Capitol News

January 2011

Hello — Mary Pollock here! I’m your new Legislative Representative. I’ve been one of former SERA Legislative Representative Al Whitfield’s many fans since joining SERA the month I turned 50 and began reading his column. I hope to continue the high standards he has set for identifying and communicating to you important capitol news items. I’m recently retired from managing the Employment Relations Board for the Michigan Civil Service Commission where I closely watched legislative, legal and gubernatorial matters affecting state employees. I am so glad to be working for you and the great SERA team!

Inauguration — Michigan government began its new year with GOP control of all state-wide offices as a result of the November 3 Republican tsunami. Using the theme The Power of Michigan, a sunny and bright New Year’s Day saw the inauguration on the capitol steps of Governor Rick Snyder, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Michigan Supreme Court Justices Robert Young and Mary Beth Kelly, Court of Appeals judges, all the GOP-nominated statewide university board members and State Board of Education members.

Governor Snyder does not intend to live at the Governor’s residence in Lansing, preferring instead his own spacious Ann Arbor home where his 9th grade daughter can finish high school. The Lansing Governor’s mansion and the Mackinac Island residence will be used for official ceremonial and entertainment functions we are told.

Governor Granholm’s Legacy — Diversifying the economy in six emerging business sectors, raising education standards, and protecting the health safety net for Michigan citizens are just some of Governor Granholm’s accomplishments according to her legacy video and exit interviews. Keep track of her in the future at and on Facebook.

Snyder’s governing philosophy — Reinventing Michigan, revising the business tax structure, and adopting a 2-year budget by July 1 are some of the goals emanating from the new Executive Office. Snyder wants to change the budgeting process from financing programs and activities to budgeting for outcomes and results that deliver value for the dollars invested by taxpayers. These concepts are familiar to those who have read David Osborne’s The Price of Government and Reinventing Government. Snyder wants to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax, which generates about $2.2 billion a year, and replace it with a lower corporate income tax projected to produce just $700 million. That plan, if adopted, would just about double the structural deficit in the 2012 fiscal year. Snyder has hinted that he would consider modifying some tax deductions or credits as a means of raising revenue, unlike many of his Republican colleagues. The State of the State speech scheduled for 7 p.m. January 19 will be an important indicator of Snyder’s approach to “shared sacrifice.” He wants to present his budget in February.

Governor’s Appointments

One of Governor Snyder’s first announced appointees was John Nixon for state budget director and head of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Nixon currently serves as executive director/state budget director for the Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

Another important appointment is that of Janine Winters to be the Director of the Office of the State Employer, a position she held during the Engler administration. Snyder has made it a Cabinet-level post, an indication of his realization that payroll costs are an important feature of governance. Winters is currently Deputy Department Director at the Michigan Civil Service Commission. The benefits administration function traveled with Winters by Executive Order when she left OSE for the CSC in 2003. Watch for whether the function transfers back to OSE again.

Snyder’s new press secretary is Michigander Sara Wurfel. She left her post as Director of Communications for AARP of Oregon to return to Michigan. That background is likely to help inform how Snyder’s administration addresses senior citizen issues.

In the Departments — Governor Snyder intends to arrange the departments into several Executive Groups. His first Executive Order split the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality into two separate departments effective March 13. As Snyder previously announced in November, Dan Wyant will serve as director of the DEQ and Rodney Stokes will serve as director of the DNR.  Keith Creagh of Neogen Corporation will head the newly renamed Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Longtime environmentalist and conservation advocate former Senator Patricia Birkholz will serve as director of the Office of the Great Lakes in DEQ. Wyant will oversee DEQ, DNR and Agriculture as the Quality of Life Executive Group.

Jeff Barnes, formerly Snyder’s campaign manager who currently serves as Snyder’s deputy chief of staff, will take on the additional responsibility of coordinating the Departments of Corrections, State Police and Military and Veterans Affairs as the new head of the Public Safety Executive Group. Richard McKeon, former Chief Deputy for the Department of Corrections, will serve as acting director of the Michigan Department of Corrections while a national search is conducted for a permanent corrections director.  Lt. Col. Kriste Etue is being promoted to serve as director of the Michigan State Police, the first woman to hold that post. Major General Greg Vadnais, a former division commander who led troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and in the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort, will assume the post of adjutant general and commandrt of the Michigan National Guard. In that role, Vadnais will also serve as director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle will continue to lead the department.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan will resign her post and be appointed as director of the Department of Human Services, thus leaving a vacancy on the high court for Governor Snyder to fill.

Olga Dazzo, a former Cuban refugee with degrees in accounting and finance, will head the Department of Community Health. She is currently president and CEO of Health Reform Innovations LLC, a consulting firm focused on improving health and lowering costs.  Previously she served as President and CEO of Physicians Health Plan in Lansing.

In the Legislature

95th Legislature — Before the 95th legislature adjourned officially on December 31, a few clean-up items were accomplished despite Republican reluctance to have a lame duck session at all. Money was found for the Pure Michigan ad campaign; 16- and 17-year-olds will be allowed to donate blood with parental consent; and human trafficking prohibitions were strengthened. A new law will require preference for relatives interested in becoming foster parents of children removed from the home. Another measure establishes teen driving restrictions that prohibit first-year drivers from driving with more than one passenger under the age of 21 (except if the passengers are members of the driver's immediate family) and bars minors from operating a motor vehicle in Michigan from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (currently the ban is from midnight to 5 a.m.) unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian or a licensed driver over 21.

A new law will allow establishments to purchase permits for alcohol sales on Sunday morning but give local governments the ability to prohibit the sale of alcohol in their jurisdiction. Another new law will give an "angel credit" for investing in a qualified small business. Some federal funds were found to restore the $154-per-pupil cut to the School Aid Fund. And criminal background checks will now be required for staff of nursing homes, adult foster care homes, and other places where vulnerable adults are housed.

Of specific interest to SERA members is that Speaker Dillon introduced a revised public employee benefits pooling plan bill, HB 6586. Apparently it was introduced just to preserve the ideas garnered in later committee hearings.

For those of you who seek deferral of your winter property taxes each year until after you’ve filed your income taxes or rush to do your income taxes before the February 15 deadline for winter property taxes, PA 311 of 2010 may help you. See for HB 4119 for a full explanation of how senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans and many others can benefit.

96th Legislature — Inexperience is the best word to describe the 96th Michigan House of Representatives sworn in on January 12, the first day of the 2011-2012 legislative session. In the House, there are 63 Republicans and 47 Democrats. Fifty-nine per cent of the House members are entirely new to their posts, many having never previously served in elective office. At least 15 members of the House Appropriations Committee will be new — and facing a $1.85 million dollar structural budget deficit in departmental budgets they’ve never seen before. Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has announced reorganization of House Committees. Of importance to SERA, the House Senior Health, Security and Retirement Committee will be merged with the Families and Children's Services Committee to create a Families, Children and Seniors Committee. A House Redistricting and Elections Committee was established to reconfigure voting districts as a result of the 2010 census. Michigan lost population and will be losing one Congressional seat, likely in southeastern Michigan. The GOP also controls the Senate with a 26 to 12 super-majority. Although 79 percent of the Senate is new to that body, only a few are new to the legislature. Like the Governor and Speaker of the House, new Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has a business background. Importantly for SERA, the Senate Families, Seniors & Human Services Committee will be chaired by Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan). Other members are Tory Rocca (MVC, R-Sterling Heights), Vincent Gregory (MVC, D-Southfield) and Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek).

Other News

Civil Service Commission — At its December 8, 2010 meeting, the Civil Service Commission tabled action on letters of understanding between the state and three unions that would add domestic partner fringe benefits regardless of the gender of the domestic partner. Many universities and local governments have crafted such language. Commission members are awaiting additional information about whether the intent is to cover the dependents of the domestic partners in a household. The issue could be decided as early as the Commission’s January 26, 2011 meeting. Representative Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) attended the meeting to speak against the new benefits.

State Retiree Health Care Payroll Tax Put in Escrow — As part of the retirement incentive legislation, remaining active state employees are required to put 3 percent of their pre-tax pay into a retiree health care account for the next 3 years. Ingham County Judge William Collette recently ruled that the money will go into an interest-bearing escrow account until the lawsuit over the change is resolved.

Ballot proposals — State retiree Steve Harry has approached the State Board of Canvassers to put 4 measures on the ballot. One would establish a unicameral legislature by abolishing the Michigan Senate and ending term limits. One would repeal the Public Employment Relations Act, which requires local governments to bargain collectively with employee unions. Another would ban collective bargaining for state workers and instead start paying them market rates. And finally, Harry would like to make Michigan a "Right to Work" state. He will need to gather about 400,000 signatures. Harry is a former Democratic candidate for the House who unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing) in the 2008 primary. See his Web site for more information. Another ballot proposal considered by the Board would expand the number of casinos in the state. The Board was also asked for approval of another political party, Americans Elect based in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the newly appointed Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail

Return to top of page