Economy
11:51 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Governor Snyder to deal with bond ratings after budget

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says he plans a trip to New York to discuss the state's bond ratings.

Snyder told reporters following a speech in Detroit Thursday that he and top financial officials in his administration will make the trip after current negotiations over the state budget conclude.

As a new governor, Snyder says it's important to establish a good relationship with agencies that rate Michigan's bonds.

Snyder says he believes the agencies would look more favorably on a state with a "stable, thoughtful tax system," something the Republican former businessman says he has taken steps to achieve.

A top bond rating is a sign of sound fiscal practices and enables an entity to borrow money at the most favorable rate.

Economy
11:51 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Hitting the road for Memorial Day weekend

A view of Lake Michigan from near Frankfort, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

AAA Michigan predicts state highways will be busy on Memorial Day.     The automobile club’s survey shows one point one million Michiganders plan to travel during the 5 day holiday period, 91% by car.

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Obituary
10:26 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Detroit businessman Don Barden dies

Don Barden (Dec. 20th, 1943-May 19th, 2011)
(Black Entrepreneur's Hall of Fame)

Detroit businessman Don Barden has died after a long bout with lung cancer.   Barden was a major player in the nation's casino industry.

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Auto/Economy
10:01 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Report: Chrysler to repay loans

$3 million in interest per day.

That's how much Chrysler paid in interest on its government loans last year according to the Associated Press.

Those high interest rates, and the stigma of being financed by the government, are driving Chrysler to pay off the government loans.

Sources told the Associated Press a deal could be reached next Tuesday:

Chrysler is close to repaying its government bailouts.

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News Roundup
8:12 am
Thu May 19, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

State Senate: Public Employees Should Pay More Health Costs

The Republican-led state Senate approved a bill yesterday that would require most public employees to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs. Laura Weber reports:

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote. The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees. That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Michigan Jobless Rate Continues to Decline

The state’s unemployment rate was down to 10.2 percent in April. That’s a drop of one-tenth of one percent from March and, is a full three percentage points down from where it was at the same time last year. Job growth in the state, however, remains weak. The state added only three thousand jobs from March to April.

Report: Michigan’s Public Defender System “Abysmal”

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a, “constitutional crisis” according to the Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice. Sarah Cwiek reports:

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced a report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems."The report says Michigan has abdicated its “constitutional responsibilities” by failing to ensure its counties supply, train and supervise public defenders… Michigan’s public defender system was listed near the bottom another recent national report. The state ranks 44th in terms of per capita spending on public defense.

State Budget
6:37 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Legislative leaders meet to finalize budget targets

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder met with legislative leaders to refigure budget plans, now that the state is expected to collect more tax revenue than originally predicted.

An application on Snyder’s i-Pad reminds him every day of a looming, self-imposed budget deadline of May 31st. He says he and lawmakers are going to meet that deadline.

"There’s still work to be done, but we’re moving in a very positive direction, and we’re moving on a path to have the Legislature get the budget done by May 31st – so those countdown clocks could pay off.”

Details could be made public as soon as today.

Part of the deal appears to include about $25 million in tax credits for the film industry, and rolling back cuts to K-12 schools. That’s more money than Governor Snyder or the Legislature had originally proposed.

Unemployment
6:33 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Michigan’s April jobless rate drops very little to 10.2 percent

Michigan’s new monthly jobless rate of 10-point-two percent signals the state continues to recover slowly from the recession. The new unemployment figure is a drop of one-tenth of a percentage point from March to April, and is a full three percentage points below where it was at this time last year.

There’s plenty of evidence that Michigan is in the early stages of a comeback, but job growth remains anemic. The state added just three thousand jobs from March to April.

One early, promising sign, though: so far this year people are no longer giving up their job searches and leaving the workforce. But, Bruce Weaver of the state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives says disgruntled ex-jobseekers aren’t resuming their search for work, either. When that happens, he says, that could signal growing faith that a recovery is underway.

“One of the first impacts you will often see is an increase in individuals entering the workforce, seeking jobs. There’s not any evidence in these numbers that’s happening yet in Michigan.”

And Michigan’s rate of under-employment, while edging downward, remains high. The combined rate of unemployment and under-employment is 20 percent.

Energy
12:17 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Holland takes cautious steps on plan to build a wind farm

warrenski Creative Commons

The City of Holland is buying the option to lease more land it wants to use for a wind farm. City Council approved the lease agreements Wednesday night to spend $40,000 for roughly 860 acres of land south of Holland. The area has been identified as one of the best in the state for wind energy potential.

The city has been collecting more detailed wind data since last fall. If everything goes smoothly, Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra says wind turbines could begin to go up as soon as next year.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Bing: Human Services Dept. investigation will continue 'until we uncover every instance of abuse'

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has suspended the director and several staff of the city’s Human Services Department. The department is believed to have misspent at least $200,000 intended for services to the poor.

Mayor Bing says an investigation is under way. He says it’s not clear yet how big the problem is, "but it is important enough to this administration, to this city and our indigent population that we act immediately to make sure that we right the wrongs."

Science/Medicine
4:38 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Flame retardant found in baby products

A study of baby products made of polyurethane foam found many contained toxic flame retardants.
Photoglife Morguefile

An environmental group says some baby products made of foam could contain toxic chemicals. It also says parents are likely not aware of the danger.

A study published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology found 83 percent of baby items it tested in Michigan contained flame-retardant chemicals linked to adverse health effects or that the products had not been adequately tested.

The study looked at 18 products from Michigan; some were new and others were donated by parents. Fifteen of the 18 contained the flame-retardant chemicals.

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Politics
4:26 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Report calls Michigan's public defender "abysmal"

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a “constitutional crisis.”

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced the report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems.”

It profiles 13 men who spent time in prison, even though there was evidence of their innocence.

One is Frederick Mardlin, who spent three years in prison for arson.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Senate bill passes - requires public employees pay 20% of health benefit costs

The Michigan Senate chamber.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Most public employees would be required to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs under a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate.

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen sponsored the measure. 

"Not all of us are all that excited all the time about doing these things," said Jansen. "In fact we know people that this impacts – in fact if you look in the mirror, it’ll impact each one of you sitting here today. But we know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that’s very subjective."

Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the state is asking too much from public employees – especially teachers.

"I heard Governor Snyder defend the $250,000 price tag for his budget director by saying 'you get what you pay for,'" Whitmer said. "Well isn’t that true for the most important people to our kid’s success as well? Why is that rationale sufficient for the governor paying taxpayer dollars, and not true for the people working every day to help our kids?"

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees.

That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Science/Medicine
3:00 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Preparing for the worst

Doctors and nurses train in the pediatric unit of a 140 bed mobile hospital near Dimondale, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

State health officials are putting a 140 bed emergency field hospital to the test today just south of Lansing.      They're preparing for the kind of medical needs that may follow a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster.  

“Never had a seizure before?" 

Doctors and nurses scramble to try to understand why a child suffered a seizure during an earthquake that rattled southwest Michigan.      They are real doctors and nurses, but their patient is actually a dummy, and the earthquake is just a scenario. 

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Politics
1:54 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Film advocates push for preserving tax credit

Supporters of Michigan’s film industry are conducting an eleventh-hour push to convince Lansing politicians to keep the state’s generous film tax credit.

Nancy Skinner has been a vocal opponent of plans to scrap the credit and replace it with a much more modest grant program. She runs a Web site that’s brought in donations from thousands of people:

"And what we are trying to do is put names and faces to these numbers. The spreadsheet wars that are going on in Lansing? We want these folks to see the names and faces of people who will be affected by this."

The ads will run on Comcast cable channels over the next week. They emphasize the economic impact of the film industry, and the threat of a continued “brain drain” if the film industry pulls out of Michigan.

Just the threat of the elimination of Michigan’s 42 percent tax credit caused her to lose business, says Rose Gilpin. She and her partner Kathy Remski own Real Style Extras Casting:

"They evaporated immediately. Kathy and I right off the bat lost three projects in February right after the announcement was made. So immediately gone."

Legislation has been introduced to preserve the tax credit. The governor has proposed replacing the tax credit with grants totaling 25 million dollars for film and video projects.

Politics
1:33 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Michigan bill would freeze pay between contracts

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans in the Michigan Senate have approved a bill that would freeze pay and benefits for union-represented public employees including teachers working under expired contracts.

The bill that passed by a 21-17 mostly party-line vote Wednesday now returns to the Republican-led House, which already has passed the bill and could soon send it to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The bill calls for public employers to provide no more than current pay and benefits after the expiration date of a collective bargaining agreement until a new contract is in place. It would eliminate or freeze so-called step increases sometimes paid by school districts regardless of contract status.

Democrats say the bill dabbles in issues that should be left to local decision-makers.

Republicans say the changes would give unions more incentive to bargain.

Auto/Economy
12:53 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

State incentives lead to GM's investment in Warren Tech Center

State tax breaks worth $10 million are leading to an investment in GM's Warren Tech Center.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts indicated an announcement like this would be coming last month.

From the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. won $10 million in tax incentives from the state today to build a new information technology facility at its Warren Tech Center.

The $130 million project — expected to create about 25 permanent jobs — will add on to the Cadillac Building on the campus and occupy about 30-acres of land located along Van Dyke Avenue. The new jobs will pay an average of $44 an hour, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The brownfield tax credits valued at $10 million were approved this morning by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board.

The state brownfield tax credits involved in this deal won't be around for long. In Governor Snyder tax overhaul plan, approved by state legislators, the tax credits will be replaced with a system that will grant redevelopment money up front.

Politics
12:23 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Find a dead body? New laws would require you to report it to police

One bill in the Michigan Senate would make failure to report the discovery a dead body a misdemeanor; a second bill would make failing to report a body for the purpose of fraud a felony.
David Goehring Flickr

If you discover a dead body in Michigan, you’re not legally required to report it to police. That would change under a proposal making its way through the state Senate.

Timothy McMorrow is the chief appellate attorney for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

"We had a case where a woman died in an apartment.  Her boyfriend, with whom she lived, did not  report it," McMorrow explains. "It was discovered about four days later when the woman's daughter came looking for her mother, wondering where she was, and was told that her mother had died."

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Culture
12:08 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Census: Divorces decline but 7-year itch persists

WASHINGTON (AP) - New census figures show the "seven-year" itch persists - couples who break up typically separate upon seven years of marriage, and divorce a year later.

The 2009 data released Wednesday also show U.S. divorces are leveling off after decades of increases. The census report found that among all race groups, women who were ever married and then divorced reached as high as 41 percent among 50- to 59-year-olds. That's down from 44 percent in 2004.

The exception was black women ages 50 to 59. Their divorce rate edged up to 48 percent.

Rose Kreider, a census demographer, says recent increases in couples cohabitating as well as rising median ages before marriage are contributing to overall declines in divorce as people wait
longer before making long-term commitments.

Politics
11:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Legislator acts to close lottery loophole

Leroy Fick of Auburn winning a $2 million prize after competing in the third episode of "Make Me Rich!", the Lottery game show.
Michigan Lottery

After news reports circulated that a lottery winner in Michigan was still using food stamps, one state senator has decided to try to close a loophole in state law.

Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland), released a statement saying he's proposing legislation that would require Michigan lottery officials to share the names of winners with various government departments and immediately remove them from all public assistance programs:

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