Politics & Government

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.

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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.

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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!"

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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.

State Government
6:42 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Michigan Attorney General to take on government corruption

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Inauguration Day, 2011
Corvair Owner Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has created a Public Integrity Unit aimed at stepping up the fight against corruption in state and local government. The Associated Press reports:

Schuette says in a statement Thursday that corruption scandals have "damaged the public's trust in government" and left Michigan with a questionable national reputation. He says there will be "no more Kwames," a reference to disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick served jail time for lying in court about an affair and now is in prison for violating probation. He and his father also face a sweeping federal indictment that accuses them of taking kickbacks and bribes.

Schuette says the unit is being created with existing office resources. During last year's campaign, he had said fighting public corruption was important.

Politics
7:00 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

Mubarak refuses to resign

Update 6:01 p.m.:

Egyptians in Michigan are disappointed by the news that President Hosni Mubarak plans to remain in office until elections in September.

Ola Elsaid  is a doctor who lives in Rochester, north of Detroit. She stayed home from work today to watch the developments in Cairo.

Elsaid says Mubarak’s announcement was like “a slap in the face,” and she’s worried about the reaction it could produce:

"So we’re afraid that everybody’s going to revolt even more. We see the reaction from our families. I was speaking to my cousin, he’s already dressed and going down to the street to join the demonstration. And we’re just worried about the bloodshed that might ensue in Egypt right now."

Elsaid says she wants to see the U.S. government support the push for democracy in Egypt.

Update 4:39 p.m.:

We're waiting to hear the reaction from local Arab Americans to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's decision not to resign.  The New York Times filed this report from Cairo:

President Hosni Mubarak told the Egyptian people Thursday that he would delegate more authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, but that he would not resign his post, contradicting earlier reports that he would step aside and surprising hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered to hail his departure from the political scene.  

In a nationally televised address following a tumultuous day of political rumors and conflicting reports, Mr. Mubarak said he would “admit mistakes” and honor the sacrifices of young people killed in the three-week uprising, but that he would continue to “shoulder my responsibilities” until September, and did not give a firm indication that he would cede political power.

Even as Mr. Mubarak spoke, angry chants were shouted from huge crowds in Cairo who had anticipated his resignation but were instead confronted with a plea from the president to support continued rule by him and his chosen aides. People waved their shoes in defiance, considered an insulting gesture in the Arab world. 

 NPR and BBC will provide continued coverage of the situation in Egypt throughout the evening on Michigan Radio.

Politics
2:15 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

President Obama's "Win the Future" speech in Marquette

President Barack Obama greets the employees during a stop at Donkers candy store and restaurant in Marquette, Mich., February 10, 2011.
Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

Here's a copy of the President's "Win the Future" speech at Northern Michigan University today:

Hello, Marquette!  It is good to be in the U.P.  It is good to be at Northern Michigan University! 

So, I have to say, I think some folks on my staff have it out for me.  Not because it’s 10 degrees here – I can handle that.  It’s because for the second time in two weeks, not long after my Bears went down, they’ve sent me to a town with a bunch of Green Bay Packer fans, even if we are in Michigan.  But I congratulate all the fans here, and we’ll see the Packers at the White House.

Of course, I haven’t come to Marquette to talk about winning the Super Bowl.  I’ve come here because it’s towns like this where the jobs and businesses of tomorrow will take root.  It’s towns like this where our economic future will be won.

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Speech at Northern Michigan University
1:00 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

Live Stream of President Obama in Marquette

Presidential Visit
12:40 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

President Obama visits U.P. today

President Obama arrives in Marquette, MI later this morning
The U.S. Army Flickr

Update 12:40 p.m.:

We will carry the live feed of President Obama's speech in Marquette on our website at 1pm.

Update 12:01 p.m.:

Governor Snyder has released the following statement about President Obama's trip to Marquette:

“All Michiganders can take great pride in the national recognition earned by Northern Michigan University and the communities of Marquette County.  Their partnership to expand high-speed wireless internet services through NMU’s WiMAX network wisely recognizes the critical need to enhance online availability in the 21st century.  This cutting-edge approach benefits students and families while providing an essential tool that drives business development.

“At the state level, we are working aggressively to provide additional online and self-service alternatives for Michigan residents.  Expanding wireless capabilities in the Upper Peninsula complements our efforts and provides welcome conveniences to U.P. customers.  The President is right to highlight this initiative as a model of cooperation and innovation.  We welcome the President to Michigan and look forward to him sharing this Upper Peninsula success story across America.  We also applaud NMU and the Marquette area as they get their well-deserved attention on the national stage.  They are outstanding ambassadors for the Upper Peninsula and our entire state.”

Update: 10:58 a.m.:

Marquette, Michigan?? Wish we were going to Hawaii instead....

President Obama and his entourage of staff are flying aboard Air Force 1 to Marquette (Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is making his final flight).

The White House press corps is traveling along and they're not looking forward to the extreme cold temps.

Here's a "pool report" from the press:

Marine One touched down at Andrews approx 9:35 am. POTUS, wearing overcoat but no hat or gloves, on AF1 5 minutes later, followed by staff including Jarrett , Sutphen, Mastromonaco, and Gibbs, making his final flight as press secretary.

AF1 rolling, with a flight time of just over 2 hrs from Andrews to Marquette, where the temp is said to be in single digits with a wind chill of -19. Pool fondly remembering travel pool in Hawaii just over a month ago.

7:12 a.m.

President Barack Obama will visit the city of Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula today. The President will visit Northern Michigan University to promote his administration’s National Wireless Initiative.

It’s a program the President first announced during last month’s State of the Union Address.

The initiative would bring high speed wireless internet access to 98 percent of the nation’s population within five years.

Some say it’s a lofty goal, considering such technology is only now being built in major cities.

The initiative is part of the White House’s new focus on innovation and competitiveness as a way to “win the future.”

Commentary
12:24 pm
Thu February 10, 2011

Detroit Public Schools

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, came to Lansing yesterday to ask for something he has to know he’s probably never going to get.

He wants the legislature to give what amounts to a loan guarantee to the company that insured the schools’ last round of borrowing. If that firm, Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation, doesn’t get that assurance, it may block the schools from borrowing more money? Why? Because it worries DPS will go bankrupt.

Which would leave Assured Guaranty holding the bag. And it’s a pretty unpleasant bag, The schools are hemorrhaging money and students. Bobb came in two years ago, full of confident promises to eliminate the deficit. But it has only gotten worse.

Assured Guaranty insured a loan for a little over a quarter of a billion dollars the schools borrowed in 2005. Now, the schools need more. They have a new deficit of $327 million dollars.

That’s more than half their entire general fund budget. To make ends meet, Bobb says he needs to borrow $219 million next month.

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