Politics & Government

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.

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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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News Roundup
8:27 am
Thu February 3, 2011

In this morning's news...

NMU Classes Resume

Northern Michigan University is open today, following yesterday’s closure of the university due to what was being called a, “serious threat.” The threat came from a blog post, but in a statement released last night, school officials said an investigation, “revealed no evidence that the anonymous blog post originated on campus. It was discovered tonight that similarly worded messages have been directed at several other U.S. universities, recently and in a previous year.”

Weather Continues to Keep Schools (and State Legislature) Closed

The massive winter storm that hit much of Michigan this week might be long-gone, but the remnants of the storm remain. Snow, ice, and cold-temperatures have led many school districts to remain closed for a second day in a row, including Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools. Meanwhile, state lawmakers aren’t ones to be left out: sessions in both the state House and Senate have been canceled today due to the weather.

Michigan Students Return from Egypt

Students from universities across the state are returning to the U.S. from Egypt as unrest in that country continues. Michigan universities have canceled their study abroad programs in Egypt and have been coordinating with the State department to bring students back to the U.S., Bridget Bodnar reports.

State Budget
7:47 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Public employees dispute Governor Snyder's state financial report

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Public employees are taking issue with Governor Rick Snyder’s citizen’s guide to the state’s finances. They say it presents an incomplete and inaccurate picture of employee compensation in the public and private sectors.

Unions say the data in the guide does not compare similar jobs in the public and private sectors. They point to half a dozen studies that paint a different picture than the Snyder administration’s data.

Nick Ciaramitaro is with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees:

"Salaries tend to be a little lower, benefits tend to be a little higher in the public sector, but if you look at total compensation, which is what the governor says he wants to look at, we’re very close or a little behind the private sector."

Ciaramitaro also says the data in the guide may not take into account unpaid furlough days taken by state and local workers.

The governor acknowledges the numbers in his guide are a broader overview of compensation trends, but he says he’s open to looking at other data before he presents his first proposed budget later this month: 

"I’m happy to have people react to it whether they agree with it or don’t agree with it because that may bring other data forward that may be worth considering as part of this process. It’s an open  dialogue. This is how you actually set the framework to have the open discussion you’d really like people to have.”

Snyder says that discussion will influence his administration’s budget plans. The governor will present his budget proposal to the Legislature on February 17th.

Northern Michigan University
6:51 am
Thu February 3, 2011

NMU to reopen after threat

Northern Michigan University seal

Northern Michigan University in Marquette will resume classes today, a day after being closed due to what was being called a, "serious threat." Last night, the university released the following statement:

NMU President Les Wong said the FBI and other agencies have indicated that there is no longer a clear and ongoing threat and that conditions are suitable to reopening the university. The investigation has revealed no evidence that the anonymous blog post originated on campus. It was discovered tonight that similarly worded messages have been directed at several other U.S. universities, recently and in a previous year.

“We would not make the decision to reopen campus if we did not feel that it is safe to do so,” said Wong. “NMU Public Safety will maintain increased patrols throughout campus as an added precaution, but we think the new information uncovered tonight diminishes the threat to NMU.”

NMU Public Safety Director Mike Bath said his department will continue to work with other agencies to assist in the investigation. NMU had received a phone tip before the university opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday of an anonymous blog post threatening harm to the campus community. Authorities assessed the threat and determined it was serious enough to warrant mobilizing the emergency communication system and closing the university.

State Legislature
6:39 am
Thu February 3, 2011

Another snow day for Michigan lawmakers

Another snow day is in store for the Michigan legislature
Matthileo Flickr

The state Legislature is taking a second snow day. Sessions and committee meetings are canceled today because of this week's winter storm. The Associated Press reports:

Thursday's cancellations include previously scheduled full sessions of the Senate and House, at least three Senate committee hearings and at least five House committee hearings. Lawmakers will resume their regularly scheduled sessions and committee hearings Tuesday.

Lawmakers usually don't hold session on Mondays and Fridays.

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Egypt
5:10 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Michigan university students return from Egypt

A protest in Shoubra, Cairo, Jan. 1, 2011
Mahmoud Saber Flickr

Students from Michigan universities are returning to the United States from Egypt after unrest in that country.

Zenit Chughtai attends Michigan State University and was studying in Alexandria through The Language Flagship program. She says she noticed a difference in the way Egyptians treated foreigners after the protests began:

“I was with a bunch of American students when we encountered a group and, they didn’t – we didn’t get the normal reaction the usually got, a reaction like, "Oh you’re some tourist," they were like – "Come, run with us, join us, protest with us."”

Universities across the state have canceled their study abroad programs in Egypt and have been coordinating with the State department to bring students back to the U.S.

Chugtai returned to the United States only a few days after the protests but she said many other students in her program flew back yesterday. They are currently in Washington D.C., waiting to learn more about how they'll continue their studies.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:18 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Catholic Church weighs in on state Earned Income Tax Credit battle

User VanZandt Flickr

State lawmakers trying to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit are hearing from the Catholic Church.

The Michigan Catholic Conference says keeping the credit for the working poor is its top policy goal for this year.

The Conference is the official lobbying arm of the Michigan’s Catholic Dioceses and represents 2.25 million people.

Dave Maluchnik is a spokesperson with the Michigan Catholic Conference.

We have urged members of the House to reconsider their proposal to eliminate the earned income tax credit. There are numerous other groups out there in the state who are very concerned. In fact, there are many protestant organizations, Jewish organizations, that are very interested in protecting this policy.

Lobbying on all sorts of issues will heat up in the coming weeks when Governor Rick Snyder announces his budget priorities for the next fiscal year on February 17th.

Sarah Alvarez - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
2:04 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Is Detroit City Council too costly?

A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that Detroit spends a larger chunk of its budget on the City Council than other major cities.

Detroitspends just over 1% of its current general fund budget on Council expenses. The national median is just under 0.5%.

The study also looked at whether cities have Council term limits, or serve full- or part-time. Detroit has a full-time Council.

Thomas Ginsberg is the Project Manager of Pew’s Philadelphia-based research initiative. He says the research didn’t “find much correlation” between that status and costs.

“Most of the Councils that call themselves part-time…in fact the members work much more than part-time. So we found that’s not a particularly useful term. That’s a commentary more about the term than the numbers.”

But Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh calls portions of the study “totally inaccurate.”

Pugh says Detroit’s Council budget also includes some administrative offices, like the city planning commission. He also points out that Detroit Council members’ have lower salaries than most of their counterparts in other cities.

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