Politics
5:03 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

What's next for Public Act 4?

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The petition that would place Public Act 4, that's the emergency manager law, on the November ballot came before the State Board of Canvassers.  Earlier this week it was confirmed the group Stand up for Democracy had more than enough signatures to put the PA 4 up for repeal on the ballot. But then this question of whether the correct font size was used for the ballot was brought up.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

“It’s not really a surprise on a matter like this that you would see a split decision,” Demas says.

Demas adds that supporters of the petition were very upset about the deadlock, and says “they could have avoided all this if they had just gotten their petition approved before they circulated it, and if there was really a font issue, they would have been told.”

This question will most likely head to the State Court of Appeals. Ken Sikkema believes it’s important the courts make a decision consistent with similar cases.

He says, “If they in fact decide to keep this off the ballot, yes they will be criticized that they made a political decision, but if they can rest their decision upon the fact that its consistent with prior decisions then I think they are in fairly decent shape, otherwise the confidence and trust that some people have in the court is going to soften.”

Arts/Culture
5:00 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Roaming Table

Changing Gears Reporter Kate Davidson debunked the conventional wisdom that Detroit has 40 square miles of vacant land. In her report she found that in all likelihood the number is probably closer to half that:

DAVIDSON: That includes empty land - 19 square miles – and land with empty houses. No parks.

Read more
Business
3:37 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Forget Silicon Valley: Can college students make Michigan a startup hub?

TechArb is a business incubator that encourages University of Michigan students to develop their business ideas.
Univ. of Mich. YouTube

What do you get when you put dozens of college students in the basement of a parking garage with some office furniture, a WiFi connection and free coffee?

Well, it turns out you’ll end up with some pretty innovative ideas - as long as those students all happen to have diverse interests and a passion for entrepreneurship.

That’s the idea behind TechArb, a University of Michigan program that aims to provide student entrepreneurs with the mentoring, workspace and, in a few cases, funding needed to start their own businesses.

Read more
Economy
2:40 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Report: Oakland Co. experienced "torrid" growth in 2011

Oakland County’s economy had a “red hot” year in 2011. That’s according to a report by economists at the University of Michigan.

The county added more than 23,426 jobs last year. The economists who prepared the report say they expect the recovery to continue in the next three years – although at a more modest clip.

Business
1:59 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

"Start Garden" to use $15 million to grow ideas into businesses

Entreprenuer Rick DeVos explains how Start Garden works at a press conference Thursday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A Grand Rapids entrepreneur is launching a $15 million venture capital fund to turn people’s ideas into successful businesses.

The DeVos family is backing the fund, called Start Garden. Richard DeVos started Amway, now the world’s largest direct selling company.

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Science/Medicine
12:49 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Michigan health officials urge vaccination to avoid pertussis outbreak

Health officials urge Michigan residents to get a Tdap vaccine
user mconnors morgueFile

Washington, Montana and other states are experiencing pertussis outbreaks.

The respiratory disease, also known as whooping cough, is highly contagious. If infants catch it, they often end up in the hospital.

Read more
Energy
11:16 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Fracking for natural gas, the benefits and the risks

A gas drilling rig in Wyoming.
Wyoming Upper Green River Valley Flickr

This is a speech I recently gave to a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism meeting in Detroit on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

BENEFITS

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, we are seeing an unprecedented drop in the price of natural gas in comparison to oil prices.

Oil is hovering around $100 a barrel. In 2002, oil was about $20 a barrel.

Natural gas is currently at 2002 prices. In fact, the price of natural gas is half of what it was one year ago.

Why? Because of abundant supplies of natural gas, what the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls “robust inshore production.”

There is a glut of gas.

This increased supply is mostly due to hydraulic fracturing. More importantly, a newer way to use the drilling method, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal ‘fracking’ has made it easier and cheaper to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. and other sites around the globe.

Horizontal fracking has meant a boom in gas drilling and production. It’s meant more jobs in certain areas of the country. It’s meant greater dependence on domestic energy, and less dependence on foreign energy.

Because burning natural gas emits about half of the CO2 emissions of coal or oil, it means less of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

It’s meant families can heat their homes more cheaply.

That all sounds good, right?

Well, it’s not ALL good.

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Commentary
10:32 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Commentary: Reforming Michigan’s Supreme Court

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly cares deeply about our highest court, on which she has served for sixteen years.

For a long time, a number of things have bothered her about the court.  A University of Chicago law school study four years ago ranked Michigan’s Supreme Court dead last in the nation. Among its criteria: “Judicial independence from political and outside influences.”

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News Roundup
9:06 am
Thu April 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

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

EM Repeal on November Ballot?

State elections officials say the campaign to reverse Michigan’s emergency manager law appears to have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But, the petition drive still faces at least one more challenge. Rick Pluta reports:

About 161,000 petition signatures were required. The state Bureau of Elections says the group Stand Up For Democracy has gathered more than 203,000 signatures and that’s plenty more names than they needed to qualify for the ballot. But opponents of the referendum drive say they will challenge the petition for technical violations of the law that specifies the size of the type used on petitions.  An evenly divided, bipartisan state elections board may reject the petitions on those grounds, or it could rule the campaign was still in substantial compliance of the law. Either way, the losers are very likely to take their grievance to the Michigan Court of Appeals to decide the fate of the ballot question.

Foreclosure Rates

Most Michigan cities saw their home foreclosure rates tumble during the first quarter of the year. One analyst says that might signal a trend for the rest of 2012. “Home foreclosure filings dropped between 20% and 30% in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids during the first three months of the year. That's compared to the first quarter of 2011, according to Realty Trac.  Lansing was the only Michigan city on Realty Trac’s list to see an increase in home foreclosure filings between January and March,” Steve Carmody reports.

Michigan Wildfire

Officials say a wildfire in the northern Lower Peninsula has burned at least 1,500 acres and forced the evacuation of about 50 homes, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

WWTV/WWUP reports the fire burned near Mack Lake in Oscoda County's Mentor Township. The U.S. Forest Service says the fire was about 90 percent contained as of Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries or structures being burned. An American Red Cross shelter was set up in the nearby community of Mio. Officials say rain was helping firefighting efforts. The fire is in the area of the Huron National Forest… The Oscoda County sheriff's department says the evacuated homes include some small subdivisions and most of them are seasonal.

Environment
9:00 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Lawmakers debate future of "fracking" in Michigan

A gas drilling rig in Appalachia.
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

Hydraulic fracturing is getting some attention this week in Lansing.  You’ve probably heard it called fracking.  It’s a method of drilling for natural gas.

Drillers use fracking to get to the gas that’s trapped in tight shale rock formations below the water table.

Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas.

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry. 

But what’s new... is that drillers want to turn their drills and dig horizontally along the shale rock.  That makes the well site much more productive.  But it also uses a larger amount of chemicals and much more water - anywhere from a few million gallons of water to as much as eight million gallons of water per well.  After it’s used, that water is usually disposed of in deep injection wells.

Right now in Michigan, there are two experimental wells that are using the horizontal fracking method.

This week the Michigan House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Natural Gas put out a report encouraging more natural gas production in the state.

Read more
Flint
7:48 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Flint emergency manager imposes contract changes

Sean Marshall Flickr

Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager has imposed concessions on two union contracts and pushed through a new city budget for the city.

The Flint Journal reports the changes were among a dozen orders issued Wednesday by Michael Brown.

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Auto/Economy
1:01 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Most Michigan cities see declining home foreclosure filings

(file photo)
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Most Michigan cities saw their home foreclosure rates tumble during the first quarter of the year. One analyst says that might signal a trend for the rest of 2012. 

Home foreclosure filings dropped between 20% and 30% in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids during the first three months of the year. That's compared to the first quarter of 2011, according to Realty Trac. 

Lansing was the only Michigan city on Realty Trac’s list to see an increase in home foreclosure filings between January and March. Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac.

He says Lansing’s foreclosure rate increase was tied to a big increase in final bank repossessions. "It seems like it’s more of a clearing out of the foreclosure pipeline rather than a lot a new foreclosures coming online and starting the process," says Bloomquist. 

Bloomquist expects other Michigan housing markets will see spikes in foreclosure filings as the year goes on, but he predicts the general trend will be fewer foreclosures in Michigan.

Business
6:32 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

GE shareholders meeting met by protests

General Electric shareholders convened for their annual meeting at Detroit’s Renaissance Center Wednesday.

They were met by protesters who say GE and other big companies are not shouldering their fair share of the tax burden.

Thousands of people, calling themselves part of the “99% coalition,” shouted for GE to pay its “fair share.”

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Politics
5:46 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Concerns remain over Air National Guard cuts

The latest budget proposal from the Pentagon calls for keeping C-130 airplanes at bases around the country to preserve jobs.
Josh Beasley flickr

Concerns remain over what the Obama administration's proposed budget could mean for the Selfridge Air National Guard base in Macomb County.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Shelby Twp.) says she's far from satisfied with the Obama administration's latest proposal to mitigate cuts to the Air National Guard. Miller's district includes the Selfridge base. Selfridge stood to lose hundreds of jobs under the Pentagon's original budget proposal for next year. 

After pressure from Congress and governors, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has come out with a proposal that would keep more C-130 aircraft in the National Guard. Panetta says that would restore 2,200 Air Guard jobs across the United States. 

Miller calls the plan "a slap in the face."

"Certainly I think the men and women of the Air National Guard deserve better than to be given more than old airplanes and temporary jobs," Miller said.

Selfridge no longer has C-130s. But it did before a 2005 base realignment. Rep. Sander Levin(D-Royal Oak)  says the development is promising, and that he'll push for basing some of the aircraft at Selfridge again.

Environment
5:40 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Former oil spill clean-up employee settles lawsuit, says Enbridge is next

John Bolenbaugh on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. He claims Enbridge Energy is not doing enough to clean up the oil it spilled.
screen grab Vimeo Video

In 2010, John Bolenbaugh worked for clean-up contractor SET Environmental Inc. The company was one of many to come in and start the clean-up process after an Enbridge Energy pipeline broke and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of thick, tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

Bolenbaugh was fired after several weeks on the job. He claimed he was wrongfully terminated after he complained the oil was not being cleaned up properly.

SET Environmental Inc. said Bolenbaugh broke company policy by speaking to the news media without approval.

This week, the Battle Creek Enquirer reports Bolenbaugh settled the case, which according to his attorneys, clears the way for a lawsuit against Enbridge Energy.

Testimony began last week in Bolenbaugh’s civil suit against SET Environmental but his attorney, Thomas Warnicke of Southfield and the attorney for SET, Van Essen, said they reached a settlement agreement Sunday.“It is the only legal way to go after Enbridge,” Bolenbaugh said about the settlement moments after Calhoun County Circuit Judge James Kingsley approved and sealed the confidential agreement.

The amount Bolenbaugh was awarded was not disclosed, but he stated he now has enough money to "fund what I am doing now."

What he is doing now is to continue his fight against Enbridge Energy.

From MLive:

"It gives him the resources and means to allow him to continue his efforts on behalf of the community," said Bolenbaugh's lawyer, Tom Warnicke of Fieger Law. 

Warnicke would not comment on any future lawsuit against Enbridge. "At this time, he is exploring any and all alternative legal claims he may have," he said of Bolenbaugh.

Since he was fired in October of 2010, Bolenbaugh has posted videos which he says prove the company is not cleaning up remaining oil.

A lawyer for representing SET Environmental Inc. quoted in the Battle Creek Enquirer said  testimony given last week, and testimony that would have been given had the case continued, "would have explained how oil was being removed and why Bolenbaugh is mistaken that the oil spill is being hidden from the government and the community."

Bolenbaugh came up in one of our  "Your Story" segments last year. Activist, social worker, and Kalamazoo College grad student Sasha Acker went down to the Kalamazoo River's edge with Bolenbaugh. You can read about her account here.

Politics
4:45 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Online searchable "checkbook" proposed for state universities

A state House Republican says citizens should be able to see every expense for state universities.  

Representative Tom McMillin proposes a constitutional amendment that would require universities to list all their expenses. The items would be kept in an online searchable database.

Universities aren't lining up to support the idea.

Mike Boulus is head of the President's Council, a group that represents state universities in Michigan.

He says universities are in favor of transparency.

Read more
Politics
4:12 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Governor Snyder talks business climate, jobs, transport, and more at online town hall

Snyder discussed DDOT busses during his townhall meeting online Wednesday.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder discussed all kinds of issues during an online townhall meeting today. People participated in the town hall online and remotely from Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Detroit.

“My question is what can be done about the horrible transportation situation in the City of Detroit?” Shelia Foreman asked Snyder from Wayne State University’s TechTown. “I have had relatives lose their jobs because they cannot get to them. Do you have a solution for that?”

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Politics
3:52 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Former Pontiac, Michigan emergency manager says law will fail

Pontiac, Michigan
Dave Garvin Flickr

Michael Stampfler, the former emergency manager in Pontiac, Michigan gave a speech last night at a Rotary International meeting in Wyandotte.

The Detroit Free Press reports he told the group the state's emergency manager law is "destined to fail."

Read more
Politics
2:44 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Group appears to have enough signatures to put emergency manager repeal on ballot

Update 2:44 p.m.

A report from Michigan's Bureau of Elections confirms the group "Stand Up For Democracy" appears to have enough signatures from registered voters in Michigan to put a referendum on the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

The recommendation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections is to "certify petition as sufficient."

A challenge to the referendum drive still remains. The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility has challenged the petition drive alleging five defects in the format of the petitions:

  1. The type size of the petition heading, REFERENDUM OF LEGISLATION PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION purportedly does not comply with the requirement of MCL 168.482(1) that it be “printed in capital letters in 14-point boldfaced type [.]”
  2. The summary that appears on the signature side of the petition form is, in their view, “incomplete and misleading.”
  3. The petition omits the prior law, 1990 PA 72, which will be revived if 2011 PA 4 is suspended.
  4. The petition omits the effective date of 2011 PA 4.
  5. The petition omits 2011 PA 9, which was tie-barred to 2011 PA4.

2:02 p.m.

Citizens in the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition say they were notified by the Board of State Canvassers that the group collected 203,238 valid voter signatures needed to place the repeal of Public Act 4 (aka the Emergency Manager Law) on the November 2012 general election ballot.

According to the report, the group exceeded the 161,305 valid signatures needed by more than 40,000.

The Coalition still faces a challenge from a Republican group that claims the petitions should be invalidated because the wrong font size was used.

From a Stand Up for Democracy Coalition press release:

 “This is an important step in the effort to stand up for democracy in Michigan,” said Herb Sanders, director of the coalition. “This report clearly shows that people across the state want the opportunity to vote to repeal the emergency manager dictator law. Now it is up to the State Board of Canvassers to honor the democratic process and let the people vote.”

   On Thursday, April 26, 2012 the members of the State Board of Canvassers will meet in Lansing to decide if the petition will be placed on the November general election ballot. They will also have the opportunity to review a memo from the Secretary of the Board of State Canvassers that dismisses the challenges of a republican group seeking to prevent voters from deciding the fate of PA 4.

Business
2:09 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

Groups protest outside GE shareholder meeting in Detroit

user Bubba73 wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - About two dozen people chanting "pay your fair share" were escorted from the General Electric Co. shareholder meeting in Detroit's Renaissance Center as more than 1,000 others picketed outside the downtown building.

Organizers said Wednesday morning's protest was part of the "99 percent" movement and a call for GE and others in corporate America to pay a fair share in taxes.

The crowd later marched onto nearby Jefferson Avenue, where traffic was temporarily blocked. Detroit police, including some on horseback, monitored the demonstration. No arrests were reported.

GE spokesman Gary Sheffer has said GE's 2011 U.S. income tax rate of 25 percent has been paid.

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