With less than a month before the start of the new fiscal year, the 2005-6 state budget remains in limbo. It still appears that the three primary negotiators — the Governor, the House Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader are not close to an agreement over the budget. In some instances, there does not appear to be agreement between the Republican controlled House and Senate. Undoubtedly, there will be many long hours of negotiating during September with hope for an eleventh hour agreement. Otherwise, the state will begin its fiscal year with a temporary budget which would be very unfortunate.
It appears that regardless of the outcome, some of the programs providing a social safety net to some of Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens will be cut and/or eliminated. An example of one such program is MI Choice which is a statewide program designed to give older adults and people with disabilities more choices in receiving long term support. It provides a variety of services in a person’s home that are similar to those provided in a nursing home. MI Choice is also known as the Medicaid Waiver for the Elderly and Disabled. The Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan is requesting that citizens express their opposition to the proposed legislative cuts in this program.
There was not much happening legislatively during August which would be of direct concern to seniors/retirees. SERA is working with representatives of the Granholm administration to protect our health care benefits and obtain a sound program for prescription drug coverage in lieu of our enrolling in Medicare Part D.
Additional gas pump inspections — With the price of gasoline rapidly escalating, Governor Granholm has announced an increase in the number of gasoline pump inspectors whose job is to verify the accuracy of gas pumps. These positions are located in the Department of Agriculture. Some $1.3 million was made available to hire additional inspectors. Some 16 inspectors would be added — six immediately — to increase the total to 31 inspectors. The Governor also announced that she will seek legislation requiring station owners to verify the accuracy of their pumps at the time they apply for their annual license renewal.
Review insurance policy coverage — The State Court of Appeals strongly suggested in a recently released opinion that citizens should not rely on the application and declaration page of an insurance policy for a total understanding of the coverage such a policy provides. While these two documents provide important information, the Court said they must be read in conjunction with the complete policy to fully understand the scope of coverage. The Court said that the two pages cannot cover every conceivable issue regarding the total coverage of a policy.
Public Service Commission partial telephone service deregulation — In a controversial move, the Michigan Public Service Commission allowed telephone services in selected areas of the state to be deregulated. The deregulation order applies to Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and a large part of Washtenaw County as well as Flint, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. Deregulation is to begin 45 days after the companies notify their affected customers of the PSC order. The theory is that there is enough competition in these areas that the marketplace can determine the cost of telephone service. The request for deregulation was made by SBC, the largest provider in Michigan. AARP of Michigan has asked Attorney General Cox to legally challenge the PSC order because it would negatively impact retirees on fixed incomes.
Testimony before Legislative Committees available online — Individuals who submit written copies of their testimony before legislative committee will now have that testimony appear on the House’s Website (www.house.mi.govcommittees.asp). The website lists the name of the person who testified, organizational affiliation, bill number, and the testimony. Currently, testimony before appropriations committees is not available, although it will be in the future.
Senior citizen exercise program — Michigan Surgeon General Kimberlydawn Wisdom announced a program to encourage senior citizens to get more exercise, eat better, and stop smoking. The program entitled “Michigan Steps Up: Get Caught Walking” was initiated on August 15 and provided prizes such as fitness club memberships and special invitation for the Mackinac Bridge Walk.
Governor opposes statewide school employees health insurance plan — Hearings have been held on a legislative-commissioned report advocating one health insurance program for all school employees. David Fink, Director of the Office of the State Employer has been the “point person” for the Governor on this issue. He has indicated that the Governor is opposed to a statewide health insurance program for public school employees. Mr. Fink has taken exception to the Report’s conclusions and expressed his opposition to having to create a bureaucracy to operate such a plan. This is a controversial proposal which is certain to face much opposition from various stakeholders.
School funding petition drive announced — The K-16 Coalition School Funding Initiative begins it petition drive to collect 254,206 signatures for a Constitutional amendment. The measure would require a minimum of increases in all educational spending at least equal to the rate of inflation. Also, by 2012 the disparity between the lowest and highest spending school districts cannot be more than $1000. If the signatures are collected and certified, the question would be put on the November, 2006 ballot.
Changes in Mackinac Bridge Authority responsibility — In a highly controversial move, the Granholm administration has moved some of the responsibilities from the Bridge Authority to several state departments. The Department of Transportation is now responsible for bridge inspections; the Department of Management and Budget is now responsible for contracting guidelines to hire others to do work under the guidance of Transportation and purchasing insurance. The Department of Treasury will be responsible for investing revenue from the Bridge’s operation. The Bridge Authority’s responsibility is now reduced to setting the amount of the tolls, collecting them, and overseeing maintenance. This fight is not over. It is a matter of regional pride by legislators from that area.
Northville State Hospital sold — After five attempts to sell Northville State Hospital, it has finally been sold to an Oakland County development firm, Real Estate Investment, for $31.5 million. Two bids were received in this last sales effort, but one was declared ineligible. REI once offered $55 million for the property, but backed out and forfeited some $3.0 million in good faith money because of the high estimate of the cost of environmental cleanup.
People in the News
Lorraine Bebee, who served in the Senate from 1966 until she was defeated in 1970, died at the age of 95. She distinguished herself as a women’s rights and mental health advocate during her legislative tenure.
Beryl Kenyon, former senate secretary, died at the age of 85. He served as Senate Secretary from ’62-’65 and ’67-’75. He then served as assistant secretary until in retirement in 1980.
George Cushingberry, a state representative from Detroit who has been charged with a felony in connection with his incorrectly certifying he had filed certain documents relating to his election, will not face sanctions by his legislative colleagues based on the charges. He will keep his assignment to the appropriation committee and will not be expelled.
John Truscott, spokesperson for John Engler when he was Governor, has been named as communications director for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos. Mr. Truscott operates a public relations firm in Lansing.
Valde Garcia, a state senator from Howell, has withdrawn as a Republican candidate for Governor.
George Perles, former MSU head football coach, has expressed a strong interest in running for the MSU Board of Trustees.
Gretchen Whitmer, currently serving her final term in the House, has announced that she will seek the senate seat currently held by Senator Virg Bernero who is running for mayor of Lansing and would have to resign if he is elected mayor. The remainder of Bernero’s senate term would probably be filled by special election if he is elected mayor.
Christine White, Deputy Racing Commissioner, has been named Racing Commissioner by Governor Granholm.
Keith Butler, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, filed election reports indicating his 2004 income was in excess of $1.2 million. Of that amount, some $677,000 was salary as pastor of a mega church.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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