Blog Posts For The Week Of February 19, 2015 Through February 25, 2015

Probably As Cute As It Gets In The Legislative World
By John Lindstrom
Publisher

Posted: February, 25 2015 3:57 PM

The fourth grade class from Hill Elementary in Troy visited the Capitol on Wednesday.

Of course, part of the tour is to see the Senate Appropriations Committee room, which is the former Supreme Court chamber.

The Senate Appropriations Judiciary Subcommittee was preparing to meet on the upcoming 2015-16 budget, and after Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) thrilled the students with a brief discussion on the budget, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. walked in.

He got a picture taken with the kids. He asked if any had any questions (none did), and then Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph), the subcommittee chair, came in. He asked a couple questions of the school’s teachers and then called the meeting to order.

Mr. Proos officially welcomed the students. Asked how many were visiting the Capitol for the first time, most of the students raised their hands. Asked how many of the teachers and adults were visiting for the first time, probably half raised their hands.

Asked how many had met a chief justice before, Mr. Young raised his hand.

Senate Office Controversy Latest In Long Line Of Building Fights
By Zachary Gorchow
Editor

Posted: February, 24 2015 4:46 PM

One of the certainties in government and politics is that when a branch of the government pays for the construction of a new building, renovation of an existing building or leasing of new space, it will be exploited, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, for political gain.

And that is the current situation with the Senate’s plan to move its member offices out of the state-owned Farnum Building, which has seen better days and where its members have kept offices since the 1970s, for the relatively new, privately owned Capitol View building a block away.

The move was the idea of former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican, who left the Senate at the start of this year because of term limits. The cost of renovating the Farnum far exceeded the cost of leasing new space at the Capitol View, he contended.

The bipartisan pile-on is now well underway. Conservatives are highlighting the move and associated cost of leasing the new space as a sign of how unnecessary it is to pass Proposal 15-1 and raise the sales tax for roads. Democrats see a political opportunity, given the Republican control of state government, and are questioning the wisdom of spending the money on the new office space when the state just had to make some spending cuts to close a $330 million current year deficit.

This all brings to mind a similar brouhaha that erupted when the House moved its member offices into what is now the Anderson House Office Building, essentially a newly constructed building with a Capitol view window for all 110 members.

Prior to the HOB’s opening in 1999, House member offices were scattered between the old Roosevelt Building (now a parking garage), where most Democratic members were located, and the Romney Building, where most Republican members were located. Senior members in those pre-term limits days had offices in the Capitol.

The Roosevelt Building’s condition was so bad that when it was finally reduced a pile of rubble, most of the members and staff who worked there would have said it represented an improvement in its utility. Clearing the Republicans out of the Romney opened up more space for the governor’s administrative staff, which now fills the building.

And no one really pitched a fit over the move itself or the newness of the HOB. But what started a political firestorm was the revelation the state would appropriate $10 million to furnish the building.

Some questioned the cost. Others questioned whether the furnishing of the building was properly put up for bid. Republicans, who had just taken control of the House earlier that year, went to great lengths to note the decision to build the new building came during Democratic control of the House.

Then, as now, the criticism was bipartisan. Similar outrage was voiced when, in the late 1990s, the state decided to build the Hall of Justice to house the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

It all serves as a reminder that there are two price tags anytime the government gets into the building business: the price for the actual building and, sometimes more onerous, the political price.

State Releases Draft Wording For Roads Ballot Proposal
By Zachary Gorchow
Editor

Posted: February, 20 2015 6:03 PM

The Bureau of Elections released today its draft wording for Proposal 15-1, the proposal on the May 5 ballot to raise the sales tax for roads.

The first portion of the wording emphasizes the sales tax’s maximum rate would go from 6 to 7 percent, that the sales tax on fuel would be eliminated and that a portion of the use tax would go to the School Aid Fund.

The second portion of the wording, set off in bullets, repeats the sales tax changes, but then also goes into further detail about how the School Aid Fund could be used for public community colleges and career/technical education, but not higher education. It also says passage would trigger laws that include an “increase in the motor fuel tax on gasoline/diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation programs.”

The language also mentions the proposal would require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to finalize the language.

The draft language reads as follows:

A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO INCREASE THE MAXIMUM SALES TAX RATE FROM 6% TO 7%, ELIMINATE SALES AND USE TAXES ON GASOLINE AND DIESEL FUEL, DEDICATE A PORTION OF USE TAX REVENUE TO THE SCHOOL AID FUND, REVISE PERMISSIBLE USES OF THE SCHOOL AID FUND AND TRIGGER OTHER LAWS THAT INCLUDE DEDICATING REVENUE FOR ROADS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION PURPOSES.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Set maximum sales tax rate at 7% (now 6%).
  • Exempt gasoline / diesel fuel from sales and use taxes.
  • Dedicate portion of use tax to School Aid Fund (SAF).
  • Allow use of SAF for public community colleges and career / technical education and prohibit use for higher education.
  • Trigger laws that include but not limited to:
  • Increase sales / use tax rates to 7%;
  • Increase motor fuel tax on gasoline / diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes;
  • Require competitive bidding and warranties for road projects; and
  • Increase earned income tax credit.

Should this proposal be adopted?

Courser, Gamrat Endorsements Raise Social Media Furor
By John Lindstrom
Publisher

Posted: February, 20 2015 2:25 PM

Rep. Todd Courser (R-Silverwood) first came to prominence two years ago when he came closer than anyone thought possible to beating Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak in Mr. Schostak’s bid for re-election. Since then Mr. Courser has been a lightning rod for the ultra-conservative wing of the party.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) has been identified as a tea party leader for some time. She and Mr. Courser have pursued what they have called a liberty agenda since taking office. She was an organizer of a tea party “pow wow” held last Month in Mount Pleasant.

And both announced late Thursday they were endorsing Ronna Romney McDaniel for the Republican Party chair’s position over Norm Hughes and Kim Shmina, both candidates more to the liking of the tea party. Ms. Gamrat was more positive in her endorsement, Mr. Courser was more half-hearted.

But the endorsements electrified their social media contacts, generating a slew of comments. While both were defended for their decisions, the tone overall seemed to one of anger and betrayal. Ms. McDaniel is not seen by many tea party partisans as one who will move the GOP to a more staunchly conservative – both fiscally and socially – party.

Joe Jurecki snapped at Mr. Courser, “Once you send them to the swamp you see their true colors.” R. George Dunn said, “The indoctrination tactics must work.”

And Lanny Valentine was furious that Mr. Courser had turned his back on Mr. Hughes after, “All Norm did for you and the conservatives. Shame on you. Didn’t take long to see you can talk the talk but CANNOT walk the walk.”

Respondents were no kinder to Ms. Gamrat. A Stefanie Stimmet blasted: “I cannot believe this. If those we elect based on their conservative values will not stand true to those values, what hope is there for this nation?!! I simply cannot believe your endorsement, Cindy. Very, very disappointing.”

Andrew Hulbert went further and said: “Shocking and disappointing endorsement coordinated with Todd shows how rigged the coronation really is.”

Mr. Valentine also said on Ms. Gamrat’s post that the last 10 years in the Republican Party had been the “worst I have seen for true patriots.”

Mr. Dunn, who supports Mr. Hughes, added the “field of battle has changed in this MRP. It is near impossible to compromise with lawless attitude. The Oath of Office means something and to not believe it is treason, by truth telling.”

But fellow tea party activist Wendy Lynn Day weighed in on Ms. Gamrat’s defense (Ms. Gamrat is endorsing Ms. Day for a vice chair post). “Wow, I am surprised at how personal and mean people can get. Apparently, she is entitled to an opinion, as long as it is one you think she should have. I thought that was liberals who did that.”

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John Lindstrom
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