Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fall in the Cemetery



Pictures from the Fulton St., Oakhill, and Mount Calvary cemeteries in Grand Rapids. Special guest appearance by Nessie at the end.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Granholm Signs Remaining Bishop-Dillon Budget Bills

Make sure and call this what it is - the "Bishop-Dillon Budget Agreement". It's important that you never, ever forget who brought us this. Ever.

Had a feeling this would happen - there was not enough wiggle room left in these budgets to restore the Promise Scholarship, or your local cops and firefighters either. And get ready to take a number at your local emergency room. Wave goodbye to the state as you knew it.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the final six bills for the state’s $44.5 billion 2009-10 budget this morning, vetoing more than 70 items but failing to find a way to restore cuts to college scholarships, local government and Medicaid.

...

Emerson acknowledged the administration had been unable to find a way, because of limits on the governor’s discretion, to restore $120 million funding for the Promise Grant college scholarship program for 96,000 students, a $55.7 million cut to revenue sharing for local governments or an 8% cut in Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes who care for the poor and disabled.

Efforts to raise taxes in targeted areas for those programs have foundered in the Legislature. Earlier this week, the state Senate overwhelmingly a 3% tax on the gross receipts of doctors to shore up Medicaid.

Granholm said she has not given up on finding new revenue to restore some of the cuts, especially those to public schools. But Emerson said that may take time because the impact of the cutbacks will not be felt immediately. He blamed state Senate Republicans for intransigence on finding more revenue, but also said that much of the ongoing budget crisis is due to sharp declines in existing tax revenue, especially income and sales taxes.

No details on what was cut yet - but the MSU Extension has been spared. For now.

Both Granholm and Emerson called out the Senate Republicans for their refusal to compromise, and the Governor vows the fight will continue.

“Democrats have compromised, the Republicans have not,” she said. “They have drawn a line in the sand. The fight will go on, this is not the end of the line, this is not the last chapter.”

This budget used $1.4 billion in stimulus - just think if that stimulus money hadn't been there. Hard to imagine? Well, we are going to find out just what that is like in the next budget, where rumors $500 per-pupil cuts to K-12 have been floated already.

Bishop and the Senate Republicans are going to roll out their ideas on "reform" next week, and whaddayawanna bet it will include... oh, just an educated guess here... local right-to-work laws (already introduced by Cassis), more cuts to state employee benefits, privatization of prison (and other) services, suspending prevailing wage laws, and probably more attacks on services for the poor. Just to name a few. According to Gongwer, these "reforms" were developed with help from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Mackinac Center, so you can be assured that it contain more "drown government, but serve the rich" fiscal policy.

Oh and by the way, we are getting sued over the cuts to the adult Medicaid dental benefit. Just read somewhere else that we may be sued to restore school bus inspections, slated to end as of tomorrow. (Edit: Nope - Granholm ordered they continue.)

No words. Just sorrow. And profound disappointment in the House that agreed to this budget, and didn't take a stand when they could have.

Now, we will all pay the price.

UPDATE: Dillion speaks on the Bishop-Dillon budget.

House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, who led the House to the final budget deal, joined with Granholm in denouncing Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, and Senate Republicans as unwilling to compromise on new tax revenues.

"The Senate has chosen to put tax breaks for oil companies and loopholes for the tobacco industry ahead of education for our kids, police and fire protection, and health care for our families," Dillon said in a statement. "This Senate-led 'all-cuts' budget will result in bankrupt communities, schools in receivership and broken promises for students seeking to go to college so they can join the middle class."

Maybe he should have thought of that before he voted for it, eh?

Must read stories that came out after I posted this: Peter Luke is here, Kathy Barks Hoffman is here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Senate Republicans Say "No!" to Health Care Funding for Michigan

Our Senate just threw away hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for Medicaid. Get ready for your private insurance rates to rise even further as more people will be forced to use expensive emergency services as a massive amount of Medicaid funding goes bye-bye.

The state Senate voted 32-4 this afternoon to quash the 3 percent physician tax House Democrats hoped would stave off massive cuts to the Medicaid program.

The 3 percent tax on non-Medicaid physician services would have generated an estimated $300 million in revenue. It also would have generated an additional $822.3 million in federal Medicaid revenue.

The additional revenue would have been used to increase reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers, possibly encouraging more doctors to participate in the Medicaid program. The tax was seen by the Granholm administration as a way to raise revenue to help plus the state's $2.8 billion deficit.

Mickey Switalski had been working hard on this issue, seeking to find compromise with doctors and the Senate Republicans so we can continue to receive this Medicaid funding. Now, we have to put him on the list of "Democrats That Bishop Screwed Over", right behind Andy Dillon.

You guys learn your lesson yet?

Without any prior announcement or discussion, the Republican Majority called for a vote on an expansion of the Quality Assessment Assurance Program to physicians as it was approved in the House. Democrats pointed out that following a recent extensive hearing on the subject, a number of suggestions for improvement were discussed, yet the Majority allowed for debate or action on none of them today.

“All this does is further erode the public confidence in our ability to work together or get anything done, and that's a shame,” said Senator Mickey Switalski (D-Roseville) a sponsor of similar legislation who had been involved in negotiations and personally offered numerous times to work on a compromise. “This kind of maneuvering just sets us further back in the process and they know it.”

Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans have no intention of seeking compromise on this or any other issue. That should be very obvious by now. They intend on destroying this state, and then turning around and blaming the Democrats for it in the next election. It's already started with the cuts on K-12, it will come on the rest of these issues as well.

So, how is "the plan" working out for us now, Speaker Dillon? House Democrats better take a tip from Mike Prusi and start calling this out for what it is.

“This is exactly the kind of gamesmanship that has created our budget mess and rightly ticked off the public, and we're not going to be a part of it anymore,” said Senate Democratic Leader Mike Prusi (D-Ishpeming). “Our caucus has consistently offered solutions that could be worked out through honest debate and compromise, but the Senate Republicans seem completely unwilling and unable to meet anyone halfway.”

Thank you Senator. We hope to see a similar statement from your fellow Democrats across the hall... any second now....

UPDATE: Here is Senator Prusi's statement about how the Republicans are playing games with Michigan's problems. It's a must watch. He's pissed.



Senate Republicans also played this same game with Martha Scott's insurance bill - they sent the bill to the floor, without debate, without hearings, only so they could defeat it.

The Democrats are obviously being "punished" for something here today; must be Bishop has his knickers in a twist again. Too bad the citizens of Michigan are going to have to pay the price for his tyrannical behavior.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

State Board of Education Recommends Tax Reform for School Funding, But They Forgot It's All About Mike Bishop

The "bipartisan" State Board of Education weighed-in on the school funding debate yesterday, unanimously passing a resolution 8-0 that calls on the legislature and the governor to please, for the love of God, do something about this crisis and get some money to the schools. They heard from school officials, legislators, the public, and three "economic experts" from across the political spectrum that indicated a move to taxing services is the way to go in the long run.

The experts, who have different political backgrounds, agreed Michigan should lower its 6 percent sales tax but tax services that are exempt now — such as entertainment and landscaping, for example. Business-to-business services such as accounting and engineering would not be taxed.

"There was really agreement or consensus about the need for long-term restructuring of the tax system," said Board President Kathleen Straus, stressing that schools also must cut costs by consolidating transportation and other operations among districts.

The three - Patrick Anderson, Lou Glazer, and Phil Power - all agree that our tax structure needs to be changed to reflect the reality of an economy that is moving towards a service base rather than a manufacturing base. How many times have we heard that in the past few years? Many. Time to do something about it, right? Well, halle-frickin-lujah, the House Democrats are stepping up to the plate here in the form of Mark Meadows, who introduced bills last week that will do just that. Meadows proposal would reduce the sales tax to 5%, extend to it most services, and repeal the surcharge on the MBT. Keep this up guys, and you might get yourselves off the wimp list. The Freep applauds this morning, and we should too.

Three-quarters of the revenue generated by the lower, more broadly based sales tax would be earmarked for state aid to public schools. Another 20% would go to local governments in the form of revenue sharing for public safety.

This significant reallocation of sales tax revenues -- schools and revenue sharing currently get about 73% and 15% of sales tax revenue -- would create a $690-million shortfall in general fund revenues, a shortfall Meadows readily acknowledges will have to be addressed in other changes to Michigan's tax structure.

But the revamped sales tax would shore up and stabilize funding for schools and revenue sharing that local governments rely on to support police and fire protection. These are the core services Michigan taxpayers have repeatedly identified as their two top spending priorities, and Meadows' efforts to create a sound foundation for both deserve the support of fiscally responsible leaders in both parties.

It's not quite soup, but it's a good start - and exactly what all the adults in the room are encouraging that we do. But they forget about the one thing that will stand in the way of any rational thought or action that will help Michigan's schools and communities - Mike Bishop's ego. Mike Bishop's ego will not allow this to happen. No, this battle is all about Bishop, and Bishop's never-ending personal war against the governor, so he will continue to cling to the lie of the "balanced budget", and use the teabaggers who showed up yesterday to protest "government" in general, and call on his back-up bully posse in the form of Brooks Patterson. He will do anything to avoid helping the schools,

Governor took the fight to Rochester yesterday, right to the belly of the beast. Never mind that she is touring the entire state to talk to educators, the little boys were offended that she dared broach their "turf". And quicker than you can say Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Mike Bishop started whining like a baby and made this whole issue all about him. From Gongwer:

"Her whole point was to throw me under the bus in my community, and I wasn't going to let her get away with it," he said.

Me! My community! I wasn't going to let her! Then he proceeded to lie about how he ended up attending the meeting...

Mr. Bishop said he had to push the governor's office to invite him to the meeting. "I muscled my way in," he said, adding he only extracted an invitation from the governor's office on Friday.

I! I muscled my way in! Oooo, conjure up a picture of big, tough Mike pushing his way into a meeting with a bunch of suits and women wearing heels, shoving his way through this professional crowd...

But Granholm press secretary Liz Boyd disputed Mr. Bishop, saying the governor's office reached out to Mr. Bishop and invited him. She said it is standard procedure to notify a legislator when the governor is in his or her district.

"This was not in response to a call from his office," she said. "In this instance, a proactive call was made to invite him to the event, and clearly he accepted it."

How tough is Mike? He's so tough that he needed back-up in the form of Brooks Patterson, no stranger to the "I" statements himself.

"When she decided to go into Bishop's backyard, I took offense to that," he said. "That was an in-your-face tactic."

Yes it was. And it took the two of you to handle it, because Bishop hides behind other people all the time. So back to Bishop, this time in the Oakland Press. Six "I's" in two sentences is really a dead giveaway, isn't it?

Bishop said he was glad Granholm came to Rochester Community Schools’ administration building for the meeting.

“Because I told her what I thought of her and I told her what I thought about the plan,” Bishop said after the meeting. “I think it’s horrible and I think using kids as a tool to get a tax increase is about as dirty as it gets.”

I! I told her what I thought of her! I did it! But what about the schools, Senator Bishop?

Mr. Bishop, in a phone interview with Gongwer News Service after the meeting, said the school officials voiced upset with how the budget was handled and expressed a desire for long-term reform of the school funding system.

"They just feel like there's no stability left," he said.

And then he was right back to his personal war with the governor. He ignores the school officials pleas for help, and makes this all about Bishop again.

But Mr. Bishop described the meeting as mostly unproductive. He characterized Ms. Granholm's efforts as a "dog and pony show to put me on the spot in front of educators," but said the school officials didn't take the bait.

"She was really looking to the group to rubber-stamp her proposal," he said. "Not a single one of them said, 'Do what the governor said.' I think what they're all looking for is a real solution, not a patched-together solution."

Me! I think! Everyone hates the governor! But what was the Republican solution to the school funding crisis? Hurt the poor, kill the film industry, and cut business taxes, which would leave us with another deficit down the road. In other words, the Republicans don't have a solution, something that is conveniently ignored by Senator Bishop.

Interestingly enough, last week Valde Garcia told MIRS that he didn't think the governor’s proration cut was "political", and Ron Jelinek has introduced a shell bill in the Senate that will "provide a template or place holder for a potential supplemental multidepartment appropriation for Fiscal Year 2009-2010". What that may mean, who knows at this point - but it appears to indicate that some Senate Republicans are aware of fiscal reality and the need for additional revenues.

The question now is: Can they get past Mike Bishop's ego and do the right thing here? It's going to be up to the House Democrats to push for both the short-term and long-term solutions, and point out that the Senate is obstructing progress - and they better be vociferous about it, too. Bishop's ego is louder than anything else coming out of Lansing right now, and it will take many voices to set things straight.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10 West Studios in Manistee: How Independents Should Factor in on Michigan Film Incentives Debate

The big names tend to draw the most publicity about Michigan's exploding film industry; Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, Drew Barrymore and Sigourney Weaver filming in Detroit, Meg Ryan, Forest Whitaker, Val Kilmer and 50 Cent in Grand Rapids, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly filming today in Holland as I type this, just to name-drop a few. Large studios are opening in the Detroit area, streets closed off for major productions such as the remake of "Red Dawn". They tend to garner the most ink, as you probably have seen.

But lurking underneath all the glamour of those high profile projects are the low-budget independents and theme films, and the story of 10 West Studios in Manistee is one that should not be overlooked while the debate rages about our state film incentives. The smaller, straight to DVD and/or cable films are producing quite a few jobs for us, as well as bringing money into local communities and students into local classrooms. (Original report from the Freep)

10 West Studios is geared for small-budget films that cost $15 million or less to make. The brains behind it, Harold Cronk and Matthew Tailford, had left Michigan several years ago to pursue careers in the movie industry in Los Angeles. But the two friends always wanted to return to the state they love and seized the opportunity to take their filmmaking skills to Michigan when the tax credits went into effect.

So far this year, 10 West has attracted three movies, all faith-based productions that might otherwise have gone to New Mexico or other states. Cronk and Tailford also are planning to start producing their own films in the area.

"We know what the independent filmmaker needs and wants," Tailford said. "We're quickly building a reputation as people who can get stuff done."

Besides jobs for local residents, the moviemaking has helped boost business for hotels, a caterer and other businesses in tourist-dependent Manistee. West Shore Community College in nearby Scottville even offered a training course in film production.

Cronk and Tailford have put $3 million into the studio, using their own savings and money from private investors. They have five full-time employees of their own, and now that there are Michigan citizens with film training and experience in the area, locals are being hired on new productions.

10 West faced its first big test in July, when filming started on the Christian family drama "What If ..." starring Kevin Sorbo, Kristy Swanson, Debby Ryan and others. In addition to bringing in equipment from Detroit, Tailford and Cronk spent months lining up vendors in Manistee to meet the film crew's needs. Particularly important: finding a good caterer who could handle a variety of food requests, often with little advance notice.

The duo also partnered with West Shore Community College in Scottville to set up a movie production training course for 30 students. For 10 West to thrive, it needs skilled local film crews, which keeps costs low for filmmakers.

These and other kinds of efforts are paying off. Just ask Michael Scott, a managing partner at Pure Flix Entertainment, which is making its third faith-based film in Manistee, thanks to 10 West.

To make the first movie, Scott flew in 30 people from Los Angeles, mistakenly thinking that Manistee lacked any film crews. For the second movie, most of these people stayed home.

Keep this in mind when legislators like Mickey "Lieberman" Switalski go on the radio to justify Lansing's attempts to cut the film industry. Switalksi and certain Republicans want to push the meme that "we end up subsidizing is people from out of state", meaning the big name stars (that are worth the weight of their salaries in publicity) and others, while they totally ignore these stories of all the local employment from smaller studios and independent production.

Actor Mike Manasseri is holding the "Rally to Save Michigan Film Incentives" at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac tonight, and he told WJR this morning that chatter coming from lawmakers in Lansing about changes to the industry incentives is causing producers to shy away from Michigan. Sven Gustafson backs up his story, and points out the bottom line here: If we don't do it, someone else will, and Michigan will lose out.

Just last week a business recruiter for a government economic development agency told me that Hollywood types tell him all the time that the state's waffling over whether to amend the credits drives the industry crazy and that many players won't touch Michigan until lawmakers settle the issue once and for all. Frankly, I've heard that complaint echoed countless times.

We can argue all we want over reforming overall corporate taxes and improving the business climate in Michigan. There are good arguments to be made there. And yes, I get it that the state is enacting a crazy patchwork of tax incentives that are leaving some sectors feeling snubbed, and that job-creation numbers don't always jibe with what was initially advertised to get the credits. It's a highly flawed system, no doubt.

But the reality is, every state is doing the same thing as they compete against one another for jobs and investment. We're stuck in a Catch-22: If we don't offer aggressive but flawed incentives to lure film or television production dollars here, some other state will. Period.

Whatever Lansing is going to do about this, they should do it fast. Leaving producers and studios up in the air is costing us jobs right now. Certainty needs to be brought to the industry, and once again the dithering from lawmakers is hurting the state. The Senate Republicans passed a "my way or the highway" cut to the industry when they made our deficit worse by tying this to the slashing the MBT surcharge, and that should be rejected outright. As long as we stay ahead of Louisiana we should do fine - but certain lawmakers need to be willing to compromise to keep these incentives largely intact.

We have a choice: Keep the credits pretty much where they are, or be prepared to lose this business entirely. But please, settle on something soon, so we can either keep creating jobs in Michigan, or start to help the creative class find employment in other states. Once again, the clock is ticking, and employers don't have time to wait for Lansing's silly partisan games to play out.

Amway High

Amway is going to be the lead partner in a project with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to create a new high school program that teaches business leadership and management.

Yeah, that scares me too.

An announcement is planned for Monday to unveil a new partnership involving the Grand Rapids Public School district and Amway Corp.

The two are partnering to create the GRPS School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, district officials say. It's one of four new high schools offered by the district. It will take the campus of Ottawa Hills High School. Students can learn about major aspects of business management, marketing finances and leadership.

The School of Business is one of four programs offered in the GRPS new "Centers of Innovation" initiative that will specialize curriculum for real-world applications and future job training. Overall not a bad idea in theory...

Students will learn many aspects of managing a business, including marketing, leadership, finance and internships.

Other "Centers of Innovation" include the School of Health, Science and Technology at Central High School, the Academy for Design and Construction at Union High School, and the Engineering and Biomedical School at Creston.

... but will someone be monitoring these programs for ideological influences? Partnerships with outside entities may be a beneficial thing, just as long as there are some limits in place to prevent one dominant business theory from being the prevailing direction of the education being offered.

Knowing how the founders of Amway love to push their agenda in everything they do, classes such as "The Benefits of Outsourcing" and "Tax Havens and You!" might find their way into the mix. Advanced classes may include "Intimidation and Political Campaigns: How to Influence Government", as well as offerings like "Selling the Message: Making the Most of Your Think Tank" for some of the higher achievers out there.

Proceed with caution.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finley: Budget is an "Outright Fraud"

It's a scary day when I hear Nolan Finley echoing some of the things I've said and thought recently. Good to see him admit the budget isn't balanced, because that is one whale of a talking point whopper that needs to stop right now.

Government won't shut down, but maybe it deserves to. Lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, after another sloppy budget process, are finishing up a spending plan that keeps the lights on in Lansing.

That might be considered a small victory, as long as you ignore the fact that this budget is not only an outright fraud, it sets up Michigan for a full-scale economic collapse.

First of all, it isn't balanced. Not even close. It may be $600 million or more short of that constitutional mandate, despite being propped up by $1.4 billion in federal stimulus money. That means Michigan will start a year that may turn out to be worse than this one already deep in the hole.

Nolan proceeds to fall right back off the beam after that though, ignoring "the fact" of a little thing called the Great Recession, an event so important to our national history that it now has a name with capital letters. Finley seems totally oblivious as to what it meant to our revenue situation. He wants to point to the taxes of '07 and complain that they didn't work, when they did put the state on an even keel (for the most part) for the budget of '08 - right up until the time that the bottom fell out everywhere across the country, which we are receiving our share of the bill for right now. He then goes on to blame the governor for messing up this wonderful but yet outright fraud that is the Bishop-Dillon budget, as if everything would be sunshine and lollipops if not for that meddling woman and the reality of state tax revenues that are dropping like a rock. Yeah. Like that.

That's Nolan, and that's to be expected from him. But then we get to another point of agreement on the "Big Three"...

Maybe it's bad chemistry. Maybe a lack of trust. But these three can't get the job done.

It's very obvious these three don't get along. As far as "getting the job done", what we are talking about is a major overhaul of both the way we tax people and the way we run government, and that task would be extremely difficult even if all three were philosophically aligned, and they are not. But the real reason major "reform" won't happen within the next year?

It's an election year. Every state office will be in play. Few politicians will be willing to confront the special interests that fuel their campaigns.

Somewhere, somehow, someones ox (or oxes) will get gored when we go to do "reform", and that is the thing that can stop major, sweeping change from happening. It seems that it must come in increments. And during an election year, one as important as 2010, one that is already well underway even though we don't like to admit it? Sorry to be so pessimistic, but reform doesn't seem even remotely possible.

Even if the election weren't in play, major reform requires compromise on the part of everyone. The reality is this: Assuming there are two basic sides here, we have one side that has been willing to compromise, so much so that they are in danger of losing "their base" altogether, and the other side which has said "no" to everything except that which serves their narrow and unbending fiscal ideology. That is not a recipe for success.

If we are to have any hope of saving education, health care, and public safety, better fire up the ballot proposal for progressive tax reform. Maybe a few other things, such as term limits, as well. For as horrific as this current budget is, everyone is pretty much in agreement that next year's is shaping up to be even worse. The stimulus is gone, the revenues are still falling, and short of a miracle happening, well, if you don't like the cuts now, just wait and see what happens next.

The Freep brought us that cold, hard truth just this past week.

Without some additional taxes -- or a slowdown in some programmed tax breaks -- the news will get worse, and not just for schools. The Senate has sent Granholm the final six budget bills she needs to sign to prevent a state shutdown Nov. 1, along with a message from Bishop that any line-item vetoes she makes will not be voted on again.

That's fine. The more the governor saves now with line-item vetoes, the fewer cuts will have to be made later.

We are in deep trouble. Better start praying for that miracle. Short of that, better be willing to go to the well one more time to fight for the things that matter. We aren't done with the Great Recession yet. We need to save as much as we can now, even if that means some short-term fixes, so we can start to build towards a better future later.

That is where Nolan and I part company again. He leaves it at "inevitable disaster"; I will always choose hope. To surrender that would be to surrender everything.

NFL Week 7

Green Bay at Cleveland
San Diego at Kansas City
Indianapolis at St. Louis
Minnesota at Pittsburgh

New England at Tampa Bay
San Francisco at Houston
Buffalo at Carolina

NY Jets at Oakland
Atlanta at Dallas
Chicago at Cincinnati
New Orleans at Miami

Arizona at NY Giants
Philadelphia at Washington

·Bye: Denver, Detroit, Tennessee, Seattle, Jacksonville, Baltimore

5-9 last week (Ack!), 62-28 for the year.

10-3 this week (much better), 72-31 for the year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lawmakers Are Outraged!

Republicans insist on cuts. House Democrats stood there and did nothing. Republicans then bragged about how they delivered this budget, and are now turning around and blaming the governor for the cuts. And if that isn't bad enough, they all are simply outraged, outraged I tell you! by the cuts to schools.

"We were able to cut $1.2 billion out of the budget," said Rep. Paul Opsommer, Republican from DeWitt. "And she simply doesn't like that and wants to raise more revenue."

Get out! You pass an underfunded and unbalanced budget that is going to cause devastation for some districts at $165 per pupil, and when the reality settles in that you have refused to do your job, both on time and in the correct manner, and now we can't pay the bills and the governor has to follow THE LAW and make even more cuts, all the while pleading for you to fund the schools... well, well, well... how dare she! And we haven't even gotten to the cops and firefighters yet!

Opsommer added: "Oh, obviously. If you're gonna tear the schools apart, kids should be upset, parents should be upset."

Un-f**king-believable.

"They should be frustrated. I'm frustrated," said Rep. Barb Byrum, a democrat from Onondaga.

Ah yes, we finally hear from the worthless House Democrats on the subject. Your leader sold you down the river to cuddle up to Mike Bishop, passed a budget that a teabagger would love using majority Republican votes, a budget that you are now taking the "bipartisan" blame for...

"They're both at fault, folks," said William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. "This needs to be resolved. This is so bad for the children who are in our system right now."

... and you're "frustrated". That's a shame. It really is. But that's what happens when you don't stand up for yourselves and you let the Republicans roll you. You would think 8 years of Bush would have taught you something. Oh, and one more thing. Most of the budget was passed around the 1st. The K-12 passed on the 8th. It is now the 24th. What, exactly, have House Democrats done in the meantime to "fight for schools, public safety, and health care", you know, like you promised you were going to do?

* crickets *

I think you all should resign in protest of your own actions. Really. Just pack up your shit, and get out of government. Right now. Please.

Do it for the children.

Cuts to Michigan State Government Since 2000

Interesting that the Detroit News would choose to run this story on a Saturday; perhaps Sunday's edition was too full with the likes of Finely et al. and their endless columns about how we should just "cut government!", the standard wingnut answer to all our problems.

We have "cut government!" here in Michigan. Although we have roughly the same population that we did in the year 2000, the state government available to serve our citizens is nothing like it used to be.

Michigan's eight-year recession has slashed one in six state workers and one in five state government dollars. Since 2000, the state has shed the equivalent of three auto assembly plants worth of workers -- a busload of employees taking their personal belongings and their last paychecks home every two weeks.

Must-read story. Some facts to consider:

• The Department of Natural Resources has 38 percent fewer employees than in 2000. There are only 83 DNR fire officers, who are the first responders to fires on public lands, patrolling the state north of Clare, despite a state-commissioned report that pegged the optimal number at 120. "It's lucky we didn't have two major fires at the same time this season, or we would have had major problems," DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said.

• The Department of Human Services has lost more than 3,600 employees since 2000, from clerical staff to caseworkers, while the need for services has soared. Just in the past year, the number of DHS clients has jumped more than 20 percent, to 2.2 million.

• Corrections lost 2,300 workers since 2000, primarily through prison closings.

• One in four Department of Agriculture employees is gone since the beginning of the decade. The migrant labor housing inspection program has been cut in half. All the department's regional offices are closing this fall. The economic development staff has been slashed.

And once again, the Mackinac Center is caught in yet another example of fiscal dishonesty. Gary Wolfram, a Hillsdale College professor, wrote a wildly disingenuous policy paper for the free market crowd that this DNews analysis blows out of the water. While the Mac Center frequently claims that government spending has increased in this decade, when you take into account a little thing called inflation, you find out that spending has decreased. Considerably.

"There are lots of ways to grow without adding employees," Wolfram told The News. "It (state government) is clearly larger. It's spending billions more."

Total spending from state resources is up 7 percent -- $1.8 billion more in the 2008-09 budget year than in 2001. That's the equivalent of an additional $618,000 being spent every day since the recession began.

But those figures don't take into account inflation. While the state's total spending over the eight years increased 7 percent (reaching $27.5 billion in '08-'09), inflation during the same period was triple that (21.7 percent).

When adjusted for inflation, total spending has decreased 14 percent. Spending from the general fund, the Legislature's main source of discretionary money, is down 21 percent. By comparison, Ohio's general fund was down less than 2 percent, and Indiana's increased 5 percent.

The Mackers also complain about the number of state employees - but then you find out that they are lumping university and some hospital personnel in their figures, not exactly the people you turn to when you need something from the state government.

There was one state employee for every 161 Michigan residents in 2001; by the end of 2008, it was one state employee for every 197 residents.

And if that wasn't enough, we have a Senate Republican making the one statement that was sure to get the blood pressure rising at this particular point in time. Alan Sanborn says that we have to... get this... cut school aid more.

Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, concurred: "The money is simply not there. With shrinking government revenues, it only makes sense that government would shrink."

Sanborn suggests the state may have to cut school aid more. School aid dropped less than 3 percent in the school aid budget signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, while aid to cities in the form of revenue sharing dropped more than 12 percent.

Head. explode. Someone get Bishop on the bat phone and tell him his latest hissy fit has just been undercut by one of his own people. He's busy sending letters to superintendents claiming the governor is "misrepresenting" the budget situation, while another Republican is suggesting "more cuts" are coming to schools. Who is playing politics now?

Just wanted to get these facts in pixels to refer to later. You'll be hearing the "cut government!" cry quite a bit over the next year; now you know the truth behind the rhetoric.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Republicans Know K-12 Budget is Not Balanced

They knew it when they passed it, they know it now. Despite all the protests you are hearing about changes to this so-called "balanced budget" - it doesn't exist, and it never did.

MIRS, 10/8. Kevin Elsenheimer admits the K-12 budget was not complete, that the funding at that point was not "viable".

Although HB 4447 is on its way to Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM, the deal has yet to be consummated. The House has not taken up the bills that constitute the Senate's revenue proposals.

MIRS asked House Minority Leader Kevin ELSENHEIMER (R-Bellaire) if he was concerned that the budget could get signed and promulgated, and the House Democrats will still hold out against the Republican-backed revenue plans.

"We're confident the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader will be willing to work toward getting funding that is viable," Elsenheimer said. "We're willing to wait."

The House has indicated since that they are not interested in the Senate proposal. So, the budget as passed, is still not finished to this day.

Bob Emerson, yesterday. The actual quote is a lot longer, as he named Senator Jelinek, Rep. Brown, both fiscal agencies, and other House and Senate staff as being present at the last meeting before the K-12 budget passed, when all parties were informed that they were voting on incorrect numbers.

Given the falloff in revenues since those official estimates were reached in May, Emerson said lawmakers knew they were voting for an unbalanced budget.

"They all agreed that they knew (the number) was wrong because revenues continued to slip," Emerson said. "While the Legislature might ask us to delay and wait awhile longer, that is their response to everything. Their desire is wait on everything in hopes that things will get better."

School funding isn't likely to get better but worse. Education officials say the K-12 budget Granholm will propose in February could contain additional per-student cuts of more than $500, a figure that state Treasurer Robert Kleine Thursday didn't dispute.

Republicans are clinging to Senate Fiscal Agency head Gary Olson's statement about using the May revenue numbers, and that as yet to be "consummated" Senate revenue deal, as proof that the budget is balanced. They know it isn't. While they say they can wait for the Magic Revenue Pony to show up (and then be in the unlikely position to have to admit the economy is getting better, something they would never do), here is the last fiscal report from the SFA, from Gongwer on 10/13.

According to the SFA, the state has collected $16.8 billion in general and School Aid funds during 2008-09, down 12.4 percent from the year before. While the state is now in the 2009-10 fiscal year, it accrues money for the previous fiscal year through October and to meet the estimate for the year the state would have to collect better than $2.6 billion this month.

For comparison, we collected $1.92 billion in September. Getting to $2.6 this month doesn't seem likely now, does it.

The numbers don't lie. The Republicans do.

And why are we doing this "now"? Many have questioned the timing of this, and Republicans want to claim this is a political ploy on the part of the governor. No, it's a ploy on the part of the calendar, and the Legislature's proclivity for taking many, many vacation days - not to mention the impending election year coming up. To paraphrase Bob Emerson from yesterday, he pointed out that they didn't pass the budget until 8 days past the deadline when it should have been done months ago, and, already way behind in the year, they need to get this out there now, before the lawmakers leave for the holidays.

Neither chamber has posted their calendar for the remainder of 2009 yet, but past behavior is a good indicator of where this is going. They have Nov. 11th off for Veteran's Day. They have two weeks off for hunting/Thanksgiving break. That pretty much shoots November down. Last year the House met 5 days in November, 10 days in December, and the last two were "paperwork days" on the 30th and 31st, when everyone was gone for Xmas. The House then met 3 days in January of '09. So from the end of October to the beginning of February - a span of three months, and we'll even give them the paperwork time - the House was in session a total of 18 days. The Senate, 17.

That's why "now" - these guys are getting ready to fly the coop again very soon, and schools need to know where they stand.

Contact your legiscritters and tell them you want the schools funded. The House is here, the Senate is here. This may be our only chance to get them to actually do their jobs before they come around and ask you to give them another one.

Governor was in GR today, here is an interview with WOOD TV-

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Granholm Announces Drop in School Aid Revenue; $127 Per Pupil Cut Ordered for K-12

I have not been feeling well, so I can't work up my usual level of... whatever it is I'm doing here... but this basically is what is going on in the budget war today.

Revenues are down, as reported repeatedly by the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies, mostly recently reported here back in late July. Today, Governor Granholm ordered an additonal $127 cut to reflect the reality of the drop in revenue - and the Republicans want to continue to use those outdated May revenue estimates in hopes that the Magic Revenue Pony will come galloping in and save them from having to do their jobs when it comes to funding the schools.

Here is the release from the Governor's office:

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today announced that state Budget Director Bob Emerson has notified state lawmakers that based on declining revenue in the school aid fund, state aid payments to school districts will be prorated by approximately $127 per student.

Emerson’s action follows a letter from state Treasurer Robert Kleine indicating a $212 million gap between the spending called for in the K-12 school aid budget and the School Aid Fund revenues available to pay for it.

“We’re facing a crisis in funding K-12 education in our state,” Governor Granholm said. “The K-12 school aid budget that is just days old is woefully underfunded. The Legislature needs to act now to find the revenues that are critical to our schools.

“We won’t solve the serious school-funding problem we have in Michigan today unless we are honest about its magnitude,” Granholm said. Proration will be reflected in the December 20 school aid payment unless the new revenue to make up the shortfall is identified and appropriated through a new law passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor within 30 days.

In a letter to the state budget director, Treasurer Kleine explained that at the consensus revenue estimating conference held on May 15, 2009, the Department of Treasury, the House Fiscal Agency, and the Senate Fiscal Agency jointly determined that $10,563,000,000 would be available in state School Aid Fund revenue in fiscal year 2009-2010. Combined with an estimated $171,000,000 in revenue carried forward from fiscal year 2008-2009, $10,734,000,000 would be available for expenditure from the state School Aid Fund in fiscal year 2009-2010.

The state school aid budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 as approved by the Legislature and presented to the governor on October 9, 2009, (Enrolled House Bill 4447) authorized expenditures from the state School Aid Fund totaling $10,793,954,100. The amount authorized by the Legislature in Enrolled House Bill 4447 therefore exceeded the amount available for appropriation from the state School Aid Fund based on the May 15, 2009, consensus revenue estimate by $59,954,100.

As signed into law and enacted by the governor, House Bill 4447 (now 2009 PA 121) authorizes expenditures from the state School Aid Fund totaling $10,741,605,400. Item vetoes by the governor of state School Aid Fund expenditures totaled $52,348,700. Including the item vetoes, state School Aid Fund expenditures authorized by 2009 PA 121 exceed revenues available based on the May 15, 2009, consensus revenue estimate by $7,605,400.

In addition to this shortfall, since the May 15, 2009, consensus revenue estimate for the state School Aid Fund was determined, state School Aid Fund revenue has declined and not kept pace with projections. The Department of Treasury now projects that state School Aid Fund revenue available for expenditure in fiscal year 2009-2010 will total $10,529,600,000, including $10,434,300,000 in revenue for fiscal year 2009-2010 and $95,300,000 in revenue carried forward from fiscal year 2008-2009 into fiscal year 2009-2010.

Under these projections, total state School Aid Fund revenue generated in fiscal year 2009-2010 will be $128,700,000 lower than the May 15, 2009, consensus revenue estimate, and revenue carried forward from fiscal year 2008-2009 into 2009-2010 will be $75,700,000 lower.

Given these projections, the amount appropriated from the state School Aid Fund for fiscal year 2009-2010 under Section 11 of 2009 PA 171 ($10,741,605,400) exceeds the amount available for expenditure from the state School Aid Fund in fiscal year 2009-2010 ($10,529,600,000) by $212,005,400.

Got all that? No? In other words - we are short. It's not likely to get better. Any delay in action will cause school districts to have to make even more drastic cuts towards the end of their fiscal year, and they were hopping mad already that the budget was as late as it was. So, the governor is taking this action now so schools know where they stand, and no surprises are thrown at them when it's too late to make changes later.

Bishop is off somewhere right now, throwing an absolute fit about this, and claiming that they should stick with those inacurate May numbers. You'll hear a bunch of nasty things being said - but all the name-calling and finger-pointing in the world doesn't erase the fact that we need more money to fund our public schools.

Period. And it's up to the legislature to figure it out. If not, wave goodbye to public education as you know it.

UPDATE: Here is the DNews initial take on this story, and note the words in bold.

House Fiscal Agency Director Mitch Bean said school revenues are down about $200 million compared to May estimates and Treasurer Bob Kleine said the shortfall is $264 million because the lingering recession is slamming sales tax and other revenue harder than expected.

But Senate Fiscal Agency chief Gary Olson sent a memo to Senators Wednesday saying that based on May revenue projections and promises to pass $100 million in additional revenue, the school aid fund should have a $123 million surplus by the end of the fiscal year.

The K-12 budget that was passed had $100 million in unspecified revenue. The Senate answer to that was to freeze tax credits for the poor, mess with the film industry, and give business a tax cut that would have left a bigger deficit down the road. The House has not acted on that measure, or any others for that matter - and therefore this $100 million that Republicans claim balances the K-12 budget does not exist.

UPDATE 2: As usual, Peter Luke has the best report on this story - including a rumored $500 per pupil cut in the next budget, and a rare quote from Speaker Dillon. Check it out.

House Republican Elsenheimer Upset by Veto of Snowmobile Trail

Never mind the destruction of the public schools. Or public safety. Or health care. When it comes to those things, House Republicans insist that we "live within our means", even though it might, you know, kill people. They bragged as they controlled this budget process, and they delivered the majority of votes for these devastating cuts to fundamental areas that are of crucial importance to our quality of life. It was Elsenheimer's time to shine.

But when comes to making cuts to special projects in his district? Now it's Elsenheimer's time to whine. The snowmobile trail from Bellaire to Jordan Valley, written into the House bill on the DNR/DEQ budget, was vetoed by the governor. Cue the violins.

"I'm disappointed because this is a tourism issue, and this could bring serious tourism dollars," State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Kewadin), who along with Sen. Jason Allen has included the language for the trail.

Apparently the funding wasn't specifically earmarked. And there are environmental issues. Doesn't matter. When it comes to Republican pet projects, nothing else matters.

While no specific dollar amount was to be set aside for the trail project, finances would have been taken from the $976,900 in appropriations for additional projects.

"Historically, the reasons for canceling the trail have been weak," Elsenheimer said.

Among other roadblocks, the DNR previously cited the trail as being too close to a river and a detriment to the red-tailed hawk.

"They aren't even here in the winter," Elsenheimer said, noting that the hawks do not nest in the winter.

Tourism is a good thing. Winter tourism brings a lot of money to our state. We should encourage it. Definitely. Tell ya what, Republicans, why don't you RAISE THE MONEY to fund this trail, and we will gladly put it back, k?

If not, have a great, big, steaming hot cup of STFU. Nothing is more irritating than Republicans who want to complain about the "cuts to government" that they live for.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"She Can Cut What She Wants"

As Mike Bishop screams about the cuts that Granholm made to K-12, maybe it's time to remind the Republicans of their own fiscal policy here. Seems we have an issue about them insisting on cuts to government, but throwing a fit when those cuts actually happen. This also occurred back in May when the governor "cut government" through an Executive Order made to balance the budget; now it's happening again as she tries to balance the unbalanced K-12 budget as passed by the Legislature.

Here's Mike Bishop, Oct 1st, when the issue of line-item vetoes first came up.

In reaction, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) all but dared Granholm to issue vetoes.

"She can cut what she wants," he said. "We'd be willing to talk to her about cuts. That's what our plan was from the very beginning. If she wants to cut more out of government, then God bless her. Let her go ahead and do what she has to do. We'll work with her on that."

He was just afraid that she would make cuts to programs that are "popular with Republicans". Meaning, Republicans shouldn't have to suffer because of the Republican fiscal policy that demands "more cuts" from government. Alrighty then.

Just yesterday, Matt Marsden -

He said Mr. Bishop told Ms. Granholm last week that any funds she vetoes would be "seen as additional cuts by the governor to reduce the size of government."

OK. The Republicans are getting what they wanted here... and now they say this:

For his part, Bishop said the governor "breached her fiduciary responsibility" by vetoing the money for the 39 districts, money that they were promised to avoid spending reductions under Proposal A school finance reforms passed by voters in 1994.

He charged that Granholm's veto amounted to "extortion" and a "full-fledged hatchet job" on these districts.

Someone needs to remind Senator Bishop if he doesn't want "more cuts to government", then lawmakers can override the vetoes. Seriously, all this hypocritical flailing about for the press because Republicans are getting exactly what they asked for is just embarrassing.

Public Policy Associates Study: Dillon Health Care Plan "Greatly Exaggerates" Savings to Taxpayers

In theory, the plan to pool the health care of public employees sounds plausible. But the difference between theory and practice is sometimes a wide chasm...
A plan by House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, to place all Michigan public employees under a single, statewide health care plan greatly exaggerates the savings to taxpayers and could cost them $870 million in the first year, according to a new study by a Lansing think tank.

An analysis by Public Policy Associates concludes that Dillon’s plan would save money largely by reducing benefits for an estimated 500,000 public workers, or require them to pay more for health insurance than they do now.

It was always a given that it would cost a fortune to get this set up in the first place, as it would create a huge government bureaucracy that doesn't exist now, to administer to such an undertaking. The initial glowing press on Dillon's plan seemed to want to overlook that fact. The study claims it would cost "$500 million to launch, and up to $370 million a year to administer".

From the PPA press release:

“We find the savings claimed by the white paper and based on the legislation are largely illusory, especially those related to administrative efficiencies and economies of scale,” said PPA researcher Doug Drake, who authored the analysis. “The proposal could secure savings by reducing benefits and requiring employees to pay more toward their insurance, but that is happening today. An expansion of state government is not needed to capture savings that are already occurring.”

PPA based its analysis on a review of House Bill 5345, and on the white paper issued by Speaker Dillon on July 16 and later revised on September 9. The analysis was prepared at the request of Citizens for Accountability in Reform, a growing coalition representing taxpayers, police, firefighters, teachers, insurance companies and others who are concerned that this proposal doesn’t provide the reform it promises at a price taxpayers can afford. The full analysis (available at www.publicpolicy.com) will be presented to all state legislators and to others for thorough review and consideration.

Other findings:

  • The Dillon proposal would effectively end collective bargaining for health care for the employees who are covered. “At best, HB 5345 suggests that employee groups would be limited to selecting from a small number of predetermined (benefit) options. That is simply not collective bargaining.”

  • Health insurance savings are already being negotiated between public employees and their government employers across Michigan, and that’s a big reason why savings from the Dillon plan are overstated. The analysis notes that benefit costs declined for Michigan public schools in 2007-2008. “These savings are occurring in the market today due to the real impact of market forces, and further savings are virtually certain without HB 5345.”

  • HB 5345 raises significant constitutional issues that need serious legal review. The analysis concludes Michigan’s public universities can’t be forced into a state government plan because of their autonomy under the state Constitution. In addition, creating a state “mandate” that would force local governments and school districts to participate in a statewide plan could violate Article IX, Section 29 of the Constitution (the “Headlee” local mandate provision).

  • The idea in general may have merit. It's the execution that is the problem. Dillon has introduced the legislation, but they still are conducting hearings on it to work out the details - and it looks like it needs a lot more work, indeed.

    Might be best to wait and see what the feds end up with first, and go from there.

    The full analysis of Dillon's plan can be found here, and the press release can be found here.

    Senate Releases Remaining Budget Bills

    Finally.

    The state Senate this morning sent the last six budget bills to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

    The governor has promised to sign the bills but says she's likely to make line-item vetoes.

    The spending bills are for higher education, general government, community health, human services, state police and energy, labor and economic growth.

    So, no shut down necessary - but the battle is far from over, as more vetoes will happen. Will the Senate Republicans choose to leave critical areas unfunded out of spite alone? We will see...

    "Flu-like Illness" Sweeping Michigan Schools

    Not seeing this out of the Detroit area yet, but we have a rapidly growing problem over here on the west side. Numerous schools, enough to run a crawl on the bottom of the screen on our local TV stations, are closed due to "flu-like" illness - with some districts shutting down entirely. And, in the time I've taken to write this, more stories are coming out of the north, and mid-Michigan as well.

    Calhoun County officials are now pointing to H1N1. Not good.

    The flu-like illness that closed three middle schools in Calhoun County is likely H1N1 and not the seasonal flu, the county's health director told 24 Hour News 8.

    "Our surveillance would suggest that the entire load of influenza-like illness is due to the pandemic influenza," Dr. Greg Harrington said. "There's no evidence that we have the typical or routine seasonal influenza currently circulated."

    Some Calhoun County schools are seeing as many as 30 percent of students sick with flu-like symptoms. Athens Middle School, Lakeview Middle School and Harper Creek Middle School are closed.

    MPR is linking the closure of an elementary school in St. Johns to "swine flu", and WILX reports Northwest in Jackson County is closed. 9 & 10 News in Cadillac is reporting that this is hitting in northern lower UP as well, with Evart and East Jordan schools shutting their doors.

    It's in the UP as well. Escanaba's Daily Press is reporting school closures there, and the Houghton-Hancock Mining Gazette is also calling this H1N1 as the entire Dollar Bay-Tamarack City district has been shut down.

    Livingston County officials are certain this H1N1, with widespread absences in districts there.

    "We are seeing increased school absences, with a good percentage of them attributed to H1N1," (Livingston County Department of Public Health Medical Director Dr. Donald) Lawrenchuk said. "What that tells us is that this pandemic is in all our districts, all our schools, and affects all age levels. It's ubiquitous."

    WWJ (and others) are reporting that an EPIC/MRA poll shows most people won't get the H1N1 vaccine, but one wonders if people will start to change their minds as this sweeps the state (and the media turns it into "the story"). They also have a very nice web page that has all the links to state and national resources and more information on the flu.

    Stay home if you are sick. And wash your hands frequently. Other than that - good luck, because it looks like this is everywhere now.

    Day 20: Michigan Budget Held Hostage: Republicans Refusing to Fund Schools

  • 20 days have gone by since these bills were passed, 20 days!, and still the Senate Republicans are holding on to six budget bills for no apparent reason except to obstruct the process from being completed. Most reports have said the bills would be released today - but an ominous sentence at the end of the AP K-12 story indicates that it may be "later this week", very unfortunate because I really want to stop doing this.

  • About that K-12. Yikes. Granholm vetoed the 20j line spending that goes to 39 wealthy school districts, and vetoed $54 million total - and even that doesn't balance the K-12 budget, not by a long shot. How can they legally pass an unfunded budget and call it done? No clue. If someone knows the answer to that, please tell me.

    Governor sent a letter along with the vetoes that asked the lawmakers to please fund schools. Please.

    "The school aid budget presented to me is inadequately funded," Granholm said. "If this school aid bill were a check drawn on a bank, it would be returned for insufficient funds. To bring the budget into balance, I have vetoed $54 million in appropriations. But even these reductions will not fully resolve the shortfall.

    The Senate Republican answer? "No!" Apparently asking for a balanced budget from the people that were hired to balance the budget means the governor is just a one big bully - and they will now blame her for the additional cuts that the lack of action on their part will require. Underfunded schools is part of the "drown government" plan, you see. This quote comes from Gongwer:

    If in making the veto, Ms. Granholm hoped to push Republicans to vote for revenues, Matt Marsden, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), said that would not happen. He said Mr. Bishop told Ms. Granholm last week that any funds she vetoes would be "seen as additional cuts by the governor to reduce the size of government."

    Senate Republicans have no intent to restore funding to make up for those vetoes, Mr. Marsden said.

    Schools are outraged, of course. Read the reactions at the DNews, the Freep and the AP, and wait for more local reaction today. It won't be pretty. And it's going to get a whole lot worse if additional cuts are forced by law - and that could come by the end of the week.

  • The refusal on the part of the Senate Republicans to raise revenue is out-of-touch with the majority of voters. Gongwer commissioned EPIC/MRA for a poll, mostly to find out who the public blames for this mess. Turns out they blame all three - the governor, the House Dems, and the Senate Pubs - by a comfortable majority, and for those who picked a single entity, the Senate got the edge. But overall, no one escapes the wrath.

    More important though was the question of revenue. Basically, the answers were about the same as the last EPIC poll taken at the end of September, with undecideds from the previous poll getting off the fence and pushing up the numbers in all categories.

    In terms of overall budget issues, a wide majority (62 percent) thought some revenues should be used to solve the budget problem, and that was up slightly from a similar survey done in September when 59 percent thought revenues should be part of the mix.

    Breaking down the revenue question, 59% said they would vote for a graduated income tax.

    Asked what revenue solution they would favor, 25 percent said a graduated income tax, 21 percent said extending the 6 percent sales tax to services, 17 percent said lowering the sales tax to 5 percent and extending that to services, 11 percent said eliminating tax breaks for corporations, and 9 percent said enacting an estate tax. Another 17 percent said they did not know.

    And, asked if they would support a graduated income tax if it were on the ballot (since the Constitution would have to be changed to allow it), 54 percent said they would vote yes, 5 percent were leaning toward yes, 34 percent would vote no, 2 percent were leaning toward no and 5 percent were undecided.

    For the most part, people are fine with paying the bills. Too bad the Republicans would rather destroy our schools instead.

  • Local stories on the loss of state revenue sharing combined with decreased property tax intake are starting to bubble up here and there - West Bloomfield being the latest to indicate that cuts to police and fire are on the way. Bay City is another that is making noise about cuts to the fire department. Once that budget is turned in and signed, look for these locals to start making permanent decisions concerning public safety.

    It won't be pretty. It might be deadly. And our Legislature refuses to do anything about it.

    That's it for now -
  • Monday, October 19, 2009

    The MDP is Making a List...

    Alright. Who are you, and what have you done with Mark Brewer?

    Looks like certain legislators have got some 'splaining to do. This makes the rumors of withheld contributions even more believable...

    Just in from the MDP:

    The Michigan Democratic Party sent surveys to Michigan legislators about key issues and candidates in the 2010 elections. The questions range from education to Medicaid to whether they’d support any of the GOP’s second-tier gubernatorial candidates next year.

    “We feel it’s critical to find out just where these lawmakers stand on these key issues,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said. “Will legislators support the failed policies of the Republicans that continue to harm Michigan families? Will they support the GOP’s group of second-tier candidates?”

    The MDP has asked lawmakers to return the completed survey no later than October 22, 2009. For those who do not participate, the MDP will assume those lawmakers support the GOP policies and its sub-par candidates in 2010.

    My oh my. And will those results be published? One would hope so.

    Day 19: Michigan Budget Held Hostage: The Thin Blue Line

  • Hey Democrats! Remember this?



    I know! Let's do everything the red line wants, and see how we fare in 2010!

    19 days now Mike Bishop has been holding six crucial budgets. 19 days. No excuse for that. There were some laughable editorials over the weekend from the usual right wing suspects who want to ignore the fact that Bishop is shrugging off his constitutional duty as they tell Granholm to get out of the way of this "bipartisan" budget agreement. First of all, she can't "get out of the way" until he actually does his job, and, number two, look at the red line up there. We didn't elect Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans to run the show, something that both the House Democrats and some people in the press seem to have forgotten.

    It does make it easier to understand why the traditional media is failing though. It's obvious they don't have the best interests of the general public or the state in mind when as they ignore the election of 2008, and they ignore the devastation to public schools, cities and health care providers as they push for the "all business" agenda of the Republicans. Maybe it's some vain attempt to get more advertising out of "business", who knows. More layoffs are coming to Booth newspapers and the Detroit media, and they are scrambling for their own survival. Perhaps it's time to start questioning their editorial motives here if they continue to insist that both the electorate and the law be ignored.

    It's also hard to take them seriously when they wail about how any teeny increase in revenue for the state will send everyone fleeing for the borders, I tell you everyone will leave!, as they raise the price of their own product and call it a good business decision. If you want to run the state like a business, then run the state like a business. Revenue adjustments are made all the time in the real world, and to deliver a "good product" called the State of Michigan, we need educated people, health care and public safety.

  • But that brings us to another problem. The Freep takes a swing at the vapors, makes yet another plea this morning for the Legislature to work on "reform", as they bring us the all-too honest end result of Bishop's obstruction with this current budget.

    But really, who cares? Whatever compromise they reach is a temporary fix. And the longer they fight over it, the less time they'll have for the substantive debate that desperately needs to take place over huge reforms in the way the state spends and collects money.

    True. But ask yourself: Is this really the group of people that you want working on "huge reform"? Really? Sorry, but you have one leader that refuses to compromise, and another leader who turns his back on the people who elected his majority. That is not a recipe for rational reform; it is a recipe for disaster. As we have already seen. Twice. Even when they do "finish" this budget, does anyone honestly expect them to bring major structural reform in an election year?

  • Gongwer has an analysis in Dome that gets closer to the truth. This budget is going to be a work in motion as revenues continue to fall.

    The clues indicate that 2009-10 will be more of a transitional budget that will never really be final because as the economy shifts, and needs and spending requirements shift, and revenues shift by contracting or eventually growing, adjustments will be made.

    As it has been for who knows how long; mid-year adjustments are common. But this is especially true of K-12 this time around, as we pointed out last week. Wave bye-bye to quality education in your local school when the pro-rated figure hits this winter, and wait for the lawmakers to say they can't fix it because it's an "election year". Republicans have put themselves and the state in a corner with the "more tax cuts" teabagger rhetoric.

    Publicly they said that no new taxes are needed. Privately, and off the record (because such things are always said off the record), Republicans have said they understand the financial dynamics driving the state. Once the federal stimulus funds are gone, with the 2010-11 budget, unless the economy somehow miraculously revives to 1990s status (or maybe even 2003 status), state revenues will be simply insufficient to maintain basic services. The state is now literally at the stage of having to determine how many prisons to close, which universities to shutter, how many more roads to allow to return to gravel.

    They will refuse to fix the problem now, so they can blame Granholm and the Democrats in the 2010 campaign when those prisons close and universities shutter and your local schools have 40 kids in a classroom and the cops won't come when you call them and you can't get health care from your local hospital. Wait and see. They need things to be bad, because that is all they have to run on. They certainly don't have any new ideas of their own.

  • Speaker Dillon's defeatist attitude shows in this Crain's article about the 3% physician tax that was "designed to avert hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid cuts to hospitals, nursing homes, physicians and other safety-net providers". He claims that he has four Senate Republican votes - and it's the Senate Democrats who may be the problem.

    “Some (Senate) Democrats are not on board. I don't know if it will pass,” Dillon said. “The 8 percent (Medicaid) cuts to hospitals and nursing homes will be devastating. ... How the Detroit Medical Center survives with an 8 percent cut, I don't know.”

    Hmmmm. Could have sworn that Mike Bishop has said over and over and over and over that there aren't any Republican votes for revenue, even if that revenue would bring us over a half a billion dollars in matching Medicaid funds, even over the very loud protests of one Roger Khan. No, this will be the fault of the Senate Democrats in Dillon's world, obviously not content to throw just the House Democrats under the bus as he displays even more self-loathing towards his own leadership. He has to reach out across the Capitol and drag down their caucus as well. Not only did Dillon say he was "embarrassed" to be a part of his own budget agreement when he took the day off last Thursday to go campaign, he now wants to disavow what his own House has done.

    Dillon said he wasn't happy the House had to come up with the physician tax at the last minute.

    “I hated to move the doctor tax so quickly, but we have little choice,” said Dillon. The Legislature is working to close a $2.8 billion budget deficit by Oct. 31.

    That's too bad. Maybe someone should have thought of that over July and August, when the Legislature took two months off as they assured everyone that this budget would be completed on time. Complaining about the results now, and trying to blame others when everything fails, is not the kind of leadership that is going to "reform" this state.

    At least, let's hope not. We don't want the election of 2012 to be all about fixing the mistakes the Legislature made way back in 2010. Temporary fixes are the best we can hope for now as we try to find those Democrats who will stand up for the needs of the people. There are some out there, let's get them in the top slots - and then we can shoot for the balanced reform we need.
  • Sunday, October 18, 2009

    NFL Week 6

    Houston at Cincinnati
    Detroit at Green Bay
    Baltimore at Minnesota
    NY Giants at New Orleans

    Cleveland at Pittsburgh
    Carolina at Tampa Bay
    Kansas City at Washington
    St. Louis at Jacksonville
    Arizona at Seattle
    Philadelphia at Oakland

    Tennessee at New England
    Buffalo at NY Jets
    Chicago at Atlanta
    Denver at San Diego

    ·Bye: Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, San Francisco

    10-4 last week, 57-19 for the year.

    5-9 this week, 62-28 for the year.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Saturday Obama and Other Stuff



    Listen to your President. He knows best.

    Michigan Weekend Update:

  • Day 17 of Michigan Budget held hostage. Bishop claims that he might, maybe, sorta, somewhat, we'll see, gotta talk to the caucus first, mumble mumble, excuses, more excuses, turn in the remaining budgets on Tuesday. Maybe. The LSJ had a nice editorial about this a few days ago, nothing much has changed.

  • Speaker Andy Dillon has some new supporters. Check out an updated version of his House web page - and wait for it. I take it Saul wasn't available? MIRS reports yesterday that labor groups are withholding donations to the House Democratic Fund to wait and see where things stand on Dillon's health care proposal, indicating that they will be selective about who they support from now on. They also are unhappy about Dillon rolling over for the Republicans on the budget. This could be MIRS trying to stir up shit, but given how people feel about what is happening here - it's very plausible. Campaign finance reports aren't due until the end of the month.

  • Brian Dickerson tells us not to expect the police to help you for burglaries or assault in Pontiac. Expect to see more stories such as this as soon as the Bishop-Dillon revenue sharing budget cuts really kick in. Pontiac is the shade of things to come.

  • Legislation to outlaw abortion by defining "personhood" was introduced once again in Lansing. Not being widely reported yet, but it has popped up in a few places. This bipartisan attempt to alienate women and drive away businesses by making us a intolerant anti-choice wingnut state can be found here. Is your Rep. listed? Mine is (you too, Kath). I'm done.

  • Mark Schauer and Gary Peters widened their lead over their Repub challengers in the 3rd quarter fundraising sweepstakes. Check out the total figures, as well as reports from other Michigan Congressional races here.

  • If you want to forget politics for the weekend (and who doesn't!), head on out for a color tour. Shaping up to be mighty nice weather out there, take some time and enjoy your beautiful state. Check the Michigan.org Fall Color Tour page for some ideas on where to go - farther north, the better.
  • Friday, October 16, 2009

    Granholm Honored as National Education Policy Leader of the Year

    Kathy Barks Hoffman nailed it right away. "Bittersweet". Yes, it surely is, when you realize that between the Great Recession and our cowardly legislators, public education is going to take a major hit in Michigan, and exceptional, award-winning policy will stop or go into hibernation due to lack of spine from those we have trusted with our future development.

    The reason I'm such a strong supporter of this governor is because deep down I know she's right about damn near everything when it comes to policy. The two-penny service tax plan was the correct way to go, and business groups and others are finally coming around to that way of thinking. Renewable energy jobs are one of the fastest growing sectors in the national economy, so that's what she has pursued. Same with life sciences and health care and advanced manufacturing. The movie industry brings jobs and investment, and perhaps even more important, tons of free national publicity that will draw the creative class to our state and keep our young people here. The list is endless, these are just a few things off the top of my head.

    One of the most crucial things for both quality of life and economic development in any state is education. From early childhood education through college and beyond, or, specialized training in these "new economy" growth sectors - not only do we need education to compete nationally, but it's a must to compete globally. We all know this.

    Today, the National Association of State Boards of Education, a "nonprofit association that represents state and territorial boards of education, serves as a vital resource for states in the areas of research, policy development and skills training", named Governor Granholm "Policy Leader of the Year". Looking at the list of the things that they cited, your heart kind of breaks to realize that our Legislature is going to cut a lot of these items to the bone, either because they slavishly serve the "drown government" Bush Republican teabagger crowd, or they want to use these horrible cuts to, oh, let's say, make their own run for governor. The tragedy is ours, though. We are on the right track, and they are going to derail the train to serve their own selfish interests.

  • Expanding preschool programs and creating a public-private partnership, the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, to improve early childhood care and education;

  • Adopting some of the most rigorous K-8 content standards and high school graduation requirements in the nation;

  • Creating the Michigan Promise scholarship - the first universal college scholarship - which sets the expectation that students will continue their education beyond high school;

  • Establishing Promise Zones, new public-private partnerships in 10 Michigan communities with high poverty rates, that will guarantee all children the financial support to obtain a college degree;

  • Developing the Michigan College Access Network, another public-private partnership, linking Michigan communities together to help more students not only attend college but also to succeed in earning degrees and other credentials;

  • Launching the No Worker Left Behind job-training program in 2007 that provides qualifying participants two years of free tuition up to $10,000 at any Michigan community college, university or other approved training program. This month, enrollment in the program topped 100,000.

  • I believe that some money was put back into early childhood in the budget, but it is taking a cut. The Republicans wanted to cut it completely. The Promise Scholarships, you know the story there. The Promise Zones are part of law and don't tap additional expenditures as far as I know, but I wonder how those fare with the monster cuts that are coming to K-12. It hasn't come up, and I'm not sure exactly how the funding works. The College Access network is about the increased sharing of information on financing and training programs, again, that one hasn't come up either. No Worker would have been cut to almost nothing, but the feds stepped in and saved our sorry souls there. Thank God. These are the things that Governor Granholm is currently fighting for, to try and restore at least some funding to the budget - along with other big issues like public safety and health care as well.

    You have seen the answer from Mike Bishop. "No!", as he stomps his feet and pouts and threatens to leave veto money on the ground, all the while still refusing to do his job and turn in the six remaining budgets. Dillon simply left town yesterday, a working day mind you, to attend a business luncheon on - get this - "The Future of Michigan’s Economy". The irony there is beyond words. The House still hasn't addressed the K-12 revenue issue, even though Bishop claims that they will pass the "rob the poor and give to business and create a bigger deficit later" tax cut plan.

    Knowing how this has all gone down, they probably will vote with the Republicans to do just that. And we can sit back and watch it all go up in flames. One of the biggest raps on the governor has been that she is "too damn nice" and hasn't been "tough enough" with the Legislature, and she should have pushed for tax increases - and I would agree with that, to some extent - but she shouldn't have to bully these guys into supporting common sense policy such as funding public education. Get real here. These are adults, supposedly. It should be a given.

    Someday, we will look back and remember how we were on the path to prosperity with exceptional policy such as the things listed above, and how politics ended up knocking us off the track. Perhaps then we will learn from our mistakes, elect leaders who will put the state before personal ambition, and get back in the game.

    We are going to need to make up for the lost time we suffered courtesy of the 95th Legislature.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    K-12 Faces a $330 Per-Pupil Cut, Double the Current Budget Figure

    Kudos to the Adrian Daily Telegram for being the first to put some documentation to this story. Yesterday, Treasurer Bob Kleine reported that current K-12 budget as passed is off to the tune of $264 million. (Also keep in mind that they haven't even passed the funding for that yet.) The Michigan Association of School Boards crunched that number, and is reporting that it would mean an additional $165 per-pupil cut - double the number that is on the table now.

    They are very unhappy, and said so in no uncertain terms.

    Schools are being held hostage to the outrageous antics and games with the school budget. Yesterday the state treasurer sent a memo to Gov. Granholm indicating that the predicted shortfall in the School Aid Fund (SAF) was much larger than expected. According to the memo, Treasury now estimates that the shortfall will be approximately $264 million for fiscal year 2009-10. To view the memo, click here.

    To put that in perspective, that’s an additional $165 per pupil reduction on top of the $165 cut that the legislature passed last week. Without serious action by the legislature and governor in coming months, schools face total cuts of $330 per pupil.

    It’s an understatement to say that this is a devastating blow to public education. The legislature and governor need to quit playing games and finalize a budget so schools can focus on student achievement. Schools can’t absorb the magnitude of cuts without severe consequences to students.

    Wow. It's a shame that Mike Bishop absolutely refuses to make any compromises when it comes to saving the public schools, isn't it? An estimated figure of 120 school districts operating in the red with the current budget figure is going to explode at $330 per-pupil.

    How many Michigan school districts will Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans destroy with their refusal to make any changes to their sacrosanct "bipartisan" budget agreement? Stay tuned...

    Detroit Will Host 2010 World Stem Cell Summit

    Time for some good news. This just in from the Governor's office:

    Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today announced that Detroit will host the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit organized by the Genetics Policy Institute.

    The conference will take place October 4-6, 2010, at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. It will be co-hosted by Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

    “We have been working to grow Michigan’s life sciences sector as part of our strategy to diversify the state’s economy and create jobs,” Granholm said. “The World Stem Cell Summit is one of the most important life sciences conferences in the world. The selection of Detroit to host the 2010 summit is positive recognition and support of our efforts here in Michigan in this emerging economic sector.”

    The summit will attract more than 1,200 of the most influential stem cell stakeholders from more than 30 countries, representing the fields of science, business, policy, law, ethics and advocacy. There will be 150 internationally-renowned speakers, producing a unique international network designed to foster collaborations, economic development, technology transfer, commercialization, private investment and philanthropy.

    Big. Worldwide big.

    Covered at the summit will be all areas of stem cell science, disease models, drug discovery, tissue engineering, bioreactors and nanotechnology. There will be progress reports on treatment for cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease. Panels will discuss commercialization, funding, economic development, regulatory agency perspectives, law and ethics.

    The summit also will feature the 2010 Stem Cell Action Awards Dinner where the Genetics Policy Institute will recognize organizations and individuals who have most positively impacted the stem cell community. At the 2009 summit dinner in Baltimore, two Michigan stem cell organizations won awards: Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures won the Education Award, while Cure Michigan won the Grassroots Advocacy Award.

    The 2010 World Stem Cell Summit will be the sixth annual conference organized by the Genetics Policy Institute. Previous summits have taken place in Houston, Palo Alto, Boston, Baltimore, and Madison, Wisconsin.

    Our universities are thrilled to host this, of course. Congrats to Detroit and to our state for landing this conference.