Politics & Government

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.

Politics
1:28 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Carl Levin on Egypt, repealing health care reform, and electric cars

Senator Carl Levin talking to the press
USGov creative commons

Michigan Radio spoke with Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin about a wide range of topics on Wednesday - starting with the situation in Egypt.

Levin says Egyptians deserve a democratic government and the U.S. should support their aspirations. Levin is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee . But he says the violent turn of events in Egypt is a bad sign. Levin thinks it best if current President Hosni Mubarak oversees the transition to a new government.

"The more violent and the more sudden his departure is, seems to me, the more likely it is that what will take his place would not be sustainable," says Levin. "If the army has to move in to restore order, that’s not necessarily the best way to move to a democracy."

Thousands of anti-government  protestors clashed with supporters of President Mubarak today.

Levin also addressed this afternoon's vote in the Senate to repeal the nation's new health reform law.

It's expected the bill will not pass, since the vote will likely be along party lines, and Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate.

Levin says repeal is out of the question. He says the reform will help millions of Americans get health insurance and avoid bankruptcy because of medical bills. And repeal, he says, would cost $500 billion.

But Levin says Democrats in the Senate are willing to consider bills to improve the law.

"We are open to those kind of changes, but it’s gotta be looked at very carefully one by one as to what is being proposed and what the cost of it is," he says.

A bill has also been proposed to allow states to opt out of the new law. A vote on that bill hasn’t been scheduled.

There are also court challenges to the law, in particular, the provision that requires everyone to buy health insurance. 

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Politics
12:52 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Water rate hikes stir more criticism

William Warby Flickr

Proposed new rates for customers of Detroit’s massive water system have done little to tamp down criticism of the department.

Water bills would go up an average of about nine percent in July, and sewer rates would climb a little more than 11 percent.

Water department officials say lower demand is to blame for much of the increase. But critics are not happy about how the rates are calculated. State Representative Kurt Heise represents western Wayne County:

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Commentary
12:12 pm
Wed February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day in Lansing

Well, it’s Groundhog Day, there’s a foot of snow, and I’d guess  most of the state’s woodchucks aren’t even thinking about coming out of their burrows, let alone looking for their shadows.

Our lawmakers aren’t anywhere near the Capitol Dome either; they prudently took a couple of days off. But they’ll be back soon, and hopefully at work straightening out the state’s finances.

People may differ on how our lawmakers should balance the books, and put our state on a permanently sounder footing.

But nobody wants any further repeats of Groundhog Day. As in the movie of that name where the main character has to keep repeating the same day over and over. 

He had to do that, as I recall, until he learned a profound lesson about life. Our legislators have been doing a version of that for years.  Papering over serious problems; going for quick fixes, kicking problems down the road for future generations to deal with.

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Politics
5:27 pm
Tue February 1, 2011

Pure Michigan campaign seeking public and private dollars

Screen grab from Pure Michigan ad
Pure Michigan

A measure to fully fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign for the rest of the year appears poised for a vote next week in a state House committee.

Tourism officials and travel-related business owners showed up at the first hearing to support the legislation.

Dan Musser’s family owns the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. He says the national ad campaign has helped draw a growing number of out-of-state visitors to the island.

"Our potential is even greater than our success at this point, but if the campaign is not fully funded, we’ve wasted the opportunity for the Pure Michigan brand to reach its full potential. That potential brings tax revenues to the state, supports and creates jobs for Michigan residents."

Musser also says Mackinac Island is splitting the cost of a $1 million nationwide Pure Michigan ad purchase with the state’s tourism agency, Travel Michigan.

The ad will use the Pure Michigan brand to specifically promote Mackinac Island to travelers.

The Henry Ford in Dearborn will also share the costs of national campaign promoting the museum and the Pure Michigan brand.

Travel Michigan says about 30 other resorts and regional tourism offices  are also forming Pure Michigan ad partnerships with the state.

Politics
5:02 pm
Tue February 1, 2011

Pete Hoekstra joins law firm - lobbying group

Pete Hoekstra will join former republican colleagues at the law firm
from Hoekstra's former congressional website

Update 5:02 p.m.:

A representative from Dickstein Shapiro LLP spoke with Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith. The rep. told Smith that Hoekstra plans to continue living in Holland. Hoekstra will apparently split his time (50/50) between home and Washington D.C. for now.

No word yet on whether Hoekstra is looking for a couch to crash on in D.C.

3:39 p.m.:

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra has a new job.

He'll be working as a senior advisor to Dickstein Shapiro LLP, a law firm and lobbying group with offices in Washington D.C., California, Connecticut, and New York.

Going from a member on Capitol Hill to a member of a group that lobbies Capitol Hill is a common path for many former members of Congress.

Hoekstra will join former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and former Senator Tom Hutchinson at the firm.

In the firm's press release, Hoekstra said he looks forward to collaborating with Hutchinson and Hastert on a "daily basis," and using his expertise in "strategic and contingency planning":

"National security—from homegrown terrorism to cyberwarfare —continues, by necessity, to be a governmental imperative at all levels, and lawmakers in Washington make crucial decisions every day that impact corporations across America. As the Republican leadership in the U.S. House seeks to rein in federal spending, and as these important issues continue to loom large, there are few things more important than seasoned strategic counsel who understand the nuanced interworkings of government. Dickstein Shapiro has what it takes."

Before he left, Hoekstra was the ranking Republican and a former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Politics
5:48 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Michigan Egyptians voice support for protestors

Egyptians in Michigan are voicing their support for anti-government protestors in that country.

Members of the newly-formed American Egyptian Muslim Society issued a statement of support Monday for continued demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The group says it affirms the “non-violent” portions of the movement for “political and social reform” in Egypt.

Shereef Akeel, an Egyptian-American civil rights lawyer, says the protesters come from all segments of Egyptian society.

“We’re witnessing a collaborative effort by a people of different religions, different persuasions, different economic classes…poor, rich…different worshippers from different denominations, all in the streets together.”

Akeel says he never dreamed the Egyptian protests would turn into a possible revolution.

He says it’s understandable the U.S. would be concerned about a potential “vacuum of power” if Mubarak is overthrown. But he maintains the diversity of the demonstrators shows it’s possible the country has a moderate, secular future.

Politics
5:30 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Snyder report: state workers making more than twice their private sector counterparts

Legislators are looking for places to trim the budget as they stare at a $1.8 billion budget hole.

Reducing state employee compensation is on the list.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released a report today that says public employees are making more than twice their private sector counterparts.

The Detroit Free Press says the "Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health," may be sending a signal about "one way the new governor expects to address...the budget shortfall." From the Freep:

He said the overall compensation of the average private sector workers fell 13% from 2000-09 while rising 19% for state employees and 13% for local government workers. For state workers, the average annual compensation -- $53,453 in salary, $31,623 in fringes and $13,000 for insurance-- was more than twice that of the private sector, the report said.

The governor was quoted as saying, "I'd be careful about over generalizing on this data but it does show an important trend that needs to be addressed."

Rick Pluta from the Michigan Public Radio Network reports:

Public employee unions and advocates for human services question some of the data used in the report. They also say they’d like to see Snyder’s plans for investing in schools and infrastructure, as well as protecting people hurt by the economy.

Politics
11:57 am
Mon January 31, 2011

A "citizen's guide" to the state's financial troubles

Governor Snyder will roll out a citizen’s guide to the financial troubles facing the state, local governments, and school districts before a meeting of business leaders in Lansing this afternoon.

The governor is a retired investor and certified public accountant. He says the guide will give the public an easy-to-grasp outline of the condition of government finances in Michigan.

Governor Snyder says the state’s official financial report runs more than 200 pages and is too big and complicated, and it’s filled with too much bureaucratic jargon for most people to understand.

Snyder says his administration has picked what he considers the most critical information, such as the state’s revenue-to-expenditures, its reserves, and long-term obligations such as pensions, and put it into an easy-to-follow 13-page briefing:

“So I think this will be a big help in terms of the stage for a more-informed discussion, where all the public can participate because we’ll all have better facts to work off of and we’ll see how far beyond our means we’ve actually spent.”

Estimates peg the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year at about $1.8 billion.

The governor will present his plan to balance the budget later this month.

Governor Snyder
7:10 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Making the state's finances easier to understand

Governor Rick Snyder will release what he hopes will be an easier-to-understand state balance sheet today
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder will speak later today in Lansing to the group Business Leaders for Michigan. He will release an outline of the data he thinks people need to understand the state’s budget crisis. He's expected to talk about his plans to reshape the state’s tax on businesses.

The Snyder administration has been circulating a draft version of a plan to scrap the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax in favor of a six-percent corporate income tax.

But the governor cautions his business tax reform plan remains a work in progress:

There’s a lot of speculation going on, and it’s a good dialouge to have out there in the public. I think we’re going to have a great plan based on simple, fair, and efficient.

The governor says he’d like to make paying Michigan’s corporate tax so simple it can all fit onto a single page. He wants it be an overall tax cut on Michigan’s business sector -- though some companies will pay more, some will pay less, and some will pay no business tax at all.

Manufacturers and other businesses say they are withholding judgment until they see how it might affect their bottom lines.

Election 2012
6:51 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Rep. Conyers to run again in 2012

U.S. Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, MI
Photo courtesy of www.conyers.house.gov

Democratic Representative John Conyers has told The Detroit News that he plans to seek another congressional term in 2012.

Conyers, who represents the state's 14th District in Detroit, has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1965. He is 81 years old and is the second most senior member in the House. The Dean of the House is another Congressman from Michigan: Democrat John Dingell. Dingell, who represents Michigan's 15th District, recently announced that he, too, will run for reelection in 2012.

Immigration
3:51 pm
Sat January 29, 2011

Governor Snyder wants to attract well-educated immigrants

Efforts to attract and keep well-educated immigrants to the Detroit and Ann Arbor regions may provide stepping stones to a statewide program.    

Governor Rick Snyder has asked state officials to develop an initiative to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to live and work. The Republican governor says the effort could help reverse the "brain drain" that hampers Michigan's ability to attract high-tech industries.    

Global Detroit tries to make the region more welcoming to immigrants. And Cultural Ambassadors in Ann Arbor aims to capitalize on the region's international population - driven in part by the University of Michigan - to attract international business.

Supporters say well-educated immigrants often seek advanced college degrees in science, math and technology that can be used to help launch new businesses.

Politics
3:07 pm
Fri January 28, 2011

Governor Snyder's plan to make up the budget shortfall

Governor Snyder makes no bones about wanting to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax. Some details of his plan were revealed today.

But by getting rid of the business tax, the state will be left with $1.5 billion tacked onto its existing projected deficit for the next fiscal year.

Today, the Governor spoke to the Michigan Press Association at the Detroit Marriott. In his speech, he addressed how he plans to make up the shortfall.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to include most tax breaks in the budget rather than burying them in the tax code...Snyder says it's imperative to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax, which he considers "a dumb tax." To make up the revenue lost by having a lower corporate income tax, he wants to look at existing tax breaks and get rid of those that aren't moving the state forward. The governor says tax breaks should be included in the budget so they can be debated and weighed on their merits.

The Detroit Free Press reported on Snyder's speech as well. The Governor said that one of the "biggest tasks as the chief executive of the state is to find the elusive “they” in state government." From the Freep:

Snyder said his first days in office were a revelation. “The IT guys were in hooking up my computer and I had a square screen,” he said, explaining that it didn’t make sense because the larger, landscape computer screens are better and less expensive. “They told me ‘It’s been 10 years and they said that’s what we had to do,’” Snyder said the IT guys told him. “Almost on a daily basis, I hear about ‘they’ and they tend to have a different opinion that I have. I need to find out who they are and where they reside.

Politics
1:57 pm
Fri January 28, 2011

Snyder's business tax plan revealed

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (foreground) and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley during Governor Snyder's State of the State address.
gophouse.com

Governor Snyder has said he wants to do away with the complex, "job-killing" Michigan Business Tax, and replace it with a more simplified flat tax for businesses in the state.

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Politics
12:01 pm
Fri January 28, 2011

Governor Snyder's first big test?

Some republicans in the Michigan legislature are beginning their push for a repeal of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

It's a credit that bell-weather conservatives, like Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, have supported on the federal level.

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Governor Snyder
8:03 am
Fri January 28, 2011

Poll: Majority of MI voters have favorable opinion of Snyder

A new poll shows 59 percent of Michigan voters have a favorable opinion of Republican Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Fifty-nine percent of Michigan voters surveyed in a new poll say they have a favorable opinion of Governor Rick Snyder. The new poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA shows 8 percent of Michigan voters surveyed had an unfavorable opinion. Thirty-three percent were undecided.

State Legislature
7:40 am
Fri January 28, 2011

'Pure Michigan' funding bill introduced in state House

Inside the state's Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Republican state Representative Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City introduced a bill yesterday in the state House that would transfer $20 million into the state's 'Pure Michigan' tourism ad campaign. That would be an increase from the $10 million that's currently planned.

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Politics
6:59 am
Fri January 28, 2011

Former Michigan governors support new Detroit-Windsor bridge

Four former Michigan Governors support Governor Rick Snyder's plan to build a new bridge across the Detroit River
JPowers65 Flickr

Four former Michigan governors have come out in support of Governor Rick Snyder's plan to build a new bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Snyder administration put out a news release yesterday saying Democrat Jennifer Granholm, Republican John Engler, Democrat James Blanchard, and Republican William Milliken all support the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC).

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