Politics & Government

City Budgets
8:41 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Bernero to deliver Lansing budget plan today

Lansing Mayor Virg Benero will deliver his 2012 budget today
Photo courtesy of VoteVirg.com

Lansing Mayor, and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero delivers his city's 2012 budget to the Lansing City Council tonight. It's being reported this morning that Bernero will propose a budget that contains $20 million in cuts.

The Lansing State Journal reports:

In the run-up to Monday's formal budget presentation, Bernero's staffers have sent signals about the magnitude of possible cuts. Among the most notable: the potential closure of three fire stations and elimination of 60 positions in the Fire Department.

As the Lansing State Journal explains, Lansing, like many other cities and townships across the state, is, "caught between competing budget pressures. First is the drop off in revenue from local property taxes and from promised aid from the state government. City budgeters also have to cope with rising costs, particularly on pensions and on health care for workers and retirees alike."

Crisis in Libya
7:45 am
Mon March 28, 2011

President Obama to address the nation tonight

President Obama will speak to the nation tonight about the crisis in Libya
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama will address the nation tonight about the military role the U.S. is playing in Libya. It's been just a little over a week since the President ordered U.S. forces to protect Libyan rebels from Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The President will speak from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. at 7:30 p.m. You can hear live coverage of the address on Michigan Radio beginning at 7 p.m.

Here's a roundup of what various media organizations are saying about the upcoming address:

State Budget
7:10 am
Mon March 28, 2011

State official to discuss Snyder budget, answer questions

Mitch Bean, Director of the state's House Fiscal Agency, will outline parts of Governor Snyder's budget this evening
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Mitch Bean, the Director of the state’s nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency will outline parts of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal later today.

Bean will talk about the Governor’s budget proposal and answer questions this evening at Muskegon Community College.

The state faces an estimated $1.4 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

State Legislature
6:38 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Lt. Gov says tax plan debate will continue through break

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says negotations over the state budget will continue in Lansing even though lawmakers are on a two-week break
Ifmuth Flickr

State lawmakers have begun their two-week spring break, but many of them say they will still be in Lansing working on budget issues. That includes negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder on tax reforms.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he expects lawmakers to meet Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline to complete work on the budget.

“Any time that we waste right now adds time on the back end, and we really owe all the constituencies who depend on state an answer before we get to the same type of timeframe that we’ve dealt with in the past. So, it’s not really fair to put these things off until fall or even late summer.”

Snyder has proposed a tax on pensions, a new corporate income tax to replace the Michigan Business Tax, and scaling back tax credits.

Calley told lawmakers that if they don’t like Snyder’s plan, they need to put something else on the table that will help end the budget deficit.

Republicans in the Senate are expected to unveil a plan that includes an expanded corporate income tax, and to hold off on taxing pensions.

Politics
8:06 pm
Sat March 26, 2011

Secretary of State wants changes to political party rules

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
michigan.gov

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has proposed changes to the laws governing how new political parties form in the state.
 
Johnson wants to prevent a repeat of last year’s confusion over an “imposter” tea party group that allegedly sought to siphon votes from Republicans in the 2010 elections.
 
Johnson says she expects legislation to be introduced in a few weeks that would require new parties to file a campaign finance statement, and give public notice for political conventions:

"We need to make sure the people and the political parties we see on the ballot really are who they say they are. And efforts to deceive voters, they really do rob every legitimate voter, and put our liberties and our freedoms at risk."

Last year a group calling itself the Tea Party said it planned to nominate candidates at a convention. Two former officials with the Oakland County Democratic Party are accused of putting candidates forward with forged documents.

State Law
3:43 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

"Romeo & Juliet" bill headed for governor's signature; flashers, peeping Toms also to be removed from sex offender registry

People on Michigan's sex offender registry because they had consensual teenage sex can apply to have their name removed.

The so-called “Romeo and Juliet” bill is on its way to Governor Snyder’s desk for his signature. 

The measure will remove people who are on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry because they had consensual sex with another teenager.

They’re currently kept on the list for 25 years.

State Sen. Rick Jones sponsored the bill. He says it puts Michigan in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act.

"This law will require that you petition the judge, the judge will review the case, and only in cases where it was completely consensual -- boyfriend/girlfriend-type behavior -- will the individual be allowed to be removed from the list," Jones says.

The law also takes most peeping toms and exhibitionists – or flashers – off the list. Instead, they’ll be on a separate list monitored by the Michigan State Police for 15 years.

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Politics
3:20 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

No-confidence vote will send Canadians back to the polls

Jeff Smith Flickr

A no-confidence vote in the Canadian parliament today means Canadian citizens can look forward to another election, their fourth in seven years.

From the BBC:

The vote, engineered by the opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, triggers an election expected in early May.

The move stemmed from a ruling on Monday that the minority government was in contempt of parliament.

But the Conservatives are thought likely to keep power in a May election.

With the House of Commons adjourned, Mr Harper on Saturday will ask Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament.

Following that, an election will be held after a minimum 36 days of campaigning. Canadian analysts expect it will be called for the first week in May.

Mr Harper's Conservative Party holds 145 seats in the dissolving parliament, shy of a majority of the 308 seats.

Recent polling suggests the Conservative Party holds a lead at the start of the campaign, with the Liberal Party in second, the New Democratic (NDP) Party third and the Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in Quebec, fourth.

The Conservative Party is likely to emerge from the May election in power, with some polls indicating it could even gain seats.

After the vote, Mr Harper said he suspected the forthcoming election, the country's fourth in seven years, would "disappoint" most Canadians.

Analysts say Canadian voters have shown little desire for an election, although Mr Harper's minority government had set a record for its tenure.

Canada is a historically important trading partner with Michigan.

According to the Government of Canada, about "237,100 jobs in the Great Lakes State depend on the Canada–Michigan trade relationship, which is valued at $43.3 billion."

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Politics
3:06 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Protestors bring giant inhalers to Congressman Fred Upton

Kevin Karlinski, student from Western Michigan University, outside Congressman Upton's district office to deliver oversized asthma inhaler. Behind him, more community members drop off inhalers in Congressman Upton's office.
Nicole Lowen Environment Michigan

Several protestors rallied outside Congressman Fred Upton’s offices in Kalamazoo Friday.

Nicole Lowen is the with Environment Michigan, a state-wide advocacy group that tries to protect clean air, water and open spaces.

“We had gigantic, oversized asthma inhalers that we dropped off at his office just to represent the thousands of his constituents that are likely to suffer more frequent and severe health problems if he’s successful in stripping away these critical clean air protections.”

She says they were protesting a bill (H.R. 910) Upton introduced that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 

Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House. The republican from St. Joseph says allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will drive up energy costs, destroy jobs and make America less competitive globally.

“Such regulatory authority can only come from elected legislators, not unelected bureaucrats.  We must not allow this administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” Upton said in a press release issued Friday.

Politics
1:59 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Supreme Court weighs sewage case

Patrick Brosset Flickr

Can a judge determine what happens when you flush your toilet? A case before the Supreme Court may decide that very question.From the AP

The Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.

State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn't responsible for the problems of private property owners.

Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit. Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?

Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he's not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state's appeal.

"The case is one of statewide significance," he said. "There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.'"

Worth Township seemed ready to build a new sewage system as recently as 2008, but the cost kept them from proceeding.

State Budget
12:29 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

State to close prison

Florence Crane Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan
(courtesy http://www.mco-seiu.org/)

The state Department of Corrections is closing a state prison in southern Michigan. The move will save the state millions of dollars. The Florence Crane correctional facility in Coldwater costs about $27 million a year to operate.

The facility houses about a thousand mainly older inmates, many with serious health problems. Those inmates will be sent to other prisons around the state. 

John Cordell is the state Corrections Department spokesman. He says the state will be careful when placing these inmates in other facilities. 

“We don’t want to place prisoners in a situation where…they have a pressing health care need, but the health care provider is a hundred miles away, every time  we have to take them back and forth.  It doesn’t make any sense.”  

The Coldwater prison will not be the only state prison closing this summer. The Muskegon Correctional facility is also scheduled to close in June. Cordell says the state doesn’t need the two prisons anymore. 

“We expect that by June first we’ll have well over a thousand beds that are empty within the system. So we can identify this prison.  Close it.  Place those prisoners within the beds in the system and we’ll still have some cushion.”

Michigan’s prison inmate population has declined from a high of 51,000 in 2007  to just under 44,000 today.  

The Daily Reporter in Coldwater notes that Michigan's Corrections Department has been cutting back for some time:

In 2009, to save more than $118 million, Gov. Jennifer Granholm closed three prisons and five camps. They were the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, along with prisons in Muskegon and Kincheloe. In addition, the state closed camps in Shingleton, Painesdale, Iron River, Grayling and White Lake. The cuts impacted more than 1,000 state employees. Although there was much talk, there were no closures last year.

Commentary
10:53 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Defying Age

Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly speaks in support of Sen. Tom George's legislation to regulate the billboard industry in Michigan. At 86, he reminded Jack Lessenberry he could still run for Attorney General.
senate.michigan.gov

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns eighty-nine tomorrow. When I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he said, after discussing the current Michigan budget, that I keep getting his age wrong.

“I am actually fifty-three,” he said, before bursting into laughter. Talking to Milliken always perks me up, because I am thirty years younger than the man who I always think of as “the governor.”

And I certainly hope I still have a sense of humor at his age, though by that time I may well want to give up talking about state budgets.  I find it very encouraging that there are a great many people who are now living to tremendous ages, and enjoying life.

A week ago, I went to visit former Attorney General Frank Kelley in Florida. He had me hop into his convertible and we sped towards Marco Island, where we had lunch with a tough old Massachusetts politician, Francis X. Bellotti.

Kelley is eighty-six; Bellotti is about to be eighty-eight and looks sixty-five. The two Franks talked about old wars and about John F. Kennedy, who both knew. “When you saw him, you didn’t just think he should be president. You thought he was the answer to everything wrong in the world,” said Bellotti.

Later, on the drive back, Kelley sighed. “It’s hell getting old,” he said. “How would you know?” I wanted to ask.

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News Roundup
8:04 am
Fri March 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Students Protest Budget Cuts

A few hundred college students protested against Governor Snyder’s budget proposal at the state Capitol yesterday. Snyder has called for a 15 percent cut to Michigan’s public colleges and universities. Laura Weber was reporting from Lansing and said although the rally was not the largest that the Capitol has seen in the past couple of weeks it was one of the loudest. Weber reports Governor Snyder would have been able to hear the students across the street in his office.

Michigan State Police Announces Closures

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state in order to save money. Closings include posts in Battle Creek, Detroit, and Traverse City. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

Muslim Group Claims Harassment at Border

An Islamic advocacy group says border agents are harassing and violating the civil rights of scores of American Muslims re-entering the country from Canada, Sarah Hulett reports. The group CAIR is filing complaints with the Department of Homeland Security. As Hulett reports:

Abdulrahman Cherri is a student at the University of Michigan. His fiancé lives in Canada, and he says when he returns to the U.S. from visiting her, his car has been taken apart, and he’s been subjected to invasive full-body searches. He says he’s also been questioned about his religion, even after telling border agents that he’s too busy with school to worship. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says parents have been ordered out of cars at gunpoint and handcuffed while their children watched.

CAIR is also asking the Justice Department to investigate the harassment.

Detroit
7:21 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Iconic former train station could get a fix-up

The Michigan Central Depot
MichaelNPatterson Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”

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Business
7:03 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Senator Levin to attend small business summit in Detroit

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) will be in Detroit today along with federal officials
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin and officials from the White House, the Department of Defense, and the City of Detroit will host a small business summit at Cobo Center in Detroit today. As the Associated Press reports, the event is, “designed to help Michigan small businesses explore contracting opportunities with the defense industry. Small business representatives are to learn about the defense acquisition process, meet defense contracting officials and explore contracting opportunities at the Department of Defense."

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Budget Cuts
6:54 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Michigan State Police plan to close 21 posts

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it would be closing 21 state posts
Nikonmania Flickr

As part of a plan to save nearly $21 million, the Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state. Closings include posts in Adrian, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bridgeport, Bridgman, Cheboygan, Corunna, Detroit, Gladwin, Groveland, Hastings, Iron River, Ithaca, L'Anse, Manistee, Munising, Newaygo, Richmond, Stephenson, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

From the Detroit News:

Gov. Rick Snyder announced his intention to close posts last month but gave few details. The severity of the plan shocked some: No troopers will be laid off, but come October, the number of posts will fall from 62 to 29, as 12 posts will be downgraded to detachments that are closed to the public but open to troopers for administrative work.

The move is one of the biggest changes in years to a system of policing that has remained virtually unchanged for seven decades. And it's got some worried if troopers can adequately cover larger areas...The plan is designed to save about $3.2 million to help the department offset a $20.7 million shortfall to its $521.5 million budget. Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that troopers will continue to patrol roads and assist communities at the same level they have in the past.

Lawsuit
4:21 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

ACLU sues state over lemonade mix-up that cost parent custody

7-year-old Leo Ratté was placed in a foster home after his father unknowingly bought him lemonade that contained alcohol.
Jon Sullivan Wikipedia Commons

The ACLU is challenging a state law that allows children to be taken away from their parents without proof that they’re in immediate danger.

Claire Zimmerman says she hopes the lawsuit will make sure what happened to her family never happens to anyone else.

Three years ago, Zimmerman’s son, who was seven at the time, was at a Tiger game. Her husband, Christopher Ratté, unknowingly bought their son a bottle of lemonade with alcohol, and in the ninth inning they were approached by a security guard, who asked Ratté whether he knew his son was drinking an alcoholic beverage. Ratté said no, but the police were called. The boy was taken into the state’s custody later that day.

The state refused to release the boy to Zimmerman, even though she was not at the game with her son, and the next day he was placed in a foster home, where he stayed for three days.

Zimmerman says the ordeal was a nightmare:

"(It's) very difficult not to know where your child is physically. We of course felt that we had really let him down."

ACLU-Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg says if the boy’s parents had not been University of Michigan professors with access to the school’s legal resources, they might have been separated from their son for much longer:

"Families without the resources of our clients are sometimes unjustly separated for weeks, if not months."

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare Michigan’s law unconstitutional because it violates parents’ rights to due process.

Crime
2:33 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

U.P. man arrested in connection with 'explosive components' left at federal building in Detroit

A man from the Upper Peninsula is accused in connection with ‘explosive components’ discovered outside the federal building in Detroit. Law enforcement authorities arrested 42-year-old Gary John Mikulich today after linking him to the package discovered at the McNamara federal building in Detroit.

The package was discovered February 26th.  But it wasn’t disposed of right away. A security guard placed the package in the ‘lost & found’ room. It sat there for three weeks before the Detroit Bomb squad disposed of it.

Gary Mikulich is a graduate of the engineering program at Michigan Technical University.  Federal prosecutors allege Mikulich has often complained about the FBI’s ‘card system’, which he allegedly blames for the deaths of thousands of people, including his father. An FBI spokeswoman says the agency is "not aware of what this 'card system' (Mikulich) refers to."

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department says:

Mikulich and his vehicle match the description of an individual who purchased a Husky brand tool bag and a GE timer used in the commission of the crime alleged in the complaint. Mikulich made the purchase of these items from the Home Depot store in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on February 14, 2011. Moreover, Mikulich’s white Oldsmobile was spotted in Livingston County–450 miles from his home and just 50 miles from Detroit–in the early morning hours of February 25, 2011.  Also, search warrants were executed this morning at Mukulich’s residence and his vehicle.

Mikulich faces up to 20 years and a quarter million dollar fine if convicted of attempting to set off an explosive device at a federal government building.

Politics
1:24 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Democrats want Snyder to veto jobless benefits bill

(Flickr swanksalot)

UPDATE 1:24 p.m.:   A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder says the governor expects to sign the bill which would reduce the number of weeks jobless Michiganders will be able to recieve state unemployment benefits. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says:

"(The governor's) priority was to ensure no one receiving unemployment benefits was cut off abruptly. It's a lifeline for Michiganders right now - we simply can't risk tens of thousands of Michigan's families immediately losing their benefits in April.  He’s continuing to work tirelessly to help turn around Michigan's economy and create more and better jobs so that we can hopefully reduce the need for unemployment in the first place."

ORIGINAL POST 12:17 p.m.: Democrats are calling on Governor Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that will reduce state unemployment benefits to Michiganders from 26 to 20 weeks. The Republican controlled legislature passed the benefits  cut Wednesday, as part of  a bill to continue extended federal jobless benefits to Michigan’s unemployed.

Royal Oak Congressman Sander Levin says the governor should veto the bill that will eventually reduce benefits for Michigan’s most in need.  

"This is the worst time to do this for Michigan workers.  I think it is reckless.  It’s inexcusable.”

Cutting state benefits will reduce the cost to Michigan businesses that must pay into the unemployment fund.  Cutting state unemployment benefits by 6 weeks could also reduce federal unemployment benefits by up to 16 weeks for jobless Michiganders. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the change will save state businesses $300 a year starting in 2012.

Levin says it’s unfair to shorten the period unemployed Michiganders can receive jobless benefits. 

“The governor can say to the legislature 'Get back.  Do what needs to be done here.  And stop the hijacking.'”

Federal jobless benefits for 35,000 unemployed Michiganders will expire April 1st  if Snyder vetoes the bill.

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Jennifer Granholm
1:09 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Former Governor elected to Dow Chemical Board of Directors

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been elected to the board of directors of Dow Chemical. The Midland-based chemicals industry giant announced Granholm's election today.

In a written statement, Dow CEO Andrew Liverus says Granholm will help the company as it pursues growth.  

“Jennifer Granholm’s experience and perspective will be instrumental as we continue to advocate for national and international policies that drive innovation, increase productivity, encourage investments in technology and create jobs." 

This has been a pretty busy week for the former governor. The Pew Charitable Trust announced this week that Granholm will serve as a Senior Advisor to the Trust's Clean Energy Program. She was also recently appointed to a public policy position at the University of California-Berkeley.

Granholm served 8 years as Michigan governor.  Her second term ended in January. 

Commentary
10:21 am
Thu March 24, 2011

The UAW’s Dilemma

You may not have noticed, but the United Auto Workers union has been holding its bargaining convention in Detroit this week.

Every four years, union leaders get together to plan and map out their strategy for negotiating a new contract with the automakers. Once, this convention was an enormous deal, intensely covered by both local and national labor media.

The big question every time was - which company would be the strike target?

Years ago, the union came up with the concept of “pattern bargaining.”  One company - Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler, would be selected as the target. Union officials would then try and hammer out a contact with that automaker first.

Sometimes they’d have to go on strike to achieve that; sometimes not. Meanwhile, the workers at the other companies would keep working under the old labor agreements.

Once the new contract was finally hammered out, the unions would then go to the other two automakers and say -- “okay; this is what we negotiated with them; this is what you need to agree to as well.  No fooling around; take it or leave it; sign or we walk.”

That’s how it’s been done for many, many years. In the past, there were sometimes historic strikes which led to historic settlements that gradually won the workers everything from paid vacations to profit sharing to dental care, on top of high wages.

But as all the world knows, excesses and globalization caught up with the auto companies. General Motors and Chrysler nearly went out of business less than two years ago. They survived in part because the union was willing to make major concessions.

New hires, for example, now make half of what a longtime autoworker  does -- $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year. The union decided that and other sacrifices were  necessary to keep their employers alive.

Well, the world is different now. Ford and General Motors are now making profits in the billions. Chrysler is believed close to profitability, and at any rate, has a new owner with deep pockets.

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