Commentary
11:51 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Commentary: More companies betting on Detroit

There’s an old Russian saying that, even, if you covered the world with asphalt, eventually a crack would form.

And in that crack, grass would grow. I was reminded of that yesterday by an Italian businessman my age, a man who is betting on green shoots coming through a town caked with many layers of asphalt. His name is Sergio Marchionne, and he is the CEO of a company called Fiat. Three years ago, he did something many at the time thought stupid. He took over a dying bankrupt company.

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Environment
10:57 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Michigan DNR wants to resolve encroachment conflicts on public land

The Department of Natural Resources has started a program to help people resolve issues of encroachment on public land.

MDNR officials say they want to work with people who are trespassing, by having either a permanent-structure or historical-encroachment.

They say they're writing to property owners with known encroachments on public land, telling them they're eligible to resolve their cases without penalty.

Applications will be accepted through December 31.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Report: Pipeline laws inadequate to protect Great Lakes

The pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy that ruptured in July 2010.
NTSB

A new report argues that our current laws are not strong enough to protect the Great Lakes from major oil spills. 

The National Wildlife Federation wanted to look at pipeline oversight after the massive tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.  The spill was the result of a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  (The official cause of the spill is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board)

Sara Gosman is an attorney who wrote the report for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Federal laws are inadequate and states have not passed their own laws to fill in the gaps."

We’ve previously reported the spill ran through some of the highest quality wetlands in Michigan.

Sara Gosman says federal laws on oil pipelines do not protect all environmentally sensitive areas.  Instead, the laws cover something called high consequence areas.

"It’s a term of art used by the federal pipeline agency.  It’s a bunch of different areas.  For environmental purposes, it’s commercially navigable waterways, areas with threatened and endangered species and drinking water sources."

Gosman says federal government data show 44% of hazardous liquid pipelines in the country run through places that could affect high consequence areas.  She says that means companies have to do special inspections on those segments of pipelines... but not necessarily on the rest of the pipelines.

"This means 56% of hazardous liquid pipeline miles do not have to be continually assessed, have leak detection systems or be repaired on set timelines."

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News Roundup
8:13 am
Tue May 1, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Chrysler sales rise in April

Based on strong demand for Jeep and Chrysler brand cars and trucks, Chrysler says its U.S. auto sales rose in April by 20 percent. The Associated Press reports:

The company said it sold more than 141,000 vehicles, its best April in four years. It was the 25th straight month that Chrysler posted year-over-year sales gains. Chrysler says its sales were led by the 200 midsize sedan with a 61 percent increase over April of last year. Jeep Wrangler SUV sales were up 35 percent. All major automakers are scheduled to report April sales figures on Tuesday. Sales are expected to slow a bit from the blistering pace of February and March. Auto research site Edmunds.com expects sales to rise 2 percent over April of 2011 to nearly 1.2 million cars and trucks.

Review team to Pontiac school district

Pontiac’s Interim Superintendent Walter Burt says a state review team is coming to his school district to review the district’s finances, The Oakland Press reports. From the Press:

The state is expected to send a review team to the Pontiac school district as school officials struggle to meet the mandatory plan to eliminate a $24.5 million deficit. This step by the state brings the district closer to having a state emergency manager put in place to run district operations. The Michigan Department of Education has been withholding the April 20 state aid of $1.25 million because district officials have not so far been able to satisfy the first year’s part of the three-year deficit reduction plan… Once it reviews district books, the team would make recommendations to the Pontiac Board of Education, which would be expected to give a stamp of approval to carrying out those proposals.

Personal Property Tax rolls on in state Legislature

The effort to phase out Michigan’s tax on industrial equipment is expected to clear a major hurdle this week as a state Senate committee wraps up hearings on the plan. “A vote in the full Senate could come as soon as this week. Manufacturers say Michigan’s tax on industrial equipment, also known as the Personal Property Tax, is a drag on the state’s economic recovery. The Senate plan would eliminate the tax on industrial equipment by 2022. But local governments rely on that revenue to pay for everything from police and fire to parks and libraries. Communities with a lot of factories would be hit hardest by the loss of tax revenue. Local officials complain the phase-out plan does not guarantee they’ll recover all the lost revenue, which would force cuts to services or force local tax hikes to make up the difference,” Rick Pluta reports.

Flint
12:24 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Critics lash out at Flint's emergency manager

One of the many angry Flint residents who turned out for last night's public meeting on the budget plan the city's emergency manager imposed last week
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint’s emergency manager got an earful during a public meeting last night on the budget he imposed on the city last week.

Emergency manager Michael Brown had planned to take the first half hour of a 90 minute public meeting to review his budget plan and then allow an hour for questions.

But the budget presentation had barely started, when several people in the nearly full auditorium jumped to their feet to shout down the emergency manager.

After the outburst, a parade of people took turns at the podium denouncing emergency manager Michael Brown, the law that put him in charge of Flint and the budget he introduced and imposed last week. That budget cuts the city’s workforce by about 20 percent and imposes hundreds of dollars in new fees for city water, street light and other city services.

Flint resident Carolyn Shannon questioned the expertise behind the decision to make deep cuts to the city’s police and fire departments.  

“Even a person off the street…can cut somebody’s throat," scolded Shannon.

One man, identified only as Maurice, glared at Brown as he talked about how he can’t afford to pay any more taxes.

"You want to take more from me and my daughter?" the man asked, "You ain’t no different than these people that are out here murdering our own children."  

Brown insists the budget cuts and fee increases are needed to address Flint’s  projected $25 million gap next year. That's not Flint's only financial problem. The city is also seeking the state's OK to sell more than $18 million in loans to pay off the city debts from the past few budget years.

Lansing
12:06 am
Tue May 1, 2012

Lansing city budget review entering final weeks

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero seen here delivering his FY2013 budget address earlier this year
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Lansing city council may soon face a critical test to see if it might be able to override the mayor’s plans for how to spend property tax money earmarked for public safety.

The Lansing city council is expected to vote in two weeks on the city’s budget for next year. But one major point of contention between the council and mayor Virg Bernero remains.

Voters last year approved a special public safety property tax. The mayor wants to spend part of the revenue next year on hiring back more than a half dozen laid off police officers and renovate a city owned building for police operations.

But Council President Brian Jeffries and other council members would rather all the money be spent on hiring laid off police officers. But in the end, he says it’s a question of numbers.

"It takes five votes to amend the budget on the floor," says Jeffries, "and once its passed it takes six votes to override a veto."

Jeffries says he hasn’t polled his fellow council members on how they will vote on the mayor’s public safety budget.

The council has until the middle of this month to act on the mayor’s budget plan.

Auto/Economy
6:07 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Chrysler factory to stay open this summer to make more Jeep Grand Cherokees

Chrysler says its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit will forgo the traditional two-week shutdown this summer.

The unusual move will help the company keep up with strong demand for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. 

Sales of the new Durango are up 33% from last year, and sales of the new Grand Cherokee are up 44%.  

The factory's employees are already working nine hour shifts plus two Saturdays a month, but Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson thinks they don't mind.

"Considering where we have been over the last couple of years, I think there is a very positive feeling that these vehicles are being so well received," says Tinson.   "And they (workers) are reaping the benefits by being able to work some overtime."

Chrysler had been planning to hire 1,100 new workers at the plant next January but will move that ahead to this November.

Transportation
6:06 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

New program, more promised improvements for Detroit buses

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit leaders are promising better service for the city’s more than 100,000 regular bus riders.

Officials phased in what they’re calling the "415 plan" this past weekend.

It promises service every fifteen minutes along the city’s four busiest bus routes during peak riding hours (6 am-6 pm).

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing turned bus management over to a private firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, earlier this year. He credits them with improving service.

“I think the outside management team has worked very, very well with our employees," said Bing, speaking Monday during his first day back from more than a month-long battle with health problems. "They’re listening to each other, they’re good ideas being brought to the table, and the implementation plan is moving forward.”

But the four-fifteen initiative comes on the heels of cutbacks to other city bus routes, and the elimination of overnight service.

And while timely service has improved, city officials admit it’s still a long way from where it needs to be.

“It should be 90-95% [on-time]," said Detroit Department of Transportation CEO Ron Freeland. "Especially when you consider that most of our customers are going to use more than one bus line.”

In a report released just last week, the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United gave Detroit’s bus system a “D-minus” grade—with only 63% of buses arriving on-time.

Science/Medicine
3:13 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Report: Percentage of low-birthweight babies on the rise in Michigan

user anitapatterson morgueFile

A new report shows Michigan has made some progress in improving maternal and infant well-being.

The Michigan League for Human Services' Kids Count in Michigan project found a drop in the percentage of teen births over the past decade. Repeat births to teens and pre-term births have also decreased.

But it’s not all good news. Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Mchigan project director, says the state saw worsening trends over the decade in babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds, or low-birthweight babies.

"One of indicators that is of most concern is the 7 percent increase in low-birthweight, because that is what drives infant mortality particularly in the African American community."

African Americans babies had double the risk of being born too small, compared to white and Hispanic babies.

The report calls for more state investment in programs and policies to improve the well-being of mothers, and provide a stronger safety net for low-income families and their children.

Zehnder-Merrell says these data are not only indicators of how successful the next generation will be, but also "how successful our state will be."

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Politics
2:56 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Industrial tax roll back headed to Michigan Senate

Andrew Jameson Wikimedia commons

A plan to roll back taxes...that some criticize, but others rely on...is expected to clear a major hurdle this week. A legislative committee is expected to wrap up hearings on the plan, and send it to the floor of the state Senate.

Maufacturers say there would be more hiring and investment in factories if not for Michigan’s unique tax on industrial equipment. The Senate plan would phase out the tax – starting next year -- by 2022.

But the Republican proposal would not replace all the revenue lost to local governments that rely on the tax as a source of funding for services. Communities with a big industrial presence would be hit the hardest.

They say with no guarantee that all the revenue will be replaced, they could be forced to cut services more than they have already, or increase other taxes to make up the difference.

Politics
2:03 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Flint protestors gather to oppose emergency manager

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Protesters gathered in Flint to voice their opposition to the emergency manager in their city.

Since last December, Michael Brown, Flint's emergency manager, has been making decisions normally reserved for city council and the mayor. He's expected to present his budget plan for the city during a public meeting with Flint City Council tonight.

Kristin Longley of the Flint Journal reports the protestors gathered outside Flint City Hall before moving inside.

The group of more than 25 Flint residents and community members braved the rain to protest what they consider "taxation without representation" under the emergency manager in Flint.

Brown adopted a budget plan last week that includes fee increases for Flint residents as well as a possible reduction of 19 police officers and 31 firefighters through layoffs and attrition. Overall, city personnel would be reduced by about 150 positions.

Longley reports lifelong Flint resident Ralph Arellano would be willing to pay more taxes for better public safety in Flint - Arello said the emergency manager system "is undemocratic and undermines voters."

"It's all about public safety. There's not one person who lives in Flint who doesn't have some story about public safety," said Arellano, who said his home has been broken into twice. "The decisions they're making are short-term and they're short-sighted."

Protestors put up garage sale signs with the names of some of Flint's assets (ex. Brennan Park and Hurley Hospital) that could be sold off by Michael Brown should he decide to do so.

tax code
1:36 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Stabenow wants to stop businesses from writing off moving expenses overseas

Senator Debbie Stabenow unveiled the "Bring Jobs Home Act" at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Monday morning. GVSU student senate president Jack Iott is to her right.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will introduce a bill next week to prevent companies from getting tax write-offs for moving overseas.

Currently businesses can write off moving expenses on their taxes if they’re moving within or out of the country.  But no such break exists for businesses moving into the U.S.

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Stabenow said at a press conference Monday at Grand Valley State University.

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Environment
1:32 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Michigan DEQ okays copper and silver mine in the UP

Mineral deposits Orvana hopes to target
Orvana Minerals Corp.

IRONWOOD, Mich. (AP) - Michigan environmental regulators say they've approved plans for a copper and silver mine in the far western Upper Peninsula.

The Department of Environmental Quality said Monday it had determined that Orvana Resources U.S. Corp.'s application for a mining permit meets state mining standards.

The department in March gave tentative approval. The DEQ says it's still reviewing other related permits for the project including air emissions and water discharges.

Orvana is targeting 798 million pounds of copper and 3.5 million ounces of silver in an underground deposit near Ironwood.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the company's plans to withdraw large volumes of Lake Superior water and discharge treated wastewater into a creek that feeds the lake. Company officials say a buffer zone will provide adequate protection.

Business
1:31 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Chrysler adds to business presence in downtown Detroit

The Dime Building/"Chrysler House"
wikimedia commons

Chrysler will start renting office space in a downtown Detroit skyscraper later this year.

Chrysler’s CEO and other business leaders have already re-christened the building “Chrysler House.”

Chrysler will move only about 70 employees into the former Dime building in the heart of downtown Detroit. But CEO Sergio Marchionne says it reflects Chrysler’s commitment to “put down roots” in the city and the region.

Marchionne says the resurgent Chrysler sees its own fortunes tied to Detroit’s.

“The people of Detroit and this region have contributed to making our country great again with their talent, their commitment, and their sweat," Marchionne said. "Detroit is the place that we feel at home. That’s why we’re proud to say that from now on, this building is going to be known as Chrysler House.”

Marchionne also noted Chrysler’s plans to “substantially expand” its industrial presence in the city. The automaker plans to re-open one Detroit assembly plant, and up production at two others by next year.

The move is also another win for the city’s central business district, which has announced some major new tenants in the past few months.

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert has been one of the key figures pushing to revitalize downtown with his Detroit 2.0 initiative.

“Together we are creating an urban core in downtown Detroit, that will be a spark of the entire region, that will have jobs, growth, and excitement,” Gilbert said.

Marchionne says Chrysler employees will move in once the space is refurbished, likely sometime this summer.

The Detroit Free Press also reports that Chrysler has now committed $3.3 million to help build a light rail project in downtown Detroit. The M-1 rail project will jumpstart with funds from private backers. It's still awaiting approval from city, state, and federal officials.

Seeking Change
12:28 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Therapist says hypnosis can help people overcome fears and anxieties

Meme! Flickr

Dr. Alicia Tisdale, a licensed psychologist and regression therapist says hypnosis is a way for people to overcome fears, anxieties, and depression.

She spoke with me this morning about why she thinks this type of therapy is becoming more common.

You can listen to my interview with her above.

Energy
11:54 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Reactor no. 2 back online at Michigan's Cook Nuclear Power Plant

Exterior of the Donald C. Cook nuclear plant, located north of Bridgman, Michigan. Image is looking towards Unit 1.
Tom Remick wikimedia commons

American Electric Power officials say reactor no. 2 at the Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan came back online Saturday after a 38-day refueling and maintenance shutdown.

Cook Nuclear Plant is located north of Bridgman, Michigan.  

From an AEP press release:

Indiana Michigan Power’s Cook Nuclear Plant Unit 2 returned to service today at 4:47 p.m. following a refueling outage that began March 21. In addition to refueling the reactor and performing regular maintenance and testing work, the 38-day, 16-hour outage also included the installation of new main output transformers.

ABC 57 reports reactor no. 1 will be refueled next year.

Auto/Economy
11:23 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Chrysler begins producing the Dodge Dart this week

Chrysler unveiled the Dodge Dart at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Dart will help make Chrysler a full-line auto company once again. It's a compact car, or so-called "C-segment," car.

It's the first vehicle to combine a U.S. design with a Fiat chassis or platform.  The last small car Chrysler made was the Dodge Caliber and that was not very successful.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks the Dart will do much better.

"We are looking forward to a successful launch of a C-segment sedan, which is a piece of the market that we've been absent from for a long period of time, so we're expecting great volumes in terms of the Dart for the remainder of the year," said Marchionne.

A version of the Dart that gets 41 miles per gallon is expected later this year.

Commentary
10:50 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Commentary: Referendum madness

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

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News Roundup
10:23 am
Mon April 30, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing returns to work today

Mr. Bing is expected back at city hall following his recovery from pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. Bing had an
operation in late March for a perforated colon, then returned to the hospital earlier this month after doctors discovered the blood clots in his lungs - a potentially life-threatening condition.

Bing, 68, was away for much of the drama surrounding the city's consent agreement vote with the state, but Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis said Bing was continually informed and was providing his input into the process. From the Detroit News:

In a conference call with reporters 10 days ago, Bing said he was fully engaged in the process of hiring a chief financial officer as well as appointing members to the financial advisory board that will oversee the city's fiscal restructuring.

In that phone interview with reporters, Bing said he would start slowly and not work full days until his health is 100 percent.

Appointments to Detroit's financial oversight board continue

Five have been appointed to the nine-member financial advisory board - four more appointments are left.

The Detroit Free Press reports Detroit City Council will interview candidates today:

The council will interview candidates at 2:30 p.m. today and at 1 p.m. Tuesday at council chambers on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

"It will be a world-class board," council President Pro Tem Gary Brown, who is heading up the selection process for the council, said last week. "I've seen all the candidates, and people will be pleased with the level of competency on this board."

Council President Charles Pugh said the council could vote on its selections as early as Friday.

The financial advisory board will have oversight over the city's finances. Each member will be given $25,000 in annual compensation for their service on the board.

Number of low-birth weight babies increasing in Michigan

The Michigan League for Human Services’ Kids Count in Michigan report released today says the number of low-birth weight babies and babies born to unwed women is increasing, according to the Lansing State Journal.

The Journal reports that the authors of the report call for funding to implement changes from a state infant mortality summit.

The report says the 10 counties with the best health indicators for mothers and children are Houghton, Ottawa, Livingston, Leelanau, Midland, Grand Traverse, Oakland, Emmet, Clinton and Washtenaw.

The 10 worst are Berrien, Calhoun, Alcona, Genesee, Clare, Lake, Saginaw, Wayne, Crawford and Luce.

Politics
6:54 pm
Sun April 29, 2012

Levin visits Afghanistan & Turkey

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee says Chairman Carl Levin and member Jack Reed are visiting Afghanistan, Turkey and NATO headquarters in Belgium starting this weekend.

The committee announced the trip Sunday by the two Democratic lawmakers. Levin is from Michigan and Reed is from Rhode Island.

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