Monday, November 30, 2009

Bernero to Run For Governor?

Sure, why not? The more the merrier.
Just a few days after telling the Free Press a 2010 campaign was “very unlikely” for him, Lansing’s recently re-elected Mayor Virg Bernero said today he’s “seriously considering” a run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

He made the comment to MIRS news service.

Bernero, 45, a Pontiac native who served in the state Legislature from 2001-05, gained some national renown as an outspoken defender of the U.S. auto industry during its recent near-collapse.

A full primary slate of candidates will keep the media focus on the Democrats and their ideas throughout the entire year, and the debate will then become about which one has the best plan. Since all the Republicans have is "more tax cuts" and their lockstep devotion to the teabaggers, the public will turn to the people that will be talking about the things that are important to them; not just economic development and jobs (although that will be #1), but funding for education, health care and public safety. "Tax cuts" won't put a cop on the street, or reduce classroom size, or get your kid their college scholarship back. All of those things will come into play, the Democrats can sharpen their ideas, and the Republicans can run their "purity" tests and try to out-wingnut each other.

The contrast should be stunning, and Dems should get down on the knees and thank God that the GOP is still insane.

Virg knows it's going to take a whole lot more than just being "the guy who yelled on FOX"; he has to come into this race with some solid ideas on where he would take the state, what he wants to do, how he would solve the problems. As do they all. Not sure if I believe all this "Cherry can't win" chatter that's being thrown about; part of me thinks it's being done on purpose, to get the base fired-up about.... something. Anything. Just keep the conversation going. Cherry can't do that if he runs unopposed. The Obama people know this, and I would hazard a guess that John Cherry does too.

And see? It's already working. Here we have a story in the paper about Democrats, gets people thinking about the Democrats, keeps the focus on the Democrats - and not the Mitchell poll that came out this morning that shows - surprise!- the most extreme Republican Mike Cox in the lead on the teabagger side of the aisle.

Thunder, stolen.

Cherry is "a wonderful man" and a "dedicated public servant, " Bernero said. "We all feel a kinship with him. But the big question is, can he win?"

Perhaps a bigger question: Could Bernero?

Could Dillon? Could Smith? How can we know if they don't duke it out? C'mon in Virg, the water is fine. You too, Andy. The US presidential primary in '08, although brutal (and I personally hated every minute of it) really did serve a vital purpose - it keeps the media spotlight on the Democrats and their ideas.

And given the depleted state of the media in Michigan, that might be worth it's weight in gold in the end. Any attention is better than nothing at all.

Frustrated Parents Holding Bake Sales for Michigan School Funding

Remember the old quote attributed to Robert Fulghum that said, "It will be a great day when the schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber"? You can buy that t-shirt on closeout right now - but you might want to hurry before the peddlers of pithy sayings on merchandise discover that, at least in Michigan, what's old is suddenly new again.

They've rallied in Lansing. They've written their legislators. Now frustrated parents have taken a new tack in the fight to get funding for their children's schools: They're having a bake sale.

Across Michigan from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, parent-teacher associations plan to hold bake sales outside grocery stories, community centers, post offices and even on the steps of the state Capitol.

Just like the old slogan, this idea for a sale came out of increasing frustration with the misplaced priorities of our elected officials. It's not necessarily about raising money; it's to prove the point that legislators are not listening to their constituents when it comes to school funding - and parents are angry. Legislators need to check the quote at the end of this next section, and then ask yourselves just how in the world you intend to get this person out to vote for you or your party next year.

The idea was born in the hours after a statewide rally earlier this month in Lansing, in which parents and educators fought against the funding cuts. Among them was Karen Kline, a Royal Oak parent. She left that rally discouraged after talking directly to some legislators because "there was nothing coming out that made me feel there was any hope."

Parents are doing this now to raise awareness - and they would be wise to turn their attention and energy to supporting a ballot proposal next. There is a reason why the legislature can't offer any hope. It doesn't exist.

Mike Bishop has already indicated that Senate Republicans will not put forth any ideas until they figure out what they can get Dillon to give up next, and Dillon won't move tax reform until he gets consensus with the teabaggers, who are sworn to oppose everything that the Democrats want to do, doesn't matter if it's a good idea or not. Whatever comes out of that dynamic is going to be a disaster, as we have seen repeatedly over the past three years.

The latest proof that nothing moves in Lansing without the approval of Mike Bishop came last week. As you may have heard, Alma Wheeler Smith put forth the first solid tax reform proposal for funding schools, using ideas such as expanding the sales tax to services, a graduated income tax, eliminating the MBT surcharge - all popular, and pretty much agreed upon by the experts as the direction we need to go - and Dillon immediately deferred to the Senate.

While Dillon applauded Smith for putting a proposal on the table, he said the revenue she has projected would not make it through the Legislature.

"I'm pretty sure there's no appetite for that in the Senate," he said.

So, don't even try. Don't fight, don't make any legislative moves, don't say a word in support of the schools, let's just wait for that magical "bipartisanship" to happen, even though the Republicans have more than indicated that "bipartisanship", to them, means, "do everything we want, or we say no". Think anything good will come out of that attitude?

Smith acknowledged that House Tax Policy Committee Chair Rep. Kate Ebli (D-Monroe) has a workgroup looking at some of the tax changes Ms. Smith has proposed. "I think it's in a holding pattern," she said of the workgroup. "I think we need to be moving forward."

And she laid the blame for that holding pattern on House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Twp.), who is also mulling a Democratic bid for governor. "I think he's waiting for something," she said. "I don't know what it is."

What it is, Dillon told Gongwer News Service, is a consensus on a tax plan.


Dillon said he also has avoided, to this point, putting out any plan of his own or supporting any particular plan. "If it becomes a House Democratic plan, it becomes a political fight," he said. "I'd rather get a consensus."

Yes, by all means, let's keep "politics" out of politics. Going into a huge election year. OK. That will happen. And on top of that willful denial of reality, nothing says "delusional" like those who refuse to learn from past lessons. Although Mike Bishop lied about a deal and broke an agreement with Dillon in 2007, and then turned broke another agreement with Dillon in 2009, for some reason Andy still thinks that "consensus" is possible with those who are sworn to destroy him. And us. Makes it obvious as to why people feel there is "no hope" coming out of Lansing, and why the enthusiasm gap continues to grow for Democrats. If you don't try, you can't win. And Michigan will lose.

Smith has set a date of January 30th for movement on her bills, but we have already seen the answer from legislative "leadership", time and time again. There is no reason to expect that will change, so there is no need to wait.

Parents, to the ballot mobile - as quick as you possibly can.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NFL Week 12

Green Bay at Detroit (ha ha ha! Well, I tried)
Oakland at Dallas
NY Giants at Denver

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Miami at Buffalo
Cleveland at Cincinnati
Seattle at St. Louis

Carolina at NY Jets
Washington at Philadelphia
Indianapolis at Houston
Kansas City at San Diego
Jacksonville at San Francisco
Chicago at Minnesota
Arizona at Tennessee
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
New England at New Orleans

10-6 last week. 105-55 for the year.

12-4 this week. 117-59 for the year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Turkey Named Courage

The 2009 Presidential Turkey Pardon:

Want something to be thankful for?

The guy in that video is not George W. Bush.

See? There's always somethin'.

This has been one tough year, no doubt about that. One of the hardest in Michigan's history. "Courage" is the one thing I wish for us all, for next year is shaping up to be even tougher as we continue to deal with the fallout from the Great Recession. But as President Obama said:

In more tranquil times, it’s easier to notice our many blessings; it’s even easier to take them for granted. But in times like these, they resonate a bit more powerfully.

The good things in your life are that much better when times are the hardest. Cherish your blessings this Thanksgiving, and remember that gratitude can be one of the most healing emotions you can have.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

K-12 Cuts Starting to Take Shape, Wyoming Teachers Offer to Donate Salary to Save Jobs

For those who don't know, Wyoming is a city that borders Grand Rapids. Faced with a $2.4 million dollar deficit and the elimination of 57 jobs in the school district, 20 of those teaching positions, some teachers are looking at the possibility that they could donate part of their salaries to save jobs.

But some teachers offered a solution to save some of the jobs: they could give some of their salaries back as a charitable donation to the district.

Teacher Theresa Almonte presented a letter to the board -- signed, she said, by more than 50 teachers -- calling for the union to discuss and vote on the idea.

"It's something that I felt inside that I had to go forward," Almonte told 24 Hour News 8. "To represent the people in the union who don't feel their voices are being heard, maybe, by leadership."

An earlier attempt to cut pay across the board was voted down by the union, in part because pay cuts to teachers near retirement would affect their pensions. This new approach alleviates that problem, and discussions will continue to try and reach a solution where they can save jobs - but for how long?

This is just one of many stories of how districts across the state are starting to deal with the aftermath of the Bishop-Dillon K-12 budget. Since the legislature never addressed the unfunded $100 million in revenue that was promised, the full proration cut will take affect with the December payment to schools. School boards and parent groups are meeting now to discuss and plan for both the immediate and long-term future, and the cuts are starting to take shape as it becomes very obvious there won't be any help coming out of Lansing. In fact, some are already preparing themselves for further cuts to come in January after the next revenue sharing conference, and as far as the rumored $500-$600 per-pupil cut in the 2010-2011 budget? They are shaking in their shoes.

There have been examples, like the Wyoming one above, where districts are working with employees, both union and otherwise, to mitigate some of the damage from the budget cuts. But overall the stories that are drip, drip, dripping out by the day involve many layoffs and cuts to programs such as sports, music, transportation, operations, building closures - and ultimately districts pushed towards bankruptcy. And, since a lot of this is in the planning stages, these stories will be repeated when the cuts actually do happen in December and January. Thousands of jobs will be lost when its all said and done, not to mention to reduced quality of education all across the state.

Here are some examples of the cuts being discussed at this time, to districts big and small, and everyone in-between. Gathering them together like this show hows quickly it all adds up...

Jackson - Closing one middle school, cutting 29 positions, gets them halfway through a $2.4 million hole. Talks underway for concessions on employee health care to make up some of the difference.

Portage - 53 teachers and other employees cut by Feb. 1st. Program cuts, and more layoffs will follow in the future to close a $2.5 million gap.

Novi - From the home of the Cassis, privatization of bus and custodial staff is on the horizon, affecting 68 employees.

Dearborn - Cutting nearly 300 employees including 90 teachers. Increased class sizes and closed schools in the works.

Athens - Tiny Athens will close one of its three buildings after cuts in the beginning of the year took teachers, other school personnel, and sports. With no savings left, Athens will be in deficit by June.

Hudson - The district is already sharing services, has reduced energy use and cut supplies. Athletics slashed by 25%. Three more layoffs will occur on top of the nine that already happened in October.

Ludington - After already cutting teachers and other staff, the district is now considering cutting programs such as sports, non-required classes, extra-curricular activities and transportation. Increased class sizes may allow them to cut more teachers.

Royal Oak - A $3 million state cut will put everything on the table for consideration, including "elimination of bus transportation, the instrumental and vocal music programs, and all-day kindergarten at two of the district's elementary schools" as well as cuts of teachers and other staff. From the same article, Southfield schools are looking at closing buildings to address a $3.8 million cut, along with more layoffs. Clawson is taking cost cutting measures on equipment and other things as they negotiate union contracts; they also will look at spending their rainy day fund. Ferndale schools are looking at a $1.2 million cut from the state, and while they believe they can hold their own, they are urging parents to contact lawmakers about the cuts.

Oakland - Eliminating 36 positions and accepting resignations on 28 more. Looking at cutting another 36 positions by 2011. Furlough days and wage freezes, as well as cuts to supplies, equipment, and contractors' pay rates already in play.

Grand Ledge - 53 positions cut, teachers and staff. Transportation for high school cut. Cuts to athletics. Consolidation/closing of school buildings. Cuts to music programs. Employee salary concessions.

Hillsdale - Facing deficit spending over the coming year, the district will offer "severance packages to 10 to 15 teachers and 10 to 15 support staff members". It's not expected to entirely close the gap.

Saugatuck - The school board gave the superintendent the power to cut staff, up to 59 teachers and other positions could be affected.

East Lansing - Talk of eliminating some or all of their transportation. Cuts to athletics, closing some schools, furloughs and teacher layoffs all on the table.

Alpena - 13 non-teaching positions, safety patrol, DARE, Science Olympiad, and school supply cuts are being recommended to avoid dipping into the rainy day fund. Cuts to athletics on tap. Next year will see the possibility of more layoffs and school closings.

Byron Center - Cuts of 12 teaching positions, elimination of "block scheduling", reductions to graduation requirements, all could be the "tip of the iceberg" as the district looks to close a $420,000 deficit. This comes on top of a $545,000 cut already made in October.

Escanaba - Sports, supplies, pay freezes, cuts to staff all being considered to close a $439,000 gap. Elimination of Boys Tennis, Middle School Track, Girls Gymnastics will happen by December. Administration, transportation, instructional support received cuts, adding time to the school day to eliminate 5 days from the school calendar, and closing an elementary school in the works.

Brighton - 10% pay cut across the board for all employees. Elimination of teacher, counselor, secretarial, principal positions. Livingston would take over busing. Privatize custodial staff, close an elementary school, increase class sizes by 15%, are some of the options the district is looking at to reduce a projected shortfall of up to $15 million by the end of the 2010-11 school year.

Midland - Closing "four or five" schools won't even come close to filling a deficit that is expected to grow to $9.5 million next year. More details on cuts to be released later.

Mt. Pleasant - A story on mid-Michigan schools has officials nervously eyeing the future cuts that may come in January. Mt. Pleasant has laid off support staff, will increase the class size for kindergarten, and has eliminated some transportation. They also tapped their reserve funds. Shepherd schools had already cut $700,000 before the year began, Beal City has avoided layoffs by using attrition, Clare was taken aback by the size of the cuts and is now in a "holding pattern".

Let's go back to the words of Matt Marsden on Oct 30th:

"Those two guys (Dillon and Bishop) got a budget passed," said Bishop's spokesman Matt Marsden. "This was a bipartisan budget. It was voted on by both Republicans and Democrats. It was the best budget that we could come up with that did not rely on tax increases. It's time to move on."

Thousands of angry voters across Michigan would probably agree, although not in the "let's brush it under the rug" way that Marsden is suggesting. If this keeps up, and all indications are that it will, we will help you ALL "move on" to careers outside of public service just as fast as we possibly can.

With the attitudes such as Marsden's on display, and lawmakers running off for long vacations, and pollsters worrying themselves with attack ads and other nonsense, the real world is left to deal with the consequences of the legislature's cowardice, inaction and obstruction. It's no wonder people are absolutely furious at what has happened here.

Sad thing is, unless there is a 180 degree turn in behavior, it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Senate Republicans Who Would Love to Hear From You About the Promise Scholarship

The MSU Dems have identified five Senate Republicans who are feeling a bit left out when it comes to constituent calls and e-mails about the Promise Scholarship. Lost, lonely, three of them a little frightened about prospects for re-election, they have been shoved off to the side as Mike Bishop grabs at the media spotlight and all the fundraising dollars he can, neglecting the needs his fellow Republican chamber mates for his own political purposes. They face a bleak holiday season this year, as family and friends and future voters will make this "All About Mike" with their concerns and comments about funding education, leaving these five to question the value of their participation in the process.

Won't you help? Imagine, just five minutes of your time can lift the spirits of these abused and unwanted lawmakers by letting them know they are important, giving them the strength to break the grip of oppression, encouraging them to embark down their own political path, free from the tyranny of the teabaggers who currently control their careers.

But they can't do it alone! They need to hear from you!

Senator Roger Kahn

Senator Bruce Patterson

Senator Valde Garcia

Senator Randy Richardville

Senator John Pappageorge

Call or write today. Help make it a wonderful Thanksgiving for these five forgotten souls by lending your voice of encouragement on returning the Promise Scholarship. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NFL Week 11

Miami 24, Carolina 17
Washington at Dallas
Cleveland at Detroit
San Francisco at Green Bay

Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Atlanta at NY Giants
New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Buffalo at Jacksonville
Indianapolis at Baltimore

Seattle at Minnesota
Arizona at St. Louis
NY Jets at New England

Cincinnati at Oakland
San Diego at Denver
Philadelphia at Chicago

Tennessee at Houston

Yeah, yeah, those Thursday games. Next week I'll remember, I promise. (and I would've picked Carolina)

9-6 last week, 95-49 for the year.

10-6 this week. 105-55 for the year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Weekend Update

Coming to you from Seoul, South Korea, President Obama ties in a strong pitch for job creation here in America...

Michigan Weekend Update:

  • Uh oh. It looks like the Asian carp are closer to invading the Great Lakes, which led one local news anchor to proclaim that it may be the "end of Great Lakes fishing as we know it". DNA evidence shows that they are near the electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. No bodies have been found yet, but it's probably just a matter of time....

  • U of M economists are predicting that job growth won't return to Michigan until 2011, and, by the time this is over, "auto manufacturing in Michigan is forecast to employ just over a quarter of the workers it had on its rolls in mid-2000". That, in a nutshell, is the story of this past decade; the loss of almost 1 million jobs total, which translates into 1 in every 5 jobs lost over an 11 year period. 2009 shows the biggest loss in one year since the Depression. And, as with the national economy, job recovery is going to take time, but at least we seem to have finally hit bottom. There's nowhere to go but up, right?

  • Shocker! FOX News used misleading footage when they were covering Palin's GR book signing this week. Seems we have a trend on our hands. Grand Rapids Palin fans are looking like they were the lucky ones, as Sarah seems to be quickly tiring of the celebrity life. Some people in Indiana who had a wristband were turned away when Palin left early, and now the number of signings in Columbus, OH have been cut in half. Follow this link to see video of angry wingnuts find out just what the people of Alaska had to go through when Sarah decides she wants to quit.

  • Pennsylvania officials are taking a look at both the Muskegon and Standish prisons as the place(s) to transfer almost 2000 inmates. Rumor has it that it is between us and Virginia. C'mon Ed, you owe us for sneaking in that Great Lakes Compact before we did.

  • Republicans are still attacking the film credits. That's how you know they are a smashing success; the Republicans can't stand to have anything be successful in this state. Doesn't fit their campaign rhetoric. The industry fought back this week in testimony before the House. Will the Democrats hold the line for a business that is bringing in millions of dollars spending and investmentand keeping the young, creative class here at the same time? Stay tuned.

  • As Seth points out, Ken Sikkema has chimed in on making state employees and teachers cough up more money for their health benefits. Question: Can we make it retroactive to previous employees, like Ken for example, who now enjoy lifetime benefits? Someone needs to look at that, perhaps as part of... oh, say, a ballot proposal or something. It's only fair.

    It's interesting to note that Sikkema also joins the parade of people that say we need to "broaden the sales tax and lower the rates" to shore up our tax base. He then goes on to conveniently forget that Governor Granholm called for this very same thing a couple years ago, only to have it shot down by the Republicans and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Sikkema says we "haven't seen" the political leadership to do this yet - was he referring to the leadership of the Republican Party? Because they are the ones who stopped it from happening. Maybe someone should get him to clarify for us.

  • I don't know who is writing the Gongwer weekly update for Dome, but they are great essays. This week looks at the conference sponsored by the Center of Michigan that brought business and public service leaders together for a brain-storming session, and they basically said the same things that we have heard before; change the tax structure, invest in the things that truly matter, such as education.

    The audience expressed itself, too, saying the state was headed in the wrong direction, that if only one tax could be raised or expanded it should be the sales tax, and if only one tax should be cut it should be business taxes.

    And everyone is right. In so many ways all those actions need to be taken to turn the state around. A growing economy does provide more tax revenues, and the state does need more taxpayers. Some taxes those taxpayers pay may be less than they are now, some may be more, and some may be in areas not now taxed. To help get those additional taxpayers the state needs to become smarter, the answer is to get more students through technical training or college, put more into schools. And those smarter people have to help determine what the state should look like, how it should act, what services it needs to provide and what things it cannot do.

    So if everyone is right, what’s the problem?

    The problem really is very simple to those who watch from the outside, but for some reason, the press is always reluctant to call it out. Here is the problem: You have one side of this equation always saying "no" to compromise, insisting that we proceed down their path only, or they will do something crazy, such as, shut down the government. Or hold budgets for weeks for no apparent reason. Or make threats that they won't restore funding. So forth and so on and this has been going on for the past three years.

    Sorry folks. I am not being totally partisan here, I am just speaking the truth. Democrats and the governor are willing to compromise on these issues, the Republicans are not. Phil Power finally stepped up to the plate and told it like it is this week. Why is it the rest of the press is so reluctant to point out what everyone else can clearly see?
  • Friday, November 20, 2009

    California Tuition Hike Should Serve as a Warning to Michigan College Students

    Seeing as how Michigan has been lumped in with California as one of the ten states that face "looming budget disasters" in the next year, we probably should keep an eye on what is happening out there - and it ain't pretty. After $60 billion in severe cuts, stimulus spending, and tax increases, the state still faces a huge deficit... and now they are coming after the universities.
    As the University of California’s Board of Regents met Thursday at U.C.L.A. and approved a plan to raise undergraduate fees — the equivalent of tuition — 32 percent next fall, hundreds of students from campuses across the state demonstrated outside, beating drums and chanting slogans against the increase.


    Mark Yudof, the university president, said the state budget cuts had left the university no choice but to raise fees, and noted that the system received only half as much, per student, from the state as it did in 1990.

    If Michigan lawmakers don't find the courage to fill the estimated $1.6B dollar hole in our next budget, our universities could be next. Our current budget may have scrapped scholarship money, but keep in mind it only cut the aid to universities by 0.4 percent. After the draconian cuts to K-12, revenue sharing, and just about everything else in this last budget, does anyone think that the money to universities will be untouched the next time around? Probably not. If Bishop sticks with his predictable "no" on revenue, once again deep cuts will have to be made, and there isn't anywhere left to turn. Just like California.

    Governor Granholm has been hitting our college campuses this week, asking for student support in urging our legislature to restore the Promise Scholarship. While some people are upset that she didn't veto this last higher-ed budget, they aren't taking into consideration the political conditions that exist now, and the budget tidal wave that is coming next. The governor's answer to the veto question has been that she didn't want to shut-down the universities. Understandable, but a bit too simplistic. It leaves out some other moving parts of the equation, things she probably can't say, and still be considered a good Democratic team player. She's coming close though. The focus is on Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans, as it should be because they are the main obstacle, but don't forget the House and their role in this matter.

    "You hired these state representatives and senators," she told the crowd. "If you hire someone, you are the employer and you should be able to tell them what they need to do. And if they don't, they can be fired. So they need to hear from you."

    Representatives. The House leadership seemed more inclined to serve Mike Bishop rather than take on the fight, throwing out some standard cliches here and there after the budgets were signed, but never really put any heart or action behind their words. Passing an unfunded measure to restore the Promise was as far as they would go, taking credit when nothing has really been accomplished. Then they left for vacation. Whether they are too afraid of voting for revenue, or Dillon and Co. are simply positioning themselves to "destroy the village in order to save it" in next year's campaign, it's hard to tell. Bottom line is, they aren't fighting now, and she couldn't count on them for support. Take all that, and add in the reports that our revenue picture continues to slide, creating yet another monster hole in our immediate future, would it have been wise to throw that veto down now?

    Or, do you position yourself for the battle to come? The best bet is to go right to the people, school boards and students alike, and explain what is going on. Not only should the governor get points for bravery in facing all these angry people (and she has run into some very angry people between K-12 meetings, and now college meetings as well), explaining a vision and asking for support sets the stage - not only to restore these scholarships, but perhaps for some things left unsaid about the coming year. That is all just speculation on my part, but very plausible when you look at the overall picture.

    At Western Michigan University, Gov. Granholm jokingly calls out Rep. Larry DeShazor, yet another House freshman that aspires to be a future Senate Republican - and it worked. Check out his standard Republican non-answer to the problem.

    Afterward, DeShazor said the scholarship was a promise made that could not be kept and that the state government needs to find solutions to its revenue problems before cutting more checks.

    “We have to figure out how to stop the accelerating loss in revenues,” he said.

    Duh. Although it was nice to see him take tax cuts off the table, isn't it? More tax cuts surely would "accelerate the loss in revenues", and we can't have that. Right?

    Pounce, kids!

    Several students took a cue from Granholm and asked DeShazor about his stance on the Promise scholarship after the event. Other students said they planned to pressure their home-town senators and Sen. Tom George, R-Texas Township, who voted to cut scholarship funding.

    Watch the whole speech below. The governor is hitting as many colleges as she can before Thanksgiving break; hope this message sinks in, and some discussions are held over the dinner tables in this next week. Students need to take this message to their parents as well, and enlist them in the fight for scholarships - for their 2010 votes are in play here, too.

    Will our lawmakers take the California route next year? Not if the pressure is applied now. Keep calling, keep writing your lawmakers. Ask them what their plans are. And if they give you another non-answer, tuck that away for future reference, and remember to vote accordingly.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Taxes in Michigan: The Poor Pay More

    Great reporting gods Gongwer pointed out this new study from the non-partisan Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy yesterday: The poor and middle class in Michigan pay a greater percentage in taxes than the wealthy do. Surprise! (Not.)

    Most of Michigan's income and local taxes come from the state's poorest residents, resulting in a regressive tax that "no one" would intentionally design, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy.

    While non-elderly residents who make less than $15,000 per year typically pay about 9 percent of their income toward taxes and those who make between $32,000 and $54,000 pay nearly 10 percent, the very rich pay about a third less, said the study, titled: Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States.

    The rich, defined as those with average annual incomes of $1.1 million, typically pay about 6.4 percent toward taxes, the study said.

    "No one would ever design an income tax with lower tax rates for the best-off taxpayers," said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the institute and the study's lead author. "But that is exactly what Michigan's tax system overall does: it allows the very wealthiest individuals to contribute less of their income, on average, than middle and lower-income families must pay. In other words, Michigan has an unfair, regressive tax system."

    Check out the breakdown for Michigan here. We do get points for "the state earned income tax credit, a homestead property tax credit and personal tax exemptions indexed to inflation", but as you know, lawmakers are eyeing those when it comes to solving our budget issues. Republicans are insisting that the poor and middle class be made to pay, while they lobby for more tax cuts for the rich and "business". Just something to keep in mind when we do get around to fixing our broken tax system.

    Looks like it's time for some people to start paying their fair share. And spare us the whining about how "everyone will leave!" when we go to do this. 30 states have already raised taxes in this budget year, 35 are already facing major shortfalls in their current budget, 48 states are looking at huge deficits for 2010, and everyone is looking at falling off the cliff in 2011. There is nowhere to run to anymore.

    Hope everyone enjoyed their Bush tax cuts. The party is now over, those of you who indulged a bit more at the bar need to settle your tab with the house.

    Protest in the Twilight

    Twilight Protest

    I had to get away from the Grand Rapids Palin Mania yesterday. Our local media was downright embarrassing in their coverage - this was a celebrity, selling a book, and you would have thought it was a visit from the Pope or something. If a woman who abandoned a position of responsibility to simply cash in on her 15 minutes garners second by second "team coverage" (the bus is pulling in! she's stepping off the bus now! she's walking to the podium! we think she's going to speak! no... wait... yes! yes, she is going to address the crowd! let's listen!), well, I don't ever want to hear another journalist complain about the public's ignorance when it comes to important issues. Ever.

    So, fed up, disgusted, and ultimately bored, I split town. Headed on down to Lansing, where they had predicted up to 2000 Lansing area kids at the Capitol, protesting the K-12 cuts. I don't know how the LSJ came up with that figure in the first place, but they were mislead. There were 100 people there, tops - but it was very heartening to watch these high-schoolers get up and speak about the cuts to their schools. They slammed everyone - from the legislators, to the governor, to their own school administrators, no holds barred, they spoke out with a passion on this cold and dark day, and they kept on speaking even as night fell and you couldn't see a thing except the beautiful building behind them. They ran the gamut from left to right talking points of blame, sadly learning from their elders that little trick, but the overall message was, "fix it".

    If only it were that simple.

    Fix ItHouse Republican Rick Jones got up and talked about how Lansing's priorities should be the schools and public safety, and then proceeded to babble about the State Police Building, as if getting rid of that would solve all our woes. Bzzzt, wrong, that wouldn't even come close to filling the hole, and he knows it. Rep. Mark Meadows talked about how the Senate Republicans are refusing to act on the legislation that would mitigate some of the school cuts. Bzzzt, wrong as well. While using the stimulus would alleviate some of the problem now, it doesn't solve the underlying issue of the inadequate tax structure. You can't fit the complex into convenient soundbites. Over-simplification, mixed with a lot of finger-pointing, may create the drama that everyone seems to crave, but it leads to the very mania that we saw in Grand Rapids yesterday; an empty person selling an empty product that only inflames and creates more division. Nothing gets solved.

    I do give these legislators a lot of credit for facing the very people they just got done cutting to shreds (unlike Mike Bishop, who was wandering around the grounds of the Capitol, unnoticed by the crowd), even if they are being disingenuous about how deep the problem is. A little less blame, a little more explanation, and maybe the public would understand the issues better. You won't get the fawning media attention and make millions, but you will have made a real difference in this world.

    Palin Mania will fade eventually, as all media phenoms do. An education will last a lifetime, and everyone agrees that it is the one thing that is crucial to our state's future.

    Fix it.

    I hope these kids learn the lesson that it is good to speak out about the things that matter, but I fear that as soon as they go back home and turn on the television, it will be lost. It will be up to the "adults" to find the solution to our problems.

    Keep your fingers crossed that some show up in Lansing. Soon.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Must See Video: MSU Dems Fight for the Michigan Promise Scholarship

    Great video from the MSU Democrats. Wish we could slap it on heavy rotation on TeeVee stations throughout the state. It's that good.

    Call you Senator today, 517-373-2400, or e-mail them at The governor is right - public pressure is the only thing that will move these guys to do their jobs. They might not be around the Capitol the next couple of weeks (months), but their staff will be, and they are taking notes.

    The more voices that are heard, the better.

    More Bad Press for the Do-Nothing Legislature

    WILX has a scathing report about the lawmakers taking vacation while the schools are in crisis, even going so far as to wave around the Senate schedule that shows they will only work four more days this year. Glad someone finally noticed.

    The story is one you have read here already; partisan gridlock is preventing anything from being accomplished. When the Republicans say "no" to everything and refuse to face reality, and the House leadership won't stand up and call them out on it - say goodbye to funding your public schools, folks. Nothing is going to get done, not this year.

    We caught up with at least two lawmakers who have foregone the hunt: Republican Rep. Paul Opsommer and Democratic Rep. Barb Byrum.

    They're both working this week, but neither is very optimistic the legislature can act fast enough to fill that gap in the budget.

    "I don't think we're going to come to a conclusion by the end of this week, no," Opsommer says. Byrum? "We're at a deadlock. We're waiting for the Senate to act."

    Both chambers have passed proposals to fill the funding gap, but Biladeau says petty politics -- and a vacation for lawmakers -- are preventing the two sides from reconciling.

    Let's define "working". The House is holding committee meetings on the film credits and other judiciary/transportation issues, the Senate reports "no major items on the agenda" for their one day at work this week. Matt Marsden indicates that the Senate simply refuses to address this issue, preferring to ignore the continuing revenue drop, and, as predicted, blame the governor for the cuts already made. Wow, didn't see that one coming! Alan Cropsey stuck with the Senate Republican line for the Mt. Pleasant Sun, clinging to the woefully outdated budget numbers from May, whining about the governor pushing for a tax increase, and never, ever, answering the question about what the Republicans would do to deal with this crisis. Besides "more tax cuts", that is. The only good thing about the Senate Republicans mouthing off to the press is that these stories usually contain the fact that schools might be facing a $500-$600 per pupil cut next year, which blows all the Republican talking points right out of the water.

    So, the House sold us all down the river on the budget, the Senate refuses to compromise because they got everything they wanted and have ready-made scapegoats in the Democrats, and all of you look absolutely horrible in the eyes of the public. Congratulations.

    How is "the plan" working out for us now, Speaker Dillon? If "the plan" was to make the people of Michigan roll their eyes in disgust whenever the legislature is mentioned - mission accomplished. You are there.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Governor Granholm Fights for the Promise Scholarship

    If the wimpy House Dems won't do it, the governor will. Greatly admire this woman's willingness to meet with the public on these issues - besides facing many school officials and local citizens on the K-12 cuts over the past couple of weeks, this week the governor will take the message of saving the Promise Scholarship to college students across the state.

    While Bishop and Dillon choose the "safe" route of Chamber of Commerce meetings, fundraisers, and other gatherings that are generally closed to most of the public, Granholm is out there, meeting with the actual people who have to face the burden of implimenting these cuts. She's working with them, and urging them to contact lawmakers about addressing these budget issues. My guess is that she has to take quite a bit of heat herself, and she deals with it, but when Mike and Andy bragged about cutting her out of the budget process, they actually ended up positioning her as an "outsider". Heh.

    It's a good place to be. Go get 'em, governor.

    Call you senator at 517-373-2400, or drop them a line at They need a friendly reminder that "the governor proposes, the legislature disposes", and it's all on them to get something accomplished for our state.

    More Bishop-Dillon Budget Fallout: Troy to Ask Voters For Millage Increase

    Millage. Such a polite word. The Bishop-Dillon budget trickles down to another community, and the voters of Troy will be asked to take on the responsibility of saving their police department. Amongst other things. City Manager John Szerlag estimates that Troy is facing a $22 million deficit over the next six years due to falling property tax collections and the loss of state revenue sharing, and a February ballot question is necessary to avoid layoffs of public safety personnel this year.

    The cost of a special election is estimated at $75,000. If a millage increase is approved by voters in February, taxes could be collected in summer 2010 at the new rate. If a vote for a millage increase were to be held in May, August or November, taxes at the new rate could not be collected until summer 2011.

    Without a millage increase, Szerlag has proposed to close the library, community center, nature center, and community affairs and risk management departments. He also said employees would be laid off, including 47 in the police department.

    Troy, like many other cities, is looking at other ways to shore up their budget as well, including the privatization of services and dipping into the rainy day fund. The Bishop-Dillon budget has been a Republican dream - pass the buck for the responsibility of raising revenue down to the local communities, help bust the unions at the local level, and then turn around and blame the Democrats for all the cuts! See how that works? You will in 2010.

    As far as the magical "reforms" coming out of Lansing? Don't hold you breath. Bishop is now putting on the Big Stall once again, taking vacation, making Dillon try to pass his health care plan in the House first. Let's see how many Democrats we can hang with that as well, eh Mike?

    House Democrats still want to find revenue to restore money cut from the K-through-12 schools budget last month. But Senate Republicans say budget negotiations are over and they are focused on a package of reforms that may help prevent shortfalls in the future.

    Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says he likes Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon's plan to create a health insurance pool for all state workers and teachers.

    "You know, I'd first of all like to see him move his reform out of the House. He says he can get 900 million in savings out of that, I think now would be the time to do that," Bishop says.

    Bishop says Senate reform ideas won't be unveiled until he has a chance to discuss them with Dillon.

    Dillon has yet to prove the savings from his proposal, let alone address the cost of setting up a new bureaucracy to run it, and MIRS speculated last month that Dillon doesn't have the votes to move his proposal through the House - not even from the Republicans.

    The reality is that Dillon's healthcare plan stands virtually no chance of passing in the House, unless it was completely gutted. There aren't 15 House Democratic votes for it and probably not even 41 "yes" votes on the Republican side, for that.

    End result: Don't look to Lansing for any miracle "reform" anytime soon. The word is pretty much meaningless when uttered by anyone in our legislature. There is a reason why both Governor Granholm and LG Cherry are looking towards a ballot proposal for fixing our tax structure - they know that lawmakers are far too worried about their own political futures to make the tough calls. Republicans say "no" to everything and refuse to compromise, the Democrats have a severe problem with the compromises they have already made, because they will shoulder much of the blame in the blame game.


    Get ready to vote on your future, Michigan. You are probably going to see this repeated all over the state, especially if we end up with another $1.6 billon in cuts next year. Troy officials are indicating that they have the support of the public. For all the teabagger bluster, when it really comes down to it, the majority of people are willing to pay to support needed services.

    "I'd say two-thirds of them were in favor of putting the issue on the ballot," (Troy Mayor Louise Schilling) said. "And many of them said they favored a millage and were willing to vote for it to keep our current services."

    EPIC polls this fall (here and here) have shown that most people don't have a problem with tax increases when it comes to funding public safety, health care and education, especially if they come with tangible "reform".

    Hold those local votes and support your city leaders, but never forget that part of the reason they are necessary is that some "leaders" will always pass the buck and run out the door for more vacation when it comes time to do the heavy lifting.

    Maybe a permanent vacation is in order for them.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    NFL Week 10

    San Francisco 10, Chicago 6
    New Orleans at St. Louis
    Tampa Bay at Miami
    Detroit at Minnesota
    Jacksonville at NY Jets
    Buffalo at Tennessee
    Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
    Denver at Washington

    Atlanta at Carolina
    Kansas City at Oakland
    Seattle at Arizona
    Dallas at Green Bay
    Philadelphia at San Diego
    New England at Indianapolis
    Baltimore at Cleveland

    ·Bye: NY Giants, Houston

    Yes, I missed the Thursday game - but I would have picked the Bears, so it still ends up a big "L" anyway.

    6-7 last week (bah), 86-43 for the year.

    9-6 this week (rapidly slipping into mediocrity), 95-49 for the year.

    The Deer Are Everywhere...

    Hi Deer
    In the UP, they stop and stare at your car.

    Not a lot of time for this today, but here are a few tidbits from the morning papers...

  • Drunks with guns, out in the woods. Oh boy. Be careful out there. The Freep tells us that the deer are on the move to places where people can't hunt, like the cities, or your backyard, and it's becoming a huge problem. With a population of almost 900,000 deer in the bottom third of the state, efforts need to be made to start to cull the herd - or we need to open more car body shops, one or the other.

  • Governor Granholm has an editorial in the Freep today about the need to educate our kids...

    Michigan is undergoing an unprecedented, historic economic transformation. The global manufacturing economy has shifted, and Michigan must accept the change and adapt. There's no time for denial, blame or finger-pointing; we must face this new reality head-on. What is the fundamental strategy for success in overcoming this challenge? Education, education, education.

    Go get' em, governor. The Freep board calls for a new tax structure to fund the essentials of government, complete with some great charts the show how our revenue has fallen over the years.

    The times have changed, but Michigan's tax format hasn't. So revenues are falling. Services are shriveling and infrastructure is disintegrating. Meanwhile, the overall tax burden on the state's residents is also dropping, even as wealth has become concentrated in a smaller, and richer, segment of the population.

    Without significant changes to Michigan's tax code, the choices -- between prisons and universities, health care and schools, children and seniors -- will get even tougher.

    Both are must reads.

    Meanwhile, the Detroit News keeps up with its Teabagger/FOX editorial policy today, complaining about everything, and offering zero in the way of solutions - not even worth a good old-fashioned Finley smackdown. Seriously bored with the Party of No, and I could tell by the front page that offers the first paragraph it would be "more of the same". Without reading the whole thing, I'm betting that we could solve ALL of Michigan's problems if we just get rid of the MEA and all the unions, right? Yeah. What short-sighted, redundant bullshit. And then oddly enough, there is also an editorial with the title, "Let governors govern", concerning the Senate's attempt to scuttle the merger of the DNR and DEQ. Talk about your mixed messages.

    Stick with the Freep if you want solid, reality-based news, and editorials with meaning.

  • Peter Luke takes a look at the controversy surrounding Mike Cox and the Manoogian cover-up; a story that grows more suspicious by the day. Rumors are swirling this might knock Cox out of the race for governor, as Republicans are starting to doubt his viability. Fiscally sane people doubted his viability long ago; anyone that calls for enormous tax cuts on top of the revenue we have already lost is not a responsible "leader" in any way, shape or form. But you knew that already.
  • Friday, November 13, 2009

    Saturday Weekend Update

    President Obama's Weekly Address: Veterans Day and Ft. Hood revisited.

    Michigan Weekend Update:

  • Great editorial from Gongwer in Dome on Lt. Gov. John Cherry, pointing out that he is rapidly becoming the "alternative" candidate in the 2010 race, putting a very nice distance between himself and (ahem) "others" in the legislature. Smart move. Speaking of the "others"...

  • The LSJ calls out Dillon's dithering on his health care proposal, asking for proof of these so-called savings, and wondering what in the hell is taking so long. "You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May", the media giveth, the media taketh away...

  • Bishop tells the governor to stop holding press conferences. I think she held two the following week. Bishop tells governor to stop stirring up the rabble when it comes to school funding. Governor plans whirlwind tour of the state's colleges to get those young, energetic, and hopefully very boisterous college students all riled up about the Promise Scholarship. She's handing out the phone number to the Senate and urging people to call (517-373-2400, put it on speed dial). I don't know if this is all coincidence or what, but I'm getting a chuckle out of it.

    Not real thrilled about her offering up the EITC in trade though - but since the House has made noises in that direction lately as well, I'd rather see it go towards the Promise than eliminating the Republican-created MBT surcharge. I guess. You big meanies.

  • School officials are taking note of Bishop's blatant political motives when it comes to the funding issue.

    A leading public school official said Friday that Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop has allowed his campaign for attorney general to affect his judgment on funding for public schools.

    Asked on Michigan Public Television's "Off the Record" about why Mr. Bishop has refused to support more revenue besides the Senate Republican plan to delay a scheduled increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said, "He'd like to have a next political office. ... It's affecting his decision making."

    Bishop was in Grand Rapids yesterday, "debating" with Dillon surrogate Tim Melton in front of the only crowd that Republicans will face - the GR Chamber of Commerce. You won't catch Mike meeting with school officials or groups of students. The general public need not apply.

  • Raising taxes for roads, A-OK with Senate Republican Jud Gilbert. Wouldn't want to lose millions in federal matching funds, you know. Too bad they don't feel the same way about health care.

  • 13,000 new jobs if we boost our recycling rate to 30%? What are we waiting for?

  • Against all odds, two veteran publishers are launching a new daily paper in Detroit. The Detroit Daily Press starts publishing Nov. 23rd, home delivery starts the 30th. Gutsy move, best of luck to them.

  • $10 a year to get into the state parks? Sure, give it a try. I'd pay it, and I don't buy daily/yearly passes now. This has been successful in Montana; let's see what kind of response we get here - as long as that money goes to the parks (raises eyebrow). If we hit 17% of motorists paying the $10, we hit the $11.7 million the fees bring in currently. At 75% of motorists paying, it would be $53.8 million. The parks sure could use that kind of money. Montana has a participation rate of 70%.
  • Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Michigan Senate Ignoring School Funding and Leaving for Vacation - Call Today!

    It looked for a moment like they might do the responsible thing and forgo any personal vacation time to work on Michigan's budget issues - but today the Senate schedule was changed from "tentative" for the next two weeks, to one session next Wednesday. Call it "No Vacation Left Behind" on the part of the Michigan Senate. Not surprising, really. They make sure and take their benefits, while they demand that everyone else make sacrifices. What else is new?

    So, in honor of that, and in honor of the nasty robocall that Kathy received "denouncing parent groups" for complaining about the cuts to school funding (how dare they!) - I think you should call your Senator and tell them exactly what you think about them ignoring the school funding crisis so they can take more vacation time.

    Contact the Republican Senators here, phone numbers are provided under each Senator. They are running this show; they are the ones to call.

    Even Jack Lessenberry took a break from bashing the governor to call out Mike Bishop's behavior the other day. You KNOW it's serious when that happens.

    Right now, Mike Bishop is an underdog for the attorney general's spot, running behind Bill Schuette, a former congressman parachuting back into politics. Bishop needs to show he can score a big victory for the poison Kool-Aid drinking nuts, and block any attempt at raising revenue or saving the schools. That's exactly what he will do too, if the voters don't do something to stop him. If you want your state to have any future, put this paper down and write, telegraph or grab your local state senator and try to make them agree to fight for the schools.

    Tell them to support HB 4860, and use the last of the stimulus money for the kids. That money will be long gone before next year, no matter what. If they don't use it for the kids, the Legislature will use it for something else, or just throw it into the ever-growing deficit hole.

    Call today. If you read this too late to do that, just keep this in mind for future reference: For Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans, personal vacation always comes first.

    Vote accordingly.

    From Grief to Acceptance: Adjusting to a New Normal in Michigan

    Tell us something we don't know. The Pew Center on the States delivered a diagnosis for Michigan that has been apparent to our economists for quite some time: the collapse of the auto industry and subsequent loss of jobs, a manufacturing based revenue system, our aging population, special tax breaks to business and retirees that pay out more than we are taking in at this point, all mixed with the Great Recession, "will make Michigan one of the nation's 10 poorest states for the foreseeable future". That is the bottom line, and we are there. The Center predicts that the jobs lost in this decade will not return for 15 to 20 years as the state continues to work towards diversifying our economy. And, although they don't explicitly mention it, you have to throw in the political gridlock that has occurred in Lansing this past decade when it comes to reforming our government and our tax system; partisan differences have slowed our ability to adjust to this new reality. Given the size of the storm that hit us though, you start to wonder if that would have made any difference. Democrats, Republicans, it doesn't matter who was in charge; maybe the boat was destined to be swamped anyway as manufacturing jobs took a huge hit all across the nation, and we were standing at Ground Zero.

    This is it, folks. This is the "new normal" for Michigan.

    Michigan is still the eighth-most-populous state—but it has yet to come to terms with no longer being one of the most prosperous, said Donald Grimes, a senior research specialist at the University of Michigan and an expert on the Michigan economy. In 2008, Michigan ranked 37th for per-capita income, with peers that include Georgia (38th) and Montana (39th).

    “The state of Michigan still has to learn all the things that being a poor state means,” Grimes said. When the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis releases finalized 2009 data, Grimes said, he expects Michigan to be among the 10 poorest states.

    Accepting this new reality has been almost like watching a natural grieving process throughout this decade. First, you had denial. The Engler administration raided the rainy day fund and curtailed our revenue with more tax cuts in a misguided attempt to deal with initial downturn starting in 2000, the Granholm administration walked into a deficit of $1.8 billion to start and has been adjusting the books ever since in the hopes that things would turn around. Not knowing what was coming though, you can defend both of these actions to some extent. It's hard to see the storm when you are right in the middle of it, and you do the best you can to ride it out. Most states did, and we did the same.

    Michigan’s structural deficits can be traced to its reliance in recent years on temporary solutions to its budget shortfalls. During the last recession, Michigan, like many states, tapped its rainy day fund and resorted to short-term fixes such as accounting changes, fund transfers and bond refinancing that exacerbated the state’s structural problems. According to data from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonpartisan research organization, the state over the past decade has relied on $8 billion in one-time measures to meet its constitutional balanced budget requirement.

    Next comes anger, and that has been growing steadily over time due to both the political gridlock and the desire to find scapegoats in the form of the governor, or the legislature, or the unions, or the anti-tax crowd, or whoever-the-finger-points-at-today, to find someone or something to blame for our woes. The examples of that are numerous, and it's not worth getting into here. It's normal, and to be expected. It will continue, and it will get worse with the 2010 election. Count on it, but pray we can rise above it.

    Bargaining has been a huge part of Michigan's attempts to deal with this crisis. Pew is focusing on the fact that we are currently giving out more in tax credits than we are taking in for revenue. While that is a problem at this narrow point in time, given that we do need to attract new business and diversify into the high-growth areas of a new national economy, and, given the fact that almost all the other states are offering these sweet deals to businesses, we really don't have much choice in the matter. Pew cites our focus on the film industry, tourism (apparently no one told them we just slashed funding for that back down again), and the 10.7% growth in "clean tech" jobs, as examples of how we are moving away from relying on the solely on the auto industry - but it has come at a price.

    Still, the state foregoes revenue through such programs. As of 2008, the state offered $6.3 billion more in total tax exemptions, credits and deductions than it actually collected in taxes So while tax incentives have played an important role in helping Michigan compete with more prosperous states for jobs, they take a toll on the state’s pocketbook. A decade earlier, in comparison, the state was taking in $6.8 billion more in taxes than it was exempting.

    Kleine, the state treasurer, said that Michigan was creating jobs outside the auto sector before the latest recession hit, but that the gains were canceled out by auto job losses. “The good news for us is that the auto industry has become so small in Michigan that it’s kind of lost its ability to hurt us,” he said. “When we come out of the national recession, we’ll be creating jobs again like any other state, and the auto sector won’t have the ability to offset those.”

    Coming out of the national recession is going to take quite a bit of time, not only for us, but for everyone. State budgets all across the nation are in for a huge jolt when the recovery money runs out, and most states are starting that 2011 budget work right now, slashing services and looking at raising taxes. While Pew has focused on the 10 states that face the deepest peril, the fact is the entire national recovery is at risk according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Pew study made the bigger splash in the news, but the CBPP gave us the entire picture yesterday as they indicate that more federal relief is going to be needed until lagging state budgets catch up with the leading economic indicators.

    Presuming they will get no more fiscal relief, states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011 that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s, recently warned that these state budgetary actions “will be a serious drag on the economy at just the wrong time.”

    Phrases like "budget gaps of stunning magnitude" and "largest shortfalls on record", and that actions taken by state lawmakers in the face of that may "impede recovery and cause significant economic damage", permeate that report. If the national economy starts to backslide, Michigan's fragile recovery will go with it. We are not an island here. The best we can do is try to get our own fiscal house in order to best deal with what comes next - and that will be the hard part. We may not have time to wait on the next election. Major changes to our government and tax structure need to happen now if we have any hope of keeping any semblance of order in this state. "More cuts" to basic services like public safety, education and health care may destroy our ability to recover at all, and "fifteen to twenty years" may turn into decades if we don't handle this right.

    Since 2001, the state has made a litany of cuts, including in aid to local governments, payments to Medicaid providers, and funding for higher education, state agencies, prisons, libraries, zoos, orchestras and day-care programs. “We’ve gotten to the point where I don’t know what else we’re going to cut,” said Michigan Treasurer Robert Kleine. “You’re going to be looking at things that can
    cause long-term damage to the state’s future.”

    We are already doing "more with less" here in Michigan. Startling numbers: a 16.9% cut to classified state employees, a 42% drop in general fund revenue since 2000. One million jobs lost in the decade, a third of those coming in 2009. 268,000 jobs from the auto industry. And the reverberations from the Great Recession are just starting to hit now, with massive budget cuts to schools and other services - as you are starting to see in reports from all over the state. It's just the beginning. With indications that we are in the hole to the tune of another $1.6 billion for FY 2010-11, and threats of another "$500 per pupil cut" being bandied about, the squabbling over the $184 million in remaining stimulus looks pretty petty now, doesn't it? You betcha. Depression starts to take hold as the enormity of the situation reaches in and touches your every day life. Things will never be the same again, and we have to get used to this new reality. It's a hard adjustment to make.

    Question now is: What are we going to do about it? As we come to accept our situation, slowly but surely, hope will start to dawn in the population as we look forward at building our future. Unfortunately, we can't remove the politicians from the equation (wouldn't that be nice?), and this next year will probably be filled with more obstruction, and foot-dragging, and finger-pointing, as the Republicans try to capitalize on this situation for the sole purpose of regaining power. These studies and reports never mention that perhaps the biggest problem in coming to some form of acceptance and clear direction forward in this state (and probably others as well) is the fact that we have people who absolutely refuse to compromise on their political and economic theories - and that may be the thing that does the greatest damage to Michigan in the end, as we lose even more time due to the political process.

    "Change" will still be the buzzword in 2010, and "change" is going to occur, is occurring now, whether we like it or not. It's what we choose to do next that will make the difference on whether we struggle for decades to repair any further damage done to our state, or, we start repairing the damage now, with the goal of building back to prosperity. Stay in denial, or come to acceptance. It's just that easy, and just that hard, all at the same time.

    Let's hope we go big, and let's hope we get it right.

    Ballot proposal, anyone?

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Over 1500 Rally in Lansing to Protest Cuts to Schools

    What was that again about lack of "public pressure"? Too bad Speaker Dillon wasn't around to see this...

    More than 1,500 parents, students and educators from Plymouth-Canton, Livonia, Taylor and other districts rallied this morning on the Capitol steps before going inside to bring their message to elected officials.

    Their message: Recent cuts to school aid were wrong and should be restored."We came here to raise our voices because they tried to cut money for Dearborn schools," said Kassem Alakhras, who has six children in the 18,097-student district, which lost about $12 million under reductions approved by lawmakers and additional cuts by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "We came here to tell them just to fix it and put our money back."

    About 150 people from Dearborn attended the rally. The Dearborn Board of Education Monday laid off 300 teachers due to a shortfall in money. Dearborn has lost more per pupil than any other district in the state. The legislature slashed $165 per student from all districts. Gov. Jennifer Granholm then ordered an additional $127 per pupil cut because of declining revenues in the School Aid Fund.

    Follow that link to see a pretty impressive picture of the hall outside the Senate doors. It's packed. Kind of hard to ignore that, isn't it? Anyone who has a heart and a sense of responsibility would be moved by such a sight - of course, that leaves out Senator Mike Bishop, who is still clinging to his failed excuses of why the Senate won't act on funding the schools. Blame the governor, blame the House, avoid the fiscal reality of the drop in revenue since May... Bishop would rather just ignore the problem altogether if he can't get his way.

    Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said he sympathizes with parents and schools. He said he's frustrated because lawmakers agreed to cut $165 per students, but then Granholm made additional cuts. He called on Granholm to restore what he called "punitive cuts," including the $127 per student cut that is to start in December and the $52 million for high-spending districts.

    Matt Marsden, Bishop's spokesman, called on House Democrats to approve $306 million in revenue bills approved by the Senate. About $100 million of the money would go to schools. The bills would freeze the earned income tax credit and personal income tax exemption, trim film industry tax credits and grant a tax amnesty to bring in outstanding income tax revenue.

    The DNews neglects to mention the cut to the MBT that is tied to the Senate "revenue", a cut that would leave a bigger deficit in the future. The House has indicated that they aren't interested in Bishop's proposal, and that means that the legislature, to this day, has not filled the $100 million in "unspecified" funding for K-12, even if we DID use Bishop's May numbers. Sorry about the cuts, Dearborn, but they were necessary due to the Bishop-Dillon "agreement" that left you short in the first place.

    Bishop whines to the press about the all the "pressure". Boo hoo, grab some tissues, poor Mike can't take the heat.

    "It's making us go at each others' throats at a time when we can least afford it," says Bishop, "This is a time when we all ought to be working together to figure out how to solve this in the long term, and that's why I've asked the governor to stop these road shows, where she goes out and stirs the pot because it's not helpful; it's counterproductive."

    Working together? When was that? Did I miss that part? Seems to me that the Republicans won't "work" with anyone on this, as indicated by the statements above. So, they haven't finished the original budget, the hole is getting deeper, and the Republicans are still saying "No!" to funding the schools. Governor Granholm says that the education community is now suggesting a ballot proposal, and unfortunately that might be just what it takes to get this accomplished in the end.

    Granholm added she hopes Bishop and other Republicans listen to educators and other constituents "who hired them" and support "narrowly targeted" revenue increases for schools. Up until now, the Senate has taken a "no, no, no" stance on revenue, she said.

    The governor said the education community favors a ballot plan to extend the sales tax to services. She said she would back the proposal if school officials want to take the lead on selling it to voters.

    Sounds good. A graduated income tax, and an extension of taxes to services (like most states); let's put it on the ballot if the legislature won't act. Time to get our tax system in line with today's economy, and let's leave the fiscally irresponsible Republicans out of the picture. If Bishop's only answers to this situation are to ignore the problem and/or make it worse by insisting on "more tax cuts", the Republicans need to be disqualified when it comes to working on a solution. The schools may have to go through a really rough year until it happens though, but at least it would be out of Mike Bishop's hands at that point.

    Get some lawyers on this, and let's do it.

    How Republicans Raise Taxes: Massive Cuts to Grand Rapids Police and Fire Departments Announced

    Grand Rapids, like every other city/town/county in the state of Michigan, is facing a huge budget deficit due to the Bishop-Dillon cuts to state revenue sharing and a drop in local property tax collection. This morning, Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom announced that we will be losing 125 city employees to deal with the shortfall, in what is being called "one of most dire budget cycles in the city's history". Of the 125 employees cut - 69 will come from the police and fire departments.

    The job cuts will reduce the city's workforce by 23 percent from 2002 levels.

    Despite cuts to the police departments, community policing will remain a top priority, according to a series of memos prepared for city commissioners.

    It will be up to police administrators to figure out how to do that with fewer officers.

    In the fire department, no firehouses will close, but two fire companies will disband. That plan could involve combining two engine and ladder companies. The department also is considering limiting responses to nonlife-threatening medical calls.

    Public safety will still be a priority, but fewer officers will probably mean longer response times, and perhaps even the same "limited responses" being considered by the fire department. A massive reorganization of city departments is underway, with the number being cut from 24 to 15, and remaining employees being asked to take up some of the slack. While streamlining and condensing isn't necessarily a bad thing, you can almost guarantee that doing business with the city will become more time consuming for citizens as these employees are asked to carry more responsibility.

    And here comes the kicker - your "taxes" will go up anyway, as the city asks residents in various ways for more money to fund operations.

    Along with layoffs, city commissioners will be asked to approve a measure that would reduce personal and dependent tax exemptions from $750 to $600 per person.

    The change would cost a resident family of four just less than $8 a year, and a nonresident family of four just less than $4 per year. Grand Rapids would collect a little more than $400,000 each year in new revenue.

    Residents also may have to pay for streets lights. City officials are considering taking the service out of the general-fund budget and assessing residents based on the frontage of their property.

    Most people would pay between $25 and $48 dollars per year to light the street in front of their houses.

    Neighborhood groups are already calling for higher taxes to save police and fire fighters.

    At their meeting Monday night, members of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization said they are worried about the loss of so many public safety employees, and some are even willing to pay higher taxes if that's what it will take to feel safe in the city.

    "We all understand the city doesn't have the money," says Steketee. "It's got to come from somewhere."

    "It's going to cost more to live here if you want to continue to have the things we have enjoyed to this point," agreed Grand Rapids firefighter Casey Speilmacher. "We need some additional funding from the citizens. A tax increase or whatever you want to call it."

    And they may get their wish, as the police officers' union is in the early planning stages of considering a public safety millage to put before the voters.

    Police and fire union leaders said Thursday they are expecting layoffs among their ranks, and the top police representative said officers are exploring whether a public-safety tax is feasible to restore jobs.

    Mike Bishop and the Senate Republicans may crow about how they have refused to raise taxes, but all they have done is pass the buck down to local city leaders across the state. You will pay, one way or the other, and I will hazard a guess that you will start to see things like this all over Michigan as cities scramble to fill the holes created by the Bishop-Dillon budget and their own drop in tax collection. Or, you can just do without the local police and fire department, but your insurance company probably will have something to say about that - so you might as well just pay the taxes and get it over with.

    The Senate Republicans may have dodged their responsibility to the citizens of this state, but you are going to receive the bill anyway. Something to keep in mind the next time the teabaggers and campaigning "conservative" politicians yell for "more tax cuts!"

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    NFL Week 9

    Washington at Atlanta
    Arizona at Chicago
    Baltimore at Cincinnati
    Houston at Indianapolis
    Miami at New England
    Green Bay at Tampa Bay
    Kansas City at Jacksonville

    Carolina at New Orleans
    Detroit at Seattle
    Tennessee at San Francisco
    San Diego at NY Giants
    Dallas at Philadelphia

    Pittsburgh at Denver

    8-5 last week, 80-36 for the year.

    6-7 this week (bah), 86-43 for the year.

    No Post Left Behind

    (Just realized I forgot to cross this from BFM - this was from Sunday, Nov. 8th)

    US House Democrats, after last night's historic vote.

    Forgive me for not celebrating. While I realize that this bill is a giant step forward towards providing affordable health care for Americans, I cannot get past the insulting and degrading Stupak amendment. Just can't do it. Yes, we live to fight another day, it may be stripped from the final product, it may be challenged in court, etc. and so on - but to me this is yet another example of how Democrats will throw large portions of their base overboard to appease the wingnuts, and that is a sure-fire recipe for defeat in 2010. Mark my words.

    One step forward, two steps back.

    I do want to congratulate Rep. Dingell, who has spent a lifetime on this issue:

    Democrats wavering on the health care bill will have their heart-strings tugged by the man overseeing today's planned vote: Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the Dean of the House of Representatives and the longest-serving member in history.

    Dingell's late father, also a congressman, introduced the first bill to provide national health insurance in 1933, and his son has continued a tradition started by his father by introducing health care legislation at the beginning of every session of Congress.

    Rep. Dingell last led debate on a vote on April 8, 1965, the day the House passed legislation creating Medicare, according to his office.

    In April of 1965, my 20 year-old mother was 7 months pregnant with me, getting ready to move back to Grand Rapids from Chicago. Today, I'm wearing reading glasses to type this. 'Nuff said.

    I also want to give a big shout-out and deep, heart-felt thanks to Congressman Mark Schauer, who would have every excuse in the world to bow to the pressure of the "conservative" talking points - and yet he does not. Schauer is a stand-up guy, no matter what the personal cost. If you are so inclined, throw a little love the Congressman's way, because you know the crazies will be out in full force after him...

    Today America took an important, historic step towards fixing our broken health care system... but the battle doesn't end here. I promise to keep fighting until the President signs a bill that offers every American access to quality, affordable health insurance. And with your continued support, I know we'll get the job done.

    The battle is not over, the battle is never over, and we need to support those that will keep fighting for progress.

    Now on to the Senate, where it's anybody's guess as to what happens next...

    Saturday, November 07, 2009

    Saturday News Dump

    President Obama speaks about the tragedy at Ft. Hood in this week's address. Listen, and take a moment for reflection. Flags will be at half-staff through Veteran's Day.

    And now for this week's "Things I Would Have Blogged, But I Ran Out of Pepto-Bimol", featuring your wacky Michigan Legislature.

  • DHS employees testified this week that they are so overwhelmed with Michigan residents seeking help that they are fearful for their safety, as clients become frustrated with the delays and start to take it out on the workers. Budget cuts since 2000 have already trimmed the department by a total of 3,600 employees, and courtesy of the Bishop-Dillon budget, they will lose another 320 soon - this coming when we are seeing record demand.

    About 2.2 million people, or two in 10 Michigan residents, get some type of government assistance -- 400,000 more than a year ago. While the state was forced to hire more child welfare caseworkers because of a federal lawsuit, it would require 700 more staffers to handle rising caseloads, said DHS field operations director Terry Salacina.

    House Republican Dave Agema suggested during the hearing that state employees might want to consider carrying a gun. No, I'm not kidding. This has only been reported in Gongwer so far (that I've seen), and they have a great editorial at Dome Magazine this week concerning the whole budget situation.

    During the same hearing when DHS workers worried about their safety, several legislators gave possible answers. One was kinda obvious: get a better economy, then more people will have jobs and the caseload problems will take care of themselves. Yes. True. And getting there requires what exactly?

    But one legislator also proposed that those worried about their safety get a concealed weapon permit. In other words, get a gun.

    Not for a second discounting the armed society is a polite society operating theory, is getting a gun an answer to give public servants? Would “I’m here from the government and I’m packing heat so how can I help you?” really work?

    The Republican solution to everything. Get a gun. Maybe we should arm the clients too, and perhaps we can show the Republicans just what a real socialist revolution looks like.


  • School funding crisis? What school funding crisis. Gongwer also reports yesterday that House leaders Dillon, Elsenheimer, and Rep. Pam Byrnes are heading off to China next week. Why now? Dillon is traveling with Bob Ficano, and this is the only time he could squeeze it into his schedule. The other two are going with the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. Naturally, the Republicans who complained so much about the governor trying to drum up business in Japan the weekend Bishop and Dillon went to the football game are all for the trip.

  • Speaking of the governor, she is still traveling the state, talking to school leaders in an attempt to turn up the heat on lawmakers to get them to move on school funding. While the governor is proposing long-term solutions on the issue, the Monroe News has a perfect example of the bargaining process as it stands now. Granholm is being flexible on the stimulus, and on a tax amnesty idea, while pushing for these revenues as well, but Republican Senator Richardville is saying "no" to closing business tax loopholes. The article reports that something should be done by the 20th; I guess it's just a matter of what House Democrats will give away next at this point.

  • And speaking of those House D's who can't wait to roll over again for Mike Bishop, we had George Cushingberry on "Off the Record" yesterday, defending the "all-cuts" strategy (assuming you can call that a strategy), and suggesting that the House would be willing to vote for the freeze on the EITC. An elimination of the MBT surcharge is also in the works. I haven't watched the whole show, figuring I don't need to see Cushingberry rationalize hurting the poorest in our state while he gives the Republicans everything they ever dreamed of. Again, no Pepto-Bismol.

  • As if all that betrayal weren't bad enough, the GR Press has another story on how the Right to Life people are seeking to overturn the wishes of the voters when it comes to stem cell research. We threw out some of the most restrictive stem cell laws in the country by a wide margin in that election, so of course the Republicans are looking for ways to reinstate laws that don't exist "anywhere in the country" and fill their campaign coffers at the same time. Aren't you glad that you vote doesn't matter as much as the wishes of the extremists who run the MRP?

  • Let's end the state news on a positive note, and for that we need to look outside Lansing. The WK Kellogg Foundation gave us $16.7 million over five years to train math and science teachers for high-need urban districts. Teachers will receive a $30,000 fellowship and three years of mentoring after they complete a two-year master's program. Participating universities and school districts will be announced in January.

  • Health care vote in Congress today? MSNBC is reporting that the GOP is using "delay" tactics, no Republicans are going to vote for the bill, and it looks like Stupak has suceeded in making women second-class citizens when it comes to their health care needs. That will get "the base" fired-up to vote for Democrats next year - let's throw more of them under the bus! Idiots. See that Kos diary for action contacts.

    Have a good Saturday, in spite of your elected officials. Remember, when you smile, it pisses off a Republican. So smile often, and at everyone you meet - we will get there someday.