Michigan House members showered with fake million dollar bills

 

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

Protest1023-foto

“We want to end corruption!” shouted protesters from the state House gallery Wednesday as they showered Michigan lawmakers with hundreds of fake million dollar bills.

“When do we want it?” – “Now!”

The group Represent.Us said Michigan has one of the worst records of government corruption in the nation. It cites a report by the State Integrity Investigation that gave Michigan a failing grade in that area.

State Rep. Pete Lund said the protest was out of line.

“The idea of starting to throw things around, it’s just… it’s arrogance thinking that they’re more important than everybody else,” Lund told reporters immediately after the demonstration.

“There’s a process in place. I assume, if they are from Michigan, they get a vote, they can talk to their representative.”

The protesters peacefully left the House chamber after the display, escorted by House sergeants.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

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Governor wants no-fault overhaul before end of ’13

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

Governor Rick Snyder said he’d like to see an overhaul of Michigan’s no-fault insurance law accomplished before the end of the year. Efforts to make auto coverage less expensive have stalled in the Legislature, largely over the issue of Michigan’s unlimited medical benefits for injured people.

Right now, Michigan is the only state to offer unlimited lifetime medical care to people injured in car accidents. Some lawmakers have been looking to cap those benefits. But the governor said there may be other ways to find savings that would bring down rates.

“I think there’s an opportunity to hopefully have people come back to the table, and be more open-minded on finding common ground and getting a solution in place,” he said. “I think almost everyone agrees the current system doesn’t work well.”

Bringing down auto rates in urban areas is considered one of the elements necessary to make Michigan cities more attractive.

The governor said he’s trying to bring together attorneys, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies in hopes of finding a consensus. The prospects for accomplishing a potentially controversial no-fault overhaul diminish in 2014 because it’s an election year.

A no-fault overhaul bill that includes a $1 million benefits cap is languishing on the state House calendar.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Michigan car buyers could soon get tax break on trade-ins

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

State lawmakers have reached a deal to give a tax break to car buyers who trade in old vehicles.

Both the state House and Senate passed bills Tuesday that would deduct the trade-in value of the old vehicle from the taxable value of the new one.

For example, say you’re trading in a car worth $10,000 to buy a $30,000 dollar car. Right now, you have to pay sales tax on the full price of the new vehicle. Under this legislation, you would only pay sales tax on $20,000.

“I’m excited because we’re giving something back to the average consumer,” Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville told reporters Tuesday. “And not only something back, we’re giving something back that relates to the auto industry, which is kind of big in Michigan.”

The change would also apply to boats and recreational vehicles.

Governor Rick Snyder has voiced concerns about a possible $200 million budget hole the plan could create once fully implemented. But Senate Bill 89 and House Bill 4234 phase in the tax break over a number of years. Their movement in the legislature Tuesday could indicate that a deal has been reached between legislative leaders and the governor.

The plan is expected to get final legislative approval Wednesday before going to Snyder’s desk.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

NERD fund to be shut down, replaced

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

Governor Rick Snyder said his controversial NERD Fund will be shut down this week. The governor said a new fund will be more open about donors and expenditures.

Its official name is the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund. Governor Snyder used the fund to pick up costs that he said should not be paid by taxpayers. But the governor would not reveal its donors. Critics and political adversaries said that created too many possible conflicts of interest. The governor said it’s time to move on from that controversy.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback to the point that the NERD Fund has become a distraction in many respects,” he said. “The NERD Fund’s complied with all the laws and regulations required of it. It’s done good things. But, moving forward, we thought it best, the board’s made a decision to wind it down.”

But the governor said past donors will not be revealed.

“I’ve always been clear about, the donors that gave didn’t have an expectation of ever getting disclosed. So that’s the past. But, moving forward, the new fund will be disclosing donors and the information will be posted online,”

Governor Snyder has used the NERD Fund to pay for things he said should not be billed to taxpayers. The governor has used the fund to pay the salary of top aide Richard Baird, who was just recently moved to the public payrolls, as well as some of the living expenses of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Budget leader in MI Senate blasts state lease of Belle Isle

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

A key Republican lawmaker in Lansing is blasting a plan to make Detroit’s Belle Isle a state park. That means any more state spending on the park could have a tough time getting through the Legislature.

Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Kahn said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources budget is already spread thin. He said many other parks could use that money.

“So we’re talking about taking dollars from those areas where there is support for the parks and moving them, those precious dollars of which there are not enough, to another park that is not supported,” Kahn said on the Senate floor Tuesday, referencing the fact that Detroit’s city council and its two mayoral candidates oppose the state’s plan to lease Belle Isle.

The state budget sets aside about $2 million for Belle Isle this year. But Kahn said any serious restoration of the park will probably require about ten times that.

He said, even with a plan to charge people to park on the island, it will be difficult to come up with that kind of money without increasing state funding.

“The business plan to support this spend is, first of all, unavailable, and second of all, as reported in the newspapers, pretty dubious.”

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Kevin Clinton to replace Dillon as state treasurer

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

Governor Rick Snyder is wasting no time finding a new state treasurer after Andy Dillon’s resignation last week.

Snyder has named Kevin Clinton, currently the state’s top insurance official, to the position.

“He’s got a tremendous background both in terms of already having government service, but his private sector experience is very strong in the insurance industry,” Snyder said during Tuesday’s announcement in Lansing.

In his new job, Clinton will play a key role in the state’s financial intervention in struggling cities and schools. That will include taking part in Detroit’s historic bankruptcy proceedings.

Clinton said he’s up for the challenge.

“The insurance companies that I worked for, just about everyone had financial problems when I went in there,” Clinton told reporters after the announcement. “And it was a matter of going out, finding what the issues were, meeting with people, and then solving problems. And Treasury’s probably no different from that.”

But he admits he’ll have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Detroit’s bankruptcy filing.

“I’m going to have to do a considerable amount of homework,” said Clinton. “I mean, I know what I’ve read in the paper. I’ve gotten some background on it. But I need to get up to speed. And that’s why I said it’s very good for Andy Dillon to be sticking around so I can get up to speed very quickly.”

Dillon will stay on as treasurer while Clinton transitions into the job. Dillon resigned last week, citing publicity and litigation surrounding his acrimonious divorce.

Clinton will officially take over as state treasurer November 1st.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

MI Prop 2 affirmative action ban faces SCOTUS scrutiny

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

A crowd marched Tuesday on the United States Supreme Court. The rally drew people from Detroit and other parts of Michigan.

They chanted: “What do we want?” “Affirmative action!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’’

“They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’

The protest was aimed at Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in university admissions. It was approved by voters in 2006. And it took place as the Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to the amendment.

“Actually, it’s still ridiculous that we’re fighting about affirmative action,” said
Sunni Thompson. She made the trip from Detroit as part of the demonstration organized by the group By Any Means Necessary. It’s one of the litigants challenging Michigan’s affirmative action ban.

“We’re going to fight this out and we’re going to do what we have to do,” she said. “You see the army of kids out here. They’re our next generation. They’re willing to do something. If they’re willing to fight, I’m willing to fight with them.”

The crowd gathered in front of the steps as the nation’s highest court heard arguments on this latest wrinkle in Michigan’s, and the nation’s, battle over the role race preferences should play in higher education.

The state said the ban on affirmative action is an anti-discrimination measure that ensures race does not play a role in the admissions process. Opponents of the ban say it’s impossible to separate race from the amendment and its purpose.

“So, what’s really at stake is the integrity of the political process, that it be the same playing field and not two separate playing fields for all individuals,” said Mark Rosenbaum, who argued the case on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of University of Michigan faculty and alumni who challenged the ban.

He said the ban violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, and that’s because anyone can go petition a university board for a change in policy, unless the complaint is rooted in someone’s status as a racial minority.

“And in this situation, the separate and unequal track that has been created here is one that says you can’t talk about race until you raise some 15 million dollars, get a state constitutional amendment, and then and only then are you on the same footing as the person who wants to say, I play the oboe, or I’ve got alumni connections, or I’m born in Iowa,” he said.

Rosenbaum said the evidence shows minority enrollment at Michigan’s public universities has declined since 2006, and the effect has been particularly profound in law and medical schools.

Jennifer Gratz, who led the ballot campaign to amend the state constitution, also attended the hearing. She disputes that data, and said ending affirmative action helps improve graduation rates among minority students.

But she also said that’s beside the point: “With respect to diversity, diversity and other equally good intentions should not trump anyone’s right to be treated equally by our government.”

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the amendment as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court would have to reverse that decision to uphold the amendment.

Which is exactly what the state argues should be done.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said there are other, better ways to ensure diversity on college campuses without using race preferences. He predicts that if the Supreme Court upholds the Michigan affirmative action ban, more states will follow.

“And we’re saying is equal treatment is the Michigan approach, and it was citizen participation, citizen democracy. I think you’ll see that emerging across the land,” he said

Eight states have already adopted some version of an affirmative action ban. At least three other states are considering it.

The court’s expected to make its ruling sometime next year.

Copyright 2013, MPRN