Mar 31, 2009

Michigan Licensed Beverage Association puts out false information on workplace smoking ban


On the day before a committee vote on the workplace smoking ban, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) is dropping off in lawmaker’s offices a packet of cherry-picked studies that try and claim a smoking ban threatens sales and jobs in Michigan’s’ bars and restaurants.

Most of the studies are old and debunked, and they are conducted by groups like the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association. However, an independent study last April by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants Inc. called “Smoke-Free Workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan” concludes that “The Michigan restaurant and bar industry will experience no net economic impact from House Bill 4163.”

No one from the tobacco industry, the Michigan Restaurant Association or the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association can explain how less than 23 percent of the population who still smoke can have such a huge effect on business. How is that even possible?

The MLBA claim an Oct. 1, 2004 study of a smoking ban in Dallas, Texas claimed restaurants saw a 9 to 50 percent drop in sales. But when researchers from the Texas Department of State Health Services reviewed the study, they concluded that the methodology was flawed, the data used from the state was either misunderstood or misapplied, and the conclusions were simply wrong.

The Michigan study included a detailed review of 43 published research articles concerning the effects of smoke-free workplace legislation on bars, restaurants, tourism and gaming; seven studies of the public health consequences of environmental tobacco smoke or secondhand smoke, and numerous data related to ETS from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Michigan study examined two Texas studies that relied on 13 years of sales data and found no negative effects of smoke-free ordinances on restaurants. That trumps a one year Dallas study.

In four separate studies of New York City showed an increase in employment and sales tax receipts from these establishments. But the study by the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association claims $71.5 million in lost sales. Wow, those smokers have a lot – I mean a lot – of disposable income.

The fact is there have been absolutely no credible studies that show a negative economic impact resulting from a state-wide or country-wide smoking ban, and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association knows it.

The reality is that secondhand smoke kills. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen containing 4,000 chemicals, including 43 cancer-causing chemicals. Thousands of people die each year from secondhand smoke.

The absolute bottom line is this is a public health issue, and the false claims of lost sales do not trump the public health aspect.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the cost savings of eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace to be between $35 and $66 billion a year. Given the state of Michigan’s economy we really can’t afford not to go smoke-free.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee will meet at noon tomorrow - Wednesday, April 1 - in room 326 of the House Office Building in Lansing. According to the agenda, the committee plans to vote out House Bill 4377 introduced by Representative Lee Gonzales, D-Flint Township. This bill exempts casinos and so-called “cigar bars.”

While most people could live with a ban that has a few exceptions, including me, until people realize business will not be hurt by a ban and we get a total ban, the problem is the Senate will pass a bill with no exceptions, and we will get something like what occurred in December.

Is planned fitness center the new Livingston County YMCA?


The recent news that the private Cleary University in Genoa Township is planning to build a $3 million 30,000-square-foot fitness center featuring aerobic exercise machines, climbing wall, basketball courts, racquetball court and a lounge area in a former plant/warehouse in a nearby industrial park in partnership with the Livingston County Family YMCA has left me more confused than anything.

Is this the YMCA building the community has hungered for since 1978, or is this a country club-type, for-profit fitness club? That seems to be unclear. According to the Daily Press & Argus, “Cleary President Tom Sullivan said, roughly $300,000 has been raised for the project, which would be a joint effort between Cleary and the Livingston County YMCA.” “The university would be responsible for building the fitness center, and the YMCA would operate the facility, according to Sullivan.”
“He said discussions began 18 months ago, and the university reached out to students and community recreation organizations on what they would want in the fitness center.”

I have been advocating for a YMCA since I moved back to the county in 2000 when I was a reporter, and I’m proud to say I had a very small, tiny hand in getting the effort off the ground. Cleary has been instrumental in the YMCA effort from day one, but I don’t understand the relationship, based on my great experience with the YMCA in the past.

I have been critical of Cleary in the recent past because of its embrace of hatemniongers like Ann Coulter, Steve Emerson and Dick Morris. But I have a long relationship with the school, and my late mother-in-law helped establish the Livingston County campus.

The Livingston County Family YMCA is an affiliate of the Metro Detroit YMCA. The YMCA is the largest not-for-profit service organization in the U.S., and the mission of the YMCA is “Putting Christian principles into practice through programs that build spirit, mind, and body for all.”

The Livingston County Family YMCA began very small back in 2000 when a group of five people did a feasibility study for their required public service project for Cleary’s Leadership Livingston class.

After gradating from the program, the group stayed together and continued the grassroots effort of establishing the YMCA, and that included forming several study committees, forming a board of directors. In 2003 the board decided to affiliate with the Metro Detroit YMCA instead of forming an independent YMCA. In January of 2006 the public portion of the Livingston County Family YMCA Founders Fundraising Campaign officially got under way. In August the board hired long-time supporter and founder Dawn Palmer-Van Camp as The Livingston County Family YMCA’s first Executive Director.

The YMCA requires three years of programs before it will allow any fundraising for a building, and programming began in late 2005 with youth sports. The YMCA has been visible at all of the county's festivals and other events, but there has not been a lot of news about the campaign.

Is the $300,000 raised that Sullivan talks about part of that building fundraising campaign? Is the fitness center the start of a building?

Mar 30, 2009

Two-thirds of Michigan voters favor a smoking ban in all workplaces


A recent poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing shows that two-thirds of Michigan voters favor a smoking ban in all workplaces, including Detroit’s casinos.

The poll was commissioned by the Campaign for Smokefree Air, and it was conducted on March 19-22 by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. It polled 600 registered voters, and 66 percent favored a workplace smoking ban.

The results of the poll comes just days before the House Regulatory Reform Committee is expected to vote out a bill to the full House floor. Committee Chair Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, said he wants to report a bill out before the Legislature goes on its two-week Spring break, and Thursday is the last day before the break.

The workplace smoking ban passed both the House and Senate last session, but the differences in the two bills killed the ban. The House version exempted Detroit casinos and so-called “cigar bars.” The Senate passed a clean version with no exceptions.

The Regulatory Reform Committee will meet at noon Wednesday, April 1 in room 326 in the House Office Building at 124 N. Capitol in Lansing to report out a smoking ban bill. The hearing is open to the public.

Real Chicago style politics

No one could miss the disgusting attacks on President Obama with the ridiculous smear, “Chicago style politics.”

Apparently, the smear is meant to imply Obama and Mayor Richard Daley - both father and son - are corrupt. There is no evidence of any corruption, but that doesn’t stop them from saying it. It falls into the GOP strategy of “if you tell a lie often enough people start to believe it.”

But a recent police report concerning former Cook County Republican Chairman Gary Skoien demonstrated the real “Chicago style politics.”

It seems Skoien had two prostitutes in his children’s playroom when his wife walked in on him earlier this month. His 36-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch, 110-pound wife beat him with her fists and an electric guitar, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

It’s also one more case of the real family values from a party that loves to tell us they are the party of family values.

Author talks about generational connection with Tiger Stadium


HOWELL -- “Old buildings bring life to stories. They put a foundation to memories.”

That’s a quote from the preface of Michigan author Tom Stanton’s book “The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark.” Stanton decided to attend and document all 81 homes games in historic Tiger stadium during the final season of the stadium in 1999.

“Some people are put off by the fact that I went to all 81 games, and they think it’s a rehash of what happened about the games,” Stanton said. “It’s much more than that.”

The book is more about how four generations of his Michigan family are connected through Tiger Stadium. It’s a human story about his relationship with his teenage son, his father and his father’s brothers. It is also a look at Tiger Stadium’s final season through the eyes the fans who love the historic stadium, as well as through the eyes of the stadium ushers, concessionaires, parking lot attendants, broadcasters and ballplayers.

The former journalist has written three books since he published The Final Season nine years ago, but he has not received nearly the amount of feedback from the others.

“It’s still in print; which is really amazing,” Stanton said. “I still get letters every week through the web site on the book.
“So many generations have been touched through Tiger Stadium,” he said. “People see their own story in the book.”

Stanton’s book is one of the two books chosen as part of Livingston Reads 2009. The theme this year is "Play Ball.“ The six district libraries in the county choose a book for the entire community to read. The goal is to get people talking about the book, and they also hold a series of coordinated events at each library that includes author talks, movies and other events. Livingston Read runs through May 31.

Stanton spoke last week at the Howell Carnegie District Library before a room full of baseball and Tiger Stadium fans, and his stories and anecdotes entertained the crowd.

“This is nothing against basketball, football or hockey, but there is no body of literature like there is romanticizing baseball,” he said.

Stanton’s book bemoans the fact that there has never been a successful effort to save or preserve any baseball stadium. In the book, he talks to a woman who was part of a group dedicated to saving iconic Fenway Park in Boston; the oldest major league stadium that opened the same day as Tiger Stadium.

There is an effort to save what remains of Tiger Stadium at one of the most famous addresses in U.S. History, Michigan and Trumbull, where baseball has been played before the turn of the 20th Century. Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy plans to use the preserved portion of the old ballpark as a magnet for economic development.

The project includes a dugout-to-dugout section that would be converted to commercial space, a museum housing the second largest collection on baseball memorabilia in the country and a community center. The playing field would be renovated for youth and high school baseball and community events.

I can just imagine the outcry - which I agree with - if someone tried to tear down the historic Livingston County Courthouse. Then why is it OK to tear down something as historic, memory-filled and beloved as Tiger Stadium?

Stanton said he had to be there when Tiger Stadium underwent the initial demolition, much like you have to be at the bedside of a dying parent to tell them how you really feel about them and to say goodbye.

“Every time I went by the stadium, there were people there at all times of the day,” Stanton said. “You have to be a baseball fan to understand when you saw tears in their eyes.”

Mar 27, 2009

Misguided pay cut resolution approved in the Senate


LANSING – This is a pretty simple concept: if you want the best and the brightest, you have to pay for them.

That concept was lost Thursday when the Michigan Senate approved Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 11, which approved the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) recommendation that would reduce salaries and expense allowances of members of the Legislature, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and the Secretary of State by 10 percent. It was a nothing but pure politics. State lawmakers will see their $79,650 annual salary go to $71,685 in 2011.

Here is an example of how it is being politicized: the official GOP blogger over at wrong Michigan gives us this lie of a headline: “MI Senate Dems oppose cutting their own pay, defend $80K salaries.”

First, they are not cutting their own salaries because it does not affect them. It does not take effect until 2011. Of the 37 current senators, 30 are term-limited and will not be back. It was a voice vote, and no votes were recorded. However, it passed with 29 votes. Considering there are 21 Republicans in the Senate, this was a bipartisan vote. Seven did not vote. and Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, had the courage and good sense to vote no.

The money saved by this move is nothing in a $44 billon budget, and it doesn't even effect this budget. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, tried to tie it to her Senate Resolution 15 that would save taxpayers $3 million by eliminating the current disparity in the budgets for Republican and Democratic Senators. Democratic offices would receive the same amount of money as Republicans. GOP Senate offices have five staffers, but Democrats only have three. Over in the Democratic controlled House, each office has the same amount of staffers; two in each office.

“The fact of the matter is that the Senate majority leadership runs it both ways,” Whitmer said. “They like to beat up on state employees and ask for another year of concessions and say, “Look, we’ve taken some cuts,” when the truth is these cuts don’t impact any of us.
“They just impact the next Legislature,” she said “So you still haven’t given up a darn thing. No nominations for profiles in courage here today.”

WrongMichigan then tried to take Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, to task for standing up and telling the truth: if you want the best people available you have to give them a fair wage.

“I personally don’t think, coming out of the auto industry as an auto worker, that this is too much money,” Basham said. “We do not make any more money than a school teacher, police officer, or firefighter.
“As a matter of fact, some $70,000 is what one of my mayors said her dogcatcher makes,” she said. “So I will look anyone in the eye and say I earn my pay, and I hope that other legislators would do their work and earn their pay too.”

You will recall the uproar over the 38 percent pay raise state elected officials received in 2000. But when you consider the last time they had a raise, it comes out to about 1 percent a year; that’s less than the rate of inflation. And nine years later, 2000 was the last raise they have received.

Many of the 148 state lawmakers travel from places as far away as the UP to be in Lansing. Because that is so far away, many rent rooms in Lansing in order to do business. Granted, the Legislature only meets three days a week, but the demands on their time is tremendous.

I cringe when I hear people advocating for a part-time legislature. If we pay people so little or go part-time all we will get are retired people, independently wealthy people and very young people who do not yet have a fulltime job. I don’t want 148 Dick Devos, Dennis Lennoxs or Joe Hunes in the Michigan Legislature. I want a cross section of the state that is at the top of their field. Asking them to take that big a pay cut will not attract the best.

How people can defend the salary of someone like GOP Gubernatorial candidate and Domino's CEO and pitchman David Brandon who makes $13 million – making him the second highest paid CEO in Michigan, but you think lawmakers overseeing a $44 billon budget make too much money at $79,000? That’s ridiculous. Domino's earned $54 million in 2008, but it’s OK to make $13 million a year? CEOS make 262 times what the average worker makes. In 1965 the average CEO was only earning 24 times more.

The most disgusting display was that of rightwing nut Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond. In the debate over the resolution, he went on a babbling tirade about the Democrats in general; from the President all the way down to the Macomb County Board of Commissioner. This was the first time I ever saw a Senator that had to be warned to stay on topic. This is also the same nut who thought he was Nikita Khrushchev and banged his shoe on the gavel last month. I wonder if he was a drama major in school.

He even took out after House Democrats who passed a simple three-part ethics package earlier this week that the GOP-led Senate killed last session.

“I find it a bit ironic that the party that brought you Kwame Kilpatrick and Barny Frank would be leading on ethics reform,” he said.

I find it a lot ironic that the party of “Casino” Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Ralph Reed and Duke Cunningham would even open its mouth about ethics, but it is fitting that they continue to be the people who block ethics laws. What was even funnier was his insincere apology afterward.

At the end of session, he “apologized” if he "offended anyone in any way today.” How about apologizing for your stupid, offensive display instead of for what other people may have felt?

Mar 26, 2009

“Beadwindow” Hoekstra still plans to run for Governor after security mishap


Pete “Beadwindow” Hoekstra will be the guest speaker the Livingston County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner on April 15, and apparently his bid to be Michigan’s next Governor is still alive.

Apparently, local media is reporting the U.S. Congressman plans to tour the state on Monday and announce whether he is running for governor. I’m amazed he is still running for governor after his massive security breach last month.

You will recall the ranking Republican member on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee gave away the location of friendly personnel on an unsecured communications device in Iraq. Hoekstra revealed a secret congressional trip to Iraq on Twitter.

The fact that this guy is still running after that massive brain fart is amazing, let alone he is still on the committee and he still has a security clearance.

Mar 25, 2009

Negative myths about workplace smoking ban debunked at Committee hearing


LANSING -- Opponents of the workplace smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, got their supporters out at the second hearing on the smoking ban before the House Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday, but supporters of the ban used science and personal stories to offset the false myths.

All of the opposition came from tobacco funded lobbyist groups like the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association. The CEOs of MGM Grand Casino and the Motor City Casino testified about the ventilation system just a week after the Committee made a field trip to the two casinos. They also again floated the false claim that a smoking ban would cause them a drop in business of 11 to 22 percent.

Dr. Greg Holzman, the medical officer from the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), debunked the myth that the ventilation system will make a difference.

“There has been no ventilation system that clears out secondhand smoke,” he said. “There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke.”

Holzman said the damage caused by secondhand smoke has not been in doubt for more than 20 years.

“No one should have to make a choice between a paycheck and their health,” he said. “The science is very clear; secondhand smoke causes premature death and sickness.”

Cliff Douglas, the Executive Director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network, also debunked the casinos ventilation claim. Douglas was involved in the effort than banned smoking on commercial airliners 20 years ago.

“The ventilation systems give people a false sense of security that they will be protected, and they aren’t,” he said. “This was the same issue with the airline smoking ban, and it was put to rest 20 years ago.”

Douglas also put to rest the myth that bars and restaurants lose business when they enact a smoking ban. Study after study has proven that not to be true, including a report last spring by the Lansing research firm Public Sector Consultants Inc. called “Smokefree workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan.” No one addressed how less than a quarter of the population who still smokes can control so much money and have such an effect on business.

However, he did say the info on casinos is sketchy, but he cited Delaware where revenue increased 2 percent when a smoking ban was enacted.

“Every single peer-reviewed study that examines sales records and tax receipts has shown there has never been a loss of business because of a smoking ban,” he said. “Many have seen an increase in business.”

Dr, Mary Goldman, a general practitioner from Northville for 20 years, talked about a former patient who died of lung cancer after working as a cocktail waitress from age 18 to 42, even though she had never smoked a day in her life.

“She was killed by secondhand smoke, clearly,” she said.

The Regulatory Reform Committee will be taking another field trip this Friday at a so-called “cigar bar.”

They will be at La Case De La Habana in Plymouth, 3780 Jackson Rd., 48103, from 1:30 to 2 p.m. The committee will be at Smokey's Fine Cigars, 1423 E Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor from 2:30 to 3 p.m. All committee meetings are open to the public.

The Committee expects to meet at its regular time and place - noon at Wednesday April 1 in room 326 in the House Office Building at 124 N. Capitol in Lansing- to report out a smoking ban bill.

Death of the A2 News is a blow to Democracy


The bad news continues for democracy and the vital watchdog role newspapers play with the news of the death of the Ann Arbor News.

The corporation that owns the newspaper announced on Monday that the daily paper will be shutting down in July after publishing for 174 years, and it will switch to some Internet-only, social networking thing. Very few of the 272 employees will be hired back. Ad production, copy editing, circulation and accounting will be outsourced. I have even heard of reporting being outsourced, and that is possibility here.

The Livingston Daily Press & Argus is now reporting that the Livingston Community News, a weekly edition covering the county owned by the A2 News, is also folding in July.

Livingston County went from a community covered by the Detroit News with a bureau in downtown Howell and the Ann Arbor News coverage to just the Press & Argus.

As a reporter for 12 years and an avid fan of newspapers since I could read, this is indeed a sad day. Even if the same coverage was provided on a web based product – which will not happen – there is nothing like holding a newspaper in your hands, reading it at the breakfast table or reading it at places inconvenient for a computer.

Jack Lessenberry, who was once briefly my boss when he was hired as the executive editor of Hometown Newspapers before it was sold to Gannett, said it much better than I can on his blog.

“I can tell you right now that the Watergate scandal would never have been exposed by WashingtonDeeCee.com, had that existed then,” he wrote. “Nor do I see AnnArbor.com telling in-depth stories about what is happening with local government and education.”

I wish I had a dollar for every evening I sat at a school board meeting, township board meeting, planning commission meting, village council meeting or city council meeting. That coverage will be gone with the demise of newspapers. I will always remember the first time a citizen approached the microphone during the public comment section of a meeting clutching the newspaper in their hand and quoting something from an article I had written. I was terrified I would get something wrong. From that point on every article I ever wrote I envisioned a person reading it at a public hearing.

I know some of the A2 reporters who will lose their jobs. Frankly, there were times when I hated them, especially when I was scooped by them. But over the years I got to know them. I really got to know one departed former reporter while covering Green Oak Township when it was called “Green Joke Township.”

The meetings were tumultuous and newsworthy, and they often ran until midnight. About two-thirds into the meeting, the board always went into closed session, and the diehards were left to talk until the board came back. You couldn’t leave because you had no idea what they would say when they came back, and you didn’t want your competition to scoop you.

That competition made you work harder. That incentive is now gone in Livingston County.

In fact, it was the Ann Arbor News and the Detroit News that finally forced the Press & Argus to go daily in 2000; a move that should have taken place years ago.

The Ann Arbor news came out with something called the Livingston County edition, and because they were published daily and the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press were published just twice a week, they were beating us badly.

Not long after that I left to take a job Downriver, and it wasn’t long before the Detroit News opened a bureau in the county to publish a Livingston County edition. I knew the handwriting was on the wall, and management could no longer ignore the rumblings that it should publish a daily edition.

It was that confirmation that led me to come back to Livingston County, and being part of the first daily start-up in Michigan in 50 years was both historic and exciting; and even a little scary.

This is a sad day and a blow to both journalism and democracy.

Mar 24, 2009

Second public hearing on workplace smoking ban on tap as tobacco company picks up lobbying effort


LANSING – The House Regulatory Reform Committee will take up the workplace smoking ban again at noon on Wednesday.

The second public hearing will be held at noon March 26 in room 326 of the House Office Building. The committee took testimony on the workplace smoking ban in front of a standing room only crowd last Wednesday. The committee is coming off a field trip on Friday where they visited some venues supposedly affected by the smoking ban, that includes bars and restaurants.

The committee visited the Greektown Casino, Detroit dance Club Intus, the MGM Casino and the Henry Ford Hospital. I don’t understand why thy visited two casinos, let alone one. It was the exception to Detroit casinos that killed the bill last year. The House passed a version that excluded casinos and the Senate approved a clean bill, and the conference committee could not or refused to reach a compromise.

The tobacco companies and the casinos are stepping up lobbying efforts as the ban progressed farther than it ever had last year in the 10 years it has been proposed. According to a report just released by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was the top-spending corporate lobbyist in 2008 in Michigan at $470,832. The amount is 17 times more than Reynolds American spent on lobbying in Michigan in 2006.

Mar 23, 2009

Griffin files to run for Senate seat


Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, officially filed to run for the vacant seat in the Michigan Senate last week.

The seat in the 19th District that represents Calhoun and Jackson counties was vacated with the election of Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, to the U.S. House in November.

This election will be the first step in retaking the Senate in 2010, and the Senate Republicans have been the biggest obstacle to getting meaningful legislation passed. The filing deadline is May 12, the primary is Aug. 4, and the General Election is Nov. 3. So far, Griffin is the only official Democrat in the race.

Griffin was first elected to the House in 2006 when Democrats took control of the House. Prior to that, Griffin served as the Mayor of Jackson from 1995 - 2006. Griffin has experience in government at all levels; local, state and federal. He served for 12 years as a staff member in the Michigan Legislature and five years with U.S. Rep. Carl Pursell.

Griffin also has a long list of accomplishments and involvement, including chairing the Jackson County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, a member of the Economic Development Corporation of Jackson, a member of the National Association of Realtors, a member of the City of Jackson Planning Commission, a Trustee of Ella Sharp Park Board, a Downtown Kiwanis member, Urban Core Mayors Group, Trustee for Police and Fire Pension Boards and on the Cascade Humane Society Capital Campaign.

LIVCO Democratic Party seminar debunks anti-union lies


The Republican Party and the rightwing are spinning out of control to put out misinformation on the recently introduced federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that removes some of the obstacles to forming unions. The Livingston County Democratic Party is sponsoring a seminar to debunk some of those lies, myths and misinformation.

Brent Gillette, the national field director for the Michigan AFL-CIO, will speak at the LIVCO Democratic Party headquarters at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The party HQ is located at 10321 Grand River Ave. Suite 600 in Brighton 48116.

The bill simply allows employees at a worksite who want a union to sign a card clearly indicating support for a union, and the company is required to recognize the union when a majority of workers indicate they want it. Under current law, even if a majority of workers indicate they want collective bargaining representation, management can call for an election, which simply gives them time to call in professional union busters.

Employers have unfettered access to employees leading up to the election where they threaten to fire the main organizers and even bluff that the company will close if it unionizes.

The biggest GOP talking point is that the EFCA will take away the “secret ballot.” Simply not true. The EFCA simply takes that power out of the hands of management and puts it into the hands of the employees. The employers can petition for a “secret ballot” election anytime.

Mar 20, 2009

Possible Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate gets free TV ads


Politicians spend millions of dollars on TV advertising, but imagine the money a candidate can save for other things if the company does it for you for free.

That’s the situation for Domino's Pizza CEO and possible Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate David Brandon. The company began running prime time TV ads starring the former South Lyon native and former University of Michigan Regent. Brandon has been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor along with a big cast of character, such as Attorney General Mike Cox, Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.

However, Brandon doesn’t have the kind of statewide name recognition people like Cox, Land and Patterson have. These commercials will certainly change that. I wonder if you will give his opponents equal time.

The newest Brandon ad called "Pizza Big Taste Bailout” is rather offensive; given the rightwing causes Domino's has supported in the past and continues to push.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer called out Brandon’s hypocrisy for the company’s “Bailout” TV ad.

“CEO Brandon apparently thinks the country’s current economic crisis is funny and just another opportunity to sell pizzas,” Brewer said in a press release. “In fact, these ads are the height of hypocrisy because Brandon and Domino’s have long supported the policies and elected officials which allowed the reckless and greedy abuses by Wall Street CEO’s, banks and insurance companies which created the current economic crisis.”

Personally, I haven’t eaten much Domino’s pizza since former owner Tom Monaghan sold the Detroit Tigers. They are my second choice because they are headquartered in Michigan. My first choice is a true Michigan company that currently owns the Tigers as well as the Red Wings, Little Caesar's Pizza.

The company was founded and owned by Mike and Marian Ilitch. They are truly committed to Michigan and the community. In addition to their Veterans Program, they established the non-profit foundation called the Love Kitchen to feed the hungry and homeless in the U.S. and Canada, feeding more than 1.5 million people in need since 1985. The mobile kitchen's planned use is focused on special programs and disaster relief efforts, and in October of 2001 traveled to New York City to feed rescue workers at the World Trade Center site.

“Pizza, Pizza.”

Mar 19, 2009

Democrats poised to take back traditional Democratic statewide offices


A poll conducted by Marketing Resource Group for Bill Ballanger’s Inside Michigan Politics of possible match-ups in the 2010 races for Michigan Secretary of State and Attorney General show Republican candidates having a slight lead over Democrats.

For secretary of state the poll showed Sen. Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau, at 33 percent to 28 percent for House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee. There are three other GOP candidates for the position, and until I heard Angerer’s name mentioned, I thought Wayne State University law Professor Jocelyn Benson was the only Democratic candidate.

Benson has an excellent and impressive resume, and I think she would be a top-notch SOS, especially after six years of the most partisan SOS in Michigan history. That’s until I heard about Angerer possibly running. With zero publicity and not even a mention of her running, Angerer is just 5 percentage points behind with 37 percent undecided.

There are at least three other potential candidates for the GOP nomination, but none of them compare to Angerer or Benson. I wanted Angerer to run for Senate in the 17th District in 2010. My hometown should not have a Republicans representing it. Angerer unseated a Republican incumbent in 2004, and she can do it again.

I worked in Angerer’s House office as the world’s oldest intern. You can’t find anyone in Lansing who doesn’t respect her.

After Angerer unseated the incumbent Republican, she was a target of the Republicans in the GOP-controlled House for tow years, and Republicans refused to let her even get the simplest of resolutions passed. She spent those two years building the best constituent operation in the state and really learning the issues. In the meantime, the person she unseated spent those two years in the district campaigning and raising money. She won even bigger in 2006, along with the Democrats who took control of the House.

She has earned the respect of colleagues, opponents, staff on both sides of the aisle and House employees down to the janitorial staff. With her seat safe last November, Angerer campaigned for other House candidates, helping Democrats increase their lead by nine seats to give them 67 seats.

The same numbers played out in the poll for attorney general. Republican Bill Schuette edged out Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, 33 percent to 28 percent with 39 percent undecided. Whitmer, like Angerer, has not announced she is running. The poll did not include the other two Republicans; Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and Sen. Bruce Patterson. Bishop has been campaigning in the Senate by pandering and irresponsibly blowing a hole in the budget.

Crowd jams committee hearing room to show support for indoor smoking ban


LANSING – A packed house took in the testimony Wednesday at the House Regulatory Reform Committee meeting in the first of three planed hearings on the indoor smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants.

An overflow committee room had to be set up to accommodate the crowd, and they watched it on closed circuit TV. Many people showed up to tell their personal stories of the loved ones they have lost from deadly secondhand smoke, and medical doctors showed up to reinforce the science behind their support of the ban.

Tobacco funded lobbyist groups like the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and the Michigan Restaurant Association floated the debunked claim that a ban will hurt business and put them out of business.

Dr. Greg Holzman, the medical officer from the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), testified about the harm secondhand smoke causes. He also told the committee how desperate people are to quit. The DCH Quit Line that offers free nicotine patches and counseling received 65,600 calls in just five days and had to be shut down.

“When you get 65,000 calls to the quit line it tells you people want to quit,” he said. “When you are addicted you reach for any help you can find.”

Dr. David Share, testifying on behalf of the Michigan Medical Society that represents more than 14,000 physicians in Michigan, said the science is why the society supports the ban.

“This isn’t about limiting smoking or limiting the sale of tobacco; it’s about secondhand smoke,” he said. “It causes death and numerous diseases. Cleaning or ventilating the air does not protect people from secondhand smoke.”

The committee will meet again at noon on Wednesday March 25 in room 326 in the House Office Building at 124 N. Capitol in Lansing to take more testimony, and it plans to vote out a bill the following Wednesday April 1. All committee meetings are open to the public.

Mar 18, 2009

Discriminatory constitutional amendment passes the Senate


LANSING -- Just 24 hours after a proposed constitutional amendment that would have blown a $253 million hole in the budget failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote for passage, Senate Republicans moved to reconsider it, and it passed by a vote of 29-8 on Wednesday.

Senate Joint Resolution H would amend the state Constitution to ban a property's taxable value from increasing any year its assessed value decreases. According to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, it would cost state and local governments $253 million in revenues and local schools $75 million, and that would directly hurt local governments that have lost $3 billon in revenue sharing since 2001.

“That’s $3 billion under our watch since 2001,” said Sen. Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods. “So what we are going to do again today is put another nail in the coffin for local services that are barely able to meet the needs of our constituents.”

Under Proposal A passed in 1994 when property values were rising so fast that many senior citizens could no longer afford to stay in their homes because of the increasing property taxes, property tax increases were capped at the rate of inflation or 5 percent, which ever is less. Proposal A represented a very large cut in the property taxes of homeowners, and continues to protect homeowners from exorbitant increases. Unfortunately, while property values might decline, inflation has continued, so taxes have continued to rise at that rate, currently about 3 percent.

Jacobs said Pontiac only has 66 police officers right now, and this will hurt other municipalities as well.

“We must at least try to make whole the services that we need to basically keep our doors open in Michigan,” she said. “In this bad economy, the demand for government services is even greater.”

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, introduced an amendment that would have reimbursed local taxing authorities for the money lost because of SJR H, but it failed 15-22.

“This amendment will ensure that they are protected from those devastating cuts; protecting those who protect us—the cops; and protecting those who need us the most—kids,” she said.

Senate Democrats also opposed the resolution because it’s simply not fair because new homeowners will pay more than someone who has been in their home longer.

“Not everybody in Michigan has been in their home like I have for 30 years,” Jacobs said. “Now again, today, we are going to pass something that will totally benefit me again, but it is not going to benefit the other 50 percent of people in Michigan who really do need their property tax relief.”

Democrats changed their votes after Governor Jennifer Granholm said the proposal deserved to be part of the discussion on the overall fairness of state taxes. The resolution must be approved by the House before it goes on the ballot to be approved by voters.

Senate Republicans continue budget-busting moves to curry favor with voters


LANSING – Michigan Senate Republicans continue to give the store away with no regard for the state of the current budget in a thinly disguised move to curry favor with voters when they campaign for election in 2010.

This time they introduced Senate Joint Resolution H Tuesday that would amend the state Constitution to ban a property's taxable value from increasing any year its assessed value decreases. According to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, it would cost state and local governments $253 million in revenues and local schools $75 million. This is money used for police, fire, keeping streets cleared of ice and snow and many other things.

“This is coming from the party that says that we care about law enforcement,” said Sen. Gretchen Whiter, D-East Lansing. “Well, we can’t enact sentencing reform because we don’t want to look soft on crime. Do you know what makes up the largest portion of municipalities’ budgets? Police—public safety.”

Some homeowners have complained that their property taxes are increasing while the value of their home is falling. However, under Proposal A passed in 1994 when property values were rising so fast that many senior citizens could no longer afford to stay in their homes because of the increasing property taxes, property tax increases were capped at the rate of inflation or 5 percent, which ever is less. Proposal A represented a very large cut in the property taxes of homeowners, and continues to protect homeowners from exorbitant increases. Unfortunately, while property values might decline, inflation has continued, so taxes have continued to rise at that rate, currently about 3 percent.

Clearly, proposal A contains important provisions to protect property owners from excessive increases in taxes when property values are increasing. Similar protections do not exist, however, to ensure property taxes do not increase when values are declining.

Senator Deb Cherry, D-Flint, said the resolution perpetuates inequity because Proposal A has held taxes down for people who have owned the home for years, but when the home is sold the taxable value pops up to meet the assessed value, and those people who buy the home are paying a higher tax than people who have owned a home for many years.

“Senate Joint Resolution H offers tax benefits to property owners who are already seeing reduced taxation compared to their neighbors due to Proposal A,” she said. “Senate Joint Resolution H seeks to disrupt the natural economic market and create an artificial barrier to change.”

For a Constitutional Amendment to be approved, it requires a two-thirds vote, which is 25 votes. It failed on a 23-11, but three Senators were absent and the Republicans moved to reconsider the vote at another date.

This budget-busting and showy move that was introduced solely so that Republicans can get on the stump and say they are tax-cutters comes on the heels of a similar move last week by Senate Republicans to bust the budget to make themselves look good.

They approved a bill that would amend the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) to make it easier to receive a tax credit against the MBT, and it increased the income limits affecting eligibility of CEOs who can get the credit from $180,000 a year to $210,000. The bill could reduce state revenues by $47 million. They also approved two more bills that will cost the state $80.6 million and at least $144 million in lost tax revenue, including another $106 million from the School Aid Fund.

Mar 17, 2009

Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee to hear testimony on foreclosure lifeline bills


LANSING -- Homeowners facing foreclosure may be able to catch a lifeline Wednesday when the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee will take testimony on a three-bill package of bills passed earlier this month in the House.

The Committee will meet 9 a.m. Wednesday in room 210 in the Farnum Building, 125 W. Allegan St. across from the Capitol. The hearing, like all committee hearings, is open to the public.

The plan was conceived by the House Democrats, and the plan will create a 90-day reprieve from foreclosure for homeowners who commit to working with their lender and a housing counselor. Counselors are available through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

"Most homeowners who face foreclosure never thought they would find themselves in that position," said Rep. Andy Coulouris, D-Saginaw, lead sponsor of the plan. "This plan is not a bailout; it's a lifeline for our hard-working homeowners who deserve a little extra time to work things out.
“Helping homeowners find a way to stay in their home is the right thing to do not only for them, but for taxpayers and our economy as well,” he said.

The bills up for consideration are House Bill 4453, introduced by Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit; HB 4454, introduced by Coulouris; and HB 4455, introduced by Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit.

Lansing will be the place to be on Wednesday; following the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee hearing, you can attend the House Regulatory Reform Committee hearing that is meeting to discuss an indoor smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants at noon on Wednesday in room 326 in the House Office Building at 124 N. Capitol in Lansing.

You can conclude the day with a fundraiser for the next Senator for the 9th District, Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson. The fundraiser is set for 4:30 – 6 p.m. at the Governor’s Room at 121 W. Allegan, right next to the Farnum Building at Capitol and Allegan.

Fundraiser for the next state Senator from the 19th District on tap


If you’re going to be in Lansing for Wednesday’s hearing of the House Regulatory Reform Committee at noon for the discussion of the indoor smoking ban, plan on sticking around for the fundraiser for Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson.

Griffin is an announced candidate for 19th District Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer's, D-Battle Creek, election to the U.S. House. The fundraiser is set for 4:30 – 6 p.m. March 18 at the Governor’s Room at 121 W. Allegan, right next to the Farnum Building at Capitol and Allegan.

This election will be the first step in retaking the Senate in 2010, and the Senate Republicans have been the biggest obstacle to getting meaningful legislation passed. The filing deadline is May 12, the primary is Aug. 4, and the General Election is Nov. 3. So far, Griffin is the only official Democrat in the race.

Mar 16, 2009

If you save it they will come


If you build it, they will come, or to modify the famous premise of the classic Kevin Costner baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” if you refurbish it they will come. It being historic Tiger Stadium. I know I will come.

Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy is working hard to preserve what’s left of historic Tiger Stadium at one of the most famous addresses in U.S. History, Michigan and Trumbull. Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy plans to use the preserved portion of the old ballpark as a magnet for economic development in a distressed area, and the ambitious $27 million redevelopment project includes a dugout-to-dugout section that would be converted to commercial space and a community center. The playing field would be renovated for youth and high school baseball and community events.

What a thrill it would be to play on the same field as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, George Kell, Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, not to mention Detroit Lions Lem Barney, Joe Schmidt, Bobby Layne and Charlie Sanders.

Renovated Tiger Stadium will include museum quality exhibits, a banquet hall and retail. Fans will be able to explore the clubhouses, dugouts and the broadcast booth. The most exciting feature that will bring visitors from all over the world to the Stadium and Detroit will be the Harwell Museum.

Hall of Fame Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell has been the voice of the Tigers from 1960 to 2002, and his collection of baseball memorabilia is second only to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I made a pilgrimage to Cooperstown a few years ago, and it is an experience I will never forget. I hesitate to put a price tag on Ernie’s collection, considering he is priceless, but it is easily in the millions of dollars. It would be great to be Cooperstown Midwest.

The good news is President Obama‘s recently approved $410-billion omnibus spending bill has a $3.8 million expenditure to help preserve Tiger Stadium and spur economic development. Some idiots, both at the national level and amazingly even here in our own state, oppose that as wasteful spending. Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn pushed an amendment to the legislation that would strip out 11 earmarks that he said “looked a little stinky to me.” Tiger Stadium was No. 2 on Coburn’s hit list. That ridiculous amendment failed.

Preservation of historic buildings is an important function, and is there anything more historic to more generations of Michiganders that Tiger Stadium and the Corner?

Professional baseball has been played at the Corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1895, and from 1912 to 1999 generations of fathers and sons have enjoyed watching great baseball while making memories that last a lifetime, whether it was at Bennett Park, Navin Field, Briggs Stadium or Tiger Stadium.

Memories of the first time people ever set foot in Tiger Stadium are as numerous as mosquitoes on a July evening in Michigan. I was just 10-years-old when I made a group trip with the Monroe Midget Baseball League in 1968. We were all in our uniforms, and I will never forget when I stepped up the ramp to the left field bleachers and took in the field for the first time. The green of the outfield grass literally took my breath away, and it cemented my growing love affair with baseball and Tiger Stadium that has never ended; even when it was severely tested during the season when a strike wiped out the World Series.

To really get a feel for Tiger Stadium, read the book by Tom Stanton called “The Final Season.” The journalist attended all 81 homes in the final season, and it’s a touching and memorable book. His book was chosen as the book for Livingston Reads 2009, and he will be appearing at the Howell Carnegie District Library at 6:30 p.m. March 26. Registration is not required.

More importantly, to make a donation to save Tiger Stadium and preserve the most historic ball park in America, send a personal check to

The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy
PO Box 141193
Detroit, MI 48214

The Conservancy is a tax-exempt organization and your donation is tax-deductible.

Mar 15, 2009

Rogers flip-flops on mass transit


Freshman Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, has been getting plenty of ink since he was sworn into the Michigan House just two months ago in January, but the latest piece of publicity really floored me.

Radio station WHMI is reporting a “press conference will be held Monday by State Representatives Bill Rogers of Brighton and Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, along with the founder of Interstate Traveler Company” to announce “the creation of a task force to study the feasibility of a rail line from Detroit to Lansing.”

Say what?

Is this the same Bill Rogers that served as the chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners who last September voted not to provide any money to the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) commuter rail line linking Howell to Ann Arbor? The answer is yes. In fact, the board, under Rogers’ leadership, not only decided not to help with any money, but it also decided not to be part of the coalition that wants to form a taxing authority.

I am a huge supporter of mass transit, and use it every day; I van pool to Howell from Lansing. So, I’m excited about this proposal. Mass transit will generate jobs, especially one this extensive, but I fear this is just one more way for Rogers to get his name in the paper.

According to the Interstate Traveler web site, this high tech system reminds me of movies made in the 1950’s when everybody believed we would all have hover cars in 2000. The system Rogers and the House Republicans are pushing is called a “Maglev“ system that travels using high speed magnetic levitation.

According to the company web site, it’s a “first of its kind full integration of solar powered hydrogen production and distribution system supporting a high speed magnetic levitation ( MagLev ) on-demand public transit network built along the right of way of the US Interstate Highway Systems, and any other permissible right of way.” The system is “accessed by Traveler Stations that are built within the right of way of the Interstate Highway within the land locked real-estate.”

This sounds like an exciting concept that will take advantage of new, renewable energy sources, and I hope it comes to fruition. However, I wonder how much it will cost and how long it will take to build an entirely new system and infrastructure.

WALLY will use existing railroad tracks to link Livingston ad Washtenaw counties, but we couldn’t even get Rogers’ support for that. Why is he now supporting a promising but possible pie in the sky proposal? The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus has editorialized against every mass transit system and proposal that has been floated in the county for the last 20 years, and some right-wingers in the county have called WALLY a “train to nowhere.” It will be interesting to see what they think of this proposal.

The good news is no one is giving up on WALLY. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) took control of the planned WALLY commuter rail line. The coalition includes representatives from the cities of Ann Arbor and Howell, Washtenaw county, the University of Michigan, WATS, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Northfield Township, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Washtenaw Community College, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, local Chambers of Commerce, AATA and other interested groups and individuals from throughout the WALLY proposed service area. Howell City Councilmen Steve Manor has even spent his own money to support the project.

According to the WHMI report, the press conference will be conducted by Rogers and Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City. With the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate controlled by the Republicans, any successful proposal will require bipartisan support, especially one as complex as this. Where is it?

I see this as just one more proposal by Rogers aimed more at garnering publicity like his other ones than actually accomplishing anything.

His proposal to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge without a replacement will - and should - go nowhere.

He recently introduced a bill and press release that would amend the Public School Employees Retirement Act to require all new Michigan public school employees hired after July 1, 2010 to have a traditional defined contribution plan instead of a defined benefit plan.

This bill was also introduced in the last two legislative sessions. It passed the GOP-controlled House in 2005 when the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate and didn’t become law. Why would it become law now?

I hope this transit plan is not just another publicity stunt.

Mar 13, 2009

Committee hearing set for indoor smoking ban


The fight for clean air in the new Legislative session begins to move forward when the House Regulatory Reform Committee meets to discuss an indoor smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants on Wednesday.

According to subscription only MIRS, Committee Chair Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, wants to “stage a series of hearings on the controversial issue before drafting a bill.” The hearing is set for noon on Wednesday March 18 in room 326 in the House Office Building at 124 N. Capitol in Lansing. The meeting is open to the public.

The important public health issue passed both the House and Senate last year, but the Conference Committee assigned to work out the differences between the two bills failed to reach a compromise before session ended on Dec. 30 and died. The House passed version had exceptions for Detroit casinos and so-called cigar bars, and the Senate version had no exceptions.

It was the Detroit area lawmakers who favored the casino exception under the mistaken belief it will hurt business and cost jobs, but two Michigan studies have proved that’s simply not true.

Johnson already has four bills in the Senate to choose from and one in the Senate. Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, has introduced House Bill 4099; Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton, has introduced HB 4196; Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing – the co-chair of the Anti-Smoking Caucus – has introduced HB 4341; Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint Township, has introduced HB 4377; and Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, - the co-chair of the Anti-Smoking Caucus –has introduced Senate Bill 114.

I urge the thousands of supporters to come out and attend the hearing to show your support for this important public issue that will save the lives of the majority of people who do not smoke. It’s important to get a ban in place even if it has a few exceptions to begin with.

Mar 12, 2009

Senate Republicans vote for CEOs; snub working families


LANSING -- Senate Republicans voted to increase CEO pay Thursday, but they voted against working families trying to save their homes from foreclosure. They also blew an almost $1 billon hole in the state budget that is already facing a more than $1 billon deficit.

The Senate approved Senate bill 69 by a vote of 23-14, with all the Republicans voting for it. The bill would amend the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) to make it easier to receive a tax credit against the MBT, and it increased the income limits affecting eligibility of CEOs who can get the credit from $180,000 a year to $210,000. It also decreased the number of jobs a company would have to create to be eligible for the credit from 20 jobs to eight.

Democrats said they supported the bill, with the exception of the CEO increase. Sen. Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods, said she could not support the increase in CEO pay when everyone else is taking a pay cut.

“I am a huge fan of standing up for and supporting small businesses in my district, but I really want to take a closer look at what that $210,000 salary really represents,“ she said. “It is more than four times the annual average wage for police officers and five times what our firefighters make in this state.”

That drew a ridiculous charge from the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, that the Democrats were engaging in “class warfare,” and businesses are closing because of the tax.

“I’m not trying to create class warfare by any means; I’m just saying the $180,000 cap is enough,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs introduced an amendment to keep the cap at $180,000, but that was defeated along party lines. Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, introduced an amendment that tied barred passage of SB 69 to a recently approved House Bill that placed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures. That only failed by one vote. But CEO compensation was the big stickler.

“I don’t believe that a business is going to go out of business if we don’t raise this credit another $20,000,” said Sen. Deb Cherry, D-Flint. “I believe that it is the wrong time to be sending a message that CEOs should be paid more.”

With the state facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion, Senate Republicans continue to increase that deficit with tax breaks, but they refuse and protest any proposed spending cuts. This bill could reduce state revenues by $47 million.

Michael Switalksi, D-Roseville, said it was bad tax policy and a mistake.

“Now people trying to keep their businesses open don’t usually do that by giving themselves a $70,000 raise,” he said. “I don’t really mind people making almost a quarter-million dollars, but I don’t think we need to give them a tax break.”

The Senate also approved SB 191 that will amend the Income Tax Act to increase the household income ceiling for the homestead property tax credit by $10,000; increase the total credit that a taxpayer may claim from $1,200 to $1,300; and allow an additional $50 credit for senior citizens and totally and permanently disabled taxpayers. It will also cost the general fund an estimated $80.6 million. Despite that figure, only Switalksi voted against it.

“We’re asked to provide additional tax relief to people this time with incomes from $73,650 to $83,650,” he said. “I just ask my colleagues, are these the people who are hurting out there?”

The Senate also approved SB 201 that would exempt the purchase of a new car from paying the general 6 percent sales tax on the difference between the new car and a trade in. This has been tried in other states, but both Switalksi and the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said it has not improved auto sales. It also extended it to boats, campers, heavy earth-moving equipment and snowmobiles. But it will blow a bigger hole in the budget, and the state will lose at least $144 million in lost tax revenue. The School Aid Fund revenue would decline $106.3 million and revenue sharing payments to local governments would decline an estimated $24.2 million.

“People are not buying cars because they are scared about their jobs and can’t get loans,“ Switalksi said. “Falling sales have nothing to do with the sales tax on a car.”

The Senate Republicans continue to deepen the budget deficit. These three bills alone threaten to blow a $1 billon hole in the budget. The Senate Republicans blew another $166 million hole in the budget when they eliminated the MBT with no replacement. They are cutting income, but they are not cutting spending; so in effect they are spending like drunken sailors. As a former drunken sailor, I know what that‘s like.

These decisions are nothing but politics, so Republicans can campaign as tax-cutters. The House will have to be the adults and make the tough decisions and balance the budget. But when you consider that a quarter of the Senate Republican caucus is running for statewide office in 2010.

Home of the Marlboro Man bans smoking in restaurants


In what surely must be a sign that the time has come for Michigan to enact a workplace smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants, Virginia became the 35th state to ban smoking in bars and restaurants when Gov. Timothy Kaine signed the bill into law on Monday.

Banning indoor smoking in Virginia is almost like banning gambling in Nevada. Virginia has grown tobacco for 400 years, and the home of the Marlboro man – before he died of lung cancer – is the home of the largest cigarette factory in the world.

The bill is far from perfect because it bans smoking in restaurants unless they have an enclosed smoking room with independent air ventilation. The bill was a compromise between health advocates who wanted an unconditional restaurant smoking ban and conservatives who hold the mistaken belief that this is a choice issue and that restaurant owners should be allowed to decide whether it is in their business interests to ban smoking. But it’s far better than what we have in Michigan. This favors restaurants that have more money to install the equipment.

The so-called “free market” people ignore the new studies that are constantly being released that show the deadly and harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

This is a public health issue, not a free market issue.

It’s time for Michigan to do the right thing and pass the workplace smoking ban.

Mar 11, 2009

Gingrich takes a turn to the left


LANSING -- Someone who looked like former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich and sounded like Newt Gingrich testified before the Senate Health Policy Committee Wednesday was saying some things a liberal like me agreed with.

Its was funny hearing things like support for paying poor children to read books, paying poor pregnant teenagers to attend pre-natal appointments, giving supermarkets tax credits for locating in poor neighborhoods and improving school breakfast and lunch programs from perhaps the most partisan and conservative speaker in history, as well as one of the most ethically challenged.

He showed up 20 minutes late for the committee hearing, and I thought perhaps he wasn’t going to show up because he may have suffered a snub that no one was aware of. He shutdown the government in 1995 because he felt he was “snubbed" by President Clinton the day following his return from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in Israel. The House Ethics Committee also sanctioned Gingrich to the tune $300,000 for his unethical activities.

Gingrich was also carrying on an affair with this later third wife while still married to his second wife at the same time that he was leading the Congressional investigation of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Gingrich is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation, and he was in Michigan to testify about health care. But Michigan Democratic Party Chair said it best.

“Do Republicans really expect the people of Michigan to take advice on health care from such an ethically challenged character who wanted to kill Social Security,” Brewer said. “It is a sad commentary on the pathetic state of Michigan Republicans that they have to import a dubious figure like Gingrich for advice, but I understand that their national leader Rush Limbaugh was not available.”

The state mission of the Center for Health Transformation is to “grow a movement that will accelerate the adoption of transformational health solutions and policies that create better health and more choices at lower cost.”

Despite the obvious ethical challenges, Gingrich had a few good ideas. He stressed individual wellness practices that can save millions of dollars in health care costs. Common sense says it’s cheaper to invest in prevention instead of paying for treatment. He supports physical education five days a week for students, and he thinks employers should invest in things like gym memberships for employees. He also wants to see more money spent on things like smoking cessation.

He said he has heard of one community college that will not hire anyone that smokes.

“If we allow those who are pre-diabetic to become diabetic and those who are diabetic not mange their diabetes then we will be awash in the high cost of dialysis and amputations,” he said.

Gingrich said a huge problem contributing to the high cost of health care is fraud. There is up to $120 billon of Medicaid and Medicare fraud a year.

“We are talking virtual organized crime here,” he said.

Gingrich said catching the criminals with paperwork is too slow, and that’s one reason he favors digitalizing all medical records.

Mar 10, 2009

The battle to save the middle class and protect workers begins anew


The battle to save the middle class and protect workers began anew today with the re-introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in both the U.S. House and Senate.

The EFCA levels the playing field against management that already holds all the cards. The bill simply allows employees at a worksite who want a union to simply sign a card clearly indicating support for a union, and the company is required to recognize the union when a majority of workers indicate they want it. During its last go around, corporate lobbyists blocked this bill, backed by the same union busters and greedy CEOs who ran this economy into the ground.

Republicans have pulled out all the stops to kill both this bill and unions. The false talking point they have grabbed onto is that EFCA does away with the so-called “secret ballot,” and opposing it will allegedly do away with the secret ballot. That is a complete like that even the media has bought into. The reality is EFCA simply takes that power out of the hands of management and puts it into the hands of the employees.

The secret ballot is still preserved, but the power is now in the hands of the workers instead of management who use it as just one more roadblock to establishing a union. Management uses the time to threaten workers, bring in union busting teams and fire organizers and sympathizers.

Employers can require workers to attend all-day mandatory propaganda sessions on paid company time where they can put out false information about the union, say the company will close if unionized and threaten to fire workers.

Union organizers can do little put try to pass out flyers as workers drive out of the employee parking lot as company security keep them as far from workers as possible.

The Employee Free Choice Act simply levels the playing field.

Join the LIVCO Dems on St. Patrick's Day


The Livingston County Democrats and supporters of President Obama are looking for people to help celebrate St. Patrick's Day and show their support by marching in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Pinckney, beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday.

This is the only St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Livingston County, and this is a great opportunity to mark the occasion with like-minded people. More details are available at the Party’s blog, LivingBlue, but parade marchers will begin assembling at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of Pinckney Elementary School, 935 E. Mi State Road 36, west of Downtown Pinckney. You will notice them by the green they are wearing, and be sure to remember your green. The party will provide banners and signs.

If you plan to participate, please contact Donna Anderson at rovinswede@yahoo.com.

Mar 9, 2009

Hatty most qualified to serve as Circuit Court Judge


More people are lining up to fill the 44th Circuit Court seat vacated by the planned retirement of Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille on April 3 after 26-years on the bench.

Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan was by far the most qualified candidate, but she indicated last week she is not interested in the seat. According to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, applications for Latreille's seat are due March 17. Members of the State Bar's Judicial Qualifications Committee will interview and rank each candidate from "not qualified" to "highly qualified." Gov. Jennifer Granholm will then review that list and appoint someone to fill the position.

Brighton attorney Rick Trost, and former Democratic state representative candidate and attorney Matt McGivney, Brighton attorney Michael Hatty, Charles Widmaier and Green Oak Township attorney and former chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party Matt Evans have expressed an interest in the seat.

According to the Press & Argus, Kathy Oemke, an attorney referee with the county Friend of the Court office and a former juvenile court attorney referee, is considering a run for the seat, along with Ann Arbor attorney Marla Linderman, a former attorney with Pinckney attorney James Fett's office.

I personally know Hatty, McGivney and Evans, and they are all more than qualified. However, I am impressed with Hatty’s resume.

I got to know him in 2000 when I was covering Deerfield Township and he was the township attorney. The township was in danger of becoming the lighting rod for controversy like Hanburg, and the State Police actually raided township hall and seized records. He did a masterful job in steering officials through that storm.

He has been a private attorney since 1980, practicing every kind of law. Hatty served as the General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee has clerked for Attorney General Frank J. Kelley and he has a long list of civic and professional activities and affiliations.

Please take a few minutes to let the governor know that you support Mike Hatty by writing her a letter on his behalf. Send your letter to:
The Honorable Jennifer M. Granholm
Governor of the State of Michigan
Attention: Appointments Division
PO Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909

I would also ask that you send a cc to Mr. Steven C. Liedel, Legal Counsel to the Governor and a cc to Mr. James Stokes, Director of Appointments Division at the same PO Box address so that their offices are appraised of your support as well.

Illegal cigarette smuggling is costing Michigan millions in lost revenue


LANSING -- Michigan loses $127 to $140 million in tax revenue every single year through illegal cigarette smuggling that is destined for the School Aid Fund and Medicaid, but a Michigan company has a solution to stop the bleeding and illegal activity.

Wyoming-based R.E.D. Stamp Inc. has patented and is marketing a Cigarette Tax Stamping Machine that will put a dent in smuggling and help Michigan recover 25 percent of the lost revenues and put $32 million back into Michigan’s coffers.

The problem is Michigan’s $2 a pack cigarette tax is one of the highest in the nation, and Michigan is fifth in the nation for the highest rate of cigarette smuggling. The whole system is ripe for abuse.

Michigan border states have much lower tax rates; Illinois at 98 cents a pack and Indiana at 99.5 cents a pack. People cross the border to buy cartons for personal consumption, costing border retailers sales and the state tax revenue. Some people cross the border to buy cartons by the trunk load and either sell them out of the trunk of their cars to individuals or to less than honest retailers.

It’s even done on a larger scale, and even organized crime and private entrepreneurs are involved. A truckload of 500 cartons shipped from Kentucky where the tax is just 30 cents a pack or Missouri at a mere 17 cents a pack to Michigan could net a smuggler a tidy profit of more than $8,000.

Getting away with it is also pretty easy. There are currently only four members of the Michigan State Police Tobacco Smuggling Unit to cover the entire state. Forging the tax stamp on the bottom of a package cigarette is fairly easy, as well of the theft of the stamp.

The fairly unsophisticated stamps are sold to Michigan’s 60-70 cigarette wholesalers in a roll of 30,000 stamps costing $60,000 that resembles a roll of paper towels. Organized crime has gotten involved by either buying them on the black market, stealing them off the UPS truck or even strong arm robbery from the truck. They are applied using heat transfer, similar to a cool iron on transfer for your t-shirt.

R.E.D. Stamp has teamed up with Authentix, a leading product authentication, to produce as system that is foolproof. The stamps can be downloaded digitally, eliminating the need and risks of shipping them to the wholesaler. The machine can transfer the stamps to the cigarette packs at a speed of 90 cartons of cigarettes a minute.

Plus, the stamps are almost impossible to forge, and it makes it easier for law enforcement to spot smuggling. The officer can use a small, handheld device that resembles the device that sets your car alarm that the officer can scan the pack with it.

It will give a simple yes or no. A larger handheld unit that reads the bar code and can tell where and when the pack was purchased and other information is also available.

The problem is it will cost about $11 million to replace the 85 older machines, but because of the speed of the new machines I don’t think they will need that many. Plus, the estimated $32 million it will bring in more than pays for the new machines in just the first year. The Michigan Distributors and Venders Association supports the concept, but they want help with purchasing them. Adding a few more boots on the ground and an increase to the Tobacco Smuggling Unit should bring even more money when coupled with the machines.

But the real hang-up is from the Michigan Department of Treasury, and according to the subscription only Gongwer treasury department officials said it did not have any studies that it trusts that “show how much smuggling and counterfeiting of tax stamps is happening.” I’m not sure what world they are living in, but there are a few reports out there.

Rightwing think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently released a study that proves the smuggling and an extensive report by the Detroit Free Press on March 14, 2008 prove Treasury wrong.

Mar 6, 2009

To get their way Senate Republicans threaten to get police to collar businessmen


LANSING – Senate Republicans demonstrated just how far they will go to satisfy a rich benefactor at a joint meeting of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee and the Transportation Appropriations Sub-Committee on Thursday.

The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) declined to vote on a measure last month to approve bonds to finance a second span of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge for the Detroit International Bridge Company, owned by Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun. Senate Republicans have put pressure on the MSF to hold a special meeting to approve the bonds, and that was the sole purpose of the joint meeting. But because the MSF members are some of the most successful businessmen in the state, it has been difficult to get them together other than at the scheduled monthly meetings.

According to subscription only MIRS, the chair of the Commerce and Tourism Committee Chair, Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, threatned to call the state police to “round these people up.”

Two members of the MSF board had just been appointed just days before last month’s meeting, and they were not familiar with the bridge issue. When they were told about the tactics the Bridge Company has used to delay the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project, they declined to vote on the bonds until they knew more about the issue.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, as well traditional as GOP allies, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and Oakland County Republican Executive Brooks Patterson, favors the DRIC study that wants to build a new public-private bridge about a mile from the current Ambassador Bridge.

Senate Republicans have been using the false talking point that the state is turning down $1 billon in federal funds and killing jobs, but Brad Williams of the Detroit Chamber calls that notion “silly,” noting that this is really just a finance mechanism. The man who has really carried water for the Bridge Company, rightwing Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, had the nerve to call the MSF board's move as "political." Kettle, meet pot; if that were true.

The chamber, MDOT, Patterson and Senate and House Democrats in the area have no problem with the Bridge Company putting up a new span, but it will not increase capacity, which is the goal of building a new bridge. The Bridge Company has indicated it will shut the old span down; plus, the Canadian government hasn't signed off on the Bridge Company’s new span – like they have on the DRIC bridge - and won't allow traffic from the new span to land in Canada. But Senate Republicans, especially Cropsey, and the Bridge Company are against the DRIC project, and they have done everything in their power to delay it and kill it.