Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Program Still Running

Through today at least, according to Carl Levin. If you had any thoughts about taking advantage of this opportunity, get out there and do it. Right now. Take a long lunch or something.

A lawmaker says he's been assured by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the financially strapped "cash for clunkers" program will be good at least through today.

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin said he got the word from the Obama administration as members of the Ohio and Michigan congressional delegations huddled on Capitol Hill to discuss ways to keep the popular program going.

Beyond today is unknown (although CNBC is reporting "through the weekend") but it looks like they will do their best to find a way to keep this going, despite Dianne Feinstein's best attempts to screw it up and make it more complicated than it needs to be. The outreach to lower income used car buyers would be nice, but changing the mileage requirements would be a bureaucratic nightmare at this point in time, more than it already is - and if the Senate moves to block any funding based solely on that criteria, well, they're idiots. But you knew that.

Keep this going, Congress. Good for the environment, good for the economy, good for the manufacturing base. This is the kind of stimulus spending that will create immediate demand and help put a damper on the increasing unemployment numbers, as suppliers will need to retain workers to fill the empty spaces now appearing on car lots.

We may even get Ohio back on our side. Don't blow it.

UPDATE: Just as I posted this, it was announced the House is seeking $2 billion for the program and will vote on it this afternoon. They leave after today for vacation, the Senate will be around next week, and Stabenow is predicting that it will be a "challenge" to get it through. Governor Granholm and Lt. Gov. Cherry are urging people to call their Congresscritters at (202)224-3121 - we know our Michigan folks are with us, so maybe you might want to try and talk to Snowe or Feinstein's office instead. You might get turned down for not being one of their constituents, but it's worth a shot.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Budget Savings From the Mythical "Other" Only Perpetuate the Partisan Divide

One of the most horrifying aspects of Andy Dillon's as yet unwritten plan to pool state employee heath insurance has been that it reinforces the notion that "someone else" needs to pay the bill for the government services that we all want. These employees are held up and singled out as being the answer to the problem. Just cut their benefits, make them pay more, and we can save the state, right? Even if that isn't really what is being said by Speaker Dillon, that is what the media projects, and that is what the people ultimately hear.

Never mind the details. Never mind that Dillon's plan would "take years" to produce savings. The myth being perpetrated is that if we do this right now, we don't have to make these budget cuts - and nothing could be further from the truth. Still, that is the general impression left on the public when the pundits and the press don't take the time to explain the reality of our current problem. The teachers/state employees are demonized as being greedy, and you have found your scapegoat for when the cuts do ultimately come down. Sad thing is, the legislators know this, for they have been the target of that sentiment themselves. "Just cut legislator pay!" is the frequent refrain, when it has been shown that they really cost us very little in the big picture of state expenditures.

Savings are always found somewhere else though. Those are just a couple of examples of how the "other" should be made to pay, and the concept of fairness or balance is never introduced into the equation. The race to the bottom for the "other" is cheered on from that point, and you have set up a situation where it becomes impossible to work on compromise.

And when people argue to save only certain parts of the budget? It makes the problem that much worse. One of the favorite editorial tricks is to argue for a particular piece of spending, and then leave the heavy lifting of finding the money to someone else. The GR Press is famous for this. "Don't cut spending on "x", but don't raise taxes either!" is a familiar editorial stance. The Detroit News also plays this game, and they did it again today with tourism promotion. It has been suggested that taxes on car rentals and such be raised - an immediate answer to the problem - but the News opts to point once again to the vague government "reform" that will, of course, take decades to produce.

Meanwhile, advertising is an essential part of doing business, and that includes Michigan tourism. The Senate's plan could provide longer-term funding for it, but lawmakers should look for an alternative to the House-proposed rental vehicle tax as a more immediate money source. The long-overdue government restructuring and reordering of spending priorities would help determine where and how much money is available.

In other words, it's a non-answer to the problem. They do this all the time. They demand that spending continue without a way to pay for it.

This sort of non-solution comes from every corner. Even the wonderful Phil Power indulges in it today, making the very compelling case that we need early childhood education and that funding should be protected. He's right, just as the News is right about tourism, but even he takes the easy way out at the end of his plea.

The governor is negotiating with legislative leaders from both parties to find ways to plug the budget deficit. I suspect that in the rush to address this major financial crisis, they decided to cut early childhood programs without a full understanding of their astonishingly favorable cost-benefit results and the degree of public support. That's not surprising, given how complicated all this is.

But there is still time to do the right thing, which in this case is also economically sensible and politically smart thing. Find the savings elsewhere, and restore the funding to early childhood programs.

"Find the savings elsewhere", as if it were that easy. "Elsewhere" usually comes out of someone else's very important expenditure, and the myth of the "other" is reinforced again.

Jakc Lessenberry does it today as well. We all love HAL, we all love the arts and history, we all agree that it is important to save those things. But Jack simply ignores the $2.71 billion dollar hole we are looking at as he takes the very low road of comparing apples to oranges as he reaches for the days Engler. We had the money back then, and that time could have just as easily have been characterized as "The Clinton Years", but that wouldn't serve Lessenberry's anti-Granholm bias. And then he simply punts at the end, just as the others before him.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish," the proverb says. Choosing to disregard our priceless past is about the best proof of that we can imagine. The Michigan Legislature should unite in a rare display of bipartisanship and reverse this poorly conceived idea.

Yes, they should. The Legisalture should also save tourism promotion and early childhood education. And, just as soon as the pundits stop making demands while they take a pass on the solutions, and start offering up tangible and immediate and fair ideas to our revenue problems, maybe the lawmakers will. Doubtful, but worth a shot, isn’t it?

As of now, the complaints about specific spending cuts are simply advancing the notion that the answer always lies in the "other". It's no wonder the lawmakers and the public behave the way they do, and the race to the bottom will continue as we tear each other up over the dwindling pool of revenue.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Budget Deficit for FY '10 at $2.71 Billion, Republicans Admit Need For Additional Revenue

Bam! Right upside the head. Again. Even the drown government crowd realizes that we can't cut that deep. There is just no way. From tonight's Gongwer:

A new memo from the Senate Fiscal Agency shows budget deficits continuing to grow, with a total current year general fund and School Aid Fund deficit of $1.41 billion, and a total 2009-10 general fund and School Aid Fund deficit of $2.71 billion.

The current budget year will be covered by stimulus - but that will leave us less to use for FY'10, and we will face "the cliff", as it is being called, for '11. All these guesses on 2011 are just that though; if the economy turns around, it won't be that big, of course. But the stimulus will be long gone by then, so we better pray it does turn around...

First things first, and that is the budget for 2010. Reality has set in for the Republicans.

The memo, which was dated Monday but posted to the SFA website on Wednesday, also came out when various sources acknowledged that Republican lawmakers were reluctantly looking at the possibility that additional revenues, most likely by reducing tax credits, were going to have to be part of the budget solution.

But Republicans are also insisting that the administration and legislative Democrats agree to budget target figures before they begin the effort to determine how much revenue may have to be added.

It's a start. The only question now is how big the fight is over who gets their ox gored. If they are smart, they will do this across the board and not start pitting interests against each other. Don't we have enough of that already?

Good luck people. You are going to need it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Governor Granholm on CNBC's "Meeting of the Minds: The Future of Health Care"

With the debate over health care raging across the country, I bet you've been sitting at home and wondering, "Hey, what ever happened to Bill Frist? Is he OK? Has he found honest employment yet?"

Well, you are in luck. Your questions have been answered in this hour-long special from CNBC; Bill is alive and well, and he is still out there still being Bill. Governor Granholm gets into it with him a bit towards the end, and it's quite entertaining.

Health care reform questions can't all be answered in an hour of course, but this panel brings up some good arguments on both sides. They could have pared it down a bit - a few too many voices, and they start shouting over each other at times. Still a good show.

Here is the segment with Frist, links to all five parts are below.

Part 1: The Health Care Debate
Part 2: Fear of Change, Quality of Care
Part 3: Capitalism & Healthcare
Part 4: The Future of Healthcare
Part 5: Healthcare System Solutions

Governor does a great job, although I think they edited her down a couple of times. You know how she gets. Particularly impressive was Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic - guy knows his stuff.

Bottom line is: America needs to fix its broken health care system, or we will not be able to compete in a global economy. Better hope that the Democrats in Congress grow a spine and stand up and fight for the public option. Indications are that they will... but you know how they get. Keep your fingers crossed - our economic future depends on this getting fixed, and it needs to get done this year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Skubick: EITC, Film Industry Cuts Appear "Non-Negotiable" for GOP in Budget Talks

Skooby is predicting the film credits will go away altogether in a new blog post this morning, and WWJ has picked up on that report...

Live on WWJ Monday morning, Skubick reported Republicans want to eliminate or downsize the tax credit. He says the incentive may be popular with the public, but the GOP says it's been a money-loser for Michigan.

Governor Granholm would like to raise about $500 million by closing tax loopholes, but Republicans want to eliminate or downsize the film tax credit as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

In his blog, Skubick writes doing "away with or dramatically reducing the film credit and the EITC appear to be non-negotiable for the GOP. Either they get what they want, or the governor will get a goose egg on raising new money to balance the budget. Look for her to reluctantly give-in."
The Republicans want to kill one of the best things this state has going for us right now, the one thing that is bringing us priceless national publicity, filling up college classes with interested students and unemployed workers, keeping young people here in the state instead of leaving for LA after college, and creating instant jobs as these film crews are rushing to Michigan to film and build studios here. I really don't have to link all those things to prove this point - you have seen the stories almost on a weekly basis since we passed the law. It's a winner, so of course in the Republican eye, it must die.

And to top off that bit of insanity, they want to kill tax refunds for the poorest of the poor. Let's not look at other archaic tax loopholes that have been law for decades, carved out for rich special interests that lawmakers wouldn't want to offend lest those campaign donations dry up. Oh no. We have to go after those poor people first. House Republicans are still bringing up the now very old canard of "welfare", which is practically non-existent except for the few families with children that can still qualify, and the Senate Republicans want to come after the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps the poor and working class simply survive. But, they aren't part of "the base", so they will be sacrificed. Compassion indeed.

Peter Luke once wrote that there is $35 billion out there in tax loopholes, and that we could look at trimming some of those on an equal percentage basis so everyone takes a small hit. Governor Granholm proposed the same last week - and even suggested that the dreaded MBT surcharge may be reduced or eliminated by doing so. Since the Senate Republicans have repeatedly claimed it's such a job-killer (even though they never admit to the fact that they created it), wouldn't they want to take a look the ways we would make it go away?

If Skubick's claim that the Senate Republicans won't negotiate on the EITC and the film credits is correct, we now know who is holding up a budget deal so they can serve their own partisan interests. Only question now is how the House Democrats will respond.

Any comments on this new development, Speaker Dillon?

Cassis Wants Business to Reveal Private Tax Information to the Government

Wow. For someone that claims that government needs to "get out of the way" of business, that calls for government regulations and rules to be relaxed, that embraces the Mac Center/Bush Republican "free market" theories will all her heart, suddenly Nancy Cassis is all about getting business to reveal their private tax information and strategies to the government... even to the point of breaking tax law.

That's quite a switch, wouldn't you say? And what a chilling message that sends to any business that might not want the details of their strategies shared with the competition. Seems we have created too many jobs this year with the MEGA credits, and Cassis needs to put the brakes on that, pronto!, so let's throw up some more government red tape...

Cassis has drafted legislation that would require the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to disclose more information about companies that get MEGA credits. Among other things, she'd like to know if companies that get the credits would really go somewhere else without them.

Greg Main is the president of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Main says he has that information, but he can't share it.

"Because our lawyers tell us if we did that, then we are violating the tax laws that say tax information is a private matter," says Main.
MEDC does at times announce the states and countries that we beat out in competition to land these companies/jobs - and let's face it, the Republican recession has created the current game of shopping around for the best deal that states can offer - but to reveal the details in a government report for all to see? Not only that, Cassis also wants to create more government involvement by requesting that these highly detailed reports are presented to just about every committee you can think of.

For example, she wants the authority to include more information in its annual report to the Legislature, such as the number of jobs created or retained in any year that a credit is applied and the total value of tax credits a company receives for that year and all previous years, as well as the company’s actual investment.

Cassis’ Senate Bill 71, passed unanimously by the Senate in February, would require such additional information and would also require the authority to report on its activities to the chairs of the Senate Appropriations and Finance committees, the House Appropriations and Tax Policy committees, and the directors of the Senate and House fiscal agencies.

Under the bill, the auditor general would review the annual MEGA report to the Legislature and would include comments with the report before the authority could submit it. Cassis’ bill is before the House Committee on New Economy & Quality of Life, chaired by Clemente.
New rules and regulations for business during a time of extreme economic crisis. Who would have imagined that this idea would come from a Senate Republican. These credits have been in place since the mid-90's, interesting that this becomes an issue now, isn't it?

Greg Main of MEDC says that Michigan is "unilaterally disarming ourselves" is the fight to draw business to our state. MEDC has 70 projects in the pipeline that are now being put on hold until this issue is resolved, and "a majority of those projects could go elsewhere if companies have to wait until January when a new allotment of MEGA credits becomes available." How many jobs will the Senate Republicans cost us with this request for more government involvement in business matters?

Even the Macomb Daily agrees that Cassis is "blocking" this legislation to push her own personal agenda of "old school" tax cuts, and they are urging that the Senate move this legislation. For a recent example, without these credits, we would not have landed the GM small car plant for Orion. It probably would have gone to Tennessee.

It's rare that Gov. Jennifer Granholm trumps Senate Republicans on matters relating to pro-business policies and creating jobs.

But we have to side with the Democratic governor in her push for additional state tax credits that are used to lure new companies to Michigan. So far this year, the incentives wielded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have allowed the MEDC to facilitate projects that will create up to 62,000 jobs, plus 161,000 spin-off jobs.
They also bust the Republicans on their hypocrisy when it comes to tax breaks. Bravo.

The bill that would expand the credits passed the House in June but in the Senate it's become a budget issue, with Republicans saying it will cost the state precious revenue.

That's an interesting critique. It's revealing that the same lawmakers who try to discredit the MEDC are quick to protect obscure tax loopholes for certain industries.

If we are going to put people back to work in this state, then the Senate needs to get to work on this bill.
The Mac Center is going to release a report this week attacking MEDC. The timing of that report is also "interesting" - almost as if they knew this was coming.

Can anyone think of a reason why the "free market" Republicans would want to slow down job creation, besides Nancy's freakish obsession with killing Michigan's film industry? You can probably guess the motivations here based on campaign themes that have already been established amongst the Republican candidates for governor. They need things to be "bad" in Michigan - it's all they have to run on. After all, you don't hear them offering up any new ideas of their own.

The House should pass Cassis' bill ASAP, provided it doesn't break any laws. More transparency is not necessarily a bad thing - let's just hope it doesn't scare away business that would rather keep their information private.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Music To Michigan Ears: Cash For Clunkers A Big Hit

Sure wish we would have done this sooner. From WZZM TV13 in Grand Rapids, two of the biggest car dealers in West Michigan are saying they are "having a hard time keeping cars on the lot."

"It has been excellent," said Keller-Ford salesperson Pat Kelly. "It's to the point where quite frankly, we don't have enough coverage for the people coming in."

Dealers across West Michigan are seeing cars fly of of the lot because of the new program. Chrysler Dealer Harold Zeigler is amassing a small graveyard of clunkers in their back lot.

"This has been the craziest 48 hours, and I've done this for 20 years, the craziest that I've ever seen," said General Manager and Vice President Scott Comar. "We've had 500 people either stop in, call in or on the internet contacting us to find out what's going on."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is going to officially kick off the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program Monday in D.C. - it will run until the trade-ins on old cars reaches $1 billion. Not sure how they will know when that happens; some dealers are speculating that it might have already happened. That seems a bit far-fetched, but if this is going on at dealers all over the country...

Meanwhile, Michigan Loses Its Chance At Creating More Jobs

We have fallen into a very serious silly season in Lansing. Between Dillon starting a bonfire without a way to contain it, Brewer throwing rocks at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and everyone and their brother announcing that they are running for governor, the insanity has been flowing fast and furious this week. Seems we have tipped right over into the Land of the Surreal as the chattering class spends more time worrying about legislation that hasn't been written, ballot proposals that don't yet exist, and candidates that won't take office for a year and a half.

Good show everyone. "Jumped the shark" doesn't even begin to cover what has been going on, but it's the closest we can come to describing the idiocy of the current events now playing out before our recession weary eyes. Michigan is facing very serious problems, right now, and you are screeching about things that are well in the future. While this is happening, crucial issues are being ignored in favor of the freak show of the endless partisan battles.

For example, we now know that the Senate Republicans don't know the difference between a tax credit and a tax cut. That is very important news, and shows that perhaps the Senate Republicans don't even have a rudimentary understanding of a basic economic principle. And yet, somehow that is not making the headlines, the fact that the Senate Republicans are now going to seriously obstruct job creation in the midst of the worst national recession we have seen since the Great Depression.

Here's Matt Marsden, trying to tell us that the state can't afford the MEGA tax credits to attract new jobs and investment. It's complete and total bull.

But Matt Marsden, spokesperson for Mr. Bishop, said with a $1.7 billion estimated deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year, "where are we getting the money?" for these credits.

Calling for action to enact more credits is just calling on the Legislature to spend money it doesn't have, Mr. Marsden said.
This is about the most idiotic thing the man has ever said, and when it comes to Marsden, that is really saying something. Credits come after someone else gives us the money first. It has nothing to do with "spending" - but now, this is the new talking point coming the Senate Republicans, trying to mislead citizens about the nature of the program. Greg Main from MEDC:

But Mr. Main said the credits are performance-based and allocate no state money until the firms actually establish jobs. In that way, the state does not lose money on the one end until the companies are creating revenues on the other, he said.
So the Senate Republicans are really stupid, or they are flat-out lying. Take your pick, both fit. Nancy Cassis is the one holding this up in committee. Since this next little tidbit about Nancy's "issues" came out as well...

While the Senator would not directly link it, she hinted that the eventual agreement could include some concessions from the Granholm administration on the so-called Hollywood film tax credit.

She did say that "refundable credits" in general were on the table and she did not refute the assertion that film credits were part of that.
... the real agenda has become clear.

It is no secret that Cassis hates the film credits, and now Bishop will back her up by lying about the nature of the MEGA program - and Michigan is going to lose out on new jobs.

Going to repeat that: Michigan is going to lose out on new jobs if they don't move this legislation.

That should be the outrage of the week. The rest of the outrage can wait until later. I'm sure Lansing will provide plenty of it. They always do.

Will Nancy Cassis Hold Up Job Creation For Michigan?

Ruh roh. Today, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Governor Granholm announced the latest round of MEGA tax credits, creating and/or retaining nearly 15,000 expected jobs for our state. The Magna Seating announcement out of Detroit was a MEGA project; basically, you promise to bring the jobs and the money, we give you a credit towards the MBT. In the intense competition to land investment and jobs, most, if not all states in the union have economic development plans such as this.

The job numbers are always best estimates. Maybe a business will do better than expected and add more, maybe they won't and it will be less, sometimes the project announced doesn't even get off the ground. Hey, stuff happens, especially in a national recession.

This year, we have hit the wall on the number of credits we can issue.

Michigan Economic Development Corp. officials said the state could lose 15 or more projects to other states and countries if lawmakers don't vote quickly to ease the annual limit on tax credits.

"We're fighting an economic war with other states and we're out of ammo," said Mark Morante, vice president of policy and legislative affairs for the MEDC.
The House has moved to rectify this situation...

A bill raising the tax credit years -- the credits typically are approved for seven to 10 years -- that can be approved in 2009 from 400 to 500 and boosting the number of yearly deals for high-tech projects from 50 to 75 passed the House last month and is in the Senate Finance Committee.
... but once again, Nancy Cassis has "issues".

Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said she's not inclined to rob the state of an economic development tool, but she'll insist on more transparency before the bill raising the cap is passed out of her committee.

"There has to be more sunlight on the program," Cassis said. She said she hasn't been able to get details on the number of direct jobs created by companies receiving the tax breaks in past years.
And she is choosing now to take a stand about this? Alrighty then, I guess we just won't be able to approach any more companies about coming to Michigan to create jobs until Nancy's curiosity is satisfied. What was she planning on doing with the information anyway? Was the Queen of the Tax Cuts going to take away incentives from business? Seriously?

Oh, and by the way, shame on the Granholm administration and MEDC for not holding back some of these credits for later. What are you people trying to do anyway, end the recession or something?

Cassis also chided the administration for knowingly violating the limit.

"They knew they were up against the cap, but they kept spending and spending," she said.
Yeah they did. All those jobs, all that money, it was just too much. So, just tell all those other companies that are interested in Michigan to go away now. Just check with another state - Cassis doesn't want the business until she can pretend like she has some control here.

You unemployed folks are just going to have to wait.

"Honey, I Blew Up the Michigan Democratic Party!"

What to do with Andy Dillon. Let's start with the MEA. They no happy.

Meanwhile, WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick reports a confidential memo from the executive director of the Michigan Education Association, Lu Battaglieri, blasts Dillon.

Battaglieri calls the Dillon plan the most "anti-labor, anti-uinon and anti-collective bargaining" proposal yet.

Skubick says Dillon told the union in a meeting last week that he was offering the plan to make sure the Democrats did not lose the House, Senate and Governor's seat next year.

The union official countered, "That's exactly what will happen. He is seemingly clueless as to the damage he is causing the Democratic Party."

The memo goes on to describe Dillon as: "Nice house-nobody home. And that is not meant to be pejorative. I believe it is true."

Ouch. The governor was a bit... um... more dignified about the whole thing, and really gets right to the point. Where are the savings, where are the details, and, most important, where is the legislation? If this supposedly was going toward the next budget as savings, it should have been ready to go.

“Show me the money. I don’t where the savings come from,” Granholm told reporters, adding that she had not seen details of Dillon’s proposal. In fact, the plan has not yet been drafted as bills to present the Legislature.

“I haven’t seen the legislation; I have a million questions about it,” she said.

Granholm said the proposal won’t help resolve the state’s current financial problems in 2010 or 2011, and might even detract from negotiations to erase a looming $1.7-billion deficit next fiscal year because lawmakers might thing they don’t need to cut state programs or find new revenue to plug the budget hole.

The House has yet to finalize its budgets. Is this distracting from negotiations? Are all the "Dillon Reforms" keeping the House from getting its job done? If so, this next statement from Dillon is quite a joke.

Dillon responded to Granholm in a prepared statement, saying, “Change is never easy – there will always be countless reasons not to change. But one thing is clear: business as usual isn't working.”

Dillon said government costs must be reduced long-term to prevent future layoffs of teachers, police officers and reducing college scholarships. He added, “We need leaders like Gov. Granholm, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and others to come together in the days ahead so we can turn Michigan around."

It's business as usual with the House though. Once again, they are the hold up on the budget. Time to put the money where your mouth is. Show everyone the plan. Show them the details.

You want to talk leadership? Leadership is having a plan ready to go before you announce it. Leadership is sitting down with your people and getting their input, rallying them to your side. Leadership is getting your current job done first - and the budget is now way late.

Leadership is NOT saying that you can save $900 million without any proof to back your claims up. Leadership is NOT throwing your own party and vulnerable House members under the bus on risky propositions so you can... what? Run for governor? Not as a Democrat, apparently.

If Speaker Dillon is ready to sell out his own party, his own people, how can you trust him with the state? I was willing to keep an open mind about this - but that statement from today tells me that this is just another political play, just as bad as the Republicans who run around and mouth "reform" without any real ideas behind it. Dillon may have a skeleton of an idea, but the way it was presented, the way this is going down, makes me wonder if he really is qualified to lead people at all.

Sorry Andy. I actually kind of like you - but this wasn't the way to do this. It's not leadership, it's a stunt. And it's hurting the state.

Now get back to work.

Tesla "Renew America Roadtrip" Rolls Into Grand Rapids

The Tesla all-electric roadster, on a cross country journey from New York to San Francisco to raise money for environmental charities, made a stop in Grand Rapids this morning, drawing about 20 car buffs and the local media out to cover the story. Seeing as how it was just a few blocks from my house, I had to go check it out. Short slideshow is above.

For those who think the Volt is a little too expensive - check out the price tag on this puppy.

San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors inc. says the car can reach 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Tesla says its lithium-ion batteries give it a range of 244 miles on one charge.

Tesla says the roadster sells for $101,500 after a federal tax credit and says its sedan version will sell for about $50,000 starting in 2011.
Tesla was one of the companies that received loans from the DOE for battery research and production, $465 million will go toward facilities to build their sedan version of this car.

Looks like it would be fun to drive - don't know about all the way across the country though, given its small size. A nice spin to the beach maybe. The car will be making a stop in Kalamazoo at WMU later today if you are in the area and want to check it out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bishop Comes Clean on 2007 Budget Obstruction

Remember how Mike Bishop spent all of 2007 trying to obstruct progress on budget negotiations?

Remember how Bishop walked out of budget talks, took all those vacations, lied about deals that were made, wouldn't take votes until the end of August, called the governor names, made a fool out of Dillon, insisted on an "all cuts" budget, insisted on a continuation budget in September so they could keep playing this game, and generally held Michigan hostage right up until the point that they shut down the government, screwed up the service taxes, which in turn led to the inevitable repeal of those and the installment now-dreaded MBT surcharge instead? Remember that?

And that is the short version. Follow the link above for the entire story of how the governor had to kick the Legislature in the ass all year long to get their job done, how the Democrats dithered because they were afraid of the inevitable tax vote, and how Bishop stomped his feet, held his breath until he turned blue, lied, denied, stalled as much as he could, and wasted an entire year of the taxpayer's time as he played his obstruction games.

Some of us remember it well. Heck, some of us were moved to start a blog over it.

In Friday's MIRS, Bishop was asked about how this year's budget issue compares to what happened in 2007. Here is what he said:

"Here's the difference," Bishop said. "In 2007 I had four or five members of my caucus who came to me well ahead of time and told me they'd do what ever was needed to prevent a shutdown. So, I knew, at the end of the day, the votes would be there to go along with the Governor.
Making the whole shutdown of government and the subsequent MBT surcharge totally unnecessary.

Thanks, Mike. Thanks a lot. Instead of doing the right thing, which you knew you had the votes for "well ahead of time", you screwed us all over.

Just a little something to keep in mind as this year's budget negotiations unfold.

Saving Michigan's Movie Industry

Odd couple. Did you ever think that you would see Kid Rock and Governor Granholm together in a video?

Thus starts the battle to save Michigan's movie incentives. Rumors are swirling again that we might cap the credits, and rumors alone might be enough to scare people away, unfortunately.

We do know that the $50 million cap on tax credits that's part of Cassis' proposal would kill the whole goose, because how can you budget a project knowing that someone else might beat you to the only available money? As Johnson put it, that's like buying a car with a rebate and then finding out the only check went to the last guy who bought one.

Droz can tick down a list of intriguing projects and businesses headed our way. A producer wants to open an office overseeing 10 movies in three years, and if most of them won't appeal to anyone over 17, who cares? A video game company says it's relocating a dozen staffers and hiring 20 more people once it gets here.

He can also tell you about the puzzled, panicked or perturbed phone calls from producers who hear grumblings about caps and cuts and wonder what they can count on. "Are you guys in or out?" asks the voice from California. "Is there a cap, or not?"

No, there isn't. None of the bills have made it out of committee. Assuming one does, it's not likely to pass. Assuming it passes, Granholm has already said she'll drop it on the cutting-room floor.

It wouldn't surprise me to see it trimmed back in the upcoming budget battle. Just as long as we stay ahead of the rest of the country, we will be OK - but lawmakers better make sure that producers are aware that we are still number one. We go below Louisiana, and we are finished.

Don't blow this, Lansing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cleaning Up the Great Lakes

NBC Nightly News had a very nice story last night about the Great Lakes and the troubles they face. Finally, we have a federal administration that recognizes the importance of the lakes, and will take steps to clean up the pollution and combat invasive species. It's long overdue - let's just hope it's not too late.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Granholm Guarantees Michigan Promise Scholarship Will Survive

Just a heads up - this week's radio address states, once again, that the Promise Scholarship is not on the table when it comes to the current budget negotiations. Emphasis hers.

Although the state Senate recently voted to eliminate the Promise Scholarships, we will not allow this to happen. Families have already budgeted for these funds, we will not break the promise of this scholarship to students and their families.

Didn't think they would. The Senate Republicans passed these draconian budget cuts just for show. They do not want to be responsible for taking away this scholarship, and now that the gauntlet has been thrown down (a couple of times), if they press the issue, they will look really bad. And nobody really wants to take this away anyway - it's much needed given economic conditions and rising tuition, and works towards the goal we all want to see; more college graduates in Michigan. It's a must to attract business and keep quality of life. No brainer.

Budget negotiations are now going on "behind closed doors", which doesn't give us much to yell about in the meantime.

Er... wait. Maybe that is what they have in mind. Well, that's no fun. If I can't complain about the legislature, just what am I supposed to do with myself here?

Won't somebody please think of the bloggers???

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your 2010 Michigan Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Engines

You have to give Speaker Andy Dillon credit - this was one gutsy move. Reforming state employee health insurance is a monster of an idea, but the question of the timing suddenly becomes more of an issue than the idea itself, and that won't help any of us at this point.

It should be noted first and foremost that Democrats, in general, are the ones coming up with viable (but still evolving) plans for government reform, whereas the Republicans are simply mouthing the words without offering any real solutions to back them up. From the administration's idea of streamlining state departments, to this idea of streamlining health care for public employees, these plans would change the "way we do business" in Michigan in such a way that we wouldn't recognize the government if they were to be implemented. Both of these general themes for vast reform are grand, sweeping ideas that are ambitious, and increasingly necessary, given our changing economy. For that, Democrats are to be commended for the attempt. Hope that people remember that as we go along here.

Problem is, there is no way it all gets done by Sept. 30th of this year, and all of it starts to smell of 2010 campaign strategy, rather than genuine desire to change the government. At least, that is the spin the media will put on it, and that has already started - setting up the inevitable knife fight that may tear apart the party. Doing this sort of thing on the national level in '08 was easier, given the implosion of the Bush administration; doing this at the state level might be a really bad idea.

But back to Dillon's plan first, which he is calling the "Dillon Reform". Dead giveaway there. In theory, the idea of a single health insurance plan that covers all state obligations to 450,000 public employees and retirees seems like it would be a path to greater efficiency. To put it in practice though, well, that would take so much arm-twisting that it will be virtually impossible at this point in time. According to the Freep, there are over 2,000 plans in place currently, the product of hard-fought negotiations on the part of various unions who have made sacrifices to keep their current health benefits, and there is no way they will willingly give them up. The MEA reaches for the typical knee-jerk reaction, and quite frankly, they make themselves look bad by doing so. Details aren't available yet, but yet they simply attack with lines that feed right into the Republican playbook, making the teachers unions seem protectionist, when everyone else in the state is going to be asked to sacrifice in some form or another by the time this budget is complete.

The proposal was slammed by the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

"The only way to get these cost savings is a massive reduction of benefits," said Doug Pratt, spokesman for the union.

"It's a massive expansion of government" at a time the state is trying to cut $1.8 billion out of its budget, he added.

The words "bureaucratic nightmare", and a slam on the ability of the lawmakers to balance the budget as it stands, also came up. Bad move. The MEA needs to take a tip from the UAW, who pointed out that they really can't comment until they actually see the entire plan.

Cheryl Streberger, benefits representative for UAW 6000, which represents 22,000 state employees, said the union will look at anything that cuts health care costs while preserving benefits.

"We've been wanting more affordable health care for a long time. Our premiums just went up 3 to 10 percent," she said. "But we need to see the details of this plan."

Bingo. Unions need to be willing to look at savings, and they need to say so. Loudly. Get on the bad side of public opinion though be seeming selfish, and you give the Republicans the ammunition they need to destroy you. We already have a perception problem about union workers being propagated by the chattering class in the political arena - don't give them more fuel by dismissing this outright. The Granholm administration has taken a measured response with a willingness to look at the idea, but rightly points out that this can't distract from the matter at hand, and that is that we are increasingly under the gun to find big savings in the budget right now. Time is running out.

"We've got to look at any and all proposals that could help lower the cost of government in Michigan without sacrificing the things that matter most to us including quality health care for public employees," she said. "But what we can't afford to do is to let the theoretical savings of any proposal prevent us from making tough choices about spending and revenues in our budget."

Very true. The Freep points out that other states have tried this approach, with various levels of success. In Wisconsin, it took "decades" to accomplish. Here, changes in state law would have to be made - and that isn't going to happen anytime soon. So, while it all looks really good in theory, the timing of it doesn't coincide with current political and economic reality. It can't be done in the space of two months, especially if your own Democratic House members flinch at the idea. Which, of course, they are doing. In a big way.

All this does right now is alarm the some of the Democrats biggest supporters, and will start the accusations flying, as evidenced by the MEA above. Dillon claims that he doesn't care if it ends his "political career", but that seems a bit disingenuous, given that he has indicated that he would walk away from politics before in '07, and he yet here he is. Not sure "I'll just quit" instills confidence in the public or the party members, but it might be an underhanded attempt at painting a portrait of a man who is bold enough to sacrifice his standing with his fellow Democrats - and that may or may not play well in 2010. Hard to tell at this point.

Seeing as how the normally very quiet and private Speaker Dillon has started a website,, with more details of this plan to be released later, and, with the rumor being that he will jump in the race around Labor Day (but that came from the folks who claimed that Terri Land was definitely in, so take it for what it's worth), you just have to wonder what he is really up to here. If he does jump in, this will set up infighting in the Democratic Party like you won't believe.

Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to eat their own. With Alma Wheeler Smith "stealing a page from the Republican playbook" by taking the very intellectually dishonest and Republican position of pinning the state economy on the Granholm administration, to Dillon seemingly attacking some of the party's biggest supporters in the unions, the House Democrats might fall into such disarray that it could be impossible to tackle the current budget, as they will be too worried about future political concerns when making decisions that will affect us in the immediate future.

All the Republicans have to do is sit back and watch the show - but they run the risk of seeming to be ineffectual and devoid of ideas by doing so. They may laugh now, and pay the price later for it. But, if the Democrats hand them the weapons willingly by attacking their own constituencies? All bets are off at that point. Republicans can steal all the ideas behind this "reform" and claim them as their own (and you know they will), and end up using the Democratic House members attacks against the Democrats themselves when it comes to the general campaign.

Watch for it.

Dillon may be doing the right thing here, but for all the wrong reasons that could backfire in a really bad way. With Andy, it's really hard to tell. My guess is the public would rather see a solution to the current budget crisis now, and save the theories for the future. If we can't count it towards the bottom line this very second, and you can't get your own members to even support it, it won't do us any good when it comes to solving our immediate problems - and that should be the priority for the state at this time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

President Obama Announces the American Graduation Initiative at Warren Speech

What a beautiful day in Warren. I'm still here, sitting with the folks from the Freep; they have a blow by blow account of the speech here, and the White House has presented a fact sheet on the American Graduation Initiative here.

Basically, we need to boost the number of college graduates in this country to compete on a global scale. You knew that, we all know that, and now the White House wants to do something about it. A $12 billion dollar plan was unveiled this afternoon...

White House officials say the investment will be spread over a decade. It includes $9 billion to fuel community college challenge grants, $2.5 billion for construction and renovation of buildings and $500 million for online curriculum development. The initiative will get under way within the first six months of 2010, officials said.

Community colleges in Michigan are at capacity now - hopefully this will help CC's expand to add more students and training programs. I know that in Grand Rapids it can be almost impossible to get into the popular courses.

Go read the stories for all the details. From what I heard, sounds like a great plan, and much needed - especially here in Michigan.

I think I got some seriously good pictures here today. Small venue (around 2000 in attendance), sunshine, wispy clouds with the green trees... great setting. It will take me hours to get home, and then go through them all - so look for a slideshow sometime tomorrow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

One of the Two

It's called honesty. It's called integrity.

Determination. Loyality. Belief.



That is something that you obviously know nothing of.

And that's a pity.

I am honored to be one of the two.

Slow News Day

At 4:11 PM, the Detroit News is featuring Drew and Mike back at WRIF as the lead story. The Freep has a piece on the meaning of cat purrs. No, I'm not kidding.

Not much to work with there - so here are a some tidbits to chew on:

  • Aiyeeeeee - Michigan's budget deficit is getting bigger. Tax collections are down 13% - $1.8 billion - for the year, a $120 million drop spread between the general and school aid funds in the past two months.

  • MIRS rats out your Legislature. That budget problem? It will just have to wait, as the legiscritters, who did nothing over their vacation, are now going to leave town for various conferences. Republicans are attending the "free-market" American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting in Atlanta this week, and don't plan on holding any votes this month at all. They consider their job done. There is also the National Conference of State Legislatures in Atlanta staring the 20th in Philly. The House might vote on something the last week of the month, maybe, who knows.... just figure September. Sorry to all the schools and cities that have to work on budgets right now.

  • A judge rules that the new GM can help Delphi out of bankruptcy. Lots of legal hurdles remain though, go read if you are in to that sort of thing.

  • The MI House Democrats are introducing legislation that will target insurance companies who deny vaild claims. Raise your hand if you think this will go anywhere in the Senate. No? Of course not. But kudos to the Dems for trying.

  • Governor's residence in Lansing goes green with the addition of a Mariah/MasTech Windspire wind turbine from Manistee, new "smart" sprinkler system from A&H Lawn Service Inc. of Saline, Green Meadows Lawn Care & Landscaping of Clinton and HydroLogic of Minneapolis, solar panels coming soon from Uni-Solar, and a patch of green roof over the garage from LiveRoof of Spring Lake and Permaloc Corp. of Holland. All these items were donated - big thanks to these Michigan companies who will save us some taxpayer money, and provide a showplace for residential energy efficiency items. The biggest savings will come from the turbine, knocking off $1,200 from a yearly electric bill of almost $11,000. What, are they running NORAD down there or something? Geez.

  • Never would have guessed that gasoline would be this cheap - down 15.6 cents in the past two weeks for an average of $2.49, $1.68 a gallon lower than it was this time last year. Might help clear out the SUVs from the lots.

  • My Mom just called to inform me that Marcy Wheeler said the word "blowjob" on MSNBC. Not sure it what context - but you go Marcy! Bet that opened some ears. Probably going to insist on a 5-second delay whenever they have bloggers on after today.

  • President Obama will be in Warren tomorrow, no real details yet on what he will be talking about at this invitation-only town hall meeting. Since it is at MCC, the belief is that it will be about worker training and addressing the auto industry. Your favorite paparazzo will be there, barring unforeseen car issues (don't have the new used one yet) or omission from the press list. Wish me luck.
  • Same Shit, Different State

    It's deja vu all over again. Gee, does this sound familiar...

    The budget in question is known in the Capitol simply as Senate Bill 850. It is the $27.3 billion spending plan introduced months ago by Republicans who control the Senate, and contains painful cuts to state spending but no tax increases.

    Democrats, including those who control the House, have made no secret of their opposition to it and have said over and over that it would translate into damaging cuts to social, educational, and economic-development programs.

    And even now that the House is set to vote on it, those same Democrats still say they could not support it.

    Democratic leaders say they back Rendell's almost $29 billion budget plan that proposes a mixture of spending cuts and increased taxes, including a temporary 16 percent increase in the state's personal-income tax.

    Yet Republicans have taken a staunch antitax stance - and have not budged from it. Complicating matters: Some rank-and-file Democrats won't vote for a higher personal-income tax, either. And the state is now almost two weeks past the July 1 deadline to enact a spending plan for the fiscal year, with not even a pretense of a resolution in sight. Most state workers will soon be expected to work without pay, and vendors could also stop receiving payments from the state.

    So late last week, after a flurry of urgent, backdoor meetings, Democratic leaders decided to allow a vote on Senate Bill 850, if only to gain a platform from which to argue how catastrophic its cuts would be.
    Been there, done that, getting ready to do it again. Good luck Ed - you're going to need it.

    So will we.

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Name That Legislator!

    (Now with answers)

    The state budget deficit. OMG, we are going to have to deal with this budget. I was kind of hoping the world would end or the Rapture would happen or I'd win the lottery and run off to the Virgin Islands before I had to start dealing with this issue, because I just can't tell which end is up and who wants what. You've got Republicans sounding like Democrats and Democrats sounding like Republicans and dogs and cats sleeping together and nothing makes any sense anymore... but it never did it the first place with this bunch, so what else is new.

    Quite frankly, your state lawmakers are all over the board. On everything. Timing, taxes, stimulus spending, you name it. They were going to have the budget done by break, they are going to have it done by Aug. 1st, they are going to have it done by Sept. 1st. Or something like that. My guess is Sept. 30th. Dillon was going to introduce a tax plan, wait, he's not going to introduce a tax plan, but he's working with Detroit Renaissance, no, actually he's not working with Detroit Renaissance, but the House is going to be holding hearings starting now - and it's mid-July. Alrighty then. The Senate will use the stimulus to cut the MBT and give taxpayers rebates, the Senate will put all the stimulus to "job creation", the Senate will spread out the stimulus but destroy the state with budget cuts and that is exactly what they did - but they really don't want to do that, and are begging the Dems and the administration to come up with something, anything, please save us from actually having to do this.

    With all that in mind, here are some quotes made in the past couple of months concerning the deficit and cuts and taxes - see if you can match the quote with the legislator. (Or, legislator's mouthpiece in the case of Marsden - and that one is pretty much a gimme)

    1) "If we are going to raise revenue, it needs to be in a fashion that does the least damage to job providers." (R - Roger Kahn, Freep)

    2) "Let's start talking with how far we can go with cuts." (D - Andy Dillon, Freep)

    3) ____ _____ said the state could generate $400 million more by reducing tax credits for businesses that don't produce more jobs. (R - Nancy Cassis, Freep. Unfortunately Cassis is mostly talking about the film credits, the one area that is producing jobs.)

    4) "If it means they want to raise taxes, they should be clear about that, they need to be honest with people. Stop complaining and start stepping up with solutions, we're all ears." (R - Mike Bishop Freep, seemingly asking for a tax increase. I don't think he meant it the way it sounds.)

    5) "We increased revenue in 2007 (with MBT changes) and did that solve the budget crisis? No. After that, there's no way we'd support a tax increase." (Matt Marsden, MiTech/Gongwer, negates Bishop's statement. Who's really in charge there?)

    6) "It's not a matter of raising taxes. That's not it at all. It's how do we create a fair tax that is more fair to businesses and individuals." (D - Gilda Jacobs, MIRS)

    7) (On raising taxes to fix roads) "With the highest unemployment rate in the nation, Michigan can ill afford to ignore any opportunity to create jobs." (R - Jud Gilbert, mlive/Luke)

    8) "I've got an economist who is now telling me that revenues could fall below $7 billion. When you get to that point, we're taking about potentially cutting the basic things. I don't think we're going to be getting the revenues we want." (D - George Cushingberry, MIRS)

    9) (On cuts to the Dept. of Community Health budget) "Very, very, very tough responsibility to balance spending with revenues." (D - Jim Barcia, MIRS)

    10) "I don't know anyone who's worked as hard to preserve revenue sharing." (R - John Pappageorge, MIRS)

    a) Jim Barcia
    b) Mike Bishop
    c) Nancy Cassis
    d) George Cushingberry
    e) Andy Dillon
    f) Jud Gilbert
    g) Gilda Jacobs
    h) Roger Kahn
    i) Matt Marsden
    j) John Pappageorge

    Six Repubs and four Dems. Give it a shot if you want; the answers will surprise you.

    Fearless prediction: In the end, they are going to raise revenue AND make drastic cuts. Along the way, they will manage to piss off everyone in the state, but because this solution will be so convoluted, they won't be able to use it against each other in 2010.

    We can only hope. After this is over, I doubt anyone will want to hear about it - except maybe to tell small children around camp fires in the deep, dark woods, flashlight pointed under your chin as you end the tale with this:

    "... and after the people of Michigan came to Lansing to drag them out of their offices and down to the Grand River, no one ever heard from them again. But, sometimes late at night, you can still hear their screams echoing though the dome of the Capitol...."

    I'm going to the beach now. You should too. Get out there and enjoy this summer, for soon the migraines will start. I'll fill in the answers tomorrow.

    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    New "Green" GM to Emerge From Bankruptcy Tomorrow

    * Looks at watch *

    Holy sh*t. I never would have bet that this would happen so quickly.

    U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected a request to delay the sale of General Motors Corp.'s good assets, clearing the way for GM to emerge from bankruptcy on Friday.

    Kaplan denied a request to stay U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber's ruling allowing a Treasury Department-sponsored entity to purchase the bulk of GM's assets.
    Fritz Henderson will hold a press conference tomorrow to detail "significant changes" - and unfortunately that means more layoffs. 4,000 white-collar jobs, including 450 executive level employees.

    In the old GM, several committees often reviewed decisions, holding up new vehicles and making it slow to respond to market changes. Designs were often changed from bold to bland, with GM stamping out nondescript cars such as the old Chevrolet Malibu. With taxpayer dollars and its very existence on the line, GM can no longer afford to take too long.

    So Henderson will thin executive ranks by 35 percent, from about 1,300 to 850 by the end of the year. Total U.S. salaried employment will drop by 6,150, or 21 percent, from 29,650 at the start of the year to 23,500 by the end.
    Word is floating that they will change the GM logo from blue to green to symbolize better fuel efficiency and a more nimble company, which could work with the right advertising campaign, but in the end it still comes down to car design and quality. Despite the incredible pain caused by all these layoffs/plant closings, this will give GM a shot at getting it together and growing into a profitable company that may pay back those loans sooner than we think.

    One disturbing aspect about both the GM and Chrysler arrangement - the companies will shed liability on old products. Speaking as the soon-to-be owner of a 2001 Saturn SC2 (black! stick! thanks Mom!), even a happy-go-lucky stupid consumer like me felt a bit of a pause at this purchase. Congress is considering a bill that will force GM and Chrysler to buy insurance to cover claims.

    Consumer advocacy and safety organizations are lobbying to have consumers with existing product-defect claims against GM covered by the new GM. Safety Research and Strategies estimates that 35 percent of all death and injury claims reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve GM cars and trucks.

    Meanwhile, a bill, called the “Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act of 2009,” has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would require GM and Chrysler to carry insurance that would cover accident victims who win judgments against the companies. Warriner is a paraplegic who lost his legs in a fire when he was pinned in his Jeep Wrangler after a side collision. If passed into law, this could help people with pending claims.
    Congress is also considering forcing GM and Chrysler to keep all those dealerships open as well, and that is strongly opposed by both the auto companies and the White House, so it's unlikely that it will stick. Liability might be a different issue though. We will see.

    Meanwhile, Long Live Saturn! If I can keep it nice until 2021 (ha ha - it's no creampuff now), it will be a classic, right? Here's to hoping they already found the major defects...

    Reporting of EPIC-MRA Poll Misleads Citizens About Severity of Michigan's Budget Problem

    You hear it all the time. "Just cut lawmaker's pay!” people will proclaim when asked about cuts to state spending. It's hard to say who is more at fault here; EPIC-MRA, for offering up "cuts to the legislature" as some sort of valid solution to Michigan's budget problem, or the news outlets that report on the poll, as they tend to focus on the very predictable response to that question. Some examples of the headlines, and followed by first sentence in the story...

    Detroit News: Lawmakers' actions at odds with voter desires

    Michiganians have some advice for lawmakers hammering out next year's budget: Spare schools and police, slash your expenses.

    WILX: Michigan Budget Poll

    A poll suggests Michigan residents would like the Legislature to slash its own expenses before cutting school and police funding.

    WWJ - Poll: Lawmakers Should Cut Own Spending First

    A new survey finds that Michiganders want Lansing lawmakers to look in the mirror first when it comes to budget cuts for the state.

    WOOD TV - Poll: Fund police, cut legislature pay

    A new EPIC-MRA poll show state residents want to save funding for the state police, save education money and cut pay for legislators.
    When people read things like this, they are led to believe that "legislator pay" is somehow the equivalent of "education" and "state police" - and nothing could be further from the truth. We went through this back in February of 2007 when we were facing a deficit of $940 million on that year's budget, and the very same false equivalency was offered up. At that time, WOOD TV followed through with the price tag of "the legislature" to try and give people some perspective on the scope of the problem.

    This year's deficit: $940,000,000.
    Lawmaker's salary: just under $80,000.
    Number of lawmakers: 148.
    Total budget for their salaries: $11,840,000.
    Total budget deficit without lawmakers salaries: just over $928,000,000.
    That was just pay. When you throw in benefits...

    But what if you just eliminated the Legislature altogether; their staff, their retirement, their salaries, their offices, their health care, everything.

    The House Fiscal Agency, which, by the way, wouldn't be funded under this scenario, says that all costs of the legislature run in excess of $116 million dollars. If all of that were eliminated, the state would still be $820 million dollars in the red.
    $116 million saved if we eliminate "the legislature". While it's fun to think about doing that, it doesn't come anywhere close to filling the budget hole. This year's deficit? Somewhere around $1.7 billion. The news outlets that fail to explain the size of this discrepancy are doing the citizens of this state a huge disservice when they focus on the non-solution of cutting the legislature.

    WXYZ posted the entire poll online, and although they hit on the pay issue, they provide more balance in their summary. Turns out that, once again, people don't want to cut anything at all, and when they are pressed on the issues, they only want to cut "a little" or "somewhat". "Eliminate" or "cut a lot" mostly scored in the single digits.

    The poll was conducted from June 23 to June 28. It has a sample of 600 people and an error rate of plus or minus 4%. It found that 76% of people say the state is in crisis. However, when asked what should be cut people are pretty much split on the issues. The biggest result we received was from 37% of people who say cuts could be made in the state legislature. After that the answers place all of the other options in the single percentages.

    As for things that should not be cut, 22% of people say local public schools should not be touched. After that, 14% say police and fire funding shouldn’t be cut and 12% say the state police funding should be left alone.

    When asked how much the budget in certain areas should be cut, must people say it shouldn’t be cut at all. However, many people say they are willing to cut the budgets a little bit, with funding for substance abuse programs being their top choice. However, only 28% call for a small cut in that budget.
    Proof that our citizens want their government services, and if they had their choice, would cut the very same people that are proclaiming we need to "cut government". Ha. Remember that the next time some legislator insists that his or her constituents want "more cuts". About the only thing people want to cut is the legislators themselves. Brings a slight smile to the face when you think of the irony, but of course, that won't solve our problems. If only...

    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    CNN Video: Hollywood Helps Michigan Jobless

    Hat tip to @Andy_Levin from DELEG for the tweet on this CNN piece that shows how the No Worker Left Behind program is involved in training unemployed Michigan workers for jobs in our rapidly growing film industry.

    Excellent quote at the end: "The real mission, pure and simple, is leave a legacy of jobs".

    That is, unless our esteemed legiscritters decide to cut it off at the knees. Which they just might do. Then, all these workers we are training can run off to Louisiana, where they are going to expand and make permanent their film credits to try and get this business back.

    Be a shame, wouldn't it?

    Mike Cox to Propose Expanding Government With New Medicaid Inspector Position

    Mike Cox is holding yet another press conference today, no details were leaked to the AP in an effort to build the suspense...

    Cox is one of the candidates seeking to become the Republican nominee to run for governor in 2010. He is scheduled to detail a health care proposal in an afternoon news conference.

    A media advisory from Cox's office says the plan would save the state $100 million a year but offered no other specifics.
    But a West Michigan Republican has spilled the beans to the Grand Rapids Press. Oops. Or, not oops, maybe it was planned, you never can tell with these guys...

    Republican Rep. Bob Genetski, of Saugatuck, is joining Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox in calling for the state to create an independent inspector to weed out Medicaid fraud and abuse.

    Genetski said he will introduce legislation next week asking lawmakers to create a state Medicaid Inspector General position to monitor fraud and waste in the Michigan Department of Community Health.

    Genetski plans to announce his plan Wednesday at a Lansing press conference with Cox, who is running for governor, and Senator Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, who will introduce similar legislation in the Senate. The trio claims the office will pay for itself by saving the state $100 million a year.
    The 'ol "waste, fraud and abuse" canard comes up again, and gosh darn it, the "we must cut government" crowd wants to create more government to deal with it.

    Not surprising, really. The AG's office already has a team in place to deal with this problem, but apparently they can't handle the work. So, while Cox is asking everyone else in the state to do more with less and cut spending, when it comes to his office and personal ambitions, well, he needs more.

    The nonpartisan position would be appointed by the governor, and serve a similar independent function like the state Auditor General. Genetski said the office would function similar to Medicaid Inspector General positions that have been created in New York and Texas.

    Currently a team of lawyers, investigators and experts work out of Cox's office to fight Medicaid fraud. Since its inception, the health care fraud unit has recovered more than $20 million.
    Medicaid fraud is a problem. We will give him that. It needs to be addressed. But at a time when we are being asked to cut everywhere else and layoff state employees, take a look at the New York Inspector General's web site and the functions contained within. Is this an example of "less government?" They have 600 employees working on audits, who knows how many support staff on top of that, and as of 2008, they were, of course, asking for more employees and funding. This was just a cursory search on NY's office, maybe more digging will turn up some more information of the overall cost of the position.

    It might be a great idea. NY claims that they have identified "recoveries of over $550 million" as of last spring. Good for them. But anytime a Republican who has made it a point to loudly and repeatedly proclaim that we need to "cut government" proposes creating a huge government office and more bureaucracy, the hypocrisy must be noted.

    Why can't Mike Cox fight “waste, fraud and abuse” with the people he has now? After all, we need to “live within our means” – and I doubt that we currently have the money to implement a proposal as large as this, even if it “eventually” pays for itself.

    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    Michigan Tax Facts For Your Next Cup of Tea

    We probably shouldn't give the greedy anti-tax crowd as much press as we do. They are the embodiment of the lunatic fringe at this point, poor losers that were dismissed in the last two elections after "conservative" tax policy drove this country straight into the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. But, since the traditional media insists on covering these "events" without providing the facts behind current tax rates in Michigan, it's up to us to gather what has been published lately and put it in one nice tea bag for those that like to brew a little reality in their opinions on taxes.

    Senator Gilda Jacobs wrote a nice piece on tax reform for the Freep that was published yesterday. In it, she lays out some facts that are conveniently ignored by the "more tax cuts" crowd - basically, we have cut taxes throughout this decade, and it didn't work like the Republicans claimed it would.

    If lower taxes were the sole key to a successful state, i.e., one with high per capita income and low unemployment, this decade should have been good for Michigan. In the 1990s, our state’s income tax rate was 4.4%, and our main business tax, the Single Business Tax, had a rate of 2.35%. Most of this decade, we have had an income tax of 3.9%; our SBT was down to 1.9%.

    In 2000, Michigan spent 9.49 cents out of every dollar in personal income on state government. Today we are spending 7.69 cents of every dollar earned on state government — a 19% reduction in overall state tax burden.

    Michigan’s reward for these tax reductions? Nation-leading unemployment and constant budget warfare. We’ve cut higher education spending dramatically, reduced funding to our cities, and even held K-12 spending down to about half the rate of inflation — steps that the “cut taxes” team tells us should have helped our economy. Instead, these kinds of cuts have made us less attractive to college grads and the companies that desire them, increasing the flight of that most valuable resource from Michigan.
    And for all those that still erroneous claim that we are a "high tax state", our own Senate Fiscal Agency recently proved otherwise. Here's Peter Luke with some more facts about Michigan taxes-

    Michigan tax and fee collections next fiscal year will be $10 billion below constitutional limits approved by voters in 1978. According to a new report by the Senate Fiscal Agency, the state ranks 30th in state and local per-capita tax burden. As a percentage of personal income, it ranks 25th. Its sales tax burden ranks 30th. State and local income tax burden ranks 33rd.

    As a percentage of private gross state product, Michigan ranks 22nd in business taxes. In terms of per capita property tax burden, the state ranks higher, 14th, in part because the state levies property taxes on commercial and industrial equipment.
    The stats on the MBT as opposed to the SBT have been hard to figure so far because we don't have a solid year-to-year comparison yet. Last year, they were still in the process of switching over. This year, revenue has tanked with the economic slowdown of the recession, making it hard to gage just how much it would bring in under normal circumstances. Still, if we want to "reform" business taxes, we have to look at overall revenue and the services this state needs to provide to maintain quality of life. Dillon is working on it, but where are the Republican ideas on reform, besides "more cuts"? Did anyone notice that they just destroyed education in this state with the budgets they passed? Is that the state we want to live in? No. Of course not. And neither will "business".

    Both of the articles speak to tax reform, and come to the conclusion that a graduated income tax, as well as looking at taxes on services, could be the way to go. We could eliminate the MBT altogether - but who here really thinks that the Senate Republicans will lift a finger to bring comprehensive tax or government reform to this state? They are running for office in 2010 by trumpeting how "bad" things are in Michigan. It's almost like they enjoy the misery, because they see the opportunity to take power from it. They won't do anything that would eliminate their main campaign talking points, and they sure won't speak the truth when it comes to Michigan's current tax rates.

    After all, the word "reform" falls from their mouth over and over again, and they still refuse to tell us what that means, besides "more cuts" to quality of life, of course. They also refuse to do the work. Last year, when the budget was wrapped up on June 25th, Mike Bishop had this to say-

    "There really weren't any sticking points. We had the momentum going forward," said Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R- Rochester). "We knew where we were going to get in and cut."

    Bishop added that in the future state government needs to take a more serious look at structural reforms to cut costs.
    That was a year ago, and nothing has been done. It's doubtful that anything will get done this year, either. You can probably mark your calendars for 2011 though, with the hopes that when we finally get rid of this Do-Nothing Senate and elect some people who are serious about tax and government reform, we will see some progress.

    Until then, remember the tax facts, and enjoy your tea.

    Monday, July 06, 2009

    Want Jobs? Get Your Governor On A Plane. Now.

    When I first heard that the Guv was going to Germany and Belgium on a trade trip, I was a little pissed off. Not because of the unfinished budget; Bob Emerson is around, and it is doubtful that the legiscritters were going to make any progress on vacation anyway. After yelling at them for the past two years about their extended summer breaks, I've really given up on trying on that issue. (but you go Tim! I'll join you in August). It wasn't because of Sanford's admission of impropriety on his trip, although I cringed simply because of the timing. And it wasn't because of Palin's insulting shot (way to spit on your colleagues, Sarah!) when she quit her job, or the fact that I would have to put up with the trolls when I read about this at the news/TV web site comments, who will complain no matter what the governor does. No, it wasn't any of that.

    I was ticked off because she is only going for two days - and that's not long enough. It seems that foreign trade missions are a requirement for governor's today, and if we don't go and try to solicit some business, other states are going to eat our lunch.

    Take Tennessee, for a recent example. When the GM news about Spring Hill/Orion broke, I noticed that Gov. Bredesen was just getting back from a trip to Germany, Poland and Switzerland - and announced that he was going to China and Japan this fall. It's a long trip, too.

    “I think particularly with European and Japanese businesses, they just like to see the governor. You gotta be there,” Bredesen said of the trips. “China is such a huge growing economy. ... Some of the trips might be very successful, others less successful, but it’s the sort of thing you just make a commitment to do over the years.

    “I would say especially in China the presence of top officials is really important. Government and business is so intertwined in China compared to in this country.”
    Tennessee has landed some major deals in the past few years, enough to win the "Golden Shovel" award from Area Development magazine. Volkswagon AG was the big fish they cited. (Michigan won a Silver Shovel by the way.) They don't break it down by foreign/domestic investment unfortunately, but it's obvious that Tennessee is out there workin' the pavement.

    Let's look at Bredesen's upcoming trip to China for an example on a country to visit. Could be that Bredesen's explanation above is why the following current and former governors come up when you hit "governor china trade trip" on the Google machine: Kulongoski (OR), Warner (VA), Doyle (WI), Riley (AL), Culver (IA - opened a trade office), Patrick (MA), Hunt (NC), Huntsman (UT), Locke (WA), Fletcher (KY), Schwarzenegger (CA), Pawlenty (MN), Blagojevich (IL)... and then I got bored and stopped looking. That was enough for me.

    Some states try to be sneaky about these trips due to the economy. Gov. Gregorie of Washington has made five trade trips, but none since 2007. "Not the right time to do a lot of traveling" is the official statement, but it turns out that Lt. Governor Owen has made 17 foreign trade trips, and just got back from China last week. That was his 8th visit to the country, and they even send their Secretary of State overseas on trips. Maryland also sent their Lt. Gov to China in 2007. Ohio sent its Department of Development to China in June for a conference, and they also have a trade office there.

    Conservatives try to prove that these trips don't really make a difference (unless your governor is Mitch Daniels, then it's OK), but just a bit of research shows that other states are very active when it comes to going after foreign investment, and we would be foolish to pass it up. The question is not, "Can we afford to do this?", the question really becomes, "How soon can we get her on the plane?" According to MEDC's figures, the previous trade missions resulted in "45 companies announcing over $955.8 million in new investment and more than 10,890 jobs created and retained". There have been numerous examples of companies that end up investing in Michigan, sometimes it may be months/years later, but when they do come it usually can be traced back to the fact that we intially made that outreach effort.

    So why only two days this time?

    And when are we going to China?

    Get on it, people.

    Michigan's Best

    It's some sort of miracle that my neighborhood grocery store still survives. At best, it's maybe a fifth of the size of your average Meijer, so product selection is limited due to lack of space. For decades it was an independently owned store, but a few years back was sold off to D & W, and I thought for sure at the time they would close it. How could they hope to compete with Meijer and the ever-encroaching Walmart? Somehow they do, and they are still going strong as a Family Fare, in an age where urban grocery stores are all but extinct. And, since it is a comfortable walking distance from my house and they have some great prices on staples, I go there for a few things throughout the week - mostly for the exercise, but to keep supporting the store and its employees as well. Super nice people.

    Sunday, when I went to get the paper, the aisles were filled with these little "Michigan's Best" shelf talkers, so much so it was a bit overwhelming. Who knew they carried so many Michigan-based products?

    The grocer's Michigan's Best campaign will highlight more than 2,400 products in its stores that are grown or produced in the state, from Eggland eggs to Sara Lee Breads.

    Spartan Stores carry more than 2,400 products from 42 local businesses. Beginning Sunday, signs point out Michigan products throughout Spartan's 99 grocery stores: D&W Fresh Market, Family Fare, Felpausch, Glen's, Glen's Fresh Market and VG's.

    "There has been quite a lot of buzz about buying local and buying Michigan," said Alan Hartline, vice president of merchandising. "We are always trying to position our products to be relevant to customers."
    A little spent goes a long way. Even if your item isn't on sale and a bit more than, say, a generic or another brand, think of it as an investment in the state. That little bit you spend on a Michigan product will come back to you in another way eventually.

    If every family spent $10 more a week on Michigan products, that could keep an additional $37 million in the state economy, according to the state's department of agriculture.

    Hartline estimates about 10 percent of products sold in Spartan-owned stores have a Michigan connection. The ratio is higher for Spartan brand products, where about 20 percent of sales are Michigan products.
    July 27th - August 2nd has been designated the official "Buy Michigan Now" week - but why wait, especially if they are running some good sales? If you have a Spartan store around you, give them a try. I've found the prices on a lot of things pretty much comparable to Meijer (and I refuse to shop at Walmart). There are a couple of sites that list Michigan products - Buy Michigan Now and Buy Michigan Products - but nothing can spur sales like a good deal and a shelf talker in your face when you are making that decision in the aisle.

    Even better for spontaneous purchases - free samples! My store is having sample day this Saturday, so I think I will be wandering down there at some point...

    Help out the home team if you can. It is very important, now more than ever. Keep the money here in state, and keep your neighbors in a job.

    We make some really good stuff, too. Try them and see.

    Sunday, July 05, 2009

    Grand Rapids Fireworks

    First time I tried to shoot these. Need remote shutter (used camera timer- too slow) and to get away from ambient city light, maybe Leonard St. bridge next time. Still, it was a nice learning experience, even if it did take me over an hour and a half to make a 10 minute drive afterward!