Around Michigan & State Government

Coverage from across Michigan and  the state Capitol with the Michigan Public Radio Network and Interlochen Public Radio.

Kelly Clark

Libertarians want to make government smaller, which usually means reducing spending and cutting programs. But Libertarian Kelly Clark, a Traverse City Area Public Schools board member, says he would vote to spend more on early childhood development.

Clark is a retired teacher who is running for the state’s 104th District. He also owns a Traverse City-based restoration business.

“I think probably if there is an area where we really need to spend more resources, it’s in early childhood development,” Clark says. “And all of the data and research supports that.”
 


Betsy Coffia for State Representative

Democrat Betsy Coffia is again rejecting fundraising contributions from political action committees and the Democratic Party during her campaign to become Grand Traverse County’s next state representative. Coffia is an outspoken advocate for campaign finance reform.

“This is an easy talking point,” Coffia told IPR News Radio in an interview earlier this month, “ … but it’s a very different thing to walk the walk.”

An extended interview with Coffia is available at the bottom of the story.

Coffia, who won 47 percent of the district’s vote in 2014, is only accepting fundraising dollars from individual donors. She says Michigan is in a state of severe political crisis because of the influence of large political spenders.

“What it really comes down to is a state government where we have elected officials who are more accountable to their special interest donors and their party bosses … than they are to the voters,” Coffia says.

David Cassleman

Republican Jason Gillman sees many problems with the way Lansing works these days. Gillman, a former Grand Traverse County Commissioner, is taking on incumbent Rep. Larry Inman in the 104th District’s Republican primary.

He says lawmakers made a mistake last year with the roads funding package by throwing money at the problem irresponsibly. Gillman is also targeting the recent $617 million bailout of Detroit Public Schools, which he says was a misstep.

“[The district] should have gone to bankruptcy,” Gillman says.

He favored a plan that along with bankruptcy would have offered more charter school options to Detroit students.

Gillman has run for the 104th district seat before. In 2012, he took on incumbent Wayne Schmidt in the Republican primary — he lost.

Gillman sat down to talk with IPR News Radio earlier this month:


Grand Traverse County’s state representative said he was somebody who could help end gridlock in Lansing when he was elected two years ago. It was a time when voters wanted lawmakers to find a way to fix Michigan’s roads.

Two years later, state Rep. Larry Inman has a roads funding package to tout as he runs for re-election. The billion dollar plan passed last fall after a bitter debate.

Inman says he deserves another two years representing the 104th district.

“Overall I think for a freshman just learning the system … I think I did pretty good,” Inman told IPR News Radio in an interview.
 

Inman has a Republican challenger on the primary ballot this August, Jason Gillman. Gillman is a former colleague of Inman’s on the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners.

On the Democratic side, Betsy Coffia is running in the primary unopposed after Megan Crandall dropped out of the race. Coffia, who has run twice before, won 47 percent of the district’s vote in 2014.

Kelly Clark, a Libertarian candidate and  a Traverse City Area Public Schools board member, is also running.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state legislature is on summer break for the next couple months but expect lawmakers to take on significant legislative questions when they return in September, says Rick Pluta.

Pluta is Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

One of the those questions is energy reform — a topic that legislators have been debating for months in Lansing.

“There are a lot of disparate entities who have different ideas about how [energy reform] ought to look,” Pluta says in an interview with IPR News Radio.
 


Detroit Public Schools

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a $617 million dollar bailout of the Detroit Public Schools – which he says represents a fresh start for the financially and academically struggling district.

The plan creates a new debt-free Detroit school district, which will focus on educating the district’s 46 thousand students while the old district pays down the old debt. 

The bills signed by the governor also return control of the district to a locally elected school board following seven years of state control that saw it sink deeper into debt.

 “So I think we’re on a positive path and I look forward to hopefully watching that process happen,” the governor said.

The Michigan Department of Treasury is projecting a $99 million net loss in revenue due to an increase of tax refunds to businesses across the state.

Teachers at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City say they’re being punished for forming a union. Faculty pay has been frozen while teachers bargain for their first union contract. The group filed a complaint with the state over the issue in late April.

The complaint addresses two types of pay increases that have been typical at NMC for teachers in the past.

It says increases for teachers based on seniority, called step increases, should continue because NMC is required to maintain “status quo” during contract negotiations.  

A federal judge has approved a settlement to end litigation over a state law that stopped local officials from talking about ballot questions.

The law adopted late last year said local officials can’t use public resources to communicate on ballot questions. Local officials challenged the law and won a preliminary injunction.

Michigan has a bad reputation when it comes to government openness. Last year, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity gave the state an ‘F’ in government transparency and accountability.

The governor’s office is exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and so is the state legislature. That means emails and other records are often out of reach for reporters and other government watchdogs.

But a group of Michigan lawmakers wants to end those exemptions to FOIA that have shielded the executive and legislative branches since the 1970s . They’ve unveiled a package of bills that would reform the state’s FOIA laws, by creating the Legislative Open Records Act.

“Any elected official who is not in favor of transparency … really is not qualified to hold public office under our system of government,” says Rep. Lee Chatfield of Emmet County.

IPR News Radio spoke to Chatfield, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation:


There’s something brewing around Lansing’s City Hall.

On March 4, Lansing’s city attorney Janene McIntyre resigned voluntarily, but the Lansing State Journal reports that McIntyre was still paid $160,000 in salary and accrued benefits. McIntyre and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero have repeatedly declined to discuss the details about why she left and why she was given such a substantial payment by the city.

An environmental group opposed to an oil pipeline beneath the Great Lakes has requested that state leaders shut down the pipe due to alleged safety violations.

The group Oil & Water Don’t Mix says the company operating Line 5 — Enbridge — is violating an easement granted by the state more than 60 years ago. The easement allows Enbridge to move oil and natural gas under the Straits of Mackinac.

A letter sent to the governor and attorney general's offices alleges several violations of the easement, including corrosion on the pipeline walls and failure to meet thickness requirements.

Enbridge says the group is making false assumptions, but environmental leaders say the evidence is clear.

The mayor of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is on a tour of state capitals in the Great Lakes region. Mayor Shawn Reilly’s first stop was Monday in Lansing to press state officials to support his city’s request for permission to make a large diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

Electricity rates have skyrocketed for Michigan residents in the past decade. The average price per kilowatt hour has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2008. Rates could go even higher, if the state’s biggest utilities have their way this year.

But ratepayers do have some advocates working on their behalf to try to keep prices down. They are a group called the Michigan Utility Consumer Participation Board.

The UCPB says poor funding restrains them from doing more on behalf of ratepayers. Jim MacInnes, the chair of the UCPB, wants to increase the group's funding from around $600,000 to $1.5 million per year.

Jim MacInnes — who is also the president of Crystal Mountain Resort — spoke with IPR News Radio last week:


Grand Traverse County

Grand Traverse County’s financial problems have reached crisis level. The county administrator says an emergency manager would be the next step, if the county can't get its financial house in order.

A big part of the problem is there’s not enough money to fund retirement and health care promises made to former employees.

Supporters of transgender rights are responding to Republican attacks on proposed  guidelines for school districts in Michigan.

“[The guidelines are] really all about creating a safe and supporting learning environment for all Michigan students,” says attorney Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan. Kaplan worked on writing the recommendations.

Kaplan spoke to IPR News Radio about the policy statement the state Board of Education will soon be asked to vote on:


A group of Republican lawmakers is attacking recommendations from the Michigan Department of Education on how schools should treat transgender students. State officials say the guidelines are meant to protect a group of students who often face assaults and threats on campus.

One recommendation is that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom “in accordance with their gender identity.” Another would allow students to be called a name other than the one on their birth certificate.

Each of the 17 guidelines are recommendations — not mandates for schools. The elected state Board of Education will vote on them in May.

State Rep. Triston Cole of Antrim County says he is particularly opposed to a guideline advising that school officials ask students if they want their parents to know they are transgender.

“Parents have got to be involved in this,” Cole told IPR News Radio in an interview last week. “This cannot be something kept secret from a parent.”

 


Someone should resign.

That was the message delivered by members of a congressional oversight panel looking into the drinking water crisis in Flint. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testified, along with EPA chief Gina McCarthy. Despite that general agreement that someone high up ought to get fired or quit, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on exactly who that should be.


Sarah Razak - Flickr

The charge has been leveled that state and federal officials put salvaging their careers ahead of making sure kids in Flint had safe drinking water.

I guess being a government agency means never having to say you’re sorry,” said Virginia Tech researcher Mark Edwards, who helped sound the alarm on the lead contamination crisis.

There were tense and angry moments at a congressional hearing on the water crisis in Flint.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee convened for the first of two hearings on the Flint water crisis today. Former Mayor Dayne Walling and former emergency manager Darnell Earley, who were in their positions when the tainted water crisis began, were scheduled to appear at the hearing. Here & Now‘s Robin Young checks in with Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network about what was learned at the hearing.

Pages