Sunday, February 28, 2010

Speaker Dillon's Platform. Why Wait?

Curious e-mail from the Speaker today tells us of his goals for Michigan:

Dillon pledged as governor he would develop and carry out strategies to launch Michigan into new realms of growth industries and innovation, including hybrid and battery technology. His plan includes:

  • Requiring public utilities to generate a significant percentage of power from renewable sources - as a result thousands of new jobs will be created.

  • Increase the Research and Development tax credit to help businesses create new products

  • Increase funding for the No Worker Left Behind program, which has helped more than 25,000 Michigan workers

  • Restore the Michigan Promise Scholarship Program

  • Fund Pre-Kindergarten Education to invest for Michigan children in danger of falling behind

    Dillon said he would pay for his plan by bringing greater efficiency to state government, including reforming the state’s purchasing process and consolidating the health plans of Michigan’s public workers.

  • Let's put aside the fact he's totally ripping off Governor Granholm on most of these things (ahem) - the question really becomes: Why wait?

    Consider the fact that he holds the leadership position in the House, and commands a huge Democratic majority in votes. Should be no problem to get his agenda through this year, right?

    And, if he is a master at bridging the partisan divide, well, what better time to do that when one on your best friends is the Republican leader of the Senate? Dillon should have a great working relationship with the Republicans in office already - after all, he did pass their budget last year. Don't they owe him something?

    There is no reason why Dillon can't get this agenda done this year. Matter of fact, if he is really serious about it, it's imperative that he get it done this year. Next year may be too late. With the turnover in seats, either through term limits or the election, we will have to train a whole new group of lawmakers. Who knows what they will do, or how they will behave. The batch we have right now is seasoned and up-to-speed on the issues.

    Michigan can't afford to wait another year for action - and Dillon is in the best spot he can possibly be in, right now, to get these things done. So, go do it.

    We've already had three years of promises. Let's see some results.

    Yet Another EPIC Poll That Shows Support For Tax Increases

    How many of these do we need to see before the Legislature gets it in their head that people are OK with raising taxes to support state services? How many?

    The public is never going to show overwhelming enthusiasm for taxes, so please, spare us the "we need pressure to do our jobs!" line of reasoning. It would be like showing overwhelming enthusiasm for going to the dentist. Just not going to happen. Taxes aren't fun, neither is the dentist, deep down we all want that free lunch that Ronald Reagan promised us, BUT, responsible people know that you have to go to the dentist, responsible people know the free lunch doesn't exist, and responsible people know that you have to support education, public safety and health care to have any sort of quality of life in this state.

    The public, believe it or not, can be a fairly responsible bunch when you don't spend all your time making them angry - as poll after poll after poll has now shown us. Apparently we have a bunch of slow learners in the Legislature though, so here we go again:

    Governor Granholm and the Legislature must balance the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2011 and eliminate a budget deficit of up to $1.8 billion. Which of the following statements best describes how you think Governor Granholm and the Michigan Legislature should balance the state budget?

    28% - By only cutting existing programs and services, with no increase in any state taxes or fees

    15% - By cutting state programs and services, but also relying on some increases in taxes and fees to raise revenue

    26% - By equally relying on cuts in state programs or services, and increasing taxes and fees to raise revenue

    9% - By mostly increasing taxes, and but also relying on some cuts in programs and services

    9% - By only increasing taxes and fees, with no further cuts in state programs or services

    13% Undecided/Don’t know/Refused to answer

    If my calculator is working right, that shows 59% of the people are OK with raising at least some taxes. Yes, there are some that say they want more cuts, but the majority of people understand the need for revenue as well. Chances are, if you got specific on the cuts, the public would reject them - but we haven't come to that point. Yet.

    This poll contains detailed descriptions on the proposals already out there - those being from Governor Granholm and the Senate Republicans. It should be noted that, once again, there is no proposal from Dillon or the House Democrats. How did that work out for us last year?

    When you break down the specifics, things start to get muddy. Go read the poll for the wording; here is the very brief version:

    Early retirement for state employees: 50%-41% support.
    Reducing sales tax rate, expanding to services: 47%-45% support.
    Expanded sales tax to reduce MBT rate, eliminate surcharge: 46%-37% support.
    Bishop's 5% cut to pay plan: 48%-47% oppose.
    State employees pay 20% towards health care: 57%-39% support.

    Bet if they tested "graduated income tax" it would poll better than all the others... but we are stuck with the Legislature we have - not the Legislature we wish we had.

    For a few more months anyway.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Who Are You?

    I staggered back to the underground
    And the breeze blew back my hair
    I remember throwin' punches around
    And preachin' from my chair

    Well, who are you?

    Whenever I start to take myself, the media, or the polls (or the pols) too seriously, all I have to do is remember this:

    Andy Dillon
    - Favorable – 13%
    - Unfavorable – 9%
    - Don’t Recognize – 66%

    Apparently, we all suck. Dillon has been Speaker of the House for three years, involved in two government shutdowns, received a ton fawning press on a state employee benefit plan that months later still hasn't seen the light of a vote, and, in a poll of "likely voters", 66% don't recognize his name?

    Man. They really aren't paying attention to state politics, are they. Well, we might as well go ahead and lob as many verbal rocks as we can, at anyone we choose. No one is really paying attention. Yet.

    Let's start that tossing now though. Consider it Spring Training, what with Andy finally dithering his way into the election with his official announcement tomorrow. And, seeing as how he is running in a race where practically no one knows his name, he can get away with knee-slappers such as this:

    “You need someone who can hit the ground running, and I can hit the ground running.”

    Really, Forrest? Interesting statement coming from someone who was going to have tax reform passed by the end of 2008, his health care plan done by the end of 2009, and this year's budget done by March. Unless there is some massive voting going on this weekend that I don't know about, that ain't happening either. So, is Speaker Dillon just waiting, in the middle of the worst recession since the Depression mind you, to "fix" all these things? Holding it all back until he is governor? How very thoughtful. The guy has been a master at standing absolutely still as can be, not bothering to use the bully pulpit of a massive Democratic House majority that was swept in on the coattails of superstars like Granholm and Obama, and, in a betrayal of the intention of that electorate, his idea of bridging the "partisan divide" has been to bend over for the Senate Republicans as much and as far as he possibly can.

    How's that?

    People don't know about Dillon though. Those that do, apparently can't shout the warning loud enough. Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks. And how it shakes out from here is anyone's guess.

    It doesn't get a whole lot better for the rest of them, either. About the only thing these early polls are good for is determining how well known they are at the start, establishing trend lines that can point to momentum, and, in the case of a Rick Synder, how much bang you are getting for the millions in advertising already spent.

    Rick Snyder
    - Favorable – 19%
    - Unfavorable – 4%
    - Don’t Recognize – 62%

    The nerd did leap up in the Gooper poll to third place, but was that enough to say he has claimed momentum? Rick better get "tough" pretty darn quick as well, because if he has someone like Skooby, who thinks that BlackBerries are the problem with Lansing ("youze kids git off my lawn!"), already laughing at that 10 point plan, he's got problems. As DeVos proved, it doesn't matter how much money you throw at the television, when the voters and the media come calling for substance, you better have it ready. It remains to be seen whether Snyder does or not.

    One funny result of this poll shows that out of all the candidates, Mike Cox has the best name recognition and the highest favorable rating, and still he came in second in the teabag race. When voters were read a description of his job title, he actually drops in the poll. Odd. And laughable. Look for the nasty from Cox to get turned up real soon now that Twitter Pete appears to be the front runner, even though it's probably just east-siders splitting the vote at this point.

    So tell me, who are you? Some of the other names involved, in order of fame:

    Mike Cox: Don’t Recognize – 22% (Eight years in state office)
    Mike Bouchard: Don’t’ Recognize – 30%
    Pete Hoekstra: Don’t Recognize – 44% (Build a turtle fence!)
    Dan Kildee: Don’t Recognize – 72%
    Virg Bernero: Don’t Recognize – 82% (Dude. The 80's called. They want their talking points back.)
    Tom George: Don’t Recognize – 83%
    Alma Wheeler Smith: Don’t Recognize – 86%

    Buckle your seatbelts, and watch these folks reinvent themselves right before your very eyes. Let's just hope that those currently employed by the taxpayers remember that they do have jobs to attend to this year. People need decisions on important issues now - not after the indulgence of some of the dreaming egos finally catch up with reality.

    Who these people really are will be revealed with the actions they take this year, not in the promises they make about the next. Y'all keep that in mind as you wait on that next exclusive! poll.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    US Senate Republicans Blocking Unemployment Benefits Extension

    This is reaching crisis stage now. If the Congress doesn't act soon, up to 500,000 Michigan citizens will lose their unemployment benefits by July. Image what happens when those folks start defaulting on their mortgages, or end up turning to the state for Medicaid and other assistance.

    The US House passed an extension in the Jobs for Main Street Act back in December, and so far the Senate has not taken that up. They also stripped unemployment issue from the jobs bill that was passed earlier this week, which is starting to look like a huge mistake. Michigan officials are turning up the heat today; Rep. Mark Schauer introduced legislation that would extend the benefits through the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30th.

    Today Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI) introduced a bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits for workers through the end of September. If Congress doesn’t take action to extend jobless benefits by this Sunday, approximately 130,000 people in Michigan will exhaust their benefits next month, and another 150,000 people will see their benefits expire in April.

    “My phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from Michigan families who are afraid that the last string on our social safety net is about to get cut because Congress can’t get its act together to pass an extension of unemployment benefits,” said Schauer. “I share their frustration, which is why I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make sure we get this done by the end of the week to prevent the loss of benefits for thousands of Michigan families. The last thing we can afford right now is to cut these families loose and pull money for basic necessities like gas and groceries out of our economy.”

    Besides Congressman Schauer, Governor Granholm and the Michigan Senate Democrats are weighing in as well. Here's the Governor:

    "I'm hopeful that the Senate will act either today or tomorrow," Granholm told reporters. Without the extension, "the implications for the safety net of Michigan are just horrific."

    Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency sent out letters last week warning residents they could lose their unemployment checks starting next month. The state has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14.6 percent.

    "Without congressional action, some 500,000 unemployed Michigan workers will run out of unemployment benefits by July," UIA director Stephen Geskey warned.

    You also had the panicked governors at the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting call for this to happen soon as well. Facing huge budget deficits that threaten to be an issue for the next few years, deficits that are causing cuts to critical state programs as it is, these guys can ill afford to have these benefits run out and have those citizens show up on their doorstep.

    So with the call going out across the land from state officials and citizens alike, what's the big holdup? Do you really have to ask? US Senate Republicans are demanding more tax cuts for the rich in exchange for this legislation to be considered. From Think Progress:

    Yesterday, I asked whether or not Senate Republicans would help expedite the process of extending unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month, since the last time that an extension was considered, the GOP blocked it for weeks with non-related amendments, before the bill ultimately passed by an overwhelming 98-0 vote.

    Well, it seems like at least one Republican is not, in fact, going to ensure that unemployed workers keep their benefits without first trying to cut taxes for the heirs of multi-millionaires:

    On Wednesday, a top Republican leader said a deal on the bill would depend on working out the fate of the expired estate tax…Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said that Republicans will block consideration of the new bill unless they get “a path forward fairly soon” on the estate tax.

    “I will insist on an agreement on how to proceed [on the estate tax], if we’re going to have unanimous consent on how to proceed with any of these subsequent bills,” said Kyl.

    Republican priorities, on display once again. When your benefits run out, you will know which party to thank.

    UPDATE 2/26: Late last night, the US House passed a one month extension on benefits, but Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) blocked the effort in the upper chamber.

    During the debate, Bunning stood rigidly at his desk in the back row of the Senate and objected to repeated Democrat attempts for agreement to extend unemployment coverage through April 5.

    Bunning, who said he was determined to remain to thwart the Democrats, said, “I’ll be here as long as you are here.”

    With Bunning's refusal to relent, Democrats will have to move to override his objections, but a vote probably cannot occur until early next week.


    17,321. That is the number of estimated new jobs to Michigan, announced today by Governor Granholm and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Who are these people?

    A company that will manufacture equipment for commercial, retail, and military aircraft. A company that will work with engineering, assembly and integration of battery powertrain systems for fleet and high mileage vehicles. An IT consulting company. A recycler and processor of scrap tires. A boat manufacturer that is trying to return to previous high production levels. A global supplier of catalytic converters and exhaust systems, building a new tech center. A designer and builder of advanced dynamometer systems. A company establishing its North American headquarters to conduct R & D to produce electrolyte for advanced lithium ion battery cells. And, previously hinted at and now made official, a company that is rapidly expanding its solar shingle line, working on a composite for wind turbine blades, and building an advanced battery for electric/hybrid vehicles, bringing $1 billion in green energy investment and nearly 7,000 new jobs to the Midland area.

    Yes, that last one was Dow, and they could have gone anywhere, as could any of these companies, firms that are bringing both the advanced manufacturing and high growth renewable energy jobs that every state craves. Usually, companies and MEDC are reluctant to reveal who was in the competition, but lately the announcements have been trying to prove a point. Here is the list from today, with the total number of jobs, and locations we had to compete with:

  • Advanced Integrated Tooling Solutions LLC, 1,435 jobs, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
  • ALTe LLC, 1,147 jobs, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois and Ohio.
  • CIBER Inc, 1,394 jobs, Florida.
  • Cobalt Holdings LLC, 187 jobs, Indiana.
  • Four Winns LLC, 5,255 jobs, Minnesota, Tennessee.
  • Katcon USA Inc, 74 jobs, Mexico.
  • Sakor Technologies, 46 jobs, Colorado.
  • TSC Michigan Inc, 1,673 total jobs, South Korea.

  • National and international competition. Every month. And although today's release don't mention specific locations, Michigan was facing national and global competition to land the Dow projects, too. Tennessee was mentioned at one point, as they have operations down there already. Whoever we beat out, this was huge.

    The first involves $5 million in funding approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund for a wind turbine project. Also, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority approved a $42 million tax credit for the second phase of Dow Kokam’s lithium battery manufacturing facility and a 100 percent employment tax credit for 15 years for up to 1,700 net new employees for the Dow POWERHOUSE Solar Shingle facility.

    “We’re working hard to make Michigan the clean energy capital of North America and these Dow alternative energy projects certainly move us closer to that goal,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in an interview before of the announcements.

    Read more on the Dow announcement here. It's a monster. Governor Granholm has a post about it on HuffPo as well.

    So, every month we get an announcement on how our economic development team has landed these companies. Sometimes they don't pan out, but most of the time they do. Working backwards from today: January, 5,210 jobs, 7 companies. December, 9,067 created and retained jobs, 10 companies, plus many brownfield redevelopment efforts, November, 13,499 created and retained jobs, 10 companies, more brownfields. And so on, stretching all the way back to the days of John Engler, who created the program in the first place... after first trying to dismantle it.

    Former Gov. John Engler largely eliminated state tax incentives after he was elected in 1990. But he soon restored them after Michigan quickly gained a reputation around the country as having unilaterally disarmed in the war among the states for business investment.

    Engler created the MEDC and MEGA, the state's two major economic development program that are regularly under fire from fellow conservatives.

    To this day, MEDC is under fire from "conservatives", namely the money controlling the mouths at the Mackinac Center, who apparently are now directing the Republican candidates for governor. We have pointed that out before concerning Pete Hoekstra; the other candidates are quickly following suit and saying "Me too! I'll disarm Michigan too!" Today, Rick Haglund takes notice of Bouchard, and on his new blog, he sounds the alarm.

    Republican Mike Bouchard, Oakland County's sheriff, said Wednesday he would eliminate the targeted tax credit program if he is elected governor in November. The cheers you hear are coming from economic development offices in other states.

    Haglund notes that Snyder and Cox are in agreement, and we've already got Hoekstra too, so that basically is all of the major Republican candidates saying they would not pursue these jobs. Insanity.

    But (MEDC President Greg) Main said he doesn't believe the state can walk away from targeted tax incentives. Companies have come to expect lucrative tax breaks in exchange for capital investment and will go where they can get them.

    And the stakes are getting higher. Main told me he's increasingly concerned that other states are front-loading incentives and offering up-front cash to lure new investment. Michigan's MEGA program offers tax credits over a number of years that are only received by the companies when they create the jobs promised.

    Cash up front is a concern, but with most states facing a huge money crunch in their budgets, it's doubtful that they can come up with those kinds of offers on a repeated basis. But, 46 of them are offering those job and zoning tax credits, and with high unemployment a nationwide problem, the competition is fierce indeed.

    Chances are the Republicans are just blowing the dog whistle to the right for the primaries, because no serious person would suggest the Michigan commit economic suicide such as this. But why take that chance?

    17,321. This month alone. Jobs that wouldn't be here if the extremists on the right controlled this state. Think about it, and act accordingly this fall.

    Pete Hoekstra and the Turtle Fence: The Musical

    How is health care reform like the turtle fence? No one is really sure except for Pete Hoekstra, but it sounds good when put to music. This video is going viral thanks to the mainstream media (see the Mlive story here and the Freep story here), so I thought, what the heck, we should pile on too. Hate it when the MSM out blogs the bloggers with the silly fun stuff, don't you?

    And it is rather catchy, you have to admit.

    For the background on the turtle fence story, check out this post from late 2007, and it all will become clear.

    Or, not. But at least you can dance to it.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Hoekstra Misses Insurance Antitrust Repeal Vote to Campaign

    Before the Republicans get their panties all in a bunch here, I'm sure the Democrats do this as well - but the irony on this vote was all too funny to just let this slide by unmentioned.

    Pete Hoekstra was one of eight US House members to miss the vote to repeal insurance industry antitrust exemption, a move that, of course, has overwhelming bipartisan support. Via Kos:

    By a vote of 406-19, the House passed the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act (HR 4626), introduced by Reps. Tom Perriello (D-VA) and Betsy Markey (D-CO). This bill is designed to restore competition and transparency to the health insurance market – by repealing the blanket antitrust exemption afforded to health insurance companies by the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945. Under this legislation, health insurers will no longer be shielded from legal accountability for price fixing, dividing up territories among themselves, sabotaging their competitors in order to gain monopoly power, and other such anti-competitive practices....

    Where was Twitter Pete today? Along with Mike Cox, he was getting paid to campaign in Grand Rapids, calling for unionized state employees to join the race to the bottom...

    Two Republican candidates for governor -- state Attorney General Mike Cox and U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra -- said today that unionized state workers, rather than getting raises, should take pay cuts like many have in the private sector.

    "There ought to be a sense of shared sacrifice," Cox said.

    The candidates also said the state's tax structures should be revised to attract businesses and jobs. Hoekstra said taxes and government policies "stifle investment, stifle entrepreneurs."

    They spoke at a conference of Michigan Association of Insurance Agents at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

    Working people should sacrifice, but business shouldn't have to follow regulations or pay taxes. Seems to be the prominent theme this year from the Republican gubernatorial candidates. They don't even make it a pretense anymore that this will trickle down to regular folk - they are all about serving business needs only. Besides the irony of missing an insurance industry vote to campaign in front of insurance agents, you have the added bonus of Hoeskstra, on salary mind you, missing work today to apply for his next job - which he then tells us will consist of demanding that other people take a pay cut.

    Don't know whether to laugh or cry at these guys anymore, but I do know one thing - I don't want to pay them to campaign. Arrange these appearances outside of working hours, please. I'm sure the private sector frowns on paying its employees to look for another job during a work day, don't they?

    Obviously, when it comes to Cox and Hoekstra on the campaign trail though, "sacrifice" is for other people, and stealing from your employer, in this case the taxpayer, is OK If You're A Republican Candidate for office.

    Election Roundup: Win Some, Lose Some, Michigan Voters Generally Approve of School Millage Requests

    If yesterday's elections prove anything, it's that Michigan voters are not adverse to pushing the debt down the road to fund school operations and building improvements. It seems that many of these bond votes extended the expiration dates on existing millages. Can that be called a tax increase? Sort of, but when you are talking about bonds that expire well into the future, as one person in Grass Lake put it, "It won't change for 10 years or so, and some of us might not even be living here then". So be it. Too bad we can't do more of that at the state level.

    Interesting to note that reports of organized anti-tax opposition to millages and other issues were prevalent in some of the reporting; Chippewa Valley and Mason school votes being two prominent ones. Both passed. Troy's public safety issue did not.

    Here is a roundup of some of the votes from yesterday, starting off with the public safety tax proposals. School bond issues did well across the state, other services were a mixed bag. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive; it's just the stories that have popped up so far this morning in local reporting:

  • Troy teabaggers defeated a public safety and operating expenses millage, cheering as the city will now lay off 47 police officers and close the library, nature center and community center. "The city needs to rein in its spending" - and now they will by lowering the quality of life there. Does this mean that Troy will rely on the county mounties and state cops more often, as Pontiac did? And, is that fair to other taxpayers if and when that happens? That is a question that needs to be answered down the road. Cities that refuse to provide for their own safety shouldn't tap state taxpayer dollars to make up the difference.

  • From the same DNews story, Bloomfield Township decided it likes having a police and fire department, and passed their $4.4 millage request 53%-47%. Officials sold it as not really a tax increase, as property values are expected to decline in the coming years. Having lost in the public arena, teabaggers there are now threatening recalls of elected officials.

  • Mason voters approved a school millage renewal by a 2-1 margin. This millage hits business and not primary residences - and that brought out the teabag contingent to oppose the effort, claiming that this election would send an "anti-tax" message. Voters did the opposite, by a huge margin. Epic teabag fail.

  • Chippewa Valley in Macomb County passed a $89 million school bond. Like many other communities, this didn't involve an instant tax increase per say, but extended the life of the current bond by five years. The plan still met with the opposition of local and "vocal" anti-tax groups, but was approved by a roughly 60-40 majority.

  • In West Michigan, voters approved bond issues in the Kelloggsville, Fruitport, and Belding school districts, Montabella voters approved an athletic facility bond request.

  • Escanaba voters passed a $21.6 million bond request. Other UP votes: Luce County turned down a maintenance and operations millage, but passed a $90,000 request for abused and neglected children's services. Tahquamenon Schools passed a school building upgrade bond. Bergland Township passed a sewer repair bond. Bohemia Township passed both a general operations and a road maintenance bond. Greenland Township turned down a general operations bond, and the effort to save ambulance services in Ontanagon ended in a tie. Not sure what they do next.

  • Livingston County voters approved nearly $90 million for schools, pushing debt retirement well into the future. Hartland Consolidated voters approved a $28 million bond issue, and Pinckney approved a $59 million bond issue.

  • Grass Lake voters approved a $1.75 million bond, this coming courtesy of the Recovery Act. The millage rate will not increase, but had been scheduled to drop in the future. This maintains current funding.

  • Ridgeway Township voters approved a millage renewal and increase for road repairs, squeaking by on a 29-26 vote. It's expected to raise nearly $60 thousand in the first year.

    Some of the losers from yesterday:

  • Berkley Schools lost big time, a $168 million request turned down by a 70-30 margin. Voters generally agree that the schools need work, but thought this plan too excessive.

  • Blissfield turned down a $12 million bond request.

  • Atherton schools may try again later this year after their millage request went down to defeat. Parent groups are pointing to low voter turn-out.

  • Holton Township voters turned down a request to pay for road repairs. The Muskegon County Road Commission has been pulverizing roads to turn them back to gravel, raising health concerns as the crushed asphalt is releasing a black dust that covers homes and is suspected to be causing respiratory problems. Look for this to become a widespread issue if more counties start doing the same.

    This is just the start of requests at the local level, as many communities are planning May votes for school and public safety issues. The GR Press has an extensive list of what is to come in the West Michigan area alone, and already stories about May votes are starting to emerge in other areas of the state, Albion and Ishpeming to name a couple.

    In other words, if you value your schools and quality of life, better get ready for Round Two!
  • Monday, February 22, 2010

    LCV Announces Michigan Congressional Delegation 2009 National Environmental Scorecard

    From the inbox: The League of Conservation Voters tallies up the votes when it comes to environmental legislation in Congress...

    The 2009 Scorecard includes 11 Senate and 13 House votes dominated by clean energy and climate but also encompassing other environmental issues such as public lands, water and wildlife conservation. In Michigan, five House members and both senators earned a perfect 100 percent score in 2009, while one House member, Congressman Pete Hoekstra, received an abysmal 7 percent. The average House score in 2009 for Michigan was 67 percent and the average Senate score was 100 percent.

    “The 2009 National Environmental Scorecard illustrates the extent to which the Obama administration and the 111th Congress began to move our nation towards a clean energy future that will create new jobs, make America more energy independent and curb global warming pollution,” said LCV President Gene Karpinski. “However, it also makes clear that there is still much work to be done, first and foremost to finish the work started in the House by swiftly passing a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill in the Senate.”

    Let's name names. Besides Hoekstra, who, as you saw, was already singled out for the Pointing Finger of Shame Award. Also note that, just like the 2009 scorecard from Environment America, the Democrats crush the Republicans when it comes to protecting the environment.

    Carl Levin (D-MI) 100%
    Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) 100%

    Dale E. Kildee (D-05) 100%
    Mark Schauer (D-07) 100%
    Gary Peters (D-09) 100%
    Sandy Levin (D-12) 100%
    Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-13) 100%
    Bart Stupak (D-01) 93%
    John Conyers, Jr. (D-14) 93%
    John D. Dingell (D-15) 93%
    Vern Ehlers (R-03) 50%
    Candice Miller (R-10) 50%
    Fred Upton (R-06) 36%
    Thaddeus McCotter (R-11) 36%
    Dave Camp (R-04) 21%
    Mike Rogers (R-08) 21%

    Pete Hoekstra (R-02) 7%

    Pete, Pete, Pete... the turtles are SO disappointed in you.

    View the entire scorecard here.

    Obama Administration Announces the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

    Hanging Out
    A February day at Ottawa Beach

    In case you missed it: Over the weekend, the Obama administration unveiled a five-year plan that will allocate "$2.2 billion for long-awaited repairs after a century of damage" to the Great Lakes. In other words, it's a good start. The plan assumes yearly appropriations of $475 million through 2014, with $300 million in this year's budget, and contains detailed goals for the cleanup of toxic pollution, help to restore wildlife habitats and replenishing of game fish, and a "zero tolerance" policy in the never-ending fight against invasive species.

    Among the goals it seeks by 2014: finishing work at five toxic hot spots that have languished on cleanup lists for two decades; a 40 percent reduction in the rate at which invasive species are discovered in the lakes; measurable decreases in phosphorus runoff; and protection of nearly 100,000 wetland acres.

    It also will help save species such as the lake sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that can reach 8 feet long and 200 pounds but is endangered because of overharvesting and habitat degradation. The plan promises to provide 25,000 young sturgeon for stocking programs.

    Combined with enforcement of environmental rules and new ones where needed, officials said the plan would help make Great Lakes fish safe to eat, their waters suitable for drinking and swimming, and their native plants and animals thriving.

    Concerns are that too much restoration money is being diverted to fight Asian Carp; environmentalists want to see that money come from elsewhere in the federal budget, and, in the latest bit of cognitive dissonance from the "less government spending" GOP side of the aisle, we have State Senator Patty Birkholz agreeing that more funding should be found elsewhere.

    "If the federal government had done what they should have done five to 10 years ago, invasive species would not be as big of an issue," she said. "The federal government was not stepping up to the plate when it should have been."

    Birkholz said she supports efforts to stop invasive species, but does not want to see large sums of Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan siphoned off for that purpose. She figures other funding should be made available.

    Remind us again - which party was in control of the federal government during the past decade? And, how is it that the GOP can embrace the demands of the teabaggers, and then turn around and call for more federal spending? The mind reels. Ehlers jumped on the bandwagon as well.

    U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, a longtime advocate for Great Lakes protection, said he is happy with the federal effort -- an initiative he described as "not a new concept."

    "I've been working to bring this issue to the forefront and it's finally here," he said. "It's certainly overdue."

    Ehlers, however, said he is concerned the Obama administration is "overly optimistic" about the funding solving the massive issues affecting the Great Lakes.

    What else are we going to do Vern, use harsh language? They aren't going to fix themselves, and this is a down payment for repairs. To give some credit where due, Ehlers and Birkholz have been advocates for the environment as much as any Republican can be in this day and age, but they really need to address their complaints at the members of their own party leadership first. If this plan was "long overdue", it's only because Republicans such as George Bush and John Engler sided with big business polluters while they generally refused to enforce existing laws and provide any funding for cleaning up the mess.

    With this plan we have a nice start towards repairing the damage. Thank the nice President and his people for taking solid action on this issue. You can read the whole plan here:

    Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

    Meet Dan Kildee

    Filing his papers for an exploratory committee next week, for those of us who are not familiar with this gentleman - here is the "To The Point" interview with Dan Kildee, courtesy of WOOD TV8.

    Sounds like he knows what he's talking about. Kildee addresses the structure of government, from state to local, and how it needs to change - particularly when talking about incentives for local governments to consolidate service. He also stresses the need to continue to fund education, and also the role in state government when it comes to helping create vibrant cities as the way to attract and keep business and citizens alike.

    Oh yeah, and he nails Lansing on the "political will" statement when it comes to addressing our tax structure this year, claiming it shows a lack of leadership if they simply punt the issue to the next governor or a constitutional convention. I like him already. ;-)

    Kildee will have the same problem that Bernero has, and that is name recognition - but, seeing as how Dillon is still having that problem as well (believe it or not), that area is still anyone's game. Fund raising is the biggest issue, and we will see how that plays out over the next few months.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    LSJ: Bypass the Legislature, Take Tax Question to the Voters

    It should be obvious by now that this Legislature has no intention of doing the right thing for this state. Since House Democrats are mouthing Republican talking points and threatening an all-cuts budget...

    Democratic Representative Tim Melton chairs the committee. He says he and Speaker of the House Andy Dillon agree that there is not the political will or public interest in expanding the sales tax to cover K-12 costs.

    "Yeah, we've certainly had this discussion of we've got to find savings in these budgets - and education is a 13 billion dollar budget line item, so it's a big budget," says Melton.

    "Political will" is the only term that should be the focus here, because poll after poll has shown that public sentiment is fine with tax increases when they are coupled with cuts and reforms. Spare us the "public interest" excuse, because that simply isn't true, unless House Democrats are taking their orders straight from the teabaggers only. On the flip side, you have Republicans who really ARE taking their orders from the teabaggers, and they have zero interest in doing anything at all but causing the destruction of government. That's just too darn bad for you if your community loses police and fire protection, your schools go bankrupt, your kids have to drop out of college, and your insurance rates across the board skyrocket - all examples of back door tax increases, by the way. Republicans have an ideology to serve first, and that ideology dictates that power and tax cuts for the rich are the priority here. Nothing else matters, including your life and well-being.

    Had enough of spineless Democrats and obstructionist Republicans? Let's bypass yet another year of this nonsense from these guys, and take matters into our own hands. The LSJ thinks that might be the best idea, and the history behind this body of lawmakers proves them right...

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the people of Michigan have a problem. The governor has a plan to alter the sales tax to create money for local schools and rationalize the state's taxation of businesses.

    Unfortunately, the two people in charge of House and Senate - Speaker Andy Dillon and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop - seem intent on avoiding prudent measures at every turn.

    Granholm and the voters need to take them out of the equation by moving her sales tax on services plan to the statewide ballot this November. And, in deference to Michigan's ongoing structural deficit in the general and school funds, the governor should modify her plan to extend the sales tax to most services while retaining the 6 percent rate now levied on goods.

    Even if Michigan retains its 6 percent sales tax rate, there are 31 states with higher ones, and another six states with the same rate, according to the Tax Foundation, a 70-year-old group started "to educate taxpayers about sound tax policy and the size of the tax burden borne by Americans at all levels of government." Yes, that's right, Michigan's existing sales tax rate is among the lowest in the country.

    How about this: A lower sales tax rate expanded to services, coupled with a popular graduated income tax. Doable in one proposal? Don't know. Someone would have to do some serious number crunching to figure out the exact rates we would need, but a proposal that would offer an income tax cut to lower and middle class voters that also protects education and public safety should be an easy sell, especially after these guys have to trot out $1.6 billion in cuts.

    The Legislature will not tackle the tax reform issue. Period.

    Looking back, they have spent the last three years promising some sort of reform, and they never found the "political will" to pull it off. For a little trip down Tax Reform Memory Lane, here is a very brief sketch of what basically has happened:

    Speaker Dillon wanted to do a graduated tax way back in 2007. An interesting tidbit from a now-archived Luke story on May 23rd of that year, when House Democrats were considering raising the income rate to 4.4% and putting the graduated tax question on the ballot in 2008.

    House Democrats are pushing for an overhaul of Michigan's 40-year-old, flat-rate income tax. Dillon said his members want to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow for a graduated rate.

    "It's progressive," Dillon said. "Those who have more, pay more."

    It was the correct thought, but it was not to be. The graduated tax proposal crashed and burned in the waning hours of the 2007 budget showdown, and a series of events caused by Republican grandstanding led to the dreaded MBT surcharge that still is an issue to this day. Lawmakers knew back then there still was a problem with our tax structure, but, between being drained by continuous Republican obstruction that dragged on for months and then anti-tax zealots filing frivolous recall petitions, and with the looming huge election year in 2008, the issue of tax reform was put aside.

    By May of 2008, the warning about our structural imbalance was sent out again by the Citizens Research Council and the W.E. Upjohn Institute, offering the same solutions that we heard back then, the same solutions we are hearing again today.

    The report illustrates that Michigan can't march blithely into the future thinking its budget problems have been solved. Even when the state's economy turns around, Michigan's government will continue to operate at increasing deficits -- what the report calls a "structural deficit" because it's built into the very structure of government and isn't caused by cyclical economic woes.


    The report recommends several solutions, all worthy of consideration. Shifting some of the state's tax burdens to the growing service sector would allow Michigan's revenues to follow its economy. Michigan ranks low among states in the number of services taxed. Any service tax would have to be fair, unlike the capricious levy briefly enacted, then quickly revoked, last year. Another alternative is to create a graduated income tax here, as we have on the federal level, where rates rise with income.

    When this report was issued, little did we realize that we were on the precipice of the Great Recession. The 2008 budget skated through with some more cuts, as all attention focused on the election year and our structural "issues" were ignored - but all the while steadily growing ever so much deeper. By the beginning of 2009, facing what would become a nearly $3 billion dollar deficit, tax reform was promised once again by the House:

    However, meaningful tax reform can only come through a ballot initiative so we can address constitutional provisions that prevent us from legislating comprehensive reform. For this reason, I ask the Senate and the Governor to join us in crafting a job-creating, comprehensive tax reform measure that we can put before the voters.

    As you know, that never happened, and another year went by. The stimulus dollars saved us from total destruction, but we still made horrible cuts in 2009. After promising to fight for education, public safety and health care all last year, House Democrats folded at the last minute and bowed to Republican demands - putting hundreds of school districts on the brink of bankruptcy, causing thousands of layoffs of teachers and public safety officials, and leaving cities and townships scrambling to shore up their communities by making their own cuts and/raising revenue. Not to mention the loss of college scholarships which have caused some to drop out of school. Add it all up, and you have a state with a rapidly diminishing quality of life, and a very angry population. And you are going to cut $1.6 billion more? Seriously, who will want to live here?

    That's enough of waiting on the Legislature, don't you think? Three years to address this issue is plenty. The LSJ is calling for a coalition to get this on the ballot - a prospect that would take $1.5 million and an army to collect signatures, and it looks like it would have to be the November election, which is well past the due date on the budget. Governor Granholm has already drawn the line in the sand on school cuts - and this is a woman with nothing left to lose at this point, so chances are, she is serious.

    "If we have to go to shutdown, we will," she added, promising she won't sign a budget that cuts education.

    Do it. And if we can't get anything on the ballot and end up punting the whole thing to the next legislature, then so be it. If we are lucky, we will find some people who are serious about serving the best interests of the entire state. That's a real tall order in this day and age, but when you look at the current batch of folks who will do anything to avoid making tough decisions, at this point it looks like it's a chance we will have to take.

    A ballot proposal would be the best thing here though, before it comes to that. Who is going to lead the charge?

    Happy Birthday Chapin

    Ain't it the truth.

    Mary Chapin Carpenter has moved on from the country music world now, but she never really quite fit totally into that genre in the first place. A little rock, a little folk, but most of all, great songwriting - as evidenced by all these stars, singing her song back in 1993 when she was on top of the game. Having conquered the country charts, eventually she followed her own path back to more of a folk style with intense, personal songs. Instead of trying to keep that gravy train rolling and looking for the next radio friendly hit, she stayed true to her music - quite an honorable thing, to walk away from all that fame and fortune.

    I waited in line for hours to see her from the front row in a general admission show at the Sparta Rodeo Fairgrounds in July of '93. Sunny, hot, dehydration starting to set in, we held our ground as the place filled with thousands of fans. The ticket cost a whopping $5 - and in a glimpse of a future to come, I took a bunch of pictures. At the time though, I was more into the music, having just joined a band myself. We weren't playing country, that's for sure, but in my alone time I would grab my guitar and teach myself her songs. Like Mary Chapin, I never quite fit into one genre myself, carrying that feeling of being a misfit and an outsider, but yet being able to excel in whatever held my attention at the moment. It's both painful and satisfying at the same time, and it's a place I still find myself in to this day.

    Over the years I would drive to Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Detroit to see her again, enthralled each and every time. I hope to see her again someday.

    Happy Birthday Chapin, and thanks for the great music.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    Dingell to Run Again

    Dingell 437Dude is 83 - and he is probably in better shape than I am. Sharp as a tack. He took office the month after my father turned fourteen, he was there in 1965 for the creation of Medicare, three months before I was born. He is the second longest serving member of Congress behind Bobby Byrd.

    In other words: a Legend. With a capital "L".

    I have had the great fortune to speak with Representative Dingell on a couple of different occasions - the first being the convention in Denver in '08, and the best being a few days after he had gaveled the House health care bill to passage last year. We had a good chat about what may happen with the bill in the Senate, I thanked him for his work and his service on this and many other issues, and you know what he did? He told me it was a great honor to serve - and then he proceeded to give a lot of the credit for movement on health care to Nancy Pelosi. Realizing the rumored friction between the two, I was a bit surprised to hear this. Paraphrasing here: "We've had our differences in the past, but she did an exceptional job of rounding everyone up and getting this though". And he continued on after that. Nothing but praise for the Speaker - and that is the hallmark of a class act, being able to applaud a victory for one who had seemingly been a rival.

    Dingell, 83, had serious knee surgery in 2008 and often uses crutches and a cranberry-colored electric scooter to keep up with the hectic schedule on Capitol Hill. He rarely misses votes: he missed 3.6 percent of votes this term, putting him in the middle of the Michigan delegation.

    Dingell rebounded after losing his chairmanship, proving to be a trusted and heavily relied-upon team player by House Democratic leadership. He carries the title "chairman emeritus" of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    Even without the chairman's gavel, his influence has been felt during this high-stakes term for Michigan and its automakers.

    He helped stabilize the auto industry, and helped push through the cash-for-clunkers program and the health care bill.

    Best wishes for long life and good health to the Congressman - and profound gratitude for the many years of service. They don't make 'em quite like that anymore.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Granholm Opens State Health-Care Plans to Local Governments, School Districts and Universities

    Boom, there it is.

    Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today issued Executive Directive 2010-1 that clears the way for local units of government and other public entities such as school districts and universities to participate in state of Michigan health-care benefit plans offered to state employees. The action is part of a series of government reforms proposed by the governor in January.

    “A state health-care benefit plan recently negotiated with a number of state employee groups reduces the state’s cost of providing health-care coverage to every newly hired state employee by 21.3 percent,” Granholm said. “By offering other public employers and their employees the option of participating in this new state health-care benefit plan, we are in essence allowing them to reduce their costs, too, which will benefit all Michigan taxpayers.”

    The executive directive gives the director of the Department of Management and Budget (DMB) and the director of the Office of the State Employer (OSE) until June 30, 2010, to identify and remove any barriers to participation in the state’s health-care benefit plans by local units of government and other public entities.

    Local units of government include cities, villages, townships and counties. Other public entities include school districts and public colleges and universities.

    All the state’s health-care benefit plans would be open to participation, including the state’s PPO plan, health maintenance organization plans, prescription drug coverage programs, dental-care plans and vision-care plans.

    Does this mean we can point and laugh at Speaker Dillon's "force 'em all at gunpoint" plan now? Sure hope so. Will await the fallout from this move, but since it sounds fiscally responsible and reasonable, chances are the Legislature won't like it.

    Michigan Legislature Passes Burden of Raising Revenue Down to Local Communities

    Oct. 30th, 2009:

    "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."

    The rest of us are still "moving on" from the fallout of last year's Bishop-Dillon budget, with city leaders across the state now shouldering the burden of having to keep their communities livable and their citizens safe after the Legislature decided to punt on the issue. Joining earlier examples of Troy, Wyoming, Kentwood, Bloomfield Township, and others that we have probably forgotten in the past few months, here are a few more recent examples of Michigan cities that are left to clean up state lawmakers never-ending avoidance of fulfilling their duties to the public.

    The city of Grand Rapids, after exhausting just about every avenue they can think of to cut the budget, will ask voters on May 4th for an income tax increase that will go towards recalling laid-off firefighters and police officers, and restore some park maintenance work. An increase in the income tax from 1.3% to 1.5% is expected to raise $7 million, and will sunset in five years. The city commission passed this request on a 6-0 vote.

    If city voters approve the increase, commissioners committed to spending some of the $7 million in new money on a downtown fire squad that would serve the entire city and community policing officers for each neighborhood. Commissioners stressed the request was a five-year temporary fix aimed at getting City Hall through a "transformation" process that promises a leaner, more efficient government.

    "It gives us a window of opportunity to re-invent ourselves," said 2nd Ward City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss. "We need to use tax dollars more creatively and we need to find sustainable solutions."

    Mayor George Heartwell said the tax increase would be the city's first since 1994 and comes after the city cut more than $100 million in spending over the past decade. Despite sacrifices by city employees, the elimination of hundreds of city jobs, "we are still staring down the gun barrel of a $17 million deficit," Heartwell said.

    The local teabaggers are saddling up to oppose, of course, as is the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Heartwell called the GR CoC opposition "short-sighted and thoughtless". One might add "hypocritical" as well, for they are yet another business organization who supports a gas tax increase to fix the roads - but suddenly becomes apoplectic about protecting the "taxpayers wallets" when it comes to fire protection and police.

    Just to the west of Grand Rapids, the city of Holland is also considering whether to raise taxes to fund public safety. Cuts from revenue sharing are part of the problem.

    Councilman Mike Trethewey suggested that if the city raises taxes, now at 13.95 mills, additional revenues go toward public safety services.

    Under its charter, Holland could increase its millage more than 3.5 mills without asking for a public vote. However, the council was more open to limiting any increase to 1 mill, which would generate about $1.1 million.

    The city is expecting a 10 percent reduction in its tax base during the fiscal year that begins July 1, resulting in a loss of $1.6 million. It also is projecting a $400,000 cut in state revenue sharing, on top of $487,000 lost this year.

    There have also been suggestions that they privatize the area's major tourist attraction Windmill Island, which draws thousands of visitors at Tulip Time, but it's doubtful that move would save them money.

    Ann Arbor is considering dropping property taxes and replacing them with an income tax, joining 22 other Michigan cities that level a personal income tax. This also would allow them to tax people who work in the city but live elsewhere. Budget cuts have stretched services to the breaking point, with more layoffs predicted.

    Already, the city has implemented hiring freezes and asked managers in every department to begin reducing their expenditures to cut a projected 5 percent to 6 percent to balance this year's budget, Fraser said. City officials also have discussed closing the Ann Arbor Senior Center and laying off 14 firefighters.

    And one last stop - Flint announced today they are laying off 57 police officers and 23 firefighters, and closing one fire station. The cuts take effect in two weeks. Seems like a huge loss for a city that size.

    So, since last year's budget passed, legislators have pushed hundreds of school districts towards insolvency and forced them to make drastic cuts, caused the layoffs of thousands of public safety, city and school personnel, and now are burdening cities and communities with the prospect of having to hold special elections to raise revenue, left to convince their citizens that a fire department really is an important part of quality of life.

    Given this stellar track record - since lawmakers have already declared Granholm's fiscally responsible and widely commended budget plan DOA, you just can't wait to see what they come up with this year, can you. The best investment you can probably make at this point is a garden hose that can stretch to the nearest fire hydrant - and pray your city still has water pressure when you need it.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Dillon Working on a "Cuts Only" Budget

    The Legislature is refusing to address our antiquated tax system and is threatening more cuts to K-12. So much for investing in Michigan's future and making this a nice place to live.

    Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate oppose Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposal to raise money to fill a gaping budget hole by extending the sales tax to services, the leaders said this afternoon while participating in a panel discussion.

    The legislative leaders known as the "quadrant" -- House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, House Republican Leader Kevin Elsenheimer of Kewadin and Senate Democratic Leader Michael Prusi of Ishpeming -- also agreed it will be difficult to pass a budget that does not include cuts to the K-12 budget, despite Granholm's vow to veto any budget that includes additional school funding cuts.

    "I think we need tax reform (but) I'm not looking to (extending sales tax to services) as a solution to the budget," Dillon said during a panel discussion hosted during the annual meeting of the Michigan Society of Association Executives in Lansing.

    Speaker Dillon promised "tax reform" in January of 2009, but has yet to produce a plan. He also took this opportunity to criticize the governor for cutting the 20j school funding.

    Dillon said he disagreed with Granholm's decision to veto $52 million in funding for the state's wealthier school districts.

    "I think she could have avoided it," Dillon said.

    No, not really. Not when the Legislature passed a K-12 budget that contained $100 million in "unspecified" funding, and then never came to an agreement as to how they would fill that hole. For those with short memories, Senate Republicans passed a plan that would have made our deficits worse by cutting the MBT surcharge, the House Dems did not move that package, and you could honestly say that, to this day, they still haven't finished last year's budget.

    No matter. We've got another "non-plan" from Speaker Dillon that will probably end up being more cuts to the schools by the time the House gets done wasting another year of our time. Hey, aren't they due for another vacation right about now anyway?

    Following the meeting, Dillon said he is working on a cuts-only budget and has identified $424 million in savings to school districts -- an amount that would head off a school funding cut. He wouldn't elaborate on where the cuts would come from.

    Of course he wouldn't. This does pose an interesting question though: If Speaker Dillon has $1.6 billion in cuts up his sleeve, then why in the world did he make his members take those - and these are his words - "bad votes" last year to raise revenue, only to have the Senate laugh in his face? Really makes you stop and think about why he would put his people through all that, doesn't it?

    For the record, to all those who threaten that "everyone will leave Michigan!" if we dare adequately fund our schools, health care, and public safety with new revenue, be advised that 30 states have raised taxes in response to this recession, with seven more considering raising taxes this year (counting Michigan as one of the seven). Just so you know. Before you pack your bags and all.

    Of the 30 that have already passed increases: 11 states went for personal income tax increases or reductions of exemptions, 12 states passed sales tax increases, either by a higher rate or expanding to cover more services, 11 states increased business taxes, again by raising rates or limiting deductions and credits, 15 states raised alcohol and/or tobacco taxes, 12 states raised motor vehicle fees or fuel taxes, and 15 states raised "other" fees to meet budget deficits.

    Nice to know that someone gives a damn about quality of life in this country.

    Chicago Chef has an Answer to the Asian Carp Problem

    Doesn't mean we shouldn't work to keep them out of the Great Lakes - but one Chicago chef has found some tasty solutions for dealing with these fish. This story ran on ABC World News Tonight last Saturday:

    Illinois wildlife officials are starting a new hunt for the fish in rivers and canals near the electric barriers, trying to find solid evidence of their presence in the area.

    "We have got to find where these fish are at so we can hopefully validate the (DNA) evidence," McCloud said.

    Crews will focus on areas where warm water from industrial operations enters the waterways. Fish tend to congregate near the warmer water in the winter as temperatures drop. Workers and fishermen will use commercial fishing nets and electrofishing to search over the next two to three weeks, officials said.

    So far, only the one fish has been found - we will see if this search turns up any more. If so, time to look into those recipes, or maybe even further opportunities for export. Didn't President Obama say something about increasing US exports? Well, let's send them back to China.

    Some estimate the Illinois River has tens of millions of pounds of harvestable Asian carp, a tantalizing prospect for anglers and entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on this slimy, silvery gold rush.

    Schafer Fisheries alone processes about 12 million pounds of carp a year from a 30,000-square-foot facility near the banks of the Mississippi River, across from Iowa. Nearly 10 million pounds are shipped to China, Japan, Canada and Europe, McNitt said. The remaining 2 million pounds go to restaurants and ethnic grocery markets in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

    Something to consider if we can't find a way to stop them.

    Tuesday Afternoon Stew

    Bunch of little things to talk about. I get in the habit of writing these kinds of diaries and sometimes can't shake myself out of it...

  • VP Joe Biden stopped in Saginaw to highlight the benefits of the Recovery Act, coming up on its one-year anniversary. Job training for workers, investment in green jobs that is certainly paying off in the land of Dow, the instant jobs created by road funding, the help to state budgets that kept "teachers, cops and road workers" on the job (Carl Levin's words. Imagine if we had made $3 billion in cuts to the budget last year instead of $1 billion.), the tax cut to working Americans - and the most important benefit that is certainly overlooked by most that want that pony right now - it kept us out of a Depression with a capital D.

    In addition to helping the country avoid a depression, Biden said, “The recovery act is working, it’s not only helping Saginaw get back on its feet, it’s the laying the foundation for long term recovery in the future.It’s taking a while to get out of this ditch, but it’s working. It’s helped in pulling us back from the brink.”

    How to get the public to understand what that means, how bad it would have been without it? Tours like this certainly help, but Congress and our Legislature still need to get off their duff and build on what we have started so we don't backslide. The cowards are heading for the exits, who will stand up?

  • Along the lines of "laying the foundation", the New York Times had a great story on how auto parts suppliers in the Detroit area are retooling and expanding into new business opportunities. The defense industry, aerospace, renewable energy including batteries, solar and wind, and innovations in the auto industry itself have seen "multinationals and start-ups alike coming to the state to build, buy or design a hodgepodge of products" in the past two years, as existing companies branch out as well. The seeds have been planted, and the jobs are either already here or certainly on the way.

  • One who knows all about those seeds is MEDC CEO Greg Main, who has been working feverishly at landing these companies to bring investment and jobs to Michigan. The ever-optimistic Main predicts our economic turnaround will start this year, and he can point to the reasons why in this extensive interview with Gongwer via MiTech News. This gentleman is truly a gem, and we should be ever so grateful for his efforts.

  • School officials are traveling to Lansing today to urge lawmakers to take up the service tax idea. Without revenue and "cost saving" cuts, they could be looking at another $255 per pupil hit in their funding. Tom White of the Michigan Association of School Boards reports that 40 districts are essentially in bankruptcy now, with 80 to 90 others right on the edge. Legislators begin the process of breaking the budget into committees as we speak. Any bets on how long it takes this year? Anyone?

  • In a move sure to piss off the Right to Lifers, Mike Bishop is holding up the stem-cell research restriction bills from hitting the Senate floor, citing the "will of the people" in passing the original ballot proposal. Interesting how that matters now, when Senate Republicans ignore the "will of the people" on everything else. The name of the game appears to be one of not drawing attention to themselves as tools of the extreme right wing, perhaps until after the election? Passing these bills would do so, and ruin the plan to simply lay low and run out the clock on this term.

  • Must be Michelle McManus didn't get that memo, because she has introduced legislation to eliminate no-fault divorce for couples with children. Divorce would only be allowed in cases of adultery, felony conviction, drug/alcohol abuse, desertion, or "extreme cruelty". In other words - more government for you in your personal life. Funny how that always comes from the "less government" crowd, isn't it?
  • Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Sunday Olympic Valentine's Day News

    Olympic snowboarders from around the world trained right here in Gaylord - and they loved it. Check it out.

    Love letters to the Legislature on this Valentine's Day:

  • According to the Livingston Daily, Granholm has told legislators to "put up or shut up" (their words) on the budget, and get it done by July 1st. Don't like what she offered, then show us your plan. Since Bishop's plan might be unconstitutional and doesn't contain any real reform, and Dillon doesn't have a plan that anyone has seen - what are the odds these two clowns get anything substantial done this year? The LD editorial board also urged the Legislature to take up the governor's challenge and not use the election year as an excuse.

    Just a note here to consider. The punditry who say this can't be done in an election year are simply giving lawmakers a free pass to not do their jobs. Next year, the excuse will be, "We're too new and don't know what we're doing yet!". The year after that, it's another election year. And on it goes. Sorry, but the excuses aren't going over with the public anymore. This current batch of lawmakers is as seasoned as they come, and if they can't get anything done - we should throw the whole damn lot of them out and start over anyway. So not joking about that.

  • Derek Melot at the LSJ picks up on Andy Dillon's backstabbing routine, and tells the world something that has been pretty evident to anyone that has been really paying attention for the past three years:

    But Dillon, you see, isn't a serious guy. He can't even get rid of the ridiculous perks for state legislators. While Dillon poses for the cameras, it's Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop - and the disciplined Senate Republican caucus behind him - who really runs the Michigan House.

    And he takes a shot at the House Democrats for good measure:

    Read Dillon's quote and asked which approach she preferred, Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, said, "The way to deal with this budget deficit is a combination of reductions, reforms and revenue. I feel that we have to look at all of those together." Score one for the governor - though it doesn't seem to matter.

    The House Democratic Caucus seems content with Dillon's little act, while the opportunity for real reform slips away.

    Granholm smacked a home run with this budget proposal - and Merlot noticed that it's the House doesn't measure up to the challenge. Not exactly an invitation to continue to elect Democrats this fall, is it? House members that think all the blame will fall on Granholm as they skate by got another think a comin'.

  • Want more proof? Even Jack Lessenberry applauds the governor's budget - and he doesn't like her one bit. He turns the attention to Bishop and the Republicans, as he wonders if they will put ideology before the state. I think we know the answer to that one, and that was a message that should have been shaped since the beginning of '07. An excellent framing opportunity lost.

  • Peter Luke takes a look at the Lansing-bashing campaign tactics that are quickly becoming the hallmark of this year, and comes up with the one perfect sentence that current lawmakers need to learn if they are to get back in anyone's good graces:

    Public trust is regained by reaching complex political agreements that make a difference in the lives of the public.

    Amen. The public doesn't really expect a pony on their doorstep in an instant, but what they do expect is a good faith effort from the people that they have employed to run the government.

  • One final item: Know that we are not alone in the Dysfunctional State Lawmaker category. In a recent Gail Collins column in the NYT, we didn't even make mention. New York, California, Illinois, and other states have a higher profile when it comes to local malfeasance of office. Why? None of our lawmakers have been arrested yet.

    Of course, we got many irritated comments from residents of Illinois, most of whom were offended by the suggestion that New York was even in their league. (“Are you kidding? It’s Illinois in a walk.”) They demanded, rather haughtily, to know how many ex-governors of New York had passed through the penal system in recent years. “We have almost four,” one reader bragged, counting the Blagojeviches before they’re hatched.

    When you go read that article for some real entertaining state shenanigans, you realize: Heck, Michigan lawmakers can't even do that right.

    Hugs and kisses to our lawmakers today. I'm hoping that you prove all the nay-sayers (including myself) wrong this year, but as you can probably tell, I have severe doubts about that. Show some effort, for the good of this state, please. Or the beatings will continue.
  • Saturday, February 13, 2010

    It's NOT OK if You're A Republican!

    You have to pity the Republicans, such delicate flowers are they. One harsh word and they wilt immediately, busting out in tears as they run to file a frivolous lawsuit check with their lawyers to see if there is any recourse to heal the wounds caused by the mean, mean things... that other Republicans are saying about them. So, while the MI GOP makes YouTube videos attacking Granholm and Bernero that your local pre-teen girl clique would be proud of, keep a kind thought for those broken-hearted and discouraged GOP candidates for governor. Life is so unfair!

    Rick Snyder, currently running a TV ad in heavy rotation that places Kwame Kilpatrick's picture back-to-back with Mike Cox as he lambastes "career politicians", is beside himself that robocalls and radio spots are calling attention to his outsourcing jobs while at Gateway. The nerve!

    Snyder griped on Detroit talk radio Tuesday: "They're making up stuff. That's the dirty, crummy politics."

    You tell 'em Rick. Even though it walks like Mike Cox is behind this, and talks like Mike Cox is behind this, Mike Cox denies he is behind this, as he says, "Politics is a tough business" and refuses to ask who is financing this horrible campaign. That didn't stop Snyder's people from sending a sternly worded letter to the Attorney General though, telling him to "knock it off. Just knock it off." Yeah, ya big bully.

    Snyder sent yet another letter out to WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids, asking them to pull the ad because it's "lowering the level of discourse for the sole purpose of attacking candidates with baseless accusations", and directing listeners to a website for more of the same. WOOD declined and told them to grow up buy their own ads for rebuttal.

    Snyder should count himself lucky that it's only about shady business practices. Poor Mike Bouchard is getting hit with the smut card, featuring a billboard that directs you to a website that brings up a sexual harassment complaint, amongst other allegations. Instead of being dirty, crummy politics, that's gutter politics!

    "Whoever put this up is willfully trying to mislead anyone who goes to the Web site or sees the billboard," (Campaign manager Ted) Prill said. "It's this kind of gutter politics that has taken the state where it is now. It's still gutter politics."

    It wasn't the collapse of the auto industry that took us to where we are now, it was gutter politics! Wow, glad that's cleared up. The Bouchard campaign should know all about that, seeing as how they have hired the seeming bastard child of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, a dude who heads a media firm by the name of Scott Howell and Company, to do media consulting for them. And he better get to using them soon, as he is trailing behind all the serious front-runners already. Start bowling, Mike, but stay out of the gutter!

    While the east-side Goopers are tearing each other's hearts out and drawing the condemnation of the professional Republican smear editorialists at the Detroit News, no one knows just who is attacking Twitter Pete Hoekstra over here on the west side. Eagle Strategies out of Delaware popped up out of nowhere to talk about Hoekstra's voting record in Congress, and apparently that is hurting Pete's feelings because he got right on the letter bandwagon to Mike Cox as well, wanting to question the legality of such a heinous thing.

    A Hoekstra campaign attorney says in a letter to Cox that "shadowy attacks from secretive organizations" shouldn't have a place in Michigan elections.

    Anyone adding up how much this is costing the taxpayers, using the time of Mike Cox and pulling him away from important duties such as filing numerous lawsuits against illegal immigrant fish that the Kenyan born socialist Obama wants to let invade our country? We have the pure and innocent members of the Tea Party to think about here!

    Hoekstra, who vows not to take part in such a strategy, argues that the negative campaigning will backfire.

    "You go to the tea parties, and the folks are coming into the process ... exactly because they hate this kind of politics," he said.

    That much is evident when you attend their rallies. You never see any nasty, misleading signs or political attacks on others when they get together!

    Hoekstra must have grown more sensitive during his time as a Bush Republican. Back when Dick Posthumus was flinging some serious mud against Granholm in '02, trying to tie her to reparations and Kwame Kilpatrick and basically calling her a liar, a now-archived quote from Pete Hoekstra reveals that he shrugged his shoulders and said that Republicans shouldn't apologize, because "Political races are tough, and they should be. We shouldn't be afraid of tough campaigns". But now, It's Not OK If You're A Republican attacking another Republican! That must be illegal, right?

    For the ultimate proof on the severity of all this mud-slinging, just ask former DeVos campaign spokeman John Truscott, who was forced to defend stuff like this all during the DeVos campaign. If it's worse than what the Master of the Disaster laid down back then, it's gotta be real bad!

    "I've never seen anything like this in Michigan," said John Truscott, a spokesman for Hoekstra and a veteran of many political campaigns. "The overall tenor is absolutely disgusting. The people of Michigan deserve better."

    Yes, they certainly do. It's too bad that Mike Bishop has forced us to cut all the whambulances out of the budget, because it looks like we have a whole mess of dirty, crummy, shadowy, gutter-based attacks coming from the tragically wounded egos on the GOP side of the aisle, and we need remove them from the political scene before someone gets really hurt.

    After all, like John says, we deserve better.

    Year of the Tiger

    Happy Year of the Tiger to us all.

    Johnny Damon: Superstar in decline, or the spark and experience that the Tigers need?

    Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18th!

    It was a good thought at the time...

    A blast from a campaign past tugged at my heart today. From the GR Press, Nov. 8, 2006 (now archived), the local spin from the day after Granholm had won a resounding victory for a second term, carrying the city of Grand Rapids over DeVos by a 57-40 margin. But really set the GOP on its heels was the fact that the Democrats took back the Michigan House. One voter remarked:

    Alicia Eppinga, 41, a musician from Northeast Grand Rapids, voted not only for Granholm but for Democrats further down the ticket.

    "I don't usually vote straight party, but with the state of government, I wanted to be sure we have some Democrats in there to help Gov. Granholm," said Eppinga.

    Yeah. Like that.

    The change was good news for state Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids. Sak is seeking the position of majority floor leader, the legislative quarterback and second-in-command after House speaker.

    "We will have a Legislature that will work with this governor instead of being an obstructionist type of Legislature," said Sak. He vowed to focus "on the issues that are important to the middle class, to the hard-working families across this state, and not putting the rich special interest groups first."

    Nah. Nowadays we put Blue Cross Blue Shield, DTE, and Consumers first. That's not the same thing, right?

    Jesus wept.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    House Democrats Already Rolling Over For Republicans on the Budget

    We need to face up to facts here, and the facts are - the Democrats, as a party, are cowards. We've seen it in Washington on health care and the stimulus, we've seen it in Lansing ever since we won back the House in '06. Sure, there are individual Democrats who will fight for the things that matter to the people, to our state, to our country, but as a whole, leadership in chamber, such as a Harry Reid or an Andy Dillon, will bow to the wishes of the Republicans every time. And guess what - it's the Democratic lawmakers themselves who put people like that in leadership positions, and leave them to reflect on the party as a whole.

    They refuse to start an argument from a position of strength, instead put all their cards (and that's us) on the table, and let popular legislation get watered down from there. As a result, since the blue wave swept them into power in '06 and especially '08, half-measures have accomplished very little, and the Republicans are now using that weakness against them. So it goes in DC, and so it goes in Lansing - and the polls are starting to reflect the damage. You've seen it in special elections, you've heard it from your Democratic friends and neighbors, who are now saying that they won't even bother to vote this November - and it's not because the Democrats aren't being "bipartisan" enough. You know the real reason, even though the media does its best to convince you otherwise to serve their ratings. So be it.

    Yesterday, Governor Granholm laid out a tough but fair budget that protects schools, cities, public safety, and health care - and it delivers not only the elimination of the MBT surcharge, but an overall tax cut for business as well. It follows the best practice of what all the civic and business experts have said we need to do to keep out state competitive in this economy. A few highlights:

    • College students would get their $4,000 Promise grants, but they'd have to find a job and stay in Michigan at least a year after they graduate, then receive the money through an income tax credit.

    • Business that pay taxes would see a cut, but they'd have to wait until 2011 and it wouldn't be fully phased in until 2013.

    • Doctors are being asked to shell out a 3 percent tax on the income from their practice, but they'd get higher reimbursement rates for treating Medicaid patients.

    • Schoolchildren would not see further classroom cuts.

    • Motorists will see the same number of State Police troopers on the highways.

    • And municipalities may not have to take another reduction in revenue sharing money to pay police and firefighters.

    The budget is revenue neutral. How can that be with an expansion on service taxes? People forget that the 2007 increase in the income tax will sunset in 2012.

    State Treasurer Robert Kleine estimates that for a household at an average income of $50,000, the combination of taxing services and a lower rate would mean a net increase of $140 annually. That would be offset starting in 2012, he said, when the state income tax rate will gradually drop back to 3.9 percent from the current 4.35-percent rate.

    The Detroit Free Press editorial staff has recognized all the benefits of this budget, and offered praise this morning.

    Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposal for the next spending year, which begins Oct. 1, is refreshingly straightforward, broad-based and free of gimmicks, while firmly rooted in the fact that the 21st Century economy runs increasingly on services that must be included in the tax base.


    Granholm has budgeted virtually all the new revenue for shoring up schools. That's essential to keep education on an even keel. Combined with potential savings from reforms she proposed earlier, including a strong early retirement incentive, schools might even come out slightly ahead next year. That's significant, considering that roughly 100 districts are expected to end this school year in deficit and virtually all districts have had to make cuts.

    The mix of tax and spending reforms also gives Michigan a good shot at a balanced budget next year and puts the state much closer to having balanced budgets well into the future. Granholm expressed confidence, for example, that the School Aid Fund will come into long-term structural balance with the changes she proposes.

    So now it behooves all the interest groups involved to get real about negotiating this through. Business associations and centrist think tanks have long pushed the idea of lowering the sales tax rate while broadening it to services. They have to spread out and give lawmakers the support they'll need to vote yes.

    There's a little problem with that already. "Lawmakers", meaning, the Democratic leadership in the House, are already mouthing Republican phrases and indicating that they will bow to the wishes of the Senate. Here is Speaker Andy Dillon, who once again sounds like he is reading straight from the Senate Republican talking points:

    Even House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, snubbed Granholm's call for a broader sales tax that includes services and entertainment tickets to generate an additional $554 million for schools -- an earmark Granholm hopes is a selling point.

    "It's time, first and foremost, to do the hard work of reforming and streamlining state government," Dillon said. "Tax increases should be a last resort, not a first option.

    This, coming from the guy who promised us tax reform in the beginning of 2009, and has yet to deliver that plan. This, coming from the guy who promised that he would fight for schools, public safety, health care, the Promise Scholarship all last year, only to pass a Republican budget using Republican votes at the last minute - and then he immediately turned around and complained about what he had done. This, coming from the guy who has been working on his state employee health care plan since last July, and still hasn't delivered that, either. It appears that Speaker Dillon is stalling on all these things to serve his own self-interests and his run for governor. You can wait another year, can't you Michigan?

    And then we turn to his sidekick George Cushingberry, who gives up before the battle has started. Nothing like signaling surrender right off the bat.

    But Senate Republicans will decide whether the proposal moves ahead, said Rep. George Cushingberry, D-Detroit, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

    "The Democrats will vote for whatever we can get through the Senate," Cushingberry said. "Right now, they have the chips on tax increases."

    Only because Democrats won't stand up and fight first for the things that matter. If they are going to let the "Senate Republicans decide" everything, why bother having a Democratic House? That is a question that really needs to be answered at this point.

    Have the House Democrats passed some good legislation? Yes they have. And it goes absolutely nowhere because they never make the Republicans pay for their obstruction. Once every six months or so they meekly put out a press release calling for the Senate to act on something, but they drop it soon after. Matter of fact, if it weren't for a flurry of bills that were moved at at the end of December, this Legislature would have produced the lowest number of bills passed in the decade in 2009 - and that came at a time when we were in the middle of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. So, how is all that "bipartisan" effort extended by the House working out for us?

    And, as far as those "special interest" groups go - even the vaunted, blog-spamming Business Leaders of Michigan are complaining because this budget doesn't serve business interests only. Their true colors are flying now.

    Business Leaders for Michigan, the CEO group that supports the outlines of the tax plan, reiterated Thursday that any revenue generated by higher sales taxes should be confined to business tax relief. “We believe any tax restructuring should be revenue neutral and we don’t believe the governor’s proposal goes far enough, fast enough to make us competitive,” the group said in a statement.

    Once again, we need to repeat that this budget is revenue neutral. It eliminates the MBT surcharge, and provides a business tax cut. Greedy business owners want to keep it all to themselves though. We don't even need to get into what the Michigan Chamber of Commerce had to say.

    Maybe the governor made a mistake trying for the best possible solution to our fiscal instability. Like Obama, she insists on these smart, fair-minded approaches to our problems, and her own party immediately undermines it because they are too afraid for their own jobs. Or something. Who knows why they won't act on their own platform and campaign promises, but they certainly are losing the trust of the voters who worked so hard to put them in the majority.

    Maybe she should have gone straight to a graduated income tax ballot proposal instead. That is the most popular solution to our problems, and if it makes it to a vote, chances are it would pass easily. If this Legislature insists on following the lead of unpopular extremist Republican solutions that serve the business community only this year - let's work to get it on the ballot.

    And then let's work to find Democrats who are strong enough to stand up and fight for what the people want. As it stands, this group has nine months to turn the message around, but you can tell already that they have no intention of doing the right thing - and prolonging this budget fight deeper into the election year certainly won't make it any better.

    The governor proposes, and the legislature disposes. What they finally end up disposing will make all the difference in the world this November.