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 Kimball, Affiliated Consultant.

January 23 and 30

January 23, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The legislature is back in session, having honored for the 150th time its constitutional mandate to reconvene at noon on the second Wednesday of January. The Senate has not held session except for a ceremonial swearing in of its newest member, David Jaye (R-Washington Township); across the Capitol corridor, House sessions have been brief and the business routine. The tempo picks up next week with Governor Engler’s State of the State address before a joint legislative session on January 29.
  • Senator Jaye begins his term at the helm of a newly named Senate Committee on Hunting, Fishing, and Agriculture. The panel formerly was titled Agriculture and Forestry. A staunch supporter of gun rights, Jaye announced plans to introduce a 25-bill package expanding existing laws and policy on the acquisition, transportation, and use of firearms.
  • Jaye’s vacant House seat has attracted a field of nine Republicans and two Democrats, which will be thinned out in a February 3 primary; the 34th House District seat will be filled following a special election for that purpose on February 24.
  • In a presentation that combines hype with hypertext, the governor this week used electronic mail to announce a new jobs and technology initiative. “I come to you via fiber-optic networks, silicon chips, and powerful communications software developed by a growing information technology industry,” reads Engler’s Internet message, the text of which, for the computerati, is punctuated regularly with audio clips. The governor proposes to form a nonprofit corporation, Michigan Technologies, Inc., to promote the state’s capabilities and reputation in high-tech industry.
  • Michigan Republicans have shelved their efforts to attract the GOP national convention to Detroit in 2000. Following Governor Engler’s pitch last summer to the Republican National Committee, urging them to bring the event to the Motor City, planners grew doubtful that at its current pace, Detroit renewal could provide sufficient hotel, restaurant, and meeting space for the national event last held there in 1980.
  • Michigan’ largest city did get the nod for next year’s national summit on urban redevelopment. Vice President Gore is scheduled to lead the four-day conference on cleaning up and reusing contaminated industrial sites.
  • Grumbling from the federal government notwithstanding, Michigan Jobs Commission officials intend to proceed with the plan to split the MESA (Michigan Employment Security Agency). According to Gongwer News Service, Jobs Commission officials dismiss as “purely political” objections raised by the U.S. Department of Labor in a letter last month. The feds contend that Michigan’s proposed reconfiguration—moving the unemployment benefits operation to the Department of Consumer and Industry Services while assigning employment-services programs to local work-force development boards—violates federal law. “Their opinions are interesting, but they do not drive policy,” a Jobs Commission spokesman said of the Labor Department’s objections, adding, “We’re comfortable that this is within our right to do as a state.”
  • Displaying measurably less comfort with that position, the Democrat-controlled House voted this week to reverse the MESA split by overturning one of the two executive orders disassembling the agency. House Concurrent Resolution 79 passed on a 57-49 vote. The Senate will have to concur with the House action in order to quash the reorganization, which is set to occur on February 2.
  • Michigan deserves lots of credit. That’s the word from Standard & Poors, which has upgraded the state’s school bond rating to AA+. This highest rating in two decades is great news for state investors, who are watching to see if the two other major credit-research organizations follow S&P’s lead. A higher rating enables the state to borrow money at lower interest rates.
  • The $1-billion road-repair program announced the by the governor last week should go a long way toward answering motorists’ complaints—about 1,600 miles, actually. That’s the estimated length of highway scheduled for repair under the project, along with nearly 250 bridges. The funds are double the amount earmarked for repairs during the last fiscal year.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

January 30, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • On Thursday evening, Gov. John Engler delivered his seventh State of the State address to a special joint session of the legislature. Among the initiatives he put forward are
    • a half-percent, phased-in state income tax cut, beginning in 2000;
    • mandatory drug testing for state welfare recipients, with benefits canceled for those testing positive and refusing treatment;
    • a pilot job-training and placement program to help noncustodial parents of children on welfare pay their child support;
    • a required summer remedial program for third-graders with lagging reading skills; kids who fail to read at grade level by summer’s end could be held back to repeat the grade, unless the school district decides that the child’s competency in other academic skills warrants his/her being promoted despite the reading deficiency;
    • a ballot proposal for a constitutional amendment that would require a three-fifths majority vote in the legislature for any tax increase;
    • funding for two new state prisons plus additional correctional bed space; and
    • a half-million-dollar bond issue that will be used to clean up toxic sites and spruce up state parks and waterfronts: $400 million for brown-field redevelopment—most of it in the state’s largest cities, $50 million for spiffing up Michigan’s 96 state parks, and $50 million for pollution-prevention programs for lakes and streams.
  • Governor Engler almost had national as well as state TV exposure this week. He had been scheduled to offer a GOP governor’s perspective on President Clinton’s state of the Union address, but he was bumped, presumably because the medium wished to use the time to cover the speech from another angle.
  • Coinciding with the governor’s major policy address was release by the Legislative Black Caucus of its agenda at a news conference this week. The 18-member, all Democrat, primarily Detroit-based group is chaired by Rep. Mary Lou Parks (D-Detroit), who called on Governor Engler to address “the state of economic disparity in Michigan,” charging that the executive branch has ignored racial issues and fostered policy that hurts Michigan’s disadvantaged. Caucus members say they will introduce some 20 bills this session dealing with social and economic reform.
  • Privatization does not equal privation—at least not for certain road-maintenance contractors taking over services formerly performed by the state. A recent Senate Fiscal Agency report reveals that a pilot project on two Lansing-area highways cost almost twice as much as would have been the case had state or county services been used.
  • The controversial closing and sale of the state’s vaccine-manufacturing laboratory has been forestalled by a House bill extending the sale deadline. House Bills 5300 and 4425 extend the state’s ownership of, and funding for, the Michigan Biologic Products Institute. The laboratory is the nation’s only producer of anthrax vaccine, and the U.S. Defense Department has announced that it will require all members of the military, active and reserve, to receive it.
  • The House is dead set against human cloning and proved it in a trio of lopsided votes against genetic replication of human beings. House Bills 4846, 4962, and 5475 passed on votes of 92-11, 9 -11, and 92-11, respectively. The measures impose fines up to $10 million for those caught cloning, despite some demurring that the stringent ban could stifle life-saving research.
  • The State Bar of Michigan announced this week a new program to monitor Michigan judicial campaigns for fairness. Under the initiative, the State Bar will launch investigations and propose corrective action for campaign advertising that its investigators deem unfair and misleading.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

February 6 and 13 and 20 and 27

February 6, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The Senate resumed a full schedule this week on the relatively somber note of the possible expulsion of a member. Sen. Henry Stallings (D-Detroit) recently pleaded guilty to a felony charge, which places him in legal limbo. A felony conviction is grounds for expulsion from the upper chamber, but the judge in Senator Stallings’s case has agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if the senator has no further legal violations for a year. Senator Stallings’s colleagues have relieved him of all committee assignments and named a six-member select committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Milford), to review the matter and recommend Senator Stallings’s legislative fate.
  • State voters’ 1992 decision to put a lifetime limit on elected officials’ tenure has been upheld in U.S. District Court. Judge Patrick Duggan ruled Thursday that term limits do not unduly restrict voter choice. An appeal is likely, but if the decision is upheld, 64 incumbent state representatives will be back in the job market at year’s end. With its lifetime restrictions, Michigan’s term limits law is one of the nation’s strictest.
  • Many senators can feel the hot breath of election competition from the lower chamber. As many as 30 percent of term-limited state representatives are thought to aspire to higher state office. Each senatorial announcement of retiring or running again thus kicks up a dust storm of political speculation. This week’s dust accompanies Sen. Harry Gast’s (R-St. Joseph) decision to seek a final term. According to Gongwer News Service, both Rep. Glenn Oxender (R-Sturgis) and Rep. Bob Brackenridge (R-St.Joseph) had started Senate campaign funds in anticipation of a run for Gast’s seat if he retired. For either of them to run now means he would have to try to unseat rather than replace the respected chair of the Appropriations Committee.
  • Republican Kirby Holmes, Jr., was edged out of the special primary election in the 32d House District by Alan Sanborn. Mr. Sanborn will face Democratic nominee Jim Kramer in the February 24 special election for the seat vacated by Sen. David Jaye. Although Mr. Holmes had been the early GOP favorite in the nine-candidate runoff, one of his campaign fliers was roundly criticized by people in both parties as race baiting.
  • A three-bill package requiring school elections to coincide with general elections comfortably won Senate passage this week. Senate Bills 202,207, and 224 are designed to boost voter turnout for school board, bonding, and millage votes, which historically draw a very small number of voters to the polls.
  • Effective this week you can download all 19,000 state rules and regulations at www.state.mi.us/execoff/admincode. And yes, they are updated daily.
  • Governor Engler proposed this week that $50 million in state revenue from Indian casinos be used to fund a new program to meet the state’s shortage of high-tech and skilled-trades workers. Addressing the Detroit Economic Club, the governor warned that Michigan’s economic boom may stall without more skilled labor. The state unemployment rate is at its lowest level in three decades, which means companies could have trouble finding the workers they need; to meet anticipated job demand, the governor proposes opening at least five new training centers at community colleges. The plan includes offering scholarships worth up to $2,000 to as many as 10,000 students, to entice them into technical training.
  • Wags call him Michigan’s “eternal general,” but a recent poll shows that Attorney General Frank Kelley’s electoral strength may be edging toward a merely mortal percentage. The Lansing State Journal reports that the AG’s support outranks that of potential challengers Rep. Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge) and former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka by more than two to one, although his overall support rating has slipped to just below 50 percent—lower than at this point in the last election cycle. Kelley is the state’s longest serving attorney general, having been reelected continuously since 1970.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

February 13, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Mary Lannoye, the recently appointed Department of Management and Budget director, made her first executive budget presentation to the legislature this week. Gov. John Engler’s election-year proposed spending plan of $8.8 billion is one of the tightest of his tenure—it has a scant 2 percent increase in recommended general fund appropriations. Among the early big winners in the budget sweepstakes is the Department of Agriculture, slated to receive a 12 percent funding hike to combat what the governor calls a severe crisis in the state’s farming industry. Much of that increase would support pest-control, food-safety, and other agricultural research at Michigan State University.
  • The state’s farm interests also are reflected in a new Senate committee. The Senate Farming, Agribusiness, and Food Systems Committee becomes the 17th standing (permanent) panel in the upper chamber. The chair and members have not been announced, nor has the new committee’s relationship to the existing Senate Committee on Hunting, Fishing, and Agriculture been delineated.
  • Legislation passed by the Senate this week (SBs 555–64) would strip students convicted of drug crimes of their state financial aid for higher education.
  • Michigan becomes the first state to commemorate civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Public Act 28 of 1998, just signed by the governor, designates the first Monday after February 4 as Rosa Parks Day; the new law celebrates this native daughter who often is called the mother of the nation’s civil rights movement.
  • Justice Patricia Boyle surprised most court watchers with the announcement that she will retire at the end of this term. The unanticipated Michigan Supreme Court vacancy has observers buzzing with the possibility of a shift in partisan balance on the nominally nonpartisan bench. Although state supreme court justices campaign and run on a nonpartisan ballot, candidates are nominated at the party conventions. Justice Doyle is one of four Democrat-nominated incumbents on the seven-member court. Most of the names in immediate circulation as potential contenders for the open seat in the November election are of women, among them state court of appeals judges Maura Corrigan and Kathleen Jansen and Oakland circuit court judges Jessica Cooper and Deb Tyner.
  • The Engler administration’s battle with federal agencies over a proposed split in the Michigan Employment Security Agency (MESA) still seems to be uphill. The feds object to the proposed split of MESA functions between the Jobs Commission and the Department of Consumer and Industry Services, specifically the reassignment of job-search and -training activities under localized work force boards within the Jobs Commission. Pending resolution of the dispute, a U.S. district judge has upheld the U.S. Department of Labor’s withholding of nearly $16 million in job-search funds for Michigan. It is the burden of the state to persuade the court that the reorganization does not violate federal guidelines.
  • Perhaps spawning a literal version of road rage, The Detroit News charges that the administration’s highway improvement plans are destined to disappoint some state motorists. The News reports that most of the highway miles to be fixed under the state’s record $1 billion road budget have only minor problems, while the number of miles scheduled for major overhaul actually will decline from previous years. The paper says that only 357 miles of bad road are scheduled for rebuilding (compared with the annual average of 411 in recent years), while some 1,200 miles are slated for patching, sealing, or other “temporary measures.” A bright note in this bumpy forecast was sounded by the Detroit Free Press, which notes that this year’s exceptionally mild winter means the tri-county metropolitan Detroit area has been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on road-salt costs, freeing funds for road repairs this summer.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

February 20, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • A measure expediting transfer of prisoners from Michigan’s overcrowded facilities to lockups in other states passed the Senate this week. SB 838 eliminates the current requirement that prisoners consent to outplacement. Democrats, arguing that the state’s responsibility for public safety cannot be outsourced, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to prevent the transfer of Michigan inmates to privately run prisons.
  • This week’s domino effect in the term-limited legislature finds Rep. Lynn Owen (D-Newport) announcing a run for the Senate seat now held by Jim Berryman (D-Adrian), who is seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Nick Smith (R-Addison). Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Conroy (D-Flint) became the fourth upper-chamber incumbent to announce that he will not seek reelection to a final term. Representatives Bob Emerson (D-Flint) and Candace Curtis (D-Swartz Creek) are said to be contemplating a bid for Conroy’s seat.
  • Following weeks of controversy over alleged improper expense claims, state Liquor Control Commissioner Phil Arthurthulz has resigned. The former commission chair, who oversaw privatization of liquor distribution in Michigan, has repaid more than $5,000 in meal, mileage, and telephone charges that an audit determined to be personal expenses. The resignation, which has been accepted by the governor, is effective April 3, two months before expiration of Arthurhulz’s term. In a related development, an Ingham County circuit court judge this week ruled that the state must release telephone records related to the disputed charges.
  • Michigan led the nation last year in economic development, according to Site Selection magazine. For 30 years the journal has ranked states’ ability to attract new business. Michigan jumped from sixth to first place in the standings, with nearly 1,300 new plants and factory expansions announced during 1997.
  • Speaking of comebacks, new statistics depict a more prosperous Detroit. A recent government report ranks the city’s average annual pay as 11th among 313 metropolitan areas nationally. And a Detroit Free Press report notes a nearly 13 percent jump in the city’s residential property values—the biggest hike in 40 years.
  • A Senate select committee weighing whether to expel or censure Sen. Henry Stallings (D-Detroit) is likely to act next week, according to committee chair Bill Bullard (R-Milford). Although the panel seeks a timely resolution to the issues raised by Senator Stalling’s admission of guilt to a felony charge of taking money under false pretenses, the committee’s deliberations were slowed this week by the illness of the senator’s attorney.
  • The partisan tug-o-war over political bingo continued this week, with the state lottery commissioner ordered to begin reissuing the bingo licenses to Democratic applicants. A preliminary injunction by a Wayne County circuit court judge forced the Engler administration to reverse its stand and issue the contested licenses. Bingo was a Democratic party fund-raising staple for years until 1994, when the GOP-controlled legislature squeaked through a statute banning the practice. Democrats took it to the voters in 1996, and they overturned the law but not before Republicans in the legislature had passed a different bill banning political bingo. Democrats claim that the referendum is the last word on the issue, but Republicans point to the subsequent statute. The recent injunction lets the games begin while the partisan litigation continues.
  • Michigan’s controversial so-called drug lifer law, which mandates prison without parole for convicted drug traffickers drew criticism this week from the governor who signed it into law two decades ago. Addressing a Federal Bar Association meeting, former Gov. William Milliken called the law—hailed in its day as the nation’s toughest—a mistake that has done more to imprison addicts needing treatment than to reduce the number of cocaine and heroin kingpins it was designed to capture.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

February 27, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Facing a certain expulsion vote from his legislative colleagues, Sen. Henry Stallings resigned this week, vowing, “I shall return.” Prevailing wisdom predicts otherwise, with one pundit calling Stallings (D-Detroit) a man without a political country. His resignation is effective March 31, giving him another month’s salary and travel expenses, although under an agreement with Senate leadership he will not attend session or vote. Following his resignation announcement to a stone-silent chamber, the former senator blamed his current difficulty on disloyal associates and recanted earlier sworn testimony in which he admitted receiving money under false pretenses.
  • Despite a remarkably mild winter and a booming economy, metropolitan Detroit homeless shelters are 15 to 50 percent busier this year, and some advocates are blaming Michigan’s tougher welfare rules. According to a Detroit Free Press report, the state’s Family Independence Agency (FIA) is looking into a finding by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the 20-percent hike in homelessness in Detroit largely is due to welfare changes. Shelter providers contend that stringent new work rules require parents on welfare to take jobs, even at low pay, and when a job subsequently is lost, there’s no rent money or assistance (when a recipient takes a job, his/her case closes) and the family ends up at a shelter. Welfare caseloads are at a 27-year low, but a spokeswoman for the FIA said that the department may have to reshape its policies if a planned poll of shelter users reveals that the new welfare rules are contributing to homelessness.
  • Juvenile probation officer Alan Sanborn (R-Richmond) won the special 32d House-district election, beating his opponent by nearly 3,000 votes. The 6,751 votes cast represent about 11 percent of eligible voters—1,000 fewer than the number who voted in the special primary three weeks ago. The new representative will serve out the last ten months of Sen. David Jaye’s unexpired term in the lower chamber.
  • Longtime Department of Management and Budget spokeswoman Maureen McNulty is taking a leave; she will serve in Gov. John Engler’s reelection campaign as deputy campaign manager for communications.
  • Michigan’s governor has received a presidential appointment to the National Assessment Governing Board. Among the 25-member, bipartisan board’s responsibilities is overseeing development of proposed national tests to gauge fourth grade reading and eighth grade math skills.
  • State personal service contracts declined by $34 million for the 1996–97 fiscal year, according to a Department of Civil Service report. This often-controversial category of consulting contracts, through which state agencies may purchase temporary services without hiring additional state employees, has been declining steadily for a decade. Gongwer News Service reports that the number of Civil Service–approved contracts has dropped by almost 3,800 since 1990.
  • Appearing before the House Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Conrad Mallett, Jr., asked for $162 million for the judicial branch budget in FY 1998–99, $11 million more in general funds than the governor’s status quo recommendation in the executive budget. Mallett told the panel that the 5,400 new prisoners anticipated in the governor’s Corrections budget won’t get there without passing through the courts. Mallett’s request represents an increase of seven percent over current year funding.
  • In an obscure footnote to legislation reauthorizing the National Sea Grant College Program, Congress last week decreed that “the term ‘Great Lakes’ includes Lake Champlain.” The semantic juggling will permit Vermont universities to compete with other coastline schools for federal Sea Grant research funds. The more inclusive definition drew a decidedly cool response from Michigan Office of the Great Lakes director, Tracy Mehan, who observed pointedly that, “by custom, history, usage, and tradition, there are but five Great Lakes.”

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

March 6 and 13 and 20 and 27

March 6, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • More term-limited House members are making plans. Rep. Jessie Dalman (R-Holland), has announced her candidacy for the University of Michigan Board of Regents; board nominations are made at the state political party conventions in the fall. Dalman’s sunset-side colleague, Rep. Paul Baade, hasn’t said what he would like to do at the end of his term-limited service in the House, but he has said what he won’t do: He has decided not to challenge incumbent 32d District Sen. Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake) for the upper chamber seat.
  • A former state representative, Susan Grimes Munsell (R-Howell), will challenge U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) for the 8th Congressional District seat. The contest to serve that district spawned a wildly expensive and contentious contest in 1996 in which Stabenow wrested the seat from Dick Chrysler in his first reelection bid, a feat Munsell hopes to duplicate. Of the race that pits these longtime state legislative colleagues and frequent allies, Munsell told the Lansing State Journal, “I’m sure she wishes I wasn’t running. I wish she wasn’t running. And our mutual friends wish we weren’t putting them in this position.”
  • Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-Grand Rapids), the first and only research physicist in Congress, has “vaulted to the center of a national firestorm over cloning,” according to a front-page story in the Detroit Free Press. Two U.S. House bills he introduced last year—to ban human cloning and block federal funds for such research—are gaining support in the wake of recent sheep cloning studies. Cloning supporters observe that the research could help find a cure for such afflictions as cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Ehlers increasingly is becoming identified as a leader of the political faction arguing that human cloning violates the right to life when a clone dies during the research process.
  • As the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers (Detroit) would be the key defender of President Clinton if impeachment proceedings were launched in Congress, observed a page-one profile of the Detroit congressman in the Detroit News. “Clinton’s troubles could be the platform Conyers needs to jump-start his career,” the News opined, noting that the 33-year House veteran has had problems in recent years with overspending on staff salaries, which necessitated layoffs in his office in 1996 and 1997. The News also reported that so far Conyers has only $17,000 in hand for his reelection campaign this fall.
  • Excavation began this week on a groundbreaking maximum security correctional facility near Baldwin. When completed, in 1999, its 480 beds will be one of the nation’s largest youth corrections facilities as well as the state’s first privately run prison.
  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents to a recent poll say they’d feel less safe if they knew others were carrying concealed weapons in their cars or on the street. The poll was occasioned by the nine-bill package, currently before the House Judiciary and Ethics and Oversight committees, that would increase availability of concealed weapons permits. Sixty-one percent term the legislation a “bad idea,” and a majority (53 percent) believe crime will increase, not decrease, under the proposed new statues. Proponents of the measures complain that the survey of 600 state residents failed to accurately convey that the bills have such safeguards as setting a uniform standard for county gun boards to follow in issuing permits and maintaining zero tolerance for permit holders found intoxicated while carrying a concealed weapon. Last week, the attorney general and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association sent a letter to legislators detailing their objections to the legislation.
  • In a ruling this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the legislature’s power to dissolve Detroit Recorders Court. The dissolution, with reassignment of recorders court judges to Wayne County Circuit Court, was the most controversial element of the 1996 court reform that also produced the new Family Court Division of circuit court. The appellate judges ruled that lawmakers did not exceed their constitutional authority in enacting the reforms.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

March 13, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • A bill making assisted suicide a felony passed the House 66–40 on Thursday. Coming after hours of impassioned debate, the vote on SB 200 was four shy of the two-thirds majority needed for the measure to have immediate effect. If, as expected, the Senate concurs with the House’s changes to the bill and the governor signs it, the law will go into force around April 1 of next year (unless otherwise specified, a new law takes effect on the 91st day following the end of the legislative session). This may give petition-drive organizers time to collect the nearly quarter-million signatures necessary to put the question of legalizing assisted suicide before voters this fall. If the bill goes on the books, Michigan will become the 37th state to criminalize assisted suicide.
  • A Senate measure passed this week would prohibit Michigan schoolchildren from automatically being moved from grade to grade. Senate Bill 898 bans so-called social promotions in grades K–3 by the academic year 2003. Instead, local school boards would have to develop and enforce competency and attendance standards that youngsters must meet before advancing to the next grade. Sole holdout on the 36–1 vote for passage was Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian), who objects to the state interfering in a local government matter. The State Board of Education has not yet taken a stand on the bill.
  • Charter schools do better in Michigan than in other states in terms of federal grants received from the U.S. Department of Education. The 67 schools currently operating and the 26 in the making will share nearly $4 million in federal funds this year.
  • With publication last week of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the state has closed its books–earlier than any time since 1980. Michigan garnered an award from a North American finance officers’ association for accounting and financial reporting, having ended the last fiscal year with a “rainy day” fund of over $1 billion and kept state departments under their budget for the fifth consecutive year.
  • A measure that could result in motorists receiving a $150 insurance rebate passed a House committee this week and is headed for a floor vote in the lower chamber. Under the provisions of HB 5491, state drivers could receive $153 per automobile from surplus funds in the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association accounts. The funds—which come from assessments on insurers—cover accident claims exceeding $250,000. The legislative fate of the rebate is uncertain; it could end up as a credit toward future auto insurance premiums.
  • You know that government-licensed gambling is part of the culture when a state university has courses on it. Next fall, three casino management classes will be offered through Michigan State University’s graduate school of business. The instructor explains that to operate successfully, the casino industry needs specially trained managers.
  • As the governor completes a 50-town sweep through the state this week, aides insist the itinerary is strictly business. However, political observers—and potential gubernatorial opponents—contend that John Engler’s road trip to the state’s city halls, police stations, and businesses looks like the unofficial kickoff of his reelection campaign. For the record, the official reelection campaign begins this spring with a multi-town sweep across the state.
  • With lawmakers increasingly touting the wonders of the Internet and pressing for more computers in classrooms, the Lansing State Journal decided to test the on-line responsiveness of legislators. The Journal sent an e-mail message to each House and Senate office that is on line (all but about ten). Three weeks later, just over half had responded, with 37 replying the same day the message was sent. The Senate—with 60 percent responding—did slightly better than the House, at 54 percent. And although seven of the first ten respondents were Democrats, Republicans ultimately out-answered Dems, 62 to 49 percent.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

March 20, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Michigan motorists will receive a $180 per vehicle rebate. The action, approved this week by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association board, follows House passage of a bill mandating the reimbursement from the fund that pays unlimited medical expenses for insureds whose claims exceed $250,000. The money in the fund comes from assessments on automobile insurers doing business in the state. House Democrats are crowing that the refund—which reduces the $2.5 billion in reserves accumulated by the fund in recent years—was their idea; Republicans contend that they gave the legislation its substance, while the governor congratulated the MCCA board for implementing “recommendations I made.”
  • State Rep. Deborah Whyman (R-Canton Township) announced this week a petition drive to add a constitutional amendment outlawing affirmative action on the state ballot in November. The proposal has been criticized for both its substance and presumed strategy, with some seeing Whyman’s announcement as part of her campaign for the state Senate seat of retiring Robert Geake (R-Northville). Meanwhile, a committee hearing on Senate Joint Resolution N, which would ban race- or gender-based preference in Michigan government, spawned rancorous debate in the upper chamber. The hearing included testimony from Ward Connerly, who helped lead California’s successful citizen initiative to overturn state affirmative action programs there.
  • This week’s campaign news focuses on the Senate. Rep. Ray Murphy (D-Detroit) confirmed that he will seek the upper chamber seat being vacated on March 31 by Sen. Henry Stallings (D-Detroit). Speaker pro tem of the House, Murphy has held office since 1982. And in an even less unanticipated announcement, Rep. Don. Gilmer (R-Augusta) officially launched his campaign against incumbent Sen. Dale Shugars (R-Portage). Gongwer News Service observes that the pro-choice Gilmer has been openly preparing to challenge the pro-life Shugars for more than a year and quotes Gilmer’s opening campaign salvo, “It is time that the radical right’s choke-hold on the district be broken.” Sen. Shugars—who will launch his reelection bid in May—responded that Gilmer “is going to have to be very aggressive and very negative to be competitive.”
  • Under a Senate bill passed this week, welfare recipients will face benefits cuts if their kids are truants. Nicknamed “Learnfare,” a pilot project in three counties would reduce benefits if a recipient’s child aged 6–11 is absent from school more than once without an excuse. SB 945 is part of a three-bill package; other measures not yet adopted in the upper chamber would require fingerprinting and drug testing for those receiving welfare.
  • A new state auditor general’s report claims Michigan government is insufficiently prepared for the mammoth “Year 2000” computer glitch. Most of the state’s 1,000 computer systems—which track everything from payroll to parolees—record the year of a transaction by the final two digits. When those digits are both zero, innumerable transactions will be miscalculated despite the $56 million allocated by the state to address the problem. Governor Engler has issued an executive order mandating that the computer fix be completed this year, deferring any other technology projects that stand in the way.
  • The Detroit News reports that Michigan taxpayers footed nearly $26 million last year to settle lawsuits against the state claiming everything from highway negligence to job discrimination. That’s the lowest payout since 1992 and well below last year’s record $91 million. The latter total was a blip on the chart, reflecting a single large settlement to three companies denied oil and gas exploration rights. In 1997 Michigan paid $19 million in out-of-court settlements to plaintiffs, and an additional $7 million in court-ordered settlements. The chief sources of legal claims against the state were 50 highway negligence suits totaling $11 million and 40 discrimination cases totaling $6 million.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

March 27, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Rallying from last week’s standoff over tougher welfare rules, the Senate mustered just enough votes needed (20-17) to mandate drug tests for people receiving state assistance. Republicans George McManus (Traverse City) and Walter North (St. Ignace) joined all Senate Democrats in opposing SB 944, derided by critics as an unwarranted invasion of privacy; supporters laud the measure, saying that it and several strictures passed earlier this month bring accountability and responsibility to the state’s welfare system.
  • Earlier this week the Senate had put its imprimatur on a measure requiring welfare recipients to be fingerprinted. Senate Bill 957 squeaked to 20-17 passage with amendments stipulating that only a thumb print would be taken and even that may be purged from state records upon request of former cash-assistance recipients who can prove they had received no payments for three years. That was not enough to quell complaints from the measure’s opponents, who argued unsuccessfully that the bill demeans the dignity of those on public assistance.
  • Leaving no opposing votes in its wake, a bill to curb reckless jet ski jockeys surged through the House 101-0. Personal water craft safety regulations had similarly smooth sailing through the Senate, where the chamber voted 37-0 to make the new rules effective by Memorial Day weekend this year. Differences between the two versions—which impose a minimum age of 16 for operators and limit the hours the craft may be operated (9 A.M. to one hour before sunset) on all state lakes—will be worked out next week.
  • Speaking of lakes, thanks to Michigan’s U.S. senators, Champlain is less Great than it was only weeks ago, when New England solons slipped in language giving the Vermont pond Great Lakes status in competing for National Sea Grant research funds. On a voice vote, the Senate stripped Champlain of its short-lived status but permits Vermont universities to compete for research funding on problems that their lake has in common with the real Great Lakes.
  • transportation funding bill before the U.S. House would route more than $870 million annually to the state over the next six years. Michigan is a “donor” state (that is, we send more money in federal gasoline taxes to Washington than we have been receiving back in highway funding), but U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, a member of the House Transportation Committee, says that under the pending legislation Michigan would receive “very close to its fair share.”
  • A reluctant warrior announced this week that he will not, after all, wage an electoral battle for the 30th District state Senate seat. Acknowledging long and strong encouragement from Senate leadership to challenge incumbent Sen. Glenn Steil (R-Grand Rapids), term-limited Rep. Tom Mathieu (D-Grand Rapids) told Gongwer News Service, “I never saw the Senate as a place I aspired to be.” Mathieu’s 24-year House tenure makes him one of the state’s longest-serving sitting legislators. He speculates that future plans could include a campaign for Grand Rapids mayor or Kent County commissioner.
  • Following up on a Detroit Free Press investigative report last week, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission is looking into allegations that Wayne County circuit judges appoint too many relatives and friends to represent indigents charged with criminal offenses. In a number of instances, the favored attorneys accumulated more than $25,000 for the several cases they were assigned. The state Code of Judicial Conduct proscribes actions that would give the appearance of impropriety or erode public confidence in the judiciary. The chief judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court proposes limiting to eight the number of cases that may be assigned to any one attorney, and he is reported to be considering whether judges should be barred from assigning cases to family members or “romantic partners.”

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

April 3 and 17 and 24

April 3, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • As the House cleared it decks for an April 7–21 spring break, it passed its first two FY 1998–99 budget bills, a certain harbinger of the season. And before its departure last week, the Senate pa3ssed five spending measures (see below). Taking its cue from lawmakers’ hiatus, Roundup will resume weekly publication on April 17.
  • Spending for five agencies totaling nearly $12 billion passed the upper chamber late last week. After each legislative chamber takes action on the governor’s spending recommendations, conference committees will negotiate compromise versions for both chambers’ ratification. The Senate’s first pass at the figures looks like this:
    • Community colleges (SB 907) $283.4 million, all in general funds (GF), an increase of about 3 percent over the current year
    • Department of Community Health (SB 908) $7.5 billion, of which $2.5 billion is in GF, the largest proposed allocation for any state department
    • Department of Corrections (SB 909) $1.38 billion GF.
    • Department of Education (SB 910) $47.7 million GF, out of a total budget of more than $866 million
    • Higher education (SB 911) $1.61 billion, with all but $4 million in GF; this roughly 3 percent increase over the current year doubles the governor’s recommendation
  • Following the Senate’s lead, the House dispatched two agency appropriations bills before taking leave of Lansing.
    • State Police (HB 5597) $262.2 million GF, a boost of $2 million over the governor’s recommendation
    • Veterans and Military Affairs (HB 5593) $36.5 million GF, exactly as the governor recommended
  • Putting politics behind him, term-limited Rep. Greg Kaza (R-Rochester Hills) plans to start an investment firm when his legislative career ends next fall. Kaza will receive a master’s degree in international finance this spring, according to Michigan Information & Research Service. Keeping a political agenda in the forefront, meanwhile, is Rep. Candace Curtis (D-Swartz Creek) who has announced for the state Senate seat being vacated by Joe Conroy (D-Flint). Curtis is term-limited out of her House seat; Conroy is voluntarily leaving his upper chamber slot.
  • While John Engler touts privatizing of former state services as jewels in the gubernatorial crown, they aren’t all shining. Drawing considerable public attention lately are four problems among the dozens of duties turned over to private contractors. Expense or performance problems have surfaced in contracts let to maintain a stretch of highway in the Lansing area, operate the state park/campground-reservation system, distribute liquor to retail outlets, and provide health care to state prisoners. To keep better tabs on cost, appropriations powers-that-be in the Democrat-controlled House plan to break out all contractual items into separate items in the spending bills. Acknowledging mixed results and some kinks in the new system, the governor defends the concept of privatization and points to the success of the Accident Fund, a workers’ compensation insurer and former state entity the sale of which netted more than $250 million and hasn’t yet led to higher premiums for employers using the service.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

April 17, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Senators slipped back into the State Capitol virtually unnoticed this week as the relative hush of legislators’ spring recess (the House returns next week) persists in Lansing. As Gongwer News Service put it, issues are on the stove-top, but nowhere near the boil.
  • One topic destined to heat up shortly is a legislative ban on assisted suicide. Passed earlier this year by the Senate, SB 200 was not given immediate effect by the House; the lower chamber is expected to look again at the measure when representatives return. In related news, organizers of a petition drive to place assisted suicide on the ballot in November say rising costs may kill their efforts. The group, Merian’s Friends, opposes a legislative ban on physician-assisted dying and must collect nearly 250,000 voter signatures by May 27 to put the question on the ballot. The group says the proliferation of petition-gathering campaigns in the state has forced the professional petitioning firm with which it is working to hike its prices by 60 cents for each signature.
  • Two ranking House Democrats announced legislative retirement last week, ending speculation that they would challenge GOP senators for upper chamber seats. House Majority Floor Leader Pat Gagliardi (Drummond Island) and Rep.Tom Alley (West Branch) were earlier thought to be the two House Dems most likely to run for the Senate. Their withdrawal chills their party’s hope for a takeover of the solidly Republican Senate, where Republicans hold a 22-15 edge following the resignation of Democratic Sen. Henry Stallings last month.
  • Speaking of term limits is what former Gov. William Milliken did recently in a letter to the Detroit Free Press. A longtime and eloquent opponent of limited legislative service, the former state chief exec wrote, “The impact of lifetime legislative term limits on the ability of voters to vote for experienced representatives falls particularly hard on politically less powerful groups in all parts of our state. These groups rely on experienced and incumbent representatives to make use of their long service and seniority to advance their frequently neglected interests . . . The state and the electorate will suffer over the long term from this loss of legislative experience.”
  • Controversial legislation bringing Michigan’s system of collecting child support payments into compliance with new federal regulations passed the senate this week. The feds want to streamline the tracking of deadbeat parents by requiring Social Security numbers on various license applications. In passing SB 797 on a 20-12 vote, senators voiced some of the same objections heard in the House when the lower chamber passed a version permitting license applicants to withhold Social Security information on religious, moral, or philosophical grounds. The Senate reduced the number of possible exceptions to one: religious objections. Michigan is the last state in the union to comply with the federal guidelines—which took effect April 1—and the House still has to concur with Senate action when the lower chamber returns to session next week.
  • The still-simmering dispute between Michigan and the U.S. Department of Labor over the state’s revamped job-search program is being closely watched by other states for its implications for their own attempted reforms. The program splits the former Michigan Employment Security Agency functions between two different departments, outsourcing job search and training functions to local workforce boards. According to the Associated Press, officials in Massachusetts and Texas claim they have a stake in Michigan’s feud with federal officials over whether these state functions can be outsourced as part of the consolidation of programs offered to job seekers. Federal Labor Department officials told Michigan in February they were withholding nearly $16 million in federal funds because they had not approved Governor Engler’s reorganization of the state’s unemployment system. The state sued to obtain the funds, and a May 1 hearing is set in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

April 24, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Three weeks from the May 12 candidate filing deadline, the capitol is abuzz with speculation about the nature and number of political contests spawned by term limits. Reviewing the math, Gongwer New Service comments: “In what will be one of the most demanding elections for party strategists in the history of Michigan politics, Republicans and Democrats are faced with the daunting task of filling 64 seats with a seemingly unlimited number of unknowns on the horizon. Democrats appear to have the edge at the starting gate. They have a 58-52 majority with 29 incumbents holding down their seats. Republicans have only 16 incumbents returning.”
  • A new face with an old name announced this week that he is in the running to be the GOP candidate for attorney general. George Scott Romney—he is using his full name on his campaign letterhead—is the son of a former state governor, and he has garnered the support of the current governor, John Engler, for his bid for the GOP nomination, despite the fact that two other primary candidates have been campaigning far longer than he. Former federal judge John Smietanka and current state Rep. Frank Fitzgerald both vow to continue their fight for the GOP nomination. Romney is a corporate attorney.
  • In other contests, two congressional incumbents tossed their hat in the ring this week. U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) announced plans for his fourth run for the 4th District seat he holds. Camp’s GOP colleague, U.S. Rep. Nick Smith (Addison), announced plans to seek a third term representing the 7th District. Democrats are targeting the latter as a key contest, and Congressman Smith is facing an expensive challenge from retiring state Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian); the two candidates already have raised a combined total of nearly a half-million dollars–more than the total spent in the entire campaign during the last election.
  • State Rep. David Anthony (D-Escanaba), a victim of term limits, has his eye on a state Senate seat. To win the 38th Senate District seat, Anthony, who is chair of the house Forestry and Mineral Rights Committee, will have to beat fellow Democrat Donald Koivisto of Ironwood, a three-term Senate incumbent.
  • Despite a 20 percent reduction in the work force from early retirements, the state Civil Rights Department promises greater efficiency in processing a daunting backlog of complaints. Director Nanette Reynolds told Capital News Service that the agency’s 4,300-case backlog will be eliminated by next October through the use of streamlined procedures. Under the former system, it took an average of 12 months for department specialists to review discrimination complaints. A new approach aims to trim review time to three months.
  • Thirty-eighth U.S. President Gerald Ford visited East Lansing this week to help dedicate the 180,000 square foot edifice representing the Detroit College of Law (DCL) at Michigan State University. The partnership between the nation’s oldest independent law school and the pioneer land-grant university was praised by the native son ex-president, who holds an honorary degree from DCL.
  • Two bills bringing Michigan closer to compliance with federal requirements enforcing child support collections were signed into law this week by the governor. Under the terms of Public Acts 63 and 64, the Friend of the Court is given broader subpoena power and may force employers to divulge employee information relevant to child support orders, and the secretary of state is compelled to provide vehicle registration information to state and federal authorities for child support enforcement purposes.
  • Electors in former state senator Henry Stallings’s district will be seeing double in this election cycle. Stallings resigned, and the special elections to fill his vacant seat for the rest of this term (ending on December 31, 1998) will coincide with the regular elections to fill that seat for next term (beginning on January 1, 1999). Thus, on August 4 (primary) and November 3 (general election), voters in the 3d Senate District will vote both for his short- and longer-term replacement(s). The same person may run for both slots.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

May 1 and 8 and 15 and 22 and 29

May 1, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The governor’s third-term campaign officially was launched this week at a rally in Livonia. In counterpoint to the faithful’s enthusiasm, Detroit Free Press columnist Hugh McDiarmid cynically observed that the John Engler who told voters in 1990 that it was time for new leadership is now himself one of the Michigan’s longest-serving incumbent state officials. In his 28-year political career, Engler has yet to lose an election.
  • April showers bring May agency budgets, with two department appropriations bills passing the lower chamber this week. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality receives $92.3 million in General Funds under terms of HB 5589, a sum less than $0.5 million over the administration’s recommendation. A $50.1 million appropriation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (HB 5591) exceeds the administration’s recommendation by nearly $2 million, roughly equal to the amount added for improving recreation facilities in the state’s smaller communities.
  • Michigan is now a no-clone zone following Senate passage of a four-bill package forbidding genetic replication of humans and establishing an unprecedented $10 million fine for infractions. The bills, SB 864 and HBs 4846, 4962, and 5475 ban research on, as well as application of, human cloning. The House is expected to concur with the Senate’s changes, and then the governor likely will sign the legislation. Although opponents of the measures contend that anti-cloning legislation hampers legitimate genetic research on congenital disorders, the bills passed unanimously in the upper chamber.
  • The CEO who oversaw the privatization of the Accident Fund from a state-run workers’ compensation insurer to a private firm has been named Michigan’s new insurance commissioner. Insurance consultant E.L. Cox replaces Joseph Olson in the post; deputy commissioner Dominic D’Annunzio fulfilled the duties on an interim basis.
  • Michigan insurance agents are calling for their checks. The state association of insurance agents complained this week that most Michigan insurers have not yet decided how to refund to customers the $1.2 billion in surplus funds that the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association Board voted last month to return to state motorists. This leaves agents unable to advise clients—who are pressing for their money—as to whether they should expect a refund or a credit on future premium payments.
  • Here comes the McBryde: Mt. Pleasant termed-out Republican Jim McBryde has announced his electoral bid for incumbent Sen. Joanne Emmons’s (R-Big Rapids) 23d Senate District seat. Dismissing her new challenger’s attacks on her legislative attendance record, former teacher Emmons cited a 95 percent voting record and observed, “Ninety-five percent was an A everywhere I taught.”
  • Like Oliver Twist, university presidents testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee this week asked for more. The chiefs of the state’s big three public universities told lawmakers that education quality will suffer at their campuses under the scant 1.5 percent increase recommended in the executive budget for the coming fiscal year. UM’s president predicts a tuition hike of 4–5 percent, MSU’s says faculty teaching loads have crept up by almost 10 percent over the past four years, and Wayne State’s says the evening and weekend classes that his urban student body needs keep costs higher there than at other schools.
  • First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton apparently pleased the 4,000 who attended at the University of Michigan’s “Year of Humanities and Arts” commemoration. Her 45-minute address—during which she urged listeners to treat reading the great poets as a responsibility, not a luxury—drew a standing ovation in Ann Arbor.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

May 8, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • It wasn’t tax-cut fever but more like tax-cut flu in the Senate this week as rancourous partisan debate raged over a five-bill package to cut state income taxes by 15 percent in very small increments beginning in 2000. Senate Bills 1079–83 passed on identical 33-3 votes, with the biggest argument being over whether to launch the initial one-tenth percent tax reduction in the current year rather than waiting until the turn of the century. The later phase-in prevailed. A family of four making $40,000 is expected to save $29 in the first year of the cuts, escalating to $144 when cuts are fully phased in.
  • “I’m not going to run for the U.S. Senate,” Gov. John Engler declared flatly this week while on a gubernatorial campaign stop. His current run for electoral office is his last, he told the Lansing State Journal, adding, “I’m not expecting another [campaign], and I couldn’t imagine what it would be for.”
  • Lawmakers continue their seasonal budget business, hoping to approve all agency appropriations in the 60 days remaining before their scheduled summer recess—and reelection campaigns—begins.
    • An 86-16 vote sent the Department of Agriculture budget from the House to the Senate. At just over $42 million, HB 5588 reflects a nearly $9 million hike over current general funding (GF) levels and a $5 million boost over the governor’s recommendation for the department.
    • The judiciary budget, at just under $157 million GF, fell about $5 million short of the judicial branch’s request and exceeded the governor’s recommendation by roughly the same amount. HB 5596 passed the lower chamber on a vote of 81-25.
    • Late last week the lower chamber passed a $187 million GF budget for the Department of Consumer and Industry Affairs. Winners in the umbrella agency’s spending plan are nursing home inspections, with funds for 30 new facility reviewers added in the House version. Losers include the Jobs Commission, which had $2.3 million lopped from tourist promotion programs. Neither change was supported by the department.
  • Check out that leap in the MEAP: Michigan’s 4th and 7th graders never have scored better on the controversial Michigan Education Assessment Program exam. Although more students received a score of “satisfactory” than ever before, they also had more time to prepare. Reading and math testing dates were moved from October to January, and the science and writing components also were administered then rather than being scattered throughout the school year. However, educators credit better teaching, not fortuitous scheduling, for the best-ever scores, pointing to a greater statewide emphasis on following the model curriculum, which the MEAP material parallels.
  • Speculation around Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld’s reelection plans are sending ripples through GOP political waters as the mid-May primary election filing deadline looms. Following Governor Engler’s statement that he and Binsfeld may make no decision on her candidacy until July, Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus (R-Alto)—considered a virtual shoo-in for the number two spot on the state ticket if Binsfeld opts out—announced this week his reelection campaign for his upper chamber seat. Gongwer News Service observes that if Binsfeld decides against another run after the primary filing deadline, and if Posthumus were to be tapped by the governor and confirmed by the Republican state convention to replace her on the ticket, then a candidate for the 31st Senate District seat now held by Posthumus would be selected by the Kent County Republican Party instead of by voters in the August 4 primary.
  • Look for a familiar face in the 67th House District race. Eleven-term House veteran Democrat Bill Keith has announced for the seat being vacated by termed-out Rep. Dan Gustafson (R-Williamston). Ex-Representative Keith, now a Haslett resident, represented Garden City and chaired the House Education Committee.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

May 15, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Tuesday’s filing deadline for next fall’s election cycle revealed some familiar faces and a surprise or two on ballots across the state. For example,
    • term-limited Rep. Glenn Oxender (R-Sturgis) will make a primary run against incumbent Sen. Harry Gast (R-St. Joseph) in the 20th Senate District;
    • term-limited Rep. Mary Lou Parks (D-Detroit) will run against incumbent Sen. Joe Young, Jr. (D-Detroit) in the 1st Senate District;
    • term-limited Rep. Tom Alley (D-West Branch) changed his mind and hopes to challenge incumbent Sen. Joel Gougeon (R-Bay City) in the 34th Senate District;
    • term-limited Rep. Barbara Dobb (R-Commerce Township) will challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Milford) in a repeat of their 1996 special primary face-off in the 15th Senate District;
    • Maria Carl, notwithstanding her primary loss to Sen. David Jaye (R-Washington Township) in last fall’s raucous special election for her late husband’s 12th Senate District seat, will take Jaye on again in the August primary;
    • former Sen. Henry Stallings has filed to run again for the 3d Senate District seat from which he was pressured to resign earlier this year; and
    • Ken Hylton, Jr.—the attorney who represented Stallings on the felony charge that led to the latter’s resignation—has filed to run in the race for 3d District House seat (Detroit) that Rep. Mary Lou Parks will be vacating.
  • Legislative action on agency appropriations continued this week with House approval of two more budgets.
    • On a 58-44 vote, the Family Independence Agency received a $1.074 billion General Fund (GF) spending plan from the lower chamber. HB 5509 contains almost $55 million more than the governor recommended.
    • By a vote of 57-46, lawmakers approved appropriations for the general government budget—a category including the legislature and attorney general’s office as well as the departments of Management and Budget, Civil Rights, Civil Service, Treasury, and State. The roughly $456 million GF total in HB 5595 is a $12 million reduction from the governor’s recommendation and some $16 million less than the current spending level. Most of that difference was cut from Treasury Department debt service.
  • Current nationwide controversy over affirmative action legislation was brought home this week by Senate action on two bills limiting the state’s involvement in the procedure. Under SB 610, approved 21-16, bidders on state contracts would no longer be required to have an affirmative action plan in place in order to receive contracts, nor could the state give preference to companies that have such a plan. Under SB 615, which passed 23-14, employers and employment agencies could not use so-called race norming, cut-off scores, or other modifications to employment tests for the purpose of giving one job applicant preference over another.
  • Pressure is mounting on House Democrats to vote on a tax cut plan passed handily in the Senate last week. The five-bill Senate package (to cut state taxes by 15 percent over five years beginning in 2000) has been held hostage in the lower chamber while House Dems await upper chamber action on their own tax-cut proposal (which focuses on child-care credits, tax deferments for seniors, and tax credits for families). A likely end to the standoff is a discharge vote in the House, which would compel the Democratic leadership to bring the Senate package out of committee to the chamber floor for a full vote.
  • Speaking of matters taxing: The state’s tax burden fell dramatically in recent years, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. Michigan made the best showing of any Great Lakes state during fiscal years 1993–95, moving from the 15th greatest tax burden to the 13th best. In 1995 Michigan’s average state and local tax burden as a percentage of personal income dipped 6 percent below the national average.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

May 22, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The Senate fiscal chief’s advice to upper chamber lawmakers this week boiled down to a single word: “Whoa!” Senate Fiscal Agency director Gary Olson told the Appropriations Committee that budget bills approved to date will far outstrip anticipated revenue. Although Olson expects state coffers to swell by about $44 million over last year, legislators currently are contemplating spending plans that would require an increase of almost $260 million. Agency budgets already approved by the legislature are too fat and will have to be trimmed back, Olson cautions. Michigan’s rate of economic growth has slowed considerably, he points out, noting that the state ranked 40th in personal income increase last year.
  • “Michigan is Jobzilla,” crowed Governor Engler, indulging his penchant for bowdlerizing current movie titles to describe political achievements. He was boasting about the state’s gargantuan employment rate, which rose last month to an all-time high of 4,852,000. Unemployment shriveled to 3.5 percent in April, the lowest since comparable records first were kept in 1970. In breaking its own record—the previous low was 3.9 percent unemployment in March—Michigan dipped below the U.S. average jobless rate for the 37th consecutive month. Nationally, 4.3 percent of the work force was idle last month.
  • Relief from pesky jet skis and their youthful operators is on the way—but not this season. House passage of tougher personal water craft statutes includes Senate-backed changes, but it doesn’t take effect until next April. HB 5426, if signed by the governor, will hike the minimum age of operators from 12 to 14, require operators aged 14–19 to obtain a boater safety certificate, limit the crafts’ operation to a minimum of 150 feet offshore, and restrict hours of operation to 8 A.M. until dusk.
  • After the dust settled from last week’s election filing deadline, 36 candidates were registered to run for the state’s 16 congressional seats. One incumbent, U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Holland) is unopposed for reelection. Among those being challenged is 16-year veteran U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak). Former gubernatorial aide Leslie Touma, a Republican, hopes to unseat Levin and is attracting attention with her campaign treasury of $237,000 to Levin’s $313,000; this is the only Michigan congressional race in which the incumbent has less than a three-to-one financial advantage.
  • Among the two dozen who withdrew their candidacy by last week’s deadline were two current office holders. In a surprising change of heart, Rep. Jim McBryde (R-Mt. Pleasant) dropped his challenge to Sen. Joanne Emmons (R-Big Rapids) in the 23d Senate District. In the 36th Senate District, Rep. Allen Lowe (R-Grayling) backed out of his bid for the seat currently held by Sen. George A. McManus, Jr. (R-Traverse City).
  • U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids ruled this week that the Engler administration’s reorganization of the former Michigan Employment Security Agency (MESA) violates federal requirements. Some $16 million in federal funding has been held up in the months-long squabble since the state Jobs Commission outsourced former state jobs to the private sector. Judge Robert Holmes Bell ruled that the U.S. Labor Department’s policy of requiring civil service workers to administer the program lacks the force of law but has been in operation for 64 years without congressional challenge and therefore should be recognized as binding. State officials say they will appeal the ruling and in the meantime manage the program without federal funds.
  • The state Capitol Building was ringed with motorcyclists this week as roughly 250 bikers mounted what has become an annual campaign to repeal Michigan’s mandatory helmet law. Supporters of repealing the 30-year-old law claim to have gathered almost 15,000 letters supporting their contention that helmets have not been proven to reduce motorcycle deaths. On the other side of the issue, along with organizations representing police, doctors, and insurance companies, is the general public: In a recent poll, 71 percent of respondents reported favoring the helmet law. Twenty-three other states have similar statutes.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

May 29, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Attorney General Frank Kelley will not run again. On Wednesday he ended several weeks of speculation by announcing that he will decline to run for another term. Kelley is the longest-serving attorney general in the United States, having been appointed to the position in 1960 and elected every term thereafter. Losing Mr. Kelley on the ticket could be bad news for the Democrats, although there is no shortage of potential candidates; the Democrat front-runners appear to be Macomb County prosecutor Carl Marlinga and Wayne County Sheriff Bob Ficano, and interest has been expressed by state representatives Laura Baird, David Gubow, Joe Palamara, and Nick Ciarmitaro. The three Republican hopefuls—state Rep. Frank Fitzgerald, Scott Romney, and John Smietanka—are suddenly more hopeful.
  • State officials continue to receive good news on state revenue. Each January and May, the Senate Fiscal Agency, the House Fiscal Agency, and the Department of Treasury (representing the governor) meet to agree on revenue estimates for the current and next fiscal years. Last week this consensus estimating conference agreed on higher revenue estimates for FY 1997–98 and FY 1998–99. For the current fiscal year, general fund–general purpose and school aid fund revenues now are estimated at $17.2 billion, $37.1 million above the January estimate. For next fiscal year, the estimate is $17.7 billion, $12.2 million above the January projection. The good news can be attributed to a sharp increase in personal income tax revenue, which more than offset large declines in single business tax and sales and use tax revenue.
  • With tongue firmly in cheek, Rep. James Agee (D-Muskegon) has a counterproposal to Governor Engler’s plan to cut the state income tax rate 0.1 percentage points each year from 2000 to 2005. The Muskegon Democrat suggests that the state should cut the income tax by
    1/250 every year for the next 250 years, beginning in 2000. Explaining “We need to quit relying on Michiganians to fund Michigan,” the representative argues that Michigan’s great-, great-, great-, great-grandchildren would save approximately $30 trillion due to the cut. The representative ardently defends his unique plan, contending that while it may be similar to the governor’s, it saves taxpayers more money.
  • To the likely disappointment of many lawmakers ready to “limit out,” the Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the state’s term limit law. The law, which will force out more than half of the 110 members of the House of Representatives this fall, has faced legal challenges since its 1992 inception. Opponents to the law now have exhausted the options for blocking term limits by fall, and the November 1998 elections will mark the end of service for as many as 64 representatives. While term limits are a done deal for the 1998 election, the issue may resurface down the road—term limit opponents say they may take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The Michigan economy continues to bring good tidings. April ushered in record high employment in the state (more than 4.8 million people) and record low unemployment (176,000). The latter figure is the lowest since 1970 and nearly one percentage point below the U.S. rate.
  • The odds were long on there being two controversial ballot proposals on the November ballot, and the Coalition to Repeal Proposal E couldn’t beat them. The group, which wanted to repeal the 1996 ballot OK given to casinos in Detroit, couldn’t muster enough signatures to bring the issue back before the electorate; 247,127 signatures are required for a spot on this ballot (8 percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor in the previous election), but petitioning groups try to collect many thousands more as a cushion against duplicate signatures, incorrectly circulated petitions, and so on. More successful were Merian’s Friends, a group supporting assisted suicide, which gathered 380,000 signatures and almost certainly will have enough certified to guarantee a place on the ballot for the question of whether it should be allowed in Michigan under strict guidelines. Feeling is strong on this issue, and both supporters and opponents are gearing up to inundate voters with their point of view between now and November.

by Laurie A. Cummings & Robert J Kleine, Senior Consultants
Copyright © 1998

June 5 and 12 and 19 and 26

June 5, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • A $2.8 billion Department of Transportation budget rolled through the Senate this week amid predictable partisan bickering about how much money should be made available for local road projects. House Bill 5594 passed 34-3 after an unsuccessful Democratic attempt to channel an additional $90 million in federal highway funds to the local government allocation. The transportation appropriation includes both state and federal dollars and exceeds current year spending by $400 million.
  • Since roughly 1930 the state has been sharing some tax revenue with local government. For years, the distribution formula favored cities, but local revenue sharing is being restructured by legislature, and the west side of the state would prefer that much greater weight be given to population (which is growing out state and diminishing in most major cities). Senate Bill 1181 would base a locality’s portion of state shared revenues on per capita taxable value, population, type of government, and millage equalization yield. According to Gongwer News Service, the bill likely will pass the GOP “sunset”–side controlled Senate but founder in the Democrat-dominated House. While Detroit loses revenue sharing under this scheme—as it would under most proposed alternatives—it loses less, say SB 1181 supporters, than if funds were apportioned strictly per capita. The source of revenue sharing funds is the sales tax.
  • Give Proposal A an A-plus: Public Sector Consultants has run the numbers on tax assessment data released by the State Tax Commission and concludes that Michigan property owners saved an estimated $860 million this year on individual tax assessments as a result of the assessment cap imposed by Proposal A. The official state report won’t be released for about a month.
  • The House passed legislation upping health maintenance organization accountability by a 61-45 vote this week. House Bill 5221 would hold an HMO legally liable for any injury resulting from its denial of a physician’s treatment recommendation. A party-line vote overturned GOP efforts to limit HMO liability in such cases. Critics of the current process contend that medical treatment decisions routinely are made by clerical workers who often override physicians’ recommendations in the interest of cost savings. The bill would not cap liability, however, and opponents predict that this would generate a rash of lawsuits, boost health insurance rates, and make health care coverage harder for many people to afford or obtain.
  • Traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers will lead to more life prison terms being meted out. A Michigan Supreme Court decision handed down this week reinstates second-degree murder charges against intoxicated drivers in three separate cases in which four people died. A 4-3 court majority holds that a murder conviction—which carries a sentence of up to life—is warranted in cases where “wanton misconduct” is proved. The ruling overturns lower court decisions reducing the sentence to manslaughter, which carries a maximum term of 25 years’ imprisonment.
  • A controversial pair of bills claiming to protect the unborn by penalizing assaults on pregnant women passed the House last week. Called the Prenatal Protection Act, the measures would criminalize injuring or killing a human fetus by assaulting the mother. Under SB 21, someone charged with causing the death of a fetus (by such means as drunk driving or personal assault, for example) could face a felony conviction of up to 25 years. The companion bill, HB 4224, would permit civil suits in such cases. Supporters observe that in no case would the bills apply to action willfully taken by the mother of the fetus, although some critics contend that language in the bills characterizing a fetus as “an unborn individual” poses a potential threat to women’s reproductive rights.
  • Governing magazine includes John Engler on its list of the six best governors for the 1990s. Longest equals strongest in the magazine’s view: The three Republicans and three Dems cited include current and former chiefs of Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Tennessee, and Georgia, and all had been elected to public office by age 30. Engler’s initial election at 22 makes him the most precocious of the group.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

June 12, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • It was a lopsided legislature this week, with the Senate on a pre-recess break, but the House soldiered on, passing three appropriations bills.
    • The Department of Corrections budget (SB 909) as passed by the House totals $1.37 billion and includes $4.6 million for a pilot program to treat inmate substance abuse. The vote was 100-5. The House version is nearly $7 million less than the administration’s recommendation.
    • The Department of Community Health budget (SB 908) would receive $7.5 billion ($2.6 billion from the General Fund) under the House version. Weighing in at a hefty $159 million over the governor’s recommendation and the Senate-passed version of the spending plan, the measure includes funding for hourly wage hikes for roughly 9,000 nursing home workers.
    • The Department of Education budget (SB 910) adopted by the lower chamber totals $870 million ($44.6 Million GO) and includes increased funding to collect defaulted student loans and reorganization expenses for the State Board of Education. The vote was 87-17.
  • Legislative leaders began discussing FY 1998–99 budget targets this week—and none too soon in the view of Department of Management and Budget analysts who note that appropriations bills passed by legislators significantly exceed revenue estimates as well as the administration’s recommended budget totals. According to the DMB, House-passed budgets exceed the General Fund revenue estimate by $368 million, while agency spending plans approved by the Senate overdraw anticipated revenue by $57 million. Setting budget targets is an annual ritual that fixes parameters for the House-Senate conference committees in which final budget compromises are hammered out.
  • Lower chamber lawmakers passed two of the a three-bill sentencing guideline package this week, advancing the fractious, partisan criminal-justice policy debate closer to statutory enactment. The two bills (HBs 5419 and 5421) increase the sentences for violent crimes and require convicts to serve at least the minimum sentence they received. The House held back the third bill in the package (SB 826), pending Senate approval of these and other related House-passed bills. The package has critics on both sides of both aisles: Senate Republicans sniff that the action is too little, too late in response to more sweeping sentencing reforms introduced six months ago in the upper chamber; some House Democrats complain that the bills’ effects will be mainly to make prison overcrowding worse than it already is.
  • The perennially controversial Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) examination scores earned by state K–12 students are back in the news—linked this time with the equally fraught topic of charter schools. According to an Associated Press study, charter school students, although they showed improved performance in the recent round of MEAP tests, still lag behind their public school counterparts. The AP reports that in many instances the performance gap between charter and other schools is “sizeable”; for example, 69 percent of public-school eighth graders earned a score of “proficient” on the writing portion of the January exam, but fewer than half—44 percent—of charter schoolers did as well. On the science portion, the achievement rate is nothing to brag about in either sector, but again, public-school students outdid charter-school students; 22 of the former were deemed proficient, compared to 8 percent of the latter. Charter-school advocates say these relatively new schools need time to establish themselves and point out that many of them serve special-needs students.
  • Governor Engler’s proposed environmental bond issue, which already passed the Senate, got a makeover in the House. The governor’s Clean Michigan Initiative is a November ballot proposal authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund environmental cleanup projects and redevelopment of previously contaminated industrial sites. The lower chamber has scrapped the program’s name, added $200 million to the $550 million project, and angered environmentalists, who say they expected more cleanup funding and less political rhetoric from the Democratic-controlled House. Now renamed the Economic Development and Recreation Plan, the expanded program will add sewage-overflow and related water cleanup to the list of projects that includes expanded recreation opportunities at state parks and contaminated-site cleanup and redevelopment. Environmental groups criticize the package for allocating only 18 cents per dollar for environmental cleanup and earmarking the rest for industrial redevelopment.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

June 19, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • It was a lopsided legislature this week, with the Senate on a pre-recess break, but the House soldiered on, passing three appropriations bills.
    • The Department of Corrections budget (SB 909) as passed by the House totals $1.37 billion and includes $4.6 million for a pilot program to treat inmate substance abuse. The House version is nearly $7 million less than the administration’s recommendation.
    • The Department of Community Health budget (SB 908) would receive $7.5 billion ($2.6 billion from the General Fund) under the House version. Weighing in at a hefty $159 million over the governor’s recommendation and the Senate-passed version of the spending plan, the measure includes funding for hourly wage hikes for roughly 9,000 nursing home workers.
    • The Department of Education budget (SB 910) adopted by the House totals $870 million ($44.6 Million GF) and includes reorganization expenses for the State Board of Education and increased funding to collect defaulted student loans.
  • Legislative leaders began discussing FY 1998–99 budget targets this week—and none too soon in the view of Department of Management and Budget analysts who note that appropriations bills passed by legislators significantly exceed revenue estimates. The department says the House-passed budgets exceed the GF revenue estimate by $368 million, while the Senate-passed versions overdraw anticipated revenue by $57 million. The targets will guide the House-Senate conference committees in which final budget compromises are hammered out.
  • The House passed two sentencing guideline bills this week, advancing the fractious, partisan criminal-justice policy debate closer to final action. The bills (HBs 5419 and 5421) increase the sentences for violent crimes and require convicts to serve at least their minimum sentence. The House held back a third bill (SB 826), pending Senate approval of various related House-passed bills. The package has critics on both sides of both aisles: Senate Republicans say that the action is too little too late (the upper chamber introduced more sweeping reforms six months ago); some House Democrats complain that the bills mainly will make prison overcrowding even worse.
  • The perennially controversial Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) scores earned by state K–12 students are back in the news—linked this time with the equally fraught topic of charter schools. According to an Associated Press study, charter school students, although they showed improvement in the recent round of tests, still trail their public school counterparts. The AP reports that in many instances the performance gap between charter and other schools is “sizeable”; for example, 69 percent of public-school eighth graders earned a score of “proficient” on the writing portion of the January exam, but fewer than half—44 percent—of charter schoolers did as well. On the science portion, the achievement rate is nothing to brag about in either sector, but again, public-school students outdid charter-school students: 22 percent of the former were deemed proficient, compared to 8 percent of the latter. Charter-school advocates say these relatively new schools need time to establish themselves and point out that many serve special-needs students.
  • Governor Engler’s proposed environmental bond proposal, which already passed the Senate, got a makeover in the House. The governor’s Clean Michigan Initiative is a November ballot proposal authorizing issuance of general obligation bonds to fund environmental cleanup projects and redevelopment of contaminated industrial sites. The lower chamber scrapped the program’s name, added $200 million to the $550 million project, and angered environmentalists. Now renamed the Economic Development and Recreation Plan, the House version adds sewage-overflow and related water cleanup to the list of projects that includes expanded recreation opportunities at state parks and contaminated-site cleanup and redevelopment. Environmental groups criticize the package for allocating only 18 cents per dollar for environmental cleanup and the rest to industrial redevelopment.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

June 26, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Next week may bring Independence Day for legislators eager to wrap up the appropriations process and head back to their districts in pursuit of vacation or reelection. According to Gongwer News Service, discussions between lawmakers and the administration on target figures for the upcoming fiscal year budget will continue next week, with both chambers working toward a July 2 recess date. Gongwer notes that agreement on targets is complicated this year by the large number of term-limited lawmakers holding out for having their pet projects included in their farewell budget cycle. Meantime, the Senate, having taken two weeks off, already is looking toward its fall calendar: Following its return next week to finish action on budget bills, the upper chamber will recess, then reconvene on September 15.
  • Michigan’s toughest-in-the-nation “drug lifer law” would be less so under a bill passed by the House this week. Under provisions of SB 281, persons convicted of delivering—or attempting to deliver—650 or more grams (roughly a pound and a half) of cocaine or heroin could be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of a life sentence. Passed on a 77-26 vote, the measure is hailed by those claiming that the current mandatory-life-sentence policy fills prisons with low-level drug couriers and addicts, not the kingpins that were the target. The bill’s opponents criticize it as an act of misplaced compassion that takes a too-soft approach to drug dealing. Exempt from the 15-year parole provisions of the new bill would be dealers considered drug kingpins and those selling drugs in a school zone or to anyone aged under 17.
  • A more permissive concealed weapon statute shot out of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee yesterday, making it very likely that the full chamber will address the highly controversial legislation before summer recess. HB 5551, approved on a slender 9-7 majority, requires that municipal gun control boards issue permits to carry concealed weapons to virtually anyone aged over 21 who requests one and completes a 12-hour safety course and passes a drug test. Unless a potential permittee is being treated for mental illness or has been convicted of a felony within the preceding eight years, the local authority may not refuse the permit. Supporters of the measure—similar to laws in 31 other states—contend that gun boards too often restrict concealed weapon permits to police personnel and the politically connected in their communities, thereby restricting, in the words of an NRA spokesman,” the right of law-abiding citizens to self-defense outside their homes.” Opponents envision a proliferation of guns on streets and in homes, triggering more accidental and impulse shootings.
  • Other legislation reported out of committee and likely to receive action before summer recess is designed to ground repeat drunk drivers. Under provisions of a nine-bill bipartisan package, a person convicted of a second drunk-driving offense would have his/her car immobilized by a tire “boot” for two weeks; a third such conviction would boot their vehicle for six months. The provisions, passed by the House Judiciary Committee, also would apply to third-and fourth-time convictions for driving without a license.
  • In a related measure, the full House unanimously passed HB 5123, which would impose penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine for drivers who cause the death of another while driving with a revoked or suspended license. The measure also would impose sanctions of two years in jail and a $1,000 fine for people found guilty of providing a vehicle to a driver with a suspended or revoked license.
  • Still more related news as a major travel holiday approaches: The numbers of drunk driving arrests and deaths declined last year, according to statistics just released by the Department of State Police. Arrests were down by 454 from the 1996 total of just over 61,000; deaths from alcohol-related accidents totaled 11 fewer than the 555 people killed in 1996.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

July 3

July 3, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • This week all was blue skies and fair weather inside the Capitol Building as well as out. Michigan lawmakers put the finishing touches on the state’s $8.8 billion general fund budget with much more harmony than often is the case. Only three budgets remain unresolved as Roundup goes to press (on Thursday afternoon), and no one is predicting that any midnight oil will be burned over them. In addition to appropriations for the Department of Community Health, Department of Transportation, and the judiciary, the governor’s proposed Clean Michigan Agenda bonding initiative—greatly expanded and renamed in the legislature—also awaits disposition before senators and representatives (and this publication) leave town for a ten-week recess
  • As legislators—and most everyone else—prepare to hit the highways this weekend, reports indicate that gasoline will be cheaper and construction projects less evident for the state’s second-largest motoring holiday. According to AAA Michigan, only Thanksgiving tops the 2.1 million travelers expected on state roads over the July 4 weekend. To accommodate the throngs, roughly two-thirds of the state’s record-breaking 150 construction projects will halt from 3 P.M. Thursday through 6 A.M. Monday. Gasoline prices are averaging 10 cents a gallon less than last year
  • Inevitably, in the waning pre-recess hours, some legislation gets left behind. Such was the fate this week of relaxed concealed weapon permit laws. While the cause was hot as a pistol last week, the seven-bill package was holstered by House leadership this week; proponents aim to make it a fall campaign issue.
  • Some would say the Senate was soft on rock-and-roll when it sent SB 1100 back to committee. Under the “concert decency” bill, parents would be warned about foul language and indecency in live musical performances. The measure would allow the local government in which a musical venue is located to review scheduled lyrics and, if they are deemed unseemly, require that warnings be printed on tickets and promotional materials. The bill was sent back to committee 19-13, despite the dire prediction of its sponsor—Sen. Dale Shugars (R-Portage)—that “this shock rock is poisoning the minds of our children.”
  • The strikes at General Motors plants in Flint are costing the state’s heretofore robust economy an estimated $130 million weekly in lost production, according to Detroit Free Press estimates. While not yet expected to cripple Michigan’s economy as did GM’s 1970 strike—blamed by some with pushing the whole nation into recession—the state is projected to lose some $16 million weekly in tax revenue if the walkouts continue through July.
  • Michiganians rarely have been safer, according to the State Police, whose 1997 Uniform Crime Statistics report shows a nearly 30-year low in “index” crime (the eight serious crimes—murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson—for which the rate of occurrence is believed to be a reliable indicator, or index, of overall crime ). Numbers in these categories dropped more than 5 percent to the lowest level since 1969. From 1996 to 1997, the 1.4 million total crimes reported were down nearly 7 percent—the sixth consecutive decrease and the lowest total level since 1973. Robberies and rapes plummeted by 14 and 11 percent, respectively, with murders inching upward just over 3 percent.
  • Administration plans to lease three downtown Lansing buildings for renovation as state offices were thrown back into the review process this week. Approval fell several votes short in the Joint Capital Outlay Subcommittee after House Speaker Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit) called for more study on the issue. Under the proposal, the state would pay more than $260 million in lease payments for the former Lansing Civic Center, the YWCA building, and building that formerly housed the State Library; at the end of the lease the state could purchase the first two for $1 each. Critics contend the state could build new structures more economically. Supporters argue that building new structures takes land and time and would necessitate raising the statutory limit on state building authority; furthermore, they say, the need is urgent and reusing these venerable Lansing landmarks is environmentally responsible.

NOTE: With this issue, Roundup suspends weekly publication until the legislation returns. Publication resumes on September 25.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

September 25

September 25, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Legislators convened briefly in Lansing for a two-week session before heading out today for five weeks on the campaign trail. Some say that between the November elections and the December 31 required adjournment date, this term’s lame-duck assembly may not walk at all: depending on the outcome of state campaigns, working sessions may never resume except for the brief, mandatory closing ceremony. With a record number of seats turning over, a beleaguered Democratic president weighing down his party’s ticket, and what many see as weakness at the top of the Democrat ticket, some pundits predict a GOP majority in the state House. In this scenario, Democrats could feel little eagerness to return to session in a chamber in which they would have minority status. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are said by some to feel sufficiently secure about their prospects of holding or increasing their upper-chamber majority that they see no rush to return to an agenda that still will be in their full control come the new legislative session. (NOTE: Roundup will resume weekly publication when the legislature reconvenes; at press time the date is an open question.)
  • Lawmakers’ most compelling chore in their short fall session was passing state budgets that were deadlocked in conference committee when the chambers adjourned in July. The chambers agreed to $7.5 billion for the Department of Community Health and just over $215 million the judiciary for the fiscal year that will begin next week. In other action, legislators and the governor agreed to a two-year school aid budget totaling $9.6 billion (minimum per pupil grant of $5,170) for FY 1998–99 and $9.9 billion (minimum per pupil grant of $5,652) for FY 1999–2000.
  • A 20-bill package imposing tougher sanctions on repeat drunk drivers wended its way through the waning hours of session. The Senate unanimously passed the measures, but the lower chamber balked over one bill’s provision that limits appealing a driver’s license suspension. The package’s passage, which includes among its features the issuance of specially marked, so-called “scarlet letter” license plates to repeat offenders, was a legislative priority for the short session.
  • The question of whether incumbent Gov. John Engler and challenger Geoffrey Fieger will square off in a public forum is no longer debatable. After an agreement broke down for an October 2 debate at the Economic Club of Detroit, Engler’s campaign staff announced that he will not accept any other date to publicly spar with his opponent. On Thursday House Democrats engaged in “deja vu all over again,” passing a measure virtually identical to one Engler had proposed in 1990 when he was the challenger: No debates, no public campaign money. If enacted (no chance, as the GOP-controlled Senate—which has recessed—would have to approve the bill and the governor sign it), in this campaign only the governor would suffer the penalty, because Fieger is ineligible for public funds (he overspent in the primary).
  • While You Were Out Department: Readers who were Up North, Out West, Back East, or otherwise engaged since the last solstice may need updating on the following long-running sagas:
    • The Michigan Employment Service (formerly MESA) settled its protracted dispute with the U.S. Labor Department. The latter accused the former of improperly outsourcing former civil service jobs. Under the agreement, a transition plan permits reinstatement of affected employees and restores $16 million in suspended federal funding.
    • The Michigan Biologic Products Institute—the nation’s last state-run vaccine manufacturer—was finally sold to the private firm BioPort for $25 million in cash, secured notes, and future royalties.
    • The legislature’s Joint Capital Outlay Committee approved state leases of three Lansing buildings for government office space. The panel earlier had rejected rental agreements for the Lansing Civic Center, the vacant YWCA, and the former Library of Michigan building, arguing that new facilities could be built more cost effectively than rented and renovated. The change of heart permits the Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and the Department of Agriculture to anticipate new digs in existing capital landmarks.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

November 13

November 13, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The 89th Legislature returned to the Capitol for its lamest ever lame-duck session last week as 64 term-limited lawmakers began considering their last hurrahs. As predicted, the session shapes up as brief, with a November 20 deadline for reporting Senate-originated bills to the floor; the cut-off date for the House is November 25. The chambers’ mandatory adjournment ceremony, sine die, is currently scheduled for December 22—which would make it one of the earliest adjournments in recent years.
  • When the 90th Legislature convenes next January 13, it will be under leadership elected in party caucuses this week and last. With GOP majorities in all three branches of government for the first time since the ’20s, Rep. Chuck Perricone (R-Kalamazoo Township) was tapped by his 57 colleagues as the new House Majority Leader. Joining Perricone in majority leadership positions were new Reps. Andrew Raczkowski (Farmington Hills) and Patricia Birkholz (Saugatuck) who will serve as Majority Floor Leader and Speaker pro tempore, respectively. House Democrats tapped Michael Hanley (Saginaw) as Minority Leader and Kwame Kilpatrick (Detroit) as Minority Floor Leader. In the upper chamber, Senate Republicans chose Dan DeGrow (Port Huron) to succeed Lieutenant Governor-elect Dick Posthumus as Majority Leader. Senate Dems reelected John Cherry (Clio) as Minority Leader.
  • The fond-farewell season got officially launched this week with a combination of verbal and floral tributes for retiring Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld. Each Senate colleague presented the presiding officer with a rose, and more than two dozen lawmakers praised Binsfeld’s contributions during a 24-year career in elective office.
  • Launching the executive branch farewell list was Treasurer Doug Roberts, who will close the books on 26 years of civil service this month. Roberts served three governors and will likely be best remembered for his role in crafting and championing 1994’s Proposal A school finance reform. Roberts’ chief deputy Madhu Anderson has been named acting treasurer; the governor has pledged a permanent appointment within 90 days.
  • The state’s tourism czar Richard Czuba is on a leave of absence to oversee John Engler’s third inauguration. Czuba’s travel and tourism expertise will help address the fundraising and event coordination of ceremonies that he envisions “befitting the greatest state in the nation and the greatest governor in America.”
  • One of John Engler’s first post-election pronouncements was that National Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson was “not up to the task.” Immediately thereafter, the Associated Press was buzzing with reports that Michigan GOP chairwoman Betsy DeVos was a possible challenger to the embattled Nicholson. DeVos has not publically commented on the prospect, which the AP interprets as her not having ruled out the possibility.
  • The State Court of Appeals has upheld the Engler administration’s controversial privatization of liquor warehousing and distribution. A unanimous appeals court ruling this week overturned a lower court finding that the much-challenged outsourcing violated the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
  • The House took a strong stand on contraband pop cans this week. HB 5061 sets a $50 fine for stores that fail to post a sign stating it is illegal to redeem can and bottle deposits on containers originally purchased out of state. Michigan loses an estimated $12 million annually, the bills supporters say, from beverage cans originally purchased in such border states as Indiana and Ohio—which lack bottle return laws—that are redeemed at ten cents apiece in Michigan.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

December 4 and 11

December 4, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Like shopping days ‘til Christmas, the available session days before legislators adjourn sine die are dwindling quickly, and lawmakers are struggling to cross off the three big items on their shopping list: electric deregulation, local revenue sharing, and a casino compact with state Indian tribes. (NOTE: The last issue of Roundup before adjournment probably will be December 11, with weekly publication resuming on January 21.)
  • A meeting this week among Detroit’s mayor, Michigan’s governor, and legislative leaders yielded a comprise revenue sharing plan that subsequently passed the House 58-33. With the growing political prominence of Kent and Ottawa counties, legislative unease with the current split of sales tax receipts—26 percent now goes to Detroit, a city accounting for 10 percent of the state’s population—has steadily mounted. Under HBs 5391 and 5989, which are tie-barred, the City of Detroit’s income tax will drop from three to two percent, while state revenue sharing payments will remain frozen at current levels through fiscal 2007–08. During this same period, the formula for distributing some $1.4 billion in aid statewide will shift from a system favoring high municipal tax burden to one based on population. The revenue loss for Michigan’s largest city under this compromise is substantial—estimated at $120 million over 10 years—but significantly less than that proposed under SB 1181, passed earlier in the year by the Senate, which immediately would have carved $100 million out of Detroit’s share.
  • With several polls suggesting that voters are measurably less interested in electric deregulation than are their legislators, lawmakers’ eleventh-hour surge to pass bills permitting Michiganians to shop around for electric power providers dimmed measurably this week with passage in the upper chamber of substitute SB 1340. The bill gives the force of law to regulations already promulgated by the Public Service Commission and stops well short of reforms championed by the governor and major state utilities. The complex topic has defied bipartisan resolution, and the bill’s fate in the House and mandatory adjournment may yet pull the plug on this issue for the time being.
  • Questions around casino gambling involve form as well as function, with House members debating whether to vote on HCR 115 or HB 5872. The former affirms three-year-old gubernatorially negotiated casino compacts with four newly recognized Indian tribes, while the latter essentially approves the same provisions but with additional limitations on casino operations. Although seven earlier gaming compacts were approved by legislative resolution, the attorney general has ruled since that any new compacts must be approved by a bill.
  • The halls of justice will be more than a metaphor in Lansing upon enactment of SB 906, passed in the Senate this week, providing about $88 million for a new facility that will house the state supreme and appeals courts under one roof. The authorization is included in the $160-million capital outlay budget, the final piece of the FY 1998–99 budget to receive legislative action. Following a 24-11 vote for passage in the upper chamber, the measure headed to the House for concurrence.
  • In an appointment underscoring the monolithic partisan complexion of the new legislature, Governor Engler’s director of state government affairs has moved from the executive to the legislative branch, to serve as chief of staff for incoming House Speaker Chuck Perricone (R-Kalamazoo): Manny Lentine, a former House policy analyst, will assume his duties as Perricone’s top aide on January 1.
  • Meanwhile, a distinctly bipartisan complexion will mark next week’s retirement dinner tribute to Michigan’s “eternal general,” outgoing Attorney General Frank Kelley. The Dearborn gala—the proceeds from which will help fund a chair endowed in Kelley’s name at the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University—will mark the first time in John Engler’s governorship that he will have appeared publicly with ex-guvs William Milliken and James Blanchard.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

December 11, 1998

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • ‘Tis the season as much for cynicism as sugarplums, judging from Detroit Free Press reportage of the 89th Legislature’s pre-adjournment hubbub. The Freep’s Dawson Bell recounts, “Amid the swirling, sometimes sordid, atmosphere of a legislature in end-of-term session, there is no such thing as a dead issue. Everything is related to everything else. And everybody is trying to make a deal. At times . . . aides will disappear out of the chamber, slipping off to confer with the governor, like car salesmen checking with the sales manager to see what kind of deal can be struck.” In a similar vein (the jugular), columnist Hugh McDiarmid characterizes a farewell dinner for outgoing legislators and officials as, in part, “a huge, lobbyist-drenched bacchanal designed to ensure that, in the free-wheeling, back-scratching, bought-and-paid-for world of Lansing realpolitik, nothing will ever change.”
  • Chief among the dead issues emerging early in the final week is HB 4674, House-passed hate-crimes legislation that would have added sexual orientation to Michigan’s ethnic intimidation laws. A vote to discharge the bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee to permit full Senate consideration of the measure failed 20-10, with two GOP lawmakers voting against their caucus in support of considering the bill.
  • The upper chamber gave its own twist to the much-bruited revenue sharing reform passed by the House last week with intense involvement from the governor’s office. Spurning the 10-year freeze on City of Detroit subsidies guaranteed in earlier versions of HB 5989, senators voted 32-6 to hold the freeze to 8½ years and funnel additional sales tax revenue to fast-growing townships. The changes substantially alter terms of an earlier compromise between the governor and Detroit’s mayor, Dennis Archer, and, some say, will exacerbate urban sprawl. After some late-night fine tuning, the House approved the package, restoring a “hold harmless” provision to ensure that outstate communities will not receive less revenue under the new system than they had received under the old.
  • Pay hikes all around for elected officials were approved last week by the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC). The gubernatorially appointed citizen panel sets salaries for officials elected statewide, legislators, and supreme court justices; SOCC recommendations automatically are implemented unless overturned by a two-thirds majority in legislative chambers before the following February 1. Over the next two years, the governor’s pay will climb by 18.8 percent (to $151,245), supreme court justices will see raises totaling 12.9 percent, and legislators and the lieutenant governor will receive a 7-percent hike. Some observers opine that the panel’s recommendations put pressure on legislators to reject them, since the proposed boost for the governor is the largest in 22 years. According to the Lansing State Journal, SOCC recommendations have been overturned by the legislature only once, in 1991, when a 16.6 percent hike was struck down.
  • Freshman legislators won key appointments in the recently announced Senate committee roster, reflecting the reality of term limits. A significant addition to the roster is the new Reapportionment Committee, responsible for drawing up the Senate’s version of legislative districts following the 2000 census. Sen. Bill Schuette (R-Midland) will chair the panel.
  • In the waning hours of the session Governor Engler and the Democratic House leadership were able to muster just enough votes for approval of compacts Engler had negotiated to permit Indian casinos to open in Battle Creek, Manistee, Mackinaw City, and New Buffalo. The 48-47 victory may be empty, however: An attorney general’s opinion has ruled that the concurrent resolution passed by the House is an improper format for legislative ratification of the compacts.
  • Addressing a rising number of snowmobile fatalities, the House passed a measure setting civil and criminal penalties for reckless use of the vehicles. House Bill 5717 establishes a range of infractions up through a felony charge punishable by two years’ imprisonment for careless driving that causes the crippling or death of another.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1998

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