WatchDog

Subscribe to WatchDog feed
The Government Watchdog
Updated: 21 hours 5 min ago

Op-Ed: The liability of an un-credible free press

Mon, 2017-09-18 13:41

“In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.”

– Oscar Wilde

When we speak of the tragedy of 9/11, it is always with a heavy heart! Though friends and families were left weakened by lost loved ones, America unveiled its almighty strength and grew stronger, which demonstrated our voracity for survival more than any time in our nation’s history! We fought back and won!

“We remember them as heroes. And we are right to do so. They died knowing we’d seek justification against their cowardly attackers. They were Americans.”

– Donald Rumsfeld

The credible survivors had countless amazing stories to retell of the heroics and tragedies of that fateful day and its petrifying epitaph. They became the voice of the victims who could no longer speak for themselves. We have heard incalculable stories of their cathartic death and bravery! But there were other victims on 9/11 too that we have failed to venerate: Such as Dr. Steven Hatfill.

As a reaction to this tragedy, while our nation was still fraught with intimidation, America was rocked by a series of pernicious anthrax attacks. The pressure to find this villainous aggressor forced the FBI to grab the first suspect they could crucify and punish him unmercifully! They had a wounded, desecrated country to appease and:

“Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural.”

– William Thackeray

Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and a self-styled literary detective who had achieved a modicum of celebrity recognition for his past work with the FBI, was commissioned to find this monstrous culprit! His investigation led to the eventual arrest of Dr. Steven Hatfill, who had worked with anthrax at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. This was to eventually prove that:

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”

– Albert Einstein

After countless searches of his New York apartment, which included live TV coverage, along with the storied tales of misinformation by unscrupulous journalists, he was hounded into submission. Hatfill decided it was time to strike back!

Hatfill believed in our free press and was going to use it. He told reporters, “I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare I am not the anthrax killer.” Unfortunately most media pundits were so convinced of his guilt they had already branded him with the sinister pseudonym “Mr. Z” without identifying a single credible source. One reporter even interviewed his former in-laws to connect him to another killing. He was accused as a genocidal racist who carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent minorities.

“You’re guilty until proven innocent. Perception is reality. That’s the way that it is in this world.”

– Chris Webber

Sometimes, “perception is created and twisted too quickly.” In 2007, investigators re-examined the evidence and the FBI concluded Hatfill was innocent and the Justice Department exonerated him. This was six years after he had been convicted in the press and news media! As we can see, it is the victims’ fate that becomes a useful tool for those who choose to crusade for self exoneration. Yet the dead and maimed in acts of terror are forgotten as those responsible for their security are exempt from liability. Their personal indulgence out weighs the truth.

“When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: One for your enemy, and one for yourself.”

– Jodi Picoult

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press.” And this was the saving grace for Dr. Steven Hatfill. But it was not until he had been publicly convicted by this same press. Unfortunately, since the election of President Donald Trump, we are again witnessing another underpinning of one’s character by the yellow dog media. Yes, everyone has that right to publish what they please. But using the media as far left political forums to report opinions as news is outside its intended parameters. Slanting stories while calling it news to discredit and destroy is now commonplace. And as a news-hungry public tries to decipher fact from fiction, more readers each day are ruining away from the traditional media.

“The best place to slander someone and get away with it in today’s world is in your local newspaper.”

– Memet Idren

Anne Germaine wrote, “To search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” Journalists are guardians of the truth. No matter what they choose to report on or how they choose to do it; or which side of an issue they support, if they convey the truth they have done their job with honor. In the past, even the most politically incorrect tabloids recognized it was necessity to provide a forum for those who opposed their politics. It was on those editorial pages that people freely debated views and perspectives openly and candidly without the fear of retaliation. But much to our disadvantage that has been merged with news.

“Far more thought goes into the composition of producing catchy ads in a newspaper than attention to the accuracy in reporting.”

– Mark McCall

By law, the press’s subject matter is only limited when its content could be libelous, obscene, and seditious or threatens national security and public safety. And our journalists are very lucky to live in a First Amendment country. For they have been empowered with the privilege of using their skills and creativity to educate, inform and convey their opinions freely in any available open forum. And they can express them candidly without censorship! But if they continue to stray from the writer’s sacramental ethics by reporting “opinions as news,” it will be their readers that will terminate them to employ “the power of the pen,” not the government. The almightily dollar always speaks louder than any government regulation.

“Better a good journalist than a poor assassin.”

– Jean Sartre

In the past, media could be held to account for its cozy relationships, its disclosure failures, and its blinkered or left-center coverage either real or perceived. But this has been steadily declining due to their insecurity since advertisers are more important than accuracy in reporting. This collapse in reader trust is evenly spread across demographics although it has been dramatic among the young and middle-aged that calls themselves politically “uncommitted.” It’s reasonable to think this decline in media trust will continue as more choose non-traditional sources found more cogent in reporting and they will eagerly support them and their advertisers.

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.”

– Gore Vidal

Both Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle adamantly concurred the “Reporters Gallery, the ‘fourth Estate’, was the most important branch of government.” This historical supposition has proven to be ambivalent. For when the press is used to spread propaganda and mistruths, it is a betrayal of their binding code as guardians of the truth. Journalists are not assassins, but conveyors of facts. How they choose to interrupt or transmit that is up to their discretion. And although the courts and government have damaged the rights of our free press, the ultimate decision to allow non-factual reporting to continue is their readership. They must learn to fear the loss of public confidence more than any government.

“The wrath of public opinion is mightier than any judiciary.”

– Norm Hills

“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference between the two. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe it.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Minnesota in focus: With too many homeless and too few shelter beds, city funding policy debated

Mon, 2017-09-18 11:58

Minneapolis Star Tribune: With too many homeless and too few shelter beds, city funding policy debated

De Andre Hudson got the bad news on a recent weekday evening when he called the homeless hot line at Simpson United Methodist Church, asking if the city had an open shelter bed.

No luck. Every adult shelter bed in Minneapolis was filled, an advocate who was taking phone calls, told him. It meant another night spent riding the light rail back and forth between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Forty others like Hudson would also be denied.

“It’s been like this for three months,” said Hudson, 45, a bag of clothes beside him. “I don’t like living on the street.”

A $400,000 federal grant offered to the city could provide temporary shelter for Hudson and dozens like him, and it’s at the heart of a debate among officials and advocates on how the city of Minneapolis spends money it receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Minnesota Post: Where things stand with the effort to allow mining near the Boundary Waters

For those who don’t want mining — or even the whiff of mining — to come anywhere near northern Minnesota’s protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the last weeks of the Barack Obama administration were good ones.

Just as Donald Trump was preparing to take office, the Obama administration declined to renew mineral leases held by the company Twin Metals, and began the process of blocking off nearly a quarter-million acres of Superior National Forest from mining projects for up to 20 years.

Fourth District DFL Rep. Betty McCollum, one of Congress’ staunchest opponents of mining near the Boundary Waters, said back then that Minnesotans should celebrate the victories, but cautioned that “we have more work to do.”

She was right. Shortly after Trump took office, proponents of allowing a path for mining to move forward in northeastern Minnesota have taken aim at the Obama decisions from every vantage point available.

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: Democrat Matt Pelikan to run for attorney general

Matt Pelikan, a Democratic attorney with significant political experience, is joining the ranks hoping to replace Attorney General Lori Swanson.

“This is a time of unprecedented challenges for Minnesota and for the progressive values that I cherish,” Pelikan, who will formally announce his campaign in the coming days, said in an interview. “I believe we need a strong progressive attorney general now more than ever.”

The race for Minnesota’s top lawyer may or may not have an incumbent. Swanson, a three-term Democratic incumbent, is weighing whether to run again or vie in the governor’s race.

Pelikan, like others, is not waiting for her to decide. Two Democrats — Rep. Debra Hilstrom and former Rep. Ryan Winkler — and two Republicans — activist Harry Niska and former Rep. Doug Wardlow — are already running for the office. Democratic Rep. John Lesch was running but dropped out on Friday.

Wisconsin in focus: Gov. Scott Walker to sign Wisconsin Foxconn bill Monday in Sturtevant

Mon, 2017-09-18 11:57

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker to sign Wisconsin Foxconn bill Monday in Sturtevant

Gov. Scott Walker Monday will approve up to $3 billion in subsidies for a Racine County flat screen plant, binding the state’s economic hopes and his own political future to the investment proposed by an Asian electronics giant.

The 2:30 p.m. bill signing at Gateway Technical College in Sturtevant will clear the way for the Walker administration to negotiate a final contract with Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan in the coming days.

Walker and GOP lawmakers have promised that the Foxconn Technology Group plant will bring thousands of jobs and massive investment to Wisconsin, transforming the state’s economy.

Democrats have questioned the price tag, saying that there’s too great a cost to the subsidies and exemptions from environmental rules that will be going to Foxconn.

Wisconsin State Journal: State makes progress on some workforce goals, deems others ‘unreachable’

Wisconsin state government has been bracing for the looming workforce crisis for years.

“We’ve had quite a lot of warning for this,” said Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Development. “I published on this back in 2000. We had two recessions through there that let some of the pressure out of the pot.”

The state has implemented a number of strategies — such as the Fast Forward worker training grant program, which will grow to a $76.9 million total investment since 2013 in the budget headed for Gov. Scott Walker’s desk this week.

But the Walker administration has deemed “unachievable” some strategies recommended by the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, specifically encouraging skilled college graduates to stay in or relocate to Wisconsin by offering tax credits for student loan forgiveness and moving costs.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Scott Walker, Tony Evers clash over plan to comply with federal education law

The state plan outlining how Wisconsin intends to comply with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, but without Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.

Walker sent a letter to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers saying he would not endorse the plan and calling on Evers to submit another that incorporates “bold reforms” for turning around poorly performing schools.

“Your bureaucratic proposal does little to challenge the status quo for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students,” Walker said in the letter to Evers, who is also one of his Democratic challengers for the 2018 election.

Evers said the plan was drafted with input from a bipartisan group of stakeholders he calls the “equity council,” composed of educators, lawmakers, civil rights advocates, school choice proponents and others, including a representative from Walker’s office.

Michigan in focus: Thousands of Michigan state workers would be affected by proposed reforms every year

Mon, 2017-09-18 11:51

Lansing State Journal: Thousands of Michigan state workers would be affected by proposed reforms every year

The Michigan Civil Service Commission meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and could be asked to consider a host of changes that would expand the commission’s power over state workers and limit which issues over which state employee unions can negotiate.

A strong showing of state employees is expected at that meeting after union officials said the changes would negatively affect each of their nearly 35,000 members.

Meanwhile, state Personnel Director Jan Winters, who first proposed the changes on Aug. 9, said the reforms would help overcome the current system’s “significant limits to agencies’ ability to organize, manage, and reward staff and to conduct operations efficiently and cost-effectively.”

So, how often do these issues really come up? True, all of the unionized employees would lose the right to negotiate over these issues, but how many of the state’s nearly 50,000 employees might be directly impacted by the issues themselves?

Detroit Free Press: 4 plans considered to bring auto insurance rate relief to Michiganders

Relief from the highest auto insurance rates in the nation took on a bigger sense of urgency last week.

From comments made by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette when he announced his run for governor to a plan offered by bipartisan group of lawmakers, calls to reform Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance rose to the top of the agenda.

Add the two newest entries to the insurance debate to efforts being made by Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, who is working with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to come up with a way to reduce rates across Michigan and especially in Detroit, where drivers can pay up to $3,000 a year for insurance.

Duggan has called astronomical auto insurance rates — Michigan is ranked highest in the nation — “the biggest scandal in the state.”

The Detroit News: Raczkowski, Epstein enter race to succeed Trott

Rocky Raczkowski, former majority floor leader of the Michigan House, on Monday became the first Republican to announce a campaign to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Trott in the 11th District.

“I’m running, and, we’re going to win. Period,” Raczkowski said in a Facebook post.

“I am a conservative, God-fearing patriot that believes that a single person can still change the world for the better.”

Raczkowski, 48, of Troy is a decorated Iraq veteran and retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He previously ran for Congress in 2010, unsuccessfully challenging then-Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat, and in 2002 winning the GOP nomination to challenge then-Sen. Carl Levin.

Florida in focus: Gas prices hit a three-year high in Florida

Mon, 2017-09-18 10:23

Miami Herald: Gas prices hit a three-year high in Florida

Two weeks after Hurricane Irma spiked demand for gasoline in Florida, gas prices have hit a three-year high in Florida, according to AAA.

The average price of regular unleaded statewide hit a high $2.73 per gallon on Sept 14, surpassing the previous three-year high in December 2014. On Sunday, Sept. 17, it had dipped to $2.71 per gallon.

The current average in the Miami area is about $2.75 a gallon, according to a survey by GasBuddy.com.

Florida Times-Union: Some question state’s measurement of teacher effectiveness

Days before the school year started, state education officials forced Duval County Schools to remove 35 teachers from eight high-need schools.

Those teachers’ so-called “VAM” scores were too low, the state said, and they shouldn’t teach at schools trying to turn around persistently low grades.

The controversial move cast light on the main way Florida measures a teacher’s effectiveness, VAM scores.

VAM stands for value-added measure or value-added model. It features a complicated formula based on student academic growth, as measured on state tests, to judge teacher effectiveness.

Miami Herald: Parents in 48 Florida counties don’t have to worry about lunch money for a month

There is such a thing as a free lunch for students in 48 Irma-affected Florida counties.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture accepted Florida’s Department of Agriculture request to give free meals until Oct. 20 to kindergarten through high school senior students in 48 FEMA Major Disaster Declaration counties.

Miami-Dade and Broward’s public school systems each already declared its students will receive free breakfast and lunch for the foreseeable future.

Colorado in focus: Happy Constitution Day. Let’s celebrate liberty

Mon, 2017-09-18 06:55

The Gazette: Happy Constitution Day. Let’s celebrate liberty

Sunday was Constitution Day. We should celebrate this obscure holiday like never before, as the country needs a constitutional revival.

Constitution Day is a nationwide remembrance of the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

As our country unravels along the lines of partisan division and identity politics, knowledge of the United States Constitution may be our only hope to maintain a free republic.

At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin if this would be a republic or monarchy.

Denver Post: Colorado mulls state limit for groundwater contamination from PFCs

Colorado health officials grappling with groundwater contamination from firefighting foam — containing a toxic chemical the federal government allows — have proposed to set a state limit to prevent more problems.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment limit for the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) also could give leverage in compelling cleanup by the Air Force, which has confirmed high levels of PFCs spreading from a military air base east of Colorado Springs. More than 65,000 residents who relied on the underground Widefield Aquifer as a water source have had to find alternative supplies or install new water-cleaning systems as a plume of PFCs contamination moves south through the Fountain Valley watershed.

 “We need to be able to have not just a carrot, but a stick,” CDPHE environmental toxicologist Kristy Richardson said last week, discussing the effort to set a state limit.

The proposed maximum allowable level of 70 parts per trillion in groundwater — matching a health advisory level the Environmental Protection Agency declared in May 2016 for two types of PFCs — wouldn’t be finalized until April, Richardson said. A boundary has yet to be drawn for where the limit would apply.

Denver Post opinion: In Denver’s courting of Amazon, officials should remember the taxpayers

Civic and elected officials are abuzz at the prospect of luring retail giant Amazon to Denver, and little wonder why. In looking to create a second headquarters on the scale of its massive holdings in Seattle, the company promises to invest $5 billion and fill 50,000 well-paying jobs in a gleaming new corporate campus expected to be larger than the Pentagon.

The Mile High City could use a top-25 company to continue diversifying its economy. The innovative professionals Amazon would hire and attract would enhance our entrepreneurial culture. The kinds of ancillary businesses attracted by a second Amazon headquarters would add to the growth and opportunities across the metro area.

Count us among those hopeful of attracting such a world-class corporation to our fair city. Also count us among those proud to see a New York Times analysis of candidates that ranked Denver as the should-be first choice for Amazon’s second HQ, based on a review of the company’s extensive bidding criteria. Clearly, the forward-thinking and hard work of many officials in Denver, the Front Range and the state are to be praised.

Colorado groups beat the drum for federal tax reform

Mon, 2017-09-18 06:35

Several Colorado groups are rallying and joining forces in support of GOP proposals to simplify and reform the nation’s tax system, which they see as a drag on both economic growth and a more prosperous middle class.

But for others in the state, advancing certain tax reforms seems problematic, especially when Republicans have offered few concrete details about their proposals.

Americans for Prosperity-Colorado recently rallied more than 100 supporters in Denver during an event that featured Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, as keynote speaker. The organization has chapters in 36 states and has garnered financial support from billionaires Charles and David Koch.

“We are very interested in seeing loopholes closed that seem to only benefit the well-connected,” Tamra Farah, deputy state director of AFP-Colorado, told Watchdog.org.

The most recent major tax reform proposals passed by Congress and signed into law resulted in tax cuts amounting to roughly $2,500 per capita per year, Farah said. Such changes can go a long way in helping the average American to purchase groceries or find better housing, she said.

The hours Americans spend preparing taxes also need to be slashed, according to Farah.

“Even that is a hindrance to the economy,” she said.

The nation has the highest corporate income tax compared to other developed nations, a recent White House press release said. That ultimately hurts the middle class through reduced economic growth and fewer added jobs, according to Farah.

“If corporations are paying an excessive amount in taxes, they are not able to spend some of that money … on growing their businesses,” she said.

The Colorado Business Roundtable has also joined the tax reform bandwagon. The business advocacy group has launched a tax reform coalition with the state’s Farm Bureau, manufacturers, chambers of commerce and small businesses, according to its president, Jeff Wasden.

“You’re starting to see urgency around tax reform,” Wasden told Watchdog.org. “This president has learned lessons from the health care debacle.”

Wasden, who expects tax reform to pass this year, noted that President Donald Trump has already visited North Dakota and Missouri to make speeches on tax reform and has cut a deal with congressional Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer on the federal debt ceiling.

Trump is setting the stage and building the coalitions needed to make tax reform possible, he said.

“Congress and the White House understand this is an important time in our nation’s history,” Wasden said, arguing that it’s been three decades since the last comprehensive review of the U.S. tax system was accomplished.

The nitty-gritty of federal tax reform must focus on a fairer, simpler code, a competitive corporate income tax rate, tax relief for average Americans and efforts to encourage corporations to take money that is now parked overseas and invest it in the American economy, he said.

A competitive corporate income tax might be 25 percent, according to Wasden, down from the current federal rate of 35 percent.

“It’s placing a $262 billion burden on our economy,” he said of the existing tax code. Over six billion hours are spent each year to comply with the current tax regulations, Wasden said, citing the Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Advocate Service.

A fairer tax code would go a long ways to benefit the economy in Colorado, where nearly 900 companies operate internationally and generated $149 billion for the economy in 2013, he said.

Michael Waggoner, a tax expert and University of Colorado, Boulder, law professor, agrees that a high corporate tax rate can discourage investment in the United States, but corporate profits are at record levels today — at the same time that wages for the average American have been flat-lining for decades, he said.

“U.S. corporations are so awash in cash that it is hard to see how they need any more cash to be able to hire and invest,” Waggoner said in an email to Watchdog.org.

One solution could be to cut corporate tax rates while eliminating business deductions, which would produce revenue neutrality and a simpler system, he said. But such a change would create winners and losers within the economy, setting up a political fight as losers resist the proposed changes, according to Waggoner.

In addition, creating tax incentives to encourage companies to invest may not be as significant as other issues facing businesses, so the incentives may end up being wasted, he said.

Another problem involves businesses choosing between spending on equipment or labor to expand their operations. The tax system currently encourages business to spend on capital projects and equipment, while hiring people burdens businesses with liabilities, Waggoner said, including Social Security taxes, unemployment compensation, retirement plans and health insurance.

As a result, “there will be fewer jobs, and fewer jobs mean less competition for employees, which means lower wages,” he said.

Minnesota in focus: GOP candidates feud over health insurance

Fri, 2017-09-15 13:02

Minnesota Public Radio: MN GOP candidates feud over health insurance

An unusually early campaign dustup is underway between two of the leading 2018 Republican candidates for governor.

Their disagreement is over health insurance policy.

Keith Downey, the former state GOP chair, fired the first salvo this week on social media when he accused state Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, of bailing out rather than trying to kill the statewide health insurance exchange known as MNsure. Downey claims Dean used his position as chair of the House Health and Human Services committee to “prop up” MNsure by advancing a reinsurance bill last session. The measure provides subsidies aimed at stabilizing the cost of private insurance plans.

“He could have refused to hear the bill in his committee,” Downey wrote. “He could have led a charge to vote against passing it on the House floor. But he didn’t.”

Minneapolis StarTribune: Minneapolis mayoral candidates talk downtown safety, affordable housing

Minneapolis mayoral candidates traded barbs on issues from public safety to the citywide $15 minimum wage at a forum organized by the downtown business community Thursday, with much of the criticism directed at Mayor Betsy Hodges, who reiterated what she’s accomplished since being elected in 2013.

“I have not jumped to the head of the parade and pretended I’ve been leading it the whole time,” she said.

Hodges is facing challenges from Council Member Jacob Frey, DFL state Rep. Ray Dehn, Nekima Levy-Pounds, Tom Hoch and Aswar Rahman, among others. About 100 members of the local business community attended the forum, filling a conference room at the downtown Radisson Blu hotel.

Moderator Tom Hauser, a political reporter for KSTP-TV, kicked off the hourlong forum with a question about public safety and crime downtown — an issue that’s become central to the race. As with other topics, including affordable housing and the bid for Amazon’s new headquarters, candidates largely agreed on fundamentals but differed on specifics.

 

Minnesota Post: For some Minnesota counties, climate change may bring economic benefits

Scientists predict places like Texas and Florida will be bracing for more hurricanes like Harvey and Irma as the earth heats up in the coming years, and that rising temps and extreme weather events will cost those states’ economies.

Minnesota, not as much. According to a new study from an interdisciplinary team of researchers, Minnesota and other parts of the country, especially the upper Midwest, Northeast and West actually stand to benefit from climate change. At least in some ways.

The study, published in Science this summer, is the first to estimate the effects of climate change on multiple sectors at the county level, said Amir Jina, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and a co-author of the report. The researchers assumed a “business as usual” scenario — what Jina described as “the world if we don’t adhere to the Paris Agreement, but don’t get too much worse in terms of what we’re doing” — and projected the effects of climate change out to around the end of the current century, 2080-99.

What they found surprised even them. While people often talk about how the world’s poorest countries will be disproportionately hurt by climate change, Jina and his colleagues found the same patterns across counties in the U.S., with the poorest third of counties, many of them in southern states, projected to experience much larger income losses by the end of the century than their wealthier counterparts, largely in the Northwest, upper Midwest and Northeast.

Wisconsin in focus: Senate plans to take up state budget without votes to pass it

Fri, 2017-09-15 13:02

Wisconsin State Journal: Senate plans to take up state budget without votes to pass it

The state Senate is scheduled to take up the months-overdue state spending plan Friday morning even though its Republican leader is still one vote shy of being able to pass it.

Four Republican senators from conservative counties surrounding Milwaukee on Thursday remained opposed to the 2017-19 state budget Assembly lawmakers passed on Wednesday.

A new state budget to cover spending through 2019 was due on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk on July 1, but Republicans have been at odds for months primarily over how to address a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state’s pot of money for road projects.

Though state government does not shut down if lawmakers miss their deadline to pass a new state budget, some school district administrators have expressed concern about not knowing exactly how much money they will have from the state and local taxpayers as the delay carries into the new school year.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Walker Checks In From Trade Mission Abroad

Gov. Scott Walker is part of a contingent of five Midwestern governors visiting Japan and South Korea this week. According to press release from Walker’s office, the eight-day trade mission is aimed at boosting Wisconsin exports.

Other governors on the trip include: Rick Snyder of Michigan, Eric Holcomb of Indiana, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and Bruce Rauner of Illinois.

The group belongs to the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association. In Japan, Walker said he met with executives from Japanese soy sauce maker Kikkoman, which has long had a Wisconsin presence, and Komatsu, a Japanese corporation that manufactures construction, mining and military equipment. Komatsu recently bought Wisconsin’s Joy Global, a manufacturing company located in Milwaukee.

Walker also met with executives from Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that is expected to build a large electronics plant in southeastern Wisconsin. In addition to speaking with Foxconn executives, he spent time talking with executives from companies interested in being suppliers to the plant.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Industrial barrel investigation goes national; Wisconsin plants hit with 16 violations

Federal regulators have expanded their investigation of industrial barrel refurbishing plants nationwide, examining operations and safety at 13 facilities in nine states.

The multi-agency investigation initially focused on three such facilities in the Milwaukee area, where a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation uncovered a host of problems endangering workers and residents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recorded 16 violations at the three plants, including not properly cleaning and reconditioning the 55-gallon barrels, failing to give employees adequate training and not keeping required paperwork, according to a Notice of Probable Violation issued Aug. 31 to Container Life Cycle Management.

The department’s sanctions are the latest development as regulators continue to investigate the plants in Milwaukee, St. Francis and Oak Creek.

Michigan in focus: Flint water meets federal regulations, new research shows

Fri, 2017-09-15 13:02

Detroit Free Press: Flint water meets federal regulations, new research shows

New test results show Flint’s water meets federal regulations for lead, but residents still are cautioned to use filters and bottled water to curtail lead exposure, according to a leading researcher who is credited with helping to expose the Flint water crisis two years ago.

Virginia Tech College of Engineering professor Marc Edwards lead a team that found in 138 Flint homes a 90th percentile lead level of 9.8 parts per billion — below the federal Lead and Copper Rule’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

Flint water samples taken in March 2016 were at 22.5 parts per billion.

“Even though Flint is meeting the Lead and Copper Rule, residents should still strongly consider strategies to reduce lead exposure, including use of filters or bottled water,” Edwards said in a news release.

The Detroit News: Senate OKs unlimited political donations for groups

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate approved controversial legislation Thursday that would let candidates raise unlimited money for super political action committees that support them and share consultants.

The bills would write super PACs into state law following a landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that opened the doors for increased political spending by corporations and labor unions as a form of free speech.

Supporters contend the legislation would “codify” that ruling. But critics have dubbed it “Citizens United on steroids,” arguing it goes beyond the ruling and would blur the lines between candidates and independent groups.

The two-bill package would create a new class of “independent expenditure committees” that could raise and spend unlimited funds in elections. The super PACs could not coordinate directly with campaigns, but the proposal would allow them to share attorneys, consultants and vendors with candidates they support.

Michigan Public Radio: Bipartisan group rolls out plan for no-fault auto insurance overhaul

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Lansing say they have a plan to make auto insurance more affordable – without cutting benefits.

Representative Ben Frederick is a Republican. He says auto insurance cost is a topic that is constantly brought up. But he says nothing ever gets done about it.

“So this year we’re taking what has many might think is a forgotten approach in Lansing, and certainly long gone in DC – a bipartisan approach.”

Among other things, the legislation would bar insurers from using factors like gender and zip code to set rates.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan hit licensing snag

Fri, 2017-09-15 11:21

Efforts to sell medical marijuana in Michigan have been caught up in a licensing dispute with the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). At the heart of the issue is confusion over Michigan’s 2016 medical marijuana law as well as how municipalities have been implementing it after a 2007 referendum and a subsequent state Supreme Court case.

In 2007, Michigan voters passed a referendum to allow the sale of medical marijuana in the state. The referendum allowed caregivers to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per patient for up to five patients, but it did not define or lay out a way for the drug to be distributed. Dispensaries opened to connect caregivers with patients.

But a 2013 Michigan Supreme Court decision changed the medical marijuana industry in the state.  In that case, the court ruled that medical marijuana could not be bought or sold in shops. In response, many municipalities licensed “caregiver centers” – essentially store fronts where caregivers and their patients could congregate under one roof. This semantic change was enough to curtail the ruling until 2016.

That’s when Michigan’s legislature passed the Medical Marihuana Licensing Act (MMLA). The law more fully implements the result of the 2007 referendum and Supreme Court decision by clarifying the licensing process for caregivers and dispensaries. Under the new law, dispensaries can apply for one of five new licenses, which the state-run Medical Marihuana Licensing Board then decides to grant, or not.

The current controversy started when two of the five Board members – one a former Michigan State police officer, the other a former speaker of the state House of Representatives – motioned to close all existing dispensaries until Dec. 15, when LARA will begin processing license applications.

But caregivers and their patients expressed concern that closing dispensaries now would cut people off from their medication and urged the board to reconsider the motion.

“The MMLA did not address a transition period” between the status quo and the licensing process, Robin Schneider of the National Patients Rights Association said. “Instead of spending time trying to close dispensaries, the board should focus on implementing a transitional program.”

Amos Mbong, a parent whose daughter is dependent on medical cannabis to treat her epilepsy, expressed concern about the board’s proposal.

“[Shutting] down all dispensaries in Michigan is unethical, costly and medically risky for our 6-year old daughter, Mariella,”Amos Mbong told Watchdog.org via email. “She has been depending on High CBD Canabis locally grown here in Michigan for a life-threatening genetic seizure disorder called Pcdh19 Epilepsy …  Locating and purchasing all we need before the shutdown will be nearly impossible and costly.”

On Sept. 12, the board heard from LARA, which had consulted with the Attorney General’s office, that it will not be closing dispensaries until Dec. 15. But, the department noted in a press release, “The intent for the emergency rules is to consider any operation of a facility – that would otherwise need to be licensed under the MMFLA – as a potential impediment to licensure if continued after December 15, 2017.”

In another effort to streamline the licensing process, Democratic state senator Yousef Rabhi from Ann Arbor announced a bill to prevent current dispensaries from being shut down before new license applications can be processed in September. Rabhi’s bill currently has no cosponsors but was introduced to the Senate on Thursday.

Pennsylvania in focus: When retailers win lottery prizes with luck that defies belief, could officials be turning a blind eye?

Fri, 2017-09-15 09:00

The Patriot News: When retailers win lottery prizes with luck that defies belief, could officials be turning a blind eye?

Some Pennsylvanians seem to have luck that defies belief.

That’s according to a PennLive analysis that found more than 200 people have claimed at least 50 Pennsylvania Lottery tickets worth $600 or more between 2000 and 2016 – a feat that, in many cases, is statistically improbable.

In past cases where frequent lottery winning has been probed, investigators have sometimes found it rooted in crime: from theft of winning tickets and cheating to schemes used to facilitate tax evasion and money laundering.

The Pennsylvania Lottery says, however, it hasn’t investigated any of its top 10 most frequent winners.

And as PennLive found, that lack of curiosity appears to extend to its retailers.

Based on an analysis of lottery claims and business records, PennLive identified more than a dozen frequent winners who are either lottery retailers, former retailers or have clear connections to retailers.

Of those players, the Pennsylvania Lottery confirmed it hadn’t investigated any of their wins beyond routine prize and store reviews.

NBC Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Still Going Broke Friday, Missed Payments Likely

Pennsylvania will go broke Friday and the state treasurer says he would not bail out the state again as it faces the ignominious distinction of failing to pay all its bills for the first time.

The state’s general fund will run dry following more than two months of failed efforts in the General Assembly to close a $2.2 billion budget deficit.

The first bill that will not be fully paid is a roughly $2 billion Medicaid payment to eight medical insurance providers, officials said.

For weeks, Treasurer Joe Torsella has warned state lawmakers that the general fund would run out of money Sept. 15. He previously issued a short-term loan to allow the government to meet its financial obligations through August. But he said more recently he would not issue another loan through what is called the Short-Term Investment Program (STIP).

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Mt. Lebanon capital campaign fundraising program questioned

After the financial viablility of the Mt. Lebanon School District Capital Campaign was questioned by several school board members, changes have been proposed for the fundraising program, including providing monthly spreadsheets to the board, making information available to the public, and revising objectives and contribution goals.

Developed in 2013 by the school board, the capital campaign was designed to provide a way for individuals, groups and companies to make private donations to be used for capital projects and special programs.

But the campaign has fallen far short of its original goal to raise $6 million and instead has been operating in the red in the past several years, board members learned during a heated meeting Monday.

“This was a new endeavor for school districts. This wasn’t something we’d ever undertaken,” superintendent Timothy Steinhauer told board members, most of whom weren’t on the board in 2013.

Mr. Steinhauer was asked to prepare a presentation for the board after several members last month refused to approve new expenditures from the campaign until questions about funding were answered.

Florida in focus: Reemployment assistance available for workers out of jobs due to Hurricane Irma

Fri, 2017-09-15 08:02

Florida Times-Union: Reemployment assistance available for workers out of jobs due to Hurricane Irma

Federal assistance is now available for Florida workers or self-employed business owners who have had a loss of employment due to the chaos created by Hurricane Irma.

Disaster Unempl0yment Assistance is now being offered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which is accepting applications for the designation from residents and businesses in about half of Florida’s counties. Northeast Florida counties — Clay, Duval, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns — are among those that are designated to receive the unemployment relief, a news release from Gov. Rick Scott’s office said Thursday.

Miami Herald: Gov. Scott opens interest-free Irma business loans

Gov. Rick Scott activated a loan program designed to support small businesses impacted by Hurricane Irma. The bridge loan program will provide interest-free, short-term loans to small businesses that had physical or economic damage in the storm. Business owners can apply Thursday through October 31. Scott OK’d up to $10 million for the program, which is managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Business owners must: Have between two and 100 employees, be located in the 67 Florida counties affected by Irma, have been established before September 4, 2017 and demonstrate economic injury of physical damage from the storm. The loans — worth up to $25,000 — will be granted in terms of 90 to 180 days.

Tampa Bay Times: Will Hurricane Irma slow Tampa Bay’s booming real estate market?

Expecting the worst from Hurricane Irma, Tampa real estate agent Jeff Shelton fled to Atlanta where wind-whipped trees toppled onto two rental properties he owns. Back in Florida, his house and beachfront condo both survived Irma unscathed.

That’s the kind of story he’s happy to share with clients.

“I’ve got two executives with a major company that are relocating from Cincinnati and they don’t have any concerns about moving to Florida,” Shelton said. “California has its earthquakes and wild fires and mud slides and there are tornados throughout the Midwest. In Florida you know you’re going to have hurricanes but what people are trying to do is be prepared. I think Florida real estate is still very attractive.”

Colorado in focus: Special session called to fix error costing RTD, others big money in marijuana tax revenue

Fri, 2017-09-15 07:50

Fox 31: Special session called to fix error costing RTD, others big money in marijuana tax revenue

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called Thursday for a special session of the Colorado Legislature.

Lawmakers will be called back into session to fix a bill drafting error that has been costing a number of special districts hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in marijuana revenue. They include RTD, the Denver Zoo, the Museum of Nature and Science and other organizations.

The special session will address an “unintended consequence from the passage of Senate Bill 17-267, and will clarify special districts’ authority to levy sales tax on the sale of retail marijuana,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

It will begin October 2.

The Gazette: Bruce speaks out against Colorado Springs and El Paso County ballot measures

Anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce sang a familiar tune Thursday afternoon, decrying city and county ballot measures coming up in November.

Standing in front of a handful of media on the Pioneer Museum’s south lawn, Bruce called a set of stormwater fees – proposed for the city and championed by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers – a “bait and switch” and a “rain tax.”

If approved, the fees would charge residential property owners $5 every month, while nonresidential property owners would pay $30 per month for every acre of land they own. The fees would last for 20 years and are expected to raise an estimated $17 million annually.

The city already spends $17 million on its stormwater obligations, Bruce said. Approving the fees would change where the money comes from but not the amount.

Denver Post: Park County clears out “Flag Man’s” property after refusal to comply with county code

After a monthslong legal battle, Park County has cracked down on code violations by Steve J. Bedigian, known as the “Flag Man of South Park,” and cleared his property of an eclectic assembly of flags and two-by-fours.

It is among the first actions taken by county officials to enforce county code after admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. put the unincoporated area near Hartsel on U.S. 24 – and its living conditions – on the map.

Many residents of the area known as Hartsel Flats live in RVs, Tuff Sheds and nylon tents without electricity, running water or septic tanks. Dear and his girlfriend moved into an RV down the road from Bedigian in 2014.

Pennsylvania House passes measure to close budget deficit with no tax hikes

Thu, 2017-09-14 17:36

Pennsylvania House Republicans late Wednesday passed a measure they say will close the state’s $2.2 billion budget deficit without raising taxes.

The plan includes using $630 million from what GOP House members call shadow budgets, money that has been reserved for years in non-operating accounts such as for mass transit, environmental protection and economic development. It also uses $1 billion by borrowing against the state’s Tobacco Settlement fund, and $225 million in gambling revenue.

The plan passed, 103-91 with no Democrats in support. It needed 102 votes to pass.

“Last night, the House voted to protect the budgets of hardworking Pennsylvanians from being raided to pay for the state’s overspending,” Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO of the Commonwealth Foundation, said in a statement released Thursday. “Despite Gov. [Tom] Wolf’s insistence that tax increases are the only solution to our budget problems – and facing the Senate’s plan to hit Pennsylvania families with more than $570 million in higher taxes – House lawmakers instead took a hard look at Harrisburg’s off-budget fund surpluses to resolve the budget shortfall.”

Wolfe says he opposes the measure.

Earlier this summer, the General Assembly passed a spending plan without enough revenue to pay for it. The Senate approved a plan to raise taxes to fund the gap, but House Republicans opposed the hikes and proposed the new measure approved Wednesday.

 

“With calls for tax hikes from the Senate and Gov. Wolf – and hyperbolic claims that avoiding such hikes would wreak havoc on the state – the House was the last line of defense between Pennsylvania families and harmful tax increases,”Benefield said. “Pennsylvanians can be grateful the House held the line and showed the budget can be balanced without higher taxes or more borrowing. We commend the House for standing up for the families in our state and urge the Senate to do the right thing and support this revenue plan.”

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said in a statement that his members has to review the bill.

Wisconsin legislature approves Foxconn deal, sends to Gov. Walker for signature

Thu, 2017-09-14 16:21

The Wisconsin Assembly approved the massive Foxconn package Thursday, two days after the Wisconsin Senate did the same. The bill was approved on a mostly party line vote of 64-31. Four Democrats voted for the bill and two Republicans voted against it. It will now to be sent to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.

The Foxconn deal has been in a constant state of evolution since Walker announced in July that the company intends to bring a factory to southeast Wisconsin. What started with the state offering $1.25 billion in tax credits has increased to just under $3 billion. Foxconn has pledged to create up to 13,000 jobs in the state.

Democrats in both chambers have echoed concerns about environmental waivers granted to the factory and an expedited judicial process for Foxconn-related lawsuits. In the Senate, Republican legislators accepted an amendment that would give the state Supreme Court the option to hear Foxconn lawsuits faster. Neither the Senate nor the Assembly accepted any amendments on the environmental waivers.

In a statement, Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke said, “I am excited by the prospects Foxconn will bring to Wisconsin. Every family and business throughout the state will see the benefits of this investment for our communities and economy. I look forward to Governor Walker signing the bill into law.”

In a tweet following the vote, Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent, who represents Madison and Maple Bluff, said that “[I] Just voted NO on the Foxconn bill because it’s bad policy and #RiggedAgainstWI.” Democrats had tried to portray the deal as “rigged” against Wisconsin workers because of the massive tax credits the company will be receiving.

Minority leader Peter Barca voted for the bill, but is resigning his leadership post on Sept. 30 after a closed door session with Democratic legislators earlier in the month where his colleagues demonstrated their frustration with him.

The bill now heads to Walker, who is expected to sign it.

Minnesota in focus: Some business leaders protest ‘restrained’ approach to Amazon bid

Thu, 2017-09-14 11:34

Minneapolis StarTribune: Some business leaders protest ‘restrained’ approach to Amazon bid

Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. have emerged as complicating factors in Minnesota’s effort to attract Amazon Inc.’s second headquarters, but some Twin Cities tech leaders say the state’s economic future shouldn’t be handcuffed by the two homegrown firms.

In the week since Amazon announced it was looking for a city beyond Seattle to build an office that may eventually employ 50,000 people, Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges expressed less enthusiasm at the prospect than their peers elsewhere. Dayton said the state’s bid for Amazon, due Oct. 19, would be “restrained” and both leaders cited conversations with Target and Best Buy, who together employ about 20,000 people at headquarters in the Twin Cities.

Some executives said Wednesday that they fear the deference to those companies shows that officials are more concerned about the state’s present than its future.

“Unrestrained isn’t wise with taxpayer dollars, but I hope we are not holding back due to the current incumbents,” said John Tedesco, chief executive of Leadpages, one of the most successful startups in Minneapolis this decade. “The city has to continue to evolve and the companies that come here have to continue to evolve.”

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: Minnesotans’ incomes are up, poverty is down, but successes remain uneven

Following a national trend, Minnesota families in 2016 had more money in their pockets, were less likely to be poor and were more likely to have health insurance, data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show.

Yet those successes were not felt equally. Large gaps remain between the income, poverty and insurance rates of many Minnesotans of color and their white neighbors.

Minnesota’s median household income rose 3.3 percent between 2015 and 2016 to $65,599, the census found. Asian and white households had the highest incomes, while Hispanic, American Indian and black families earned considerably less.

Black households did see a 10 percent increase in income over 2015 but still earned just $33,436, or roughly half of the state’s median household income.

 

Minnesota Post: Minneapolis’ Hodges uses city budget address to tout efforts on police reform, housing, and Trump

Incumbents running for re-election have some unique handicaps, and being a target is one of them. Challengers can criticize while offering only generalized examples of what they might do differently.

In the 2017 Minneapolis mayoral race, Betsy Hodges has certainly experienced that from her 15 opponents, some more than others.

But incumbents running for re-election also have some unique advantages. Mayors get to be mayor — with all of the attention and standing that brings. Hodges’ challengers rarely get the full attention of media coverage when they make pronouncements, and they don’t get to deliver their remarks amid the trappings of the office.

Hodges took full advantage of that on Tuesday, when she delivered her fourth Minneapolis city budget address in City Council chambers. In a speech that came a month after the city charter says it should have —but also a month closer to election day — the 45-minute address both bragged about her accomplishments and promised to continue to work on a list of priorities: equity, cultural change in the police department, addressing a housing affordability problem and establishing cities like Minneapolis as a fighter of climate change.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Assembly set to approve $3 billion Foxconn incentive package

Thu, 2017-09-14 11:34

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Assembly set to approve $3 billion Foxconn incentive package

The state Assembly is set Thursday to send Gov. Scott Walker a $3 billion incentive package to bring Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan to Wisconsin.

The governor and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature have rallied behind the legislation as a way to bring thousands of jobs to Wisconsin and transform the state’s economy. Most Democrats have opposed it, saying it is too costly and includes too many environmental rollbacks for the technology company.

The Assembly approved the package 59-30 last month, but must take it up again because the Senate adopted changes to it on Tuesday under a deal between leaders from both chambers.

In the Senate, the deal – which is more than 10 times as big as any previous state subsidy to a private project in Wisconsin – passed 20-13, largely on party lines.

Capital Times: Two months past deadline, Wisconsin Assembly approves state budget

Wisconsin is one step closer to enacting a state budget, with the approval of the state Assembly granted late Wednesday night.

Lawmakers in the Assembly voted 57-39 after 11 hours of debate to approve the $76 billion spending plan, now more than two months past its deadline.

All Democratic members voted against the plan. They were joined in opposition by Republican Reps. Scott Allen of Waukesha, Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, Bob Gannon of West Bend, Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake and Joe Sanfelippo of New Berlin.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the budget, along with an incentive package for the manufacturing company Foxconn, would leave a structural deficit of just shy of $1 billion by 2021.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Crude oil shipping banned under new Milwaukee port lease

Crude oil would not be stored or shipped at the Port of Milwaukee, under a new lease agreement with U.S. Venture Inc.

The amended lease between the Appleton-based petroleum distributor and the City of Milwaukee through its Board of Harbor Commissioners was approved Wednesday by the city’s Public Works Committee.

Questions about potential plans for shipping crude oil at the port were raised recently during debate about the company’s plans to build a $3 million pipeline that will allow it to ship bulk supplies of ethanol over the Great Lakes.

The amended lease deal says the company shall not “receive, handle, store, ship or otherwise process or distribute crude oil” at the port.

Michigan in focus: Duggan asks Gilbert to lead regional team to lure Amazon to Detroit

Thu, 2017-09-14 11:33

Detroit Free Press: Duggan asks Gilbert to lead regional team to lure Amazon to Detroit

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he has tapped Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert to recruit what he hopes will be a regional team to present a single proposal to convince the Seattle-based online retail giant Amazon to build a second headquarters in Motown.

And Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said Wednesday that officials and community leaders are 24 to 48 hours away from completing the assembly of regional Amazon bid team members, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who said: “Basically, we’ll be working together. Something that big, clearly 50,000 jobs,  will require a regional approach, and I look forward to working on the team.”

Duggan doubled down on his assertion that Detroit has a shot at landing the headquarters, disagreeing with a national news analysis that says the city doesn’t have a chance because of the online retail giant’s needs.

Jeff Bezos set off a “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”-type competition last week, requesting proposals nationwide. The golden ticket? A $5-billion behemoth and up to 50,000 jobs.

The Detroit News: Census: Detroit incomes up for first time since 2000

Poverty went down and incomes rose last year in Detroit, the first significant income increase recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau in the city since the 2000 census.

Detroiters’ median household income was $28,099 in 2016, a 7.5 percent hike from the previous year, according to U.S. Census’ American Community Survey estimates released Thursday. And poverty dipped, by 4 percentage points to 35.7 percent. It’s the lowest poverty rate for the city since 2008.

Mayor Mike Duggan touted the economic gains, coming three years after the city’s historic bankruptcy, as proof his focus on adding jobs and providing training is paying off. Experts welcomed the numbers as well, but cautioned not to read too much into a one-year gain.

Detroit remains the poorest big city in the nation, just above Cleveland, where the poverty rate was 35 percent.

Lansing State Journal: Kwame Kilpatrick asks judge to erase his $1.5 million restitution tab: I owe nothing

The embattled Kwame Kilpatrick is asking a federal judge to erase his $1.5-million restitution tab — or at the very least reconsider the issue — claiming he cost the city of Detroit no financial losses and therefore shouldn’t have to pay anything.

In a new court filing, the imprisoned ex-Detroit mayor asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds — who locked him up for 28 years for corruption — to reconsider letting him travel back to Detroit to contest his restitution bill at a hearing.  And if she doesn’t let him come back, Kilpatrick, who is serving his sentence in Oklahoma  asked Edmunds to “order that no restitution amount can be ordered.”

Kilpatrick, through his attorney Harold Gurewitz, argues that he is being punished for a crime he claims he didn’t commit: bid rigging. Specifically, Gurewitz argues that Kilpatrick’s restitution tab is based on a contract that prosecutors claim was infected by bid-rigging, when the jury “was not required to make any determination that the alleged-bid rigging occurred.”

Moroever, Gurewitz wrote, “there is no jury finding of any loss.”

Florida in focus: Want to speak up about your city’s new budget? Irma may make you wait for that, too.

Thu, 2017-09-14 10:01

Miami Herald: Want to speak up about your city’s new budget? Irma may make you wait for that, too.

Hurricane Irma could delay the voices of some Florida taxpayers from being heard.

It was an unavoidable case of timing. The powerful hurricane bore down on the state as cities, counties, school boards and other taxing bodies were scheduling public hearings required by law before they can revise their tax rates for the new fiscal year. The public hearings are usually held in September. (The fiscal year for local governments begins on Oct. 1, and the state fiscal year begins July 1.)

The executive director of the state Department of Revenue, Leon Biegalski, issued an order on Sept. 6, temporarily waiving the timing requirement for local taxing authorities to hold public hearings. The directive was based on Gov. Rick Scott’s executive order Sept. 4 that declared a statewide emergency in Florida in advance of Hurricane Irma’s arrival.

Biegalski’s order reads in part: “The Department, in the interest of public safety, hereby waives the timing compliance requirements of the following statutes and rules to the extent necessary to meet the emergency declared in EO 17-235 [Scott‘s executive order] and provides additional specific requirements with respect to local taxing authorities holding their millage and budget hearings to ensure consistent adequate notice is provided to taxpayers.”

Times Union: Worker morale a hidden cost for employers after Hurricane Irma

CSX and EverBank have reopened downtown. So has The Jacksonville Landing.

Wells Fargo has not. Neither has European Street or Bistro Aix and there’s no telling how long it will take for those two San Marco mainstays to resume business.

As Jacksonville dries out after Hurricane Irma’s deluge and straightens up from its wind, area businesses are getting back to work. Most of them anyway.

So many businesses were affected in so many ways, from high water to downed trees. Grocery stores opened, but many had empty shelves and freezers that had to be emptied because everything hadn’t stayed frozen. Restaurants opened with limited menus and many other businesses opened with limited staff.

Tampa Tribune: Florida’s office of insurance regulation issues emergency order

David Altmaier, commissioner of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, issued an emergency order Wednesday that protects policyholders from from abuse by their insurance companies in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“Given the strength and size of Hurricane Irma, its catastrophic effect on Florida, stretching from coast to coast and its potential impact on hundreds of thousands of policyholders, the office expects all insurers and regulated entities to implement processes and procedures to facilitate the efficient payment of claims,” the order said.

The order allows policyholders an extra 90 days to give information to their insurance company, bans raising rates on policyholders for 90 days and bars insurance companies from canceling or not renewing policies related to homes damaged by the storm for 90 days.

Pages