Politics & Government

Governor Snyder
6:51 am
Thu March 3, 2011

New poll shows drop in Snyder popularity

Governor Rick Snyder answering questions from the media
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder's popularity is falling among Michigan voters. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. As the Associated Press notes:

Shortly after the Republican took office, an EPIC-MRA poll of 600 likely voters found 59 percent viewing Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Fifty-three-percent of those in the new poll say they oppose Snyder's plan to tax pensions, while 41 percent support it.

In a article about the new poll titled, "Looks like honeymoon's over for for Gov. Rick Snyder," the Detroit Free Press reports:

Voters also did a U-turn on Snyder's job performance -- 38% positive and 15% negative in January to 32% positive and 36% negative in February -- and on the overall direction of the state.

In the late January survey, Michiganders seemed to have emerged from a decade-long funk: 43% said they thought the state was headed in the right direction.

That number slumped to 36% in the latest EPIC/MRA poll, with 42% saying Michigan is on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder will continue to talk about his plan to reinvent the state at the Pancakes and Politics breakfast in Detroit today.

State Budget
5:12 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

College presidents weigh in on budget cuts

University Presidents were at the Capitol Building Wednesday in Lansing, MI
Thetoad Flickr

Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.

Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.

Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.

He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:

"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.

"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.

Politics
4:15 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Senate GOP prepared to reject unmarried partner benefits

Roberto Occhialini Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

Politics
3:38 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Michigan funeral protest law in jeopardy

A sign at a Westboro Baptist Church picket in East Lansing last year.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals.

Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here.

At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

The pickets were not opposing the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but against gay rights.

The ACLU challenged Michigan’s law after a couple attending a family friend’s funeral was arrested for having anti-George W. Bush signs on their car.

Dan Korobkin, with the ACLU, says the new court ruling may be enough to tip the balance in their challenge to Michigan’s law:

“Laws that are created to stifle unpopular speech, which is what the law in Michigan was created to do, always end up backfiring and punishing innocent people.”

Korobkin says they hope to hear soon from the federal judge considering their challenge to the state law, "the federal judge who is overseeing that case has already indicated that it is probably unconstitutional, but he hasn’t taken the final step of striking it down," said Korobkin.

State Budget
12:10 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Lawmakers to dig into Governor's budget proposal

Captiol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Update 12:08 p.m.:

Lt. Governor Brian Calley is detailing the Snyder Administration's tax plans to members of the House Tax Policy committee at the Capitol, the Associated Press reports. And, as the AP notes, Budget Director John Nixon answered questions this morning from members of the House Appropriations Committee:

Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is trying to shore up support for some of its budget proposals that are running into opposition in the Michigan Legislature... The Republican governor's plan to eliminate tax exemptions on pensions is drawing opposition from some members of his own party.

Lawmakers also are concerned about proposed cuts to education funding and proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments made to local governments.

6:57 a.m.:

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are set to hear details today about Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal.

Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan, the Associated Press reports.

From the AP:

Lawmakers also will hear testimony from some university officials, including from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Universities could lose at least 15 percent of their state aid going into next fiscal year.

Groups concerned about proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments also are expected to testify. Snyder and lawmakers are trying to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of roughly $1.4 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder spent yesterday defending some of his controversial budget plans, including the taxing of pensions.

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Justice
12:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro funeral protestors

The Supreme Court ruled in favor Fred Phelps and the funeral protestors
user dbking Flickr

In "Snyder v. Phelps," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

The Church got attention by picketing military funerals holding signs that read:

  • "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11"
  • "America is Doomed”
  • “Don’t Pray for the USA"
  • “Thank God for IEDs”
  • “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”
  • “Pope in Hell”
  • “Priests Rape Boys”
  • “God Hates Fags”
  • “You’re Going to Hell”
  • and last, but not least... “God Hates You.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects a fringe religious group that protested at the funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

The court, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that the soldier's father couldn't sue Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for celebrating his son's death with vulgar funeral pickets and an online attack.

The case was a test of how far the First Amendment goes in protecting offensive speech.

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Politics
10:22 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Michigan Works funding at risk

Michigan Works provides job training and education grants to people looking to get back to work
Mr. Juniho flikr

Budget cuts approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would close Michigan Works service centers.

The service centers are where people go to file for unemployment and can get training, education or use the Michigan Talent Bank.

The U.S. House budget proposal eliminates the federal funding that supports the centers.

Luanne Dunsford is the CEO of Michigan Works.

"If the house resolution goes through the funding for Michigan Works would be eliminated. The Michigan Works system serves over 3 million customers a year and our question is, where would those people go?

The U.S. House and the Senate are now negotiating budget proposals to decide the fate of several federal programs, including the Workforce Reinvestment Act which funds Michigan Works.

We want to get a better understanding of the kinds of services offered by Michigan Works. If you've used Michigan Works, what services did you use and what did you think of them?

Sarah Alvarez - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Commentary
8:47 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Glenn Beck and Detroit

Detroit was in an uproar yesterday, not because the schools are in crisis, or because the governor’s budget promises to make the city’s short-term fiscal problems even worse. 

Nor were Detroit’s leaders openly concerned about the effect the political crisis sweeping the oil-rich Middle East is having on gasoline prices and the auto industry.

No, what had them upset was the latest rant by the entertainer Glenn Beck, who holds forth on the Fox network. On Monday, Beck,  compared Detroit to Hiroshima, saying that today, Hiroshima is in far better shape. Beck said Detroit’s devastation is due to what he calls “progressive policies,” combined with corrupt government and labor unions. He said these forces combined to bail out the auto industry, which he thinks should have been allowed to die. I heard about this rant, and so reluctantly, I watched it, or most of it. It was, as I expected, classic Beck: Shallow, hate-filled, and full of half-truths.

Once upon a time, there was a rule about commentary. You could spout opinions, but your facts had to be accurate. Glenn Beck has never cared about facts, and the disgrace of Fox and whoever employs him is that nobody else requires him to do so, either.

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News Roundup
8:40 am
Wed March 2, 2011

In this morning's news...

Michigan lawmakers will take an in-depth look today at Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Lawmakers to Dig into Budget Proposal

Michigan lawmakers will be in Lansing today pouring over Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal. Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan and proposed cuts to higher education, the Associated Press reports. The state faces a projected $1.4 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. Meanwhile, the Governor spent yesterday defending some of the more controversial proposals in his budget including the taxing of public and private pensions.

Auto Sales Increase

Auto sales rose by 27 percent last month. General Motors and Toyota had the strongest sales. GM saw gains for several reasons, Tracy Samilton reports:

  • Last February GM’s sales were weak, so this February looks much better in comparison
  • The company increased incentives in February
  • It’s easier for GM customers to get financing now that GM has its own finance arm, GM Financial

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians, who’ve been on strike since last Fall, say they are willing to return to work without a contract. The musicians say they’ll go back on stage “immediately and unconditionally” if Orchestra management agrees to binding arbitration, Sarah Cwiek reports. DSO officials did not immediately respond to the offer. But they issued a statement saying they “welcome receiving the union’s proposal.”

Detroit Public Schools
7:37 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools to stay on job through June

Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through June of this year. Bobb's contract was set to expire on Tuesday, but Governor Snyder has extended his contract.

A spokesperson for the Governor told the Detroit Free Press that Bobb will stay on the job through June 30th.

As the Associated Press reports:

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances.

Bobb has started a number of programs to improve education and standardized test scores across the district. He also has uncovered numerous cases of theft and fraud involving district employees and vendors.

The district still faces a more that $300 million budget deficit as state per pupil funding continues to decline with the drop in enrollment.

Politics
5:48 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Flint wants - but may not get - permission to ask for city tax increase

State Representatives from Flint want to allow the city to ask residents to approve an increase in the city's income tax
Sean_Marshall Flickr

Flint’s state representatives could introduce a bill that would permit the city to ask Flint residents to approve an increase in the city income tax.   

The city faces a deficit of more than $17-million. Representative Woodrow Stanley says there aren’t many other options.  Flint can’t turn to a cash-strapped state for help.

"As a matter of fact, about 8.1 million dollars is being proposed to be cut from Flint’s revenue sharing," says Stanley.

But Stanley says getting such a bill passed will be an uphill battle, because of  strong anti-tax sentiment among Republicans in the state House.

Politics
5:31 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Snyder defends budget and tax plans

Rick Snyder campaigns last year. Now, Governor Rick Snyder is having to campaign for his budget proposals.
Bill Rice Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending some of his controversial budget plans.

He says taxing pensions is the right thing to do, even though some Republican lawmakers say they will not support that plan.

And Governor Snyder says his proposal to cut funding for universities by 15% this year is necessary, but he says it will get better for the schools in the future:

"We shouldn't have to walk away from our universities. Again, I'm a big, long-term advocate of we need more students going through our universities. Higher Ed is very important in our state, actually we're a very fortunate state in having the high-quality institutions that we have.

We have a tough budget situation and we need to deal with that, but if you look forward to 2013 we’re able to show that hopefully this is the bottom point in terms of where we go with higher education funding."

Snyder also told building-trade union members that he wants to work with unions to help balance the budget, not against them.

He says he is not interested in Republican proposals in the Legislature to strip unions of their power.

State Legislature
5:12 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Immigrant rights advocates stand against House bill

A protest of Arizona's immigation law in Minnesota. Advocates in Michigan say the immigration bill in Michigan will lead to racial profiling.
user Fibonacci Blue Flickr

Dozens of Latinos and Arab Americans joined faith leaders from around Michigan at the state Capitol calling on lawmakers to reject a House immigration bill similar to the controversial immigration law in Arizona.

The House Republican proposal would require police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is a suspicion that the person could be an undocumented worker.

Imam Mohammed Mardini of the American Islamic Center in Dearborn says a similar controversial law in Arizona has caused a lot of problems with how to determine who should be targeted:

"One Congressman suggested that you could tell an undocumented immigrant by their shoes. Let us face it – the police aren't going to be pulling over any suspected Canadians."

But Republican Representative Dave Agema says the intention of the bill is genuine, not racist.

"You're going after anyone who happens to be here illegally and they've already broken a law, that's why the police officer has detained them."

Agema says his proposal would save the state money in health care costs for illegal immigrants, but the protesters say it would cost the state money in additional law enforcement personnel.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to bring more immigrants to the state who have advanced degrees.

Politics
1:54 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Bill: No paychecks for Congress if government shuts down

Senator Debbie Stabenow (center) is cosponsording legislation that will prevent members of Congress and the President from being paid if the government shuts down.
stabenow.senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she's cosponsoring legislation that will stop member of Congress and the President from getting paid if there's a government shutdown.

The legislation was originally introduced last week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Seantor Bob Casey (D-PA).

In a statement, the Senator said that under current law the salaries for members of Congress and the President are "held harmless" if a shutdown occurs - meaning they would continue to be paid.

Stabenow says the bill she's cosponsoring would put Congress and the President on "equal footing" with the Americans who would be affected by a shutdown:

"A shutdown could disrupt Social Security checks, veterans' benefits, hold up exports and cost private sector jobs, and will stop paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people.  It's only fair that Members of Congress' paychecks be stopped too."

The statement said the last time the government in 1995, "more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed," Social Security and Medicare requests were delayed, passports remained unprocessed, unemployment insurance funding ran out in some states, and "$3 billion in U.S. exports were delayed because export licenses could not be issued, negatively impacting economic growth."

The deadline for a deal is this Friday night. If a deal can't be reached, the government would be forced to shut down.

ABC News reports that Congress might postpone the deadline by "passing a two-week spending measure that would fund the government through March 18th."

Commentary
9:07 am
Tue March 1, 2011

Why Libraries Matter

Predicting the future can be a dangerous thing. When I was a child in the early nineteen-sixties, I used to watch a television show that predicted how we’d live in the far-off world of 2000.

By then, I was told, our homes would be heated by mini-nuclear power plants in the basement and we’d take our private helicopters to work. Nobody, however, saw the coming of the Internet.

Futurologists have gotten somewhat more cautious since then, but there is something most of them do agree on, which is that days are numbered for libraries as we have known them. Printed products have been  moving rapidly to servers and Kindles. While most are still published on paper, this is widely seen as a temporary measure which will last only as long as it takes the old fuddy-duddies to die off.

And priorities are shifting. Last week, the Detroit Public Library announced the layoff of a fifth of their entire staff, or eighty-three employees, at the end of March. The far more affluent suburb of Troy has already voted to close its library. Other libraries across the state are threatened with huge cuts or extinction.

The economy is bad, but why do we feel that we can live without libraries?  Here’s what one reader posted on the Detroit Free Press website, spelling several words wrong in the process: “Library’s are fast becoming a thing of the past due to rapid access and information that can be had via the Internet.”

Or, in other words, why would we possibly need a place where books are kept and stored when we’ve got Google? Those who defend libraries mainly do so on the grounds that everybody doesn‘t have a computer at home. The newspaper‘s story about the layoffs talked about all the poor people who come to the library to print resumes and scan the internet for job openings.

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Politics
6:02 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Allen Park lawyer "confident" city fire department will survive

An attorney for the Detroit suburb of Allen Park says he’s “confident” the city won’t have to eliminate its fire department.

Allen Park faces a budget deficit of around $660,000. Last week, its City Council voted to lay off all the city’s firefighters.

But an attorney who works for the city says he thinks that can be avoided.

Todd Flood says “he’s confident” the city and the firefighters’ union can strike a deal involving union concessions.

Flood says other city workers would have to make similar sacrifices.

Allen Park is a downriver Detroit suburb of about 25,000 people. The move to cut its whole fire department has sparked outrage at city government.

The Allen Park city administrator cited the uproar when he resigned on Sunday.

Politics
5:53 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court rules on Michigan case

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a murder conviction in the case Michigan v. Bryant.

The case involved a Detroit man who identified his shooter as the victim lay dying, and whether or not that evidence could be considered in court.

A Wayne County jury convicted Richard Bryant of murder based on the victim's statement. But the Michigan Supreme Court overturned that conviction, saying Bryant was denied his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

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Politics
3:48 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Secretary of State Clinton presses the United Nations on Libya

Fabrice Coffrini AFP/Getty Images

According to NPR, Secretary of State Clinton claims that pro-Gadhafi forces have been and continue to use violence against Libyan protesters:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of using "mercenaries and thugs" against his own people Monday as rebels said they thwarted an attempted aerial bombing of an eastern city.

"Gadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency,'' Clinton told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"Nothing is off the table as long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens."She called on Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African nation with an iron fist since 1969, to leave power "now, without further violence or delay."

Meanwhile, Gadhafi himself refuses to step down, claiming "all my people love me."

Secretary Hillary Clinton's remarks are some of the strongest yet from President Obama's administration regarding the recent protests and unrest in Libya.

Politics
10:38 am
Mon February 28, 2011

U of M won't ask legislature to soften Governor's higher ed cuts

The University of Michigan will probably not ask state legislators to soften what it calls “painful” proposed cuts to higher education.  Rather, U of M President Mary Sue Coleman is expected to tout the institution's successful efforts to drive costs out of the school's budget.

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Commentary
8:53 am
Mon February 28, 2011

A Natural at the Game

Governor Rick Snyder is not a “politician.” He would tell you that himself. I first heard he wasn’t a politician from a bunch of  political reporters more than a year ago, who felt he was wasting his money on what they felt was a catchy, but ultimately silly commercial.

This was, of course, the famous “tough nerd” commercial that first aired during last year’s Superbowl. Tim Skubick, the dean of, Lansing political reporters, thought it was likely to backfire.

This is a tough, blue-collar state, he said. Not a place where people voted for guys who called themselves “nerds.”

I didn’t know what to make of all this myself, till I saw Snyder skillfully and with scalpel-like precision, separate himself from the rest of the pack during the primary campaign. Like a veteran racehorse he ran third much of the way, then shot ahead in the final stretch, winning by nine lengths and a hundred thousand votes.

The general election wasn’t even a contest. But there was a lot of skepticism as to how the new governor would actually do with the hurly-burly of governing.

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