Politics & Government

State Legislature
6:35 am
Thu March 31, 2011

The debate over social issues during a budget crunch

Captiol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants controversial social questions to take a back seat to taxes and job-creation. He says to do otherwise could create intense debates that enflame passions and sideline his efforts to fix Michigan’s economy.

But that has not stopped some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. They say GOP control of state government makes this the moment to tackle controversies surrounding abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, and medical marijuana.

Governor Rick Snyder meets up with his inner nerd every morning as he checks an electronic application that reminds him how much time is left before the budget deadline he set for the Legislature—May 31st.:

 “All I have to do is turn on my iPad and it shows me how many days and hours are left, and how many seconds…”

Snyder says he is singularly focused on completing the budget before that time on his iPad runs out. He has proposed massive cuts and tax reforms that would affect the budget. He says right now that should be the focus of everyone’s energy at the state Capitol. He’s finding some people – including Republicans – disagree. State Senator Rick Jones is one of those Republicans:

 “My job is looking at other issues that concern Michiganders."

Jones says the Legislature is working very hard on Snyder’s budget proposals and goals. But he says that does not mean lawmakers cannot and should not also work on social issues. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he recently took up and voted on a controversial abortion bill that is already covered by federal law. And he sponsored a measure that would add rules to the use of medical marijuana. Jones:

“The issues we take up, are issues where I could walk into any coffee shop in my district and the vast majority agree that it’s something we need to address."

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Politics
5:34 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder and Republican leadership to outline progress on budget tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder outlining his plans in his State of the State address last January.
Michigan House Republicans

Governor Rick Snyder will join House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville at a press conference tomorrow.

They plan to outline the progress they’ve made closing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

But it may be a little awkward, because Snyder still has not reached a deal with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville on his plan for major tax reforms.

Snyder says he hopes the Legislature adopts his plan to tax pensions, and eliminate the business tax in favor of a corporate income tax on profits, but he says he is not pushing his plan too hard just yet.

"Well I’m not leaning on anyone," said Snyder. "I’m having a positive discussion, as I always like to have, about how we can work best together. And I think good partnership opportunities there, and we’re going to continue that dialogue. We’re making positive progress."

A House panel is debating tax plans similar to what Governor Snyder wants.

Leaders in the state Senate are talking about alternatives to Snyder’s plan.

So far, the budget plans include salary restraints on public employees and requiring them to pay more for their benefits.

Some lawmakers say members of the Legislature should take pay cuts and pay more of their benefits too.

But Governor Snyder is staying out of those salary debates.

"Well, we’re three branches of government, and I look at it as they take an opportunity for leadership in an area that affects them. We have more than enough to do in the executive branch."

Snyder has been criticized for paying salaries as large as $250,000 to some of his cabinet members.

Snyder is a self-made millionaire who takes an annual government salary of one dollar.

Politics
3:27 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

K. Sawyer Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

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State Law
2:31 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Two state lawmakers push to restore jobless benefits cuts

Two Democratic state lawmakers are preparing legislation that would restore unemployment benefits cuts recently signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.  Snyder signed legislation to extend federal jobless benefits, but the bill also contained a provision shrinking state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks next year.  

Republicans lawmakers pushed for the jobless benefits cuts, saying it will reduce the burden on Michigan businesses, which pay into the state unemployment insurance pool. Jim Ananich is a state representative from Flint.   He’s introducing legislation to restore those benefits.  

“You know I’m hopeful that they will see the error of their ways and see that now is not a time to be taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Ananich hopes to introduce his bill next month.

Governor Snyder
1:12 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder to discuss 'legislative accomplishments and future plans' tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder plans to, "discuss legislative accomplishments and future plans" at a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning in Lansing. Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger will be there as well. The Detroit News reports:

It's a sign of Republican unity amid continued signs that pieces of Snyder's Feb. 17 budget could be in trouble in the Legislature. For example, enough GOP senators have said they don't support Snyder's pension tax as he has proposed it, which could keep it from passing if Democrats vote against it as a bloc.

Snyder said he, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, will talk about "what we've accomplished so far this year," and what "we're still working on."

Snyder made his remarks today after signing the 15th bill enacted into law by the Legislature since he took office Jan. 1.

"If you go through the State of the State, we've accomplished most of those items," Snyder said, referring to the January speech he gave to lay out his legislative agenda and broader vision for the state...

Earlier bills signed into law eliminated an item pricing requirement for retailers, strengthened the powers of emergency managers appointed by the state to oversee financially troubled cities and school districts and provided incentives for environmental self-regulation by farmers.

Commentary
12:48 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Cutting Unemployment Benefits

Two days ago a friend of mine called me in a semi-panic. Her unemployment benefits were about to run out, and she had eighty-seven dollars to her name. She wasn’t going to be able to make the modest payment on her small house, and didn’t know what to do. Nor did she understand what was going on in the legislature. Someone had told her that the governor was signing a bill to extend unemployment benefits. Somebody else told her he was going to shorten them. Which, she wanted to know, was it?

Well, both, I said. The governor signed a bill Monday that extends eligibility for federal extended unemployment benefits for up to ninety-nine weeks.

That’s only, however, for people like my friend Karen, who already is collecting unemployment.

Next year, however, things will change drastically. Any Michigander who loses his or her job after January 15, 2012 will only be eligible for state unemployment benefits for a maximum of twenty weeks. That’s less than five months.

For years, jobless workers in Michigan have been able to collect benefits for a maximum of twenty-six weeks, or six months. They can collect them for longer periods of time now because the federal government decided to temporarily provide benefits, because of the lingering effects of the recession. Those effects are still hanging on in Michigan, where unemployment is still more than ten percent. Economists expect that to come down a little by next year, but we’re likely to continue to be a long way from full employment. What that means is that for many people, twenty weeks is not going to be enough time to find a job.

So why is our government making it tough for jobless workers? Interestingly, nobody is really coming forward to defend this. Governor Snyder said he signed this bill because it was necessary to extend benefits for those who are jobless now. He said he would have been happy to leave eligibility at twenty-six weeks, and blamed the legislature for shortening the time period. Why did they do this? Well, nobody is rushing forward to claim credit.

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News Roundup
9:00 am
Wed March 30, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 30th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

So-Long Price Tags

Retailers will no longer have to put price tags on almost every individual item they sale. Governor Snyder signed a bill yesterday that repeals the requirement. Michigan was the only state in the country to have such sweeping price tag laws, Rick Pluta reports. Item-pricing was popular with much of the public. The law just signed by the Governor has a provision that makes sure the new law cannot be reversed by a citizen referendum, Pluta reports.

Shared Sacrifice Among Lawmakers

Republican state Senator Rick Jones has introduced a bill that would require state legislators to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. With the state facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, Governor Snyder wants state employees to  pay 20 percent of their health care insurance and, so, Senator Rogers thinks state lawmakers should have to do the same. Senator Jones has also introduced a bill to alter the lifetime health insurance that legislators receive after serving only six years, calling it “obscene,” Tracy Samilton reports.

Price of Homes Continues to Fall

Homes values in Metro Detroit declined to a new low in January. From the Detroit News:

Among the 20 major cities surveyed for the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, Detroit ranked last with an index of 66.02. The region's previous low was 66.47 in December. Case-Shiller uses home values from January 2000 as a starting point of 100 — anything higher shows a gain, and anything lower is a loss. Compared with other major cities, Detroit is much lower.

According to Home Price Index, home values in Metro Detroit are the lowest since 1993.

State law
7:51 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Harsher punishment for teachers who go on strike?

A state law that would require punishment for Michigan teachers who go on strike appears to be on a fast-track in the state legislature, Steve Carmody reports. Republican State Representative Bill Rogers has authored one of two bills that would require a two year license suspension and a large daily fine for striking teachers. Carmody reports:

Rogers expects the anti-teacher strike bills will move quickly through the legislature and may reach the governor's desk before a possible statewide teachers' strike next month. The state's largest teachers' union is mulling possible job actions, including teacher walk-outs, to protest cuts in school funding and other issues.

A press release on Rep. Rogers' website explains the rationale behind the measures:

Teacher strikes put the education of students and teachers' jobs at risk and have recently been encouraged by Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. Striking is illegal in Michigan, although penalties for doing so are hard to enforce.

House Bill 4466... will fine the Michigan Education Association $5,000 per teacher for each full or partial day that public school employees are engaged in a strike or strike like activities. The bill also orders employees to pay a fine in the amount equal to one day of pay for every day or partial day in which an employee participates in a strike...

House Bill 4465... requires that state superintendents suspend a teacher's license for a period of two years or permanently revoke their license, if caught breaking existing strike laws.

"This legislation discourages teachers from striking by putting teeth into the current strike law," said Rogers, R-Brighton. "We need to put the focus back onto educating our children. Children are the ones who suffer from teacher strikes and this legislation makes sure those who choose to participate face consequences for their actions."

Governor Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans. Snyder proposed a $470 per-pupil-cut in state education spending earlier this year.

State lawmakers are on a Spring break until April 11th.

Politics
4:48 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Snyder hopeful teacher union won't call for a strike

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011. Could a strike be next?
mea.org

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans.

The Michigan Education Association is in the process of collecting answers to a member inquiry.

The MEA is querying its 155,000 members and 1,100 local bargaining units.

Union members are mad over Michigan’s new emergency manager law that could threaten collective bargaining agreements in financially troubled school districts. And many of them oppose Governor Snyder’s proposed big cuts to K-through-12 education and requiring teachers to pay more for their pensions and health coverage.

The governor says he’s confident the controversies will not spill over to classrooms.

"We have fabulous teachers in our state and I have confidence that the teachers in our state understand, and really appreciate – because they’re doing it for a living – that the most important thing in front of them is the students they’re teaching, and I don’t think they’ll look at using their students as a pawn in a broader game," said Snyder.

It is illegal for teachers and other public employees to strike in Michigan, but the MEA says cuts in school funding and rollbacks in collecting bargaining rights may demand drastic actions.

They've asked its bargaining units to authorize job actions that could include picketing or walkouts.

They expect to have all responses in hand by mid-April.

State Law
4:24 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Bye-bye price tags... Governor signs item-pricing repeal

The new pricing law goes into effect this September.
Liz West Flickr

Governor Snyder says he expects consumers will benefit from lower prices and better service now that retailers do not have to assign workers to put price tags on almost every item on sale.

The governor signed a law today that repeals the requirement.

Michigan was the only state in the country to have such a sweeping price-tag law.

The new law requires retailers to prominently display prices near items on sale.

Governor Snyder says he does not expect consumers will be inconvenienced:

"And I always like to ask the question: When people went out of state, when we went on vacation, or people went out of state and went into a grocery store, I don’t know many of us who as we purchased these goods, we stopped in the aisle and yelled we were outraged because there wasn’t a sticker on them," Snyder said.

 Mark Murray, the president of the Meijer retail chain, says his stores do not expect to lay off people because of the new law.

He says the new law will allow his stores to compete with shopping clubs that were not covered by the item-pricing requirement, and retailers in neighboring states.

"They don’t have to item price. This is a competitive leveling of the playing field, and we believe we can take advantage of it to grow sales in every store and have that, in turn – hours are related to how much we sell," said Murray.

But retail employee unions say they fear there will be layoffs.

Item-pricing was popular with much of the public. The law just signed by Snyder has a provision that makes sure the new law cannot be reversed by a citizen referendum.

State Law
3:23 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

State Senator Rick Jones: If teachers sacrifice, everyone should

Republican state senator Rick Jones says many schools may soon demand that teachers pay at least 20-percent of their health insurance premiums. 

Jones has introduced a bill that would keep a school’s per-pupil funding intact, if teachers agree to the cuts. 

But he says teachers shouldn't be the only one making the sacrifice.

"I learned that senators and representatives pay anywhere from 5% to 7.6%, and I thought, how is that fair that we’re paying that and teachers are being asked to pay 20%?"

Jones says his new bill would require state legislators to pay 20% of their health insurance premiums. 

He has also introduced a bill to alter the lifetime health insurance that legislators receive after serving only six years, calling it “obscene.”

The bill would phase in the benefit, beginning at ten years of service.

State Law
1:40 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Nation focuses in on Michigan’s cut to unemployment benefits

Khalilshah Flickr

On Monday, Governor Snyder signed into law a bill that would extend unemployment benefits by 20 weeks to some 35,000 Michiganders. However, the bill also cuts six-weeks of state unemployment benefits for new filers beginning next year. The measure reduces jobless benefits in the state from 26 weeks to 20 weeks as of 2012. That reduction means, beginning next year, Michigan will provide the shortest number of weeks of unemployment out of any state in the nation.

Snyder’s signing of the bill has gained the state quite a bit of national attention.

From The New York Times:

Democrats and advocates for the unemployed expressed outrage that such a hard-hit state will become the most miserly when it comes to how long it pays benefits to those who have lost their jobs. All states currently pay 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, before extended benefits paid by the federal government kick in. Michigan’s new law means that starting next year, when the federal benefits are now set to end, the state will stop paying benefits to the jobless after just 20 weeks. The shape of future extensions is unclear.

The measure, passed by a Republican-led Legislature, took advocates for the unemployed by surprise: the language cutting benefits next year was slipped quietly into a bill that was originally sold as way to preserve unemployment benefits this year.

From NPR’s political blog:

Few states were hit harder by the Great Recession and unemployment than Michigan, a state that faced profound economic challenges, including relatively high unemployment, even before the national downtown.

So it could strike some as ironic that Michigan, of all places, just enacted into law a reduction of the number of weeks it will pay unemployment insurance to 20 weeks from 26 weeks starting next year.

The reduction will make Michigan the state that provides jobless benefits for the shortest number of weeks. And that's in a state whose jobless rate was 11.3 percent in February compared with the 9.5 percent national rate….

Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who took office this year, and GOP legislators said the reduction was necessary because the state's unemployment insurance fund is $4 billion in the hole as a result of its economic woes. Michigan borrowed from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

Since employers contribute to the state's jobless fund and were facing higher taxes to repay the federal loan, they supported the benefits reduction.

And, in a story picked up by USA Today, Chris Christoff with the Detroit Free Press, takes a hard look at the fact that Michigan owes, "the federal government about $3.96 billion that the state borrowed to pay unemployment benefits during the worst economy since the Great Depression. That's on top of the regular unemployment tax businesses and other employers must pay."

Snyder's signing of the bill also led some to speculate on whether or not other states would follow Michigan's lead in shortening benefits. An article in Examiner.com asks,"Will Ohio follow Michigan lead on reducing unemployment benefits?" And, in an article last week, the Washington Post noted:

This month, the Florida House approved a measure reducing the maximum benefit period from 26 to as little as 12 weeks while curbing increases in unemployment taxes paid by employers. The jobless rate in Florida is 11.9 percent.

“We are sending a message to the business community that Florida is quickly becoming the most business-friendly state in the country,” said state Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota), the sponsor of the Florida bill.

It would go into effect Aug. 1.

In Arkansas, lawmakers are moving toward freezing unemployment benefits levels while trimming the maximum benefit period for state benefits from 26 to 25 weeks.

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Crisis in Libya
11:28 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Senator Levin restates support for U.S. military action in Libya

U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D), along with Arizona Senator John McCain (R), made opening statements this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Posture of U.S. European Command and U.S. Strategic Command. In his statement, Levin, the Chairman of the Committee, said President Obama was right to use U.S. military force in Libya.

The Senate hearing comes a day after Obama addressed the nation about the role the U.S. was playing in Libya. As the Associated Press reports:

Levin said Obama has taken a thoughtful and deliberate approach to avert a bloodbath in Libya. McCain, Obama's 2008 rival for president, said Obama's decision to intervene was right and necessary.

You can read Senator Levin's full remarks here.

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Commentary
10:55 am
Tue March 29, 2011

What’s Wrong With the Democrats

A lot of people are uneasy about Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to cut aid to education at all levels in order to balance the budget and give business a huge tax break. Even some of those in favor of cutting business taxes have problems with this.

They reason that no matter what happens, there aren’t going to be any jobs in the future for unskilled, undereducated workers -- and certainly not any good-paying ones. Our young adults are undereducated as it is, and cutting education won’t help.

So yesterday, we were alerted that the Michigan Senate Democrats were going to offer an alternate proposal. I was very interested to see what it would be. And frankly, I was hoping it would be an alternative I could support.

That’s because I am convinced that better education and training, more than anything else, is the key to Michigan’s future.

Well, I couldn’t have been more disappointed in the Democrats -- or in Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a charismatic and intelligent figure who may be their best hope for the future.

The minority leader called for a state constitutional amendment that would prevent the governor from taking money out of the school aid fund in the future.  In practical terms, this is the equivalent of my calling for an amendment requiring it to be seventy degrees so I don’t freeze when I walk the dog in the morning. 

First of all, this does nothing to address this year’s problems. Even if the legislature thought this was a good idea, they’d have to agree to put it on a statewide ballot so people could vote on it.

That wouldn’t happen until long after this budget has been passed. But the legislature isn’t going to do any such thing. Republicans control both chambers. Democrats are especially weak in the Senate, where Gretchen Whitmer’s party has less than a third of the seats, and by themselves are powerless to do anything.

That’s not the worst part of her proposal, however. When she presented it to the media yesterday, she was asked this sensible question: If her proposal became law, how would Democrats then propose to fill the resulting deficit hole in the general fund?

The Senate minority leader refused to offer an answer -- other than to say the tax code should be “re-examined.”

This is precisely what has been wrong with Michigan government for the past decade, and what got the Democrats tossed out of office last fall. This is also why Governor Snyder’s plan is likely to be enacted. The governor has made a comprehensive proposal for changing the way things are done.

His numbers add up.

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News Roundup
9:14 am
Tue March 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, March 29th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Laws-a-Plenty

Governor Snyder signed a bill yesterday that extends unemployment benefits by 20 weeks to some 35,000 Michiganders. However, the bill also cuts six-weeks of state unemployment benefits for new filers beginning next year. The measure reduces jobless benefits in the state from 26 weeks to 20 weeks as of 2012. Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill this afternoon that would repeal Michigan’s item pricing law. Snyder first spoke about repealing the state’s law that requires retailers to put price tags on most individual items in his January State of the State address.

Bernero Lays Out Lansing Budget

Lansing Mayor, and former 2010 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero presented his 2012 fiscal year budget last night. Lansing faces a $20 million budget hole next year and Bernero said such a deficit requires a tough and painful response. The Mayor’s budget plan would cut more than 50 Lansing police officers and close three fire stations, Steve Carmody reports.

April 1st Deadline for DSO

Musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra say they have been given a Friday deadline to settle a strike with the DSO management, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The players say in a release Monday the orchestra's board has told them that if no contract agreement is reached by Friday the summer performance season "will be lost" and the fall season "would be in serious jeopardy." An orchestra spokeswoman would not comment on whether a deadline has been imposed. Board chair Stanley Frankel says in a statement that the board is "convinced that a settlement is within reach" and that negotiators have been meeting by phone and e-mail.

DSO musicians have been on strike since October of last year.

Election 2012
7:56 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Hoekstra says he'll decide Senate run within 2 weeks

Former GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra
Republican Conference Flickr

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra says he will decide within the next two weeks whether to launch a 2012 Senate run, the Grand Rapids Press reports. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow has held the seat since 2000. From the Grand Rapid Press:

Hoekstra, who lost a bruising Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010 and left Congress after nine terms, has consistently performed well in polls in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Stabenow.

The only Republican to declare candidacy for the seat so far is Randy Hekman, a former Kent County judge. He announced his candidacy earlier this month. Heckman is 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.

Other possible GOP candidates for the Senate seat include former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party Saul Anuzis.

Crisis in Libya
7:04 am
Tue March 29, 2011

President Obama's address: Reactions and analysis

President Obama defended U.S. military action in Libya during an address to the nation last night. The President explained that the U.S. intervened in Libya, “to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the world's conscience and 'been a betrayal of who we are' as Americans,” the Associated Press reports.

The AP noted that the President, “ruled out targeting Moammar Gadhafi, calling that a mistake that would be as costly as the war in Iraq. Obama announced that NATO would take command over the entire Libya operation on Wednesday, keeping his pledge to get the U.S. out of the lead fast. He offered no estimate on when the conflict might end and no details about its costs.”

Reactions and analysis of the President's address came out quickly:

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State Law
6:27 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Snyder set to sign bill to repeal item pricing law

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Governor Rick Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill today that will repeal the state law that requires price tags on most retail items.

The Governor first proposed the repeal of the law  in his State of the State address in January. The Associated Press reports:

Supporters of repeal say technological improvements make pricing every item unnecessary and note prices must still be clearly posted. Massachusetts is the only state with a law similar to Michigan's. It applies only to food retailers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says grocery jobs will be lost when the new law takes effect in September, but some retail groups say workers are likely to be given other tasks.

Snyder is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Lansing.

Politics
7:13 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Lansing mayor proposes eliminating 200 city jobs

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero delivers his budget address during a meeting of the city council
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says he's presenting his 2012 fiscal year budget plan with a heavy heart. The city is facing a $20 million budget gap next year. Bernero says this requires a tough and painful response. 

He's proposing eliminating 200 positions. One hundred and thirty of these jobs are currently filled. Bernero's budget fall particularly hard on the city's public safety department. More than 50 Lansing police officers would be laid off and three fire stations will be closed under Bernero's budget. Bernero says he doesn't relish cuts, but with employee costs being the largest part of the city's budget, he has little choice. 

Bernero says the need for deep spending cuts might be lessened if state revenue sharing is not as deep as proposed by Governor Snyder. He says Lansing voters could help as well if they approve a millage increase on the May 3rd ballot.  

But Bernero says he has to propose a budget now with the "cards" the city's been dealt. Bernero says the city has already made all the easy cuts.    

Changing Gears
5:43 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Zoning out: Cities rewrite codes to transform their look

Part of Streetsboro, Ohio's current zoning map - separate colors for separate uses. The city is working on doing away with these blocks of color, and trying to mix more uses - a method called "form-based" code.
Steetsboro, Ohio

Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.

After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life.

Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place.

Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development.

This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different.

These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

 “A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities."

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

 “ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore.

As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars.

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