Politics & Government

Politics
5:02 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Feds indict former council aide in sludge deal

A former chief of staff to Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel has been indicted in connection with a sludge-hauling scandal in Detroit.


John Clark resigned as Cockrel’s chief of staff in 2008, shortly after allegations came to light that he accepted $3,000 in bribes from a man who worked for Synagro Technologies. At the time, Synagro was trying to secure a sludge-hauling contract with the city worth $1.2 billion.


The man who allegedly bribed Clark, James Rosendall, was sentenced to 11 months in prison in 2009. Former city councilwoman Monica Conyers, and consultants Sam Riddle and Rayford Jackson have also been indicted in connection with the Synagro contract.


John Clark faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the two bribery counts he’s charged with in the indictment. He faces up to five years on two counts of lying to the FBI about the bribes.

State Budget
4:49 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Reaction to Lt. Governor's "A-bomb" remark

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Reactions are coming in after some intense--maybe radioactive is a better word?--comments made by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley on the governor's budget proposal, which will come out next week.

On Tuesday, Calley compared next week's budget announcement to an atomic bomb. Calley's comments, from WKZO:

"Here's why I think that our message on the 17th of February is going to be dropping an atomic bomb on the city of Lansing: We're going to do an all-cuts solution to our budget deficit."

Sara Wurfel, Governor Snyder's press secretary, claims that Calley misspoke. From the Detroit News:

"This was an extremely unfortunate choice of words," she said.

"It certainly doesn't take into account the very difficult decisions that are being made and the extensive efforts we are taking to help protect citizens and ensure we leave no one behind. We are doing everything we can to address the state's fiscal crisis and trim spending in all areas of the budget, but also to help preserve critical services."

Also, "this is not an all-cuts budget," she said.

Read more
Commentary
11:41 am
Wed February 9, 2011

State of Desperation

Earlier this week Wayne State University’s Alumni Association invited me and Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, to have a frank discussion with their members.

The theme was “Michigan at a Crossroads,” a look at the challenges facing our state today. I think some people expected a bitter debate. After all, Finley runs an opinion section which is profoundly conservative. My reputation is that of some sort of moderate liberal, though I prefer to think of myself as a common sense pragmatist with a bias towards things that work.

But people expected a verbal slugfest, they were disappointed. Oh, Nolan and I have our differences. I think a graduated income tax would be a good idea; he doesn’t, and I‘d be comfortable with a higher level of taxation, if the revenue were to be used for the right things, like education, roads and bridges.

Fifteen years ago, our views probably would have been far further apart. But now, Finley and I were virtually united in recognizing that the first thing we all must do is understand how big our predicament is. Michigan is engaged in a race to the bottom, in more categories than anyone would care to count.

We’ve gone from being a relatively rich state to a poor one.

Still, we have to somehow get competitive for the jobs and growth industries of the future. And that’s hard to do when we have crumbling roads and bridges and crippling deficits.

That’s even harder to do when school systems are failing, and when cities fail to meet their obligations and slip into emergency financial manager status, the equivalent, in the political world, of bankruptcy and receivership. Treasurer Andy Dillon said recently that five communities soon won’t be able to pay their employees.

This may be only the tip of the iceberg, and speaking of icebergs, there are other monstrous ones ahead. We both agreed that one of the most uncovered stories in this state is the fact that state pension funds have a staggering $15.5 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.

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News Roundup
9:22 am
Wed February 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

Nicolae Gerasim Flickr

Government Releases Report on Toyota

A government investigation into safety problems with Toyota vehicles found there were no electronic flaws that would account for sudden, unintentional acceleration. As the Associated Press reports:

Transportation officials and engineers with NASA say two mechanical safety defects previously identified by the government - sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats - are the only known causes for the reports of runaway Toyotas. Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 for a series of safety issues.

Bill to Eliminate EITC Introduced

A bill that would eliminate a tax credit for low-income workers in Michigan has been introduced in the state Senate. Republican state Senator Roger Kahn introduced the measure yesterday that would end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Many Republicans in the state House support eliminating the tax credit. Opponents say an elimination of the credit would be the same as a tax increase on the state’s working poor.

Bobb to Testify at Capitol

Robert Bobb, the Detroit Public Schools financial manager, will in Lansing today. Bobb will testify before a joint session of the state House and Senate education committees. It’s expected he’ll talk about the districts educational and financial turnaround plans. Bobb has been the financial manager of the district since 2009.

Count Day

Today is ‘Count Day’ for public school districts across the state. Count days are important to every school district’s bottom line because the total number of students on the days helps determine how much state money the district gets year-round, Lindsay Smith reports.

State Legislature
7:38 am
Wed February 9, 2011

Bill to end low-income tax credit introduced in state Senate

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Republican state Senator Roger Kahn introduced a bill yesterday that would eliminate the state's Earned Income Tax Credit. The tax credit currently goes to low-income working people in Michigan. The Associated Press reports:

He (Kahn) says the credit is expected to cost the state roughly $370 million in the upcoming fiscal year and the state can't afford it. Many House Republicans also support eliminating the tax credit. The tax credit is staunchly defended by groups including the Michigan League for Human Services and the Michigan Catholic

Conference. They say eliminating the credit would be the equivalent of a tax increase on the working poor.

The state faces a projected $1.8 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

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Politics
8:49 pm
Tue February 8, 2011

Changes to state parole board may save money

Paroling more prisoners over the past few years has resulted in savings
Simone Ramella flickr

It is too early to tell if Governor Rick Snyder’s executive order to move the job of paroling prisoners from Governor’s appointees back to the Department of Corrections will save money. The order also reduces the number of Parole Board members from 15 down to 10. All prisoners who want to be released before their sentence is up needs a decision from the parole board.

The move will save the state some money on some salaries, but the real savings will only happen if the new Board can continue to parole prisoners as fast or even faster than the old board. 

Matthew Grabowski is with the Michigan State Senate Fiscal Agency.

Michigan spends a little over $35,000 a year to house your typical inmate. It’s usually less expensive to supervise an individual in the community, whether it’s through traditional parole or whether we use some kind of electronic monitoring like a GPS tether. Those ranges are from maybe, say as little as $2,000 a year, up to around $10,000.

Grabowski also said more details are needed before it's known if the executive order may signal more changes to the Parole Board.  

It’s quite possible the parole board could change the way it approaches the parole process entirely. So it’s difficult to forecast sort of what the fiscal impact will be until the Governor and Director of the Department of Corrections sort of lay out a process for how the new parole board will operate. 

Parole approval rates for every class of criminal offender have gone up since 2008.

Health
4:55 pm
Tue February 8, 2011

Michelle Obama to Flint: "Let's Move!"

First Lady Michelle Obama
(official White House portrait)

Flint is planning a major, new community wide effort to encourage fitness as it joins Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" anti-obesity campaign.  Flint is the 500th local community to join the First Lady’s youth fitness campaign which marks its first anniversary tomorrow.  

Mrs. Obama welcomed Flint to her campaign during a conference call with local officials today. 

 “This is a generational problem.  We have to keep driving this issue.  We will do it here at the national level.  But the real work happens on the ground where you are.”

Flint is partnering with the Crim Fitness Foundation to get people to make personal fitness commitments. A kick-off is planned for April. Flint also plans to expand nutrition-related education programs in its schools.

Commentary
11:29 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Save the Children

We could argue endlessly over who is responsible for the state of Michigan’s economy. Some people blame globalization. Others, the short-sightedness of the domestic automakers. Some say, Jennifer Granholm‘s failure to lead.

Some say it was the callous selfishness of the Republican Party, and on and on. But one thing is clear: today’s toddlers aren’t to blame. Neither is any child. They didn’t make the policies or the mistakes. But they are suffering as a result of them.

That’s not only unfair to them, but sabotages all of our futures, and that of Michigan. If we live long enough, our destinies will all be in the hands of people much younger than us. And right now, we aren’t serving them well. Certainly not well enough.

That’s the clear message emerging from a document released today, The Kids Count Data Book. This is an annual, joint project of two non-partisan, non-profit institutions, the century-old Michigan League for Human Services, and the newer Michigan’s Children.

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News Roundup
8:36 am
Tue February 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

Kids Count

A new report published by the Michigan League for Human Services shows there has been an increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the state. The annual Kids Count report also shows an increase in the number of children living in poverty. There are, however, some bright spots in the report that show a continued decline in teen births and high school dropout rates.

Mayor Bing Announces Residential Incentives

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced a new incentive program yesterday to get more Detroit police officers to live within the city. The project’s pilot phase will give officers the chance to buy a tax-foreclosed home and to be eligible to receive federal funds to restore them, Sarah Cwiek reports. Currently, fewer than half of the city’s police force live in Detroit.

Flint Looks to State for Help

The city of Flint, currently facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit, has applied for state permission to get a $20 million fiscal stabilization bondFlint mayor Dayne Walling says the city needs the money to help keep the city afloat. If the city doesn’t get the funds, the state may eventually takeover Flint’s finances, Steve Carmody reports.

Presidential Visit

President Obama will visit Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Thursday to talk about the national wireless initiative. In a press release, the White House says:

In his State of the Union Address, the President called for a National Wireless Initiative to help businesses extend the next generation of wireless coverage to 98 percent of the population.  The next generation wireless network in Marquette is an effective demonstration of how the President’s proposal to open up airwaves will spark new innovation, put people back to work, grow the economy and help America win the future.

Presidential Visit
7:42 am
Tue February 8, 2011

President Obama to visit U.P. on Thursday

President Barack Obama will visit Marquette, MI on Thursday
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama will be in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Thursday to discuss the National Wireless Initiative. The president will visit Marquette to talk about businesses that have prospered because of broadband access. The White House issued a press release detailing the trip:

In his State of the Union Address, the President called for a National Wireless Initiative to help businesses extend the next generation of wireless coverage to 98 percent of the population.  The next generation wireless network in Marquette is an effective demonstration of how the President’s proposal to open up airwaves will spark new innovation, put people back to work, grow the economy and help America win the future.

In his State of the Union, President Obama outlined a plan for America to out-build the competition to win the future. This plan for a 21st century infrastructure is about rebuilding our roads, rails and runways, but it is also about attracting new businesses to our shores and having the resources to ship American goods, products and ideas anywhere in the world.  In order to do that, America must have the most reliable ways to move people, goods and information-from roads and airports to high-speed rail and high-speed internet.

As the Detroit News reports:

It'll be Obama's first trip to the Upper Peninsula as president and comes six months after he visited General Motors Co.'s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and Chrysler's Jefferson North Plant. The last time a president was north of the Mackinac Bridge was in 2004 when George W. Bush made a campaign swing through the region.

Children
7:27 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Report: Child poverty increases in Michigan

There has been an increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the state, as well as increase in children living in poverty. That’s according to an annual report published by the Michigan League for Human Services.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell works on the annual Kids Count report. She says the Legislature needs to stop making cuts to important programs in the state budget that help kids:

I think that’s sort of the trouble with term limits – that the legislators who are coming to town may not realize that we’ve already cut billion, literally billions, out of the state budget, many compromising programs that serve families and children.

Zehnder-Merrell says there are some bright spots in the Kids Count report, including a decline in high school dropout rates and teen births.

She also says she is optimistic that Governor Rick Snyder will make decreasing child poverty a priority.

Governor Snyder
6:47 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Snyder signs executive order to reduce state parole board

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of Governor Snyder's office

Governor Rick Snyder has signed an executive order to reduce the size of the state parole board by a third.

It’s not clear how this shakeup will affect the policy set by Governor Jennifer Granholm to parole more inmates as a way to control corrections costs.

Governor Snyder is reducing the parole board from 15 to 10 members, and placing it under direct control of the Corrections director. He also eliminated the board that advices the governor on clemency decisions.

His administration say the move will streamline government and save the state about half-a-million dollars.

The parole board members will have to reapply for their jobs. But Snyder says the parole board was written into state law to be a 10-member board with the Department of Corrections, and so it will return to its original form.

Politics
4:55 pm
Mon February 7, 2011

Bing unveils incentives to make more Detroit police officers residents

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has rolled out a new incentives program for Detroit police officers.

“Project 14” aims to pull some officers living in the suburbs into city neighborhoods. The phrase refers to a Detroit police code that means things are “back to normal.”

Bing hopes to restore something like normality to Detroit neighborhoods by making more Detroit cops city residents. Fewer than half are right now.

The project’s pilot phase will give officers chance to get a tax-foreclosed home for up to a thousand dollars. They’ll also be eligible for federal funds to fix them up.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee calls moving to the city a “highly personal decision” for officers. But he thinks many will consider it.

“I’ve fielded a number of calls to my office wondering what the incentives were. So now that they’ve been laid out I think we’re going to see a lot of officers take advantage of it.”

Project 14 will initially offer 200 homes in two relatively stable Detroit neighborhoods.

Bing says the program also complements his Detroit Works Project, which aims to strengthen the city’s more viable communities.

Developing
11:55 am
Mon February 7, 2011

Flint making the case for a $20 million bond

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

UPDATE 3:30pm


 


The Finance and Claims Committe of the State Administrative Board unanimously passed the city of Flint's resolution requesting a $20 million fiscal stabilization bond.   The resolution now goes to the full board February 15th. 


 


11:55am 2/0711  


 


Flint city officials will be in Lansing Tuesday. The city has applied for state permission to get a $20 million  ‘fiscal stabilization bond.' 


Flint is facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit this year and other long-term debts. Flint mayor Dayne Walling says the city needs the money to help keep the city afloat financially. 



“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.”  


Walling is optimistic state officials will approve their bond request.  



“If this, for some reason, were not approved by the State Administrative Board, then we’ll get right back to the table with Treasury and we’ll talk about what our options are."


   If the city of Flint can’t get the money it needs, the state may eventually takeover Flint’s finances.

State of the city
3:34 pm
Sat February 5, 2011

Heartwell: Grand Rapids ‘destination city’

Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell painted his city as a destination for medical researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and young people in his State of the City address Saturday.

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Politics
5:10 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

International border expected to be topic at Obama, Harper meeting

bbmcshane flickr

President Obama is scheduled to sit down with Canada’s prime minister in Washington D.C. tomorrow.

The meeting comes just a few days after the release of a government report that said only 32 miles of the two countries’ four-thousand-mile shared border has an “acceptable” level of security.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the report confirmed what she’s been saying for some time.

"Not to minimize the problems with the drug cartels and the problems we’re having on the Southern border, but we are under-resourced on the Northern border, and with the small amount of resources we have, to have them continue to raid those resources and ship them to the Southern border, I think is a mistake."

Canadian press reports say President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are close to signing a landmark security and trade deal.

Michigan History
4:52 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

It's not the first time Michigan has faced budget challenges

The Capitol in Lansing
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers face the challenge of balancing a budget with a hole of around $1.8 billion in it.

Governor Snyder plans to submit a plan to the legislature this month, and it promises to leave very few departments untouched.

Budget issues are not new to Michigan.

Today, we explored some other difficult times in budget years past with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White asked what led to the deficit we are facing in this year's budget.

Read more
Politics
4:21 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Study: State employees underpaid

A study commissioned by a union-backed think tank says reports that state and local government employees in Michigan are overpaid compared to workers in the private sector are wrong.

The study is by the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute.

It says college-educated public employees earn 21% less than private sector workers with degrees.

It also found local government workers were compensated at about the same rate as their private sector counterparts.

Jeff Keefe is the Rutgers University management and labor relations professor who conducted the study:

"So the study concludes that state government employees are under-compensated in the state of Michigan, while local government employees are neither over- or under-compensated in the state of Michigan."

The report takes into account education, salaries, and benefits.

Ethan Pollack, with the Economic Policy Institute, says employee compensation is not the biggest factor behind the state’s budget trouble:

 "Michigan isn't significantly different than the deficits you are seeing all across the country…This is not about over-compensation of public sector workers. This is [about] two things. The cyclical deficit is from the recession, and the structural deficit is health care costs."

The Economic Policy Institute says its seven-state study found growing health care costs, and not employee compensation, are the biggest factor in budget deficits.

Politics
11:53 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Lawmaker defends Legislature shutdown for storm

State Sen. Rick Jones says decision to shut down Legislature was to protect citizens.
Senate.michigan.gov

A Michigan lawmaker is defending the decision to shut down the state legislature again today as the state continues to dig out from Wednesday’s storm. 

The snowstorm that battered many parts of Michigan   prompted lawmakers to cancel legislative sessions and committee meetings again on Thursday.

State Senator Rick Jones defends the decision. He says it’s in the best interest of the public.

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Commentary
11:25 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Border Wars

Well, the worst snowstorm in recorded history turned out not to live up to its billing, and civilization seems likely to go on.

Funny, but every year we always seem to forget a basic fact of life in Michigan. Which is: it snows in the winter. We are pretty far north, you know. So much so, that a sizable chunk of Ontario is south of us. You remember Ontario, yes?

It is one province of a vast country called Canada which we know is there, but somehow, mostly forget to notice.

Canada is, by far, our biggest trading partner. The economies of Michigan and Ontario are tightly linked, so much so that if something happened to stifle trade between our two countries, we would instantly be plunged into the mother of all depressions.

Most of us know this, but we seem somehow to have an amazing sense of collective amnesia about Canada.

Incredibly, much of the debate in Michigan about whether or not to build a second bridge over the Detroit River has completely ignored that any proposal needs the willing participation of a completely independent foreign nation, known as Canada.

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