Food Stamps
9:52 am
Thu February 10, 2011

College students to lose Bridge Cards and food aid

The state says students are not using benefits properly
Brandon Shigeta Google images

Michigan College students needing food aid will now have a harder time getting it. The state Department of Human Services will take bridge cards away from college students who don’t meet federal guidelines for food assistance.

Some lawmakers say many students who don’t really need the benefits are abusing the program.

Ingham County has the highest number of college students receiving food assistance through the Bridge card program. Michigan State University is in Ingham County.

Nate Smith-Tyge is the Director of the MSU student food bank, a service only for MSU students.

"We’ve seen an increase in the number of people we serve over the past couple of years. You can pretty much tie it directly to the economic downturn we’ve experienced here in Michigan. We do a distribution every other Wednesday, we’ll serve between 275 and 300 people, and that includes students and their dependents."

Allegations of abuse of the program have been largely unsubstantiated. Smth-Tyge says,

"I’d say that there probably is abuse, but I don’t think that you should let the outliers indicate how you determine policy. There is a real demand. We see it on our campus and I’ve talked to people trying to start food-banks from as far away as Schoolcraft Community College in Livonia to people at Grand Valley State and I think there is a real food demand for people as they attend college."

The State Department of Human Services says an unknown number of students will become ineligible for food aid April 15th.

- Sarah Alvarez, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Economy
9:52 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Foreclosures didn't spike as expected

A foreclosure sign sits in front of a home in Lansing, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Analysts expected a big jump in home foreclosures in Michigan in January.  But the jump didn’t materialize.


 Home foreclosures slowed last fall in Michigan and around the country as banks dealt with a scandal about robo-signings.   Essentially mortgage lenders signing foreclosure documents without checking to make sure what they were signing was accurate or truthful.  Foreclosures were expected to spike this month.  But they didn’t.  Realty Trac reports Michigan saw only a 4% increase in foreclosure filings in January.   Nationally only a one  percent increase.

Read more
News Roundup
9:10 am
Thu February 10, 2011

In this morning's news...

Presidential Visit

President Obama will visit Northern Michigan University in Marquette today. He’ll be in the Upper Peninsula to promote his administration’s National Wireless Initiative. The program, first announced during last month’s State of the Union Address, would bring high speed wireless internet access to 98 percent of the nation’s population within five years. The initiative is part of the White House’s new focus on innovation and competitiveness as a way to, “win the future.”

Snyder to Outline Budget Next Week

Governor Rick Snyder will unveil his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins October 1st, next Thursday, February 17th. The state faces a projected $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit for the next fiscal year. “Snyder says he plans to ask lawmakers to wipe out billions in business tax exemptions… Lt. Gov. Brian Calley told the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the administration is counting on $2 billion from such cuts,” The Associated Press reports.

Profit-Sharing Check Going Out to GM Workers

Some 45,000 General Motors’ workers are expected to receive profit-sharing checks from the automaker. The company will release the amount of the checks soon, Mark Brush reports. It’s being reported the checks will be at least $3000 each. Other automakers are also sharing the wealth: Ford announced profit-sharing checks of more than $5000 and Chrysler is giving its workers $750.

Weather
7:42 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Brrr... It's cold out there

Though the sun will be out for part of the day today, the wind chill will keep things freezing around the state
Scorpions and Centaurs Flickr

Though the sun might come out for a bit today, it is going to be a cold one around the state. Temperatures will be in the teens. However, with the wind chill, it'll feel as cold as 11 below in some parts of the region. Meanwhile, a wind chill advisory is in effect for parts of Southeast Michigan until 11 a.m. this morning.

Tonight: Cloudy skies with a chance of flurries. Lows ranging from negative 3 degrees to 10 above... with wind chills down to 10 below.

Tomorrow: A  mix of sun and clouds with a chance of snow. Highs in the low to mid 20's.

State Budget
7:05 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Governor Snyder will release budget proposal next week

Governor Rick Snyder will outline his administration's budget Thursdsay, February 17th
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins October 1st will be released next Thursday, February 17th. The state currently faces a projected $1.8 billion budget deficit for the new fiscal year. Snyder says he plans to ask lawmakers to do away with billions in business tax exemptions, according to the Associated Press. The AP reports:

Snyder has said he plans to review tax credits to see which are worth keeping, but hadn't said how many would be eliminated.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley told the Holland Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the administration is counting on $2 billion from such cuts.

Calley also says the budget proposal will be like an "atomic bomb" going off in Lansing, a comment that drew criticism from Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel.

Wurfel said Wednesday that Calley's comments were an "extremely unfortunate choice of words."

She also denied Calley's claim that Snyder plans to present an all-cuts budget.

Arts/Culture
5:31 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Detroit Symphony talks hit sour note

The DSO talks have apparently hit another roadblock according to the Associated Press:

Striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have rejected the latest contract proposal from orchestra management. A musician speaking Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to speak for the union told The Associated Press the offer was rejected but more talks are possible. Management officials submitted the proposal last Friday. It included a stipulation the musicians must respond by this Friday. Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt wouldn't confirm the rejection but says a statement is expected to be released later Wednesday. Teams representing management and musicians met in late January, but those talks collapsed as they accused each other of not adhering to a three-year, $36 million proposal made in December by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. The walkout began Oct. 4.

Education
5:18 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Detroit school unions push privatization investigations

Robert Bobb
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb defended his tenure in Lansing Wednesday.

Meanwhile, controversy over his plan to outsource more than 800 school maintenance jobs is growing.

Union leaders opposing the privatization move question why Bobb is pushing the process along so quickly during the school year.They also raise questions about possible ties between Bobb and a Sodexo executive. Both men belong to the same fraternity. Edward McNeill, with Council 25 of the Michigan Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, says the deal “makes you wonder what’s going on.”

“And we’re certainly gonna move to have this investigated by the Governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, legislative folks in Lansing, as well as the Detroit School Board.”

Bobb issued a written response to what he called the unions’ “untrue claims” earlier this week.Bobb says the outsourcing will save the district more than $75 million over five years, and improve employee performance.

Public land dispute
5:10 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

MI Supreme Court will not review Benton Harbor golf course case

Jean Klock Park before the golf course was constructed.
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

The state Supreme Court will not take up the case against the city of Benton Harbor and developers of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

Three holes of the 200 acre golf course were built on the dunes of Jean Klock Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. The 90 acre park was donated to the city in 1917 for public recreation. Opponents argue a private golf course isn’t a public use.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled six to one against taking up the case. Documents say the court was “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.”

Carol Drake is one of two residents who filed the suit. She is vice president of the Friends of Jean Klock Park organization. She says Justice Steven Markman ‘got it’ in his dissent.

“That was just amazing to me that collectively that the other justices couldn’t see that this is a legacy case; how important this is and what this decision does in terms of other deeded land and other park lands.”

She argues the case creates a bad precedent for the preservation of public lands.

“I believe that history will show that we were right. That this land should never have been used for a golf course to begin with, that it was a privatization of public park lands, and that if it fails, the rest of the park will probably follow in terms of being used for private purposes.”

Drake is hoping the bench in a separate, federal case will be more favorable to her side. That case is set to go before the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati this spring.

Politics
5:02 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Feds indict former council aide in sludge deal

A former chief of staff to Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel has been indicted in connection with a sludge-hauling scandal in Detroit.


John Clark resigned as Cockrel’s chief of staff in 2008, shortly after allegations came to light that he accepted $3,000 in bribes from a man who worked for Synagro Technologies. At the time, Synagro was trying to secure a sludge-hauling contract with the city worth $1.2 billion.


The man who allegedly bribed Clark, James Rosendall, was sentenced to 11 months in prison in 2009. Former city councilwoman Monica Conyers, and consultants Sam Riddle and Rayford Jackson have also been indicted in connection with the Synagro contract.


John Clark faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the two bribery counts he’s charged with in the indictment. He faces up to five years on two counts of lying to the FBI about the bribes.

State Budget
4:49 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Reaction to Lt. Governor's "A-bomb" remark

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Reactions are coming in after some intense--maybe radioactive is a better word?--comments made by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley on the governor's budget proposal, which will come out next week.

On Tuesday, Calley compared next week's budget announcement to an atomic bomb. Calley's comments, from WKZO:

"Here's why I think that our message on the 17th of February is going to be dropping an atomic bomb on the city of Lansing: We're going to do an all-cuts solution to our budget deficit."

Sara Wurfel, Governor Snyder's press secretary, claims that Calley misspoke. From the Detroit News:

"This was an extremely unfortunate choice of words," she said.

"It certainly doesn't take into account the very difficult decisions that are being made and the extensive efforts we are taking to help protect citizens and ensure we leave no one behind. We are doing everything we can to address the state's fiscal crisis and trim spending in all areas of the budget, but also to help preserve critical services."

Also, "this is not an all-cuts budget," she said.

Read more
Education
3:30 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Artists scavenge school demolition site

Stone artists are scavenging materials from the former Middle School and Chadsey High School for materials that will be used for a "reading garden" nearby.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

A group of artists is spending frigid days this week digging through piles of rubble at one of the Detroit Public Schools demolition sites.

Detroit Public Schools officials granted access to the site of the former Munger Middle and Chadsey High Schools to artists from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios. Jacob Montelongo Martinez is the gallery's creative director. He’s one of the artists salvaging brick and limestone from the demolished Munger Middle School and Chadsey High School in Southwest Detroit.

Martinez says the materials will be used to build archways, paths and benches at a “reading garden” outside a Detroit Public Library branch nearby.

"For me it’s ... a metaphor. The archways are a gateway to the community, a gateway to education."

Eric Froh is an artist who’s spending a frigid day hunting for treasures in the piles of rubble left by the excavators demolishing the buildings. Many of the large limestone pieces have been broken.

"But all this stone we can rework and make it into something new again. Like this," he says, pulling a piece of limestone with carved details from the pile.

The scavenged bricks and limestone will be used to build archways, paths and benches for a “reading garden” at a nearby Detroit Public Library branch.

Chadsey and Munger are being torn down to make way for a new Pre-K through 8th grade school building on the site. 

Arts/Culture
3:17 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Grand Marais wins Readers Digest competition; Albion, St. Johns among top vote-getters

A tiny Upper Peninsula community is the winner of the Reader’s Digest national “We Hear You America” contest.

About 300 people live in Grand Marais, a Lake Superior summertime tourist destination.

Jack Hubbard is Burt Township supervisor and oversees Grand Marais.

He says the $40,000 prize will go toward replacing the harbor’s breakwater.

Hubbard also says he was amazed that voters from two Michigan other cities helped put his community win.

Auto/Economy
2:53 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Big checks coming to GM workers

GM's Headquarters in downtown Detroit. GM's Akerson says he "wants compensation for hourly workers to more closely mirror that of white-collar employees and executives." - Wall Street Journal
Rich Evenhouse creative commons

Profit-sharing checks to GM's 45,000 workers are expected to break a record. The news comes as GM is tallying its profit numbers for 2010. The company will release the amount of the checks soon.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

General Motors Co. is planning to pay its hourly workers in the U.S. at least $3,000 each in profit-sharing payouts, the largest amount ever, after the company's return to profitability in 2010, people familiar with the matter said...The auto maker is trying to tow the line between fiscal prudence and expectations that it will share recent gains with workers as the company heads into labor negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Other U.S. automakers are also sharing the wealth.

Ford Motor Company paid hourly workers more than $5,000, "more than the company was required to pay under the profit-sharing formula in its contract with the UAW," according to the Wall Street Journal.

And Chrysler gave their workers $750 despite the company's losses in 2010.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the checks are expected to be handed out in the months ahead, and the size of the checks could help the automaker in its negotiation with the United Auto Workers union. From the Freep:

The Detroit Three, which will negotiate new labor contracts with the UAW this year, may be giving higher-than-required payments to autoworkers as part of a strategy to convince the rank and file to keep labor costs flat in return for bigger profit sharing in the future, labor experts previously told the Free Press.

Arts/Culture
2:04 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Kalamazoo artists vie for big-time competition

The winner of KIA's competition will have their work featured on billboards throughout the county for up to a year.
thingstado.com

You could call it drive-by artistry.

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is holding a billboard contest for artists who live in Kalamazoo County.

Farrell Howe is with the KIA.  She says artists must submit a one-page biography and five images of their work to enter the competition.

"Winners will then be awarded the ability to have their artwork featured on a billboard for one year," Howe says. "Basically what's great about that is it doesn't stay in one spot. The billboards will be rotating across 850 sites inWest Michigan."

Read more
Economy
12:48 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Grand Rapids officials take pay cuts, hope unions will follow

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says the city's financial future depends on employee concessions in pay and benefits.
Steven Depolo Flickr

Appointed officials in Grand Rapids agreed to scale back the wage increases they recently received.

In a press release, the City officials said they were "responding to Governor Rick Snyder's call for realigning public employee compensation."

City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, and City Treasurer Lauri Parks said they will return to their salary levels that were in effect in 2009.

City Treasurer Albert Mooney agreed to return 2% of his salary increase.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that if their request is granted:

Sundstrom's pay will fall back to $142,000; Mish's pay will return to $114,092; Parks' pay will go back to $93.731; and Mooney's pay will fall to $108,755.

The officials said in 2010, "appointed officials again led by example, voluntarily accepting an additional 10% reduction in overall compensation." This included turning down a 2.5% pay increase that was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2010.

The Grand Rapids officials say the the 2.5% pay increase was "received, and is still being enjoyed today,  by all of the City's unionized workforce."

The city is in the middle of re-negotiating it's collective contracts with the City's unionized workforce. And the negotiations are "difficult" as Mayor George Hearwell said in his State of the City address last Saturday.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, Heartwell said:

The city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term," says Heartwell.

The vast majority of the city's workforce in Grand Rapids is unionized.

I called up City Attorney Catherine Mish, one of the officials taking the pay cuts. I asked her whether she and the others are sending a signal to the city's unionized employees:

"I would have to say 'yes.' We're hoping the unions agree to similar concessions."

Mish said the unions are under current contracts that run from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

Read more
Commentary
11:41 am
Wed February 9, 2011

State of Desperation

Earlier this week Wayne State University’s Alumni Association invited me and Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, to have a frank discussion with their members.

The theme was “Michigan at a Crossroads,” a look at the challenges facing our state today. I think some people expected a bitter debate. After all, Finley runs an opinion section which is profoundly conservative. My reputation is that of some sort of moderate liberal, though I prefer to think of myself as a common sense pragmatist with a bias towards things that work.

But people expected a verbal slugfest, they were disappointed. Oh, Nolan and I have our differences. I think a graduated income tax would be a good idea; he doesn’t, and I‘d be comfortable with a higher level of taxation, if the revenue were to be used for the right things, like education, roads and bridges.

Fifteen years ago, our views probably would have been far further apart. But now, Finley and I were virtually united in recognizing that the first thing we all must do is understand how big our predicament is. Michigan is engaged in a race to the bottom, in more categories than anyone would care to count.

We’ve gone from being a relatively rich state to a poor one.

Still, we have to somehow get competitive for the jobs and growth industries of the future. And that’s hard to do when we have crumbling roads and bridges and crippling deficits.

That’s even harder to do when school systems are failing, and when cities fail to meet their obligations and slip into emergency financial manager status, the equivalent, in the political world, of bankruptcy and receivership. Treasurer Andy Dillon said recently that five communities soon won’t be able to pay their employees.

This may be only the tip of the iceberg, and speaking of icebergs, there are other monstrous ones ahead. We both agreed that one of the most uncovered stories in this state is the fact that state pension funds have a staggering $15.5 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.

Read more
Education
11:17 am
Wed February 9, 2011

Financial Manager of Detroit schools to speak at Capitol

Detroit Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb will appear at the state Capitol today
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Update 11:15 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, has asked state lawmakers to borrow funds for the school district. The Associated Press reports:

Bobb said Wednesday during an appearance before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees that draft legislation for his plan would be submitted within about a week.

The plan would include the state helping to guarantee the school district won't go into bankruptcy. Bobb said the district does not plan to file for bankruptcy.

Bobb said the plan would not cost the state "one dime."

Bobb said the district plans to borrow more than $200 million in March. He wants his legislation approved by April 1.

6:35 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, will testify today at the state Capitol. He'll appear before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees.

The Associated Press reports:

He's expected to talk about the district's turnaround plan including finances and academics. Bobb was appointed as the Detroit district's emergency financial manager by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in early 2009. Bobb has feuded with the elected school board over control of the district.

Auto/Economy
9:54 am
Wed February 9, 2011

Toyota's electronics exonerated in unintended acceleration claims

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks about the government's investigation into whether electronic systems could have caused unintended acceleration in Toyotas
NHTSA

"The jury is back, the verdict is in."

That’s how Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that faulty electronics played no role in cases of unintended acceleration in Toyota cars.  It’s unequivocal good news for a company attempting to rebuild its reputation.

Last year, Toyota recalled millions of its cars for gas pedal defects that could cause unintended acceleration.

Those recalls shook the company’s reputation for safety like an earthquake.

Dean Stewart is Service Manager for Victory Toyota in Canton, Michigan. The dealership's huge - and nearly empty - service garage, has only one car on a lift that was brought in under a recall.  But last year at this time, the place was bustling:

"I mean we were open 7 days a week, we had two shifts, we were working 90 hours a week just to make sure we could take care of our customers," says Stewart.

Read more
News Roundup
9:22 am
Wed February 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

Nicolae Gerasim Flickr

Government Releases Report on Toyota

A government investigation into safety problems with Toyota vehicles found there were no electronic flaws that would account for sudden, unintentional acceleration. As the Associated Press reports:

Transportation officials and engineers with NASA say two mechanical safety defects previously identified by the government - sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats - are the only known causes for the reports of runaway Toyotas. Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 for a series of safety issues.

Bill to Eliminate EITC Introduced

A bill that would eliminate a tax credit for low-income workers in Michigan has been introduced in the state Senate. Republican state Senator Roger Kahn introduced the measure yesterday that would end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Many Republicans in the state House support eliminating the tax credit. Opponents say an elimination of the credit would be the same as a tax increase on the state’s working poor.

Bobb to Testify at Capitol

Robert Bobb, the Detroit Public Schools financial manager, will in Lansing today. Bobb will testify before a joint session of the state House and Senate education committees. It’s expected he’ll talk about the districts educational and financial turnaround plans. Bobb has been the financial manager of the district since 2009.

Count Day

Today is ‘Count Day’ for public school districts across the state. Count days are important to every school district’s bottom line because the total number of students on the days helps determine how much state money the district gets year-round, Lindsay Smith reports.

State Legislature
7:38 am
Wed February 9, 2011

Bill to end low-income tax credit introduced in state Senate

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Republican state Senator Roger Kahn introduced a bill yesterday that would eliminate the state's Earned Income Tax Credit. The tax credit currently goes to low-income working people in Michigan. The Associated Press reports:

He (Kahn) says the credit is expected to cost the state roughly $370 million in the upcoming fiscal year and the state can't afford it. Many House Republicans also support eliminating the tax credit. The tax credit is staunchly defended by groups including the Michigan League for Human Services and the Michigan Catholic

Conference. They say eliminating the credit would be the equivalent of a tax increase on the working poor.

The state faces a projected $1.8 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

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