Monday, July 03, 2006

The Games DeVos Plays

Peter Luke's column last Sunday implies that an agreement can't be reached on welfare reform because Dick DeVos needs the "campaign issue".

There it is, those magic words. A campaign issue. The man with no vision is stalling progress for our state once again because he is so devoid of ideas the only thing he can do is throw a monkey wrench into the machinery today.

It led me to think- just how many times over the past three and a half years has the DeVos family undermined the legislative process in an attempt to paint Granholm as an ineffectual leader and to position themselves for 2006? Has she actually been running against Dick for her entire term?

Keep in mind Dick quit Alticor/Amway in 2002 and then disappeared, saying he wasn't going to run for political office- but he did nothing in terms of moving on with his life or starting any new major ventures. It also has been said time and time again that the Republicans in Michigan are the DeVos' lap dogs. Now I'm starting to wonder if this wasn't some grand design- calling the plays behind the scenes for the purpose of political gain later. I have mentioned these examples before- but now that I am pulling back and looking at the big picture, it starts to add up.

I'm sure I don't know the half of it, either. I'm probably missing some other glaring examples of them using their money to influence legislators. Welfare reform is just the latest in an emerging pattern of DeVos family power plays.

So it was this summer as lawmakers and the Granholm administration attempted to thrash out welfare rule changes that for the first time in Michigan would impose a lifetime time limit -- 48 months -- on eligibility for cash assistance.

The goal apparently was to have the new rules approved this summer when the fiscal 2007 budget is completed. In the end Friday, however, a budget agreement finalized quicker than anticipated booted talk of welfare reform off past the November election.

The change would have helped Republicans because they have been pushing for more than a year to limit the time a parent can receive a monthly check through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who signaled six months ago that she accepted the concept of time limits with certain exceptions would have won, too. She could have claimed bipartisan success in welfare reform at time when GOP challenger Dick DeVos has included welfare time limits in his economic program.

Some Republicans believe that may have been the problem, that House Republicans, and perhaps the DeVos campaign, grew concerned that as a week of talks progressed, an agreement would have removed welfare as a campaign issue. Publicly, DeVos called on Granholm and lawmakers to reach an agreement on time limits.

First of all, I find it cruel that the poorest amongst us are being used as campaign fodder. For DeVos to focus on this as a main part of his "Trickledown" Plan is cold and hard-hearted. At a time when childhood poverty is rising in Michigan, and seeing as how this program benefits mostly children, it shows his true colors in a way that should startle anyone with any sense of compassion.

"Times are hard! Let's go after the poor first!"

But, I digress. Truth is, they would have reached an agreement on time limits if the legislature would have put in exemptions for the harder cases, something that other states already do, and, if I'm not mistaken, is allowed by federal law.

There aren't huge numbers on the rolls indefinitely. There are only 10,000 or so cases right now that that exceed four years. Ohio has a three-year limit, but there are exceptions for those unable to work. Illinois' limit is five years but exempts those on a college degree track.

Many states, for example, exempt victims of domestic violence or the parents of a disabled or sick child. Some states will reduce a benefit for a parent who refuses to work but maintain assistance for children.

Any time limit has to include allowances for those physically unable to work, including those with learning disabilities, lacking literacy skills and other workplace handicaps. And it would accompany pilot programs already in place that intensify the effort by the state and local jobs agencies to move those who can work into work.

Dick is fond of holding up other states such as Ohio and Illinois as examples of time limits. What Dick doesn't tell you is that those other states include these exemptions. As with the Missouri Medicare example, Dick is not telling the whole truth yet again.

Exemptions are all Granholm asked for. This would be over and done right now. For some unknown reason, the legislature has refused to compromise. I can only conclude that they were told not to. Why else would they impede progress? Aren't we facing federal penalties over this?

This isn't the first time there have been whispers of DeVos interference in the legislative process. If you remember, there was an agreement to lower the rate of the SBT last November. I keep going back to this- it's important to look at the ways that the DeVos family has hurt our state by holding up changes that would have benefited us- and the recurring implication is that it was for politics only.

From an AP article announcing an agreement on Nov. 4th-

The plan, unveiled by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican legislative leaders, won't cut the state's single business tax until 2009. Even without that, it's expected to save businesses $97 million in 2006 and $175 million in 2007, said GOP Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema.

Another part of the plan will gradually change how the single business tax is figured so it is based solely on sales and leaves personnel and property out of the equation. That change could encourage businesses to move more jobs to Michigan, since they won't get socked with more taxes if they do, state Treasurer Jay Rising said.

Here is what DeRoche said when announcing the agreement. He was still pushing for more cuts at the time, but his quote is important as it pertains to what has happened this year.

"This doesn't give any politician a hall pass to take the next year off from worrying about the struggle that we're having in Michigan's economy," he said. "We got this far today and that is great, but we need to get all the way."

A week later the deal fell through, and, according to Mark Brewer, it was because of Dick and Betsy.
"I've been told by Republican Representatives that Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy have personally called them demanding that they break their agreement with Governor Granholm," said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer. "Republican legislators are allowing DeVos and his money to dictate their important decisions on job creation. DeVos thinks that the broken agreement will help him in the 2006 elections and he wants to let businesses and his corporate friends off the hook. Republicans are backing out of the deal because they are afraid that DeVos will withhold campaign contributions if they disagree with him."

Republicans then indicated they would work on the SBT this year. From the Detroit News, 12/14/05-

Republican legislators and the governor have been struggling for nearly 10 months to reach agreement on a business tax relief package. Action had been stalled because of disagreements over how to replace the state's Single Business Tax, but reform of that measure, the state's main corporate levy, has been put off until next year.

And from Ken Sikkema in the Detroit Free Press-

House and Senate GOP leaders chose to temporarily set aside the broader debate over how to overhaul or replace the Single Business Tax (SBT), which is widely viewed as a barrier to attracting new businesses to Michigan.

"Let's have that fight in January; let's pass what we can now," said Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, who sharply criticized Granholm's vetoes last week.

Why didn't they have that fight in January? Why was the work on this put off? Since the SBT has now turned up as one of Dick's main campaign issues, I have a real good guess as to why they ignored an issue that was of utmost importance in the fall of 2005.

By April, Sikkema was singing a different tune. When Granholm suggested ending the SBT this year, suddenly it became a problem-

She asked Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema of Wyoming and House Speaker Craig DeRoche of Novi to sign an agreement that they will pass a bill to repeal the Single Business Tax by the end of this year and adopt a business tax that does not raise taxes on individuals and that replaces the nearly $2 billion generated by the existing tax.

Sikkema spokesman Ari Adler said the Republican leader thinks it's a bad idea to try to restructure the tax during an election year and has no intention of signing the agreement.

Gee, Ken, wish you would have told us that back in December- but it's pretty obvious now as to why you didn't.

These are two powerful examples of Republican foot-dragging in the name of the DeVos campaign, delays that are costing our state time and money.

And, for older example of DeVos interference, here's something I blogged way back in 2003, one of the first times I sat up and took notice of Granholm. After 12 years of John Engler, anyone who said something like this caught my attention in a big way.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm unleashed a blistering attack against Republican lawmakers Friday, saying they'd rather resolve a budget deficit by cutting heating aid for seniors and assistance to homeless shelters than delay an income tax cut.

"I am not going to stand for cutting out the legs from the social safety net, balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens because they (Republicans) don't have the guts to pause a rollback in an income tax that equates to $11 a person," Granholm told reporters.

And who was pulling the strings?

The state GOP's governing committee passed a resolution opposing any pause in the rate cut on Nov. 22. On Tuesday, GOP Chairwoman Betsy DeVos sent a memo to Republican lawmakers telling them "we need to stand firm to keep the income tax rollback in place."

Democrats charge that DeVos' outspoken opposition to tampering with the tax cut is intimidating to GOP lawmakers worried about future political career options.

"She apparently carries the big stick in the party," said Sen. Robert Emerson of Flint, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

All the way back in 2003 we have an example of the DeVos family tampering with state affairs, using their money and power with the Republican legislature to delay or deny Granholm's plans to move us forward.

What does this prove? To me, it says that these people have been hindering our state's progress for their own political and financial gain, and I wouldn't be surprised if it stretches back farther than Granholm- they probably had Engler under their thumb to a certain extent.

If anything, it proves that we need a legislature that is not under the control of one family and their money. Elect more Democrats this fall, and we can move our state forward at a faster pace. It's time to find those who work to benefit all of Michigan, not those who work for the select few who use the political process to further their own personal goals.