A one-page summary of Michigan legislative activity and political news of significance to government operations, public policy, and voter attitudes. Published weekly during legislative sessions and intermittently during legislative recesses.
Written by David L. Kimball and Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultants for Public Policy.
January 20, 1995
Legislative & Political News
- “Things are better than they have been in a long time,” a freshly reinaugurated Gov. John Engler told a joint legislative session in his fifthState of the State message this week. In a text concluding with the somber call to constituents to heal “what is broken deep inside our souls,” the governor pledged revisions to the state’s Single Business Tax, repeal of the recently revised School Code, and a $200 million prison expansion program. Promising tax cuts for individuals as well as businesses, Engler cited privatization of the Accident Fund and establishment of a new Office of Regulatory Reform as indicators of his continued zeal for leaner and keener government.
- This week marked only the second time that the 88th legislature convened since its swearing in three weeks ago. The regular session schedule will begin on January 30. Meantime, House and Senate committees are meeting and acclimating to new members and configurations. Most changed was the lower chamber where the new 56-53 GOP majority spawned four committee chairs without previous committee leadership experience, and shrank the standing committee roster from 28 to 21. Senate committee assignments also reflected the reduced legislative half-life of term limits: Six newly elected lawmakers received committee chair appointments. A list of legislative committee assignments is included with this issue of Roundup.
- Fueling speculation about a future gubernatorial run, Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus (R-Alto) has appointed a press secretary for his personal media relations.
- Upper Peninsula candidates will have until February 10 to get their names on the special election ballot for the vacant 109th House District seat. An April 3 primary and a May 16 general election will fill the seat vacated by the death of Dominic Jacobetti.
- State unemployment in 1994 hit its lowest ebb in two decades, according to statistics released this month by the Michigan Employment Security Commission. Last year’s average jobless rate of 5.9 percent was lower than the national average—the first time that has happened since 1966.
- In the preternatural capital calm between sine die and State of the State, several notable names in the news reflected noteworthy transitions. They included:
- Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld, home this week to convalesce from a coronary bypass. Binsfeld’s surprise surgery triggered Senate Minority Leader Art Miller (D-Warren)—who has undergone two angioplasties—to speculate about his own possible early legislative retirement in favor of a mayoral run in his hometown.
- David Dykehouse, who resigns as insurance commissioner at month’s end.
- Phil Arthurhultz, former Senate Majority Floor Leader and National Republican Legislators Association legislator of the year, had barely cleared out his capitol office before being installed by gubernatorial appointment as head of the State Liquor Control Commission, where he is expected to add considerable fizz to a privatization process panned by some as being slower than molasses.
- Douglas Rothwell, heading up the newest state department following the executive-ordered elevation of the Jobs Commission to departmental status.
- Curtis Hertel (who could be forgiven for considering it a case of too-little-too-late) honored with Paul Hillegonds by Governing magazine as 1994 public officials of the year for maintaining their shared legislative power agreement last session.
Correction: On page 3 of our December 16, 1994, Public Policy Advisor, “Health Care: What’s Next?,” we incorrectly stated that Michigan stood to lose “$400 million plus . . . when a federal loophole for disproportionate-share hospital payments is closed.” The state will lose a maximum of $115 million in FY 1996.
January 27, 1995
State Legislative & Political News
- Shorter lines, bigger signs, pay hikes, and top ballot placement comprised a recent news flurry from Secretary of State Candice Miller. An arcane statute stipulates that the party occupying the SOS seat determines that party’s ballot position, meaning that GOP contenders will lead the candidate ballot listings for the first time in four decades. Miller announced this week that she plans massive computerization in departmental operations, encouraging patrons to use home computers and faxes in lieu of those legendarily querulous branch office queues. These innovations won’t come cheap; proposed top staff reorganizations will increase salary costs 60 percent. GOP supporters of the move note the staff and salary shake-ups are the first in 28 years. Yet uncertain is the degree to which Miller will square off against U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno’s oblique warning that Michigan may be added to a federal suit if it fails to implement an unfunded federal “motor voter” registration requirement.
- As peripatetic parent and National Governors Association leader, John Engler’s itinerary is ever more newsy. Hours after tucking in the triplets, he’s schmoozing with the newest U.S. senators, strategizing with new GOP congressional leadership, then zipping back to Lansing to hold his legislative colleagues’ feet to the fire over fast passage of the three-part tax cut he wants enacted by the middle of next month. In an unusual personal appearance Tuesday before a joint session of the House and Senate tax panels, Engler dismissed Democratic arguments that his State-of-the-State-ballyhooed $1.5 million tax cut was either premature or disproportionately earmarked for the well-to-do.
- Call the message a hard cell: State Corrections chief Kenneth McGinnis says Michigan prisons are due to fill up weeks earlier than predicted with no legislative backup plan yet in sight. Testifying before a House Committee hearing this week, McGinnis said an Engler-backed 5,500-bunk hike is only a stopgap. By 2001, the Lansing State Journal reported, the state will need some 12,000 new beds—maybe more if pending tougher sentencing laws are enacted.
- Newly elected State Board of Education president Clark Durant handily moderated the new board’s GOP majority through approval of a controversial, revised mission statement reiterating state constitutional language affirming gratitude to Almighty God and the necessity of “religion, morality, and knowledge” to government and the happiness of mankind.
- The Lansing capitol’s newly etched and polished glass ceilings loom as more decorative than metaphorical with four women staffers emerging as influential players in Republican-run capital politics. In addition to new gubernatorial staff chief Sharon Rothwell, the top aides to House Speaker Paul Hillegonds—Judy Barton and Suzanne Allen—and Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus’s chief of staff Lori Packer make Michigan probably the only state with women in each of these three positions, according to the Detroit News. The number of elected women lawmakers, meantime, dipped slightly to 31.6 percent from the one-in-three legislative representation of 1993–94 newcomers.
Innovations & Ideas From All Over
- What should the federal government do with the almost $20 billion in auction proceeds from the recent sale of broadband radio spectrum signals? Newton Minnow and Craig LaMay suggest in the New York Times that at least some of the windfall be earmarked for upgrading alarmingly underfunded children’s telecommunications services, including network programming and linking schools to the Internet. If the United States is serious about serving kids, the FCC’s auction should redirect proceeds to make children, not politicians, the centerpiece of emerging telecommunications policy, argues the former FCC chief.
- If Chile can do it, why shouldn’t its hemispheric neighbors to the north consider privatizing social security? Newsweek’s Joe Klein follows up this provocative one-liner with the observation that the Pinochet government’s pension plan revision has spawned a $22 million pool of new Chilean private investment capital, helping sustain an unprecedented economic boom.
February 2, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Feeling awkward at backing into a pay hike, the state House this week called for revised procedures on compensating elected state officials. Currently, recommendations of the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) on salaries of most top elected officials, including the legislature and the judiciary, automatically kick in unless disapproved by a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers by the end of January. Despite the lower chamber’s uneasiness (reflected in a 58-42 vote to turn aside the increase) with the SOCC’s recommended 3 percent pay hike, the House failed to muster the required margin to cancel the increase. Making that issue moot was the fact that the Senate did not schedule a vote on the recommendation, and action of both houses is required. The House went on to pass resoundingly with a required two-thirds majority a two-bill package putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to require legislative approval of future raises, effective in 1998.
- Following up promptly on their governor’s proposal to rewrite the complex state school code, Senate Republicans announced a bill to revise the code within 18 months and release local educators from what bill backers deride as frivolous paperwork. Sen. Glenn Steil (R-Grand Rapids) sponsored SB 187, which would revise existing regulations summarized in a 170-page document covering details ranging from length of school day to core curriculum.
- University presidential searches would avoid the glare of state open meeting statutes under two bills introduced in the Senate Wednesday. SBs 211–12 would exempt state university trustees and regents from existing requirements to release names and conduct public interviews of top job applicants. Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have argued vigorously that open presidential searches work against attracting top applicants.
- According to President Clinton, a Beale City native “captivated the nation” this week when Gov. John Engler unrolled a parchment scroll of 300 federal welfare mandates as part of a National Governors Association presentation in Washington, D.C. Singled out four times for special mention in U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s remarks to the state leaders, while Michigan’s elected chief officer didn’t forge consensus approval for his proposed sweeping welfare reforms, he surely maintained what wire services called a red-hot public relations streak throughout the NGA winter meeting.
- State Democrats will look to Vice President Gore to galvanize them next month at the their Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. Gore will deliver the keynote speech at the party’s annual major fund-raiser set for March 18 in Detroit, a month after their February 12 state convention, at which a new state party chair will be selected.
- Seeking to block a recently enacted political bingo ban, state Democrats toted nine cartons of petition signatures to Board of State Canvassers offices this week. The statute outlawing bingo games as political fund-raisers takes effect April 1 unless the board finds sufficient valid petition signatures (just under 155,000 are needed) to suspend the law pending a decision of the general electorate on the issue as a question on the 1996 ballot.
- “I assume I’m running. I expect to run,” said 18-year U.S. senatorial incumbent Carl Levin (D-Southfield). Among those listening hard are long lists of potential contenders for the state’s senatorial race, including nearly the entire term-limited Michigan congressional delegation, which sees rare electoral opportunity in recurring speculation that Levin is considering political retirement.
- Meanwhile, Michigan’s newest U.S. senator, Spencer Abraham, introduced this week a bill to cut attorneys fees and encourage out-of-court settlements in civil cases. The measure is Abraham’s first major bill introduction as well as the first wide-ranging federal legislation on legal reform since the elections.
February 10, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Gov. John Engler’s five-year $1.5 billion tax-cut plan progresses through the legislature, but not without controversy. While the Senate and House have approved his plan to cut the Single Business Tax (SBT) by $532 million, major changes to the two other elements of the plan—raising the personal income tax exemption and phasing out the intangibles tax—have been proposed by House Democrats and conservative Republicans. House debate on the income tax exemption focuses on whether to double Engler’s proposed $300 increase, which passed the Senate, a move that would provide an additional $93 million in tax relief. Arguing that the Senate-backed intangibles tax cut disproportionately favors the wealthy, House Democrats aim to reduce the amount of this cut. Another bill passed by the Senate would provide a $5,000 tuition exemption to taxpayers who attend, or whose children attend, public or private Michigan colleges that keep tuition fees within the rate of inflation.
- If Sen. Mat Dunaskiss (R-Lake Orion) has his way, Michigan legislators would work part-time with a 50 percent pay cut. The Senate resolution he introduced calls for a biannual budget and requires that sessions be conducted within a 90-day period during budget years and in 30 days in off-budget years.
- A proposal to merge the Detroit College of Law and Michigan State University was scrutinized this week by lawmakers seeking reassurance that state funding would not be needed. MSU President Peter McPherson and DCL board President George Bashara said no state funds would be necessary; Wayne State University President David Adamany, who opposes the plan, wants an audit to prove this claim. Another opponent, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, described a proposal for funding and downtown space for DCL, an offer that Bashara says came only after the college announced it would leave Detroit. Legislative approval is not required for the merger to take place.
- In a Detroit News interview this week, an ailing but railing former Mayor Coleman Young called his successor a liar, termed his first year a failure, and deemed him likely to be a one-term mayor, although it is “not too late to turn things around.” Mayor Dennis Archer responded in the News: “I’m glad the mayor believes I’ve got time . . . to shore up any weaknesses, real or perceived, that I might have . . .. I am delighted he is back and sounds as vigorous as he sounds in your interview.”
- The National Rifle Association, now led by Tom Washington of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, launched an attack from Lansing this week on the 1994 enacted federal crime bill’s ban on assault weapons. The NRA filed a federal lawsuit claiming the law is too vague for a reasonable person to understand which guns are subject.
- A third proposal for a Detroit Indian-run casino backed by Lee Iacocca will be announced in a few weeks. Meanwhile, negotiations are under way on a proposal for a casino in Greektown that was approved by Detroit voters and the secretary of the interior last August. The Bay Mills Indian Community also has requested federal approval for a casino in downtown Detroit.
- Incoming Republican state chair Suzy Heintz promises to be the life of the Grand Old Party, according to a Detroit News story about the popular southeastern Michigan former township clerk and supervisor. Handpicked by the governor, Heintz served as Engler’s Detroit Office director and is a former Wayne County Commissioner who counts as friends such diehard Democrats as Coleman Young and Ed McNamara. She replaces David Doyle, who is headed to manage former Vice President Dan Quayle’s presidential bid—a campaign some say may not reach lift-off.
- Democrats will pick their state party chief at a weekend convention, with Detroit labor lawyer Mark Brewer given the lead by most political handicappers who predict that the Clinton Township attorney will edge out competitors, despite controversy in some camps over Brewer’s ACLU-sponsored representation of the Ku Klux Klan in its fight to rally at the capital last summer.
February 16, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Two days after St. Valentine’s Day comes HB 4432, a bill to outlaw no-fault divorce in Michigan. Scheduled for introduction Thursday, the measure would require spouses to cite such specific reasons for divorces as adultery, abandonment, violence, or drug abuse. The bill would affect couples with dependent children and cases where one spouse wanted to remain married. Sponsor Jessie Dalman (R-Holland) says government has an obligation to help keep families together.
- Republican control of both chambers and the executive branch is proving insufficient to wrest Governor Engler’s tax cut plan intact from a fractious House. As reported in the Detroit News, an unlikely alliance of House conservatives and Democrats teamed up to support an amendment hiking the personal income tax exemption based on state revenue growth. Conservatives said the Engler plan didn’t go far enough; Democrats wanted to shift funds more in the direction of families and away from businesses and investors. Legislative wrangling and inevitable compromise aside, most observers believe the governor will have a tax cut plan within a week or so of the 30-day deadline he proposed in his State of the State address.
- Arguing that criminals are going free because key evidence against them has been improperly gathered, the Senate voted to ease current restrictions on admissability of evidence. Under SB 26, evidence obtained in an unconstitutional search or arrest will be admissible if police officers contend that they believed the evidence was lawfully obtained. The 22-16, party-line vote for passage reflected Democratic objections that the measure erodes privacy and other civil rights.
- Sex offenders who know they’re HIV-infected will face additional imprisonment under SB 19, passed unanimously in the Senate this week. The bill adds an additional three years to the sentences of those convicted of criminal sexual conduct who knowingly exposed their victims to the risk of HIV infection.
- State Democrats elected attorney Mark Brewer as Michigan party chair at their convention last weekend. U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd was the keynote speaker at the pointedly partisan gathering.
- Accused of playing games with bingo, Secretary of State Candice Miller ruled invalid this week a number of petition signatures submitted to forestall a new law prohibiting the game’s use as a political fund raiser. In a technical ruling that did not specify the number of invalid signatures, Miller ruled that the games were prohibited under new campaign finance laws regardless of the number of valid signatures demanding that the issue be put to voters on the next state ballot. State Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer was in an excellent position to decry the action: He served as attorney for the referendum drive. “This ruling deliberately distorts case law and attorney generals’ opinions that do not apply to referendum petitions in a blatant effort to reach a preordained and contrived conclusion,” Brewer blasted.
- The historically Democratic 109th House District has drawn eight candidates evenly divided between parties for an April 3 special primary election for the seat vacated by the late Dominic Jacobetti. Considered front-runners are Democrats Gerry Corkin (Negaunee), Peter Dompierre (Marquette), Evelyn Valente-Heikkila (Ishpeming), who ran against Representative Jacobetti in last August’s primary, and Michael Prusi (Ishpeming). The ample Republican field includes Terry Talo (Negaunee), who lost to Jacobetti last November, Margaret Edge, Jim Claffey, and Philip White, all of Marquette.
- Last Sunday’s New York Times called him a “Conservative Hero from the Rust Belt” in a headline detailing Governor Engler’s new Washington status as a “conquering hero.” Balancing its adjectives, the Times contended that “the Michigan success story is not as overwhelming as the governor might have audiences believe.”
February 23, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Democrats’ denial of immediate effect to Governor Engler’s tax cut bills raised the specter of early adjournment as a hardball legislative tactic this week. The minority party in both chambers has withheld votes needed to make changes in the intangibles tax effective at once. Without this action, the tax-cutting package wouldn’t become effective until next year—90 days after the chamber’s sine die adjournment at the end of the calendar year. If Republicans carry out their threatened vote to adjourn the legislature immediately (an action requiring only a simple majority), the bills would become effective in three months. Constitutionally, the governor can recall the legislature to a special session to consider specific items, such as the budget.
- Meantime, the ongoing debate—both partisan and internecine—has other proposed tax cuts affecting the Single Business Tax, personal income tax exemptions, and college expense deductions headed for conference committees to iron out differences.
- Michigan drivers could put routine motor vehicle transactions like license renewals on their charge cards under terms of SB 188 passed unanimously by the Senate this week. The bill allows the secretary of state’s office to determine what transactions could be covered with plastic.
- Aspiring judges would need to present five years’ experience as an attorney under a measure passing the upper chamber unopposed this week. SJR D would require a constitutional amendment supported by popular vote to add the experience clause to the existing caveat that those running for or appointed to judicial posts be under age 70.
- Women in the news this week included Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld, who returned Tuesday from recent heart surgery to preside over the Senate and to dismiss speculation that she might not serve out her term. Smiling and trimmer, Ms. Binsfeld eschewed the shortcut to the chamber from her adjacent office, electing instead the longer route down the Senate’s center aisle to return to the podium she had vacated during her convalescence.
- Secretary of State Candice Miller also retained her high profile, winning Senate Appropriations Committee approval of fund transfers earmarked for controversial raises for her top aides, and in unrelated, widely reported action, threatening to bring charges against 18 candidates, 5 of them elected incumbents, for failing to file campaign finance reports mandated by statute.
- Count him in, says U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, squelching whispers of his potential legislative retirement. In affirming his intention to seek a fourth term, the Southfield Democrat made it plain he was in no hurry to crank up election rhetoric: “The campaign will not start, God willing, until next year,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “The public is not ready for a two-year campaign.” Ready or not, here come potential GOP rivals, including talk-radio host Ronna Romney, who postulated that Levin is a “dinosaur . . . too liberal for Michigan.”
- The good news is that student scores on the state’s standardized Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests are rising. But the majority of secondary school students failed to get satisfactory scores in math and reading for the fourth consecutive year. Still, the percentage of 10th-graders passing the math test almost doubled since 1991, climbing to 35.6 percent from 18.7.
- U.S. Canadian Ambassador Jim Blanchard entertained fellow former-governor, President Bill Clinton, this week during the president’s Ottawa summit meetings. Clinton was scheduled to stay overnight in the 32-room ambassadorial residence’s “Kelley Bedroom,” named for the president’s late mother who was Ambassador Blanchard’s first overnight guest.
- According to Associated Press reports, Michigan cigarette users gave new meaning to the old cliché of sneaking a smoke: State investigators say tobacco smuggling is costing millions in lost revenues. Last year’s cigarette tax hike made Michigan’s levy tops in the nation, and improper import of more than $50 worth of smokes is now a five-year felony. Despite the legal risks, some state retailer estimate that smuggling has reduced their retail sales by up to 40 percent, although Treasury Department officials report that revenues are about in line with estimates.
March 3, 1995
Legislative & Political News
- Praised as an incentive to business investment by backers and derided as heartless scapegoating by critics, the Senate’s passage of a long-debated unemployment benefits bill was the center of legislative attention this week. SB 322 passed on a slender 20-17 vote after often acrimonious debate. Those who believe the measure’s provisions—tightening eligibility, reducing benefits, and cutting employers’ contributions—are overly harsh hold some optimism that the bills may be moderated by the House when it considers the measure.
- House and Senate conferees adjourned amicably Monday night, sending a $1.5 billion tax cut package to chamber floors for final passage after six weeks of debate. The eighth and final bill in the package—raising personal income tax exemptions—passed the Senate Wednesday on a 36-0 vote, giving Gov. John Engler the five-year tax reduction program touted in his State of the State address. Included in the package were measures providing tax credits for college tuition, new restrictions in applying the single business tax, and phasing out the intangibles tax on stocks and bonds.
- If you still think bingo is a friendly game, consider these actions pending in Wayne Circuit Court. Last week, the state Democratic Party filed suit to block implementation of a 1994 statute banning the game’s use as a political fund-raiser until a 1996 voter referendum decides the issue. A hearing on the case was recessed until next week after a Michigan Chamber of Commerce–backed group filed a motion to intervene in the suit. The group, “Bingo for Charity—Not Politics,” argues that political bingo creates large unreported cash contributions that could tarnish the public image of politics.
- The Board of State Canvassers, meanwhile, faces a March 31 deadline to count and certify signatures from a petition drive calling for a statewide 1996 ballot question on use of bingo for political fund-raising. A declaratory ruling from the secretary of state last week invalidated all signatures collected before the November 8 election, thus eliminating some 85,000 names from petitions that must total just under 155,000 valid signatures.
- Political speculation in the Detroit Free Press has former state GOP Chairman David Doyle headed for employment at Amway Corp. The well-regarded party chair, whose prospects as a presidential campaign manager faded with Dan Quayle’s early withdrawal, could be the perfect mastermind, opines columnist Hugh McDiarmid, to run a U.S. senatorial campaign for GOP National Committee member and Amway presidential spouse Betsy DeVos.
- Collegiate contests were not held on traditional playing fields this week as Michigan State University successfully concluded its merger with the Detroit College of Law over protests from Detroit-based politicians and educators. Ann Arbor weighed in with its own bone to pick with MSU: University of Michigan partisans are said to be unhappy with the $10.4 million in additional state funding proposed for the East Lansing institution. In upcoming hearings before the House Appropriations Committee, MSU President M. Peter McPherson will make the case that his is the lowest funded of the state’s three largest research universities. U of M backers cry foul at that argument, pointing to federal land-grant funds that flow to East Lansing and not to Ann Arbor.
- Civil Service Department Director Martha Bibbs will leave the director’s chair but not her longtime affiliation with the agency. The 22-year civil service veteran, who has headed the agency for the past seven years, has accepted a new deputy position to concentrate on total quality management issues.
- More people than ever fought their case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court last year. Nearly 3,200 appeals were filed with the high court, a record number according to Gongwer News Service. The vast majority of those cases were denied a hearing by the court, whose total number of opinions issued (108) was the most since 1987.
March 9, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Gov. John Engler signed into law tax-cut legislation that will save taxpayers $1.5 billion over five years. The bills raise the personal exemption on the state income tax, reduce the single business tax (SBT), phase out the intangibles tax, and provide a tax credit for tuition payments at state colleges that keep tuition and fee increases within the rate of inflation. With the exception of the intangibles tax bill, the laws take effect immediately. To make the intangibles tax cut law effective this year, the governor said he supports ending the legislature’s session early, a move that would have to occur at least 90 days before the year’s end for the cut to apply this year.
- Legislation implementing Governor Engler’s proposal to create a Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) was reported out of committees in both the House and Senate (SBs 350–51; HBs 4494–95). MEGA would provide 20 years of single business tax credits to both Michigan-based and out-of-state businesses that create a minimum number of new jobs in Michigan. Opponents of the measure, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, believe the cost is too high given the small number of job gains.
- Competing for SBT attention is another bill (SB 342) that would change the way the single business tax base is apportioned from three factors (payroll, property, and sales) to a single factor (sales). The bill would reduce the tax burden for Michigan-based companies while increasing the tax on out-of-state companies who do business in Michigan.
- Eight Michigan prisons would be expanded to make room for 2,476 new beds under a bill (HB 4324) passed by the House. The expansion, which would cost about $58 million, falls short of Governor Engler’s proposal to spend $205 million for expansion and construction of four new prisons, one of which would be for juveniles. The House bill is expected to meet minimum needs through October; meanwhile, some legislators want to discuss alternatives to the costly policy of building more prisons.
- In the twilight of a long career marked by fierce competitive struggles, ex-mayor Coleman Young is in perhaps the biggest fight of his life. Although now in stable, but serious condition, Young was rushed to a Detroit hospital Monday afternoon after being found in a semiconscious state by his housekeeper. Young has a history of respiratory distress and severe emphysema. The Detroit News reports Young’s longtime press secretary Bob Berg’s emotional comments: “We always thought that he would outlive us all. He’s fought a lot of tough battles. He’s persevered. But you never know.”
- Perhaps it was Michigan’s increasingly robust employment outlook that brought conservative Texas Sen. Phil Gramm to our state this week. With the presidential primaries a mere twelve months away, the first of many Republican aspirants made his way to Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids. Claiming that “I’m here today looking for a job,” the 52 year-old former economics professor met with Republicans in hopes of galvanizing support for his presidential bid because, “the fellow that holds that job now is not doing a very good job.” Gramm’s visit comes fresh on the heels of his official announcement to run and his stunningly successful fund-raising efforts in recent weeks—including a single event in Texas that garnered a record $4.1 million for his war chest.
- Swinging with both fists in the ongoing educational reform fray, John Engler this week adamantly refused to budge on his pledge to eliminate the free college tuition funding for Native American students in Michigan, resulting in an uprising of protest on the capitol lawn. Hand-held signs exhorting “Give us an education or give us our land back” and “Honor the treaties” were prominently displayed. The Indian Tuition Waiver Program now pays $3.1 million per year for Native Americans’ tuition in Michigan public universities. While protesters shivered outside, Engler, suggesting a new dawn in school reform, exhorted delegates of the Michigan Association of School Boards to take advantage of his efforts to scuttle the present school code. He claimed, “You’re in East Germany with the wall torn down; a regulated industry given new freedoms.” Extolling the virtues of local control, he proposed an end to state teacher certification, which led one Republican State Board of Education member to conclude that the result would be “chaos.”
March 17, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Despite opposition from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Mackinaw Center, the Senate passed legislation creating Governor Engler’s Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) on a bipartisan vote of 33-4. Republicans accepted a key Democratic amendment banning a cap of 25 economic development grants per year in order to obtain the necessary votes to achieve immediate effect for the measures (SBs 350–51). The package moves back to the House, where leaders have agreed to hold a timely vote.
- A Senate appropriations subcommittee has eliminated the $938,100 line item to establish Michigan Government Television (MGTV). The subcommittee’s vote tunes out, at least temporarily, plans to televise various capitol proceedings in the manner of C-SPAN.
- A bill (SB 322) reducing unemployment benefits and giving employers more latitude to be designated seasonal businesses was heatedly discussed in a House committee Tuesday. Currently, workers employed by seasonal businesses are not entitled to unemployment benefits. Construction workers—potential victims of the seasonal provision—testifying against the bill asked why the Michigan Employment Security Commission did not send a representative to the hearing.
- Recalling the furor he caused by pointing out the numerous plane trips made by his predecessor, Jim Blanchard, John Engler was questioned about the nine trips he has made to Washington, D.C., in the last four months. Defending the frequent flier miles as vital to driving the national debate on welfare reform, Engler’s office released figures showing the total cost for the state-owned plane excursions to be slightly less than $25,000. Claiming a Freedom of Information Act exemption, Engler’s spokespeople declined to reveal any other costs associated with the trips.
- The Detroit News reports that, during his stay in Washington, the governor expressed an interest in being the running mate of the eventual Republican 1996 presidential nominee, “But,” Engler admitted, “nobody’s asked me yet.”
- Why settle for number two when you can be number one? A national poll commissioned and released this week by Inside Michigan Politics reveals that John Engler would fare favorably—a statistical dead heat—against Bill Clinton in a hypothetical race for the presidency. Forty-five percent of voters nationwide would pull the lever for the president, while 42 percent would opt for placing Engler in the Oval Office. Observers note that the poll also discloses that only a quarter of the electorate has heard of Michigan’s governor, suggesting that the results indicate mainly an erosion of Clinton’s electoral drawing power.
- With a deadlocked 2-2 vote last Friday, the highly partisan State Board of Canvassers threw the question of bingo games sponsored by political organizations to the courts. Questioning the “freshness” of signatures collected by Democratic supporters before last November’s election, Republican board chair Jim Alexander claimed that, “it may not be fair, but it’s the state of the law right now.”
- Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine got a great bill of health from U.S. News & World Report. The magazine rated the college third in the nation for primary care physician training. U.S. News will rave in an upcoming issue about five other MSU graduate programs that it rates among the best in the country. The University of Michigan’s medical school also made the newsweekly’s top ten list, as did six other UM advanced degree programs.
- In striking down a portion of the state tobacco tax act, the Michigan Court of Appeals has refused to block a lower court’s decision to make it harder to apprehend and prosecute cigarette smugglers in Wayne County. The court believes that the current law does not properly ensure that suspected smugglers have a right to appeal police confiscation of illegal cigarettes. An emergency appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court is being pursued by Attorney General Frank Kelley to head off the effects of the appeals court ruling.
March 24, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- The program was MEGA but the vote was NEGA, -tive, that is, as the GOP-controlled House handed Gov. John Engler his first legislative defeat in the form of a 36-57 “no” vote on the business tax incentive bill known as the Michigan Employment Growth Authority. SB 351 promised tax breaks to some businesses for creating new Michigan jobs and ran into solid bipartisan opposition in the lower chamber, as some of Engler’s staunchest allies—including the Wall Street Journal—decried perceived ideological flaws in the measure.
- While successfully nixing MEGA, Democrats failed in efforts to link that measure’s passage with hotly contested changes to the state’s unemployment insurance system. Amassing the minimum 55 votes necessary for passage, the GOP lost only one vote in the partisan 55–52 tally, that of Sterling Heights Republican Sue Rocca. SB 322 now returns to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
- The Senate Operations Committee voted 4-1 to exempt presidential searches at Michigan universities from the Freedom of Information Act. The legislation is needed, proponents say, because qualified applicants for top academic jobs cannot disclose their potential availability without jeopardizing their current employment. Opponents believe that citizens have a right to know what is being done with their tax dollars. While this debate continues at the capitol, Oakland University officials launched a presidential search with a closed meeting that violates, contends the Detroit Free Press, recent court rulings requiring public proceedings.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee also turned its attention to higher education this week, approving for full Senate consideration budgets that include a $10.4 million one-time, catch-up increase for Michigan State University while simultaneously docking the University of Michigan more than $8 million for failing to curb out-of-state enrollment. The governor’s controversial proposal to eliminate the Indian tuition waiver program was overturned by the Senate panel, with additional restrictions placed on the fund’s use.
- MSU’s May 5 commencement address by U.S. President Bill Clinton marks his second trip to the banks of the Red Cedar (presidential candidates whisked in for a 1992 debate) and the first East Lansing campus address by a sitting president since Theodore Roosevelt gave parting words to the Class of 1907.
- Ranking House Republican Rep. William R. Bryant (Grosse Pointe Farms) is the first legislator this session to announce retirement plansafter his current term. Currently completing his 25th year in the chamber, Bryant chairs the Education Committee and is second only to Rep. Morris W. Hood, Jr. (D-Detroit), in House seniority.
- With congressional debate on welfare reform blazing in Washington, D.C., Democratic leaders have issued statistics suggesting the Republican-backed bill could cost Michigan more than $2 billion over the next five years. According to the Associated Press, legislation currently proposed would reduce Michigan’s federal funding by $710 million for food stamps, $675 million for disability payments, and $159 million for school lunch and nutrition programs.
- Detroit’s 13 members of the state House of Representatives have a poor attendance record that exacerbates the delegation’s dwindling Lansing clout, claims the Detroit News in a story this week. The all-Democratic caucus posted a voting and attendance record lower than that of surrounding southeast Michigan communities in Oakland, Macomb, and non-Detroit Wayne County, the News contends, adding by way of contrast that Detroit’s state senators compiled a voting record of 91 percent or better.
- The State Board of Education met this week for the first time outside its Lansing offices and deferred until April a decision on whether to scrap or continue a proposed statewide language arts curriculum. The board’s new Republican majority is generally opposed to mandating core curricula, far preferring to delegate this and most other educational decisions to local communities.
March 30, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Condition critical: The Michigan Underground Storage Tank Financial Assurance (MUSTFA) fund created in 1988 to help clean up petroleum leaks is flirting with insolvency. The Senate Natural Resources Committee received a report from Public Sector Consultants this week concluding that MUSTFA has been underfunded since its inception and presently has only $165 million with which to address $401 million in outstanding claims. Recommended remedies range from an end to state sponsorship of the program to a 1.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase to bolster the flagging fund.
- Legislation revising unemployment insurance requirements (SB 322) was passed by the House and sent to the governor amid revelations that language reflecting key amendments made to it was not contained in the final bill. Inadvertently excluded was a measure that would have exempted construction workers from being classified as seasonal employees, permitting them to collect unemployment benefits during periods of construction inactivity. Lawmakers promise to correct the oversight in an additional bill.
- The Senate begins its spring recess this week, returning to session on April 18. The House follows suit with a break from April 7 to 25.Roundup will not be published on April 13, when both chambers are recessed.
- Odds are that the gubernatorial gaming panel report due next month will recommend approval of off-reservation Indian gaming in Detroit and private casinos in up to five other cities, according to the Detroit Free Press. Race tracks will likely get a split decision: yes to increased simulcasting for wagering on off-site races; no to gambling machines at the tracks. The 13-person panel will meet at least once more to review these and other tentative recommendations before forwarding findings to Gov. John Engler by an April 11 deadline. Strongly held views on all sides of the issues underscore apparent consensus that the state’s gaming practices are too important to be left to chance.
- Meanwhile, casino gambling’s poor cousin, political bingo, won a few weeks’ reprieve in Lansing this week. The State Court of Appeals set an expedited schedule to hear two lawsuits affecting a statute that would ban the use of bingo for political fund-raising, effective April 1. The suits deal with the validity of petitions gathered to force a voter referendum on the new law in the next statewide elections. Briefs are due by May 3, with oral arguments likely in early June. In the interim, the grass-roots staple of Democratic money-making can continue pending judicial branch disposition of the matter.
- Allegations that women inmates in Michigan prisons routinely face sexual abuse, medical neglect, and squalor were levelled in a stinging letter from U.S. Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick to Governor Engler, giving the state 49 days to correct conditions and respond. In an equally heated rejoinder, Corrections Director Kenneth McGinnis accused the Justice Department of a “witch hunt designed to circumvent state sovereignty.” This latest chapter in a standoff between the Engler administration and the U.S. attorney general’s office follows a federal judge’s ruling last year that upheld the state’s right to refuse access to federal investigators who declined to specify the allegations under examination. Patrick’s letter accuses guards at prisons in Plymouth and Coldwater of raping, fondling, and peeping at inmates forced to endure deficient sanitation, inadequate medical care, and crowding.
- Observing what it calls a new order in the court, the Detroit News cites American Bar Association statistics showing Detroit boasts twice as many African-American female judges as any other city in the country. An organized and active female electorate and a gubernatorial tradition of aggressive affirmative action in judicial appointments are credited as factors in Michigan’s total of 115 African-American judges, the second highest in the nation behind California’s 155. Michigan’s total includes 57 women, 45 of whom preside in and around Detroit.
April 7, 1995
- Finishing with a 13-hour, late-night session, the Michigan House completed action on six budget bills this week and began its spring recess. In lengthy debate on Tuesday, lawmakers passed a $1.3 billion Department of Corrections budget while downsizing a proposed 19 percent pay hike for the director to a modest 3 percent raise. HB 4418 passed with several amendments on a 90-13 vote. A more-controversial-than-usual higher education budget passed 86-17 after hours of debate left it virtually unchanged. Kept in were extra funds for Michigan State, Western Michigan, and Grand Valley State universities, all recommended by the governor, as well as funding for the Indian tuition waiver program, an appropriation opposed by Governor Engler. With comparatively little discussion, a $43.9 millionDepartment of Education budget was approved by a 90-11 vote margin. A Public Health Department spending package of nearly $639 million was passed 90-12, with executive branch funding cuts to regional substance abuse coordinating panels restored by the lower chamber. In passing HB 4415, which authorized a general fund budget for the Department of Mental Health of $1.6 billion, the House capped the director’s salary increase at a lower level than recommended by the governor. Democratic efforts to restore $10 million in funds for at-risk students to the $8.3 billion school aid budget failed, although add-backs in several other areas were approved.
- Spiffed up with some vote-catching concessions, MEGA returned to the House floor to a warm welcome in the form of a 68-35 vote for passage. Governor Engler’s hotly debated Michigan Economic Growth Authority would give tax credits to companies whose expansion creates job growth in the state. In exchange for their MEGA support on its second outing, Democrats got assurances that the administration will not push for reduced unemployment insurance benefits or for further cuts in the Detroit arts equity package. GOP enthusiasm for the governor’s initiative remains conspicuously tepid, with Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) supporting the measure only after an amendment rolled back its legislative sunset from four years to two. SB 350, which creates MEGA, and its companion of implementing legislation, SB 351, will try for a similarly successful comeback in the Senate when that chamber returns from recess later this month.
- Michigan teachers got an additional spring break from a Michigan Court of Appeals panel that stayed the teacher strike statute pending further court proceedings. Legislation imposing pay cuts and fines for striking teachers and their unions was to have gone into effect April 1. An appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court is under way.
- Amid cries of foul by consumer advocates and enthusiastic praise by insurance code reformers comes insurance executive and free-marketeer D. Joseph Olson as the new head of the Michigan Insurance Bureau. Olsen, who was vice president, general counsel, and secretary of the Howell-based Citizen’s Insurance Company, replaces David Dykhouse, who resigned as insurance commissioner in January.
- Plans to identify and jettison unneeded governmental rules and regulations also include the establishment of a new state office to oversee the task. Michael Gadola, former deputy legal counsel for Governor Engler, will lead the battle against unnecessary red tape as director of the Office of Regulatory Reform.
- Unclaimed bottle deposits belong to the citizens of Michigan says the Michigan Supreme Court. The ruling reaffirms a 1989 law which states that the unclaimed deposits are the property of the bottled beverage buyer and that those funds could be used for environmental clean-ups in the state.
April 21, 1995
Legislative & Political News
- With the stroke of her pen, Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld gave life to the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA), by signing into law Public Acts 23 and 24. In doing so, she unveiled the MEGA board members—four cabinet officials and four citizens-at-large. Wasting no time, the board has voted to offer tax breaks of nearly $19 million to three corporation that have indicated a willingness to locate new facilities in Michigan and create more jobs. The move could net the state 1,100 additional jobs.
- Any takers? The Michigan Low Level Radioactive Waste Board of Governors is looking for a volunteer host community willing to become a waste storage site. As part of a legislative mandate, the board must develop a process to examine the scientific, political, social, and safety considerations inherent in siting such a facility. The governors listened this week to experiences of Illinois and Connecticut, states whose previous experience suggests that local community involvement and control is critical.
- Before the Senate Finance Committee, State Treasurer Doug Roberts extolled the overall record of Michigan’s retirement funds over the last five years and downplayed the concern expressed by some over investing public dollars in financial instruments known as “derivatives.” Perhaps mindful that baseball’s opening day is (finally) just around the corner, Roberts claimed that the state’s pension funds have “been knocking the cover off of the ball” in terms of economic performance—especially in the first quarter of 1995.
- Reminiscent of tales of dead people voting in Chicago were recent charges by former U.S. Census Director Barbara Bryant. Her new book,Moving Power and Money: The Politics of Census Taking, alleges that Detroit officials conspired to boost the reported population of Detroit above the one million mark by including the names of people who had died or lived at addresses known to be vacant lots. The head of Detroit’s census bureau denounced this charge as a “cheap shot.” Written into numerous state laws is language that gives additional state funds to Michigan cities with one million or more residents. Detroit is the only city meeting that criterion.
- In a decision that could have far-reaching effects for future Michigan political campaigns, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that citizens have the right to circulate campaign literature that does not contain a reference to its sponsor. Current Michigan election law mandates that such literature include a disclaimer that clearly indicates who has paid for the production of the campaign leaflets. The Michigan law was designed to cut down on the potential for disinformation dissemination. All states except California have similar laws.
- If David Bonior of Mt. Clemens, the second most powerful Democratic member of the U.S. House, feels his ears burning this weekend because someone is talking about him, it won’t be unwarranted. Top Michigan GOP politicos will meet in Kalamazoo to fashion a “Bounce Bonior” campaign—a full eighteen months before the next election. Opponents contend that Bonior is politically out of step with residents of his district (Macomb and St. Claire counties). Bonior supporters say that the congressman—a vocal Newt Gingrich critic—is used to tough battles and up to the challenge.
- The job of state personnel director—being vacated by Martha Bibbs—is coveted by nearly sixty applicants, the preponderance of whom are current state employees. Bibbs will stay with the department as deputy director in charge of quality management and strategic initiatives.
April 27, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Although eclipsed by important court rulings and police investigation into right-wing citizen militias, Michigan lawmakers made further progress on a conservative path this week. HB 4508, a tort reform measure limiting plaintiffs’ ability to recover damages in some personal injury, property damage, and wrongful death cases won approval from the House Judiciary and Civil Rights Committee and heads for the full chamber over the protests of minority Democrats, whose efforts to add nearly two dozen amendments to the measure were thwarted.
- The committee vote on HB 4508 underscores a Lansing State Journal computer analysis of legislative activity revealing, as expected, that the House GOP is using its new majority to “rule the road” in the lower chamber. Of 110 House-passed bills this session, 89 have been Republican sponsored. In the Senate, where a wider GOP majority rules, 70 of 79 bills passed this session have been Republican sponsored.
- Ditto for HB 4341, which limits the amount of noneconomic damages that could be awarded to auto accident victims. The legislative session’s first action of the year on automobile insurance reform was embodied in the House Insurance Committee’s 9-7 party-line vote sending the measure to the floor.
- A unanimous vote for passage in the full House affirmed HB 4061 this week. The measure would codify into law a current executive order prohibiting state departments from implementing federal mandates unaccompanied by requisite revenue.
- Legal experts termed it the first, but by no means last, word from the U.S. Supreme Court on assisted suicide. Without comment, the nation’s highest court refused to hear Michigan pathologist Jack Kevorkian’s challenge to the state’s high court ruling that assisting in a suicide is prosecutable as a common law felony. A statutory ban on assisted suicide expired last year, leaving a legal no-man’s land that will likely end up as a Michigan ballot question. Several other states also have challenges likely to reach the federal high court.
- If not meaningfully connected to the emerging information superhighway, “rural America will become the dustbowl of the information age,” state Sen. Dianne Byrum (D-Onondaga) forcefully told President Clinton and a national seminar discussing rural affairs. A member of a select eight-member panel, the freshman senator expressed a need for streamlining inheritance laws regarding family farms and increasing credit opportunities for small businesses and farmers.
- The Michigan Education Association members and retirees who sued the executive and legislative branches over cuts in their pension funds won a favorable verdict this week. Awash in red ink in 1991, Gov. John Engler’s administration and the legislature cut $54 million from the Public School Employees Retirement System. The legislature subsequently appropriated only enough money to fund health benefits for current, but not future, retirees. While declaring this maneuver a violation of the state constitution—”Failing to fund pension benefits at the time they are earned amounts to borrowing against future budgets or ‘back door’ spending”—the Michigan Supreme Court also revealed its legal inability to compel the legislature to restore the lost funding.
- Soon stepping down from his high-profile post in Washington as assistant secretary of the U.S. Labor Department will be ex-Michigan state senator and Commerce Director Doug Ross. Returning home to head the Progressive Foundation, a new public policy project linked to the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Ross is speculated to be among his party’s gubernatorial hopefuls, Class of 1998.
May 5, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- Fred’s a definite maybe, but Betsy and Joe are going to pass. In GOP preelection maneuvers to unseat U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) recently indicated his “50 percent interest” in challenging the three-term incumbent; his final decision will come this summer. Meanwhile, two others who had given serious thought to entering the race—Michigan Republican National Committee member Betsy DeVos and Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Hills)—will sit this one out.
- With bated breath, House District 109 GOP candidates Margaret Edge and Philip White watched Board of State Canvassers chair Mike Pyne draw Ms. Edge’s name out of the proverbial hat. The two candidates had each garnered the same vote total in the recent primary. As a result of Pyne’s plucking, Edge won the right to challenge Democrat Michael Prusi in the race to succeed the late Dominic Jacobetti. The Upper Peninsula special election will take place on May 16th.
- The legislature passed HB 4662 authorizing the state to boost the amount of money it can pay to lucky lottery winners. The bill changes the lottery payout from a maximum of 45 percent of ticket sales to a minimum of 45 percent of sales. The school aid fund can expect to receive a lower percentage of ticket revenue but a higher total dollar amount according to Lottery Bureau officials. Cognizant of past lottery/school aid fund concerns, the Senate added a January 1, 1999, sunset provision.
- Michigan’s five-year tax battle against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over potential tax liability incurred by the Michigan Educational Trust (MET) ended with a $70 million boost to the fund ($54 million in previously collected taxes and $16 million in interest). The IRS finally agreed with the state—and a federal court of appeals ruling—that Michigan’s prepaid college tuition program is an integral part of state government and, as such, exempt from federal taxes. State Treasurer and MET chair (as well as MET contract holder) Doug Roberts indicates future options for the fund—including reopening enrollment—are being explored.
- In the wake of the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee’s recently affirmed support of a closed presidential primary system for its party members, House Local Committee Chair Bob Brackenridge, R-St. Joseph) canceled a committee hearing scheduled to address a bill mandating open primaries (HB 4435). Brackenridge reasoned that adoption of such a law would have forced Michigan Democrats into employing a caucus system—one not administered or paid for by the state—an even more unacceptable alternative.
- After years of capitol corridor discussions about its potential usefulness, composition, and mission, a 19-member sentencing guidelines commission has been established. Charged with developing overarching criminal sentence recommendations to the legislature—due in July 1996—the commission is made up of representatives from the following groups: prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, judges, crime victims, Department of Corrections, alternative incarceration advocates, legislators, and members of the general public.
- Pain management—not assisted suicide—will be the main focus of a newly created advisory committee to the House Health Policy Committee. The Michigan Council on Pain will be directed by Dr. Joel Saper. Health Policy Committee Chair John Jamian (R-Bloomfield Hills) believes that more light needs to be shed on the issues and benefits of pain management. The council is to report back by the end of summer on ways to ensure access to and acceptance of pain management techniques.
May 12, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- With much less fanfare than has been accorded their Washington counterparts, Republican legislative leaders from Michigan have fashioned sweeping legislative reforms in the first 100 plus days of this session. On the heels of major changes in tax policy, unemployment insurance, and financial incentives offered to job providers come two more cornerstones of GOP policy. —Currently awaiting the governor’s signature is HB 4596, the main bill in the polluter pay amendment package that will ease environmental cleanup standards. State business and industry interests have applauded the changes, which they believe are long overdue, will encourage more clean-ups, and will impose rational regulations on employers. Critics of the legislation believe theses maneuvers will result in the elimination of pollution prevention measures established to provide strict liability for owners of contaminated sites.
—Amid acrimonious assertions about the best methods for discouraging frivolous lawsuits and encouraging job growth, the Senate has sent to the House SB 344—a rewrite of the state’s product liability laws. In its present form, the bill will drastically alter the ways in which an injured person can file suit against the manufacturer of an allegedly defective product. House consideration is expected next week.
- Even in the best of times, the process of cobbling together a state budget is hard work. Along with the usual impediments, this year’s model features pointed partisan disagreements on proposed reductions in revenue sharing, adoption of $100 million in fee increases, and widely divergent ideas on higher education funding. To make things more interesting, state revenue forecasts will most likely fall at least $100 million short of earlier projections mainly due to higher-than-expected income tax refunds.
- Announcing this week that in 1993 Michigan teenagers became pregnant at the lowest rate in a decade was state Public Health Director, Vernice Davis Anthony. Shortly thereafter came news that Davis Anthony is leaving her post. As of June 30, she will become a vice president at St. John Health System in Detroit. Only two other Engler cabinet members have exited to date: former Department of Management and Budget Director Patricia Woodworth and former Agriculture Secretary Bill Schuette.
- Rep. Susan Grimes Munsell (R-Howell), a ten-year House veteran and player on the bipartisan school finance committee, will be leaving the legislative arena at the end of this term. Although active in Republican efforts to cut taxes, the pro-choice Munsell was challenged in her last primary by GOP candidates calling into question her degree of political compatibility with her constituents.
- The annual senior citizen showcase of political muscle at the capitol was fueled by national and state level debate about Social Security and Medicare. Four thousand seniors participated in the 21st Senior Power Day by listening to Detroit’s Mayor Dennis Archer, Senate Majority Leader Richard Posthumus, and House Speaker Curtis Hertel; watching the House pass a bill mitigating certain aspects of the high cost of long-term medical care; and talking to their legislators. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), always an active participant in this event, also announced its intention to step up its organizational and legislative efforts in Michigan by dramatically expanding its staff here.
May 19, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- All dressed up but no place to vote . . . yet. Within hours of his landslide special election victory in the 109th state House district, Mike Prusi (D-Ishpeming) was on a plane bound for the state capitol ready to assume the duties of his new job. “Not so fast,” said House Republicans. Despite being sworn into office Wednesday by Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanaugh, Prusi won’t be able to cast votes on legislation until the State Board of Canvassers certifies his election—May 25th at the earliest. Unofficially, Prusi won with 72 percent of the vote. Prusi is replacing U.P. legend, the late Dominic Jacobetti, who garnered 70 percent of the vote last November 8th. Jacobetti died three weeks later of a heart attack, and the seat has been vacant since. Prusi’s election is significant in that it raises the number of votes necessary to pass legislation in the House from 55—the magic number for the last five months—to 56.
- Emerging from the House by a 60-42 margin was HB 4682, which supporters believe will help curtail insurance fraud. Provisions in the bill make it a felony to file bogus insurance claims. Various licensed professionals—medical, legal, and others—who receive compensation from insurance companies would be directly affected. Opponents believe that the bill would concentrate too much arbitrary power—with little consumer access—in the hands of insurance companies and law enforcement agencies.
- The M.E.T. board met to discuss the future of the college tuition funding program halted in 1991. With the addition of a $70 million court-won windfall, the fund’s assets now total $619.2 million—enough to assure the financial integrity of the fund for all of its 55,000 current enrollees. State Treasurer Doug Roberts, however, expressed his philosophical concern about whether the state should be in the business of guaranteeing the fiscal soundness of such a fund should the board decide to reopen enrollment in the program. Suggestions advanced at the meeting ranged from requiring future participants to sign affidavits acknowledging the potential financial risk to charging approximately $15,000 per newborn enrollee and segregating the new monies in a pool separate from that of original contract holders.
- An unemployment insurance clean-up bill—designed to mend an error in legislation (P.A. 25) enacted last March—passed the House overwhelmingly but isn’t going to the Senate just yet. The legislative “fix” (HB 4746) would prohibit employers of construction workers from claiming a seasonal designation. P.A. 25 allows some companies to be considered seasonal employers, thereby releasing them from responsibility for paying unemployment benefits to their employees in the “off-season.” The language of HB 4746 was drafted as an amendment to the original legislation but was inadvertently left out of the final version of that bill. HB 4746 is eligible for reconsideration as a result of Democratic maneuvering to put political heat on GOP House members in marginal districts—most notably Reps. Sandra Hill (R-Montrose) and James Ryan (R-Redford).
- Citing current state budget pressures and the setting of unwise precedent, Governor Engler has petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court to reexamine its recent ruling that the state is constitutionally bound to pre-fund health care benefits for school personnel. Engler argues that pre-funding provisions possibly could be applied to all state employees—a potential budget buster—and that the court inadequately considered the long-held legal presumption that acts of the legislature and governor are constitutional.
Correction: In our May 12 Roundup we incorrectly referred to Rep. Curtis Hertel as House Speaker. He is Minority Leader.
May 26, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Those “food and fuel next exit” signs will become logo-specific under a pilot program passed by the House this week. Most states already use corporate symbols—McDonald’s golden arches or Shell’s scallop—to let highway travelers know the brand of hospitality awaiting them down the road. SB 388 will add Michigan to that list in a three-year trial involving 30 freeway interchanges. Outdoor advertisers, whose billboard revenues may be jeopardized by the use of nongeneric highway signs, have long opposed the change and will have a chance to prove any negative impact on their industry at the program’s conclusion.
- Sending a message to the State Democratic Party, the House overwhelmingly approved a measure establishing an open presidential primary on a 100-4 vote. State Dems voted last month to continue either a closed primary—which restricts voting on Democratic candidates to voters already registered as Democrats—or a closed caucus, which has the same effect. Many voters have complained about the closed primary since its first use in the state in 1992.
- Convicted felons can kiss corrections job aspirations goodbye. A 27-8 Senate vote this week approved SB 167, a measure banning felons from any Department of Corrections employment. The sole GOP opponent, Robert Geake (Northville) lamented in Gongwer News Service that “if ever there wasn’t a problem that doesn’t cry out for a solution, this is it.”
- And another thing: Those free college classes for inmates are also out. On the heels of earlier crackdowns on inmate miniature golf and color televisions in cells, the Senate passed SB 262 prohibiting provision of college-level courses to inmates unless ordered to do so by courts. In adopting the measure, upper chamber lawmakers rejected an amendment allowing corrections personnel to provide literacy training to prisoners upon request.
- Michiganders joined 21 other states whose congressional term limits laws hit the judicial scrap heap this week after a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck them down. Michigan’s governor was the only one to file a brief in the high court supporting term limits, which were adopted as a state constitutional amendment in 1992. The caps on state elected officials’ tenure remain in force, but limiting the terms of U.S. senators and representatives will require either amendment of the U.S. Constitution or, alternatively, that voters simply oust incumbents.
- With a month left in their fiscal year, the state’s schools have been warned by the Engler administration that school aid payments may be reduced by $140 million due to a recent court ruling. Letters received this week tell local districts to expect a 20–25 percent reduction in June payments if the state is barred from borrowing from retired teachers health care funds. A recent state supreme court ruling required the administration to stop borrowing from the Public School Employees Retirement System. Rep. Glenn Oxender (R-Sturgis), chair of the House Appropriations Committee K–12 subcommittee, contends that school aid fund reserves are sufficient to cover current fiscal year payments independently of the court’s ruling on teacher retirement funds.
Our value-added Roundup now includes as a regular feature Michigan PeriSCope, a concise PSC perspective on emerging state policy, politics, and personalities. As always, we welcome your comments and suggested topics.
June 2, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Lawmakers sat down to a meaty stew of budget bills this week as each chamber labors to meet a mid-June adjournment target date. Progress to date is slow on the departmental budgets that will require conference committee compromises before final concurrence votes. Deferred for fall consideration are such nonbudget legislative headliners as revisions to the school and mental health codes and the state’s telecommunications act.
- “There’s not much meat on them,” protested opponents of a bill to permit hunting of the mourning dove. But they’re fast breeders—one senator called them “rabbits with wings”—and a divided upper chamber passed songbird-shooting legislation 21-12 last week. The House won’t consider SB 529, dubbed a cheep shot by detractors, until after the summer recess.
- The House passed a bill this week permitting state schools to request FBI background checks on applicants for teaching and administrative positions. HB 4352 applies to public, private, and charter schools as well.
- Under a three-strikes auto-forfeiture law passed this week in the Senate, motorists convicted of three drunk or impaired driving charges in a ten-year period would have their vehicles impounded.
- Regularly spurned by the voting public as a ballot issue, auto insurance reform won legislative support last week in the form of a Senate bill to curb lawsuits under the state’s no-fault provisions. HB 4341 squeaked though the upper chamber on a 20-15 vote that attracted two GOP defectors among solid Democratic opposition. The bill would preclude accident victims found to be more than 50 percent responsible and not carrying required insurance from suing for damages.
- Meeting on the front porch of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel this weekend will be more than a thousand of the state’s political and business elite. The Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce confab features guest appearances by America’s first lady, Hillary Clinton; Michigan’s first politician, John Engler; and Detroit’s first sports mogul, Mike Ilitch.
- Among island discussion topics, one sure bet is casino gambling as a means to stimulate economic development. In addition, Governor Engler is set to unveil his proposed “renaissance zones”—up to eight impoverished areas where most state and local taxes will be waived to help attract private capital. Engler also envisions a “Renaissance Fund”—a revolving loan fund to better enable local communities to pursue other urban redevelopment strategies such as acquiring land, demolishing abandoned buildings, and financing infrastructure costs.
- “We are exploring all the options,” says Corrections Department Director Kenneth McGinnis in a letter sent to legislators this week describing prison overcrowding remedies including double-bunking in cells, temporary cots in prison gyms, and using beds reserved for mental health cases. The crunch is anticipated from July until mid-fall when a hospital-to-prison conversion project is completed. McGinnis’s letter seeks to change lawmakers’ minds about cutbacks in new prison expansion.
- For reasons no expert has yet identified, abortions performed in Michigan dropped by 7.5 percent in 1994 compared to the previous year. The state Department of Public Health released the statistics last week, prompting rare agreement between right-to-life and pro-choice spokespersons, all of whom were at a loss for a clear-cut explanation.
June 9, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- Partisan debate on department budgets may keep lawmakers in Lansing past their hoped-for recess date of June 16. An Independence Day adjournment now is seen by many as more realistic. Meanwhile, argument about extra funding for universities has slowed passage of the higher education budget, while spirited exchanges between the state’s east and west shorelines over arts funding have stalled the regulatory budget.
- The budget-setting process yielded some victories this week, with final passage of spending plans for the departments of Natural Resources (SB 299), State Police (SB 302), and Military Affairs (SB 303). Senate concurrence in House versions of these budgets sends them to the governor for signature.
- The Department of Social Services budget passed by the House Wednesday was unsubtle on one point: if DSS director Gerald Miller fails to stop, by next January, state disability payments to drug and alcohol abusers, his pay will be cut 25 percent. This amendment to SB 300 returns the $2.4 billion spending plan to the Senate.
- Legislative interest peaked just one vote short of passage for a bill sharply raising consumer lending rates. After a volley of amendments, six GOP defectors joined unified Democratic opposition to sink HB 4614, centerpiece of a 10-bill credit reform package that would boost interest rate caps from their current range of 15.5–22 percent to 25 percent. Observers predict the package will be back on the House floor after additional support is lined up.
- The City of Detroit was the big loser on Thursday, in one of the most contentious Senate sessions in memory. Invective spewed as the upper chamber approved a new revenue sharing formula—based primarily on population—which will substantially penalize Detroit, while steering additional monies outstate. In apparent retaliation for the nonsupport by five Detroit senators of Governor Engler’s original revenue sharing proposal, Republican leaders engineered bare-minimum, party-line votes of 20–15 for SBs 497–9, which will reduce Detroit’s share by more than $75 million from Engler’s budget targets and $54 million from what it currently receives.
- Further changes in tax policy emerged on Thursday from the Senate in the form of single business tax (SBT) and capital acquisition deduction (CAD) revisions. With critics believing that the move will create a $200 million hole in the budget and perhaps endanger state financing of schools, the Senate passed tie-barred SBs 342 and 545. SB 342 would shift current SBT calculations from a combination of sales, payroll, and property to a system based entirely on sales. SB 545 would allow companies a 100 percent CAD for property they own in Michigan.
- A consulting firm hired by the Department of Social Services gave the department’s Families First program high ratings in a report released this week. Praising the program as a national model, the report notes that the Engler administration brainchild has saved the state millions, a point ceded by critics who claim saving dollars, not kids, is at the core of the project.
- Call him “Mr. Thrifty” suggests the Detroit News, reporting that the National Taxpayers Union has named U.S. Rep. Nick Smith (R-Addison) the most fiscally conservative member of Congress. In 37 Congressional votes this session, Smith supported $12.8 million in federal spending cuts, besting his 434 Congressional colleagues. Close behind, in third place nationally, is fellow Michigan delegation member Peter Hoekstra (R-Holland).
- The latest politician to grab his hat out of the U.S. Senatorial ring is five-term U.S. Rep Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph). The senior GOP member of Michigan’s congressional delegation estimates that to run a competitive race against incumbent Carl Levin, he would have to raise an average of $12,000 a day during the next 500 days.
June 16, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- “We will meet until it’s done,” pronounced Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus about the state budget, after a midweek powwow of legislative leaders with Gov. John Engler. And they did, and it was done–a little after 4 a.m. on Friday morning–giving lawmakers the earliest summer recess date in recent memory. Analysis and detail on the $15-billion, all-funds budget will be provided to subscribers in an upcoming issue of Public Policy Advisor. Roundup will resume publication on September 14, after the recess.
- Their amendment to the Corrections Department budget didn’t say “chain gangs”, but that was the term immediately used to characterize the required inmate-work details inserted by House Republicans into the lower chamber’s revisions to Senate-passed changes in HB 4418. The 81-22 vote for passage reflects the view of the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Perricone (R-Kalamazoo), that “Prisoners have had it too easy for too long.” Upwards of 4,000 inmates could be affected by new, mandatory community service work, which “shall be physical in nature and may include working in swamps.”
- A bill giving prosecuting attorneys subpoena power during criminal investigations passed the House 80-35 this week. SB 85 compels witnesses in a criminal investigation to cooperate with prosecutors or face contempt charges. Currently, subpoena power is reserved for cases actually brought before a grand jury or to trial. Supporters applaud this potential additional crime-fighting tool; opponents say the bill violates citizens’ constitutional rights by forcing them to appear before an investigatory body.
- Another headline grabber in this week’s law-and-order news was the governor’s endorsement of determinate sentencing–better known as “no parole.” A two-bill package designed to ensure that violent criminals serve out their sentences will get legislative consideration this fall after a capitol press conference preview this week.
- A 40-bill, Friend of the Court reform package was unveiled this week by a Senate subcommittee that spent months hearing mostly critical testimony about the circuit-court-administered child support system. The central and most controversial recommendation will transfer oversight in child support and visitation cases from the courts to the presumably more electorally sensitive offices of county commissioners.
- As promised, the federal government has sued Michigan over failure to fully implement “motor voter” law provisions. “Just another unfunded mandate,” huffs gubernatorial spokesman John Truscott, who reiterates the executive branch contention that the state virtually invented user-friendly voter registration. But the feds say registration in secretary of state branch offices isn’t enough; they want registration available in social service agencies and by mail.
- National columnist Robert Novak enthuses over Governor Engler in the current issue of American Spectator. Describing why Engler is his favorite potential presidential candidate, Novak’s four-page essay says Engler’s only flaw is his lack of handsomeness in a telegenic age.
- Congressional financial disclosure forms were released this week, identifying the state’s three millionaire lawmakers. Reps. Dick Chrysler (R-Brighton), Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), and Nick Smith (R-Addison) each reported assets and income topping $1 million.
- Newly elected UAW President Steve Yokich becomes the Michigan Democrats’ “new powerbroker,” reports the Detroit News in a story that says party insiders hope Yokich will rein in AFL-CIO President Frank Garrison who “has handpicked Democratic candidates for a decade” and is “on a big losing streak” in doing so.
September 14, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- Hoping that their eyes aren’t bigger than their stomachs were Michigan lawmakers as they returned to Lansing to sit down to an overflowing plate. On the lengthy legislative agenda for fall are such tasks as rewriting the state telecommunication act which sunsets at year’s end; getting ever tougher on juvenile crime by authorizing a “punk prison,” lowering the age at which a juvenile may be charged as an adult, and making it easier to track prior juvenile criminal records; restructuring Michigan’s court system; revamping the SBT; giving life to the governor’s renaissance zones; tort reform; mental health code revision; and eliminating barriers to charter school establishment.
- Senate Minority Leader Art Miller placed first—barely—in the five-person Warren mayoral primary election Tuesday. As expected, Miller will face Macomb County Commission Chair Mark Steenburgh in the November general election. What wasn’t expected, however, was Miller’s receiving a last-minute boost from highly partisan Republican Governor Engler, who gave Democrat Miller an endorsement letter laced with high praise.
- The various parties in the ongoing gas tax–road improvement debate could not come to agreement over the summer. As a result, this week the Michigan Department of Transportation began to list which of its road projects will be cut, because of insufficient state funds, from the list of projects that otherwise would be eligible for matching federal aid. The project list is halved-from $2.1 billion to $1 billion, of which 80 percent is federal funds.
- The Low Level Radioactive Waste Authority Board of Governors sent a final report to the legislature recommending that the state provide financial incentives to Michigan “volunteer host” communities that will agree to house low-level radioactive waste storage facilities. The board also recommends that legislative action be taken to repeal the current highly restrictive waste storage facility-siting criteria.
- During a 22-minute address to a joint session of the legislature, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice James Brickley offered a sweeping proposal to alter Michigan court structure and financing. Justice Brickley proposes combining probate and circuit courts, which he believes will improve the overall efficiency of the system by allowing a single judge to preside over all aspects of family disputes and divide the workload more evenly among judges. In deference to the legislature’s role of appropriating money, the justice stopped short of recommending specific funding mechanisms to support the new structure. His plan is cast against the backdrop of an ongoing court reorganization effort by House Judiciary Chair Michael Nye (R-Litchfield).
- The fur continues to fly following Governor Engler’s decision to split the Department of Natural Resources into two entities, as the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources took testimony from the directors of the two agencies. Russell Harding of the newly created Department of Environmental Quality and Roland Harmes of the DNR presented broad mission statements and organizational frameworks for their respective organizations. Critics contend that the split effectively cuts off public involvement in the agencies’ environmental and conservation decisions and diminishes enforcement capability.
- People in transition since we last published include Robert Schiller, former superintendent of public instruction, who resigned in August at the apparent urging of the activist leadership of the State Board of Education; he has been replaced on an interim basis by former Commerce Director Art Ellis. Michigan’s so-called drug czar, Robert Peterson, has left Lansing for Washington, D.C., to start his own consulting firm; Thomas Ginster, the governor’s chief crime advisor, will head the Office of Drug Control Policy until a permanent replacement is named. Ronald Davis, Michigan’s chief medical officer will enter the private sector by assuming a new post at Henry Ford Health System on September 25. On October 1, Mark Murray, will remove the “acting” designation from his current title and officially become director of the Michigan Management and Budget.
September 22, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- Ask not for whom the beltway tolls, it could toll for thee, according to a Detroit News story detailing state Republican legislative scrutiny of the highway booths as one alternative source of the estimated $12 billion in repair funds needed for state and county roads over the next decade. Governor John Engler’s kibosh of a proposed gasoline tax increase has left policy makers scrambling for other revenue to upgrade the state’s aging thoroughfares.
- Interest ran high in the Senate this week when a six-bill package revising lending rate ceilings passed mainly along party lines. The bills—HBs 1416, 1418, and 1419–22—remove the ceiling on credit cards entirely and boost the maximum loan interest rate on other debt from 22 to 25 percent.
- In a smooth sidestep that finesses divided legislative sentiment, the Michigan Strategic Fund Board voted Wednesday to award a $55-million grant for a new baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers. Supporters claim legislative approval is not needed for this state contribution to the controversial new stadium’s financing. Opponents of the facility vowed to challenge the action, which contributes to an overall project cost estimated at $230 million.
- It was billed as the Governor’s Education Summit, but it may have felt less significant than that to the 1,200 mostly public school representatives who offered polite applause and private criticism to most of John Engler’s announced agenda. Identifying his priorities as more charter schools, more parental say in which public schools their children attend, and revamping the state school code, the governor backed away from his earlier call for wholesale code repeal and replacement.
- GOP candidate watchers will have a field day amid the fudge and foliage this weekend on Mackinac Island. The 21st Michigan GOP biennial conference brings presidential aspirants—U.S. senators Robert Dole, Phil Gramm, and Arlen Specter, among other hopefuls—to the island. As the Englers’ guest on Saturday night, Newt Gingrich will be the first U.S. House Speaker to stay in the governor’s summer residence. Mrs. Engler announced plans this week to seek nearly a half million dollars in private funds to renovate the eleven-bedroom bluff-top mansion, the leaks and loose bricks of which threaten to compromise its estimated market value of $1.5 million.
- The governor says he is isn’t running, but that hasn’t deterred a group of state lawmakers from forming a “Draft Engler” committee to raise enough money and generate enough momentum to induce the Beal City native with the ever-increasing national profile to become a 1996 presidential candidate. The group has a solid fallback position, too: Top-ranking state GOP leaders overwhelmingly give Engler the nod as their choice for the national party’s vice presidential nominee. Colin Powell, whose book-promotion tour will bring him to the Detroit area early next month, was a distant second choice in the informal veepstakes poll.
- Don Koivisto says he isn’t switching. The Ironwood Democratic state senator told the Detroit Free Press that Republican “higher ups” have failed to persuade him to jump parties in order to challenge Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak as a Republican. Not only is Koivisto cool to the idea of working in Washington, D.C., he adds “I have no desire to even visit there.”
- The human resources director for the Department of Transportation will take over Michigan’s top personnel job. The Michigan Civil Service Commission has announced that John F. Lopez is replacing Martha Bibbs as state personnel director; Bibbs remains with the department, responsible for its total quality management project.
- Longtime Department of State deputy directors Joseph Pawlowski and Phillip Frangos will retire in December and March, respectively, as part of Secretary of State Candice Miller’s departmental restructuring to reduce the number of freestanding bureaus and the number of executive positions.
September 29, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- The full House has slowed the speed of an impending raid on the Budget Stabilization Fund. On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee had authorized an expenditure from the fund of $59.5 million, to settle a lawsuit brought by the Miller Brothers Oil Corporation against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but the next day the full House put the matter on hold until October 3. In 1987 the company was kept from engaging in oil and gas extraction from land it had leased in the state-protected Nordhouse Dunes area. A court of appeals decision states that the drilling ban represented an inverse “taking” of the company’s rights. Some House members are concerned that such use of the fund may set a precedent, especially in light of the potential fiscal effect of the still-to-be-decided Musselman case, concerning prefunding of public school employee retirement health-care benefits.
- On party-line votes, the House Education Committee has put on the fast track sweeping reforms of three key education issues: core curriculum (HB 4241), site-based decision-making (HB 4240), and accreditation standards (HB 5029). Democrats disagree not only with the bills’ content but with perceived haste with which the newly introduced bills are moving. The legislation would replace currently mandated core-curriculum standards with guidelines favored by the State Board of Education, repeal the local site-based decision-making process established less than two years ago, and allow schools to be accredited if, instead of having to attain a fixed minimum score, they can show a gradual Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) score improvement over five years.
- Spurning all attempts to amend a tort reform measure (HB 4508), Senate Republicans muscled the bill through by a bare minimum vote of 20–18 and sent it to the governor. This legislation, long sought by business interests, effectively will repeal the joint and several liability standards currently used, limit the location at which a lawsuit may be filed, and bar injury victims from collecting noneconomic damages if they are found to be more than 50 percent responsible for their injuries.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will examine the validity of the 1990 census; it will determine whether the decennial tally must be adjusted to include a known undercount thought to comprise mostly minority citizens in urban areas. If the answer is yes, it may be great news for Detroit; many state laws are geared to provide special consideration and additional revenue to Michigan cities having a population of more than one million. Earlier this month, federal authorities released a report pegging Detroit’s current population at 995,000, down from the 1,000,000-plus number of 1990.
- Smoggy air in southeast Michigan? Governor Engler believes it’s not from automobile tailpipe emissions. He is moving ahead on scrapping the annual auto emissions test (AET), and the state has sent missives to more than 1,500 testing sites informing them of the change. Motorists in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties have been subject to the yearly air pollution check since 1986, when it was imposed by the federal government to help curb high ozone levels. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments supports the cessation and favors keeping air pollution down through the use of gasoline mixtures that produce cleaner by-products; such gasoline mixtures typically cost 1–2 cents more per gallon.
- For a brief shining moment this past weekend, tiny Mackinac Island was the undisputed center of the GOP universe. Dazzling the faithful—and upstaging the phalanx of Republican presidential contenders—was House Speaker Gingrich, who delivered a lengthy but thoroughly crowd-captivating vision of his “Newt world order.” Governor Engler drew praise from all quarters; if collegial compliments were votes in the presidential electoral college, he and his wife could commence measuring for White House draperies. Also on display for party activists and the national media were U. S. Senate hopefuls Ronna Romney and James Nicholson. The abortion issue emerged as the only substantive policy difference between the two—he is pro-choice under most circumstances, she is pro-life.
October 6, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- The state’s newest department has set up camp, with 1,400 of the Department of Natural Resources’ 3,700 funded classified positions and 46 percent of its $95.3-million general fund budget. The Department of Environmental Quality, born of an executive order this summer and subject of retrospective legislative hearings next week, recently acquired two deputy directors. Chad McIntosh, the governor’s chief environmental policy advisor, joins the fledgling department’s transition chief, Gary Hughes, as a top assistant to DEQ Director Russ Harding. Physical facilities for the just-split entity are among the few details left for fine-tuning; administrative organization is said to be fully in place.
- Legislators said “Nothin’ dune” to the so-called Nordhouse Dunes settlement proposed by Gov. John Engler this week to compensate oil drillers whose gas and mineral rights in a national forest were abrogated by the DNR nearly a decade ago. Several court rulings have upheld the developers’ $83-million claim against the state, which Engler has bargained down to $60 million in discussions with the GOP-friendly mineral magnates. As both legislative chambers drag their heels at passage of SB 320, a bill to authorize payment of the settlement, Engler has exhorted lawmakers to hire their own attorney if they believe they can strike a better deal. A daily penalty of $25,000 kicks in soon if the matter isn’t resolved.
- Lawmakers also put their figurative feet down on those clots of purple plumes choking Michigan roadside drainage ditches and wetlands. House Bill 4774, already through the House, passed unanimously in the Senate and will ban sales of nonsterile purple loosestrife after next year.
- Governor Engler’s presence in the corridors of Washington—cited as leadership by boosters and absenteeism by critics—turns out to be less extensive than some imagined. A Detroit Free Press review of gubernatorial travel shows sixty-one out-of-state travel days during the past year; only twenty-eight were spent in the District of Columbia. Conspicuously close to home this weekend, Engler grand marshals his alma mater’s homecoming parade in East Lansing before sharing the limelight and supporting a worthy cause at a Detroit food bank benefit barbecue with Mayor Dennis Archer.
- The sun is setting on western Michigan’s legislative dominance, opines the Detroit News in a story predicting that term limits will undo the combination of seniority and strong personality that sparked the ascension of sunset-side legislators to leadership posts in both chambers. The demographic strength of southeast Michigan will see a tilt back to Detroit-area predominance by the end of the century, says the News. Anointed in the report as the House’s rising stars: Kalamazoo Republican Charles Perricone and Saginaw Democrat Mike Hanley.
- Should the state’s best-known universities be managed by appointed boards rather than popularly elected governors, trustees, or regents? The governor thinks so—and said as much in a blistering salvo upon the surprise resignation of University of Michigan President James Duderstadt. While Engler’s disparaging assessment of petty political infighting on the governing boards is upheld by several local and national authorities, Democratic legislators who already see the governor as an overzealous executive are unlikely to support change in the current constitutionally mandated board-selection process for Michigan State, Wayne State, and the U.of M.
- The National Taxpayers Union has released its annual rating of congressional savers and spenders, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) ranks high on the list of fiscal conservatives; he places fourth nationally, based on his votes for budget reductions versus support for new spending; the lone Michigan Democrat on the downsizing side is James Barcia (Bay City). Representing Michigan on the NTU’s big-spender list is Detroit’s John Conyers, who, based on his votes supporting proposals to increase federal spending, ranks third among all House members.
October 13, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- There were no partisan surprises in the Senate’s approval of revisions to the state Mental Health Code. Senate Bill 525 passed on a 22-15 vote, with Ironwood Democrat Don Koivisto the only senator breaking party ranks to support the bill. The first substantive changes in the code’s 21-year history were derided in debate by Democrats as reducing services to the state’s neediest patients, while Republicans criticized what they called bureaucracy-boosting amendments offered by Democrats.
- Characterized by the Lansing State Journal as a “team player who got picked for the wrong team,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Rollie Harmes resigned just 10 days after the effective date of his agency’s being halved by executive order. Insiders contend that division within the DNR is nothing new, as evidenced by the sudden resignation earlier this week of three top Harmes aides. Retired deputy director Michael Moore has been named interim head while the search for a permanent replacement begins.
- Nearly 100 corrections officers staged a capitol rally this week in support of armed guard towers at state prisons. A House bill introduced this week would require gun towers at all but lowest-security facilities. Maximum-security prisons already have them; at issue are 15 intermediate-level lockups, including the sites of a 1994 10-inmate escape and a 1995 riot.
- Gubernatorial hunting season opened last Sunday, in Lenawee County, when Adrian Democrat Jim Berryman unleashed his exploratory candidacy committee. The second-term state senator and former mayor says he is not yet committed to a 1998 gubernatorial run but is testing the water.
- Last month saw the lowest Michigan unemployment rate in three decades, according to figures released by the Michigan Employment Security Commission. The 4.8 percent jobless rating dipped below anything on record since the MESC began tracking the statistics in 1970.
- America’s oldest state fair will stay put, in Detroit, Governor Engler announced, ending speculation that the attendance-challenged event might move to Michigan State University (which had conspicuously failed to request the relocation) or rotate among counties. The 90-year-old event’s attendance and gross revenue both were up substantially this year, and a gubernatorial task force debating the fair’s future issued a split recommendation to Engler.
- The Michigan Supreme Court, in a ruling issued Tuesday, has given the state’s two busiest tribunals 30 days to develop court reorganization plans. Detroit Recorders Court—the jurisdiction on which encompasses the state’s highest concentration of felony cases—and Wayne County Circuit Court have been operating since 1986 under an administrative order that merges their operations by routing criminal cases to the Detroit court and scheduling civil cases at the suburban circuit court. Under the supreme court ruling, suburban criminal cases will be heard in circuit court.
- In response to the governor’s continued opposition to a gasoline tax increase favored by local officials to fund road improvements, the Michigan Township Association president predicted in the Detroit News this week that “Blacktop roads will turn into gravel roads.” A three-year program providing $45 million annually for county roads expired this fall. Engler’s opposition to an election year gas-tax increase isn’t absolute, but he is on record as favoring a 70-30 revenue split benefiting state highways over county roads.
- Joined by seven Republicans who argue that the state should not pay a court-ordered settlement negotiated by the governor, this week House Democrats mustered a 50-48 majority to defeat SB 320, the so-called Nordhouse Dunes settlement. The $83-million judgment, reduced through Engler’s intervention to just under $60 million, increases by $25,000 in fines for each day it remains unpaid.
October 20, 1995
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- With minor changes, the Republican majority in the House has sent the sweeping product liability reforms (SB 344) back to the Senate for concurrence. Critics contend that the problems the bill is supposed to cure are illusory; for example, they cite data showing that over the last three years product liability insurance premiums have dropped 49 percent. Proponents claim that the measure will help to rid clogged court dockets of frivolous lawsuits.
- A proposal to remove restrictions on where children may attend public school has moved to the front of the Senate class, on a straight party-line, bare-minimum 20–15 vote. Senate Bill 639 would repeal constraints enacted in the early 1980s to impede the recruitment of student-athletes across district lines. Parents would be allowed to send their children to any school they prefer, without having to obtain the approval of their current school district. Supporters of the legislation contend that the bill empowers parental discretion; opponents believe that because schools are not required to accept or provide transportation for out-of-district students, the result may exacerbate economic and racial divisions. In other education policy news, the House approved a conference committee report that will up—from 14.4 to 23 percent—the portion of the state’s income tax revenue dedicated to education. The new percentage is enough to provide a minimum per pupil grant of $5,000 but will not cover expenses for special, adult , and vocational education; money for those programs will have to come from the General Fund.
- Road kill: Already reeling from a 10-percent reduction in operational funding, as a result of the demise of the Build Michigan program, county road commissions and other local jurisdictions took another direct hit Wednesday. Upping the ante in the ongoing gas tax and road repair debate were Governor Engler and Transportation Director Pat Nowak: They are diverting $192 million in federal highway funds—previously earmarked for local road improvements—for use on various state road upgrades that had been on temporary hold.
- The Public Service Commission has had bad news twice in the last several days. In the wake of an attorney general’s opinion proclaiming it improper for Commissioner John O’Donnell to hold two state positions simultaneously, he has resigned, opting to retain his faculty post at Michigan State University. O’Donnell’s departure leaves only two people—one Democrat and one Republican—to grapple both with fast-moving deregulation issues involved with electric power distribution as well as SB 722, the rewrite of Michigan’s 1991 Telecommunications Act, which is due to sunset at year’s end. The PSC also was stung in last week’s unanimous court of appeals decision that the commission erred in allowing City Signal (now U.S. Signal) to have “discretionary standing” to challenge allegedly illegal bidding practices by Michigan Bell (now Ameritech) for a contract with Kent County Intermediate School District. The fallout from the case may have far-reaching implications for both the PSC and the MTA rewrite.
- The quasi-presidential road show of General Colin Powell played to hundreds of eager Michigan bibliophiles and would-be political supporters Wednesday at a West Bloomfield book store. The Michigan stop on Powell’s 23-city autobiography-signing tour provided some—but not much—additional insight into his still-emerging policy views. The general expressed his beliefs that an African-American could be elected president and the Republican party is broader philosophically than many people may think. He also said that he would not sign a “no new tax” pledge.
- It’s a whole new ball game in Michigan Republican Congressional politics, as the state GOP attempts to play “Bounce Bonior.” Despite being encouraged by polling results indicating that only a third of U.S. Rep. David Bonior’s (D-Mt. Clemens) constituents would cast an affirmative vote for his reelection, GOP honchos have abruptly been left without their leading candidate for the post. Macomb County businessman, Gary Maccagnone—recently lauded by Crain’s Detroit Business as being one of metro Detroit’s best and brightest business people under the age of 40—unexpectedly dropped out the race, less than a month after entering it. Maccagnone’s camp indicates that his departure was a result of undue meddling by state party politicos in his campaign.
October 27, 1995
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Incorporating striking alterations to Michigan’s public school code, SB 679 has emerged from the Senate on a 21–9 straight party-line vote. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake), seeks to scrap the requirement for a mandated core curriculum, allow people not certified as teachers to conduct classes, and remove the present ceiling on the number of charter schools allowed by law.
- Speeding through the Senate was SB 722, introduced only three weeks ago, which updates the soon-to-sunset Michigan Telecommunication Act of 1991. The measure has passed the chamber by a margin of 35–1. The rewrite of the MTA attempts to foster competition in the brave new world of telecommunications deregulation.
- Responding to a proposal to allow electric utilities, now enjoying regulated-monopoly status, to be freed from their current rate-setting constraints, Attorney General Frank Kelley opined that “. . . the everyday citizen of Michigan will be paying more for their heat and lights so the big industries can get sweetheart deals.” He was commenting on conclusions contained in “Proposal M,” an internal Michigan Public Service Commission study document. Prompting Kelley’s ire are proposed guidelines that would permit the large investor-owned utilities automatically to raise the prices they charge their customers by a factor approximating the annual inflation rate instead of basing increases on the actual cost of generating electricity. The attorney general claims that larger industries and the stockholders of the utility companies would be the prime beneficiaries of such a system, at the expense of residential and small business customers.
- Making a formal announcement for high-profile political office this week were former state senator Debbie Stabenow and Detroit business executive James Nicholson. After being courted by top national Democratic officials and gaining assurances that she will be a “player,” even as a first termer, Stabenow ended long-standing speculation about her future political plans when she unveiled a rationale for replacing U.S. Representative Dick Chrysler (R-Brighton). Unsuccessful in her attempt to gain her party’s nomination for governor last year, Stabenow had been contemplating a second try for that statewide brass ring. Republican Nicholson, during initial campaign forays in Detroit and Lansing, has vowed to end the political career of U.S. Senator Carl Levin and proposes to offer substance instead of sound bites.
- Seeking to influence the debate on impending GOP-sponsored changes to Medicaid funding and the creation of disincentives for in-home care in favor of nursing-home care, some 300 members, many wheelchair bound, of the American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) systematically laid siege to capital area venues this week. On Monday it was the state Republican party headquarters and Lansing-area bookstores selling books authored by Newt Gingrich, on Tuesday it was the governor’s residence, and on Wednesday it was the Capitol building. The group was desirous of a meeting with Governor Engler—a nationally recognized architect of welfare and block grant reform—to express its alarm over the federal proposals.
- The sands of time continue to descend on the legislature’s attempt to resolve the ongoing Nordhouse Dunes saga. In light of the House’s having stymied an effort to pay a $59-million settlement negotiated by Governor Engler and endorsed by the attorney general, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Peter Houk has imposed an award in excess of $120 million to Miller Brothers Oil company and other owners of the mineral rights, for an alleged “taking” of their ability to drill for oil in a Ludington-area parcel of land by the Department of Natural Resources in 1987. The decision is likely to be appealed, and efforts to gain legislative approval of the original settlement will be pursued.
November 2, 1995
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Critics of Gov. John Engler’s stem-to-stern revamp of welfare programs felt on Tuesday like they’d been hit with a ton of block grants. Engler’s detailed announcement makes him the nation’s first governor to unveil enabling and operating legislation in advance of the anticipated Congressional action that will send funds and responsibility for social services programs back to the states. From the top (where the state Department of Social Services would be renamed the Family Independence Agency) to the bottom (where teenage mothers, to receive state support, would have to live with an adult and join the work force six weeks after giving birth), the new regulations are the toughest in the nation and keep attention focussed on the Engler administration’s inexorable implementation of its conservative social agenda. Democrats complain that details of the sweeping reforms (contained in HB 5353) were released before copies of the bill were available, and misgivings are being expressed even by lawmakers of Engler’s own party over a companion bill (HB 5354) that would exempt the reconfigured DSS from the notice-and-hearings process of the Administrative Procedures Act for the first 18 months of reorganization; supporters say the much-needed reforms require this fast track in order to take effect next year.
- Slightly more than half of a 40-bill package reorganizing Michigan’s Friend of the Court system passed the Senate this week without dissent: Senate Bills 605–24 change the term “visitation” to “parenting,” clarifying the noncustodial parent’s role, and SBs 596–7 increase sanctions against parents making false claims of child or sexual abuse against the other parent.
- Under the provisions of SB 343, which passed the upper chamber this week, crime against the elderly would carry an extra penalty. Three years of additional imprisonment would be added to sentences of those convicted of crimes against victims aged 60 or older.
- The President of Ghana included lunch with Governor Engler and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer on the itinerary of the west African country’s first official visit to the United States. The purpose of the visit was to promote cultural and economic relations between Michigan and the resource-rich nation, which received some of the $48 million made-in-Michigan exports to Africa last year.
- Career state employee John Lopez has been named state personnel director, responsible for Michigan’s 63,000 classified civil servants. In addition to experience as assistant personnel director, chief of employee relations, and affirmative action officer, the new incumbent in the $90,000-post holds a criminal justice degree from MSU and is a former chief of the state Office of Substance Abuse Services.
- Michigan Republicans are doubling their efforts to lock up political dominance by reversing the 9–7 Democratic edge in the state’s Congressional delegation. According to Detroit News columnist George Weeks, state Sen. Jon Cisky (R-Saginaw) is seriously considering challenging second-term Democratic U.S. Rep. James Barcia in the Fifth District. And while the GOP failed to persuade Sen. Don Koivisto (D-Ironwood) to jump parties and seek to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, Weeks reports that Republicans now hope that either state Sen. George McManus (R-Traverse City) or his niece, state Rep. Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau) will take on Stupak in the First Congressional District.
- For too many unexcused absences, State Rep. Nelson Saunders (D-Detroit) has been relieved of his seat on the lower chamber’s Insurance Committee. According to Gongwer News Service, the seven-term lawmaker believed he had obtained the necessary excuses. This is the first application of the attendance penalty rule since the GOP took control of the House in January.
- Somewhat in the spirit of Halloween, the House has passed SB 295, tightening regulations on so-called Tough Man competitions. Referees in these amateur-only brawls would be required—and here comes the scary part—to demonstrate knowledge and competence in the sport.
November 10, 1995
Legislative Week in Review
- The next two weeks can be expected to be relatively calm at the capitol. The House and Senate will adjourn for a Thanksgiving recess, resuming session on November 28. (The next issue of Roundup will appear on November 30.)
- With the legislative hiatus looming, 30 House Democrats joined their 56 Republican colleagues to enact the controversial welfare reformpackage passed last week in the Senate. House Bills 5353–4 will put Michigan in the national vanguard of states taking over redistribution of aid funds currently administered through federal entitlement programs.
- Senate Bill 728—the so-called environmental audit law that would provide legal immunity from sanctions for persons voluntarily disclosing pollution problems to government agencies—passed the upper chamber 25–10 after spirited debate. Supporters claim the measure encourages environmental self-policing, while detractors maintain that because it keeps most of polluters’ voluntary disclosures confidential, it amounts to giving them amnesty. Under the bill, disclosing the contents of an environmental audit would carry a fine of up to $25,000.
- In a case of legislative speed dialing, the rewrite of state telecommunications law passed the House and returned to the upper chamber a scant month after its introduction. Senate Bill 722 cleared the House 80–27 after hours of debate that often pitted outstate lawmakers (where rates are apt to increase) against representatives from urban areas (where rates are apt to benefit from statewide equalization). The aim of the legislation is to increase competition.
- That squeaking sound was the Nordhouse Dunes settlement finally gaining House approval on a bare minimum 56 votes. The lower-chamber lawmakers earlier had resisted authorizing payments to investors in a decade-old mineral rights dispute with the Department of Natural Resources. Court-imposed penalties were accruing each day the legislature demurred.
- The governor has signed a new racketeering law patterned after the federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, bringing Michigan into line with 32 other states that have similar laws in force. Public Act 187 (HB 4367) permits law enforcers to seize personal assets and seek imprisonment of and fines against certain lawbreakers charged with financial gain from criminal activity.
- Following an election day drubbing in his hometown mayoral race, Senate Minority Leader Art Miller (D-Warren) has announced, as expected, that he will serve out the remaining three years of his Senate term but vacate the caucus leadership post, a responsibility he has held for a decade. Macomb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark Steenburgh beat Miller for the mayor’s seat by 3,500 votes.
- A former state Senate aide was named this week as director of external affairs for Gov. John Engler. Margaret Dwyer returns to Michigan from Massachusetts, where she served for five years as an aide to Gov. William Weld. Dwyer will oversee Engler’s constituent services, gubernatorial appointments, and governors’ association matters.
- In House committee shifts, Rep. Greg Pitoniak (D-Taylor) succeeds Nelson Saunders (D-Detroit) as vice chair of the House Insurance Committee, and Rep. Ed Vaughn (D-Detroit) also has been added to the committee. In other committee appointments, relative newcomer Ed Prusi (D-National Mine, elected last May) replaces Vaughn on the Tourism and Recreation Committee.
- Governor Engler made his second international trip in three months last week, visiting Michigan troops in Haiti. Spokespersons continue to disclaim any national political aspirations on the governor’s part.
November 30, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- Lawmakers returned this week for the final fortnight of the fall session, which is scheduled to wrap up on December 15. The Republican-controlled chambers have efficiently (or ruthlessly, depending on one’s partisan orientation) advanced GOP priorities in welfare and charter schools, and they hope before year’s end also to pass initiatives on mental health and campaign finance reform.
- Twenty-eight Michigan firms gained single business tax relief in the House this week, under a four-bill package that phases in the tax break over three years. Supporters of the action say that the relatively few businesses affected by the bills are the ones that contribute the major share of the state’s SBT revenue; opponents argue that reform ought to more broadly affect Michigan’s smaller companies.
- Democratic legislators have sued Gov. John Engler several times, charging that his overenthusiastic application of executive powers has usurped legislative authority; now members of the governor’s own party are filing suit. In a Thanksgiving week interview, House Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) confided, “It wasn’t an easy summer; he [Engler] stretched the constitution to the limit. The House GOP caucus has joined Democrats and three prison inmates in a suit alleging that Engler overstepped his authority in changing prison visitation rules. The case is before the state court of appeals, although the parties have asked that the case go directly before the state supreme court.
- He’s not just governor of Michigan, chairman of the National Education Goals Panel, and chair of the Republican Governors’ Association, he also has the friendship and confidence of influential people in high places. Speaking in New Hampshire last week, U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich referred to Engler as “my dear friend—a man I have known well since he was a state senator,” and the Speaker has named the governor to a four-member task force participating in federal budget negotiations.
- The names and faces are familiar, but the board appointments are new: The former ambassador to Italy, Peter Secchia, has just been named to the Michigan Civil Service Commission; the Grand Rapids businessman’s most recent state service was as chair of a gubernatorial commission that recommended ways to make government more responsive. The former director of the state health department, Vernice Davis Anthony, has been named to a seat on the Wayne State University Board of Governors; a WSU alumna, Anthony now is a senior vice president at St. John Health System.
- Remember the Michigan Education Trust—the much-heralded brainstorm of the Blanchard administration that morphed into a lambasted anathema of the first Engler term? It’s back—but not for long. A blink-of-the-eye, three-week enrollment period for a revised version of the popular prepaid college tuition investment program will let applicants pay $1,500 to almost $5,000 for tuition benefits contracts at two- or four-year Michigan public education institutions.
- The state’s liquor wholesaling business can be handled more efficiently if it is not privatized, concludes a report commissioned by the Engler administration. The findings fly in the face of years of determined administration efforts to move Michigan’s liquor warehousing operations into the private sector. Proponents of changing it to a private undertaking are standing firm, however: They insist that regardless of the efficiency question, the state ought to be out of the booze business.
- As expected, upper chamber Democrats wasted no time in tapping Clio colleague John Cherry as their new Senate minority leader, replacing Art Miller (Warren), whose decade-long tenure distinguished him as longest-serving Democratic leader in Senate history. Cherry, also a legislative veteran (three Senate and two House terms), says there will be some changes in his party’s committee assignments come January. Detroiter Virgil Smith replaces Cherry as Democratic floor leader.
December 8, 1995
Legislative & Political News in Review
- Just before midnight on Tuesday, bleary-eyed House members put to bed the major revision of the Mental Health Code. The lower chamber passed SB 525 by a comfortable margin of 70–31, after debating for nearly eight hours the fate of more than 100 amendments offered, for the most part in vain, by Democrats. The measure dramatically shifts oversight and control of mental health services from the state to county-level Community Mental Health Boards. A key provision of the bill allows local boards to create “authorities,” which will have great policy latitude and license to acquire property and generate income. Opponents of the measure decry its failure to hold the authorities accountable (it gives them governmental immunity) and guarantee public scrutiny of their actions (they are not required to open their planning and budget-setting meetings to the public).
- Initially stalled by a key provision in the Senate-passed bill (i.e., raising the extent to which consumers bear the burden of proof), legislation to reform product liability was narrowly approved in the House after Republican leaders persuaded two recalcitrant GOP colleagues to push the green button, and a Democrat (Tom Alley, D-West Branch) also joined the measure’s supporters. Senate Bill 344 passed the House 57-52.
- Hours after signing into law the nation’s first welfare reform plan that anticipates transfer of federal responsibility for the programs to individual states, Gov. John Engler flew to Washington to lobby for speedy congressional approval of the shift. Solid GOP majorities in Lansing pushed the ambitious restructuring into state law a scant five weeks from its introduction. The new measures start with renaming the Department of Social Services—it will become the Family Independence Agency—and move on to requiring, with certain exceptions, welfare recipients to work, perform community service, or attend job training classes 20 hours a week. The bills faced strong opposition; Senate Democrats particularly object to the lack of legislative oversight resulting from the department’s being exempted for 12 months from the Administrative Procedures Act.
- After reviewing presidential candidates “generally advocated” by the national news media, Secretary of State Candice Miller has assembled a preliminary Michigan presidential primary ballot that comprises ten Republicans and President Clinton.
- Michiganians will receive a one-time income tax refund as a result of state revenue having exceeded constitutional limits by about $230 million in FY 1994–95. The governor announced that $113 million will be set aside to provide taxpayers with a 2-percent reduction in their April tax bill, courtesy of the so-called Headlee amendment.
- The nation’s largest conservation group—the 140,000-member Michigan United Conservation Clubs—has lost its dedicated, colorful, and nationally recognized president. Thomas L. Washington died this week from heart disease.
- The search for a new state school superintendent hasn’t formally begun yet, and 17 state senators proposed last week to scrap the effort altogether. Instead, suggests a petition circulated by Sen. Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), Art Ellis, the interim school chief, should be named permanently to the vacancy created by the resignation earlier this year of Robert Schiller. Under the terms of his contract, Schiller remains on the Education Department payroll. Ellis continues to hold his position as director of the Commerce Department.
- “A workhorse, not a show horse,” is one colleague’s complimentary description of U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham’s favorable reviews in congressional circles. The Detroit News reports that the Auburn Hills Republican is becoming known in Washington “for his smarts and well-considered policy ideas.” Michigan delegation news is less positive in the U.S. House, where Rep. Barbara Rose Collins faces an ethics committee investigation concerning possible misuse of funds.
Correction: In a November 10 Public Policy Advisor, University of Michigan Regent Laurence Deitch was incorrectly identified as an incumbent at the time of his 1992 election to the U-M Board.
December 15, 1995
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Giving their governor virtually everything on his public policy Christmas list, the GOP-controlled legislature headed home for the holidays Thursday after a marathon 15-hour closing session. Except for the constitutionally mandated and ceremonial sine die formal adjournment at noon on December 28, lawmakers aren’t due under the capitol dome again until January 10. Under Michigan’s constitution, “any business, bill, or joint resolution pending at the final adjournment of a regular session held in an odd-numbered year shall carry over with the same status to the next regular session.” Thus, bills passing one legislative chamber but not the other will not have to be reintroduced with new numbers come January. The next issue of Roundup will be published on January 12.
- House Bill 4994, authorizing a “Headlee” amendment–mandated one-time tax cut of $113 million, was a going away present from the 1995 legislature in its waning hours. Under the bill, which responds to the requirement that the state disburse revenues exceeding a constitutional limit, taxpayers will get a 2-percent credit on their state income tax returns.
- Michigan business also benefited from legislative largesse: A shift in the single business tax cuts levies for in-state companies while increasing tax burdens on outside businesses with in-state sales. House Bills 4358 and 4605 and SBs 342 and 545 include fall-back language in the event that Michigan’s capital acquisition deduction ever is ruled unconstitutional.
- Latest action on the state speed limit was reported by Gongwer News Service in language so colorful as to deserve verbatim quotation: “Left a smoking wreck by the side of the road Tuesday, the Senate towed a bill allowing higher speed limits into the shop and roared it back onto the highway late Wednesday.” With a compromise amendment permitting the state to set lower speed rates on 170 miles of freeway to be designated by the state, the Senate passed SB 80, 27–10. The House will take up the measure after the first of the year.
- Yes, Virginia, there is a revised school code, and its particulars disappoint virtually everyone. Republicans are chagrined that hours of standoff and arm-twisting failed to gain sufficient support for the controversial school choice provision. And Democrats bemoan both inclusion of language replacing a mandated core curriculum with what they believe is weaker language and the loss of mandatory bilingual education programs. In totality, the rewrite is considered a major victory for Gov. John Engler, who made a priority of seeking greater autonomy and less state oversight for local school districts, which is precisely what SB 679 delivers.
- On Wednesday night, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired a Michigan- focused broadcast, examining the fruits of the “Republican Revolution.” (With great immodesty, we mention that PSC president, Craig Ruff, was one of political observers whose comments were heard as part of the program.) As the program was airing, the state’s ever-more-prominent governor was at the White House, advising President Clinton on balancing the federal budget and health reform.
- A veteran state bureaucrat with close gubernatorial ties will head a visibly shrunken state Department of Education. Commerce Department Director Arthur Ellis, who once was president of Central Michigan University and has been serving as the interim education chief, was named this week to the permanent post of superintendent of public instruction. Regarded as a conciliator and team player, Ellis is said to be seen by his board as someone to boost department morale and stem a downsizing that has cut the department staff by two-thirds (largely by the transfer of responsibilities) since 1993.
- It’s not yet offering condensed books or a large-type edition, but the “Leader’s Digest” appears to share the optimistically conservative viewpoint of its sound-alike namesake. The first edition of Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus’s (R-Alto) newsletter rolled off approximately 100 fax machines statewide last week. Posthumus staffers say they’ll strive to make the sheet, subtitled “news for Michigan’s leaders,” a weekly digest whose distribution to constituents will vary according to the topics covered.