Friday, April 30, 2010

Canada Offers $550 Million to Pay for New Bridge

Do you think they want to get this done?

The Canadian government has offered to pay up to $550 million of Michigan’s cost to build a proposed new U.S.-Canada bridge downriver from the Ambassador Bridge.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced the offer this morning in a surprise appearance before the House transportation committee.

The committee is considering legislation to allow the bridge – called the Detroit River International Crossing – to go forward. The state has battled with Ambassador Bridge owners who oppose the DRIC, fearing it would take traffic and business away from the current bridge.

The Canadian offer is a major development that would virtually eliminate any cost for the state of Michigan to build a new entry plaza for the proposed bridge, and to connect it with I-75.

The Moroun people are already fighting this announcement, and since they have well-funded "sympathizers" in our Legislature...

Michigan lawmakers have until June 1 to enact legislation approving the state's entry into the partnership.

Uh oh.

Any way we can go around them? It would be a shame to lose the tens of thousands of jobs that would be created because certain lawmakers have no intention of letting good things happen for this state.

The DNews has more here, and a press conference will be held later today that will offer more details.

Michigan Public Employees Earn Less Than Their Private-Sector Counterparts

Another myth bites the dust. You know how Republicans are running around insisting that state employees and teachers need to make more wage and benefit concessions to match what has happened to employees in the "private-sector"? Guess again.

Michigan public employees are paid, on average, less than private-sector employees with comparable skills and educational levels, according to a new study that compared wages in six large states.

Public employees nationwide are paid about 12% less than their private-sector counterparts. That has been a trend for 20 years, according to the study by the National Institute on Retirement Security.

When benefits, such as health care and pensions, are factored in, public employees still earn less -- 6.8% less for state employees and 7.4% for local government employees. The study, commissioned by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, did not include federal workers.

And for Michigan's public employees:

In 2008, Michigan state employees were paid about 6% less and local government employees about 12% less than their private-sector counterparts. The study counted public teachers as local employees and university employees as state employees.

If public employees are expected to receive the same compensation as people in the private-sector, just like the Republicans claim they should, it looks like we will have to give them all a raise.

Notes From the Underground 4/30/2010

Should get back to doing this.


Ed Retirement Negotiations Blow By Deadline
"Negotiations on the education retirement/early-out bill (SB 1227) slid into the weekend after House Democrats countered a Senate Republican proposal with one that tossed in a guaranteed health care provision."

Local Sheriff Says No To Ware's Liquor License Request
"The mountain Wayne County Commissioner Jewel WARE must climb to get a liquor license to operate the Red Rooster Bar in Idlewild got a little higher today when the Attorney General's office alerted the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) that Lake County law enforcement officials were not on board with the request."

Bishop, Dillon PACs Top Rankings
"Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester) and House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford) may not be the leaders of their respective chambers next term, but both raked more than $250,000 into their leadership political action committee (PAC) so far this election cycle."

"I'd be more impressed if she was going to be on South Park."

-- Rep. Pete LUND (R-Shelby Twp.) on Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM being scheduled to sign the texting while driving ban on the Oprah WINFREY Show.

I'd be more impressed if you guys didn't behave like a bunch of kindergartners, but I guess we can't all have what we want.



House Democrats and Senate Republicans announced public counteroffers Thursday in their efforts to strike a deal on legislation designed to encourage higher-paid teachers to retire and shed costs in the K-12 public school system.


Lawmakers who have to decide in a month whether to move forward with the Detroit River International Crossing got an incentive - the top critic of the project called it a bribe - by the Canadian government on Thursday when they announced they would pay up to $550 million for the project's expenses on the Michigan side of the bridge.


Sex offenders who are homeless would have to register for the sex offender registry under bills unanimously passed Thursday by the Senate.


Lakeside residents hoping to cut back the weeds and snails might have to wait until fall for permission, officials told the House Appropriations Natural Resources Subcommittee.


More Michigan retailers saw sales spike in March, with 48 percent reporting increased sales above the same time a year ago, according to the Michigan Retail Index.


The House passed a supplemental budget Thursday restoring the 4 percent funding cut hospitals and nursing homes took under Medicaid in the current fiscal year.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Campaign Stunt? Mike Bishop Ignores Serious Issues to Play Partisan Games

Your schools are being cut to shreds, layoffs of teachers and the loss of important classes loom as administrators wait for Lansing to finish both the early retirement legislation and the general education budget. Your city is pulling cops and firefighters off the streets, raising your insurance rates and putting your safety at risk, as city leaders wait for Lansing to see if revenue sharing will be cut again. Your roads are falling apart as transportation officials wait for Lansing to come up with funding. And on and on and on. These are just a few examples of the serious issues that are facing the state - and as of now, they are all being ignored so Mike Bishop can continue to play his partisan games and wreak havoc in office.

For those of us who have been reporting on Mike Bishop's activities for the past few years, this is nothing new. After all, it was Republican grandstanding on the part of Mike Bishop and Craig DeRoche that led to the shutdown of government in 2007, and the subsequent creation of the MBT surcharge. It was Mike Bishop, continuation budget in hand, who shut down the government in 2009 out of pure spite alone. It has been Mike Bishop, constantly saying "No!" to any sort of compromise on anything, ever, even over something as inconsequential as to where the texting ban fees will go. He knows that the House will never stand up to him, and he knows the press won't report it, so he has decided to be a one-man wrecking crew and keep Lansing dysfunctional to fit his extreme right-wing mantra that "government doesn't work."

Want to know why Lansing is broken? Look no farther than the behavior of Mike Bishop during his time in office. Yesterday was just another example in an endless series of examples on how he has diligently worked to keep our state government from addressing Michigan's problems. Instead of focusing on serious issues, Bishop chose to waste another day on gubernatorial appointments, rejecting well-qualified candidates out-of-hand, without hearing, just to... make the papers? Be a jerk? Continue his own private war on Governor Granholm? Distract people from the fact that the Republicans want Lansing to fail? What is it with this guy that he can't behave like an adult?

Perhaps it was to beat on the dead horse of his failing campaign for Attorney General. When you have media figures like Tim Skubick saying that Bill Schuette with his raft of big money endorsements is the "likely GOP nominee" for AG, well, Bishop has to do something to draw attention to himself, right? Time for another patented Bishop Hissy Fit.

His Senate colleagues called him out on it yesterday. Here's Deb Cherry:

In addition, it shows that we are having another unproductive and self-serving day in the State Senate. After focusing a full session day on this last week, Senate Republican leadership continues to focus on this political issue instead of addressing the bills to create jobs and help Michigan workers. To be honest, I am extremely disappointed and a little embarrassed that the Republican majority is expending so much effort on an issue that barely resonates outside the Capitol, let alone Lansing.

Mike Prusi brought up the Michigan Constitution, a valid and appropriate question for someone running to be Attorney General. You would think.

The Michigan Senate has not rejected university appointments without hearing in recent history. Over the last 20 years, no gubernatorial appointee—and that includes Governors of both political parties who have made appointments to the boards of control—has been rejected without at least giving them a hearing. The Constitution calls for fair and equitable treatment. If anybody can look me in the eye and say this is fair and equitable treatment of qualified appointees, I would ask you to reexamine your position. There has been no fair and equitable treatment.

Prusi also pointed out what many have already mentioned; what Governor Granholm is doing is common procedure, and that Engler made appointments right up until the very last second of his term. Current Republican Senators Garcia and Sanborn voted to approve those appointees during the last hours of the Engler administration, and, believe it or not - Republican Senator Kahn was one of those appointees. Doesn't get any more hypocritical than that.

Bruce Patterson was the lone Republican to stand up and vote against Bishop's unconstitutional behavior, and Senator Switalski also decried the "partisan hypocrisy" on display as he urged the chamber to pay attention to important issues. The governor's office called Bishop out in no uncertain terms.

"The citizens of this state and our state universities are the real losers today," Granholm press secretary Liz Boyd said in a statement. "Sen. Bishop rejected qualified appointees to serve our state universities, making them nothing more than partisan political pawns.

"He chose to ignore the advice of an attorney in his own caucus and rejected sitting board members like Doug Roberts, who Republicans have confirmed in the past, just to make a partisan point.

"Given his penchant for pushing such a personal, partisan agenda, it's no surprise that he is unwilling to work on bipartisan solutions to the more demanding issues, like the state budget, that are facing the state of Michigan."

Mike Bishop has made it very clear over the past three years that he has no intention of working to solve Michigan's problems. He will continue to obstruct progress until the day that he has to leave office. The only consolation the people of Michigan have is that he will most likely lose his race for Attorney General, and we won't have to worry about him abusing his power and position after December.

Until then, the added consolation is that he will drag every one of his enablers in the Legislature down with him. Republican polling firm Rasmussen indicates voters want them gone...

Fifty-five percent (55%) say it would be better for Michigan if most incumbents in the state legislature were defeated this November. Only 12% say it would be better for the state if most were reelected.

... and this number should continue to grow, as the year drags on and the lawmakers refuse to address the serious issues facing our state. Those that lose their elections this fall by virtue of their incumbency in Lansing may start to regret all the times they didn't stand up to Bishop's continuous obstruction of progress.

Maybe that is how it should be. We need lawmakers who will call out this kind of behavior for what it is. So far, only the Senate Democrats live up to that task. The silence and acceptance of Bishop's behavior by the leadership in the House has been nothing short of appalling - and they are going to pay a price for it this fall.

Too bad the people of this state have to continue to pay the price for it now.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mike Bishop Tax Increase: How You Pay the Price for an All-Cuts Budget

Got Cops?You've seen what they have done to the schools, now it's time to take a look at what they are doing to your cities. Mike Bishop and the Republicans love to brag about how they "stood firm against taxes" and "were able to cut $1.2 billion out of the budget" last year when they passed that 11% revenue sharing cut right on down to local leaders and made them deal with the problem. Chances are that either next week, or sometime in the months to come, you, tax-paying insurance-buying home owner of Michigan, will have to make a choice about how you want to pay the bill for Mike Bishop's campaign slogans.

Do you want to pay higher city taxes to keep police and fire fighters on the job? Or do you want to put your possessions, home, family and even your life on the line, and end-up paying higher insurance rates anyway?

Call it the "Mike Bishop Tax Increase". One way or the other, you will end up paying the price. For the greater Grand Rapids area, the bill comes due next Tuesday, as the city and the two surrounding suburbs of Wyoming and Kentwood will go to the citizens and ask them to do the job the Legislature won't do, and decide exactly how they want to pay to save their homes and perhaps their lives. Take a closer look at what is on the line in Grand Rapids:

If the vote fails, (City Manager Greg) Sundstrom said the city will have to cut at least 44 more positions from the city staff, the majority of them from public safety. Last fall, 125 jobs were eliminated, including several in police and fire, in budget cutting moves.

Another 14 fire fighters would be cut, and that "would likely" mean the elimination of one of the city's fire stations. And what happens when you close a fire station? The city of Wyoming found out the answer to that question a few years ago. They were warned that their insurance rates might triple... from the GR Press, Sept 2005:

The New Jersey-based Insurance Service Organization (ISO) is the leading supplier of fire -protection ratings to the insurance industry. The vast majority of insurance companies uses the ISO rating to set their rates.

In ISO terms, a rating of 1 is the best -- meaning your home or business has excellent fire protection services at the ready -- while a rating of 10 is the worst. Wyoming is rated a 3, but ISO officials say for a chunk of the city's southwest side, that rating will drop to a 10.

That could mean insurance rates for residents in that area could double or triple, according to insurance experts -- increases of between $500 and $1,000 are possible.

And that is exactly what happened.

Just a few years ago, the insurance rating for that specific neighborhood was a five. The home's policy provided $348,500 in coverage, with a premium of $500 a year and a $750 deductible.

Last year, the rating went to 10.

The homeowner increased coverage to $369,000. The premium went up to $1,500 a year, and the homeowner increased the deductible to $2,500.

The Fire Suppression Rating Schedule at theISO measures training, equipment, water supplies, communications - and response to emergencies. The ratings take a few years to go up, but they did go up, just as all the insurance agents warned they would. In the city of Grand Rapids, the loss of 14 more fire fighters, on top of the 26 we lost last fall, will mean slower response times...

"If we continue to take cuts, it's going to take us longer to get on scene," (GR Fire Chief Laura) Knapp said. "That decreases the chance of a positive outcome, in a medical or fire situation."

And when they say "positive outcome" - well, that is where your home and maybe your very life is on the line. Insurance rates in Grand Rapids will likely see an increase due to fewer fire fighters and increased response time, although it's not expected to be as bad as what happened in Wyoming. And not only that, we are set to lose our Parks and Recreation as well. Just a little added bonus from the Bishop all cuts budget.

We are not alone, as Wyoming and Kentwood are looking at the same kinds of cuts. Faced with the loss 15 police officers (out of a staff of 81) and up to 7 fire fighters (out of a staff of 24), Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll told a "just cut somewhere else!" teabagger-type citizen that there is nowhere else to cut. Period. 20% of the city staff has been lost since 2004, and the remaining workers have taken pay cuts and made concessions. Kentwood Mayor Richard Root has hit bottom as well. They have cut "dozens" of people and employee benefits since 2006, and will be making more cuts to police and fire if this millage doesn't pass. There comes a point where the concessions have already been made, many jobs have already been lost, and the cry to "just cut somewhere else" doesn't hold water, for there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to cut.

That is a brief snapshot of what is happening in the Grand Rapids area; just know that this is what is happening in cities and townships all across the state. You can pay for your police and the fire department, or you can pay higher insurance rates and gamble with your home and life. That is the Mike Bishop Tax Increase in action.

Keep in mind too that Mike Bishop and the Republicans are demanding another all-cuts budget this year. The House Democrats quietly restored another 3.1% cut to revenue sharing by closing some tax loopholes, but it remains to be seen if they can make it stick. Dillon recently said he wants to "make sure" to protect police and fire, but if the Republicans have their way again, be sure and look for more Mike Bishop Tax Increases down the road.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ford Reports $2.1 Billion Profit in the First Quarter

Ford Fiesta
Ford will launch the Fiesta this summer - its first subcompact model to be sold in America since 1997. The Fiesta is the No.1 selling car in Europe, and is expected to hit 40 mpg in highway driving.

Wow. Recovery beyond our wildest dreams.

Ford today said it earned $2.08 billion, or 50 cents per share, during the first quarter of the year, providing fresh evidence that the Dearborn automaker’s turnaround plan is on track.

Ford’s profit also eclipsed its loss of $1.43 billion, or 60 cents per share, for the same January through March period last year.

The company also easily beat Wall Street’s expectations. Before special charges, Ford earned $1.76 billion, or 46 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson One Analytics expected Ford to report income, excluding special charges, of 31 cents per share, or nearly $1 billion.

The Dearborn automaker also raised its outlook for the year, saying it now expects to be solidly profitable this year. Until now, Ford had only said it expected to report a profit in 2010.

And for a very positive change, it's cars, along with trucks and SUVs, pushing these monster sales figures.

Through March, Ford’s U.S. sales of cars and trucks are up 36.7% compared with 15.5% for the industry. Sales of Ford’s cars increased 36.7% during the first quarter compared with a 19% increase for the industry.

Many outside our Michigan bubble may want to equate this turnaround to the wake-up call that the automakers received from the Crash of '08, but the reality is that Ford began this turnaround plan back in 2006. After introducing the Escape SUV hybrid in late 2004, Ford debuted the Fusion hybrid at the 2005 Auto Show with plans to have it on the market by 2009 - and they were right on schedule. Add to that the revamped Taurus, the Focus and Fiesta subcompacts, along with the traditionally strong truck line, and Ford finds itself poised to keep gaining market share with improved quality and a very diverse lineup.

GM is still struggling to find its place after bankruptcy, but it should be noted that even they were looking at developing new lines and hybrid technology as of late 2004. Were they too slow to adjust to the changing market in this last decade? Yes - but they were already moving in the right direction when the crash hit in '08. And even though they now are fighting for market share with four brands taken out of the equation, their sales in the first quarter are up as well - and today they are announcing $890 million in factory upgrades that are expected to preserve 1,600 jobs and create new jobs on top of that. GM has a way to go, but the national recovery should give them some solid ground to continue to perfect their product and delivery.

And let us not forget the concessions that the UAW made in the contract of '07. Many people sacrificed to put American automakers in this position, and that came well before the downturn in '08. I found myself wanting to quibble with the President's assessment of the auto industry in his address last week, especially after I discovered that I could use a Daniel Howes article for good rather than evil. Here is Howes in November of 2007, after the UAW forged these new contracts:

By cutting these deals now, in the fall of 2007, the Detroit Three and the UAW offer "soft landings" to thousands of hourly workers. They also limit the damage that could have tipped one of more of these players into bankruptcy -- and still could if the national economy tanks and sales nose-dive or if planned product offensives don't translate into rising market share.

But such doomsday scenarios are less likely today than even a few months ago because these deals give the automakers more financial flexibility and enable them to be more operationally competitive than they've ever been. In essence, the automakers and the union now have a common roadmap for achieving what some said could never be achieved -- a business model in the United States that could compete with the best Asian rivals and do it with American workers.

Long story short, changes were already taking place when the industry tanked, and today we are starting to see the benefits of the work that was in progress. What does this mean for Michigan? Dana Johnson, chief economist at Comerica Bank, is practically giddy in the latest forecast released yesterday.

Michigan’s economy should grow by 3% or more this year and its unemployment rate will drop below 12.5% by year’s end, according to an economic forecast released this morning by Comerica Bank’s chief economist.

“Looking ahead, Michigan should do considerably better for awhile,” Dana Johnson wrote in his latest Michigan Economic Brief. “The economic recovery will work in Michigan’s favor, as it has in the past. And the adverse structural trends are not likely to be as bad if the auto manufacturing sector is becoming more competitive.”

While Johnson believes that the state will once again lag in recovery after this initial spurt in auto sales, he also sees other industries emerging to take its place - proving once again that diversifying our economy is imperative when it comes to our future financial stability.

Johnson said that auto manufacturing will no longer power Michigan’s economic growth, unlike in previous decades. Due to the auto companies’ restructuring, only 3% of the jobs in the state are in auto and auto parts manufacturing, compared with 7% in 2000.

“New sources of economic leadership will be able to emerge so long as the car companies stop creating the huge headwinds that impeded the state’s economy over the past decade,” Johnson predicted.

Now imagine a Michigan economy that can maintain this competitive edge in the auto industry and see new growth there as well, combined with our efforts to diversify into renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, the entertainment industry, the ever-present needs in the health care field - all the other avenues and industries we are pursuing today - and we have the makings of a very bright future for Michigan indeed.

I never thought I would find myself in a position were I would want to defend the automakers - but here I am. Out of the ashes we can start to see the phoenix rising, thanks to moves they made years before the crash and the adjustments they made after, and that will in turn strengthen our position to attract growth in other areas - as long as we don't screw it up with cuts that will damage our quality of life and hinder our efforts to bring in new people and industries to Michigan. Ford made all the right moves by investing in its product line when times were tough, and we should do the same.

Thanks for leading the way guys. Keep up the good work.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fighting Privatization

These signs are all over East Grand Rapids... traditionally a Republican area.

No Privatize

It's important to show that not everyone agrees with the idea that school services should be privatized.

District officials verified that, in the quest to find $1.9 million of reductions in the $28 million budget, they have entertained the possibility of private custodial services. "It is true we have requested and received bids knowing there is a market out there that could potentially drastically cut the costs of our custodial services," said Kevin Philipps, assistant superintendent of business.

Supporters, however, say there is little evidence to support savings. "They do so much more than just clean," said Kerr. "They do minor plumbing fixes, change florescent light bulbs, fix lockers – stuff a cleaning service wouldn’t do." The district would likely have to bolster maintenance staff, he said, noting that the department has been frugal. "We added no staff when facilities expanded, even with the new gym and expanded pool and that is just this building," said Kerr. "All the buildings got air-conditioning in the last few years, but there aren’t any new cooling guys."

Other arguments floated against privatizing custodial service include the layoff impact on the local economy, potential high turnover of new staff, emotional impact on students losing trusted employees, and student safety.

Unfortunately many Michigan school districts are facing this choice this year. Whether it be transportation, custodial or food services, hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs are on the line. EGR custodians are putting together a proposal for concessions. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. East is one of the wealthier districts around and they just might find a way to save these jobs. Others will not be so fortunate.

One thing is for certain though.

"We are doing everything we can to stretch every dollar and getting into some areas we don’t want to get into," said Philipps. "It is time for the State of Michigan to step up and find solutions."

Republicans are proposing more cuts to your budget, will that help?

Didn't think so.


The decision in front of you: Spend millions of dollars of your own money. Spend the six months running all over the state from dawn to dusk and beyond every day to kiss as many babies and butts as you could. Open your comfortable law practice to all sorts of scrutiny, press and otherwise. All for a job that pays a fraction of what you usually make, and will be a gigantic headache from day one.

OK... probably not. It's just fun to string the press along.

Fieger, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in 1998, said he’d have to sacrifice “a whole lot to run,” and said running for political office is a depressing prospect.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done. It’s not something I would wish on a lot of people,” Fieger said in a Free Press interview.

But wouldn't it be nice if we had a candidate out there saying things like this?

Fieger took a dig at Snyder as well, saying Snyder’s 10-point plan for Michigan is “childlike in its conception, my secretary could have written that plan.”

Or this?

Fieger said Republican proposals to cut taxes would be a “catastrophic event” for Michigan that would only benefit rich people.

None of that "I'd bridge the partisan gap" stuff here (and notice you never hear the Republicans worry about doing that). Fieger would tell it like it is, and that's so refreshing you could fall to your knees and cry. He went on to finish that statement with a very dark thought though - half-hoping that the Republicans would win this fall "so voters see what the Republicans would do."

That's not something to wish on anyone, either, Mr. Fieger. But I sure wish you were out there pointing out exactly what the Republicans would do, because so far I'm not hearing it from the other candidates in this race. That is not an encouragement to run; it's an encouragement for the others to start running... against the Republicans. Please.

Could be why none of them have caught on fire with the primary voters yet...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Sunday Paper: April 25, 2010

At the Drive-in
Speaker from the Getty Drive-in Theater in Muskegon. One of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the country, the 4-screen is now open for the season. Want a little nostalgia this summer? Take I-96 West until you can't take it no more, exit on Getty, and it's right down the road.

  • Geoffrey Fieger. Instant front-runner. Tells you something about the state of the Democratic ticket this year. Exactly what it tells you is up to your own interpretation... Fieger is waiting to see if Pacino has coattails before he makes a final decision on a run. Time is growing short, expect something soon.

  • Paul Krugman, on the Republican starve the beast playbook:

    The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed “starving the beast” during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit

    Mike Cox doesn't even bother with the niceties.

    Cox said if you cut taxes first, the spending cuts would be forced and noted that Michigan spends $1 billion on Medicaid services not required by federal law.

    1.7 million Michigan residents - one in six - rely on Medicaid. After last year's 8% reimbursement cut, doctors have started dropping patients. The government has cut 10,000 employees since 2001, and caseworkers juggle up to 700 cases each. Our Legislation has already cut optional services such as adult dental care, chiropractic care, hearing aids, eyeglasses and podiatry. What is left? "The only optional services still covered for hospitals are mental health, prescription drugs, orthotics and prosthetics." Oh, and throwing grandma out of the nursing home, if Mike Bishop doesn't beat him to it.

    Don't say you weren't warned.

  • Governor Granholm took her education reform message to the "belly of the beast" (two can play at that game, Senator Bishop) this week, writing a very nice editorial for the Detroit News that tells us that now is not the time for "mediocrity or timidity". Unfortunately for us, we have a Legislature that has made a career out of inaction - evidenced again this week by further stalling on the state employee retirement bills. Remember how they were going to get that done first thing after vacation? Yeah, me too. FYI - Governor will be on CNN's "State of the Union" today, check local listings.

  • Even the conservative Jackson Cit-Pat concedes we need to look at expanding service taxes to address our chronic budget problems.

  • While President Obama highlighted the auto industry recovery in his weekly address (read the full White House report here), auto industry analyst Eric Merkle has crunched the data, and points out that the car makers and their suppliers will have to pick up hiring soon. Thank the nice President for saving our state - as he said, liquidation could have cost the country up to one million jobs (or more), and would have devastated Michigan. Instead, we are back to adding jobs.

    "Productivity usually grows at 2 percent annually, but it's running now at 7 to 8 percent," he said. "That's not sustainable. All those people out there must be working like dogs."

    He doesn't foresee a "jobless recovery," because auto production will need to accelerate.

    "There's just over two million vehicles in inventory," Merkle said. "It's the lowest inventory-to-sales ratio in 15 years. I expect strong production in the second and third quarters this year."

    He knows his stuff. And as if to prove his point, supplier Johnson Controls announced a few days later that its automotive segment posted a 70% increase in sales, and auto mirror maker Gentex reported record sales and profits for the first quarter.

  • Housing starts in West Michigan are going through the roof, so to speak.

    Single-family home starts in Kent County are up 159 percent from the first quarter of 2009. Along the Lakeshore -- Ottawa and Muskegon counties -- starts are up 113 percent. And in the Kalamazoo County area, they're up 22 percent, according to Ada-based Builder Track.

    Home buyer tax credits and rising consumer confidence are behind the surge. Nationwide, sales of new homes grew 27% in March from February's record low - biggest monthly increase in 47 years.

    Keep that good news coming... it blows the Michigan Republican talking points all to hell.
  • Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Happy Earth Day 2010!

    The Blue Marble from NASA - the "most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date". See more spectacular Earth photos here. They make great computer wallpaper.

    As the country celebrates the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, here is a round-up of some stories and events happening around our state:

  • The Detroit Free Press is celebrating in a big way, honoring 16 individuals as the 2010 Michigan Green Leaders at a ceremony this morning at the Detroit Yacht Club, Bill Ford is the keynote speaker. They also have a list of events and festivals to attend. Check out the Green section for the entire coverage.

  • The Detroit News also has an extensive list of Earth Day celebrations and events, and features an editorial from Kevin Parker, the head of Deutsche Bank's asset management division, who talks about how Michigan has positioned itself to be a leader in the growing "green" economy.

  • And on the subject of that green economy, Governor Granholm was the keynote speaker at the Michigan Wind Energy Conference in Detroit yesterday, where she announced $20 million in Recovery Act funding for Michigan companies who want to diversify into clean energy manufacturing, and highlighted the companies that have already found success in the field. We also received more funding for retrofitting homes, businesses, and public buildings with energy efficient technologies, which will create even more jobs as well as help the environment.

  • For more on environmental action taking place at the federal level, check out the EPA's website. So many links it will keep you busy for days. President Obama has a special Earth Day message here.

  • Nathan Bomey at takes a look at how the corporate conversion to alternative fuel vehicles will help both the automakers and the environment.

  • WZZM TV in Grand Rapids has a list of some of the events taking place on the west side of the state.

  • Absolute Michigan has more links about the history of Earth Day, as well as a link to a great slideshow from the Flickr Michigan photo pool.

    Anything else going on? It's a beautiful day today - make sure and get outside!
  • Republican Candidates Now Using Republican Budget Cuts to Campaign Against Democrats

    A very brief history on last year's cuts to education - cuts that are now being used as a campaign weapon by Republican gubernatorial candidates, even though it was their own party who insisted on making these cuts in the first place. Take a look back at where it all began, June of 2009: Senate Republicans vote to cut K-12 education funding, and Senate Republicans vote to eliminate the Promise Scholarship.

    The Michigan Senate has passed a bill that would eliminate funding for a state-sponsored college scholarship program but keep debate about the program alive.

    The Republican-led chamber's version of the higher education bill passed 19-17 Tuesday eliminates money for the Michigan Promise scholarship for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

    After promising all year that they would fight for education and the Promise Scholarship (amongst other things), two weeks before the budget was due the House Democrats rolled over for Mike Bishop and voted for the cuts to education (amongst other things), thinking they could get the Republicans to restore funding later. Some of us could see what was coming the second this idea was suggested...

    That's easy. They won't. And then they will turn around and use all the cuts against the Democrats in the election next year. Count on it.

    Governor Granholm asks for compromise on the Promise Scholarship and the other budget cuts. The answer was "no".

    Granholm said after the meeting that Bishop is unwilling to compromise on new revenues to restore the Michigan Promise scholarship program lawmakers eliminated, and to better fund revenue sharing to cities, Medicaid and aid to K-12 public schools.

    Matter of fact, Mike Bishop vowed to fight to keep Governor Granholm from restoring the Promise Scholarship. He vowed to make even more cuts if the governor tried to restore funding to critical areas such as education and public safety. He held six budget bills hostage for days after they were passed in an attempt to keep her from mitigating the damage of these cuts.

    The Republican leader of the state Senate says Governor Granholm will open herself to a constitutional challenge if she tries to use line-item vetoes to fund her budget priorities.

    Republicans then trumpeted to the press their pride in passing an all-cuts budget. Here is just one example:

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

    Bottom line on education cuts: Republicans insisted on cutting K-12 and the Promise Scholarship last year, would not compromise on any ideas about restoring funding, actually fought to keep those things from happening - and then they bragged about it later.

    Fast forward to the Spring of 2010. As predicted, Republican candidates for governor are now criticizing the cuts to education, including the Michigan Promise Scholarship.

    Many of the candidates have said education will be key in getting Michigan out of its economic doldrums. Some criticized decisions that have cut education funding in the state, including last year's decision to not fund the state's main college scholarship, the Promise grant.

    "The state couldn't have made a worse decision," Hoekstra said of the decision to cancel the program that thousands of students were expecting to help them pay tuition.

    Twitter Pete and the others want you to forget that the Republicans are the ones who forced the cuts to happen. The press so far seems happy to oblige. The only question now is: Have the House Democrats learned their lesson? The Republicans are calling for another all-cuts budget this year - including more cuts to education.

    Stay tuned. We are going to find out. If the Democrats were smart, there would be press releases this morning pointing out the blatant hypocrisy about Republicans and education funding...

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    MI Senate Republicans Vote to Place New Obstacles on Stem Cell Research

    Instead of working towards bipartisan and responsible solutions to our urgent budget issues (ha ha ha! I crack myself up), today the Michigan Senate Republicans are focusing on overturning the will of the voters and pandering to their extreme right wing base by passing new legislation that will "place a chill" on stem cell research.

    In other news, today is Wednesday. And the sun rose in the east. And if you vote Republican, this is the kind of behavior you will get. Oh, they are "free market, anti-government" alright, except when it comes to bowing to the wishes of social conservatives that want to impose their particular worldview on individuals and our state's economy alike. In that case, more government regulation is a good thing, don'tcha know.

    These new reporting measures and regulations (complete with fines) have University of Michigan researchers fuming:

    Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, said the bills “create unnecessary and burdensome regulations governing embryonic stem cell research in the state” and “discourage our scientists from pursuing research that promises to improve the treatment of deadly diseases.”

    After the state constitutional amendment was approved in November 2008, Wilbanks said UM spent more than a year to establish a framework for the conduct of embryonic stem cell research that meets the requirements of the new state law and all other applicable laws, regulations and guidelines.

    “The new reporting requirements included in these bills would do nothing to advance public health and would create a disruptive work environment for those engaged in this research,” Wilbanks said in a statement.

    Even anti-choice Senator Bruce Patterson couldn't stomach the measures:

    Pro-life Republican Sen. Bruce Patterson of Canton joined Democrats in opposing the package. He said he believes the bills are unconstitutional because the amendment approved by voters allows stem cell research within the same limits allowed by federal law. He said the amendment prohibits the Legislature from enacting more restrictive parameters.

    "I'm a self-described right to life advocate, and I believe my record supports that," Patterson said. "I'm sorry, but I believe these laws go farther than that."

    And if that wasn't enough - hold onto your hats, are you sitting down? - even Andy Dillon "suggested" the Senate was playing politics.

    “The people of Michigan rendered their verdict on Proposal 2 during the 2008 election when they voted to amend the state’s Constitution,” Dillon said in a statement.

    “The Senate bills appear to be political in nature and ignore both the will of the people as well as the state’s constitution. The House is and will remain focused on addressing the state’s jobs and fiscal crises,” Dillon said.

    Whoa Andy, settle down there. Since everything that comes out of our Senate is "political in nature", you are traveling down the slippery slope if you are going to start pointing that out, my friend. Better pace yourself.

    This should get buried in the House, but they were crazy enough to take up the divisive helmet issue, so who knows. Just keep this in mind for the fall: Michigan, if you elect Republicans, we go right back to the hypocrisy of them using "government" in whatever way it pleases their extreme right wing base. Economic growth and the Michigan Constitution will not matter one bit.

    New Pure Michigan Ad "Up in the Air"

    Sometimes you just need to get away from all the noise of your daily life...

    This is one of three new ads that Travel Michigan will run on a national cable buy slated to start the first week in May. Visitors from outside the Great Lakes region spend 37% more per trip on average, so this move will bring us more bang for the buck, so to speak. Just in time too, as people are making their plans for summer vacation, maybe breathing a little easier and willing to spend on a trip now that the economic recovery appears to be taking hold. If so, we should be poised to be in the right place at the right time - although it's a shame that our lawmakers wouldn't fund this campaign to the full amount so we could take better advantage of this upswing in consumer confidence.

    But that's just more of the "noise" of my daily life, and this ad beckons me to set all of that aside, if only for awhile, and get out there and relax and enjoy this beautiful state.

    That's how I know it works.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Over 15,700 New Jobs Announced Today

    Big announcement from MEDC. 15,795 jobs expected to be created from nine companies and one brownfield development project makes the governor go on so...

    This will probably bring another round of complaining from the Republicans who want to politicize job creation with the false claim that we shouldn't be offering these tax breaks, and instead should just eliminate business taxes altogether. Let's take a look at the companies involved and the breakdown on the numbers - pay close attention to the competition here:

  • Minacs Group USA in Southfield. 2,756 new jobs, including 1,928 directly by the company. Chose Michigan over a site in Ontario.

  • Aeroflex/Inmet, Scio Township. 288 total jobs, 47 directly by the company. They are based in New Jersey, and we were in competition for this expansion with the Garden State.

  • Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, Flint. They will be moving into the old Fisher Body Plant and making that their national headquarters. The company is growing at a 50% clip, and expects to hire 1,000 people within five years - and maybe up to 4,000 by 2028. The conversion of this plant will be the biggest since the Ford Wixom announcement. Read more about it at the excellent Tom Walsh Freep story here - and know that this company almost went to Ohio.

  • GalaxE. Solutions Inc., Detroit. 987 total jobs, including 500 directly by the company. Another one that we stole from New Jersey. Chris Christoff at the Freep takes a look at this one and other Detroit area jobs here.

  • Lenawee Stamping, Tecumseh, doing work for GM. 136 total jobs, 78 directly by the company. Ohio's loss is our gain.

  • Magna Holdings of America - four different locations; Auburn Hills, Troy, Lansing and Shelby Township. 1,828 new jobs, including 508 directly by the company. They wouldn't name names, just that we won these over "competing sites in other states".

  • Parker Hannifin, Kalamazoo. This aerospace manufacturer was a retention project, investing in $15.5 million to expand and keep 1,493 total jobs, including 608 directly by the company. A "competing state" remains anonymous.

  • PSCU Holding Services, Auburn Hills. 1,792 new jobs, 837 directly by the company. Florida and Arizona were in the running.

  • Tenneco Automotive, another with four different sites; Litchfield, Marshall, Grass Lake and Monroe. 684 total jobs, including up to 185 directly by the company over "competing sites in North America".

    Bottom line is: We have to offer these incentives. As long as every other state in the nation is playing this game, it would be economic suicide for us to stop. Peter Luke recently pointed that out again - and offered the only way this practice could be eliminated.

    Since states aren’t going to stop vying for jobs, the only way to end the race is through federal intervention. One idea would levy a federal corporate tax equal to 100 percent of state subsidies, so there would be no point in businesses playing states off each other.

    Until that happens Granholm and lawmakers, or their successors elected in November, have no choice but to compete against Tennessee, Indiana or Ohio for jobs. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t.

    It's very doubtful the feds would move to stop this. And when the Republicans say that eliminating all business taxes would do the same trick, the respected professionals at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research beg to differ in a study released a couple of weeks ago.

    The program created 16,700 more jobs than would have been created had the money socked into the tax breaks been used to cut the state's business tax rate, the researchers report.

    Keep in mind that MEGA credits are a "pay for performance" tax break - no jobs created, no write-off for the company. And yes, everyone is being vetted now, thankyouverymuch, hopefully that means no more surprises in that department.

    It's sad to have to defend economic success stories, but since certain Republican candidates feel the need to attack our strengths with their campaign rhetoric, it's good to get the facts out there. It's not a matter of "picking winners and losers" - it's a matter of getting these companies in the door in the first place. If we don't, some other state certainly will.
  • Yet Another Poll That Shows Support For Tax Increases to Fill Budget Deficit

    Hey House Dems - are you paying attention to this? Try cutting the schools again, and you might as well hang up your campaign for election this year. Contrary to what the teabaggers may tell you, poll after poll after poll has shown that people are generally OK with tax increases combined with some cuts to fill this budget deficit. Here is the latest one today. 600 voters, EPIC-MRA, and the results are similar to all the ones that have come before it.

    The poll found support for a mix of new tax revenue and budget cuts to erase a potential $1.8-billion deficit next year. (The administration has estimated the deficit at $1.5 million.)

    When told that a lame economy would mean schools will have no additional revenue next year to restore budget cuts they’ve experienced this year, 61% said the state should increase taxes, while 29% said the budget cuts should remain.

    Too bad our Legislature is filled with a bunch of self-serving gutless wonders that won't do the right thing for our state and our kids. What, don't like that statement? Prove me wrong then. I dare you. Stand up for once in your lives. I don't want to hear about how "you don't know what the Party stands for" or "how much your wife misses you" because you work soooo hard. My God, don't you know how bad you sound? Who is running the messaging down there? Seriously, what in the world did you run for office for in the first place?

    Scary thing is - the longer you screw around, running your mouths at campaign stops and not doing your job in Lansing, the more support starts to slip on some of these issues. Already support has dropped for Granholm's retirement plan, service tax support is going down as well - but people want to get specific on those, which we all know will never fly due to the lobbyists in Lansing calling all the shots.

    The poll, commissioned by the liberal coalition A Better Michigan Future, also found slipping support for Granholm’s proposal to cut the sales tax from 6% to 5.5% and apply it to dozens of services that are not now taxes.

    But voters would support, 56% to 43%, a new sales tax on “luxury services such as arts, entertainment and recreation,” according to the poll.

    They also want to cut business tax breaks, which we all know you won't do either.

    Voters by a 2-1 ratio support reducing or eliminating business tax breaks that have not created or preserved jobs in Michigan – even if it means tax increases for businesses, the poll found.

    Governor Granholm said again today that she will veto any budget that cuts the schools. Good. Better get that pen warmed up, because I don't see Dillon as being able to control this bunch, and he's going to end up passing a Republican budget once again. Mark my words. Sometimes I even feel sorry for the guy - but then I realize that he is most of the problem here.

    It's almost May. Where is the House Democrats budget plan?

    INSTANT UPDATE: WOOD TV, bless their hearts, put the whole poll up verbatim for all to see (Word doc). It's pretty detailed on the proposals, and broken down into partisan responses. Here is the one thing that leaps off the page - "64% supports at least some level of taxes to resolve the budget". And here is how it is being described:

    The poll, conducted by Epic MRA, shows 60% of those surveyed say it's more important for lawmakers to preserve programs like education, law enforcement and jobs programs. Only 22% say it's more important to control taxes.

    Take a look, lots to chew on there.

    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: April 18th, 2010

    Little Boy Arming Plugs
    These are the actual safety/arming plugs from the "Little Boy" atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. On the day that President Obama signed the historical nuclear arms reduction pact with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, I was eating birthday cake at the Ford Museum while looking at a thermonuclear warhead. Very surreal. More pictures from the museum's "America and the Cold War" exhibit here.

    For your reading pleasure:

  • The Freep takes am extensive look at 16 Michigan Green Leaders in advance of an inaugural award ceremony to be held this Thursday, highlighting educators, activists and business people who are leading the state toward an "Earth-friendly future". Governor Granholm talks about the state's new green economy in a special op-ed here.

  • Rick Haglund points out once again that Michigan is on the brink of economic recovery, citing recent statements from Comerica's chief economist Dana Johnson. Key words:

    Johnson dismissed claims that Michigan's problems have been a result of high taxes and uncompetitive business costs.

    "The thing that has really held back the state was the restructuring of the auto sector," he said. "There was a huge loss of market share by the Detroit companies, and their bad performance spilled over into a bad performance by the rest of the economy."

    Remember that next time a Republican says otherwise. Haglund has more about the deliberate lie misconception that high taxes are the cause Michigan's problems on his blog.

  • On that note, Mlive kicks off a new "Michigan 10.0" series on our tax structure and budget today. Peter Luke has a primer of frequently asked questions to get things started.

  • Auto analyst Erich Merkle also sees a strong recovery in the works for 2010, but he's not as optimistic about Michigan as Dana Johnson is. Let's prove him wrong.

  • The Pontiac Silverdome is back in business, hosting a Monster Truck show last night, and preparing for World Cup soccer match in May. Workers are cleaning up five years of dust in the stadium; repairing, replacing, and reopening concessions. Read about the preparations here.

  • Pure Michigan returns to the cable airwaves the first week in May. After the Legislature refused to fund a full campaign, Travel Michigan decided to put the now reduced amount into a national spring/summer buy. Eliminated due to the cuts will be regional TV spots, in-state billboards, and no new television ads produced for the 2011 campaign. Ads for California and Illinois have been running all the time lately; surprising considering they both have a bigger budget deficit than we do. Guess they understand the importance of bringing in new revenue...

  • The summer of 2010 is shaping up for Michigan to be the "hot spot" for making movies, provided the chatter about cutting our film incentives stops. Now. Before you scare everyone away. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Cassis.

  • An All-Star, full-court press was put on Friday to encourage lawmakers to get moving on approving legislation for a new bridge from Detroit to Canada. Granholm, Bing, Patterson, Blanchard, Gaffney, plus officials from Canada all got together to say, "Yeah, we're looking at you, Alan Cropsey. Let's go." Brooks has some "documents" or something that will get Bishop to get Cropsey to give up his obstruction. So once again, the Senate Republicans are stopping us from creating new jobs - this time the number is in the tens of thousands. We don't even have to get into the danger of only having one bridge at one of the nation's busiest international crossings.

  • NBC's "Dateline" will feature Detroit in a special entitled "America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope", tonight at 7PM. The Freep has a preview here.

    Enjoy your Sunday...
  • Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Whitecaps Opening Day 2010

    A few shots from Opening Day 2010 at 5th 3rd Ballpark. Detail on the set here, including player names and a couple shots (opening lineup, first pitch) in 1000 px. Very cool.

    It felt like I had been away forever... and at the same time, it felt like I had never left.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Tea Party Exposed: Old, White, Arrogant, Angry Fox News Conservatives

    Call them what they are: Bush Republicans. Frightened and angry, they want to "take our country back" - as if this country belongs to them, and them only. They lost the election in '08, they see "change" happening, and they don't like it. This movement may have started with the radical fringe that doesn't like any sort of government, but slowly and surely it has been co-opted by the Republican Party. CBS News has the best overall breakdown on the poll here.

    They are older, white Boomers. Now you know why they can hold these rallies nearly every day of the week.

    Eighteen percent of Americans identify as Tea Party supporters. The vast majority of them -- 89 percent -- are white. Just one percent is black.

    They tend to skew older: Three in four are 45 years old or older, including 29 percent who are 65 plus. They are also more likely to be men (59 percent) than women (41 percent).

    And you can start to understand the media fascination with this group; advertisers like to target the middle-age to older demographics who have more disposable income. Teabaggers tend to have higher-than-average household incomes, with 56% making more than $50 grand a year. 37% are college graduates. A whopping 95% say they are "Republican" or "Independent" - but 66% "usually" or "always" vote Republican, and they are very conservative.

    Nearly three in four describe themselves as conservative, and 39 percent call themselves very conservative. Sixty six percent say they always or usually vote Republican. Forty percent say the United States needs a third party, while 52 percent say it does not.

    What they most have in common is they just don't like President Obama. They really can't say why, but when you get into the vast difference in perception about the President's policies, it starts to become clear that they feel he favors the poor - with a dose of racism underlying that as well. 52% believe that too much has been made of the problems facing black people; 28% of Americans have that opinion, a number that is scary in itself. 25% feel that the President favors blacks over whites - only 11% of non-bagger Americans feel the same way.

    And they are dead wrong about taxes.

    Asked to volunteer what they don't like about Mr. Obama, the top answer, offered by 19 percent of Tea Party supporters, was that they just don't like him. Eleven percent said he is turning the country more toward socialism, ten percent cited his health care reform efforts, and nine percent said he is dishonest.

    Seventy-seven percent describe Mr. Obama as "very liberal," compared to 31 percent of Americans overall. Fifty-six percent say the president's policies favor the poor, compared to 27 percent of Americans overall.

    Sixty-four percent believe that the president has increased taxes for most Americans, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans got a tax cut under the Obama administration. Thirty-four percent of the general public says the president has raised taxes on most Americans.

    95% of working families received a tax cut last year thanks to President Obama, but the tax fetish of elected Republican leaders and a media that reports their every misleading statement without correction has the public believing otherwise. That's a real shame. Oddly enough, "lowering taxes" isn't the main goal of the baggers though - only 6% saw that as a concern. Nearly half claim "reducing the role of federal government" is what they are after, except when it comes to the two biggest areas of domestic spending, Medicare and Social Security. The New York Times has the money quote there, so to speak.

    But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

    Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

    Others could not explain the contradiction.

    “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

    Notice the use of the word "I" in that quote, as in "I want mine". Incredible, pathological arrogance abounds with the baggers. This next number was astonishing.

    An overwhelming majority of Tea Party supporters, 84 percent, say the views of the Tea Party movement reflect the views of most Americans. But Americans overall disagree: Just 25 percent say the Tea Party movement reflects their beliefs, while 36 percent say it does not.

    And why are the baggers angry, arrogant, and misinformed about issues such as taxes?

    Sixty-three percent say they get the majority of their political and current events news on television from the Fox News Channel, compared to 23 percent of Americans overall. Forty-seven percent say television is their main source of Tea Party information, the top source; another 24 percent say they get Tea Party information from the internet.

    And they loves them some George Bush. 57% have a favorable view of the former President.

    With an overall picture of the baggers in hand, it becomes clear why Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates are milking this crowd for all it's worth. Candidates will continue to lie about taxes, whip up the fear about a "big government" that will give to those "other people", solicit those donations so they can "stop the liberals", and most of all, fuel that divisiveness that marked the Bush years, one that sought to split this country apart in a divide and conquer strategy. If the rabble are fighting amongst themselves, it becomes harder to notice that the rich are receiving all the benefits of Republican rule, right? Right.

    It's the Bush (Reagan) Republican way, rearing its ugly head once again, the only difference here is that it has a new name. One can only hope that all the Tea Party over-exposure from the media lately will remind people of why we threw this group out of power in the first place.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    96% of Michigan School Districts to Lay Off Staff, Nearly 4,000 Jobs to be Eliminated

    96%. Someone finally calculated the damage from last year's budget cuts...

    School districts across Metro Detroit have been scrambling for months to slash costs and adjust their budgets after state lawmakers dealt them a huge funding blow last fall, cutting per pupil funding by $165 per student and even more for higher-spending districts.

    And after years of avoiding any cuts that would affect the classroom, many officials say they have no choice but to cut teachers this year.

    ... and came up with some numbers to try and count the human cost to our schools. Lay offs of teachers and staff, cuts to programs like music, art, busing and athletics, closing schools altogether, and increases to class size are not only undermining our current recovery, they are hurting our ability to compete in the future as well.


    According to Michigan School Business Officials, a nonprofit group that represents school business officials statewide, 96 percent of school districts say they expect to lay off staff or leave open positions unfilled in K-12 public schools in the 2010-11 fiscal year, which starts July 1 for most districts, The number is up from 74 percent last year.

    That means almost 4,000 more teachers, administrators and support staff would lose their jobs, according to the group. Twenty-one percent of districts also plan to close one or more school buildings, while 54 percent plan to eliminate programs or services just to make ends meet. Eighty-five percent of districts report that class sizes will increase because of staff cuts and closed school buildings.

    4,000 more jobs eliminated. And these guys don't use a multiplier to count the indirect job loss associated with budget cuts; anyone that sells products or services to teachers, students, and other staff - right on down to the corner restaurant or store that relies on school traffic for the bulk of their business, those jobs are certainly on the line. You've seen the domino effect from the auto industry fallout; it's happening here as well. You just don't hear about it as often.

    Some consolidation certainly is prudent. If you have an old, expensive to maintain building that is half-empty and you can move some kids to a school that is nearby, then by all means it should be done. But to increase class size just to eliminate teaching positions? You are short-changing the kids at that point, and some will start to fall through the cracks. The loss of extra curricular activities also deprives kids of a well-rounded education, and that will be reflected on their college applications when the time comes. These damages reverberate well into the future in ways that aren't taken into consideration when we make cuts today.

    It's hard to keep a running total on education job loss because some of these teachers receiving pink slips in the next few weeks will be called back - but anyone that works in transportation, food service, custodial, or other school support staff best start looking for that new job. Schools also need to remember that Republicans are proposing another $118 per-pupil cut to the budget and have no intention on compromise, so administrators might have to turn around and do this again next year.

    It's odd that we celebrate when GM announces 100 new jobs in Warren, or an LG Chem brings 400 new jobs to Holland - but no one is adding up the thousands of jobs that our lawmakers are eliminating when they refuse to fund education, health care and public safety. And it's really odd that a Mike Illitch is applauded for investing in a sports team during a time it was losing revenue, or Ford is applauded for investing in their product line "when its finances were strained", but Republicans still insist that we need to make cuts to the Michigan "product line" of our people and our quality of life.

    So much for "running the state like a business". Republicans want to cut advertising, cut maintenance to the infrastructure, cut trained personnel, and cut the number of products to sell. They will not invest in the Michigan product at all, and would instead let it crumble to the ground. Does that sound like a recipe for "business" success?

    Kudos to the Michigan School Business Officials for attempting to put some totals out there for all to see. Hope it helps people realize the damage that is rapidly adding up in human and business terms when lawmakers insist on "more cuts".

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: April 11th, 2010

    Alex Aliva Whitecaps 7/3/08
    It's official, Spring is really here. Midwest League Baseball returns to Michigan today, as the West Michigan Whitecaps host the Fort Wayne Tin Caps, and the Lansing Lugnuts travel to Midland to face the Great Lakes Loons. Above is current Detroit Tiger Alex Avila, catching for the Whitecaps in 2008. Come on out and watch your local players climb the ladder to the big leagues. Play ball!

    Some promising economic news from the week, with a sprinkle of political speculation to top it all off:

  • Ford announced they are going to build battery packs at the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti Township, details to follow. Ford is currently building battery packs in Mexico, and that work is coming home. This was part of the 1,000 job announcement made last January that will see the Ford Focus hybrid and electric vehicles built at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.

  • The American Wind Energy Association called Michigan a "manufacturing powerhouse" when it comes to making wind energy components, citing up to 4,000 direct and indirect jobs already, with hundreds more coming from GE, Global Wind and Energetx in the near future. We are lagging in wind installation though, ranking 17th in the nation. Some interesting facts from the report: All renewable energy sources provided 10.5% of the U.S. power mix in 2009, and 90% of all new generating capacity since 2005 has come from renewable energy or natural gas.

  • MEGA credits have been very effective, says a new study from the non-profit, non-partisan Upjohn Institute. MEDC has created at least 18,000 jobs from 1996-2007 at a "modest" cost of $3,500 a job. Each of those jobs "created more than $20,000 in economic benefits". But wait! There's more!

    The study also found that every MEGA-created job leads to nearly three spin-off jobs. The program created 16,700 more jobs than would have been created had the money socked into the tax breaks been used to cut the state's business tax rate, the researchers report.

    No-No Nancy Cassis immediately stuck her fingers in her ears and went "la la la, I don't believe you!" at this news, even though the Upjohn Institute is one of the most respected research outfits around. Why do Senate Republicans hate success? And speaking of other jobs that Nancy would like to stop from being created...

  • Michigan celebrated the two year anniversary of the expansion of our film credits last week. Since April of 2008, we have seen 89 movies or TV shows filmed in the state, created 8,000 jobs last year alone, and brought in nearly $349 million in revenue. Total in 2007? 2 million. We are now one of the top three states in the nation for production of all types of media. We might even get a Harold & Kumar sequel, that's how cool we are!

  • Governor Granholm is on a trade mission overseas, visiting Italy and Germany to drum up some biz. Prior jobs travels have recruited 47 companies to Michigan, bringing $1.6 billion in investment and the creation or retention of nearly 13,000 jobs. Very conveeeeeenient timing, given all the press gossip about the SC - which she batted down again last Friday.

  • When you stop polluting the water, the critters come back. The DNews has a nice piece on the new life showing up in and around the Detroit River, but warns there is still a long way to go on cleaning up the chemcals. In other water news, the feds are going to give us $10 million for Great Lakes cleanup, funding a public-private partnership that will address invasive species and other projects.

  • Stupak for Governor? Ha ha ha - Skooby's been pushing my buttons all week. The quotes I've read from Bart have sounded like he is simply burned out at this point though - but with Stupak, you never know, do you.

  • Prusi for Congress? Oh hell yes. And teabagger Republicans looking to run in MI-01? Best take note that the folks up there loves them some government spending.

    Enjoy your Sunday, for the Legislature returns next week....
  • Friday, April 09, 2010

    Supreme Court Justice Stevens Retiring

    What, is today national "I Quit Day" and no one told us? First Bart Stupak, and now this...

    Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, he is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill.

    Stevens said Friday he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July. He said he hopes his successor is confirmed "well in advance of the commencement of the court's next term."

    His announcement had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.

    Stevens began signaling a possible retirement last summer when he hired just one of his usual complement of four law clerks for the next court term. He acknowledged in several interviews that he was contemplating stepping down and would certainly do so during Obama's presidency.

    Now starts all the chatter about replacements, and I'm going to get slammed in the inbox as Gov. Granholm's name will certainly come up again. For the record, she recently stated that she didn't think she would get the nod - but that won't stop the speculation, of course.

    Let the games begin.

    Dillon Comes Out in Favor of Service Taxes

    Really? Make it happen.

    On taxes, Dillon told The Chronicle after the meeting he supports shifting sales taxes to services as the only realistic revenue-raising option. If the Republican-controlled Senate will not do it, he said the Legislature should put the tax proposal on the August ballot.

    "We have abandoned our responsibility in Lansing," Dillon said told party leaders of the continuing cuts in the state budget. "The role of government is to provide a great quality of life, educate our kids and keep us safe in our homes. We need to begin investing in our state and in our people."

    Mike Bishop, to Gongwer:

    “Dillon and the governor proposed a gigantic tax increase at this meeting,” he said, referring to Ms. Granholm’s sales tax on services proposal. “And, as I told them, I’m not interested. We’re not interested. I didn’t need to get back to him to tell him that.”

    This "gigantic tax increase" would eliminate the MBT surcharge, lower business taxes, and lower the overall rate of the sales tax. The governor's proposal is also revenue neutral after three years. There is no "gigantic" tax increase, but when did the facts ever stop Mike Bishop from his standard hyperbole before?

    Senate Republicans will not meet halfway on the budget, so Democrats, repeat after me: "Republicans insist on cutting our schools. Republicans insist on cutting our schools. Republicans insist on cutting our schools." You could even through in the cops and firefighters for good measure.

    Dillon now says he wants the budget done by May - but given the "no compromise, ever" attitude of Mike Bishop, the only way that is happening is if the Democrats cave to Senate Republican demands. Maybe we should draw up the bills for a continuation right now...

    Tea Party Express Throwing the Big Republican Money Around

    The grass is definitely greener on this "grassroots" side of the aisle. As the press is gleefully reporting the activities of the Tea Party Express, rolling through our state on a mission to take out Stupak, has any one of them stopped to ask the party organizers about the amount of money being thrown around here? For example, doesn't anyone think it's a bit odd that they can drop a quarter of a million dollars on ads in the UP, just like that?

    The Tea Party Express, one of the most visible factions of the national tea party movement, considers Stupak its No. 2 target for defeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The group began a $250,000 television and radio campaign targeting Stupak on Wednesday.

    While Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates are mumbling under their breath about the money Snyder has spent so far as they scramble to get to a million or two for their own campaigns, isn't it funny that this "grassroots" organization can offer Bart Stupak nearly three-quarters of a million to retire?

    The group organizing the tour even offered Stupak $700,000 to step down.

    And while the New York Times reports that "a number of (tea party) members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help" as they struggle with job loss and other problems of the recession, it seems that some teabaggers have managed this economic downturn quite nicely. That's to be expected from those who benefited from the Bush tax cuts though.

    The newspaper estimated the crowd at more than 400, including some from neighboring Wisconsin. A small group of Stupak supporters gathered across the street. When one tea party speaker arrived in a Mercedes, some of them yelled that he should buy an American-made car.

    Tea Party speakers, riding around in the Mercedes. But hey, they are grassroots folks, just like average Americans, right? What the media has pretty much ignored is that the people running the Tea Party Express are the folks from "Our Country Deserves Better" - the same Republican operatives that spent a fortune trying to discredit Obama during the '08 campaign, using every underhanded right wing smear they could think of.

    The nonpartisan campaign watchdog group has faulted Our Country Deserves Better's ads. In October 2008, FactCheck noted that the PAC's ads against Barack Obama were based on "charges that fueled months' worth of misleading and false chain e-mails."

    "Our Country Deserves Better" spent $500,000 on ads in Michigan featuring Jeremiah Wright. They are the ones who questioned Obama's faith and patriotism, insinuating that Obama was really Muslim. And they also funnel their money right back to their Republican consulting firm. From late 2009:

    The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) -- which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement -- directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.

    Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) spent around $1.33 million from July through November, according to FEC filings examined by TPMmuckraker. Of that sum, a total of $857,122 went to Sacramento-based GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates, or people associated with it.

    That is just the tip of the iceberg, you can find more conservative wealthy Republican connections with the Google. Have fun.

    Real grassroots tea party members can consider their "movement" co-opted, the GOP and their wealthy donors will be taking over now, thank you very much. Keep those donations coming in though, teabaggers. As soon as they elect the "less government spending = more tax cuts for the rich" Bush Republicans back into office, it will trickle right back down to you. Honest.

    Better hope they don't cut your Medicare though. Or privatize your Social Security. That would be a real bummer. After all, programs that benefit you, average American, are the "government spending" that will be the first to go should they return to power.

    Thursday, April 08, 2010

    Michigan Economy Climbs Impressively in February

    That title is straight from Comerica's website.

    Comerica Bank's Michigan Economic Activity Index rose three points in February, to a level of 84. February's reading is the highest Index observation since October 2008. February marks a 10 point, or 13.5 percent, year-on-year increase in the Index, the largest 12-month increase since January 2005. The Index for February is up 18 percent compared to its July 2009 cyclical low.

    "Following a four point increase in January, our Index continued to surge in February," said Dana Johnson, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. "February's reading was driven by strong steel production and natural gas sales, with seven out of nine Index components reflecting positive growth overall. Even as the weather effects that likely pushed natural gas sales higher in the early part of the year fade, our Index should continue to trend higher over the course of the year, reflecting an ongoing recovery in Michigan."

    The Michigan Economic Activity Index equally weights nine, seasonally-adjusted coincident indicators of real economic activity. These indicators reflect activity in the construction, manufacturing and service sectors as well as job growth and consumer outlays.

    The U of M Economic forecast has been revised as well. Instead of the state shedding jobs through next year, they now are predicting growth.

    Following an unprecedented 10 consecutive years of shrinking employment, Michigan finally will see job growth next year, according to a new University of Michigan forecast.

    The state will gain 20,400 jobs in 2011, U-M economists George Fulton and Joan Crary said Thursday in a revision of their November 2009 forecast.

    That's a sharp reversal. They predicted in November that Michigan would shed 16,300 jobs next year.

    An improving national economy and stronger auto sales will considerably slow job losses this year, according to the new forecast.

    It may be hard to see down here on the ground, but mark your calendars. The recovery starts now.