With October 1st, the beginning of the new fiscal year, fast approaching, the 2005 State budget has not been finalized. The pieces are slowly coming together. One big piece of the puzzle was put in place when the legislature passed the casino tax for the three Detroit Casinos. The tax was raised by one-third from 18% to 24%. One big piece of the puzzle that has not yet been fitted in is the so-called racino bill. This bill would allow slot machine betting at the various racetracks throughout the state. If this bill should not pass or alternative sources of income found, the projected shortfall would have to be made up by reductions in expenditures which could be as high as $76 million dollars.
Perhaps Rick Johnson, the Speaker of the House, best described the process of arriving at an acceptable budget when he said, “It’s kind of like making stew. You kind of stir it around a bit, throw a few more carrots and peas into it, and you’ve got a bill.” What he did not say was how expensive those carrots and peas are. The problem is we have to eat the stew whether we like it or not. We will find out soon. It will be interesting to see if there is a budget approved before October 1.
Since the legislature was in recess for most of August, there was no real news coming out of the Capitol Building. The following legislative items may be of interest to our members and readers:
HB 4880 — This bill is among a series of bills under consideration in the legislature dealing with mobile home residents. This bill which has passed the House and gone to the Senate raises the property tax on mobile homes from $3 per month (which it has been for 45 years) to $12 per month by 2010. The amount of property taxes will increase by $1.50 to $4.50 each month for the first year and continue the $1.50 per monthly increase for each subsequent year until the monthly tax reaches $12 per month or $144 annually in 2010. The bill also indicates how the tax will be disbursed among the various political entities. The bill is awaiting assignment to a committee in the Senate.
HB 4508 is a very controversial bill which has been signed into law (Public Act 306 of 2004) by Governor Granholm. This bill will allow the citizens of Detroit to select one of two proposals dealing with school system structure. In 1999, a law was passed which established a reform school board which was appointed by the Governor and Mayor. With the passage of this law, the elected school board was abolished. The 1999 law provided that in November, 2004, the citizens would be able to vote on whether to retain the reform board or return to a traditional elected board which exists in all other school districts. HB 4508 changes one of the options contained in the original act. Now Detroit voters will have the option of (1) choosing a school system administered by a strong chief executive appointed by and responsible to the mayor. Citizens would elect a school board with very limited power over the school system. The school board would have limited purchasing power and control over personnel matters or (2) they could vote to return to the traditional system in place prior to the 1999 change where the school board would be elected and have complete control over the school system with the chief executive reporting to the board (like any other school system in Michigan). Governor Granholm announced that she would not sign any bill that did not have the concurrence of the majority of the Detroit legislators. The bill that she signed did not have that majority. Opponents of the new law believe that having a choice between two elected school boards, one with less authority than the other one, will be confusing to voters when they vote in November. The 1999 bill gave them a clearer choice.
Nursing Home Hotline — Consistent with a bill recently signed by the Governor, the Department of Community Health has established a 24 hour, 7 days per week hotline to accept complaints regarding nursing homes. Complaints of serious problems must be responded to within 24 hours by the Department. The number of the Hotline is 1-800- 882-6006. The line is not staffed, but is checked hourly for complaints.
Special Mortgage Seminars — The Office of Financial and Insurance Services has announced a series of mortgage seminars. These seminars will address regulation and enforcement of lending laws, obligations of licensees, and consumer complaint process. Sites of the seminars are: August 11 -Troy; November 10 — Lansing; February 9 — Troy; May 11 — Grand Rapids.
State Investment Task Force — The State Treasurer and the Attorney General have announced the establishment of a task force to protect state investments by watch — dogging the major corporations in which Michigan’s money is invested. Four law firms have been selected to monitor the corporate world and be responsible for recovering any losses suffered due to corporate fraud such as that discovered in several major national companies. The four firms were chosen because of their experience in working in the area of corporate fraud.
Local Secretary of State PLUS Office — The Secretary of State has announced the conversion of its Delta Township branch office to a SOS PLUS office. This office now accepts credit cards for official transactions, has expanded hours, provides driving records, and has self service stations for license renewals. It also has customer service specialists available.
AARP Rally — The American Association of Retired Persons has announced that simultaneous rallies will be held at the three points connecting Michigan to Canada: Detroit, Port Huron, and St. Ste. Marie. The purpose of the September 27th rallies is to encourage passage of a bill currently before the U.S. Senate, S2328, the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act. This bill would allow Michigan citizens to purchase Canadian drugs which are much cheaper than in the United States.
Board of Canvassers Actions — The State Board of Canvassers reviewed two citizen initiated petitions to get issues on the ballot in November. They approved only one of the initiatives and refused to approve the other. The one which was approved was the “Let Voters Decide” initiative which would require statewide voter approval for any new gaming in Michigan, including lottery games. This measure which will go before the voters would also require the approval of local jurisdictions for location of specific gaming facilities. The Board refused to approve the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage proposal which bans same sex marriage or similar unions because the two Democrats believed the measure was in conflict with the Michigan Constitution. The two Republicans differed with the Democrats. The matter will now go to court for resolution. Also, the Secretary of State refused to approve putting Ralph Nader’s name on the ballot as a Reform candidate because two different factions claim to represent the Party. The Courts will make a final decision as to whether the disapproved measures meet legal muster.
People in the News
Former U.S Representative William Ford died of a stroke at the age of 77. He spent 30 years in Congress as a strong labor-oriented Democrat before retiring years ago.
Melvin “Butch” Hollowell had a very interesting month, one filled with highs and lows. He was appointed by Governor Granholm to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. He resigned his position as Chairperson of the Michigan Democratic Party to accept a position as presidential candidate John Kerry’s chief legal advisor. Later in the month, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Detroit. He immediately denied the accusation but resigned the two new positions to which he had been appointed. He is fighting the solicitation charges.
Former Lt. Governor Dick Postumous has accepted a position as Executive Vice President of Compatico Company which is owned by former Senator Glenn Steil, a former legislative colleague of Postumous. The company makes replacement parts for office furniture.
Jeffrey Collin, U.S, Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, has resigned that position to join a Detroit law firm. Collins said he left his U.S. Attorney position because he received an offer he could not refuse.
Former State Senator Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek won the 7th Congressional District Republican race, beating out five very conservative competitors. In a very Republican district, winning the primary is tantamount to being elected to Congress.
John Ramsey, who gained fame by his young daughter’s unsolved murder in Boulder, Colorado a number of years ago, failed in his bid for a House seat in the 105th district. Ramsey ran as a Republican after moving to Charleviox last year and received much media attention as a result.
Editor’s note: Alvin Whitfield is former President of the Lansing SERA Chapter and former Chairperson of the Michigan SERA Council and current Legislative Representative for both the Council and the Lansing Chapter. He may be contacted at 1241 Runaway Bay Drive, C-3, Lansing, Michigan 48917; phone 517/703-9666; e-mail: email@example.com.
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