Politics & Government

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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Governor Snyder
6:35 am
Fri January 28, 2011

Snyder to 'meet the press'

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder will address the Michigan Press Association later today. As the Associated Press reports, the Republican governor will share his roadmap for reinventing the state.

The AP explains:

The MPA traditionally invites the sitting governor to speak to its annual gathering shortly after the governor gives the annual State of the State address. The meeting will take place at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center. The conference also includes a session with the GOP and Democratic legislative leaders...

Tomorrow, Governor Snyder will be in Grand Rapids as state Republicans elect a new party chairman.

Politics
4:43 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Proposal calls for revenue sharing based on population

Proposals for different ways the state delivers payments to local governments for services are bubbling up at the state Capitol.

A bill in the state Senate would distribute revenue sharing payments to cities, townships and villages based on population.

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Detroit Politics
4:20 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Oakland Co. asks judge to put Detroit water dept. in hands of regional committee

William Warby Flickr

Update January 27, 4:18 p.m.:


 


Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says it’s “ludicrous” to suggest that the city give up control of its massive water system.


Legislation at the state Capitol, and a motion filed this week in federal court, would do just that.


Mayor Bing says he plans to examine the system’s problems, and he plans to fix them.



"I’m not here to defend past practices. I’m not here to defend the management, on a historical basis. My job here today is to look forward."


Bing says people think Detroit is in a weak position, and they’re trying to take advantage of that.


 


Update January 27th, 8:24 a.m.:


Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano has issued the following statement regarding the current situation with the DWSB:

"Today, we met as regional leaders to discuss Mayor Bing's plans for DWSD. It was a very productive meeting, containing very open and pointed discussion of the serious challenges within the department.  I am disappointed in the filing by the Oakland County Drain Commissioner, as this action contradicts the spirit of the discussion earlier today.


I believe in giving the Mayor an opportunity to explore the current operation, correct the mistakes and practices by the previous administration, and allow him to move forward and put in place accountable, transparent operation.


I believe now is not the time to be divisive, but to work cooperatively."


January 26th, 6:10 p.m.:


Oakland County is asking a federal judge to create a regional committee to oversee Detroit’s massive water system. It’s the latest development in a long-running dispute between the city and the suburbs over the scandal-plagued department.


John McCullough is the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. He says some $200 million are expected to be spent upgrading the system in the coming year.



"And since 60 percent of these corrections are going to be paid for by suburban customers, it really provides an effective way of the entire region to weigh in as to the proposed solutions and how those costs will be addressed."


The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been under federal oversight since the late 1970s because of Clean Water Act violations.


Late last year,the Justice Department identified 13 scams in which water department contracts worth tens of millions of dollars were allegedly steered to a friend of Detroit’s former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.

Politics
4:04 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Repeal of item pricing law introduced in the legislature

Legislation to repeal the Michigan law that requires every item on store shelves to carry a price tag has been introduced in the state House.

Governor Rick Snyder called for an end to the 35-year-old item-pricing law last week in his State of the State address.

He says the law is outdated, and repealing it would send a message that Michigan is a business-friendly state.

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