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For The Week Of May 19, 2017 Through May 25, 2017

One Day With Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley

By John Lindstrom
Posted: May, 25 2017 3:52 PM

She was tough. Joyce Braithwaite-Brickley could be steely, fix one with a glare and silently compel one to simply turn around and vanish. In the days when reporters had relatively free rein to spend time in the governor’s office complex without security clearances and strict appointments, Ms. Braithwaite (before she married Lt. Governor Jim Brickley) was almost best known for just reaching out and slamming her office door shut before a reporter could utter a syllable.

She was the most ferocious of a ferocious troika (Chief of Staff George Weeks and Communications Chief Bob Berg, being the others) who protected former Governor William Milliken and counseled him. At a farewell dinner for Mr. Milliken hosted by reporters, this reporter joked the three of them would kill to protect Mr. Milliken and they probably had. And everyone in the room knew of the three Ms. Braithwaite was the most likely to draw blood if needed.

But like Tessio in The Godfather, it was business, not personal. She protected what and who she cared for, but she was also open, engaging, funny and completely personable.

There was a September day, sometime in the1980s, when Mr. Weeks’ son, Don, sponsored a day’s sail around Mackinac Island. Don was publishing a magazine and had given a free ad to a schooner company that hosted sails around the Island so he could hold the party. Invited were other advertisers, contributors to the magazine (which is how this reporter and his wife, Cindy Kyle, herself a one-time Capitol Associated Press reporter were invited), along with Don’s family and friends. And friends included then-Supreme Court Justice Brickley and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley.

The Brickleys had been very careful and circumspect during their romance. There were rumors, but they were always correct in public and there was nothing anyone could pin down. Once though, Cindy and I were attending a performance of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight” at Michigan State University. We were seated in the balcony and Ms. Braithwaite and Mr. Brickley were seated below but directly in our line of sight. When the house lights were up, they sat with their hands in the laps, chatting breezily as old friends might. When the lights went down, they held hands and drew closer.

On the day of the sail, they were now married and had moved to Traverse City.

The waters were choppy when the schooner pulled away from the dock, the winds were up, but it was sunny and still warm. In the ship’s hold, a luncheon buffet was waiting.

Cindy and Joyce found themselves together down in the hold and started chatting. The schooner turned to the leeward side of the Island and the winds, coming from the east, picked up. The water turned black and the waves were going over the sides of the pitching ship. Several passengers wondered if they should start a chorus of “Nearer my God to Thee.” The schooner’s captain ordered the sails dropped as he started the engines. Lunch was forgotten as a number of passengers lost their breakfast.

But from the hold came howling laughter. Cindy and Joyce were now engaged in a madcap, Keystone Komedy of trying to keep the food and plates from flying onto the floor, jumping from one spot to another, grabbing one plate as it launched, then a second, tossing the first where the second had lain while they would catch a third. And all the time they were doubled over in laughter as if they had just invented the greatest version of Whack-a-Mole ever seen. On deck, everyone was hoping they could get last rites before they went down, but from the hold there was a real party going on.

We made it back to the docks, food was available to those with settled stomachs, and we spent the remaining couple hours until the ferry back to Mackinaw City shopping.

With the clouds the day had turned chilly. Expecting a nice day I had worn only a Polo shirt and not brought a jacket.

On the ferry ride back we were sitting next to Mr. Brickley and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley. He joked about how his Supreme Court office was in the former Traverse City mental hospital, which was probably appropriate, and Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley kept asking me if I wasn’t cold. I’m fine, I kept assuring her.

While Mr. Brickley talked about how he developed an opinion allowing unrelated people to live together in a rental house, Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley got up from her seat and walked to the end of the row. Moments later she was behind me and had thrown her jacket over my shoulders and was holding it to me. She stayed that way for the rest of the ride to the Mackinaw City docks.

Since Ms. Braithwaite-Brickley’s death a week ago, I have tried to remember if I had seen or spoken to her since that time. As a justice, I saw and spoke to Mr. Brickley often before he left the court and then later died of multiple-myeloma. But I can’t recall getting another chance to talk to Joyce.

So for all her famous toughness, her ferocious loyalty, her slamming doors on reporters, I will remember Joyce best for her laughing with Cindy in the hold of a pitching schooner and giving me her jacket on a chilly ferry ride. It’s a much better memory.

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GOP Legislature Testing Snyder Devotion To Early Budget

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: May, 23 2017 3:58 PM

Governor Rick Snyder has taken great pride that the six budgets completed during his governorship saw the Legislature complete action on them no later than early June, avoiding the tortuous budget battles of the previous decade which twice went beyond the October 1 start of the fiscal years.

Mr. Snyder has had the advantage of having a Legislature controlled by his party the whole time, which has made a big difference compared to Democratic former Governor Jennifer Granholm always having at least one house of the Legislature run by the opposition party. Nonetheless, his first budget was the earliest completion of a budget in 30 years and final budget talks have been remarkably free of difficulty.

That is now in doubt as the governor seeks to put the finishing touches on the seventh budget of his tenure.

House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) have made ending pension benefits for newly hired teachers a major priority. They have cited the $29.1 billion in unfunded liability in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System as the major reason to put all new hires into 401(k) plans instead.

The problem, Mr. Snyder says, is that $29.1 billion is entirely a result of older pension plans already closed to new hires. Those new hires now go into something called the hybrid plan that has some pension benefit and some 401(k) benefit. It is fully funded, and Mr. Snyder says it is working as designed. Pension critics say once the next stock market contraction arrives, it will likely cease to be fully funded and add to the unfunded liability problem.

Mr. Snyder opposes moving new hires to 401(k) plans. He has for some time. Last year, the Senate tried a quick-strike move to pass a plan moving new hires to 401(k) plans and it swiftly died once Mr. Snyder conveyed his disdain.

Mr. Leonard and Mr. Meekhof have called off talks to finalize the 2017-18 fiscal year budget with Mr. Snyder until they see more progress on ending pension benefits for public school employees.

This is shaping up as a classic game of chicken. The two legislative leaders are going to see just how important it is for Mr. Snyder to go “seven for seven” on budgets wrapped up in early June (Mr. Snyder annually boasts he is four for four, five for five, six for six, etc.).

There’s some precedent for them to test the governor. In 2013, Mr. Snyder decided not to tie completion of the budget to Medicaid expansion and signed the budget without a final deal on Medicaid, a move that avoided dragging out the budget but also cost him leverage on Medicaid expansion and prevented passage of it for months. And in 2015, Mr. Snyder again agreed to sign the budget despite the Legislature having not passed a transportation funding increase plan. That would eventually occur in the fall, but it fell well short of what Mr. Snyder wanted.

The two leaders are signaling they might – might – be willing to pass a budget without Mr. Snyder’s input, put it on his desk and dare him to veto it.

That last happened in 2009 when then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and then-House Speaker Andy Dillon cut Ms. Granholm out of the negotiations and dared her to veto the budget they put on her desk. Ms. Granholm acquiesced and signed a budget she admitted she disliked.

It’s hard to imagine it would get to that point. During the Snyder era, the governor and Republican legislative leaders have always been able to bridge their differences on the budget and finances.

Mr. Snyder has shown, many times, he is willing to sign legislation prioritized by Republican lawmakers he might not personally see as important – except when it comes to budgeting and finances. This is clearly an area that falls within that budget/finances zone. Mr. Leonard and Mr. Meekhof seem interested in seeing just how deep of a line in the sand Mr. Snyder is willing to draw when it comes to going seven for seven.

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Three What? Big? Detroit?

By John Lindstrom
Posted: May, 19 2017 2:47 PM

Okay, let’s settle this issue finally. Which means in a cultural/political sense it will never be settled, but let’s discuss it.

Is it the Big Three? Or is it the Detroit Three? And by “big” and “Detroit” we aren’t talking about linemen for the Lions or any three players for the Pistons. We are talking automakers.

The question arises because as the Revenue Estimating Conference was hearing economic forecasts they heard of Michigan’s headquartered automakers – General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler – as both the Detroit Three and the Big Three.

Reference to the Detroit Three came from the economists for the University of Michigan’s based Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics. The state’s economists – from the Department of Treasury as well as the Senate and House Fiscal Agencies – referred to them as the Big Three.

It is actually fascinating that what one might think of as a straight-forward question of which auto company sells the most cars ends up being lost in various PR spins, national inventories and a whole buncha other stuff.

But, if looking at sales alone, internationally then the Detroit-based automakers are no long top of the heap. We have actually known this for some years, yet for anyone older than, say, 50 and a Michigan native there’s a bit of an emotional tug recognizing how life and economics have changed what has been our biggest home industry.

Most authorities agree that in 2016 the top international seller was Volkswagen, followed by Toyota and then General Motors. I say most, because some put Daimler as third in sales. It gets complicated as different sources debate whether GM sales should include its affiliation with the Chinese manufacturer SAIC or not. It really isn’t worth an argument.

In the U.S., GM is still the biggest seller with, according to Ward’s Automotive, more than 17 percent of the market share, followed by Ford at 14.64 percent. Toyota comes in at third with 13.78 percent and then Fiat-Chrysler was fourth at 12.56 percent.

In 1965, GM had 49.59 percent of the U.S. market. I chose that year because what was then called Toyoda Motors showed up on the charts in the U.S. with … well, it was here capturing 0.06 percent of the market. Triumph, remember those lovely British sportscars, had it beat at 0.18 percent of the market.

Things changed rapidly over the years, driven by geo-political, eco-political, demographic changes, quality concerns and other matters. They are smaller in terms of their economic profile, but the Detroit manufacturers are still massive economic powerhouses.

And while a major goal of Michigan policymakers is to build the state’s economy so it no longer lives and dies just on the basis of the auto industry, even when the state truly reaches that goal, it is hard to think we will not be an automotive state no matter what kinds of vehicles are created.

Which brings us back to the main point, is it the Detroit Three or the Big Three? For the rest of the world it is probably the Detroit Three. For we Michiganders, one suspects the bias always will be to refer to the Big Three.

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