Auto/Economy
10:14 am
Wed May 25, 2011

General Motors to add 2,500 jobs at Detroit-area factory

General Motors' headquarters in downtown Detroit. GM's North American president, Mark Reuss says the company "is dedicated to helping rebuild this city."
user paul (dex) Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - General Motors Co. will add 2,500 jobs at a Detroit-area factory that now makes electric cars, investing $69 million so the plant can make two new Chevrolet sedans.

The factory, which straddles the border between Detroit and the small enclave of Hamtramck, now makes the Chevrolet Volt and its European counterpart, the Opel Ampera.

But GM announced on Wednesday that it will upgrade the factory so that it can run around the clock making the new Malibu midsize car and a revamped version of the aging Impala large sedan.

About 1,200 of the jobs will be new hires, since GM still has to recall about 1,300 laid-off workers in the U.S.

But in Michigan, which has among the highest unemployment rates in the nation, 1,200 new jobs is big news.

GM announced on May 10 that it would create or keep about 4,000 jobs by investing $2 billion in 17 factories in eight states.

The Detroit-Hamtramck announcement adds to previous expansion announcements in Bowling Green, Ky.; Toledo, Ohio; and Flint and Bay City, Mich.

"Filling this plant with new work is very satisfying because GM is dedicated to helping rebuild this city," Mark Reuss, the company's North American president, said in a statement.

GM said last week it would shut the plant down for four weeks starting in June, reconfiguring it to increase Volt and Ampera production from 16,000 cars per year to 60,000 next year in order to meet strong demand.

The shutdown also will let GM add equipment to build the 2013 Malibu midsize sedan at the plant starting next year. The car also will be built in Kansas City, Kansas.

In addition, GM said it will build a long-overdue new version of the Impala at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

GM will stop producing two other big cars at the factory, the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne, later this year.

News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed May 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Tax Restructuring

Governor Rick Snyder will sign his proposed tax-overhaul into law today. The measure has already been approved by both the Republican-led state Senate and House. The measure cuts taxes on some businesses by about $1 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The bill also ends tax exemptions on some retirees’ pensions and shrinks the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The governor says the legislation will create jobs but many Democrats who oppose the measure say it will hurt seniors and low-income families.

Lansing Lawmakers Move Forward on Budget

The state Senate has started approving parts of the state's budget for the next fiscal year, including a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent. Laura Weber reports:

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years. The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday. Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding. Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Detroit Budget: Bing v. City Council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'll veto the Detroit City Council's budget bill that cuts spending by $50 million more than the mayor wants. Vincent Duffy reports:

Detroit City Council voted 8-1 in favor of their plan. But Mayor Bing says adoption of his $3.1 billion dollar budget is crucial if Detroit is to avoid having Governor Rick Snyder step in and appoint an emergency manager to steer the city out of a $155 million dollar deficit. But many on the council say the mayor’s budget is overly optimistic and the $200 million dollars in cuts he proposed is far short of what's needed. The city's new fiscal year starts July 1.

Economy
6:50 am
Wed May 25, 2011

Survey: Tourists, travelers spent more than $17 billion in MI

A newly released survey has found that tourists and travelers spent an estimated $17.2 billion in Michigan last year.
Bug Girl Flickr

A newly released survey has found that tourists and travelers spent an estimated $17.2 billion in Michigan last year.

That's up 14 percent from $15.1 billion in 2009. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. on Wednesday released results of the survey. The survey found $12.6 billion was spent on travel for leisure and $4.6 billion was spent on business travel.

The survey also found that spending by out-of-state visitors rose 21 percent. It says 152,600 jobs were generated by Michigan's tourism industry in 2010, up 10,000 from 2009.

The national survey was conducted by D.K. Shifflet & Associates in McLean, Va.

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Weather
5:18 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Joplin tornado surpasses death toll of Michigan's worst tornado

An F4 intensity tornado moves through Erie, Michigan on June 8, 1953. That same day there were eight tornadoes in Michigan, including Michigan's deadliest - the F5 Beecher tornado killed 116 people as it touched down north of Flint.
NOAA

UPDATE 9:51 pm: Officials in Joplin, Missouri now report at least 122 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the tornado.

 

In Joplin, Missouri, at least 117 people were killed by an F4 tornado and more than 1,000 are unaccounted for, according to the New York Times.

It's the worst tornado to hit the United States in 64 years (181 people were killed by a tornado in Woodward, Oklahoma in 1947), and it surpasses the death toll of Michigan's worst tornado which struck in 1953.

The 1953 Flint-Beecher Tornado killed 116 people in a community just north of Flint. The F5 tornado is listed as the country's 10th deadliest tornado by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

The tornado had winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, was 800 yards wide, and traveled on a path for 27 miles. From NOAA:

So great a number were killed by the monstrous tornado that the National Guard Armory building, along with other shelters, was turned into a temporary morgue. The scene of bodies pouring into the Armory (as an intermittent light rain poured outside) was incredibly bleak and horrifying, especially for the families and friends of the victims. At least 100 people waited outside into the rainy night before they could move inside to try and identify the bodies.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Bing vows to veto city council budget

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'll veto the city council's budget bill. The council budget cuts spending by $50 million dollars more than the mayor wants.

 Detroit City Council voted 8-1 in favor of their plan. But Mayor Bing says adoption of his $3.1 billion dollar budget is crucial if Detroit is to avoid having Governor Rick Snyder step in and appoint an emergency manager to steer the city out of a $155 million dollar deficit.

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Politics
5:06 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Michigan Legislature on target to meet Governor Snyder's May 31st deadline

There’s one week left for the legislature to meet the governor’s deadline for passing a state budget before the end of May.

Governor Rick Snyder says negotiations are still on pace to wrap up by May 31st.

“There are still lots of things, because it’s a very large document, that we need to get through," Snyder said. "But that's all part of the process and it's coming along in a positive way."

Snyder says it would be acceptable if the final deal isn’t ready until a few days the May 31st deadline:

“Passing it anytime in May or June is a big success over our history," said Snyder. "So I view it all as positive. I just like to hit deadlines that we talked about. So a practical matter it would be good to get it wrapped up because there’s a lot more work to be done. So the sooner the better. And we’re on a path to get that done."  

Snyder and Republican legislative leaders announced a deal last week that settled many of the larger budget issues including the size of funding cuts for education.

Democrats complain that they were left out of budget negotiations.

Politics
4:55 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

House votes to lift age restriction on hunting

The state House has approved a measure that would eliminate the age restriction on children who hunt with an adult.

Currently, the state does not allow children under the age of 10 to hunt.

Republican state Representative Peter Petallia sponsored the bill. The measure would allow a child of any age to hunt, fish, or trap with an adult 21 years or older who has a license and has taken a hunter safety course.

"We spend too much time today behind TVs and computer screens and not enough time monitoring what youth are doing," said Petallia. "This gives us some an opportunity to get them out, spend some time with them and introduce them to our sport."

A handful of lawmakers voted against the bill. Some said children under 10 should not handle firearms. A few said hunting seasons with youth spook deer and other game before the regular season begins.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Politics
4:50 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Budget bills start rolling through Senate

The Republican-led state Senate has started approving parts of the budget.

That includes a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent.

Universities could face bigger cuts if they don’t hold tuition increases at or below 7.1 percent.

Democratic state Senator Morris Hood says tuitions are already too high.

"Our profound disinvestment has led to tuition increase after tuition increase, making a degree even harder to attain," said Hood. "We’re passing this problem onto our already struggling constituents. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we are sending a clear message; the wrong message."

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years.

The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding.

"The K-12 budget is one of the more complicated budgets and made some adjustments during targets," said Richardville. "That one being also being one of the biggest budgets has the highest propensity to have some problems with it. But I think those problems will be mostly technical. I don’t anticipate any problems with getting the budgets passed."

Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Auto/Economy
3:12 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Chrysler celebrates after paying back government loans

Chrysler CEO Marchionne said "we owe a debt of gratitude to those whose intervention allowed Chrysler Group to re-establish itself as a strong and viable carmaker."
user socialisbetter Flickr

Chrysler got itself out from under the higher interest loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments today - sooner than it had planned to.

Company officials are celebrating today at Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly plant.

From the Detroit News:

The automaker has repaid $5.1 billion in loans, as well as $1.8 billion in interest and other fees, releasing Chrysler from all monetary commitments to the governments less than two years after the bailouts kept them in business. Chrysler went to the capital market for lower-interest financing to get out from under the government loans that carried interest rates as high as 20 percent. The refinancing — which is much like refinancing a home mortgage — will save more than $300 million annually.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said: 

Chrysler’s early repayment of its outstanding TARP loans is an important step in the turnaround of this company and the resurgence of the auto industry. Because President Obama made the tough decision to stand behind and restructure the auto industry, America’s automakers are growing stronger, making new investments, and creating new jobs today throughout our nation’s industrial heartland."

The U.S. Treasury gave a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler under TARP’s Automotive Industry Financing Program. After today's payment, Treasury officials say "Chrysler has returned more than $10.6 billion of that amount to taxpayers through principal repayments, interest, and canceled commitments." The U.S. Treasury continues to hold a 6.6 percent stake in Chrysler. Those shares could be sold when Chrysler's stock goes public or if the Treasury decides to sell its shares to another investor. In their statement today, Treasury officials said the government is "unlikely to fully recover its remaining outstanding investment of $1.9 billion in Chrysler."

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Politics
1:32 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Gov. Snyder confident budget deadline will be met

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

There’s one week left for the legislature to meet the governor’s deadline for passing a state budget before the end of May.  Governor Rick Snyder says negotiations are still on pace to wrap up by May 31st .   

“There are still lots of things…because it’s a very large document…that we need to get through.  But that’s all part of the process….and its coming along in a positive way.”     

But if the final deal isn’t ready until a few days later, Snyder says that would be OK.  

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Environment
1:26 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Michigan's Red Cross prepared to send volunteers to Joplin

Red Cross responds to a tornado that hit Joplin in 2008. This year's tornado is the deadliest in more than 60 years.
User: Ozarks Red Cross Flickr

The Red Cross of Washtenaw County is prepared to send volunteers to Joplin, Mo. where a tornado killed at least 117 people. The Red Cross chapter in Ann Arbor is already deploying one of its 150 volunteers to the disaster area.

Ashley Cieslinski is the Emergency Services Director of Washtenaw County’s Red Cross. She says Red Cross chapters across Michigan are prepared to help with relief efforts. 

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Auto/Economy
1:22 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Japanese manufacturing base growing in Battle Creek

Governor Rick Snyder (third from the left) joins local elected officials and Japanese business executives in cutting the ceremonial ribbon dedicating the new Toda America facility in Battle Creek

A Japanese company that makes a key component for lithium batteries formally opened its new manufacturing plant in Battle Creek today.  It’s just the latest Japanese firm to set up shop in Battle Creek. 

Local dignitaries joined Japanese business executives in cutting a ribbon outside Toda America’s new facility in Battle Creek.  Toda America is a consortium of Japanese companies. 

Tetsuo Ozaki is the president of Toda America.   He says the company plans to expand its operations in Michigan, as the electric car industry in the United States grows.  

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Politics
12:54 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Report: Thaddeus McCotter considers presidential run

Michigan U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-11th District) told Politico he's mulling over a run for the White House.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter U.S. House of Representatives

The man President George W. Bush once dubbed "that rock and roll dude" is considering a run for the White House.

In a interview with POLITICO, McCotter said he thinks the Republican electorate is not happy with the choices they have "and want to take a look at new people."

McCotter said his party must address four big issues:

  • "the challenge of globalization
  • the war for freedom against terrorists
  • the rise of Communist China
  • and whether moral relativism erodes a nation built on self-evident truth"

When asked how he thinks he can become a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, McCotter said it's easier for candidates to get their word out these days. From POLITICO: 

McCotter said the revolution in communication and media has made it easier for aspiring politicians who don’t have the sort of name identification or personal wealth that traditionally determined who could mount a national campaign.

“It’s easier to get your message out today, and people will take a look at it — and if they like it, maybe they vote for you,” he said.

Pressed further, the Michigander quipped: “I’m from Detroit — we live to prove the doubters wrong.”

McCotter plays lead guitar in the Second Amendments, a rock and country band made up of members of Congress. He was in the national spotlight recently when he had a little "Led in the Head" during the government shutdown debate: 

 

McCotter says he'll decide within the next two weeks whether he'll make a run for the White House.

Commentary
11:55 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Chrysler Resurgent

What goes around comes around, and if you live long enough, you get to see it come around more than once.  I’ve now been through two Chrysler near-death experiences in my adult life.

That includes two controversial loan or loan guarantee cycles, two cases of triumphant resurgence, and as of today, two triumphant moments in which the loans were paid back early.

Wasn’t it just the other day that Lee Iacocca was standing on a stage, grinning from ear to ear, and presenting a huge signed check to pay off the last of his generation’s loan guarantees?

Actually, that was 1983. We were still worried about the Soviet Union and there wasn’t any World Wide Web, but it wasn’t all that long ago. Today, it will be Sergio Marchionne pushing buttons to execute wire transfers to pay off loans.

But it feels pretty much the same. In between, we had interludes in which Chrysler sold itself first to the Germans, then the Italians. I hope somebody realizes that they are running out of former Axis nations to partner with. The only one left has its hands more than full with Toyota and the aftermath of the tsunami.

Seriously, what will happen today is good news. It is also a stinging rebuke to those who argued in 2009 that the government should just let General Motors and Chrysler die. That would have plunged us into deep depression.

Now the company is back on its feet - or almost. One thing that is important to remember is that Chrysler is not really an independent company any more. There is no more Chrysler Corporation. It is now the Chrysler Group, LLC. And to all intents and purposes, it is a division of the Italian automaker Fiat.

Fiat, which already has a controlling interest in Chrysler, will be majority owner by the end of the year. The Italian automaker’s stake in Chrysler may eventually rise to about three-quarters, with the remaining share sold as stock to the general public.

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Investigative
11:15 am
Tue May 24, 2011

No state help to bury the poor

A cloth-covered fiberboard casket. However, a cardboard box is also available at most funeral homes for about $50. The State of Michigan is eliminating emergency funding to bury the indigent, except for unclaimed bodies.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

UPDATE 11:13 a.m.:

At the request of Michigan Watch, the Michigan Department of Human Services retrieved data regarding the number of unclaimed bodies during the calendar year 2010.  The DHS reports State Emergency Relief (SER) payments were made to help 7,099 indigent burials.  Of that number, 125 were unclaimed bodies.    Since the new budget will limit (SER) funds to unclaimed bodies only, this will mean the amount of funds used for indigent burials will drop from about $4-million to an estimated $4-thousand.

May 23, 2011, 9:33 a.m.:

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Environment
10:39 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Who's inspecting pipelines in Michigan? (Part 1)

Dick Denuyl and his neighbor, Tom Philp, live along the St. Clair River. Philp is a pipeline inspector.
Photo by Suzy Vuljevic

The pipeline break that spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River last summer is still being cleaned up. It has left some Michigan residents with questions about the safety of sending heavy crude oil through those lines.

Dick Denuyl is a retired school teacher in Marysville. When he bought his home along the St. Clair River, he loved the beautiful setting. And he wasn’t worried about the pipelines running under the water.

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News Roundup
9:03 am
Tue May 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Chrysler to Repay Government Loans

Chrysler is expected to pay back its federal loans in full today. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Chrysler will wire-transfer nearly $6 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $1.5 billion to the governments of Canada and Ontario. Chrysler used some cash from Fiat for the transaction - and refinanced the rest with loans from private banks and investors.The U.S. Treasury still holds about eight and a half percent of Chrysler stock. Fiat could end up buying that stock in the future. As of today, Fiat owns forty-six percent of Chrysler

Crime in Michigan's Largest Cities

The FBI released its preliminary Uniform Crime Report yesterday. The report lists crimes reported in cities with more than 100,000 people. The report shows a decrease in violent crimes in Detroit from 18,000 in 2009 to 17,000 in 2010. Flint, however, had the highest violent crime rate in the nation last year, according to the data. Flint set a record for homicides in 2010.

Plan to Stop the Carp

A new plan has been released by federal and state officials on how to deal with the threat of Asian Carp, an invasive species that many worry could destroy the Great Lakes’ eco-system. Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reports:

The plan includes stepping up tracking of the invasive fish species and contracting with Illinois fishermen to catch the carp before they can reach Lake Michigan. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says the best way to prevent Asian Carp from reaching Lake Michigan is to close man-made canals linking the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River. Illinois business interests and politicians are opposed to closing the canals.

Al-Qaida Bomber Leaves a Fingerprint

The FBI has a fingerprint and forensic evidence linking al-Qaida's top bomb maker in Yemen to both the 2009 Christmas Day airline attack and the nearly successful attack on cargo planes last year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Investigators have pulled a fingerprint of Ibrahim al-Asiri off the bomb hidden in the underwear of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. Counterterrorism officials say the explosives in that bomb are chemically identical to those hidden inside two printers that were shipped from Yemen to the U.S. last year.

Economy
7:04 am
Tue May 24, 2011

Chrysler set to pay back federal loans today

Chrysler is set to pay back its federal loans in full today.
Ricardo Giaviti Flickr

Chrysler will pay back its federal loans in full today. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports:

It's another milestone in the company's long struggle to recover from bankruptcy. Chrysler will wire-transfer nearly $6 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $1.5 billion to the governments of Canada and Ontario. Chrysler used some cash from Fiat for the transaction - and refinanced the rest with loans from private banks and investors.

The move will save Chrysler $300 million a year in interest and is one more step towards independence from the government.

The U.S. Treasury still holds about eight and a half percent of Chrysler stock. Fiat could end up buying that stock in the future. As of today, Fiat owns forty-six percent of Chrysler.

The news is making headlines this morning:

Crime
7:49 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

Flint tops FBI's most violent cities list

Flint mayor Dayne Walling (right) at a news conference, flanked by public safety chief Alvern Lock
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint mayor Dayne Walling is not disputing new FBI data that shows his city had the highest violent crime rate in the nation in 2010.  Flint set a record for homicides last year.   The city’s arson rate also soared topping the FBI’s list in that category too.

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Politics
5:46 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

Democrats say budget deal kicks off next phase of fight about Michigan's future

The budget should be wrapped up soon. Democrats say the fight will continue.
user aunt owwee Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and legislative Republicans are expected to wrap up work this week on the budget. If they succeed, they will meet the governor’s target of finishing the budget four months ahead of the constitutional deadline.

Democrats, who are in the minority in the House and the Senate, have some objections, but expect to lose this week’s budget battle.

That won’t stop them from calling for using a revenue windfall to make sure schools don’t lose any money in the new budget.

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