Rick Snyder

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Legislature formally kicked off 2014 with no heavy lifting. But voting could occur this week, when lawmakers also gather to hear Governor Rick Snyder's annual State of the State speech.

Budget work will dominate the first half of the year. Legislators have nearly $1 billion more to work with than expected, and one priority is spending more on road upkeep without raising taxes.

Lawmakers also are talking up an election-year tax cut, perhaps in the state income tax.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder has declared an energy emergency in the state due to a temporary heating oil and propane shortage.

The shortage was caused by a huge spike in demand due to the extreme cold and heavy snowfalls that delayed deliveries.

The governor's order suspends regulations on how many hours and how many consecutive days the fuel delivery drivers can work.

The order will in effect until January 31st unless the Governor rescinds it earlier.

Control – the ability to command and direct events – is the elusive ambition of politicians. Politicians seek office promising to get things done or, in some rare cases, to stop something from getting done. But, mostly, they want to control their fates. We all want that, of course, but, it is not that simple.

Public life is complicated and messy.

Take, for example, Gov. Snyder. In just less than a week, Snyder will deliver his fourth State of the State address. He’ll wax on about the accomplishments of the last three years as he also proposes an agenda for this year and lays the groundwork for his reelection bid.

And, yes, we say his reelection bid. Though the governor has not yet announced he will seek reelection, as we’ve talked about before on It’s Just Politics, Snyder is certainly already acting like a candidate. The governor’s reelection campaign has already bought airtime, just like they did four years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday. (One more reason we know Snyder will run again: He’s said the Detroit Lions will be in the Super Bowl before he leaves office… yet another thing he can’t control.)

Going into the 2014 election, Gov. Snyder and other Republicans would like to be focused on good news like revenue surpluses and balanced budgets. But something always seems to get in the way. And, this week, that was the continuing drama surrounding former state Treasurer Andy Dillon’s personal and professional life.

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Gov. Snyder delivers his State of the State address a week from today. He'll likely talk about new policy initiatives and proposals and issues concerning everything from transportation and infrastructure to education. Lisa Wozniak, however, will be listening intently to what the Governor has to say about one specific topic: the environment.

Lisa Wozniak is the Executive Director of the Michigan League for Conservation Voters, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Last month, Governor Rick Snyder called for less coal power and more renewable energy in Michigan. Utilities are in a good position, but questions remain over whether lawmakers will be able to act before the state's current energy standards expire. We found out more on today's show.

Then, of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14% are women. Why do some female scientists give up? And what can be done to help female students and minorities succeed?

And, we heard from the BBC on how China had become the world leader for wind power.

Also, a group of “free skiers” have found a new ski location in the abandon buildings of Detroit.

First on the show, it's Thursday, time for the first check-in of this New Year with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.

Understandably, he has the auto industry on his mind as we prepare for next week's opening of the North American International Auto Show. He got an early look at the show, and he joined us today to discuss it.

Sometimes people don’t tell the truth. More often, they don’t tell the whole truth. Sometimes they do it on purpose to make their argument appear stronger. Other times they make honest mistakes. Sorting it out is my job as a reporter. Yesterday, the Sierra Club dumped a fair amount of work on my lap when it released an error laden press release giving Governor Snyder a failing grade on energy and environmental actions.

Here’s what I found that I think you should know.

Associated Press

More than two months ago, former State Treasurer Andy Dillon resigned, clouded in controversy.

Today, word leaked out that Dillon is still on the state payroll – and has been since November 1 – still pulling down his full salary of $174,204 for training his successor, Kevin Clinton.

Zoe Clark, co-host of Michigan Radio's It's Just Politics joins us to talk about the controversy, along with Lester Graham of Michigan Watch.

Listen to the full interview above.

Two years ago, there were three truly national presidential candidates on the November ballot. Two were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But who was the third? Give up? It was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Like Obama and Romney, he was on almost every state ballot, except Oklahoma and, ironically, Michigan, where more than 7,000 people did write in his name. Part of the reason most of us don’t remember Johnson is because, in the end, President Obama got about 66 million votes. Romney got about 61 million. Gary Johnson got a little over a million and a quarter, or just under one percent.

Why did he do so poorly? Were his ideas that repellent? My guess is, not really.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan legislative budget experts say state government is taking in hundreds of millions of dollars more than expected eight months ago.

A report released Tuesday from the House Fiscal Agency in Lansing estimates Michigan collected $433 million more than projected in the last budget year and will collect about $327 million more this year.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan has put out every available road crew and has increased state police patrols in response to the heavy snowfall and the deep freeze forecast to follow it.

Snyder says Michigan residents can help, too, by looking in on friends and neighbors while staying off roads as much as possible.

A foot of snow was on the ground already by Sunday evening in parts of the Lower Peninsula, with more on the way.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

2014 will be a big election year in Michigan and spending by Political Action Committees is expected to be just as big.

Rich Robinson is the director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Lansing these days could be renamed Surplus City, where we’re just looking for ways to spend the money that Michigan is expected to rake in this year. It appears our deficit days are behind us; we are now looking at a tidy little budget surplus. Early estimates put the number in the hundreds of millions of dollars range but we’ll get an official projection a week from today when the state holds the next revenue estimating conference.

People come to the Capitol and watch as economists talk about, ya know, economic things and come up with an official budget number. And one thing is certain: No matter how big the surplus is, there will be more ideas on how to spend it than actual money to spend. And, there’s already a list including road funding and more money for schools and universities.

Democrats also say they want to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Property Tax Credit. And, there will likely be talk about more money for local governments. These are things that Democrats, as the minority party in the Capitol, would typically have little influence over. But they have a little more to work with right now. That’s because, for one thing, it’s an election year, if -- as expected -- Republicans put more money into schools and universities -- it becomes harder for Democrats to use those as campaign issues. There’s also controversial questions like road funding and auto insurance, issues that aren’t likely to get resolved without some measure of Democratic cooperation.

So, we are faced here, with a fiscal philosophical question: What is a budget surplus?

Wikipedia

Governor Snyder has signed a law that opens up Michigan’s roads as testing grounds for driverless cars.

More and more, it seems that these autonomous vehicles — “intelligent” cars that can drive themselves and even communicate with each other — will be a big part of our transportation future.

At least, that’s what Gov. Snyder and the state’s carmakers are banking on. And they want to stay ahead of the curve in research and design.

sushi ina / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that outlaws efforts to require disclosure of the donors behind so-called “issue ads.” It appears to be a reversal of one of his campaign pledges.  

The governor came out against anonymous issue ads in a 2010 campaign white paper. Issue ads tell people to “call” or “contact” a politician without expressly advocating for how they should vote.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is proud of the substantial changes he and lawmakers made to Michigan's health care landscape in 2013.

Almost a half-million low-income adults will qualify for government health insurance through an expansion of Medicaid. An overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield is creating a nearly $1.6 billion health endowment fund.

More low-income children are eligible for dental coverage.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder and legislators have enacted more than 200 new laws in 2013, with roughly 70 more awaiting the governor's signature after a final burst of voting.

The year's top laws include a landmark expansion of government-funded medical coverage to hundreds of thousands more low-income adults and restrictions on insurance coverage of abortions.

The Republican angst over gay rights continues this week.

Driven and riven by the continuing commentary on the topic by Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, in this case on AIDS and partner benefits. “Folks they want free medical because they’re dying between the ages of 30 and 44 years old… For me it’s a moral issue. It’s a biblical issue,” Agema told a local Republican holiday gathering last week in West Michigan (thanks to the Herald Palladium for audio of remarks).

And, as they often do, Agema’s comments have already gotten a lot of attention; inciting what has become a now-predictable ritual of condemnation from Democrats and Republicans. However, Republicans are complaining not so much about what Agema said but, instead, how he said it.

This is not the first time that Dave Agema has made comments like this. There is a history here. Agema has always made it plain he considers homosexuality to be nothing but a deviant lifestyle. His detractors say he’s a bigot. His supporters - and he certainly has them within the state Republican Party - say he’s a truth-teller. In fact, former state Representative Jack Hoogendyk, a prominent Tea Party leader, recently called him “a prophet.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Today’s announcement that General Motors will spend $1.3 billion upgrading plants in Michigan proved to be a little awkward for one of the dignitaries on the dais.

It’s probably not a surprise that Governor Snyder got a few boos from union members in the audience, given that the first anniversary of the governor signing Right to Work into law was just last week.

Perhaps less expected, the Republican governor had to sit and listen as UAW regional director Norwood Jewell praised Snyder’s Democratic opponent in next year’s election.

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry talk about how Rand Paul thinks Detroit should lower it's tax rate in order to stabilize, what's behind Governor Rick Snyder's 36 percent approval rating, and how the average Michigan graduate has $29,000 in student loans.

We’re into the 2013 winter holiday season, which means we’re just a few weeks away from 2014 and a new round of big statewide elections.

That includes Governor Rick Snyder’s reelection bid -- which isn’t quite “official” yet, despite an active campaign committee, ads, and political consultants.

Still, it’s good to be a Republican governor these days. The presidential race is in the rearview mirror, the economy’s ticking up slowly, and people are looking at Washington and seeing nothing but gridlock and dysfunction.

But Democrats still see opportunity for putting one of their own into the governor’s office in Michigan, as well as eight other states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Politico says the Democratic Governors Association has secured a commitment from President Obama to fundraise, campaign, and provide material support to help pick up those states.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder may be facing a tough re-election battle next year. A new poll shows the governor’s approval rating is holding in the mid-30s.

Michigan State University’s "State of the State" survey polled Michiganders earlier this fall. The pollsters found only about 36% of Michiganders approved of the job Snyder is doing in office. That’s actually an improvement.  Last spring, after the Right to Work battle, Snyder’s approval rating dropped below 30% in the survey.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Governor Sndyer's approval rating is up

Governor Snyder's approval rating is at it's highest since the summer of 2012. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval rating has ticked up to 35.6% according to a new State of the State Survey from Michigan State University to be released today."

College grads in Michigan have an average of $29,000 in debt

A new report finds the average Michigan college graduate in 2012 has nearly $29,000 in student loans. Ferris State and Lawrence Technological University graduates have the highest debt in the state.

Lawmakers get bigger budgets

"Lawmakers in the Michigan House will see their office budgets rise 5 percent in 2014. Lawmakers took a 10 percent pay cut in 2011," the Associated Press reports.

beautifulhustle.com

Casinos operated by six Native American tribes in Michigan will continue to operate even though the gaming compacts that allow them expire this weekend.    That will gives the state and the tribes more time to negotiate new compacts.

The agreements were originally made 20 years ago.

John Wernet is the legal counsel for the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.   He says casinos are a critical source of revenue for the tribes.

This week, on our tryptophan recovery edition of It’s Just Politics, we’re talking money: salaries, wages, and how they’re becoming an issue in the campaign for governor.

Last week, gubernatorial-hopeful and former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer, called for an increase in the state minimum wage. Schauer wants to increase the rate to $9.25 an hour over three years.

And, like we talked about last week - this is a subtle twist, not just hammering Governor Rick Snyder over his support for a pension tax, and school funding, but trying to give voters something to support, not just be against.

But giving voters things to be against is still an important part of any campaign narrative, and this week, for Democrats and Mark Schauer it was all about serendipity; a nexus of timing and opportunity.

Jake Neher/ MPRN

Warren Buffett was in Michigan Tuesday to help launch a program that will invest $20 million in small businesses in and around Detroit.

Buffett is an advisor to Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which is committing $15 million of capital to support small businesses in and around the city. Another $5 million will go to business training for Detroit entrepreneurs.

Despite Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing, Buffett says the city has a “huge potential” for economic growth.

Putative Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer rolled out his proposal this week to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 over three years; which, as of right now, would make it one of the highest state-mandated minimum wage in the nation.

That’s sparked a debate over the efficacy of the minimum wage – does it encourage prosperity by pushing more money into the economy? Or does it stifle hiring and job creation?

But we’re here to discuss the red meat politics of the minimum wage. Mark Schauer’s announcement sets the stage for a classic class warfare throw down. So, instead of diving too deep into the policy side, let’s take on the political calculation that’s part of choosing that number of $9.25.

Polling shows big support nationally for a minimum wage of $9 an hour. There is some Michigan public opinion research that’s not quite as reliable, but still suggests it’s about the same - about 70 percent favor it.

But that support plummets as the suggested minimum wage goes up, especially above $10 dollars an hour. This shows the risk in using the minimum wage as a political wedge. To a point, it has populist appeal, but people still fear the consequences of setting wage floors. So the key is to find the sweet spot, and Mark Schauer seems to have settled on $9.25. (He says the policy-side reason is that number will make up for the erosion of its buying power over the last four decades.)

Which brings us to the next question: why now? Why not keep beating the Democratic drums - pension tax, school cuts, with a little right-to-work thrown in just to fire up the base.

The answer: Because the base isn’t fired up. And the most recent polling shows Rick Snyder expanding his lead over Schauer. No matter how much Democrats may dislike what they’re seeing in Lansing, a lot of them are still not warming up to Mark Schauer, who is low-key, to say the least.

The minimum wage is supposed to be a jolt to try to put some electricity into his campaign.

Duggan for Detroit

In the weeks after the Detroit’s mayoral election, a top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder recently quipped that “adults” are now running Detroit’s city hall.

Does that point to a better working relationship between the governor, Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, and the city’s Mayor-elect Mike Duggan?

Detroit News Business Columnist Daniel Howes is taking a look at the relations between Detroit’s leadership and the governor’s office.

Listen to the full interview above. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - State officials have submitted the latest in a series of reports that Gov. Rick Snyder says will help Michigan make decisions about future energy policies.

The "Additional Areas" report deals with reliability of electricity, rates and prices, and natural gas infrastructure. Among the material is a section on the role of states versus the role of regional transmission operators or independent system operators for reliability.

Another section covers the linkage between natural gas prices and electricity prices.

This week we saw yet another split in the Republican Party. But this intra-party fight had little to do with the usual Tea Party v. Establishment narrative. Instead, the imbroglio was over “issue ads.” Or, to be even more specific: disclosure of who is paying for issue ads.

Issue ads can sound and look an awful lot like campaign ads but they don’t directly or explicitly endorse a candidate by saying “vote for Candidate X” or “oppose Candidate Y.” It’s these magic little words – “vote,” “elect,” “support,” – that make a political ad a political ad.

But issue ads can say Candidate X did a horrible thing or Candidate Y is an amazing person. Take for example this ad from the 2010 Republican Gubernatorial Primary: “Raising taxes in this economy is crazy. But that’s what Congressman Pete Hoesktra wants to do… Call Congressman Hoesktra and tell him raising taxes is crazy.” Language like that makes it an issue ad. It says “call Congressman Hoekstra” but it doesn’t specifically say how to vote.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

This Veterans Day, Michigan has the dubious distinction of having its military veterans among those receiving the least government benefits of any in the 50 states.

Michigan’s more than 650 thousand veterans get about $3,400 on average in benefits compared with a national average of nearly five thousand dollars a year.   

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