Friday, February 25, 2011

Isn't It A Pity?

A fitting song for these times, for all the times.

Happy Birthday George.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snyder Budget Already Costing Jobs: "The Avengers" Film Pulls Out of Michigan

Say goodbye, indeed. The movie people aren't waiting around to see what our politicians are going to do next with the film credits; they are shutting down productions immediately. "The Avengers" would have been a major money-maker and job-creator for Michigan this year, but thanks to Governor Snyder's budget proposal - they are already gone.

"The Avengers" -- a big-budget Marvel superhero film featuring Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and others that was to be partially shot here this summer -- has already decided it won't be filming in the state, several people with connections to the film told the Free Press.

The "Avengers" story echoes the buzz spreading through the local film industry that projects wanting to come here are either holding off on their plans or changing their locations to another state.

Anxiety, uncertainty and anger are building in the metro Detroit film community over Snyder's budget plan, which essentially would eliminate the current film tax incentive and instead call for $25 million in each of the next two years for future movie projects.

The Avengers” decision is an early – and high-profile – example of incentive supporters’ fears becoming reality.

The Freep story goes on to tell of a scout who was lining up locations to shoot the movie when he got the call that the plug had been pulled - locations that would have received a lot of money for their services.

The departure of the "The Avengers" project means a loss to more businesses than those involved with on-set duties.

"We were currently in negotiations to work with them at some point during their stay," said Scott Stinebaugh, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Book Cadillac.

The film industry in general represented more than $1 million to the Book Cadillac in 2010, Stinebaugh said.

If those opportunities go away, "it will be a devastating blow not just to us, but to all of the metropolitan Detroit hospitality community," he said.

The Freep has also published a study today from accounting firm Ernst & Young that gives a better picture of how the incentives bring money to Michigan, claiming that for every $1 spent on credits, $6 is returned to the state in economic activity. While critics of the industry will still point to the Senate Fiscal Agency study (that the SFA itself admitted was incomplete), this one takes in account some of those items the other missed.

• Production companies spent $532 million in the state in 2009 and 2010. Of that amount, nearly 60%, or $310.5 million, impacted Michigan's economy.

• Eighty percent of the 4,656 indirect jobs that the movie business has created in Michigan have occurred in five industries: food services, business services, rentals and repairs, personal services and retail.

• The net cost of the tax credits awarded during 2009 and 2010 totaled $137 million. Taxes and fees generated from movie activity, plus reduced unemployment benefits because the filming creates jobs, offset the state's costs, the study says. According to the Michigan Film Office, the state has awarded $304 million in film tax credits since April 2008 and has paid out $96 million so far.

• Film productions paid Michigan residents $42.8 million in wages and salaries in 2009 and $66.9 million in 2010. That equates to an average annual salary of about $53,700 per full-time equivalent employee.

• The average film production in Michigan lasted 90 days in 2009 and 89 days in 2010.

And we still haven't even talked about the intangibles of keeping the young and creative class here, or things like "movie tourism", which Republican Sen. Rick Jones was quick to point out when he took a stand for the credits right before the hammer came down. A new "Batman" movie was looking at locations in his district at the time.

For more fun, go read Mitch Albom's column yesterday about how he, too, was mislead by Snyder about what he was told concerning the incentives and the budget. Snyder's people wanted to dismiss Jeff Daniels' claims about the same issue; are they going to call Mitch a liar too?

I know we aren't supposed to use the term "job killer" anymore, but if the shoe obviously fits...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Talking Heads Tackle Wisconsin

Former (still not used to that) Governor Granholm's first appearance on "Meet the Press", ICYMI:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Miss my governor, just like I knew I would - but if there is anyone I want to see join the Sunday crowd, it's her. Love how she starts right out with the concessions offered by the Wisconsin unions, and points out that Walker's refusal to compromise now is simply an attack on collective bargaining. Which it is.

"The national conversation is about reigning in government spending", sez David. Wow, probably shouldn't have extended the Bush tax cuts then, huh? Since the tax cuts, the unfunded wars, and the economic downturn due to the recession are the biggest contributors to the deficit and all, we might want to take a look at those things as well - and that is where this current national conversation misses the mark. Focusing on how we can chisel more money out of the poorer citizens is going to get pretty old pretty quick, especially given the cuts that are happening at the state level too. Going to come a point where people say "enough is enough" and start fighting back.

So, carry on with your "austerity" talk when it comes to the middle class for now - but eventually we might see the Spirit of Wisconsin break out all over the country. If and when that day comes, please oh please let trickle down economics be discredited once and for all, and maybe then we can start having a serious national conversation about investing in this country and our people once again.

GOP Escalates the War on Choice and Women's Health Care

This is one of the most powerful pieces of video I have seen in quite some time. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stoops to the usual histrionic language of the anti-choice crowd in an argument to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that prevents abortions through contraception and family planning. Rep. Jackie Speier of California stands up with a personal story that sets him straight to applause from the chamber.

"There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood". Yes, there is, and the Republicans passed the measure in the US House to not only defund Planned Parenthood, but to defund Title X as well, which provides preventative health services including breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV prevention education, pregnancy diagnosis and counseling to low-income families. Joan McCarter at Kos sums it up nicely:

Yep, culture of life. Cut off the means for millions of to have access to affordable birth control, thereby creating more unplanned pregnancies. Deny them affordable breast and cervical cancer screenings. Make sure they don't know how to use contraceptives, and even if they do, they don't have access to them.

Make sure that women can't get abortions safely and affordably by making sure insurance won't pay for it and hospitals can refuse to perform it, even if it means the death of the patient. These combined efforts will send more and more women into the hell created by monsters like Kermit Gosnell--the hell created by denying women access to affordable care.

That's what is happening at the federal level. It won't make it through the Senate, but it certainly gives notice of what the GOP has in mind should they take control of the chamber in 2012. Down here in the states, the war on women continues in various other ways that chip, chip, chip away at the right of choice. Even though the most egregious example of South Dakota's attempt at making the murder of doctors "justifiable homicide" has been shelved for now, you can find other stories where less government crowd is more than happy to introduce more government into the lives of pregnant women. Take a look around if you are so inclined.

Here in Michigan, the issue is basically flying under the radar for now, but there have been some odious bills introduced down in Lansing. All descriptions come from Michigan Votes. This features the Senate bills, keep in mind most legislation has companion bills introduced in the House as well:

Senate Bill 13 (Define fetus as an “individual” in statute)
Introduced by Sen. Mark Jansen (R) on January 19, 2011, to revise the definition of “individual” where it occurs in Michigan statutes, so that it includes an unborn fetus, unless this would be inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature which created a statute.

Senate Bill 25 (Establish disposition of fetus regulations)
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R) on January 19, 2011, to require a health facility to take into account the expressed wishes of the parents of a dead fetus, or just the mother if she is unmarried, and seek authorization before arranging the final disposition of the fetus.

Senate Bill 54 (Establish disposition of fetus regulations)
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R) on January 20, 2011, to require a health facility to take into account the expressed wishes of the parents of a dead fetus, or just the mother if she is unmarried, and seek authorization before arranging the final disposition of the fetus. The bill would prohibit the cremation of an aborted fetus with medical waste, and authorize up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine for violations.

Senate Bill 55 (Penalites)
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R) on January 20, 2011, Increase improper fetal remains disposal penalties to establish sentencing guidelines for the increased penalties proposed by House Bill 4119 for improper disposal of fetal remains.

Senate Bill 135 (Revise abortion parental authority waiver)
Introduced by Sen. David Robertson (R) on February 10, 2011, to revise the requirements for a court considering a petition from a minor for authority to get an abortion over the objection of her parents. The bill would require a court to consider the rebuttable presumption that a minor is not capable of providing informed consent for medical treatment. A waiver of parental denial could only be granted if the girl demonstrates a level of maturity based on various factors specified in the bill, or if her parents are neglectful or abusive. A girl whose petition was denied could not seek a waiver in another court division, but could appeal to a higher court.

Senate Bill 150 (Revise abortion ultrasound viewing detail)
Introduced by Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R) on February 16, 2011, to revise a detail of the that requires that, if prior to or during the performance of an abortion a patient undergoes an ultrasound examination, the physician must provide the patient with the opportunity to view a the image before performing the abortion. The bill would require the ultrasound equipment used to be the most technologically advanced equipment in the facility.

Senate Bill 160 (Ban “partial birth abortion”)
Introduced by Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R) on February 17, 2011, to prohibit “partial birth abortions” as defined in the bill, unless in a physician's reasonable medical judgment a partial-birth abortion is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury. The bill does not specify a "health of the mother" exception. Violation would be subject the abortion provider (but not the mother) to up to two years in prison and a $50,000 fine; the father could sue the physician for damages (but could not sue the mother). The bill contains a detailed list of “legislative findings” regarding this practice.

Senate Bill 161 (Ban partial birth abortion)
Introduced by Sen. Goeff Hansen (R) on February 17, 2011, to authorize sentencing guidelines for the “partial birth abortion” ban proposed by Senate Bill 160.

House Bill 4143 (Ban abortion coverage in state "Obamacare“ exchange)
Introduced by Rep. Jud Gilbert (R) on January 26, 2011, to prohibit any state “insurance exchange” created under the federalized health care law from including coverage for abortion except through the purchase of optional rider.

House Bill 4147 (Ban abortion coverage in state "Obamacare“ exchange)
Introduced by Rep. Jud Gilbert (R) on January 26, 2011, to prohibit any state “insurance exchange” created under the federalized health care law from including coverage for abortion except through the purchase of optional rider. This bill applies to Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

The culture war is back, and it's directed right at women once again. Look for it to surface in the Michigan media once these bills start passing - because with the Republicans in total control, there is no stopping them now.

The only question now is how far they are willing to push it. The latest poll from EPIC shows a 50-43% pro-choice tilt among Michigan voters, and that poll was a sample that had more Republican and independent identification than Democrats, so over-reach on the issue might just backfire. They probably know it too, and that is why this slow but steady approach will continue - until women will find they have very little say in the matter at all.

Cassandra of the 10,000 Budget Wars

Am I good, or what?

Jan. 31st.

1) He wants to cut taxes.
2) You're going to pay for it.

Feb. 18th.

Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a historic shift in the state's tax burden, using a $1.7 billion increase on individual taxpayers to fund $1.8 billion in cuts to businesses, a shift the governor said is designed to improve the state's future by making it more attractive for job-creating companies.

Actually, I give myself a bit too much credit here. Anyone who has paid a whit of attention to the Republicans for the past thirty years knows that "tax cuts" are all they have. If times are good, you cut taxes. If times are bad, you cut taxes. The modern-day GOP is quite possibly the greatest invention man has ever created when it comes to taking money out of the pockets of the many to deposit into the pockets of the few. They will lie, cheat, steal and throw temper tantrums to get that single goal accomplished, and it's working very well, don't you think? Snyder's budget is just a continuation of that trend, and once the dust settles perhaps the chattering class will see that there is nothing "radical" about it at all.

The saddest part of this massive transfer of money from the poor and middle-class to provide for business tax cuts is that it isn't going to work. Yes, we may need a simpler business tax code. I will grant them that. But what is happening here will not make Michigan more competitive in the long run. "Low taxes" are not the be-all, end-all behind a business decision to locate in any particular state - if they were, South Dakota and Wyoming would be exploding with new growth. They are not. As the conservative Tax Foundation's State Business Tax Climate Index points out, it's a bit more complicated than that. For one example, if you want to use the metric of jobs and unemployment in relation to taxes, Nevada and Florida, ranked number four and five on the tax chart, currently have higher unemployment rates than Michigan. Their low, low taxes could not save them from the downturn in real estate and construction - which shows that an economic climate dependent on one industry will always be subject to the tides of the national economy. Think autos and manufacturing in Michigan, and it should become clear. Tax rates have very little to do with it, no matter what the Republicans say.

Diversity in a state's economy is key, and the Snyder plan to remove incentives will bring that current growth in Michigan to a grinding halt. Those stories are starting to appear now, and every. single. one. of them, including the front page of the GR Press today, has included warnings from professionals that are telling us that removing incentives and credits will not only stop the urban development that is currently occurring in-state, it will severely limit our ability to attract new business to come to our state in the future. (And, for Snyder to complain that the process was too "politicized", while he indicates that he will turn the decisions on any future incentives over to the Legislature, is simply mind-boggling. If anyone is going to play politics with tax incentives, it's the working girls and the rentboys in Lansing that are dancing on the strings of the lobbyists who fund their campaigns. But that's a story for another day.) Businesses will go where the deals are, period. I have yet to see anyone say otherwise.

So the Snyder plan, in a nutshell, will take $1.7 billion out of the hands of Michigan consumers - the seniors, the middle-class, the working poor, the very consumers that were guaranteed to spend it at local Michigan businesses. That's going to hurt our economy. He will slash K-12 education and revenue sharing, a move that just might drive some school districts and cities into bankruptcy. That not only hurts our quality of life, which is a key intangible in attracting new business growth, it simply puts a middle man in the form of your local elected officials in-between the state and Republican party's on-going attempt to bust public employee unions. It certainly will result in the removal of more cops and firefighters from Michigan's cities and townships, not to mention the further loss of local services like parks, recreation, libraries and such. He will drive up the cost of college tuition. He will stop incentives to lure new businesses to Michigan, businesses that would diversify our economy into clean energy, advanced manufacturing, entertainment, you name it, they will go where the credits are. And, in a move that shows he is not open to "bipartisanship" and discussion as he has claimed, he is structuring this as an all-or-nothing, my way or the highway proposition.

Any guesses on how all that will turn out?

I've got a few. I sure hope I'm wrong. And I won't root against our state or our governor, as the Republicans used to do. But I will point out the obvious as I see it, as I always have - and all of a sudden, that seems to be a horrible curse more than it ever would be a blessing.

Have fun kids. When we start to fall behind the rest of the nation, something that might not be apparent for a while because auto sales will mask it for the near future, remember where you heard it first.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Say Goodbye to Hollywood

"So many faces in and out of my life
Some will last
Some will just be now and then..."

A proposal in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's budget to end the state's generous film industry incentives and cap Michigan film tax credits at $25 million a year will mean a loss of jobs, an exodus of talent and an end to big budget movies being filmed in the state, industry insiders say.

Philippe Martinez, CEO of Maxsar Studios in Livonia, Michigan, said he has been preparing himself for the last few weeks for such an announcement from the governor.

"It will definitely kill hundreds of jobs," Martinez said. His studio currently employs 50 people and he had plans to hire 50 more this year — but those plans are over.

"Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again..."

"It's a slap in the face to those who invested money in Michigan's film industry," (film industry consultant Ken) Droz said, adding that thousands of dollars have been invested in building the state's film industry work force.

One goal of the film incentives, Droz said, was to stop the brain drain of creative people in Michigan and give them a reason — and the jobs they needed — to stay in the state. Those workers who trained for the film industry will now be asking themselves if they'll need to leave Michigan to find work. Droz is one of them. "After I left the Film Office, I decided to start a consulting business and set down roots in Southfield," he said. "Now I may have to leave."

"Say goodbye to Hollywood..."

Jeff Daniels was outspoken Thursday in his disappointment with Gov. Rick Snyder's plans for the future of the Michigan film incentives.

"The sound you hear today is of people packing and leaving the state," Daniels said by phone, describing the potential impact of Snyder's budget proposal, which would eliminate the film tax credit as we now know it.

Daniels said Snyder told him privately that he didn't want to eliminate the incentives and discussed reductions in the current rate, which is up to 42%, and asked him what effect reductions would have.

"It's really disheartening," Daniels said of Snyder's budget plan. "It's not what he told me privately, so to be honest, I guess he's a politician after all. Say one thing, do another."

"Say goodbye, my baby..."

"It makes no sense to eliminate a program that has actually been creating jobs," said documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, a member of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council. "The champagne corks are coming off in (rivals) Louisiana, New Mexico and North Carolina."

Michigan has been ranking third each month for film production work, trailing only California and New York, Moore said.

"Say goodbye to Hollywood..."

The proposed cut in incentives comes as Michigan is building an infrastructure for year-round filming. The new $80-million Raleigh Michigan Studios in Pontiac is planning to open this spring, and two other smaller studios are already operating. The cutbacks in the incentives could force the studios to close.

"Say goodbye, my baby..."

Headline in Variety: "Michigan Gov. to film biz: Drop dead"

A little traveling music for the creative class, who now will be leaving our state again...

We were cool for a minute. Someday you can tell your kids about it. Before they pack up and leave, that is.

UPDATE 2/19: Read about more companies who are canceling plans to hire and/or leave the state from the AP.
And more 2/20: Mitch Albom blows a nut in today's Freep over the loss of this industry, and confirms Daniel's story about Snyder's dishonesty on the issue.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Snowmobile Detroit!

Need more fun blogging, don't ya think? This is video that I'm guessing was taken during the blizzard. After hitting some landmarks downtown, these guys end up on the Lodge - and they are really moving at that point. Enjoy.

Are We Harboring Fugitive Wisconsin Democrats?

My guess is that if they actually left the state, they are in Illinois. Probably safer there anyway. They're still Blue.

The weather in Wisconsin is cold this time of year -- but the budget fight is only getting hotter. Following a walkout by the state Senate Democrats, depriving Republicans of the three-fifths majority needed to pass the budget and its controversial anti-public union provisions, the NBC affiliate in Madison now reports that sources say the Dems have left the state entirely.

This comes after the state Senate majority leader said that the State Patrol could be called in to round up the Dems. However, leaving for another state would presumably place the legislators beyond the state's jurisdiction. (Fun fact: The state Senate leader and the Assembly Speaker are brothers -- and the new head of the State Patrol is their father.)

I asked the state Democratic Party for comment on this latest report, but communications director Graeme Zielinski was unable to confirm anything. "I know the whereabouts of not a single Democratic senator," said Zielinski. "I do not know what latitude they're on, or know what longitude they're on. I assume they're in this hemisphere, I'll say that."

No idea how long they can keep it up; the sickouts, the protests, something tells me Walker is going to be one stubborn prick about this. The fight is coming to Ohio and other states as well - how long until our Republicans pass a law that says we will not harbor renegade Democratic legislators from other states?

UPDATE: Oh good Lord, now I've got Wisconsin law firms hitting this blog off the term "fugitive".

No, we don't have your Democrats. I was joking. Have you checked Minnesota?

Goodbye to the Diverse Blue Sky

For an example of the kind of investments we will lose under Snyder's budget proposal, one only has to look at the MEDC/MEGA credit release from this week. Yes, at this point we are still doling out the business incentives, and cheering about other states/countries we beat as well. 15 businesses, $205 million in investment, over 4,000 estimated jobs. From the release, which seems ironic considering the rhetoric on this morning's budget proposal:

"The MEGA board approved incentives to win the following projects for Michigan over competing states and countries".

And the list:

  • American Broach & Machine Co. - Canada, China
  • Benteler Automotive Corp. - Alabama, South Carolina
  • Faurecia Interior Systems Inc. - Ohio, Mexico
  • Fluid Routing Solutions Inc. - Kentucky, Tennessee
  • Gemini Group Inc. - Texas, Mexico
  • IPC Print Services Inc. - Missouri
  • Kuka Robotics Corp - Georgia
  • MedAssurant Inc. - Maryland, Georgia, Virginia
  • Merit Technologies Worldwide LLC - Indiana
  • Metalloid Corp. - Indiana, Texas
  • Unistrut International Corp. - none mentioned
  • Wabco North America LLC - Indiana, Illinois
  • XG Sciences Inc. - Ohio

  • Anyone think these other states/countries are going to disarm in the war for business? Most of these companies are automotive related, definitely high-tech stuff. There is an interesting brownfield development concerning the Plainwell Paper Mill as well, soon to be on the National Historic Register. Love those projects. They will end, and the land left to rot with its poison, should Snyder get his way.

    The one company that that stands out in this release though:

    Patriot Solar Group LLC — The solar-energy company plans to invest $3.9 million to open a solar mounts, solar systems and antenna mounts manufacturing plant in Sheridan Township, north of Albion. The company expects the project to create up to 193 direct new jobs, resulting in a state tax credit valued at $1.2 million over five years. Michigan was chosen over competing sites in Nevada and Canada. Sheridan Township is considering an abatement in support of the project.

    Nixon tweeted that they will set aside $130 million for "economic development" (Florida is pledging $800 million at last report, with no taxes) - what that means, and how it would be distributed is unclear as of now (winners and losers?), but make no mistake here: Other states are going to be more than happy to take this business from us. Without incentives to continue to diversify our economy, we once again are going to fall back to being reliant on the auto industry. And we have made this mistake before.

    Already I've seen some media chatter to the effect of "Well, it's simple, and everyone is mad, so it must be good!" Which is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. Those media figures who are looking to score points for being center of the road (how brave of you), while ignoring the complexity of competing in a global economy for new industry, are only hurting the future of this state. We won't even get into the cuts to education and how they hurt us when it comes to global competition.

    Enjoy your "simple" governor, Michigan. Other states certainly will. Fingers crossed we have enough forward momentum to keep the batteries and other green technology companies we have landed - they have a choice to keep the current deal, or go to a new tax rate. Will that be enough to keep them here for good?

    UPDATE: The Press has more on brownfield development here.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    The Republican Budget Blues

    Snyder budget. Hit everyone. Boom.

    Once again, my man Peter Luke has the best rundown on some of the details that have leaked out. More to be revealed tomorrow I'm sure, but from what I'm reading so far, this is going to be one spectacular meltdown.

    (And quite frankly, I think it's DOA in the Legislature. Just can't see them voting to increase taxes, especially on seniors, who are the Republican's bread and butter - but stranger things have happened.)

    All retirement income, including pensions, but not Social Security, would be taxed in that overhaul. Additional exemptions for seniors and children would be axed. And the income tax rate, set to decline to 3.9 percent, would be maintained at 4.25 percent following a scheduled one-year reduction in 2012. The $3,700 personal exemption would phase out for single filers with $75,000 in income and joint filers with $150,000.

    For reaction to the pension story, the GR Press trotted on down to the new Gun Lake casino and found a bunch of seniors hanging out there - which was probably not the best portrait of sympathy you could paint, but you have to admit it was rather amusing. Needless to say, they aren't happy.

    Anyhoo, Detroit will not be so amusing after a 40% reduction in revenue sharing.

    On the spending side of the ledger, city officials in Michigan were bracing for what could be a 40-percent reduction in their revenue sharing payments, a straight cut of some $400 million with $200 million added back for cities that meet new standards for cooperation and cost cutting Snyder’s budget presumably will outline.

    “We’re going from a program that was revenue sharing to revenue stealing,” said Summer Minnick of the Michigan Municipal League. “This was created when locals gave up local taxing authority and (state elected officials) have been slowly taking it away to fill their own budget hole. Local citizens are going to feel the impact.”

    WILX (AP) is reporting the EITC will be cut - and they are also reporting a hefty K-12 cut as well. (EDIT: Full AP story at the Freep)

    Under his plan, public schools would see a 4 percent cut, or about $470 per student. Universities would be cut 15 percent, but be given financial incentives to keep tuition increases around 7 percent or less, according to state budget director John Nixon.

    Gongwer just tweeted this: "Gov Snyder tells Gongwer: 'One thing I've already said is there is no net tax increase here. It's actually a tax reduction overall.'

    Sure, for business interests. For regular folks... well, that's a different story. Seems it's more tax breaks for the rich, and we'll balance the budget on the backs of seniors, children, college students, and public safety. Did you expect anything different?

    Me, I'm going to grab some popcorn and watch the Republicans duke it out. I'm not in a position to put the kind of time and energy into this that I used to, although, if y'all want to stage some massive protest, I'll come down and shoot it. Just for funsies.

    UPDATE: More from the AP - wave goodbye to the movie industry, and maybe even the battery industry. One thing is for certain, we won't be attracting any new companies to come here without those incentives - so we better hope we can keep the ones we have. Here are the major highlights:

    — Drops the individual income tax rate from 4.35 percent to 4.25 percent on Oct. 1; the tax will then remain at 4.25 percent rather than being decreased to 3.9 percent in future years as scheduled.

    — Eliminates the state income tax exemption for pensions, but Social Security benefits will continue to be exempt.

    — Eliminates the Michigan Business Tax and replaces it with a flat 6 percent corporate income tax on major corporations.

    — Eliminates business credits awarded for films, brownfield redevelopment, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, etc., although current commitments will be honored. Sets aside $25 million for film credits from the 21st Century Jobs Fund.

    — Rolls funding for universities and community colleges from the general fund to the school aid fund, the main funding source for K-12 schools.

    — Cuts per pupil funds $300, in addition to the currently budged $170 per pupil reduction.

    — Eliminates statutory revenue sharing payments for cities, villages and townships in FY 2012, leading to a net savings of $92.1 million. The change impacts 509 local units of government. Increases constitutional revenue sharing by 4 percent, to $659 million.

    — Includes $200 million for a new incentive-based revenue sharing program for cities, villages and townships that meet specific standards to be detailed in March.

    — Sets a lifetime limit of 48 months for residents to receive welfare payments, with exemptions for incapacity and hardship.

    — Closes the Shawono Center in Grayling, and cuts 20 beds in capacity at the Maxey Training School in Whitmore Lake, resulting in $787,000 general fund savings.

    — Eliminates 300 field worker positions in the Department of Human Services.

    — Closes one prison to be named later this year.

    — Reduces the number of Michigan State Police posts, saving $3.2 million.

    — Reduces state aid to libraries in the Department of Education budget by $2.3 million in the general fund, with $950,000 directed to the Michigan eLibrary, resulting in net savings of $1.4 million.

    — Suggests privatizing food service and prison stores operations in Michigan prisons, and suggests that resident care aide services at the Grand Rapids Veterans' Home be competitively bid.

    —Turns the dairy farm inspection program over to industry field representatives certified by the Department of Agriculture.

    And so your elected representative cannot mess up Snyder's plan, it will be presented as two bills; one for education, the other for everything else. So much for bipartisanship and public input. Apparently no compromise will be allowed.

    Not such a cute little nerd now, is he? I'm imagining his campaign, had he told the truth - "Massive cuts to education and public safety, massive tax increases for you, more tax cuts for my business friends, and we won't have any discussion about it."

    Hey, you wanted a CEO. That's how they roll. Don't act so surprised.

    One last thing. I can't help but think - we had a progressive governor, with a progressive plan, and very few could be bothered to stand up and support her. And I'll be honest about this, it's very, very hard not to be really pissed off about that now. So, I need to step back and deal with those feelings, take a few long walks and deep breaths, find that forgiveness for myself and others, and figure out where to go from here. Easier said than done.

    Good luck people. We are going to need it.

    UPDATE 2: Mi-Tech has the Gongwer story on the proposal. Also worth a read, if only to laugh at the teabaggers who are absolutely furious about the tax increases.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Another Michigan Community Aims to Follow the Sun

    While it is disappointing to see the news that the state has approved the air permit for the expansion of the coal plant in Holland, you can look around and find that in other places, progress is still happening. Tittabawassee Township is the latest community to look at installing renewable energy, and if all goes as planned it could become the largest municipal solar application in the state.

    Private investors are behind the project. On the surface, it doesn't look like the math works out - but keep in mind they sell the power back to Consumers at a premium per kw hour, and those figures aren't included here. Over a 20-year contract they more than make the initial investment back, and the community saves money on energy at the same time.

    Members of the Board of Trustees hosted a presentation Tuesday given by Michael Dergis and Wim van Acker of Van Acker Associates, a financial advisory company from Bloomfield Hills; and Binger Winchell and Bill Gagliardi of The Green Panel Inc., a solar technology and installation company from Brighton.

    "The township may save up to $170,000 in energy costs over the lifetime of the program under a 20-year contract," Dergis said. "The government is requiring 10 percent of energy must be generated by renewable sources by 2015."

    The township could allow investors in solar technology to finance panels, installed atop the Freeland SportsZone, 5690 Midland Road; on the grounds of the Tittabawassee Township Waste Water Treatment Plant; and at the township reservoir.

    The panels would generate electricity for Consumers Energy, and the township would receive about $10,000 a year.

    Dergis said discussions also have started with MBS International Airport for a similar installation.

    The $4.1 million program is financed by outside investors who would own the solar installations for the duration of the contract, with an option to renew the agreement or turn ownership over to the township, Dergis said.

    All of this is contingent on that contract with CE to purchase the power - and this is where a higher RPS would have come in handy. Imagine investors setting up projects like this all over the state, and Consumers signing on so they could meet a higher target...

    An agreement will have to be worked out with Consumers Energy if the township moves ahead with the project.

    The proposed solar installation is an 822 kilowatt-peak, a measurement of solar peak output, split between the waste water treatment plant at 500 kWp, supplying 90 percent of its electricity; the reservoir at 90 kWp, about 75 percent of its electrical needs. The Freeland SportsZone, limited by rooftop space, would get 232 kWp, meeting about 35 percent of its electricity.

    Keep it up, people. We will beat back those nasty coal plants some day. It's inevitable. Bottom line: Why would you want to keep purchasing out-of-state coal, when you can produce power like this with little to no effort?

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Just Remember, It Could Be Worse

    This ties in with the post directly below - I guess our state employees should be glad we didn't elect a total whackjob like Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who practically eliminated collective bargaining, and then decided to play big man with the guns:

    Gov. Scott Walker says the Wisconsin National Guard is prepared to respond wherever is necessary in the wake of his announcement that he wants to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from state employees.

    Walker said Friday that he hasn't called the Guard into action, but he has briefed them and other state agencies in preparation of any problems that could result in a disruption of state services, like staffing at prisons.

    Walker says he has every confidence that state employees will continue to show up for work and do their jobs and he's not anticipating any problems.

    But just in case, he wanted to alert his own personal army to be to ready quell any uprising from the citizens of Wisconsin.

    Wow. Just, wow.

    Now that those Egyptian protesters have some time on their hands, maybe we could get them to show up here in America and help us out...

    What Constitution? House Republicans, Snyder Administration Signal Intent to Ignore the Law

    The legal battle over the fate of the public employee starts now:

    A showdown is developing between Gov. Rick Snyder and the Civil Service Commission after Snyder officials said Thursday they will not comply with an order the commission issued affecting the pay of about 14,000 nonunion employees.

    "It sounds like it's going to be a turf war," commission Chairman Thomas "Mac" Wardrop said.

    The commission voted 4-0 Wednesday to stop deducting 3 percent from the paychecks of the state's nonunion employees to pay for state employee retiree health care benefits.

    More than a simple turf war, it sounds as if the Republicans and the Snyder administration intend to run roughshod over the law until someone stops them. Power of the Constitution be damned, we will just ignore this ruling and force a court fight over the matter, which will certainly help to set the stage for future battles over public employee compensation to come.

    The Michigan Civil Service Commission was created by the Constitution of 1908. I'm going to go out on a limb here and presume that the intent was to put a firewall between elected officials and state employees to prevent abuse on both sides.

    There is hereby created a non-salaried civil service commission to consist of 4 persons, not more than 2 of whom shall be members of the same political party, appointed by the governor for 8-year, overlapping terms, the 4 original appointments to be for 2, 4, 6, and 8 years respectively. This commission shall supersede all existing state personnel agencies and succeed to their appropriations, records, supplies, equipment, and other property.

    The commission shall classify all positions in the state civil service according to their respective duties and responsibilities, fix rates of compensation for all classes of positions, approve or disapprove disbursements for all personal services, determine by competitive performance exclusively on the basis of merit, efficiency and fitness the qualifications of all candidates for positions in the state civil service, make rules and regulations covering all personnel transactions, and regulate all conditions of employment in the state civil service who has not been certified as so qualified for such appointment or promotion by the commission. No removals from or demotions in the state civil service shall be made for partisan, racial, or religious considerations.

    Shorter version: State employees or agencies can't filch from the till when it comes to pay or other tangible goods, and the governor and/or legislature can't use them as pawns in political battles, or practice cronyism on qualifications or compensation. Fair enough. The Constitution of 1963 basically repeats the initial power of the MCSC and expands the detail to include binding arbitration and other specifics such as annual reports and grievance procedures. When it comes to rates of compensation:

    Increases in rates of compensation authorized by the commission may be effective only at the start of a fiscal year and shall require prior notice to the governor, who shall transmit such increases to the legislature as part of his budget. The legislature may, by a majority vote of the members elected to and serving in each house, waive the notice and permit increases in rates of compensation to be effective at a time other than the start of a fiscal year. Within 60 calendar days following such transmission, the legislature may, by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house, reject or reduce increases in rates of compensation authorized by the commission. Any reduction ordered by the legislature shall apply uniformly to all classes of employees affected by the increases and shall not adjust pay differentials already established by the civil service commission. The legislature may not reduce rates of compensation below those in effect at the time of the transmission of increases authorized by the commission.

    Get two-thirds, and its gone. Again, fair enough. But that's where the fun begins and the hissy fits start. Yesterday's ruling overturns the budget agreement from last year that stated non-union employees would contribute 3% towards retiree health care. I'm guessing they probably knew it would be an issue when they did it, but at that point it was find-the-money-and-get-out-of-Dodge before the place devolved into thrown objects and fist fights, so it was passed and signed and counted towards the bottom line. The commission ruled that was a no-no, but oops, too bad, they're gone, now it's up to the obstructionists to fix the mess they created by being stubborn in the first place.

    Now, the language above is pretty clear on the power of the MCSC, which means at this point the Republicans are forced to reach into the Big Pot 'o Hyperbole and characterize these entirely legal actions as an affront to whatever talking point they are parroting this week/month/year.

    The administration announced it would continue making the deductions hours after House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, urged it to take that position to stop what he called an irresponsible spending spree by the Civil Service Commission.

    Two weeks ago, the commission angered many legislators by extending health care benefits to the same-sex partners and other unrelated housemates of state employees, again over the objections of the administration.

    "Spending" is the big bad buzzword, so "spending" it shall be labeled to suit Republican interests - and the administration will now use it as justification for ignoring the Constitution.

    "(House Speaker Jase Bolger) feels they have thumbed their nose at state law, with no regard as to the impact the decision is going to have in terms of fiscal cost, in terms of the legal question the (DTMB) is in," (Ari Adler, spokesman for Bolger) said. "The department is now in the middle of this. They have a Civil Service Commission ruling, and they have a state law to follow. ... We think they should follow state law."

    But commission members say the commission clearly has the constitutional authority to set compensation levels for nonunion employees, and that the Legislature acted improperly last year.

    "Mr. Bolger ought to tread lightly on the ruling of the Civil Service Commission," said commission member Andrew Abood, who introduced Wednesday's measure to end the contributions. "Clearly, we are on sound footing here. The constitution provides for what we did. It didn't support what (the Legislature) did."

    Interestingly enough, the "irresponsible spending spree" suddenly stopped when it came to raises for these same employees; they had asked for 3% to match the raise that some union employees received last year, the commission said "no". So, there's that. Doesn't matter though, the commission has angered the quest of the all-powerful, and now any sense of fairness or cooperation will go right out the window. Adler told the LSJ they are "exploring other ways to nullify or reverse the commission ruling", perhaps even asking AG Schuette to look into the matter - signaling they are willing to go for the big guns to get what they want.

    (EDIT 4:15PM - Not to be taken literally, like they did in Wisconsin)

    Bolger did one better for MIRS - he suggested they just start abolishing those parts of the Constitution that get in the way.

    "An agitated House Speaker Jase BOLGER (R-Marshall) said this morning that if the two recent actions by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) can't be overturned, he would support disbanding the constitutionally required body."

    Amazing how we have gone from the spirit of compromise to shredding the Constitution so darn quick, isn't it? But really, did you expect anything different?

    This is only the beginning. Good luck, state employees. As a famous movie robot once said: "I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies".

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Dropping (Another) Economic Atomic Bomb on Michigan

    As if losing manufacturing in the past decade wasn't enough, now it appears we are going to do our best to disrupt the precious recovery we have started here in Michigan. Want to know why you never heard any specifics on Snyder's plans to deal with our budget issues?

    "I think our message on the 17th of February is going to be dropping an atomic bomb on the City of Lansing." - Lt. Gov. Calley, to the Holland Chamber of Commerce

    While that might have made a rather impressive visual in a campaign commercial, it makes you wonder if the citizens of Michigan would have considered Snyder a moderate choice had they know that he was going to raise taxes on the working poor, dismantle all of our economic development efforts, and produce an "all cuts" budget of nearly $3 billion from an $8 billion general fund. Doesn't sound so "moderate" now, does he?

    Apparently, we are going to get Engler Redux, the mistake made in the early 90s that removed our state's economic incentive efforts. We are going to do it in a global economy that demands incentives now more than ever, and we are going to do it in spite of all the evidence that shows that it's a bad idea that hasn't worked in the past. Lt. Gov. Calley confirmed the plan of destruction he so appropriately worded to the Holland Chamber yesterday.

    Calley said a plan to create a 6 percent corporate tax will be achieved by closing tax loopholes and doing away with about $2 billion in state business tax credits.


    “The tax system is unfair to business and way too complicated. It picks business winners and losers,” said Calley noting the present unfair system collects taxes from all companies and gives away about $1.8 in tax credits to only certain companies and industries.

    As proposed, the new tax would phase out of many existing tax credits, including the Michigan Economic Growth Authority credits and others for specific industries, such as the film tax credit.

    Calley also said the governor and Legislature is working to eliminate the personal property tax that businesses pay on the cost of building new plants, expanding existing facilities or buy new equipment.

    The news this morning that Snyder will break up the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) and move functions to MEDC is only further proof of the plan - but Calley was the one who really confirmed what had been only vague rumors up to this point.

    The personal property and sales taxes account for nearly 71% of taxes paid by Michigan businesses according to a report from the Council on State Taxation, and they found that overall, our business tax burden was pretty much in line with the rest of the nation as of 2009. All the screeching about high business taxes was an election ruse, the standard Republican trump card when it comes to... well, everything. Just cut taxes, and the rest will work itself out, right?

    The ruse worked again, and elections have consequences, and it appears we are entering a new "race to the bottom" when it comes to the systematic dismantling of revenue streams to state governments, complete with horrific cuts to public services that will be done in the name of this new competition to serve business interests. And it's not just Michigan. Across the nation, it is easy to find examples of these newly elected Republican governors and legislatures slashing and/or flat-out eliminating business taxes as fast as they can. Florida has an eye on cutting their business tax from 5.5% to 3% this year, with the goal of eliminating it altogether by 2018. Georgia is talking about blowing up their entire tax code to lower income and corporate taxes to 4%. Closer to home, Wisconsin will propose eliminating the state's corporate income tax - and they recently passed new targeted business tax incentives to locate there as well.

    And so on. We won't know where Michigan sits on the grand scale until these plans actually make it through their respective state legislatures and the details are worked out, but a cursory glance around the country indicates that a flat 6% sounds like it might be on the high side already. The most troubling aspect is the removal of the incentives, because you know that other states and countries will be in line to take that business. Companies are more than happy to "pick winners and losers". Engler tried to dismantle the incentives in 1990, and quickly restored them after "Michigan quickly gained a reputation around the country as having unilaterally disarmed in the war among the states for business investment". And here is Rick Haglund, just last year, when Mike Bouchard proposed the same thing during his campaign:

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

    If you don't want to listen to the words of an economic columnist as proof, just listen to the businesses themselves. All those new jobs at Ford and Chrysler announced last fall? They wouldn't be here. The same could probably be said for the new jobs at GM as well.

    Auto officials said the $2 billion in investments wouldn't have happened without the tax incentives.

    "Without the tireless efforts of the state of Michigan, Chrysler could not have made this business decision," Chrysler's Brian Glowiak said.

    In come cases, Michigan was competing with other states for the same investment.

    "Red carpets are rolled out for manufacturing around the world," said Curt Magleby, director of state and local government relations for Ford. "Michigan understands that."

    If the state didn't make it financially attractive to invest here, "there are a lot of other red carpets," he said.

    The advanced battery manufacturers? Those credits will also be under review. There are plenty of other states who are poised to step up should Snyder yank the rug out from under us.

    State governments have already jumped in with incentives to land winners of federal funds along with their desirable manufacturing jobs. Michigan plans to provide $555 million in incentives and has already awarded credits to four projects. Texas, Indiana, Massachusetts, California, and Kentucky are also offering tax breaks and other incentives.

    That article was from 2009, and it explained how far behind America is in general when it comes to advanced battery production; a disinvestment at this point might send the entire business back overseas. Hope not, but we might find out if federal and state support is halted.

    Eliminate the film incentives, and that industry will be gone in a heartbeat. Michigan's first CGI studio opened yesterday in Livonia, with the promise of hiring an all-Michigan crew of up to 100 people. Maxsar Digital Studios did not buy the buildings though, because they plan to leave if the credits are discontinued.

    Like others in the industry, Martinez is waiting to see whether changes will be made to the film incentives. Rumors about the demise of the tax breaks have already caused headaches for his business, generating fear among employees and investors.

    "We cannot make the investment to buy (the buildings) until we know the tax credit is stable," the Northville resident said. "If they are going to change the law, tell us now. We need some stability."

    If the tax breaks are eliminated or scaled back significantly, Martinez said, at least half the studio's 50 employees would leave Michigan.

    The film industry credits around the country are in flux - but some states, such as Alaska with credits that can reach up to 44%, are stepping up efforts to get in this game. Very much up in the air at this point, but you can be sure others will be there if Michigan walks away.

    One last word on incentives comes from the regional economic development heads.

    Birgit Klohs, CEO of The Right Place Inc. in Grand Rapids, says the present policy of targeting high-growth sectors, such as life sciences and alternative energy, is a proper strategy.

    “There is no state, there is no business, that doesn’t decide what sector it wants to compete in, and we have to decide what sectors are growth sectors and what can add to our economy,” Klohs said during a recent roundtable discussion with her colleagues from West Michigan.

    They say companies across the U.S., even when they consider states with a lower business-tax burden than Michigan, have come to expect some kind of incentives. “We cannot stop incentivizing companies that are looking to grow to protect companies that are looking to stay put,” Lakeshore Advantage President Randy Thelen said.

    The Governor's Office is "distancing" themselves from Calley's words this morning, but it appears that the guy was just being honest. Arrogant and glib to be sure, but honest. This will be an "all cuts" budget, and ordinary citizens are going to suffer for it with the loss of revenue from business taxes. Holland officials were left wondering yesterday how they would replace that funding.

    Holland Township Manager Don Komejan said elimination of the Property Tax would result in a 9 percent reduction in township revenue to the tune of $870,000 a year.

    “It sounds attractive to lower business taxes, but they have to look at the local impact and the cut in public services it would produce,” said Komejan noting the township has not heard any plans on how that tax revenue would be replaced.

    It won't be, unless you want to raise the taxes yourselves. And not only that, we are going to pursue a failed economic strategy that will only serve to drive businesses either out of state or overseas - and it certainly won't attract any new businesses to locate here.

    Don't worry though, we're pretty sure this is all President Obama's fault. Another arrogant Republican, Florida Governor Rick Scott, has already tipped his strategic hand in that direction; look for other state level Republicans to follow suit as they destroy their public services with tax cuts, and then seek to blame Washington for the damage.

    2012 has already started, and draconian cuts at the state level will fit in nicely with all the future misleading attack ads, don't you think? You betcha.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    Charging America Forward

    Showing Senator Stabenow some love. She's been out there, fighting the good fight, never seems to get a lot of credit for it, and she has a good idea here on changing the electric car tax credit into an instant point-of-sale rebate - which would certainly help when it comes to stopping those folks who are trying to apply the credit from their jail cells, or towards their Hummers. The IRS is catching these people, but why not just eliminate the temptation and paperwork and give buyers a break right on the lot? Makes total sense, and therefore will probably require twisting some Republican arms to get it done.

    The Charging America Forward Act, first proposed last summer, would provide customers with a $7,500 rebate for plug-in electric vehicles, offer businesses tax credits for purchasing plug-in hybrid trucks, expand a tax credit for the installation of charging stations and renew a public-private partnership to boost advanced battery production.

    Vice President Joe Biden last month suggested rebates could replace tax credits as part of the Obama administration's three-part plan to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, and Stabenow says her legislation will benefit Michigan.

    Of course it will. Jobs, jobs, jobs, remember? Lifting the cap on the credit is necessary as well. Right now, it stands at the first 200,000 plug-in vehicles sold by each manufacturer - a target that would probably be reached by the Volt and the Leaf sometime near the end of 2012/beginning of 2013 if production and sales go as planned. The Levins are trying to raise that cap to 500,000. Very good idea, and hopefully the price will come down as expected and eventually the break won't be necessary anymore. Time will tell.

    Good luck Senator. If the House gives you any lip, be sure and let the public know about it.

    When Invasive Species Are Smiling

    Austerity comes to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

    Nonprofit groups across the eight-state region had hoped for a major influx of money to improve wildlife habitat, dredge toxic sediments left by industrial sources, fix beach pollution and upgrade crumbling sewer systems, as President Barack Obama promised during his campaign.

    Obama proposed and Congress approved $475 million to kick-start the initiative last year, providing funding for hundreds of projects and creating jobs, said Jeff Skelding, director of the multistate Healing Our Waters Coalition.

    But Congress has yet to approve the amount Obama requested for the 2011 fiscal year, $300 million, to continue the program and the administration has said it plans further cuts for 2012. In a column in Sunday’s New York Times, Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, specifically named the Great Lakes Restoration as one of three programs the president will cut in 2012. That could stall the work now under way, directors of several environmental groups said.

    When this initiative was announced last year, it was intended to be a five-year, $2.2 billion dollar plan...

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

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

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

    ... and according to the Brookings Institution via the Great Lakes Commission, the payoff would have been huge.

    The Brookings Institution has estimated that implementing the Great Lakes restoration strategy in full will generate $50 billion in long-term benefits. A coalition of more than 30 metropolitan Chambers of Commerce in the region has highlighted Great Lakes restoration as a critical component of a larger agenda for creating jobs and revitalizing our regional economy. Areas where cleanups have been completed are planning important waterfront redevelopment projects. Cleaning up contaminated sediments, alone, is projected to increase coastal property values by $12 billion to $19 billion. Boating, fishing, hunting and wildlife watching in the Great Lakes region generate over $50 billion in economic activity annually and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. Abundant freshwater, recreational amenities and other benefits from the Great Lakes will be vital for attracting new industries and young workers in the future.

    $2 billion for a potential $50 billion. That's the thing about austerity. You don't fix your problems, you don't invest in your product, and eventually you just lose it all. But hey, maybe we can let the Pubs gut the EPA as well, and go back to lighting the rivers on fire. Since we are being all bipartisan-y and stuff.

    Hopes are that some funding will continue. With Republican governors in the Midwest running around threatening deregulation on environmental protections in the name of promoting "business" (yeah, we are looking at you, Governor Walker), chances are we will face new threats of pollution in the coming years. Those invasive species will just have to fend for themselves at that point.

    According to that bleeding-heart environmental champion Fred Upton's website, the Great Lakes Compact does cover all the areas mentioned above. And that is the law now, thanks to George Bush. Perhaps we could get the Canadians to enforce it...

    Sunday, February 06, 2011

    Imported From Detroit: Awesome Chrysler Super Bowl Ad

    Some seriously good stuff here. WTG Chrysler!

    "This is what we do".

    From the LA Times, via The Freep:

    “… a magnificent tribute to the city that has been plagued by all the ills that an urban area could possibly face. And it's a message to stay strong … .

    In a way, it's also more than a message about Detroit … honoring a time when America was about making things -- real, hulking tangible pieces of machinery. It stood in contrast to the rest of the ads for things we click on, things made far, far away, things created by people sitting behind a desk (not that there's anything wrong with that).

    Chrysler seems to say that Detroit isn't dead, and maybe the spirit of Americans making things isn't dead either."

    Attitude. An attitude of pride. Of determination. Of passion. It's what has been missing in all the emotionally shallow intellectualism floating about lately. Need to see more of it, need to feel more of it.

    You go Detroit. Lead the way, and maybe we will all get there someday.

    Super Bowl Sunday Paper: February 6, 2011

    Carp River at Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains. 1000 px of summer goodness here.

    Green picture, green bunch 'o links I need to get off my computer. Here is a renewable energy Super Bowl Sunday round-up:

  • The debate continues on whether or not we can get one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. (And yes, he did say "electric" vehicles in the SotU address, although the Obama administration has also used the words "advanced technology" vehicles before as well - which can blur the line a bit). All depends on the manufacturers meeting the production targets, and those numbers seem to keep growing everyday. Keeping the tax credit will be a major factor as well. So, yeah, it's doable. Fred, what say you?

  • The infrastructure is slowly coming on line; Schoolcraft College in Livonia is one of the latest to have ChargePoint stations installed, and Westland is touting their new charging station along with other green efforts in the city. And no, Fred, electric cars do not pose a problem for the grid at this point. Car companies have been working with city officials and utility companies well in advance of production, and unless everyone in your immediate neighborhood gets an electric car (unlikely), utility companies don't foresee a lot of problems.

  • Off the cars and back to the communities: The city of Allegan has accepted the "Michigan Green Communities Challenge", and will contract an audit of their energy usage to see where "improvements can be made and where renewable energy systems can fit." The city is looking at the idea of using the Allegan Dam to generate electricity (again), generating electricity from biomass at its water treatment plant, and installing more solar panels at various sites.

  • Wyandotte is looking at a 10MW biomass generator for their electricity needs, provided they don't piss off the contractors who are installing it first. Go read to see. Or, don't. Local politics can get pretty messy. Holland is looking at a plant that will turn biomass waste into ethanol, and taking the waste from that and turning it into electricity. Cool stuff.

  • Dow reported a record year for sales for 2010; $6 billion with a net income of $866 million, and the polycrystalline silicon business through Hemlock Semiconductor played a substantial role in that. Polycrystalline silicon is used to produce wafers for solar modules, and apparently Dow is cashing in on the export side. The US controls 40 percent of the global polysilicon market - maybe we should qualify this stuff as a rare earth and slap the same export restrictions/taxes on it that the Chinese do with their materials...

  • President Obama is out pushing for those green energy jobs, making a stop in Pennsylvania last week to talk about the Better Buildings Initiative. The program calls for 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, which would save the U.S. $40 billion a year. He would end "tax subsidies for oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels" to make it happen. Something tells me Fred won't like that. The President will be in Marquette this week to tout wireless internet technology at Northern, and all I can say is: Dude. February? OK. Check out the ice climbing in Munising. Have a good time.

  • "Winning the future" takes money - and the federal government's investment of $151 million in 37 clean energy ideas is starting to draw the private venture $$ into technology that might not have had a chance to get off the ground otherwise. Go read the NY Times article about the first round of ARPA-E projects, including two that have a direct connection to Michigan's lithium-ion car battery business.

  • And for our Yooper folks, who are all decked in their green and yellow Packer clothes by now, one last link. The Michigan Magnet Fund has promised $10 million to the Verso Paper Corp. renewable energy project at its Quinnesec Plant. The project, which got underway last year, will help the plant meet 95 percent of its energy needs using renewable biomass sources. That is expected to create an additional 50 jobs in the area, on top of the 475 already working there.

    Standing in solidarity with our UP citizens today - Let's go Packers!
  • Barbie's Net-Zero Energy Dream House

    We aren't there yet, but Germany's got it going on. It starts with the toys...

    The hottest "green" toy in Germany isn't made of organic or recycled materials. That's so 2010. This one has a solar panel and only runs if kids remember to insert bright red "energy stones" that power the rest of the space station.

    Germany, a pioneer in many renewable energy initiatives, is also at the forefront of creating environment-friendly toys aimed at making kids think about where energy comes from and how much of it they can use, raising awareness through play.

    A panoply of high-tech green toys are on display at this year's Nuremberg toy fair, which runs through Sunday. Among them, hydroelectric-powered toy cars, and doll houses with wind turbines and rainwater catchers.

    The bright green "Future Planet" space station features an inner atrium with a fan that is powered by a functioning solar cell. Its aim is to get kids to use their imagination about how energy will be created in the future.

    Catch them young. While I'm not old enough to (clearly) remember the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, I know my environmental awareness started with elementary school programs in the 70s about recycling and pollution. And of course there was this...

    ... which left an impression on everyone who saw it. Which was everyone.

    Sesame Street has started down the green road, can the Electric Company be far behind? Has SpongeBob discovered hydroelectric power? Better get moving, we have a whole new generation that needs indoctrination education...

    Friday, February 04, 2011

    DNews Top 50 Tiger Prospects

    Jacob Turner starts the year at Double A Erie

    The DNews has a list of the top prospects going into this year, good to see so many familiar names. ESPN ranked the Tigers farm system at 25th; I don't think they give them enough credit. We've had some really good talent come through here in the past few years.

    Number one on the DNews list is Whitecap darling Jacob Turner, and he ranked No. 22 on ESPN's overall list.

    1. Jacob Turner

    Age: 19

    Pos.: Right-handed pitcher

    Outlook: When it already has been decided a 19-year-old right-hander will begin at Double A, you know how quickly the Tigers anticipate Turner could slide into the starting rotation. It could happen this season for a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder who, unless he gets hurt, stands to become one of the game's elite. Only 19 months out of high school, Turner has a three-pitch package of power and precision. The Tigers paid him a big-league contract in 2009 ($4.7 million). And they haven't regretted a penny of it.

    He did have a few problems with soreness at West Michigan, but I also think they were holding him back a bit too. Straight out of high school, you don't want to blow his arm with too much work. Second on the list was 3B Nick Castellanos who they drafted just last year; hoping he starts out here in WM in 2011.

    I have a bunch of Caps pictures I never got around to processing last year - will work on those soon, maybe revamp the whole baseball collection on Flickr. It will keep me busy until the season starts...

    "Not a positive development for democracy in Michigan"

    The understatement of the year comes from Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, who has tallied up the figures and found that we have a new state record for a PAC. Three guesses as to who it was, and the first two don't count.

    The top fundraising PAC of the cycle was the RGA Michigan PAC, one of numerous state PACs created by the Republican Governors Association across the country in the 2010 cycle. The RGA Michigan PAC reported $8,429,328 in contributions, a record for a Michigan state PAC. The RGA Michigan PAC gave $5,295,000 to the Michigan Republican Party, $3,000,000 to the campaign committee of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, $130,000 to the Republican Governors Association and it has filed for dissolution.

    The Michigan Chamber of Commerce was the top contributor in 2010 to the top PAC’s parent organization, the Republican Governors Association. The Michigan Chamber’s corporate contributions to the RGA totaled $5,372,500. Net of the $3,000,000 contribution to the Texas governor’s campaign, the contributions ascribed to individual donors to RGA Michigan PAC were a near perfect replacement for the Michigan Chamber’s contribution to the RGA. Of the $8.4 million in individual contributions recorded by RGA Michigan PAC, 98 percent came from persons who do not reside in Michigan. The individual contributions that came to the RGA Michigan PAC first passed through the parent organization.

    The top 150 PACs raised $48,353,506 in the 2010 election cycle, and that's actually down 6.8% compared to 2006, the last time we elected a governor, senators, etc. and so on. Blame it on DeVos. Another note on that front was the disappearance of Jon Stryker's Coalition for Progress, who practically sat out this time around. That PAC, a major player in helping to regain the House for Democrats in '06, dropped 73% for 2010. Will be interesting to see if he comes back in 2012.

    Welcome to the world created by Citizens United.

    Corporate PACs made their Michigan debut in 2010, exploiting the opening created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Michigan, corporate funds can be used only for independent expenditures, not contributions to candidates, so organizations that are using corporate funds, so far, are segregating their corporate money in new PACs. The most notable corporate PACs were those of the Michigan Association of Realtors, $450,100, and Business Leaders for Michigan II, at $135,500.


    “Formerly, we could say there was accountability for who was giving what to whom in the world of state political action committees,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “The Byzantine transfers into and out of the Republican Governors Association, and the ‘Russian doll’ financing structure in the Realtors’ corporate PAC are clear notice that state PACs have new formulations to defeat transparency. That is not a positive development for democracy in Michigan.”

    Or anywhere else for that matter.

    Check the list of the Top 150 Michigan PACs here.

    Thursday, February 03, 2011

    Snyder Administration Flip-Flops On Coal Plants

    January 5, 2011. "Environmentalists cheer Snyder Administration's opposition to Holland power plant expansion".

    State environmental groups are cheering Gov. Rick Snyder's administration for appealing an Ottawa County judge's ruling to allow expansion of Holland's coal-fired power plant.

    “We are pleased to see the Snyder Administration is continuing to defend the Granholm Administration's Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) in arguing that the permit should be denied,” said Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club.


    Attorney General Bill Schuette filed paperwork this week indicating he will appeal Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Van Allsburg's Dec. 15 ruling that the state's denial of an air quality permit for an expansion of Holland's James DeYoung plant was unconstitutional.

    You can stop cheering now.

    Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will not continue its legal fight to prevent the plans for two coal power plants.


    Brad Wurfel is a spokesman with MDEQ. He says their decision to change course is partly because of two judges ruling against the state and partly because of the new administration.

    “Governor Snyder is in favor of building Michigan’s economy and in the case of Wolverine Rogers City has expressed an interest in additional power to realize a long term vision for increasing its port capacity, expanding its infrastructure, and they need power to do it. Right now they’re buying that power from Ohio and Indiana.”

    Brad goes on to tell us that the governor isn't taking sides on the issue of coal plants, oh no, the DEQ just makes sure the permits are in compliance, blah blah blah...

    Profiles in courage is Mr. Snyder. Anyone notice how this guy really hasn't taken a stand on anything? Anyone? State employee pay, the budget, tax credits, whatever the issue, so far he's always hedging his bets. Or dodging responsibility, take your pick. Wouldn't want to put a damper on those poll numbers now, would we?

    Wolverine was denied a permit on the basis that they could not prove the need for a new plant, and a regulator found that rates for consumers would rise by a whopping $76 a month to pay for it. Must be that is OK fine with the Snyder adminsitration.

    The Michigan Land Use Institute has a very detailed article about the fight behind these plants. Go read.

    Me, I'm not surprised a bit. This is what you get when you elect Republicans. Don't know why people haven't learned the lesson yet...

    Blizzargeddon Day II

    Remember yesterday's shovel picture?


    Here is what happens after the plows come by. Had to shoot at a different angle because of the bright sunlight, and that's a tomato juice can on top for some perspective on the height... you get the idea.


    Oh, and it's pretty wide, too. I didn't move any of those pieces as I crawled out onto the street...


    I'm happy to say I'm free! as of tonight - but I don't want to play "Michigan" anymore. Too hard on the back. ;-)

    (This post goes out to my Mom, who is laughing at me from the "Banana Belt" in the UP)

    Do You Take Your Children Leaded or Unleaded?

    Two GOP county commissioners in Saginaw found just the perfect issue to illustrate how low they can go when it comes to drawing the line in the sand on that "wasteful gubbermint spending".

    Saginaw could be at risk of losing a $3.1 million federal lead abatement grant after two GOP county leaders objected to the spending, County Department of Public Health officials say.

    Commissioners Tim Kelly and Kirk W. Kilpatrick, both R-Saginaw Township, challenged a need for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant targeted at the Saginaw zip codes of 48601, 48602 and 48607. The initiative would eliminate lead sources in about 240 homes and test about 300, plans show.

    “It’s just growing government and we can’t afford to do this,” Kelly said. “The problem is minimal, yet the dollars keep going up.”

    "The problem is minimal". It's just a few brain-damaged children. In 2009, 1,613 children under 6 in Saginaw were tested, and 25 had blood poisoning. 25 lives. And Saginaw had a population of 4,817 kids under 6 at the time, so how many did they miss?

    “The problem of lead poisoned children exists in Saginaw County, and particularly in the city of Saginaw and it’s largely related to housing stock” with lead-based paint, (John D. McKellar, leader of the Health Department) said. “If the federal government is offering money to address the problem, then we should accept the money.”

    The money is meant to reduce the threat of lead poisoning in children who live in older homes, usually those built before 1978, officials say.

    The lead abatement program reached a critical impasse Monday when the County Board of Commissioners Human Services Committee failed to vote to accept the money and hire five employees to carry out the initiative.

    GOP Commissioner Kelly complained that these jobs would go away in a few years because "lead paint abatement is going to be something (that goes) the way of the typewriter". Um, not if you don't remove it from these older houses, it won't. Not quite following the logic there, but apparently this commissioner thinks that because the previous efforts have been successful, the rest of the lead will go away on its own. Or something. And, GOP Commissioner Kilpatrick added, if you make efforts to remove this toxic material, they might move on to replacing other dangerous toxins as well. We can't have that.

    “My concerns are that according to the data the lead abatement issue is going away and it looks like they are changing the grant over to a health homes initiative,” Kilpatrick said. “There’s all kinds of reasons that they’re coming up with to replace windows and doors and paint and carpet with federal funds and it’s just not where our federal funds should be going right now.”

    Perhaps these commissioners might want to run for a federal office then? Because last I checked, it's not really up to county-level officials to determine what the federal government should doing with grant money. Federal officials will just take it back, and give it to another community that shows an interest in the health of its citizens - and an interest in creating the jobs that come with these grants. Private contractors would provide the supplies for lead removal, and hundreds would be trained for that work, as well as other community outreach.

    The program would employ and train about 200 people, many low income workers, in lead abatement and education outreach through community nonprofit groups, such as the First Ward Community Center and the Ezekiel Project, plans say.

    So let's add up the total from the GOP position here: Lost jobs, lost sales of materials for local private contractors, and more brain-damaged children. Sound like a plan? But don't worry people of Saginaw; this was all for show. They weren't really serious about this, they were just wasting your time and taxpayer dollars to play politics.

    Kelly and Kilpatrick said they don’t believe their opposition will halt the program. The hope was to send a message to the board’s Democratic majority things aren’t “business as usual,” Kelly said.

    “If it temporarily throws a monkey wrench into their plans, then so be it,” he said.

    Ladies and gentlemen, your modern-day Republican Party in action. The health of the little children be damned, can't you see we have political games to play here? UPDATE: The third Democrat on the board, who was absent from the initial meeting, showed up for a vote Friday and the board passed a recommendation to accept the money on a 3-2 party line decision.