outside the presidential palace, according to AFP.

Asked about the military - including Defence Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi - now being in charge, Mohamed ElBaradei tells the BBC: "I think it is not going to just be Tantawi, but the whole military leadership. I also understand that they are going to reach out to all sections of Egyptian society. I hope it will want to share power with civilians through the transitional period. I hope we will have a presidential council, a government of national unity and have enough time - perhaps a year - to prepare for genuine and free elections."

You can watch Al Jazeera's live coverage of events here.

Update 11:56 a.m.:

President Obama is expected to make a statement at 1:30 p.m. today.

The Associated Press reports:

President Barack Obama learned of President Hosni Mubarak's decision to resign during a White House meeting. And then, like people all over the world, Obama watched television coverage of history unfolding. The White House said Obama watched news coverage of the hoopla in Cairo for several minutes on a television set just outside the Oval Office. The stunning announcement came one day after Mubarak surprised the people of his country and the White House by refusing to resign.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Egyptian diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei  had a conversation just moments ago with NPR's Robert Siegel. From NPR's The Two Way:

Hearing the news that Mubarak was stepping down, "reminded me of the moment I received the Nobel Peace Prize." But today, was "more emotional. ... We are emancipating 85 million people who have been repressed for decades."

Update 11:26 a.m.:

The BBC has live video of Tahrir Square in Egypt.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says: "The announcement took everyone by surprise and caused immediate and riotous celebration in Tahrir Square."

"Around Cairo, drivers are honking their horns in celebration and guns are being fired into the air. The huge crowds are rejoicing. However, the army takeover looks very much like a coup. The constitution has been breached. Officially, the speaker of parliament should be taking over. Instead it is the army leadership. Egypt moves into a very uncertain future."

Update 11:19 a.m.:

From the Two Way - The BBC's transcription of the vice president's statement:

"In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody."

11:09 a.m.

We're getting reports that Mubarak has stepped down. NPR's Two Way is live blogging the event:

Al-Jazeera reports:

"He's gone. He's resigned. 30 years of Mubarak rule is over. Omar Suleiman says: 'President Hosni Mubarak has waived the office of president.' "

The New York Times reports:

President Hosni Mubarak left the Egyptian capital for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik on Friday and was expected to make a statement, state television said, amid indications that a transfer of power was under way.

The Egyptian military issued a communiqué pledging to carry out a variety of constitutional reforms in a statement notable for its commanding tone. The military’s statement alluded to the delegation of power to Vice President Omar Suleiman and it suggested that the military would supervise implementation of the reforms.

Politics
2:55 pm
Fri February 11, 2011

Revolution 2.0

User darkroom productions Flickr

According to The Nation, Whael Ghomin, the Google executive detained by Egyptian police for 12 days, tweeted this as he found out that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was stepping down:

"Welcome back Egypt!"

Read more
State Budget
11:16 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Budget countdown: Corrections

under the state capitol dome
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Next week, Governor Rick Snyder will deliver a budget plan that his own Lt. Governor has described as an ‘atomic bomb’ of spending cuts. Michigan’s Corrections Department is expected to be a prime target. 

Michigan is facing a state budget deficit next year estimated at $1.8 billion. 

Michigan spends nearly $2 billion a year housing more than 44,000  inmates. The number of inmates has declined by more than 7,000 during the past five years.  And the number of prison employees has shrunk by nearly 4 thousand in the past decade.  

Still, conservative groups say more savings can be wrung out of the Corrections Department with privatization.

Mel Greishaber is with the prison guards union.  He warns privatizing some prison jobs might save money, but it will increase security problems.  

“Often...civilians who come in and work are not as sensitive to the safety issues and security issues that they need to be.”  

Greishaber is also worried about the level of experience state lawmakers have with Michigan's prison system.  A large percentage of state lawmakers are new to the job.   Greishaber notes that few members of the largely first term legislature have ever even visited a state prison.

 “Everyone comes in with preconceived notions.  They’ve watched movies which almost always are not the real life situation."

Commentary
8:47 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Michigander: The Backstory

I realize there are a few other things going on today, such as the mess in Egypt, and the aftermath of President Obama’s historic trip to Marquette, where they gave him a Stormy Kromer hat.

There’s also a major story the media missed last night. Governor Rick Snyder spoke briefly at a Michigan State University political leadership forum in Livonia, remarks that included a sensational announcement.

Mr. Snyder said he would remain in office until the Lions appear in the Super Bowl. Which means he pretty much declared himself governor for life. The Lions last won a world championship the year I entered kindergarten, a year before Governor Snyder was born.

Maybe that’s an approach Hosni Mubarak should have tried, telling his people that the second the Lions won, he’d be history.

Anyway. I need to get on to the really important story of the day, which is the new poll by Resch Strategies that showed that by a margin of fifty-eight percent to twelve percent, citizens of this state prefer to call ourselves Michiganders, not Michiganians.

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Governor Snyder
8:34 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Snyder makes bold prediction

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

The crowd at a fundraising dinner for the Michigan Political Leadership program was maybe hoping Governor Rick Snyder would drop some clues on what’s going to be in his budget proposal next week.

The governor revealed almost nothing about his spending plan. But he did make a bold sports prediction. Governor Snyder said:

"Before I finish office, the Lions will be in the Super Bowl – how’s that?"

The governor did not say if that would be in the next four years – or if a championship season for the Lions would require a second term. The Lions record last season was six victories to 10 losses, following a winless season in 2009.

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