Investigative
12:21 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Eliminating business tax credits

Alan Cleaver Flickr

Update 12:21 p.m.

The State of Michigan will have to honor some tax credits for years to come because of contractual obligations.  In a speech today, Governor Snyder indicated over the next four years, the state was on the hook for $2-billion dollars in credits.  About $500-million of that is in next year's budget. 

March 2nd, 8:23a.m.

Governor Snyder says his approach to taxes in Michigan is “simple, fair, and efficient.”  One way the Governor wants to make the tax structure more fair is by eliminating all tax credits for business.  It’s a controversial move which surprised many people in Lansing.

Read more
Environment
12:12 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Enviros want to replace Ohio nuclear plant with wind, solar energy

The edge of the cooling tower at the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ohio.
Kim Phillips Flickr

A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a nuclear power plant in Ohio from renewing its license.

The operating license for the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio runs out in 2017. By that point, the plant will be 40 years old. First Energy, the company that owns the plant, wants to renew the license for another twenty years.

That’s the last thing Michael Keegan wants. He’s with the environmental group, Don’t Waste Michigan. Keegan and others went before a panel to challenge the license renewal:

"We have solar, wind and in combination we have replacement power available now which can be put in place prior to 2017."

Reporter Tom Henry with the Toledo Blade was at the proceeding and filed a story. Here's an excerpt:

The first half of the proceeding was focused on projections for wind power, solar power, and a combination of the two as possible offsets for nuclear power. The afternoon was devoted to a FirstEnergy document known as a Severe Accident Mitigation Analysis, one in which utilities are obligated to show how they would respond to dangerous nuclear scenarios.

Arguments in favor of renewables appear to rely on the viability of harnessing wind, solar, and other sources for later use through a technology known as compressed air energy storage, judges said. [Adam] Polonsky [of Washington-based Morgan Lewis Counselors at Law, which has represented FirstEnergy on nuclear issues for years]  conceded it has potential and should be explored.

"But that doesn't mean it is a reasonable alternative to a 908-megawatt reactor," he said, referring to Davis-Besse's generating capacity.

The panel now has to decide whether the environmental groups can move forward with their petition to intervene.

To date the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to deny a license renewal, though several applications are still pending.

In Michigan, the license for the Fermi II Nuclear Plant is good through 2025.

Sports
12:01 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Former Red Wing hockey player suffered from brain trauma

Researchers are finding more evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes involved in contact sports.
Derek Hatfield Flickr

Bob Probert was known as an "enforcer" in the game of hockey. The guy who had your back.

If an opposing player started something, Probert was there to exact a penalty on the other player with his fists.

He played in the NHL for sixteen seasons, including a long stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

Probert died last year at the age of 45 after suffering chest pains.

The New York Times published a piece this morning on the discovery that Probert suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - a brain trauma disease that has also been found in many former NFL players.

After learning about CTE, Probert told his wife he wanted his brain donated to researchers.

Probert's widow, Dani Probert, is quoted in the Times article:

"I remember joking with him, ‘Wouldn’t your brain make a nice specimen?’ ” she said. “He started questioning whether he would have it himself. He told me that he wanted to donate his brain to the research when he died. Who would have thought that six months later it would be happening?"

His brain was donated after his death last year.

Researchers at Boston University said they found evidence of CTE in Probert's brain.

One of the researcher's noted they couldn't isolate where Probert's exposure to head trauma came from:

“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantuco-director of the Boston University center and a prominent neurosurgeon in the area of head trauma in sports. “We haven’t definitely established that the skills of hockey as a sport lead to a certain percentage of participants developing C.T.E. But it can happen to hockey players, and while they’re still relatively young.”

Probert's wife believes it came from all the checking and hits in the game itself. She did note that in his last years, Probert did show signs of "behavior uncharacteristic to him, especially memory loss and a tendency to lose his temper while driving."

Wherever the brain trauma came from, the NHL will likely take a closer look at protecting its players, the same way the NFL has been creating new rules to cut down on head trauma in its sport.

If they're successful in better protecting their players, the sports have reporters from the New York Times to thank.

Times reporters, like Alan Schwartz, have been exposing the effects of head trauma in sports for the last several years.

Environment
11:43 am
Thu March 3, 2011

The do-it-yourself snow and ice test

Matt Grocoff says icicles are pretty, but they are also a bad sign that your roof could be suffering water damage, drip by drip.
Photo by Matt Grocoff

In the winter... there’s a quick and easy way to find out where your house is leaking energy... just by looking at your roof a day or two after a good snow. Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff invited me along on what he calls a drive-by energy audit.

Here's what to look for:

  1. Icicles are pretty... but they're a sign that your attic needs more insulation. Heat from your house is escaping and melting the snow.
  2. If you have ice clogging your gutter, it can cause damage to the gutter... and ice can get underneath your roof shingles and damage your roof.
  3. You can use a roof rake to clear snow from your roof... but it's just a short-term fix. A better solution is to check out the non-profit group Michigan Saves to find a qualified contractor, who can come out and perform an energy audit and find your home's leaks and advise you on how to fix them so you can save energy and money.
Politics
11:32 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Snyder: 'I knew the honeymoon would end'

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder defended his budget proposal in front of a group of Detroit business and civic leaders this morning.

The governor wants to get rid of the tax breaks Michigan gives certain industries, and replace them with smaller pots of money that would be issued as grants.

Snyder told the crowd Michigan has been offering tax incentives to certain businesses for years because its tax system is broken. And he says he’s been talking about his plan for fixing it since he was a candidate.

"People kept going around Lansing and saying: 'Well, he did what he said he was going to do.' And it was like that was a surprise."

Snyder says his proposal is more transparent, accountable and honest than what the state does now.

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Commentary
11:08 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Unpopular Stands

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned a Michigan law -- and undoubtedly angered and outraged the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.

The nation’s highest court said that the obnoxious protests that members of the Westboro Baptist Church stage at military funerals are fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that our nation’s fundamental commitment to free speech requires full protection of, quote “even hurtful speech on public issues.”

Now if you need reminding, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group from Topeka, Kansas that mainly consists of the members of one large extended family. They believe homosexuality is evil and America deserves divine punishment for tolerating it.

Accordingly, they’ve been traveling the country picketing at military funerals, waving signs that say things like “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Somehow, they believe our war casualties are fitting punishment for tolerance.

Michigan passed a law five years ago that was squarely aimed at the Westboro group. It essentially prohibited any such conduct within five hundred feet of a funeral.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially makes it all but certain that the Michigan law will be struck down as unconstitutional, if prosecutors attempt to use it.  Now ever since the 1960s, conservatives have often complained that out-of-touch liberals on the nation‘s highest court were improperly distorting the Constitution.

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Auto
9:47 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Howell auto parts plant fire

Investigators are picking through what’s left after a fire heavily damaged an auto parts plant in Howell on Wednesday.  Dozens of firefighters from six different Livingston County communities joined forces to battle the blaze at the Magna Atreum auto parts plant.  

About 450 people work at the plant which produces dashboards, consoles and other parts for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan and Mazda.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

The full extent of the damage and how long it will take get to the facility back up and running is also still being reviewed.  No one was injured in Wednesday’s fire.

News Roundup
9:02 am
Thu March 3, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news...
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Supreme Court Puts Michigan Law in Jeopardy

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after yesterday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Steve Carmody reports:

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals. Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here. At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

New Poll: Snyder Popularity Decreasing

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder’s popularity among likely Michigan voters is down from January. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. That’s compared to January of this year when EPIC-MRA found 59 percent of likely Michigan voters viewed Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Same-Sex Health Benefits

Republicans in the state Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships, Rick Pluta reports. A resolution was approved yesterday by a Senate subcommittee that would reject the domestic partner benefits awarded in a decision earlier this year by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, the Associated Press explains. A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

Facelift for Cobo Center

Detroit’s Cobo Center will undergo a $221 million renovation. Cobo Center’s general manager says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the annual North American International Auto Show. The project will be ready by 2014. It’s the first major overhaul of the convention center since 1989.

Governor Snyder
6:51 am
Thu March 3, 2011

New poll shows drop in Snyder popularity

Governor Rick Snyder answering questions from the media
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

A new poll shows Governor Rick Snyder's popularity is falling among Michigan voters. The poll, released by ERIC-MRA, shows 44 percent of likely Michigan voters had a favorable view of the governor. Twenty-seven percent had an unfavorable opinion. As the Associated Press notes:

Shortly after the Republican took office, an EPIC-MRA poll of 600 likely voters found 59 percent viewing Snyder favorably and 8 percent unfavorably.

Fifty-three-percent of those in the new poll say they oppose Snyder's plan to tax pensions, while 41 percent support it.

In a article about the new poll titled, "Looks like honeymoon's over for for Gov. Rick Snyder," the Detroit Free Press reports:

Voters also did a U-turn on Snyder's job performance -- 38% positive and 15% negative in January to 32% positive and 36% negative in February -- and on the overall direction of the state.

In the late January survey, Michiganders seemed to have emerged from a decade-long funk: 43% said they thought the state was headed in the right direction.

That number slumped to 36% in the latest EPIC/MRA poll, with 42% saying Michigan is on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder will continue to talk about his plan to reinvent the state at the Pancakes and Politics breakfast in Detroit today.

State Budget
5:12 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

College presidents weigh in on budget cuts

University Presidents were at the Capitol Building Wednesday in Lansing, MI
Thetoad Flickr

Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.

Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.

Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.

He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:

"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.

"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.

Arts/Culture
4:33 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Artpod: Labor disputes and social media

What role did facebook play during the DSO strike?
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, the DSO striking musicians say they’re willing to come back to work without a contract if management agrees to binding arbitration.

Greg Bowens is a spokesman for the musicians:

"It was a very difficult, gut-wrenching decision.  Something we would have thought was un-thinkable a week ago today. They are trying to extend the hand of friendship in an effort to end the strike under the conditions management had previously imposed."

On today's Artpod, we'll look at what kind of role social media played during the five month labor dispute between the two sides.

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Politics
4:15 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Senate GOP prepared to reject unmarried partner benefits

Roberto Occhialini Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

Education
4:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Judge rules taxpayers, Mackinac Center, do not have standing in lawsuit over privatization

Teacher's unions agreed to contribute to their health care premiums for the first time in the contract.
Chicago 2016 photos Creative Commons

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

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Arts/Culture
3:40 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Robocop reboot?

RoboCop Speaks to Detroit from Peter Weller

 

Deadline New York reports that MGM is talking to director Jose Padilha about rebooting the Robocop movie series:

MGM is negotiating with Brazilian director Jose Padilha to direct Robocop, the remake of the futuristic 1987 film originally helmed by Paul Verhoeven. The original was about a cop who was near death and was drafted to become a powerful cyborg cop, until suppressed memories of his past life come back to haunt him. Peter Weller played the character in the original him in the original and the 1990 sequel.

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Politics
3:38 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Michigan funeral protest law in jeopardy

A sign at a Westboro Baptist Church picket in East Lansing last year.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Michigan’s law barring protesters from funerals might be vulnerable after today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of an anti-gay group that pickets at military funerals.

Michigan, like dozens of other states, passed a law in 2006 to prevent the protests from disrupting funerals here.

At the time, the states were trying to prevent a fundamentalist Christian Church from Kansas from picketing military funerals.

The pickets were not opposing the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but against gay rights.

The ACLU challenged Michigan’s law after a couple attending a family friend’s funeral was arrested for having anti-George W. Bush signs on their car.

Dan Korobkin, with the ACLU, says the new court ruling may be enough to tip the balance in their challenge to Michigan’s law:

“Laws that are created to stifle unpopular speech, which is what the law in Michigan was created to do, always end up backfiring and punishing innocent people.”

Korobkin says they hope to hear soon from the federal judge considering their challenge to the state law, "the federal judge who is overseeing that case has already indicated that it is probably unconstitutional, but he hasn’t taken the final step of striking it down," said Korobkin.

ArtPrize
2:58 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Study: ArtPrize 2010 adds more than $7 million to Grand Rapids economy

Sicilian says most ArtPrize visitoes spent thier money on food and beverages.
Paul Sicilian Grand Valley State University

Economists at Grand Valley State University estimate last year’s ArtPrize added up to $7.5 million dollars; that’s just a little more than the first ArtPrize in 2009. But the study’s authors say they kept their estimates conservative.

Read more
Auto/Economy
1:34 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Facelift for Detroit's Cobo Center

Screen shot from a video showing plans for renovating the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit
Cobo Center Press Release

Cobo Center in Detroit is going to get more than a coat of new paint between now and next year’s auto show.

The regional authority now running Detroit’s downtown convention center announced today Cobo will undergo a $221 million renovation.

Cobo Center’s general manager, Thom Connors, says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the North American International Auto Show:

"More leasable space, more attractive space, and increased banquet and meeting room capacity and new exhibition space. Its going to make it an easier sell to a wider variety of potential clients.  And allow us to do larger, multiple events at the same time, as well as larger capacity events in the future."

As part of  the renovation, Cobo Arena will be replaced with a 40,000 square foot ballroom space.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the plans, announced this morning, to renovate downtown Detroit's Cobo Center:

The project will be ready by the 2014 North American International Auto Show, and it will “open up” Cobo to the Detroit River with a new atrium entrance and sweeping architectural changes, said Larry Alexander, chair of the five-member Cobo Regional Convention Facility Authority.

The work will mark the first major overhaul of Cobo since 1989. Cobo was built in 1960. In recent years, Cobo has suffered from roof leaks and other problems, and other cities have leapfrogged ahead of Detroit in the amount of showroom space offered and other amenities.

A bond sale enabled by the Cobo authority will pay for the renovations.

civil rights
12:18 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

What’s your experience with bullies?

Litandmore Creative Commons

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission wants public input about bullying. The commission works to prevent and investigate discrimination complaints under state civil rights laws. It’s holding a series of forums across the state to collect the information in hopes of tackling what they say is a growing problem.

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State Budget
12:10 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Lawmakers to dig into Governor's budget proposal

Captiol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Update 12:08 p.m.:

Lt. Governor Brian Calley is detailing the Snyder Administration's tax plans to members of the House Tax Policy committee at the Capitol, the Associated Press reports. And, as the AP notes, Budget Director John Nixon answered questions this morning from members of the House Appropriations Committee:

Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is trying to shore up support for some of its budget proposals that are running into opposition in the Michigan Legislature... The Republican governor's plan to eliminate tax exemptions on pensions is drawing opposition from some members of his own party.

Lawmakers also are concerned about proposed cuts to education funding and proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments made to local governments.

6:57 a.m.:

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are set to hear details today about Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal.

Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan, the Associated Press reports.

From the AP:

Lawmakers also will hear testimony from some university officials, including from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Universities could lose at least 15 percent of their state aid going into next fiscal year.

Groups concerned about proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments also are expected to testify. Snyder and lawmakers are trying to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of roughly $1.4 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder spent yesterday defending some of his controversial budget plans, including the taxing of pensions.

Read more
Justice
12:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro funeral protestors

The Supreme Court ruled in favor Fred Phelps and the funeral protestors
user dbking Flickr

In "Snyder v. Phelps," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

The Church got attention by picketing military funerals holding signs that read:

  • "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11"
  • "America is Doomed”
  • “Don’t Pray for the USA"
  • “Thank God for IEDs”
  • “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”
  • “Pope in Hell”
  • “Priests Rape Boys”
  • “God Hates Fags”
  • “You’re Going to Hell”
  • and last, but not least... “God Hates You.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects a fringe religious group that protested at the funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

The court, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that the soldier's father couldn't sue Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for celebrating his son's death with vulgar funeral pickets and an online attack.

The case was a test of how far the First Amendment goes in protecting offensive speech.

Read more

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