Monday, May 31, 2010

On Memorial Day

Take some time to pause and reflect on the meaning of this day...

On April 25, 1866, about a year after the Civil War ended, a group of women visited a cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi, to place flowers by the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen at Shiloh. As they did, they noticed other graves nearby, belonging to Union dead. But no one had come to visit those graves, or place a flower there. So they decided to lay a few stems for those men too, in recognition not of a fallen Confederate or a fallen Union soldier, but a fallen American.

A few years later, an organization of Civil War veterans established what became Memorial Day, selecting a date that coincided with the time when flowers were in bloom. So this weekend, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to hold all our fallen heroes in your hearts, and if you can, to lay a flower where they have come to rest.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Sunday Paper: May 30, 2010

Swan Again
A swan feathers her nest just outside of Little Sable Point near Mears on Saturday.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend. Heading up the Lake Michigan coastline yesterday, it was apparent that a lot of people are doing just that - every campground I went by was packed, and the beaches were crawling with folks enjoying the water. So beautiful with the lake breeze coming in, cooling the air to a perfect temperature...

In case there is anyone out there who wants to catch up on some reading, here is a little environmental news and a little political news from the week that was:

  • The League of Conservation Voters has released its 2009-10 environmental scorecard for state legislators. 32 representatives and 11 senators scored a perfect 100% - all Democrats. Unfortunately, most of the legislation to protect the environment died in the Senate at the hands of Mike Bishop. Three representatives and nine senators scored 0%. Jack Lessenberry can remember a day when when Republicans cared about the environment - apparently long gone now.

  • Score another for the Green Team though: Consumers Energy has delayed plans for a new coal plant on Saginaw Bay, citing lower consumer demand and falling natural gas prices. Consumers will reportedly begin focusing on renewable energy options instead. Can I get a hallelujah?

  • No carp is good news for the Lakes - the latest fish kill in the Chicago canals netted 100,000 pounds of fish and 40 different species, and not a one nasty fish was found. Now they are wondering where the carp DNA is coming from.

  • Corn cobs to help clean up the Gulf oil spill? One Michigan woman offers a unique solution.

  • Looks like the Dillon campaign has settled on a slogan: "You're Next!". State employees, move to the front of the line. Time to retire if you can.

  • House Dems did try to put back $65 of the $165 per pupil cut that schools took in the last budget - but so far Republicans are saying "no". Surprise.

  • Virg Bernero receives the endorsement of the MEA. Double surprise.

  • It took Pete Hoekstra two weeks to get an attack ad from a conservative group pulled from the air. Here is the weird part - the dispute was that the ad claimed the Hoekstra never signed a pledge to not raise taxes. Hoekstra produced documentation of a pledge that was signed April 23rd. If that did happen, why did the Hoekstra campaign let this ad run in heavy rotation for so long? And why wasn't this pledge mentioned in Hoekstra's initial press response to the ad? Something does not ad up. And here is is another strange tidbit - they only requested three stations pull it, and left it running on a fourth. Is the Hoekstra campaign slow? Disorganized? Not telling the truth about this pledge? Take your pick.

  • Karl Rove was in my area this week. Not in the mood for evil, or the rush hour traffic on the Beltline, I took a pass on his appearance. Apparently the rest of my not-so little town felt the same way; only 33 people showed up for his book signing.

  • Special note of appreciation to those in the MSM that have to cover the Michigan primary races. With hundreds of candidates, it's a daunting task this year. For the west side races, be sure and check out Rick Albin's "To The Point" on WOOD TV; he is busting his buttons trying to fit everyone in. And the Freep this morning is warning that candidates who put partisanship above all other considerations will not be receiving an endorsement from the paper this year.

    All I can say to that is - please. Take a look at which party in this state has made it their priority to say "no" to any sort of compromise. Trying to paint both as equally guilty is absurd, and it's disingenuous to keep playing the "he said, she said" card without even attempting to report the facts behind the issues. A good example of that is the very first bullet point in this post.

    That's it for now... go enjoy the rest of the weekend...
  • Thursday, May 27, 2010

    Slideshow: Michelle Obama at Wayne State

    Michelle Obama is so cool. I just love this woman. Today she was at Wayne State to talk to kids about their futures, and to adults about mentoring... here is the story from the DNews-

    First lady Michelle Obama said today there are brighter times ahead for Detroit and Michigan in her speech at Wayne State, where she called on adults to reach out to young people as mentors.

    But she acknowledged it is difficult to think about the future when times are tough.

    "I am looking at our future right now ... and it is a beautiful sight," she said at a crowded Adams Field.

    "We care so deeply about your futures ... and the future we all share," she said after taking the stage shortly after 11:15 a.m. on a sunny, warm day.

    Many in the audience held up signs, some of which read, "Everybody loves Mrs. Obama," "Motown (hearts) Mrs. Obama," "Wayne State loves Mrs. Obama."

    Campus police reported no problems or protesters. Eight possible heatstroke victims were taken to the hospital, they said.

    Obama pushed those in the audience, including more then 5,000 Detroit Public Schools students, to focus on their studies and make a difference in their lives. She used her life and that of her husband, President Barack Obama, as examples of how students can rise from modest upbringings to the highest office in the land.

    mobama9907 Follow the link for the whole story and some crowd reaction. The Freep also has a nice rundown on the day here.

    Pretty hot down here in Detroit today. Very draining. Slideshow pics will be up in this spot after I get home, so check back later tonight tomorrow morning to see more of the event. An all-star panel led by Magic Johnson talked about their experiences growing up, and I'm pretty sure I have a shot of Denise Ilitch and Spike Lee together in here somewhere (bet you never thought you would see that, did you).

    But for now, I've got to get out of this Starbucks... thinking of going to the Michigan Central Depot and seeing if I can take a look around.... and if I had had a mentor growing up, I probably wouldn't even consider such foolishness.

    See what happens? So, go help a kid, before they grow up to be like me. ;-)

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    The Teachers Are Coming: MEA Rallies Draw Thousands Across the State

    bernero mea rally

    A politician's nightmare. You're standing on the track of a football field, staring right into a blazing sun. 400 or so potential supporters have gathered in the middle of the grandstand, so many that they nearly reach the press box at the top of the stadium. Hungry for answers, motivated to take action, they are anxious to hear what you have to say.

    And your wireless mic keeps failing. Over and over again.

    bernero8947Give Virg Bernero some credit, he took it all in stride. He moved onto the track and spoke as loud as he could, drawing cheers from the crowd as he vowed to make education a top priority should he be elected. His wife Teri is an elementary school principal, so he knows about the struggles that schools and teachers are going through right now.

    The MEA officials and the teachers and school support staff at this rally? They no happy, and they are pointing the finger right at Lansing. Thousands of teachers and their supporters turned out at events all across the state yesterday. They are tired of cuts to the classroom, and cuts to their pay and benefits. Talk to them about "picking winners and losers" - because they are going to be doing just that this fall. They want to see education funding stabilized through needed changes to our tax code, and who can blame them? The past few years have been brutal for education; always more cuts, always coming well after they have started their fiscal year. They are tired of the excuses, they are tired of the obstructionists, they are tired of the nonsense.

    Bernero didn't say how he would address education funding. On one hand, it's good that he didn't make a bunch of false promises. On the other, he's still a little too vague about the direction he would take.

    Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero also attended the rally in Kentwood. He told the crowd if his campaign for governor is successful, education will be his top priority. But he wouldn't rule out the possibility of further cuts.

    "My promise is that education will be our top priority, that it is our future," he said after his speech. "I don't know what all's in the budget, they've played such games that I won't know til I get there and perform a forensic audit, to know exactly what I'm dealing with. I can tell you it'll be a top priority."

    The Michigan Education Association, which sponsored the rallies, supports expanding the sales tax and creating a graduated income tax in Michigan to help pay for education. Bernero has not endorsed either of those plans.

    But when you compare that with the Republican candidate's fantasy-world of eliminating business taxes and yet promising to fund critical services (while also guaranteeing that they will cut teachers and public employees pay and benefits), Virg wins hands down. He is passionate about education. It shows. And he is concerned for the people who work in the field, and that shows too.

    mea rallyThe MEA gets a pretty bad rap from the anti-union pundits and press in this state, but when it comes to the pay and benefits for teachers, the public doesn't think they are overpaid at all. The last EPIC poll on the subject back in December showed that voters want education funded, are willing to pay for it, and the benefits and pay are fine with them:

    Most responders -- 83% -- feel Michigan teacher wages and benefits are about right or too low.

    In a statement that accompanied the release of the poll, EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn said, "Politicians and pundits who attack teachers based on their pay and benefits are out of touch with the opinions of Michigan voters."

    Hey Democrats. Funding education is a winning issue. And like the man said, it's time to "put your money where your mouth is" and step up and prove you support teachers and kids - and that means changing our antiquated tax structure. Then, when the Republicans try to obstruct, and insist on more tax cuts for their rich friends, you will have them right where you want them.

    Try it and see.

    Rick Snyder Would Eliminate Incentives for Michigan's Film Industry

    This was the front page of mlive's Grand Rapids Press site as of 8:26PM last night.

    Notice the sad irony? From the story on the Ben Stiller movie, jobs and money are already flowing into the Grand Rapids area:

    "30 Minutes or Less," a movie to be produced by Ben Stiller and directed by "Zombieland" director Ruben Fleischer, will start filming primarily in Grand Rapids and surrounding areas this summer, said Rick Hert of the West Michigan Film Office.

    Filming will last through mid-October.

    Hert says the comedic heist movie -- to be distributed by Columbia Pictures, as reported by IMDBPro -- likely will boast the largest budget of any produced thus far in West Michigan since the inception of state film tax credits in 2007. He said "The Chaos Experiment," the largest budgeted film since the incentive, ran around $5 million.

    "This is the largest production and crew to come to Grand Rapids and West Michigan in the history of the film incentives," Hert said. "(Though) not as a state."

    Filming spots will include outdoor locations. Already, Hert said a "substantial amount of office space" in Grand Rapids has been rented by a crew that has been in town for multiple weeks, scouting locations and leaving informational letters with venue owners.


    Hert said the West Michigan Tourism Association and the Grand Rapids/Kent County Visitors Bureau predict between 5,000 to 7,000 room nights will be utilized based on the size of this production and the duration of filming.

    "We're fortunate to have this production in town," Hert said. "It's an important economic opportunity for us."

    Better get it while it lasts. If "The Nerd" has his way, this "important economic opportunity" would be taking place in Georgia or Louisiana - oddly enough, red states that apparently have smarter Republicans than we do.

    The state film tax credit is another program, Snyder said, that needs eliminating. The current system allows film companies to receive up to a 42 percent tax credit for filming in Michigan.

    "It simply can't work at that level," he said. "The government is not qualified to pick winners and losers. That's a case of the government being short-sighted."

    Getting rather tired of the trite catch phrase "picking winners and losers". The Republicans are more than willing to pick winners and losers when it comes to education, health care, public safety - and cutting the wages of lower and middle class working folks. Just last night three of the five held a debate, and they are calling for more tax cuts for business, and more pay cuts for you. Ready to go back to Bush economics?

    And interestingly enough, Snyder said the state needs to emphasize "arts and culture" to create cities that are attractive to young people (sound familiar?), but he would eliminate the one industry that has the most potential of attracting the creative class to this state.

    We've got a real good thing going here, a new industry that will help to diversify our economy and keep young people at home. Republicans want to put an end to that, and send that business elsewhere. If we are smart, we won't let that happen.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Bill Schuette For Big Oil

    From your friends at the MDP, who just want to remind everyone that as a State Senator, Bill Schuette sponsored and voted for a bill that would allow drilling in the Great Lakes. Money quote:

    "No one thinks an Exxon Valdez problem will crop up"- USA Today, Oct. 1997

    Granted, this may have been a while ago, but just think, if we followed Bill Schuette's vision, the scenes that are playing out in Louisiana could happen right here on our Michigan shores - and then you can wave bye-bye to our beautiful coastline, fishing, and tourism dollars.

    Moral of the story: Just say no to the Drill, Baby, Drill, Republicans when it comes to the Great Lakes. Drilling is probably not a popular idea at this particular point in time (understatement of the year), but remember who suggested it if and when it crops up again.

    This ad clocks in at over two minutes, so apparently it is a web-release only for now. Maybe they can trim it down for future use on the TeeVee. The creepy music and no voice-over is pretty effective.

    One more thing.

    Mike who?


    Senate Democrats Protest Republican Budget Cuts to Children's Services

    A special shout-out to the Senate Democrats, who stood up to speak for the children last week when they protested the Senate Republican budget for the Dept. of Human Services. As you may or may not know, we are under court order to get our Child Protective Services up to a passing grade, and not only would the Republican budget put us at risk of being found in contempt of court (which would cost the state money in fines, etc.), it leaves children vulnerable as workers cannot handle the case loads they have now.

    When Republicans say they want to "cut spending" - this is the spending they are talking about. Kids. Abused and neglected kids. Hungry kids. Kids in danger. How cold is the Republican movement that they would put children in danger, all to serve their anti-tax, anti-government ideology? This cold. They don't care about the well-being of defenseless children. And to top it off, apparently Sen. Bill Hardiman is already practicing to be a Congressman here - he increased spending by $20 million for private services. That government spending is A-OK when it goes to benefit your rich campaign donors, but other than that, too bad, you kids are on your own.

    Gretchen Whitmer and her colleagues had something to say about it:

    Transcript from the Journals:

    I rise to encourage a “no” vote on this budget bill. I am appalled by this budget. This budget more than any other that we work on has the biggest impact on vulnerable children in our state. What you have done to it is unconscionable. Currently, our DHS workers are doing their best to balance 700- to 800-person caseloads per DHS worker. Recognizing the jeopardy in which this massive imbalance places not only on the kids of our state, but also our workers who are trying to protect them. The Governor recommended increasing the workforce by 527. You have slashed that by 376, fracturing a system that is already stressed.

    The result? Well, first, the enormous caseloads that puts kids in jeopardy. God forbid another child falls through the cracks and dies in the state of Michigan. You have no one to blame but yourselves. Second, this almost guarantees that we violate the consent decree, which likely renders our state in contempt of court, possibly subjecting us to fines and penalties. This could actually cost us money.

    Additionally, not only that, but you’ve further hurt the meager number of frontline caseworkers who remain with an additional 3 percent cut. If that’s not appalling enough, you have the audacity to put in over $20 million of spending increases in this budget, the bulk of which goes to private groups. With your cuts that are going to directly impact kids, how the heck do you justify that?

    I guess it’s good news if you’re a constituent of the subcommittee chairman or if you reside in the Ehlers congressional district. It is downright scary for the kids in the rest of the state.

    Besides the staffing issue, Sen. Scott added this:

    Other reasons to vote “no” include the lack of funding for the JET Plus, which could threaten future federal emergency TANF contingency funding; the imposition of new costs on counties under the child welfare system; the undermining of training and support service to child day-care providers; and the imposition of a new privatized call center, which will add virtually no assistance to clients or relief to caseworkers.

    For these reasons, I will vote “no,” and I hope in conference, we can do a better job of living up to our obligation, both legally and morally to the children of this state.

    Senator Jacobs knocked down the myths surrounding the Republican complaints about the unions surrounding this field.

    As part of this budget, there is a funding prohibition against the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, as well as a prohibition for collection of dues on behalf of Michigan Home Based Child Care Council. I stand here today to be somewhat of a truth squad because I think it is important that what has been described as questionable and forced unionization of home-based child care workers is not that at all.

    The fact of the matter is that the union was ratified through an election process that was entirely proper and legal. Ninety-eight percent of the workers who voted in the election voted in favor of unionization. At no point was the validity of that election challenged through the normal procedures provided by our labor laws.

    Senators Cherry and Basham also rose in protest along these same lines, and Senator Switalski tried for compromise, cutting other areas to fund the need for more workers, but once again "bipartisanship" is nowhere to be found in our Senate. Funny how "bipartisanship" becomes a one-way street when Republicans are in the majority.

    The answer is always "no", even to the children. Hardiman got up and mumbled something about his earmark being "reform", and is very telling about the simplicity of Republican plans to reform the government. You see, "reform" is when you funnel the taxpayers money to the friends of the Republicans. That's not government spending. Oh no. Of course not. That's the Republican investment plan for our state - investing in the Republican Party. < /bitter snark >

    I'm not sure how this all plays out with what happened in the revenue estimating conference that occurred on Friday, so we will see what the final tally is when they get done shuffling the money around. The hope is that the House will stand up for kids as well... but if they don't, thanks go out to the Senate Dems for at least trying.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: May 23, 2010

    Senator Shows 'Em How It's Done
    Senator shows 'em how it's done. Senator Debbie Stabenow had the dirt ready to fly in GR on May 14th, beating the boys to break ground on the new Heart of the City Health Center, a very much needed all-in-one treatment center for the city's low-income and Medicaid patients. The center will become a "model for the nation" as it will cover primary medical care, dental, pediatrics, and mental health treatment under one roof, services that are now scattered all over town. The center is slated to open in June of 2011. A few more pics from the ceremony here.

    Money for the schools, Chrysler is hiring, and no new coal plant. All of which happened after noon on Friday. You guys need to learn how to spread the good stuff out. Here are a few other tidbits from the week that was...

  • Was Mike Cox at the Manoogian party? One dispatcher says so. Cox denies it, but this is a guy who can't even recall what phone company he is with, so how can you trust his memory?

  • Remember how the smoking ban was going to cause every single bar and restaurant in Michigan to go out of business and move to Indiana and OMG we can never pass something like this won't someone please think of the children drunks? Yeah, none of that was true. At least not in Lenawee County, where reports show that there has been only one complaint brought on by confusion about the law, and "several restaurants and taverns that serve food have reported an increase in business and new customers coming in". So, Republican obstruction on this issue was actually bad for business? Imagine that.

  • While we are on the subject, Republicans have moved on to blocking the expanded fireworks legislation that has been passed by the House. I guess that means Republican obstruction is good for Indiana and Ohio business. Wow, I thought they worked for us, not other states. Road trip anyone?

  • Alan Cropsey sides with the bullies and the rabid homophobes because he has "concerns" about legislation that will help keep kids from getting harassed. 43 states have anti-bullying policies, and once again Michigan is left behind the civilized world because of our Senate.

  • Tale of Two Protests. The teabaggers hold a rally on immigration, and draw "a few dozen". Or maybe a hundred, if you listen to Dawson Bell. This is covered in Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan's two biggest media markets. Early education supporters hold a rally to call for funding for kids, and draw 3,400. Did you catch that? Thousands for education, compared to "dozens" for the teabaggers. That coverage? Lansing, Saginaw and Jackson. Liberal media indeed.

  • We've got nothing on New Jersey though, where voters are very, very sorry they elected a "cut spending" Republican for governor. Up to 35,000 people, one of the largest protests in the state's history, descended on the capitol to decry Gov. Christie's draconian budget cuts. Just something to keep in mind for the fall.

  • 95.41 percent of Michigan households have access to broadband service. How cool.

  • Michigan's jobless rate edged down to 14% last month, as the state added 28,000 jobs. Heading in the right direction....

  • One last economic shot in the arm: Michigan showed progress in growing venture capital (funding business start-ups) in 2009 - bucking a national trend. The state saw a 10% growth in the "amount of venture capital under management in Michigan by state-based firms", while the rest of the nation saw a 9% decrease. More funding is needed though; high-tech firms are wishing for $2 billion, while only $345 million was available to invest.

    I hear the beach calling. Get ready for a blast of summer this week, with temperatures expected to be pushing 90 for the next few days - go out and enjoy when you can!
  • Saturday, May 22, 2010

    Welcome Back Chrysler!

    Remember this?


    Detroit News, May 1, 2009. "New Lease on Life - Obama Confident Risky Move Will Save Detroit Icon. Chrysler is Team Obama Test Case."

    Chrysler LLC filed for bankruptcy protection and finalized a partnership with Italian automaker Fiat SpA on Thursday — dramatic steps that will reshape the ailing U.S. auto industry but do not come without substantial risks.

    "It is the only path," Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli said. "It is the most viable path now to make sure that Chrysler survives."

    Chrysler 's bankruptcy, the sixth largest in U.S. history, was forced by the White House in another highly unusual case of government involvement in a private company.

    President Barack Obama's auto task force was convinced that the automaker must shed billions of dollars in liabilities, cut its dealer network and start fresh, despite risks that a bankruptcy could drag on for months or years or that consumers might shy away from buying Chrysler vehicles.

    Without that "government involvement", the company would have went under. Sure it was a gamble, but Team Obama had the plan. Same paper, different story on the Michigan reaction to the bankruptcy:

    The possibility that — if the Chrysler plan turns out badly — Republicans will try to use it as an election issue against Democrats in the state was highlighted when Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser said, "It's a shame the Democrats in Washington have forced Chrysler into bankruptcy."

    Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, shot back, "This is too important to make cheap shots like that."

    Yeah. Such a shame that Obama and the Democrats saved Chrysler, isn't it, Ron. We won't even bother to look up what Shelby and Corker had to say, because it doesn't matter anymore. Fast forward a year...


    Detroit Free Press, May 22, 2010. "Chrysler: 1,080 New Detroit Jobs - After bankruptcy, there's reason to celebrate"

    Chrysler's 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee hasn't gone on sale yet, but CEO Sergio Marchionne said the Jefferson North assembly plant that builds the iconic SUV will add 1,080 jobs for a second shift starting in mid-July.

    "Nearly all" those jobs, he said, will be filled by new hires earning a lower wage of about $14 an hour.

    Almost one year after a government-funded bankruptcy restructuring that saved the Auburn Hills automaker, Chrysler turned Friday's Grand Cherokee launch into a revival meeting for the 1,700 workers at the plant.

    "The best workforce in the world is right here in the Motor City," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was in attendance.

    Certainly not your daddy's UAW wages anymore - but these jobs and the company would not exist at all if not for Team Obama taking a chance on them, so, thank the nice President for his assistance in this matter, OK Brooks?

    Even Patterson gave Obama credit for successfully assisting the industry. “It pains me to say it,” Patterson added.

    Well, it pains us to have to listen to you too - but this is good news that will certainly benefit the Detroit area and the entire state, so enjoy the victory. If it's true that every auto job lost took five others with it, then these new jobs will translate into more than the initial thousand in the long run, right? Right.

    Chrysler still has a ways to go. But even with zip for new product, they have seen a sales increase already this year, and the new Grand Cherokee is turning some heads and should be on dealer's lots in the next couple of months. Fiat is committed to sticking it out to ensure Chrysler's success, so if all goes well, this is just the beginning of the company's growth.

    Thank you, President Obama, and everyone involved in ensuring this company lived on to see this day. It's very much appreciated.

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Michigan School Districts Safe From Further Budget Cuts This Year and 2011

    This is some excellent news, unless Senate Republicans want to insist that we make the cuts anyway, even after we have the funding.

    Nah, they aren't that crazy, are they? Here are the numbers, fresh from the AP:

    Michigan school districts are safe from further cuts this school year and likely will escape budget cuts next year as well, state economists said Friday.

    The directors of the House and Senate fiscal agencies and state Treasurer Robert Kleine agreed Friday after a revenue estimating conference that school aid revenue is up $292 million above January estimates. General fund revenue, however, is down nearly $244 million below estimates because income and business tax revenue has come in lower than expected.

    Senate Fiscal Agency director Gary Olson estimates that will leave a shortfall of about $219 million in the general fund budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

    Kleine, Olson and House Fiscal Agency director Mitch Bean said Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers could come up with ways to shift funds or make other changes so more programs don't have to be cut. Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said meetings are set for Monday with lawmakers to decide what to do about the general fund budget gap.

    And we find ourselves in this very interesting position that we haven't seen in quite some time - arguing about where an upturn in revenue should go. Mark Hornbeck at the DNews rouses the rabble and provides even more numbers to crunch in an extensive story:

    It will be up to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers whether they want to shift some cash from school aid to fill the hole in the general fund. Education lobbyists and others will contend that money should stay in the school aid fund for the inevitable next rainy day.

    "Politically, there's no doubt that's a really, really difficult decision," said Mitchell Bean, director of the House Fiscal Agency, the financial arm of the state House.

    Yes, even happy news brings about "difficult" political decisions for this group, but it sure beats further cuts to an already severely strained educational system. And while this is great for the schools, we still have a big problem with the general fund - so we aren't out of the woods yet.

    Most important of all though, it truly shows that our economy is recovering. It's fragile still, this uptick is based on increased consumer spending that could easily stop on a dime again - but the consumer confidence leads to increased demand and that leads to new jobs... we have a long ways to go, with many people facing real hardships out there, but we are definitely on the right road.

    And that should bring a smile and a sigh of relief to everyone.

    Senate Republicans Cut Up To 100 State Troopers

    And this surprises... who?

    Mike Bishop sent out a campaign e-mail today, bragging about how he had finished the budget - so, let's review how he did it. Besides cuts to higher education that will raise tuition, cuts to health care that will raise insurance rates, cuts to DHS childrens services which may violate the law, cuts to roads and transportation, cuts to revenue sharing (which means cuts to your local cops and firefighters), cuts to economic development including advertising, and in the latest and greatest outrage, he also cut funding for the Michigan State Police, a move that will cost us up to 100 troopers.

    Are ya feeling safer yet? Tim Skubick has been the only one to bring us this story so far:

    Sen. Garcia did try to raise some new revenue for the department, but his boss, Sen. GOP Leader Mike Bishop and the caucus, in this election year, said no way. The senate Republicans show no signs of giving ground on new revenue. Minus some magical way to find new money, 60-100 of veteran officers will be out the door with no one coming in behind them.

    Better yet, watch the video from WLNS:

    The Republicans just dumped on everybody and called their work "done". Public safety officials, city leaders, educational leaders, health care officials, business owners - it's all your problem now. Apparently the trick worked so well last year that Mike Bishop thought he would try it again. No compromise, no problem solving, no real answers towards fixing our chronic budget deficits - just cut, cut, cut everything, because who cares about education, health care, and especially public safety, for Michigan's citizens, right? Businesses will just flock to a state with treacherous roads, a destitute K-12 educational system, incredibly high tuition rates and no scholarships to offset the costs, no police or fire to respond when you or your business needs help, higher insurance costs for home, business, and health care, and lawmakers who refuse to listen to your concerns or address the real problems because they are slaves to an extreme ideology.

    It's official. Republicans are bad for business.

    As we speak, officials are settling on the revenue estimating conference - and already Bishop has indicated he will cut some more. It looks like K-12 is off the table with increased sales tax receipts covering the School Aid fund, but public safety is definitely a target. Stay tuned.

    Notes from the Underground 5/21/10

    Fast and furious in the past 48 hours.



    Public employee unions could collectively bargain over whether their governmental unit joins a statewide health insurance pool proposed by House Speaker Andy Dillon, but the change to his legislation didn't completely win people over Thursday.


    Incumbent endorsements from the Michigan State AFL-CIO are "in danger" over a recent vote for school employee retirement, President Mark Gaffney said Thursday.


    Legislative leaders and the governor will be meeting to address the current year budget deficit soon, but one of the solutions to that problem will not be state worker furloughs and layoffs, House Speaker Andy Dillon said Thursday.


    Despite indications that the state could see a general fund deficit of as much as $500 million for the current fiscal year, at one time an even worse fiscal outlook was predicted for the current year.


    The House completed voting Thursday on a package of bills requiring unlicensed child care providers to undergo training and background checks to keep their state subsidy, but the action drew dissent from Republicans who wanted to address related union issues.


    Dillon Says 'Test My Plan'
    "House Speaker Andy DILLON (D-Redford Twp.) told a legislative committee today that he is willing to prove his public employee healthcare plan (HB 5345) will save boatloads of dollars. What's more, he says he's willing to put the plan to a test."

    UAW Whacks State Retirement Plan
    "If the Legislature takes up an early retirement plan for state employees modeled after the one just signed into law for school employees, the United Autoworkers (UAW) don't want any part of it."

    Gaffney: Dems Voting For Teacher Retirement 'In Danger'
    "Michigan State AFL-CIO President Mark GAFFNEY said today that Democrats who supported last week's school employee retirement package are "in danger" of not being endorsed by the AFL-CIO when they run for office in November."

    Commissioners Rip Senate Transportation Budget
    "After hearing what was described as "grim news" relative to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 transportation budget process in the Legislature to date, some of the Michigan Transportation Commission members led by Chairman Ted WAHBY did a hit-and-run on the Republican-led Senate-passed Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) budget."

    • Troopers Want Funding To Prevent Layoffs
    • Map Shows 95.41% Broadband Coverage In Michigan

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Notes from the Underground 5/20/10

    Budget bonanza. Republicans want to cut, cut, cut, Democrats, well they don't want to cut, but they won't vote for revenue either.

    Oh yeah, this is heading for the cliff once again, Bob Emerson's optimism not withstanding. I've gone back to my 12-step training, "I am powerless over the Legislature, and my blogging about them has become unmanageable..."



    Another May budget crisis has presented itself to lawmakers, according to forecasts from the two legislative fiscal agencies.


    House Democrats decided against including the governor's recommended 3 percent physician tax in their 2010-11 Department of Community Health budget, but they also disagreed with a 4 percent cut Senate Republicans made to doctors serving Medicaid patients as a budget subcommittee voted Wednesday.


    The Senate completed action Wednesday on passing its version of all budget bills as it approved spending plans for the departments of Human Services and State Police that differed significantly from what Governor Jennifer Granholm sought.


    Michigan saw more people working in April as the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate eased slightly to 14 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.


    The possibility of legalizing consumer-grade fireworks as a way of pay for state fire inspectors through new fees on the businesses selling the fireworks has taken a hit.


    House lawmakers are looking to reinstate funding for some financial aid programs after the state eliminated the Michigan Promise Scholarship last year.


    Bishop: Layoffs, Furloughs Could Close '10 Hole
    "Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester) today said that layoffs and furloughs could be the way to plug a potential $500 million leak in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 General Fund."

    Dems: DHS Budget Could Violate Settlement
    "Democrats sounded the alarm that Michigan could violate the Children's Rights lawsuit due to the low staffing levels the Senate is funding in its Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Department of Human Services (DHS) budget that passed today."

    Emerson: 'I Think They Can Do It'
    "State Budget Director Bob EMERSON told MIRS today he believes the Legislature could get the budget taken care of by mid-summer."

    Who Will Clean Up the Shoes?


    After the news broke that there will be a federal trust fund created to clean up various GM sites across the country, I ventured out to Wyoming's 36th St. Metal Fabrication plant to get a quick shot of the mammoth factory as it stands now. It was one year ago this month that the last regular shift workers left the plant; after downsizing, union concessions and even an upgrade to the facility, the hope that the plant would remain operating had been extinguished. The only workers left would be a few working on dies for the Chevy Volt, and some others who were tearing down the machinery to ship to other sites. At one time the plant had employed up to 3,000 workers; as of closing time they were down to around 700. On May 29th, 2009, they filed out for the last time.

    gm36thsignTwo million square feet of empty, toxic space would remain, no one knew for sure what was going to happen to it. Not only was the city of Wyoming losing its biggest taxpayer, who wants a 100 acre lot with a building that holds two million square feet of space? And who could ever afford to clean it up? The city had a huge problem on their hands, and the thought was it would remain empty for years; maybe boarded up, a certain target for vandalism, a headache to police... no one knew.

    Until now. Now we have word that this site will get the funding it needs to get the toxic pollutants out, perhaps even money towards demolition, as well as property tax bills and site security. This is a godsend for the 36th St site, and for 89 other sites across the country - 47 in Michigan alone - that will split $836 million in what is being dubbed the "largest environmental remediation trust agreement in the nation's history". The City of Wyoming will be waiting for studies from the EPA on the cost of cleanup, and will move forward from there. They might end up demolishing the building (it is 80 years old), they might try to market it as it stands, perhaps dividing it up. With highway and rail access nearby, it should be a very desirable location to market to companies - and the hope being that cleaning up these sites will draw the big renewable energy manufacturers to the state. People like GE, for example.

    Michigan has set up a program called Project Phoenix designed specifically to market these large industrial sites, but we certainly didn't have the money to clean them up. Brown field tax credits were about all we could offer. It's going to take years to redevelop these sites, but it will happen a lot faster now that the environmental issues will be taken care of. With certain Republican candidates threatening to dismantle some of our economic development efforts, hopefully we can move quickly and get some of these companies lined up before uncertainty sets in once again.

    gmshoes2What struck me the most about 36th St. though was that one tree in front, decorated in Christmas-like fashion with the hard hats and shoes of the employees. One year later, the ghosts of livelihoods lost stood as a reminder of something that went a lot deeper than just an empty building or one company's bankruptcy - it was the people, scattered to the winds. Some took early retirement, some opened new businesses and pursued personal dreams, some entered worker retraining programs, some transferred to other GM plants. Wherever they went, they aren't here anymore - and only these mementos remain.

    Eventually those will disappear as well, either to new development or the brutal Michigan winters. It would be nice to see them preserved somehow, as a testament to the generations of people that worked there, but of course that is improbable.

    And that's why some of us like to take pictures. Gotta get down to the Packard plant one of these days...

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Meet Jacob Turner

    If all goes right, you'll see this kid in Detroit very soon. He's got the stuff.

    This is one of my better shots, if I do say so myself.


    Here's another.


    More pictures here. If you want to see him live, better get on out to 5th3rd - something tells me he will be moving up pretty quick.

    Republicans Vote to Lay Off More Cops and Fire Fighters

    Let's just call it what it is, shall we? When you use the term "revenue sharing", people don't seem to understand what that really means here on the ground - and what it means is that your community will be less safe, your home and family possibly put at risk, your insurance may increase, all to satisfy the insatiable greed of a group of people who put party ideology before the welfare of the citizens of this state.

    Sure wish the mayors and other city leaders would get together and revolt against Lansing. Or at least, acknowledge that it is the Republicans who are insisting that these cuts should happen. Of course, as soon as Dillon rolls over again for the Republican demands, it will be a "bipartisan" problem - and the Democrats will once again get blamed.

    The movie starts all over again in 3... 2... 1...

    Michigan's local governments would lose about 4 percent of their state tax revenue sharing payments under a bill passed by the Republican-led state Senate.

    The bill passed 21-17 today mostly along party lines would cut payments starting Oct. 1. Democrats including Gov. Jennifer Granholm want to keep the revenue sharing payments at least even with current levels.


    Officials with local governments have said continued revenue sharing cuts would worsen their finances and likely lead to reduced services including more layoffs of police officers and firefighters.

    You ain't seen nothing yet. Since this legislature won't lift a finger to address our inadequate tax structure, chronic budget deficits are what we are going to get for years to come - even as our economy starts to grow again. Speaking with the Business Leaders yesterday, our non-partisan fiscal experts painted a bleak picture:

    Gary Olson, director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, projected with annual growth at 3 percent, the state will face a $1.2 billion, or 13 percent imbalance, in the 2012 budget year; a $1.6 billion, or 17 percent shortfall, in the 2103 fiscal year; and a $1.8 billion, or 19 percent deficit, in the 2014 budget year.

    "What is clear to me is the current budget is not sustainable," Olson said. "There must be massive changes to the revenue side of the equation and spending side as well."

    Added Mitchell Bean, director of the House Fiscal Agency: "Even in moderate recovery, we will still have to cut the budget or find revenue somewhere else."

    If schools, universities and city officials are struggling with the cuts we are seeing now... just wait. It can and will get worse, especially if the Republicans get their way. Not only has every Republican gubernatorial candidate suggested that "more tax cuts" are the answer to our problems, they, for the most part, willingly admit that they will throw people off of health care to cut the budget. The schools will be on the list too, even though they won't say that now. To top it off, whoever gets to deal with this mess will be stuck with a bunch of new legislators that won't know what the hell they are doing.

    The 2011 Legislature will be ill equipped to deal with the crisis, experts said, because term limits will take a huge bite out of legislative experience. There will be 50 to 60 new House members next year and more than 100 with less than two years on the job, and at least 30 new Senators who will have this problem dropped in their laps.

    "There seems to be no appetite to raise revenues (taxes) or to cut the budget, either," Bean said. "That is the problem."

    Then it's time to hold the leaders of the chambers accountable. Right now. There is a perfectly good budget plan on the table from the governor that would not only hold schools and cities harmless, but give business a tax cut and the elimination of the MBT surcharge as well. Dillon and Bishop are choosing to leave a flaming train wreck for the next legislature to address - and that in itself should disqualify the both of them from future political office.

    Enough is enough. Who will stand up for our state?

    UPDATE: The Senate Dems tried, anyway. Here is a bit more on the cuts from their release.

    Senate Democrats stood up for Michigan workers, police officers and fire fighters today and voted against the Senate Republicans’ budget proposals that cut $4.5 million from No Worker Left Behind, $46.1 million from the 21st Century Jobs Fund and 4% from local revenue sharing as part of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) and General Government budgets. Senate Democrats also opposed the Senate Republicans’ Department of Transportation budget that cuts public transportation and specialized services for the elderly and disabled.

    The elderly and disabled - seems to be the Republicans favorite target, other than the kids.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Senate Republicans Move to Create a State Sanctioned Media

    From the people who brought you "Censorship of the Blog", get ready for the "Michigan Registered Reporter" designation, an interesting (and perhaps unconstitutional) bit of legislation that seems to scream "Get the ACLU on the phone" as you read it. We'll let the wackies at the Mackie Center condense it down for you...

    Senate Bill 1323 (Establish “Michigan Registered Reporter" registration and screening criteria )

    Introduced by Sen. Bruce Patterson (R) on May 11, 2010, to create a government “Board of Michigan Registered Reporters” to pass on the qualifications under criteria established in the bill for an individual who seeks to use the title “Michigan Registered Reporter.” An individual who writes or creates news stories, commentaries or editorials for a newspaper, online news outlet or radio or TV broadcaster, and who wants to use this title, would have to have a journalism degree, at least three years experience as a reporter, submit writing samples, present evidence of awards or recognitions and a letter of recognition from a reporter who is “registered,” and pay a $10 fee. A person using a generic label such as “reporter,” “broadcaster,” “member of the media,” or others would not have to register. The bill would not require any institution to discriminate on the basis of having this credential, nor would it prohibit this.

    Define "institution". While this is an obvious slap at bloggers and "citizen journalists" - it goes a lot farther than that. Reporters will have to pass a strict set of rules to become "registered". Is this the first step towards limiting access to government to only those that have passed some arbitrary ruling of a political board? Besides the stringent outlines described above, check out this section of the bill:

    (2) In order to qualify, an applicant shall comply with the following: (a) Be of good moral character and demonstrate, by a signed statement, knowledge of any acceptable industry wide ethics standards acceptable to the board.

    Define "good moral character". Since this applies to editorialists as well, simply holding an opinion that is contrary to the establishment could be deemed "immoral" by a board packed with political appointees. And the phrase "acceptable to the board", when it comes to "industry wide ethics standards", means that they can pick and choose what ethics they wish to follow.

    And this gets you... what, exactly?

    Half-off your coffee from Biggby's? Preferred parking? The golden key to the orgy room at the Capitol Building? (you think we don't know about that?) No, you jump through all these hoops, get sanctioned by the board, and for $10 (raising taxes on reporters!) you get to use the term "Michigan Registered Reporter". Whoopee.

    Sec. 809. A person shall not use the term "Michigan registered reporter" unless he or she is registered under this article. However, a person is not required to become registered under this article to be employed as, or use, the generic label or title of reporter, broadcaster, member of the media, or other similar term.

    So, why would you need this? Public events are public events, and you won't be able to stop people from writing or "reporting" on them. Does this mean that government access or events will be restricted to "Michigan Registered Reporters" only at some point in time? You know, only those reporters that sign the loyalty oath pass the litmus test of whatever some political board decides is "moral and ethical behavior"?

    Is that where this is going?

    I would love to hear what traditional reporters think of this. Seems a huge overreach on the part of the state to try and control those that report on government activities, if that is indeed what they are doing. This will never stop citizen journalists - it only places a huge burden on an industry that has been for all intensive purposes obliterated in the past decade. There are very few mainstream reporters left now, and if the government can whittle those down to an "approved" list of people... well, some may consider that a big threat to transparency from government.

    And we don't even have to get into how hypocritical it is that the GOTea Party that is running around screaming about "transparency" and "cutting government" is actually suggesting that we create more government that apparently will try to regulate the media.

    But what else is new.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    The Sunday Paper: May 16, 2010

    Driving the Mighty Mac. Tip 'o the hat and a great big thank you goes out to Lawrence Rubin, who passed away this week at the age of 97. Rubin was fundamental in planning and securing funding for the bridge starting in 1950, and then went on to run it for 34 years as executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. He built two homes that overlook the Mac, and in his spare time wrote two books about it as well. See some fascinating 50s era pictures from the construction of the bridge here.

    Cleaning out the stuff I saved over the week:

  • The first federal legal defense of the nation's new health care law was filed right here in Michigan; Justice Department lawyers submitted a 46-page brief in federal court in Detroit explaining that yes, Congress does have the power to make laws that will "regulate interstate commerce and provide for the general welfare". If they can't, we are going to have bigger problems than anything the health care bill would ever do.

  • The Big Three have now reached wage parity with foreign automakers, and predictions are that they will achieve a cost advantage by as early as 2013. The union concessions of 2007 and starting new hires at a lower rate are credited with the lowered average. A Pyrrhic victory, as not only are workers making less, it hurts the state's bottom line. So, next time someone says "overpaid union auto workers", be sure and set them straight.

  • Revenge of the Turtle: Pete Hoekstra takes the passive-aggressive route to answer Mike Cox in a new TV ad that embraces the NRA, the anti-choice Right to Life crowd, the anti-gay Family Research Council, the anti-tax Citizens Against Government Waste, and the "I'm rubber, you're glue" defense when it comes to the race to see who can be the biggest tea bag in Michigan. Did you enjoy the Bush years, people? Think before you vote.

  • As far as Cox goes, you can officially call his first TV shot a "Major Advertising FAIL". Not only did Twitter Pete give him the "wingnut high-road snub", he also was asked to pull an image of an old supporter of his who has now switched to Synder, AND the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association asked him to pull the ad altogether, defending Hoekstra's vote that brought $286 million in federal money to Michigan. Question now is: Does Cox try this again? Peter Luke warns this is just going to get worse.

  • We better extend that anti-bullying legislation to the Legislature itself. Just last week we had Mike Bishop calling the Senate Democrats "terrorists", and now reports come out that Senate Republican Roger Kahn went crazy and stomped on the cell phone of a staffer when his car keys went missing. Republicans want to downplay the severity of this incident - just like they wanted to down play the severity of the incident when Kahn yelled at Sen. Clark-Coleman in the elevator last year. Perhaps the lawmakers themselves could use a program - there are some serious anger management issues going on in that chamber.

  • And legislators, just remember, if you can't behave yourselves, there are 678 job applicants ready to take your place. Some notable names have dropped out since filing day, but there are plenty of new kids that would love their shot at Crazy Town. Why, I'm not sure, but you're all on notice. Between federal and state filings, 782 candidates total were reported, a 31% jump since 2006.

  • More evidence of how the Republican "all-cuts" policy is leading to back-door tax increases: Grand Rapids Community College moved to raise their tuition for the coming year, citing the fact that "more students are enrolling while less dollars are coming to us through property taxes and state revenue". Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor has raised tuition as well. University presidents are threatening to do the same. Senate Republicans have proposed another 3.1% cut to college funding this year.

  • What's the deal with the US Department of Energy holding up the loans for the renewable energy companies for the Ford Wixom plant? C'mon feds, let's get moving. Jobs are waiting to be created here. There is going to be an auto town recovery summit at the White House this Tuesday featuring all your favorite names from Michigan and beyond, sure hope some arms get twisted and ears get bent on this project.

  • Don't put your Gummi Bears in sulfuric acid. Apparently bad things happen.

  • Good news for the environment and bird fans - the Kirtland's Warbler may be taken off the endangered species list. Back in 1990, a non-profit group named American Forests started planting jack pine trees, the bird's natural habitat. 20 years later, one million trees have been planted, and officials have counted the recovery target of 1,000 singing males for nine consecutive years now. Wildlife experts say that maintaining the trees is key to the bird's continued recovery.
  • Note from the Underground 5/15/2010

    Looks like anti-bullying legislation is needed for the Michigan Legislature. Supreme Court, too. Where do you think these kids learn it from?


    Steudle: DRIC 'Going To Happen At Some Point'
    "The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) is such a high priority to Canadian officials that Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director Kirk STEUDLE told MIRS this week that the project "is going to happen at some point," regardless of any current opposition in the Michigan Legislature."

    Witnesses: Kahn Berates Staffer, Destroys Cell Phone
    "Senators and staff exiting the Capitol earlier this morning told MIRS that Sen. Roger KAHN (R-Saginaw) berated his staffer for not being able to produce his car keys. Witnesses say Kahn took the staffer's cell phone, smashed on the sidewalk outside the Capitol and jumped up and down on it, pulverizing it into several pieces."


    Michigan's major taxes netted $1.628 billion in revenues during April, figures released by the Senate Fiscal Agency showed, down 8.5 percent from revenues collected in April 2009.

    A comment from Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop calling Senate Democrats "terrorists" over their negotiations on an immediate effect vote on the teacher retirement bill was blasted as "name calling" by his Democratic counterpart that ignored how the minority Democrats were trying to protect state schools.

    The three Supreme Court justices involved in referring Justice Elizabeth Weaver to the Judicial Tenure Commission said their actions were motivated by propriety, not politics.

    Claims that Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw) was seen angrily shouting at an aide and then destroying a cell phone - including statements from Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) that he had tried to calm Mr. Kahn down - were themselves hotly charged as being blown out of proportion by a Senate Republican spokesperson on Friday.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Bishop Calls Democratic Negotiators "Terrorists"

    After much arm-twisting, the school employee retirement bill passed in the dead of night. By all indications, this was the Senate Republican plan, after House legislation on the issue was rejected out-of-hand (For complete details on the package - and it gets confusing for the layperson - see the Gongwer/MiTech stories here and here. Lots of moving parts).

    Senate Democrats withheld immediate effect, Sen. Mike Prusi saying that the "bill attempts to balance the budget on the backs of teachers who have already given up concessions". In the end, the Democrats looked to leverage their votes into the very small compromise of holding hearings on issues important to them. Not votes on legislation, mind you, or anything that would actually require the Senate Republicans to show some cooperation or bipartisanship when it comes to governing this state, but simple hearings.

    Remember, this all comes after the Senate Republicans apparently got their way on this legislation. And when I said that Mike Bishop shows "utter disrespect for his colleagues in the legislature", he steps right up again to prove my point. How in the world are you supposed to have "bipartisanship" when you are dealing with a leader who only looks at the world through the lenses of his Glenn Beck-colored glasses ?

    Negotiations took longer than expected as last-minute issues emerged, such as how to prevent too many teachers from retiring from areas where teachers are at a premium -- including special education and science.

    Frustration peaked early this morning when after the bill passed, Senate Democrats held out on a separate vote to give the bill immediate effect.

    A super majority, or 26 votes, was needed. Without immediate effect, school districts would not have been able to take advantage of any retirement cost savings when setting their budgets for the next school year by July 1 because the employees have to retire by this summer.

    But State Sen. Deb Cherry, D-Burton, cast the final vote needed to give the bill immediate effect -- only after Senate Republicans agreed to hold hearings on issues of importance to Senate Democrats.

    "I can't believe we just sat there for that long," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester. "That was negotiating with terrorists on something that was $3.1 billion in savings for the state of Michigan.

    You will do everything that serves the agenda of Mike Bishop, or you're a "terrorist".

    Where do you begin to deal with a mentality like that.

    The MEA is convinced that the legislation won't get as many takers as they think, saying that "this isn't enough of a financial incentive to push the trigger on retiring". We will see. With the majority of districts around the state being forced to cut teaching positions this year, between the local incentives and/or this package, something has to give, period. The best this does is make retirement voluntary for some; if not, there are going to be cuts anyway. The saddest part of all is that we are going to lose some very experienced and dedicated people from the ranks here and there - and losing good teachers is always a tragedy.

    And we still haven't filled the K-12 hole - we've just made the deficit smaller. In other words, this isn't over yet.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    House Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation, School Retirement Deal Close

    Today's happenings in the legislature, let's start with some positive news. The House does good - although "some members of both parties say they were upset with parts of the House-approved version". As vague as that is, reading through the language on the actual bill, it seems wide enough to be open to all interpretation - meaning everyone and every situation should be covered, much to Gary Glenn's chagrin.

    The state House has passed legislation that would require Michigan schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

    The Democratic-led House passed the bill 76-29 Thursday. The bill now goes to the Republican-led Senate.

    Similar measures have been introduced by Michigan lawmakers for nearly a decade without gaining final approval and becoming state law.

    The important thing is to get this on the books, and then help schools get the tools they need to address the problem. You will never eliminate bullying entirely, but educating kids about it and letting them know there is help available to them will go a long way towards preventing a tragedy. Looks like the schools get a year to get something in place if they don't have something already, and there will probably be squabbling at the local level on language, but this is an important step towards raising awareness - and that is half the battle. Hope that the Senate finds a heart and moves this through.

    The other big story: It looks like the school employee retirement plan is going to pass - and indications are that the House has agreed to the Senate version. How can you tell? The MEA is upset and Bishop is taking credit for the plan.

    The House agreed late Wednesday to accept the Senate's retirement proposal in principal. The Democrats added language that would prohibit retired school employees from continuing to work on contract while drawing a pension, and the Senate has agreed, Bishop said.

    "They've brought some ideas to the table that will make our plan a little better," he said.

    Bishop wants the governor to stay late, and Dillon is indicating that he will have to work to get votes, so you know that whatever is happening is favoring the Republicans. Bishop would throw a fit and walk away if that were not the case. Derek Merlot at the LSJ notices:

    Funny. I thought a deal involved each side getting some of what they want. I guess that’s not the case in House Speaker Andy Dillon’s world.

    Wouldn’t Michigan save some money if we just made Mike Bishop speaker of the House, in addition to Senate majority leader?

    Ouch. It appears there was compromise though on the multiplier used to calculate the amount of pension checks, which was one of the big stumbling blocks. The House wanted 1.7, the Senate wanted 1.5, and they ended up at 1.6 for those eligible to retire now and 1.55 for those that would use a combination of age and years of service to be eligible. The disturbing part is loss of guaranteed benefits - employees will begin contributing 3% towards retiree health benefits, but it "does not guarantee those benefits will still be offered when employees retire". Ouch again.

    Folks, take what you can get right now. This has the possibility of going very bad on you next year, if you catch my drift. You'll be lucky to get "buy-one-get-one-free" coupons from McDonalds as you walk out the door if the Republicans really go to town on you, so run with it. For school districts themselves, the most important figure is how much they have to pay towards the state retirement system, and that hasn't been revealed yet. And many schools are indicating that it is late in the game, and they have already offered their own retirement deals.

    We will see the reaction when it's all said and done. Too many "deals" have been made in the past few years that have gone south at the last minute, so don't count anything yet. If all goes as planned, the legislation is supposed to save $213 million out of a $450 million school aid deficit.

    One last note: In a totally mind-blowing move, the Senate increased funding for the arts. Granted, this comes after years of cutting them down to almost nothing, and it's not a huge amount, but there must be one great lobbyist out there to avoid having it cut altogether.

    That's it for today...

    Senate Republicans Slash Funding to Cities, 21st Century Jobs Fund, and Pure Michigan Campaign

    This is what happens when you put a Tea Party Republican like Mike Bishop in charge of the government. Take a good look, and think before you vote this fall. The Democrats certainly have "issues" - but the Republicans are hell-bent on total destruction. Once again, the Senate is insisting on a party-line, all-cuts budget this year; they have already cut K-12 and college funding, now they want to absolutely "bludgeon" the 21st Century Jobs Fund, make more cuts to road funding, slash city revenue sharing again, and eliminate the Pure Michigan campaign.

    It should be obvious by now - Republicans will do anything to avoid investing in this state, its people, or our future economic success.

    Michigan Senate Republicans moved Wednesday toward a budget that slashes funding for local governments, roads and economic development programs, the 21st Century Jobs Fund and the Pure Michigan advertising campaign - but doesn't raise taxes.

    Financially battered local governments would suffer another blow under a budget plan approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee that would cut their revenue sharing payments from the state by 4 percent.

    On economic development, the general government bill bludgeons the 21st Century Jobs Fund with a 65 percent cut to save $48.5 million. And the Senate ditched funding from a new tax on cars rented near Detroit Metropolitan Airport urged by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and majority House Democrats to fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

    This is the Republican idea of "reform" for government: More cuts to your local schools. Higher college tuition for your kids. More cops and fire fighters laid off. Economic development efforts to create new jobs obliterated. Tourism advertising eliminated. They found a way to get federal matching fund for the roads - by stealing money from other road development budgets. How many jobs did they just cut here? Anyone want to hazard a guess?

    And, proving once again that they own the House Democrats, they seemingly rejected all of the House suggestions on... apparently nearly everything. Money for DELEG was moved around, language changed in the Attorney General budget, House suggestions on the Executive, Legislature and Legislative Auditor General budgets, all dismissed. So much for bipartisanship. So, how is that "reaching across the aisle" working out for ya, Speaker Dillon? By the looks of it, you just got your face slapped. Hard. Again.

    Senate Democrats did their best to stand up to this destruction...

    Democrats tried to restore the revenue sharing cut, but Republicans rejected their effort on a party-line vote.

    "We sat in committee maybe a month ago listening to some local officials talking about how revenue sharing impacted them and the impact is devastating," said Sen. Deborah Cherry (D-Burton). "It's not for fluff. It's for very basic services. We've put local governments in a Catch 22 situation because we also limit how they raise revenue."

    City leaders, who are under incredible stress trying to keep cops and fire fighters on the job as it is, are going to be furious. And when it came to cutting the 21st Century Jobs Fund...

    Democrats sought to restore 21st Century funding to the House-passed level, which would be a 3.1 percent cut from current year funding, but their amendment was rejected on a party-line vote. Still, Sen. Valde Garcia (R-Howell) said he had misgivings about the size of the cut and might oppose the bill on the floor.

    "I have some reservations about how deeply we cut this particular program, especially since it is about creating jobs for the future," he said.

    Sen. Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) slammed the scope of the cut.

    "It's unconscionable in my opinion to make such a draconian cut to a program whose purpose is to create jobs," he said. "We should be doing everything possible to ensure this program's success."

    Go read the MiTech/Gongwer story for the full account of how they "funded" the roads. Basically they just made more cuts, and shifted the money around. Pray the House Democrats grow a spine before this is over - or get ready to live in a state where you end up paying a very steep price for "conservative" economic polices that turn into back-door tax increases at the local level. There is conservative, and there is insanity - and we crossed that line sometime last year. Now, they are pushing for more.

    While the rest of the nation moves forward in recovery, once again our Republicans would set us back - perhaps by decades.

    Freep Editorial Calls For Bishop, Dillon to Step Aside

    Someone had to say it.

    Despite the best of intentions, Michigan legislators remain far from concluding a budget agreement for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, much less the two-year budget deal leaders of both houses said they hoped to strike early this year.

    It's time for Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, both of whom are increasingly distracted by campaigns for statewide office, to relinquish their critical leadership posts to legislators who are not so encumbered.

    This legislature is following the same pattern that they have since the beginning of 2007, when both Andy Dillon and Mike Bishop were elected leaders of their respective chambers. Spend the year making and breaking promises, tell us they are "working" during endless vacations only to find out that they were not, and push everything off until the last minute when they offer up budgets that fail to address Michigan's needs. There has been no indication so far that this year is any different.

    Under Dillon and Bishop's leadership, the Legislature has already blown several important opportunities to reduce spending. Last month's legal deadline for rescinding a budget-busting 3% pay increase for state employees passed while lawmakers were on spring vacation. They've also failed to act on Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposal to lure about 35,000 teachers and state employees into early retirement, diminishing the savings the state might have realized by finalizing the terms of a retirement deal in a more timely way.

    Dillon and Bishop like to say they have a good working relationship, but so far all they have to show for it is a bipartisan nothing-burger.

    Each man has made notable efforts to jump-start the budget negotiation process. But neither has been able to rally his caucus behind what virtually everyone outside the Legislature agrees will be needed to fix Michigan's structural budget imbalance: a combination of spending cuts and the elimination of loopholes that currently exempt much of Michigan's economic activity from taxation.

    This editorial chooses to ignore what "virtually everyone outside the Legislature" has agreed needs to happen - a change in our tax collection to reflect the shift to a service based economy. Rescinding the 3% pay raise will do nothing to resolve our chronic structural deficits, and it's disingenuous to suggest it would, or to call it "budget busting". And, if "elimination of loopholes" means "tax more services", then the editorial should come right out and say so.

    As our Senate Fiscal Agency recently pointed out, the "best measure of a state's overall economic welfare is income per person" - and Michigan has fallen to 37th in the nation as of 2008, reflecting the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs. This, combined with the two recessions of the past decade, has affected the state's bottom line on income and sales tax collections, exacerbating our the problem of our declining revenue stream and contributing to the need for more budget cuts. In other words, simply cutting wages, in any sector of the economy, will only make the problem worse. Not only do you lose income tax revenue, those workers stop spending money. Double whammy - and part of the "race to the bottom" mentality that really needs to be eliminated if we are to have prosperity.

    Simply cutting spending is not the answer, as many experts and editorialists have now pointed out. Just this week, the Board of Education joined the ever-growing list of public and private leaders that agree that we need to shift to a service-based revenue stream. Despite these calls from from our state's professionals, and numerous legitimate polls that show voters are very open to the concept of either service taxes, or especially a graduated income tax to fund crucial state services, Bishop and Dillon have simply ignored both fiscal reality and our citizens' desire to see something done. This fact, probably more than any other, is why both Bishop and Dillon should step aside. We need to position this state to take advantage of the national recovery as it happens - not play catch-up after the fact because they were too busy running for their next job.

    Mike Bishop has shown nothing but contempt for the function of government, utter disrespect for the office of the governor and towards his own colleagues in the legislature, and a callous disregard for the people and the welfare of this state. He worships his own extreme partisan ideology of hatred of government - and he has made damn sure that the system remains broken while he has been Senate leader. Not only should he resign his leadership position, he should return back to the private sector as soon as possible. His record in the Senate reflects an immature and arrogant attitude that seems to despise public service, and it's about time that both the public and the media started to call that out for what it is.

    Andy Dillon has made endless promises to address our problems, and then has failed to follow through on any of them. He pledged to address our tax structure at the beginning of 2009, and then never offered a plan. He introduced a state employee health insurance pooling proposal in the summer of 2009, and nearly a year later, that still hasn't moved through chambers. The House has nibbled around the edges on issues, afraid to offer bold leadership to counter the obstructionist Senate Republicans, and as a result the wishes of the voters that gave them a huge majority in '06 and '08 have been betrayed. Speaker Dillon should either move to get something substantial done, or turn the reins over to someone who will. If the caucus won't follow, so be it. The voters will address that at the polls. But to do nothing at all is way too dangerous - both politically and financially.

    All of that being said, the reality of removing these two is a very nice thought, but it's possible that it wouldn't make any difference until the entire legislature turns over. When you consider the lockstep, extreme partisan ideology that permeates the Senate Republican caucus, it's doubtful that anything would change. Cropsey? Cassis? Sanborn? Does anyone honestly think they would work at bipartisan solutions to our problems? Hardly. And it's doubtful that anything would change in the House either, as Democrats there have shown that they won't vote for cuts, reforms, or revenue. Difficult votes to reform the tax base seem out of the question for this crowd, and chances are we will end up with another budget that uses Republican votes to make deep cuts by the time this is over.

    Unfortunately, reforming Michigan's tax structure will probably have to be done by the voters themselves through a ballot proposal. It's also doubtful that a new crop of lawmakers next year will have the experience necessary to face the job at hand, so another year will go by - and then we are right back to another election year, where the same excuses will come up again. A pattern has been established now, and, with extremism on the part of Republicans who serve a radical right wing base growing deeper by the day, it's hard to see how meaningful reform will be accomplished anytime soon.

    So, who has a couple million to throw at a ballot proposal? Anyone? Set your sights on 2012 and a high voter turnout. It's a shame that we will have to wait that long, but at this point it might be our only hope.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Grab the Popcorn: Cox Attacks Hoekstra in New TV Ad

    It's filing day, and we have five, count 'em five, Republican candidates for governor this year. Time for them to start thinning out the herd. Rumor has it that Mike Cox is not well-liked in certain Republican circles, and, in a new television ad that started today, you can start to see why. Poor front-runner Twitter Pete probably didn't know what hit him. Remember, he hasn't had to deal with a serious media challenge for quite some time (if ever), and now he has other Republicans running their standard brand of misleading ads against him. That's gotta sting.

    Attorney General Mike Cox launched his first television ad as a candidate for governor today, depicting himself as "tough enough to lead," and attacking Republican rival U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra as a Washington big spender.

    The ad, which will run in every market in the state except Detroit, begins with a sharply-worded attack on Hoekstra for votes in favor of the so-called Wall Street bailout and pork barrel projects including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."

    The Cox campaign won't reveal how big the buy is, but I can tell you that it was running fairly heavy this morning - I saw it four times in a matter of about two hours - and it's running again as I type this. He takes a slight shot at Obama and Granholm as well for good measure, but the biggest problem in Michigan is obviously Pete Hoekstra.

    Cox campaign manager Stu Sandler said the unorthodox decision to open an advertising campaign with an attack on a rival was a reflection of Cox's commitment to focus on issues that matter to voters.

    "People across the country are fed up with the spending," Sandler said.

    And people in Michigan are fed up with spending on their schools and cities being cut, which Mike Cox would do if his plans were carried out. No matter, we are playing to the teabagger base here - and don't think for a second that Hoekstra will take this lying down. Take it away, Mr. Truscott....

    Hoekstra campaign spokesman John Truscott says then-President George W. Bush personally asked Hoekstra to vote for the bank bailout.

    Truscott says Cox has never cast a vote and will have to defend his investigation of a rumored Manoogian Mansion party involving disgraced ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

    Hoekstra will begin running his own ad this week.

    Can't wait for that. Would love to see Kwame become a Republican problem for a change.

    On top of the Cox attack ad, there is another ad from the anti-tax, anti-labor, US Chamber front group "Americans For Job Security" that uses the same talking points to attack Hoekstra. And that is running pretty heavy in the GR market as well.

    Better get off the stick, Twitter Pete. This time, the crazy base that previously has been in your corner all this time is now coming after you.

    Ask Bob Bennett. He'll tell you all about it.