Politics & Government

Politics
1:54 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Bill: No paychecks for Congress if government shuts down

Senator Debbie Stabenow (center) is cosponsording legislation that will prevent members of Congress and the President from being paid if the government shuts down.
stabenow.senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she's cosponsoring legislation that will stop member of Congress and the President from getting paid if there's a government shutdown.

The legislation was originally introduced last week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Seantor Bob Casey (D-PA).

In a statement, the Senator said that under current law the salaries for members of Congress and the President are "held harmless" if a shutdown occurs - meaning they would continue to be paid.

Stabenow says the bill she's cosponsoring would put Congress and the President on "equal footing" with the Americans who would be affected by a shutdown:

"A shutdown could disrupt Social Security checks, veterans' benefits, hold up exports and cost private sector jobs, and will stop paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people.  It's only fair that Members of Congress' paychecks be stopped too."

The statement said the last time the government in 1995, "more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed," Social Security and Medicare requests were delayed, passports remained unprocessed, unemployment insurance funding ran out in some states, and "$3 billion in U.S. exports were delayed because export licenses could not be issued, negatively impacting economic growth."

The deadline for a deal is this Friday night. If a deal can't be reached, the government would be forced to shut down.

ABC News reports that Congress might postpone the deadline by "passing a two-week spending measure that would fund the government through March 18th."

Commentary
9:07 am
Tue March 1, 2011

Why Libraries Matter

Predicting the future can be a dangerous thing. When I was a child in the early nineteen-sixties, I used to watch a television show that predicted how we’d live in the far-off world of 2000.

By then, I was told, our homes would be heated by mini-nuclear power plants in the basement and we’d take our private helicopters to work. Nobody, however, saw the coming of the Internet.

Futurologists have gotten somewhat more cautious since then, but there is something most of them do agree on, which is that days are numbered for libraries as we have known them. Printed products have been  moving rapidly to servers and Kindles. While most are still published on paper, this is widely seen as a temporary measure which will last only as long as it takes the old fuddy-duddies to die off.

And priorities are shifting. Last week, the Detroit Public Library announced the layoff of a fifth of their entire staff, or eighty-three employees, at the end of March. The far more affluent suburb of Troy has already voted to close its library. Other libraries across the state are threatened with huge cuts or extinction.

The economy is bad, but why do we feel that we can live without libraries?  Here’s what one reader posted on the Detroit Free Press website, spelling several words wrong in the process: “Library’s are fast becoming a thing of the past due to rapid access and information that can be had via the Internet.”

Or, in other words, why would we possibly need a place where books are kept and stored when we’ve got Google? Those who defend libraries mainly do so on the grounds that everybody doesn‘t have a computer at home. The newspaper‘s story about the layoffs talked about all the poor people who come to the library to print resumes and scan the internet for job openings.

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Politics
6:02 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Allen Park lawyer "confident" city fire department will survive

An attorney for the Detroit suburb of Allen Park says he’s “confident” the city won’t have to eliminate its fire department.

Allen Park faces a budget deficit of around $660,000. Last week, its City Council voted to lay off all the city’s firefighters.

But an attorney who works for the city says he thinks that can be avoided.

Todd Flood says “he’s confident” the city and the firefighters’ union can strike a deal involving union concessions.

Flood says other city workers would have to make similar sacrifices.

Allen Park is a downriver Detroit suburb of about 25,000 people. The move to cut its whole fire department has sparked outrage at city government.

The Allen Park city administrator cited the uproar when he resigned on Sunday.

Politics
5:53 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court rules on Michigan case

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a murder conviction in the case Michigan v. Bryant.

The case involved a Detroit man who identified his shooter as the victim lay dying, and whether or not that evidence could be considered in court.

A Wayne County jury convicted Richard Bryant of murder based on the victim's statement. But the Michigan Supreme Court overturned that conviction, saying Bryant was denied his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

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Politics
3:48 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Secretary of State Clinton presses the United Nations on Libya

Fabrice Coffrini AFP/Getty Images

According to NPR, Secretary of State Clinton claims that pro-Gadhafi forces have been and continue to use violence against Libyan protesters:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of using "mercenaries and thugs" against his own people Monday as rebels said they thwarted an attempted aerial bombing of an eastern city.

"Gadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency,'' Clinton told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"Nothing is off the table as long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens."She called on Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African nation with an iron fist since 1969, to leave power "now, without further violence or delay."

Meanwhile, Gadhafi himself refuses to step down, claiming "all my people love me."

Secretary Hillary Clinton's remarks are some of the strongest yet from President Obama's administration regarding the recent protests and unrest in Libya.

Politics
10:38 am
Mon February 28, 2011

U of M won't ask legislature to soften Governor's higher ed cuts

The University of Michigan will probably not ask state legislators to soften what it calls “painful” proposed cuts to higher education.  Rather, U of M President Mary Sue Coleman is expected to tout the institution's successful efforts to drive costs out of the school's budget.

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Commentary
8:53 am
Mon February 28, 2011

A Natural at the Game

Governor Rick Snyder is not a “politician.” He would tell you that himself. I first heard he wasn’t a politician from a bunch of  political reporters more than a year ago, who felt he was wasting his money on what they felt was a catchy, but ultimately silly commercial.

This was, of course, the famous “tough nerd” commercial that first aired during last year’s Superbowl. Tim Skubick, the dean of, Lansing political reporters, thought it was likely to backfire.

This is a tough, blue-collar state, he said. Not a place where people voted for guys who called themselves “nerds.”

I didn’t know what to make of all this myself, till I saw Snyder skillfully and with scalpel-like precision, separate himself from the rest of the pack during the primary campaign. Like a veteran racehorse he ran third much of the way, then shot ahead in the final stretch, winning by nine lengths and a hundred thousand votes.

The general election wasn’t even a contest. But there was a lot of skepticism as to how the new governor would actually do with the hurly-burly of governing.

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News Roundup
8:48 am
Mon February 28, 2011

In this morning's news...

David Erickson Flickr

Snyder Meeting with Fellow Governors

Governor Rick Snyder is in Washington D.C. for the annual National Governors Association winter meetings. The nation’s Governors had dinner last night at the White House where, the Associated Press reports, President Obama told them:

"Our federal system is a laboratory for democracy. In each of your states, you guys are trying all kinds of things. Oftentimes, your best ideas end up percolating up and end up becoming models and templates for the country."

Governor Snyder and other governors will meet today with President Obama and Vice President Biden.

February Auto Sales

Auto analysts are expecting to see an improvement in auto sales in February compared with the same time last year. That’s despite some interference from Mother Nature, Tracy Samilton reports. Samilton explains that it’s not unusual for auto sales to decline because of big snowstorms. But, one auto analyst told Samilton, auto sales still probably improved in February by 20 percent.

City Administrator Resigns

Eric Waidelich, Allen Park’s City Administrator, has resigned. The news comes less than a week after the Allen Park City Council voted to lay off the city’s entire fire department because of budget problems. As Rina Miller reports, “A movie studio-deal gone bad is getting some of the blame for Allen Park’s financial troubles. The Detroit suburb bought an old Visteon facility in 2008 for almost $25 million, banking on a plan to lease the property to Unity Studios. The deal flopped  and now Allen Park is broke.”

Governor Snyder
6:40 am
Mon February 28, 2011

Snyder: Michigan is not Wisconsin

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder is asking state workers to be patient as his administration tries to set Michigan’s fiscal affairs in order.

The governor sent an e-mail to state workers last week saying he does not want a Wisconsin-style confrontation. The e-mail was sent to 50,000 state employees.

Governor Snyder promised to work within the collective bargaining process on concessions to help balance the budget, and he complimented state workers on their dedication and creativity.

He specifically said,“Michigan is not Wisconsin,” and “tough decisions do not have to be polarizing.”

The governor said his goal is to stabilize Michigan’s finances so state workers don’t have to negotiate new concessions in the future to help address a financial emergency. And, Snyder hinted that future changes to public employee compensation might be in store. He said some public employees are overpaid, some underpaid, and he has some ideas on correcting that.

consolidating government
2:27 pm
Sun February 27, 2011

Private sector leaders proposing Kent County, Grand Rapids merger

Grand Rapids City Hall and Kent County's Administration Building are located right next to one another.
Steven Depolo Creative Commons

More than a dozen private business leaders are taking steps that would make it possible to merge Kent County and Grand Rapids to a single government. The One Kent Coalition includes more than a dozen lawyers, businessmen, and former elected officials.

Attorney Nyal Deems (former mayor of East Grand Rapids) presented the One Kent proposal to the Kent County Board of Commissioners Thursday. He says the coalition would like to see broader approach to governing the metro Grand Rapids region, rather than a number of smaller municipal governments.

 “All of our flow and economic interaction and cultural and social interaction ignores all those boundaries but governmentally we live by them. It would be good to mirror our communities more to match the way we live and work and function."

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Politics
5:52 pm
Sat February 26, 2011

Demonstrators rally at state capitol

A scene from the Wisconsin solidarity ralley in Michigan
User P.E.C. Flickr

Several hundred demonstrators braved cold and snow to gather in front of the state Capitol Saturday afternoon. It was both a gesture of support for Wisconsin protesters, and to oppose some Republican-sponsored measures before the Michigan Legislature.

This was the third big rally this week by unionized teachers, police officers, and other public workers opposed to taxing pensions, suspending arbitration rights, and requiring workers to pay more of their health care costs.

Governor Rick Snyder says he is anxious to avoid the angry standoffs between public employee unions and Republican leaders that have taken place in other states.

News Roundup
9:34 am
Fri February 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Snow

More snow on the heels of more snow is bringing up talk of records in Michigan.

For the Detroit area, NOAA lists 1908 as the snowiest February on record when 38.4 inches fell in the area.

The Detroit News says this winter has been the second snowiest on record with a total of 30.3 inches falling in February.

The News spoke with Karen Clark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service:

Clark said she doesn't think the rest of the month will be snowy enough to break the record. "Let's hope not," she said. "That would be a lot of snow in the next few days."

The Detroit News has some historical photographs of snowstorms past in an article from 2002.

What snow storms do you remember most? The blizzards of 1978 and 1979 come up a lot in our office.

Fighting for Film Incentives

Groups met last night to push the Michigan Governor and Legislature to reconsider cutting the Michigan Film Incentive tax credits.

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports, Michigan has the most generous tax credit in the nation at 42%.

Hulett covered a group meeting last night in metro-Detroit:

The message people need to deliver to Lansing, said Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, is that the credits have created a rare bright spot in Michigan’s economy:

"This is not about saving Tom Cruise. This is about saving Tom Farmington Hills, and Tom Novi and Tom Detroit."

Hulett reports that "Governor Snyder wants to get rid of the tax credit and replace it with a program worth $25 million a year."

Here's a video of the meeting last night from Fox 2 News in Detroit:

Thousands Gather at Film Industry Town Hall: MyFoxDETROIT.com

Shrinking the City of Flint

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling gave a "State of the City" address last night, and like much of the state -  and the country, for that matter - Walling talked cuts.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody covered Walling's address:

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling spent much of last night address talking about what’s working in his city.  But he also talked about what he thinks would help the city deal with a growing budget deficit,  ‘shrinking the size of city hall.’   Walling wants to drop funding for some city commissions and eliminate some executive positions.

"My proposed changes would save the city of Flint $6 million over 4 years.  Over $15 million dollars over 10 years.   Its not the whole solution.  But its an important part of it.  Its an important part that makes a difference."

The city of Flint wants to cover its $17 million budget deficit by raising funds on the bond market.

It has to get permission from the State Administration Board to do that. So far, the Board has tabled its decision.

If the city can't raise bond money, it might be facing bankruptcy or a state takeover.

Politics
12:58 am
Fri February 25, 2011

Heavyweights, bit players organize in support of film credits

Film producer Eddie Rubin, left, and director Danny Mooney are among those mobilizing support for Michigan's film tax credits.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Over a thousand people packed a metro-Detroit banquet center last night to try and rescue Michigan’s budding film industry.

They’re mounting a campaign to persuade Michigan’s governor and lawmakers to preserve tax incentives for filming in the state. For the past three years Michigan has had the most generous credit in the nation, at 42 percent. Governor Rick Snyder wants to eliminate the tax break.

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Politics
8:01 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Flint mayor proposes to 'shrink' city hall

Flint mayor Dayne Walling delivers his 'State of the City' address
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Flint is facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit.   And in his state of the city address tonight, Mayor Dayne Walling proposed ‘shrinking’ the size of city hall as one partial solution.

 “I’m not giving up on Flint…and I know you’re not either"

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Politics
4:08 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Film industry calls for "action" on tax credits

Filmgoers line up at the State Theatre in Traverse City during that city's film festival.
Andres McFarlane Creative Commons

Movie industry supporters are pulling together a campaign to persuade Governor Rick Snyder to reconsider his plan to slash the state’s film tax incentives. For the past three years Michigan has had the most generous credit in the nation, at 42 percent.

Actor Jeff Daniels and columnist Mitch Albom will headline a meeting tonight in Livonia to talk strategy.

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Commentary
1:06 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Emergency Financial Managers

If you had any doubts about how difficult the situation is for local governments these days, consider this. Even before they tackle the budget, our lawmakers in Lansing have been working hard on new emergency financial manager legislation.

Yesterday, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a package of bills designed to make it easier to appoint emergency financial managers to run troubled cities and school districts.  The legislation also gives those managers broad new powers. The Senate is expected to easily approve this as well.

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Politics
5:58 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Report: 35 "Hate Groups" in Michigan

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 35 "hate groups" in Michigan.
Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report today on hate groups in the U.S.

They say there are now more than 1,000 such groups around the country, the first time the SPLC has seen the number of "hate groups" top 1,000 since it started counting them in the 1980s.

From the SPLC press release:

Several factors fueled the growth: resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government.

A hate group is defined by the SPLC as a group that has "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

The SPLC lists 35 "hate groups" in Michigan on their map.

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Politics
4:40 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Detroit leaders brace for new Emergency Financial Manager rules

Carlos Lowry Flickr

Detroit city leaders are bracing for what most see as the inevitable passage of a state law giving more powers to Emergency Financial Managers.

Detroit’s Lansing lobbyist, Ken Cole, briefed the City Council about the package of bills Wednesday, as the State House voted to approve them.

Ken Cole told the Council he thinks the legislation is meant to work in tandem with Governor Snyder’s proposed budget.

Cole described that budget’s impact on Detroit as “bludgeoning.” Among other cuts, it would lose $178 million in state revenue sharing.

But Cole says the Council shouldn't focus on not stopping the EMF legislation.  He says there’s little hope of that in the Republican-dominated state legislature. 

“Because in the words of the former late state senator David Holmes of Detroit, ain’t no substitute for votes. You either got ‘em or you don’t. Make no mistake, wedon't.”

Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. agrees that some political gamesmanship is in play when it comes to emergency financial managers.

“I think part of what is going on here, part of the approach of the Snyder administration is to try to leverage cities to do what they need to do to fix themselves financially. Or face the risk of somebody coming in and doing it for you.”

Cockrel and Cole say Detroit officials should focus on amending aspects of the legislation they really don’t like.

That includes a provision that would let firms, as well as individuals, act as emergency financial managers. Cockrel says that would be “crazy.”

Politics
4:24 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Protesters march again at state capitol

Corvair Owner Flickr

Protesters were in Lansing again today to speak out against several proposals in the Republican-controlled state Legislature that they say will strip unions of the rights. That includes a measure approved by the state House that would give more control to emergency financial managers appointed to run cities and townships, or school districts. The state Senate is considering a similar measure.

Nick Ciaramintaro is with the union AFL-CIO of Michigan. He told lawmakers that more power for emergency financial managers means less democracy for local governments. 

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Politics
3:33 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Governor Snyder talks cuts on public radio call-in program

Then candidate Rick Snyder at the Michigan Republican State Convention in 2010.
Bill Rice Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder was interviewed this afternoon by NPR's Talk of the Nation.

He was asked questions by the hosts and by listeners. You can listen to the entire interview here:

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