Politics
3:01 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

Longtime Michigan Congressman Dale Kildee wants time in Congress to be even longer

Congressman Dale Kildee (D) tours an auto parts plant in Flint
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Dale Kildee won his first term in the United States Congress in 1976. Next year, he plans to run again. The Associated Press reports Kildee's spokesman says the octogenarian politician has always planned to run for another term. 

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Offbeat
2:08 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

Robocop fundraising goal met, robotic cop to be honored

"You called for backup?"

Cross a robot and a cop and you get a cult classic. Maybe not an instant cult classic (coming to love a robotic cop takes some time, after all), but 24 years after its release, all signs point to a statue honoring Robocop in Detroit.

From the Associated Press:

A group working to build a statue in Detroit of the fictional crime-fighting cyborg RoboCop says it has reached its fundraising goal of $50,000. Brandon Walley of Imagination Station said Wednesday he's "very positive" the sculpture will become a reality and could be erected on land the nonprofit owns near the hulking, abandoned Michigan Central train depot in southwest Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is skeptical. He told the AP that he doesn't "see where we get a lot of value" for honoring the robotic police officer.

The AP says "the issue got its start Feb. 7 when Bing's social media manager responded to a query on Twitter about it."

And in case you don't know the plot of Robocop, IMDb gives a summary of the movie this way: In a dystopic & crime ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg with submerged memories haunting him.

Maybe Robocop can rest in peace knowing people in Detroit will immortalize him.

The movie was full of one-liners - for those who've seen the movie (and remember it) do any one-liners stand out?

Politics
2:00 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

This week in Michigan politics with Jack Lessenberry

The Lansing Capitol
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Each Wednesday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to get an update on state politics. This week, the focus is on Governor Snyder’s budget proposal and what cuts he might suggest.  

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Politics
10:54 am
Wed February 16, 2011

Budget battles target greenhouse gas rules

A new poll showed that the majority of people in Michigan support EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses
Michael Caven flickr

The details of the United States and Michigan budget cuts are beginning to leak out.  The United States Congress is trying to come together on a plan to cut a huge amount of spending. Governor Rick Snyder will be delivering his budget proposal for next year on Thursday.

One area of debate is how the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A new statewide poll shows voters in Michigan would support these rules, but Republicans in the US Congress are moving against them this week.

Al Quinlan conducted the poll funded by the Energy Foundation, a pro-renewable energy group.

"We asked people simply whether they favor or oppose the EPA regulating these emissions the results were 64% favor, 27% oppose. And there was broad based support across partisan lines."

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton is a leading opponent of EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses.

Sarah Alvarez-Michigan Radio Newsroom

Science/Medicine
10:18 am
Wed February 16, 2011

Access to medical marijuana uneven

Confusion continues to reign over medical marijuana dispensaries
Dominic Simpson flickr

There are still some open questions about how the state will implement its two year old Medical Marijuana law.

The state has not said how dispensaries of the drug should be regulated so some cities allow the dispensaries and others do not.

These differences have put a few cities in court. Advocates say the state is missing an opportunity by not regulating the dispensaries.

Karen O’Keefe is with the Marijuana Policy Project, a supporter of the original law.

 

"States that have regulated dispensing, a lot of them subject medical marijuana to sales tax. Some of them also have modest business taxes and there are fees. So in addition to helping patients have access and clearing up some of the confusion that localities are facing it would help the state financially."

 

Groups on both sides of the issue plan to continue to push the state to weigh in on the issue this year.

-Sarah Alvarez, Michigan Radio Newsroom

News Roundup
7:08 am
Wed February 16, 2011

In this morning's news...

Report: "Fireworks" over part of Snyder's Budget Plan

Chris Christoff, the Lansing Bureau Chief for the Detroit Free Press, says Governor Snyder plans to "eliminate Michigan's generous income tax exemptions for retiree pensions and IRA withdrawals as part of his budget plan" to be released tomorrow. Christoff wrote "a source familiar with the plan" says doing away with the tax exemption could generate more than $1 billion in revenue. From the Free Press:

Many expect Gov. Rick Snyder to set off political fireworks Thursday when he unveils a budget and tax revision plan he says will be simple, fair and efficient...Perhaps nothing will boom louder than a plan to tax pensions and other retirement income the same as all other income -- at 4.35%.

A Snyder spokesperson would not comment on the "speculation." Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, told the Freep that Snyder will "will hear from a lot of retired employees in this state that are not going to be happy with that one." And an aide to republican State Senator Jack Brandenburg said the plan is "a nonstarter."

The Associated Press writes that Michigan's benefits for retirees are one of the most generous in the country:

The Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says Michigan's benefits are twice as generous as those of second-place Kentucky. A retired couple in Michigan can have more than $100,000 of income without having to pay any state income tax...

Political pressure in the past has made it hard to reduce senior tax breaks to help the state's bottom line, even as Michigan steadily loses more to the tax breaks as the number of older taxpayers grows.

Governor Snyder will release his budget plan tomorrow.

Prison staff fear privatization is coming

Almost everything in the state is on the chopping block. There has been talk of privatizing parts of the prison system as a way to save money. The Associated Press says the Governor's budget plan will look at cutting around 10 to 20% out of the state's corrections budget.

State workers in prisons fear that will mean privitization. The Associated Press spoke with United Auto Workers Local 6000 spokesman Ray Holman:

The Prison support staff fear the governor may outsource their jobs to private companies to save money.

"If you're cutting $400 million ... you're going to have to go after something," said Holman, whose union represents tens of thousands of state workers, including prison support staff. "We stand to take a substantial hit." 

Former GM exec may return as advisor

The Detroit News says former GM executive Bob Lutz may return to the company as an advisor. From the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. has been in talks with former product chief Robert Lutz about bringing him back as a paid consultant, The Detroit News has learned.

The details were unclear Tuesday, but the 79-year-old Lutz continues to have a close relationship with GM, and the two have been in discussions about formalizing an advisory role, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Lutz was known as a plain speaking executive at GM who was skeptical of the commercial appeal of electric cars and hybrids. As the Guardian reported when he retired in 2010, Lutz once described global warming "as a total crock of shit."

The Guardian writes that Lutz "predicted the internal combustion engine would reign supreme for at least a further decade, and that it would be "years and years" before alternatives make up even a tenth of the market."

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Politics
4:43 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Another step toward eliminating the item pricing law

The item pricing law gives retailers indigestion.
Shawn Campbell Flickr

Update 4:23 p.m.:

Rick Pluta, from the Michigan Public Radio Network, says the House will likely vote on a repeal of the Item Pricing Law tomorrow. Pluta spoke with the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Lisa Lyons. She says individual price tags wouldn't be required, but stores would be required to prominently post prices so consumers know how much things cost:

"It does eliminate the antiquated requirement that every item be priced which has been in effect since before I was born, but it also upholds and provides for consumer protections that Michigan shoppers have come to know, expect and they deserve," said Lyons.

2:06 p.m.

The Michigan legislature is a step closer in repealing the state's Item Pricing Law.

The law requires that most items on store shelves carry an individual price tag.

The Lansing Bureau of the Detroit Free Press reports:

Legislation to rescind the requirement that almost all retail goods sold in Michigan be individually priced cleared its first hurdle in the state House this morning, winning approval in the Commerce Committee on a 16-3 vote. The measure was approved after its sponsors agreed to an amendment that will require retailers to clearly display prices in close proximity to the item for sale.

Governor Syder has said that a repeal of the law will send a signal that Michigan is a business-friendly state. Retailers say the law is antiquated and drives up prices.

Rick Pluta reported for the Michigan Public Radio Network that

The last effort to repeal the law was five years ago, but it failed under the threat of a veto by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Proponents of the law say the individual price tags protect consumers from being overcharged.

Politics
4:12 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Michigan AG: Prison releases should not be part of corrections cuts

It costs about $35,000 per year to keep someone in prison in Michigan.
Derek Key Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should save money in the corrections budget by cutting the costs of incarceration - not by closing more prisons or releasing more inmates.

Schuette says he hopes that's the strategy Governor Rick Snyder will display when he unveils his budget proposal on Thursday.

Schuette says he advised the governor to focus on reducing the cost-per-inmate by bidding out more prison services:

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Politics
2:50 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Flint's financial plan on hold

The weather ball in Flint can't predict the city's economic future.
Jame Fairbrother Flickr

Update 3:50 p.m.:

The city of Flint did not get approval today from the state for a $20 million bond.   The city needs the money to pay its bills.

The state Treasurer’s office asked the State Administrative Board to table the bond request, which it was expected to approve. The Treasurer’s office is concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan to deal with its long-term debt.   

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is optimistic the city will get some help from the state. 

“I’m confident the city of Flint and the state Treasurer’s office will work together on a short-term, if not a long-term solution here in the next few weeks.”

Flint faces a multi-million dollar budget deficit.   The city has laid off police officers and dozens of other employees and has reached pay cuts with other city unions. But it still might have trouble making payroll in the coming months. 

Update 2:50 p.m.:

The State Administration Board put off a decision on the city's budget plan this morning. The city wants to borrow money in the form of $20 million in bonds to cover its budget deficit.

The Flint Journal has an update from Flint City Councilman Josua Freeman:

By the end of this month or next month, the city will only have about $500,000 in cash on hand, Freeman said. That's not nearly enough money to meet the payroll expenses of $1.5 million to $2 million every two weeks, he added.

"If nothing changes and we don’t improve our cash flow, we're not going to have enough money to operate," Freeman said.

If the city cannot make payroll, a state takeover or Chapter 9 bankruptcy might be next.

12:42 p.m.

The city of Flint wants to issue bonds to cover it's $17 million budget deficit, but state officials have yet to green light that plan.

The State Administration Board was scheduled to vote on that plan today, but it appears plans have changed.

The Flint Journal is reporting the Board voted to remove the city's request from its agenda today. The Journal reports that led to a cancelation of a Flint City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow:

Tomorrow's City Council meeting to discuss a $20 million bond request from the state has been canceled.

The meeting, which was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, was canceled after The State Administration Board voted to remove the city's request from its meeting agenda this morning...That move came at the request of the state treasurer's office...City Council President Jackie Poplar said she was made aware of the situation and had no comment until she receives further information.

Economy
1:56 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Could a Borders bankruptcy be a boom for independent bookstores?

A customer buys a book at a Borders bookstore in Ann Arbor
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Independent bookstore owners are not sure whether Borders Books expected bankruptcy filing this week will be good news for their businesses. 

Analysts expect Borders will close 200 or more stores as part of any bankruptcy plan.  

When Borders Books and other mega-bookstore chains started opening 40 years ago, it seemed like the end for many small local bookstores.   They found it difficult to compete with the big stores with their wider selections, coffee bars and other amenities. But the obituary for the corner bookstore was a bit premature.  

Now that online book sales and e-book readers are shrinking the market for big-box bookstores,  the smaller footprint booksellers suddenly have a brighter future. Deb Leonard is the executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Bookseller Association

“Those independent stores in those neighborhoods will benefit because people need a place to go.”

Leonard says, in some cases, local bookstores might consider taking over former Borders locations.

Economy
1:47 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Mayor Dave Bing looks to New Orleans for ideas to recreate Detroit

The devastation remains in parts of New Orleans 9th ward
sassycrafter Flickr

Mayor Dave Bing says there’s a lot the city of Detroit can learn from the way the city of New Orleans has tried to recover from Hurricane Katrina.  And, there’s much they can learn from Detroit.  

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Auto
1:13 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Chrysler selling "Imported from Detroit" t-shirts

A sample image of the t-shirt from Chrysler's website
collection.chrysler.com

For $29.95 you can continue the buzz that started with the "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl ad.

Chrysler is selling t-shirts with the "Imported from Detroit" logo on its Chrysler Collection website ('imported' from the USA, according to the website).

The Detroit Free Press asked a Chrysler spokesperson if the design will be on other items:

Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said, “It’s too early to discuss. I don’t have any formal details to share at this time.”

The epic two-minute ad is still running on television in edited down one-minute and 30 second versions.

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Commentary
12:49 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Grappling With The Budget

I was looking at President Obama’s proposed next year’s budget yesterday, trying to get some clues for how all this would affect Michigan. Suddenly, I was hit by a revelation.

Nobody really understands this budget, I thought. Nobody understands this budget because nobody really can understand it. It is too big, too vast, has too many contours and moving parts.

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Culture
12:17 pm
Tue February 15, 2011

Motorcycle event gets a thumbs up in West Michigan

Motorcycles coming to West Michigan this summer
Ped Saunders Creative Commons

Grand Rapids City Commission gave their support to a big motorcycle event scheduled to take place this summer. Organizers of a new big motorcycle rally were able to coax commissioners into supporting a shortened version of the original event.

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Environment
11:50 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Funding cuts to Great Lakes restoration?

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides money for habitat restoration, keeping invasive species out of the Lakes, and cleaning up polluted areas.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

President Obama released his 2012 budget yesterday.

In it, he calls for major cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The goal of this multi-year program is to restore habitat... clean up pollution... and keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Initially, President Obama requested $475 million for the first year of the program. He got that under a democratic Congress.

Congress is wrestling with how much money to allocate for the second year (this current fiscal year).

President Obama's budget deals with the third year of GLRI funding.  Obama wants to cut $125 million out of next year’s budget for the program.

I talked with Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, to find out what this might mean. He says:

"The state of Michigan has a huge stake in this. They need their share of that funding to insure that restoration activities proceed forward under severely challenging economic times."

Skelding calls the GLRI "probably the most historic restoration program ever enacted by Congress for the Great Lakes." He says there is strong bi-partisan support for the program from the Great Lakes Congressional delegation, which makes him hopeful.

Economy
11:23 am
Tue February 15, 2011

The 2 types of bankruptcy facing Borders

Borders Group Inc. is facing bankruptcy
user brewbooks creative commons

With the impending bankruptcy of Borders Group Inc., we thought we'd give you a quick explanation of the two types of options facing the company.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Also known as "liquidation" or "straight bankruptcy." It sparks an 'everything must go' sale of the company's assets. The company may cease operations after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The company that owes the money files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in court. The company's assets are turned over to a bankruptcy trustee who then sells the assets and tries to pay back the company's creditors. In exchange, the company that owes the money is freed from having to pay all of its bills in full (unless some wrongdoing is found).

The details of Chapter 7 rules vary from state to state.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Also known as "reorganization" bankruptcy used by many corporations (like K-Mart and General Motors).

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company that owes money typically keeps running its business and keeps its assets while going through a reorganization process overseen by the court.

A reorganization plan is put forth, and if the majority of creditors accept it, and the court accepts the plan - the company continues operating and repays its creditors under the reorganization plan.

Payment to creditors can come from the sale of assets, repayment from future profits, or from mergers or recapitalization.

Changing Gears
9:25 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Leadership Series: Cleveland's Quiet Mayor (Part 2)

Mayor Jackson at the podium
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Our Midwest reporting project Changing Gears is looking at the role of leadership this week. Yesterday, we heard about Detroit Mayor Dave Bing determined to remake his troubled city. Today, we hear about another mayor in our region faced with challenges.

Normally when politicians go to certain kind of events—the ones where they all put on hard hats and pretend to shovel—they usually make speeches about how great this new development will be for the city. Not so much Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

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Politics
9:23 am
Tue February 15, 2011

Snyder says Medicaid provider payments will not be cut

Governor Rick Snyder says his budget will not call for cuts in payments to doctors, clinics, and nursing homes that take Medicaid patients.

Snyder administration officials say it is important to maintain those payments at their current levels to make sure providers continue to see patients.

The governor’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher, says that is a less costly alternative to people showing up at emergency rooms when they get sick:

"We want people having a medical home, having a physician’s office, having that physician really guiding as far as quitting smoking, leading a healthier life, we're going to see much lower healthcare costs down the road if people take those steps right now."

Lasher says there will be other changes in Medicaid.

There are almost two million people in Michigan in the health coverage program for low-income people.

Medicaid makes up about 20% of the state budget.

News Roundup
9:03 am
Tue February 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

The end of Borders

Borders Book Group Inc. can't pay its bills.

Several reports say the company is expected to file for bankruptcy sometime this week. From Reuters:

Bookseller Borders Group Inc is reviewing bids from liquidators to close hundreds of stores as it works out the final details of its impending bankruptcy filing, according to people close to the talks. The review is part of its plan to close about 200 of its 650 stores, which are a mix of Borders superstores and smaller Waldenbooks shops, these people said. The store closings will remove weak stores that have bled the retail chain's cash in recent years and provide immediate funds from the sale of inventory.

A Border's spokesman is quoted in the report saying, "Borders will not comment or speculate upon Borders' future course. If and when the company has something to disclose, it will do so."

President's Obama's Budget proposal and Michigan

President Obama released his budget proposal to Congress yesterday saying "Even as we cut out things that we can afford to do without, we have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future."

The Detroit Free Press says the President's budget is a "mixed bag" for Michigan. On the up side, the budget continues to invest in advanced vehicle technology research, it asks that a $7,500 rebate be put in place to encourage electric vehicle purchases (instead of a tax credit), and it would help the state avoid a big payment it owes the federal government for borrowing money to cover unemployment benefits.

And the down side? From the Freep: 

...it cuts in half a program to help poor people pay energy bills, cuts community block grants and Great Lakes restoration funding and ends plans to build an amphibious Marine Corps vehicle that could have created hundreds of Michigan jobs. 

A big day for Flint

The city of Flint will likely find out today whether it can go to the bond market to cover it's $17 million budget deficit.

The State Administrative Board is meeting today at 11 a.m. to decide the city's fate.

If the plan is not approved, the State of Michigan may eventually have to take over the city's finances.

City Administrator Greg Eason told WJRT

"This stabilization bond is critical to the survival of the city over the next three to five years."

Economy
8:26 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Site that was to become movie production studio for sale again

The largest portion of a former General Motors Plant in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker is back up for sale. The more than quarter-million-square-foot space was to supposed to become a massive movie studio known as Hangar42.

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