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Wednesday, October 16,2013

Political notes from around town

by Walt Sorg
Rogers vulnerable?

A newly released poll shows the government shutdown has hurt U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, politically. Rogers, generally considered politically invulnerable, narrowly loses to a generic Democrat 47 percent to 44 percent in a poll commissioned by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org.

Rogers has stayed in the background in the shutdown debate. Although he did not join three other Michigan congressmen in signing the tea party manifesto calling for defunding Obamacare or else, Rogers has not publicly committed to reopening government without pre-conditions. He also continues to collect his $174,000 federal salary as several dozen colleagues have pledged to either decline their paychecks or donate them to charity during the shutdown.

No Democrat has yet indicated an interest in challenging Rogers in ‘14, in part because the gerrymandered 8th District leans Republican (it was carried by Mitt Romney 51 percent to 48 percent). Rogers easily defeated Lansing educator Lance Enderle in 2010 and 2012.

Taxes in 2014 State Democrats plan to make the Snyder administration’s massive business tax cuts and tax increases on families a key part of the 2014 campaign. The $1.8 billion business cut passed in Gov. Rick Snyder’s first year — combined with tax increases on individuals totaling $1.6 billion — lowered the share of state taxes paid by businesses to the lowest levels in decades. The changes also made Michigan taxes even more regressive: Lower-income families pay a much higher percentage of their income in state taxes than wealthier families.

Mid-Michigan Reps. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and Teresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge, joined House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel this week to unveil a “Republican Tax-O-Meter,” displaying the total increased taxes paid by families as a result of Snyder’s tax increases. The easy-to-understand display will play a key role in Democrats’ efforts to retake control of the Michigan House.

Raise for county employees?

Noting that county employees have had their pay frozen for several years, Ingham County commissioners are considering a onetime, $150 bonus payment to most county workers. The checks would go to all full-time employees and part-time employees who are part of collective bargaining agreements.

Democratic Chairwoman Deb Nolan says the estimated $250,000 cost will come from the county’s contingency fund. She said a one time bonus is fiscally more prudent than even a cost-of-living adjustment to salaries because the latter would raise base budget levels permanently.

But fellow Democrat Brian McGrain is among those on the commission saying the money would be better left in the general fund since the county has been balancing the budget by tapping into reserves for several years. McGrain prefers restoring some of the benefit cuts absorbed by employees during the recession.

Elected officials would not receive bonus payments under the plan.

Yard signs M.I.A.

A sorry tradition in Lansing municipal political campaigns — stealing and vandalizing yard signs — is thriving in the City Council races.

Several candidates report large numbers of signs missing or trashed: At-Large candidates Kathie Dunbar, Judi Brown Clarke and Brian Jeffries and 4th Ward candidates Jessica Yorko and Chong-Anna Canfora. Dunbar filed a police report after more than 30 large signs disappeared. Canfora said more than 100 signs disappeared. Yorko said 30 signs are M.I.A. Brown Clarke said her campaign had replaced multiple signs but didn’t have an exact number. Jeffries reported four large signs had been vandalized.

Canfora is promoting a “rumor” she heard that contends city planning director Bob Johnson had ordered code compliance officers to target any Canfora or At-Large candidate Ted O’Dell signs that were improperly placed in the public right-of-way. That presumably would be to benefit Council candidates backed by Mayor Virg Bernero. Johnson laughed off the allegation, noting that his department doesn’t even have jurisdiction over code enforcement. He said that was turned over to the Fire Department last July. In practice, the city does not enforce the sign ordinance on political signs to avoid charges of favoritism, he said.

The sign-stealing trend seems limited to city campaigns. There were no reports of large-scale signage theft during last year’s spirited state representative campaigns in Lansing, including my own.

Schuette’s conflict Michigan State University law Professor Mark Totten, the likely Democratic candidate for state Attorney General, charges A.G. Bill Schuette with a blatant conflict of interest over the Detroit bankruptcy case. Schuette filed the bankruptcy as lead lawyer for the state. After pressure from representatives of Detroit government retirees threatened by pension cuts, Schuette announced he would also represent city retirees whose pensions are guaranteed by the state constitution. Two ethics experts quoted by the Detroit Free Press called Schuette’s position a fundamental conflict of interest. Totten said Schuette “should immediately withdraw” and the federal bankruptcy judge should appoint an independent special assistant attorney general to represent the interests of pensioners.

Schuette’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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