Taxes
8:13 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Workshops for property tax assessment appeals

Homeowners are starting to get their property tax assessments in the mail. A few organizations are hosting workshops for people who think their home’s value might be over-assessed.

Rose Bogaert is chair of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association:

"Going to the Board of Review and saying 'my taxes are too high' will get you nothing. You have to have information that justifies your contention that your house is over-assessed."

Bogaert says her organization’s workshops educate homeowners about things like how to analyze sales in their neighborhoods. Information about the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A – which govern property tax assessments in Michigan – is also part of the workshops.

Oakland County officials are also hosting a series of sessions about tax assessments through early March.

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Detroit
4:45 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Detroit mayor to announce residency incentive program

Patricia Drury Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is expected to announce a program Monday to encourage more police officers to live in the city.

Detroit had a residency requirement until 1999, when the state Legislature outlawed it. Now more than half the officers on the police force live outside the city limits.

Mayor Bing has said he believes neighborhoods are safer when the cops who patrol them live there too. But Detroit Police Officer Carol Harris says she doesn’t agree.

"When I did live in that community that I did patrol, the people that I arrested also know who I was, where I lived and were to come after me, so… it’s just not a safe place."

Harris now lives in Wyandotte, and has an eight-year-old son. She says there’s “no way” she’d consider moving back to Detroit.

She says younger officers without families might be willing to entertain the idea. But Harris says cops who live elsewhere still have a vested interest the city, and care about its future.

On the Radio
4:30 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

In case you missed it...

user cpstorm Flickr

Here are a few stories that either I heard, my colleagues and friends heard, or pieces that our online friends found interesting on Michigan Radio this week.

(We want to hear about your favorites! Please add them to the comments section below)

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Arts/Culture
4:24 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside...

Jeremy Hiebert Flickr

Members of the Cleveland Orchestra (TCO), trapped in Ann Arbor because of the recent snowfall, ended up putting on an impromptu performance on Wednesday with members of Classical Revolution Ann Arbor (CRAA), a local chamber music collective.

Because of the snowstorm, TCO was unable to leave Ann Arbor in time for a concert Wednesday at Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The musicians chose to pass the time playing with University of Michigan students and amateur musicians at Sylvio's Organic Pizza in Ann Arbor, where CRAA meets every Wednesday for jam sessions.

The first quartet of the evening consisted of Bill Preucil, TCO's concertmaster, TCO violist Joanna Patterson, cellist Ed Baskerville, and University of Michigan student violinist Dan Winnick. Other TCO musicians showed up to play throughout the evening, including principal oboe Frank Rosenwein and principal flutist Joshua Smith.

Read and watch more over at University Musical Society's page.

Brian Short - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
4:24 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Invasive brown marmorated stink bugs found in Michigan

The Brown marmorated stink bug. Spook it and it might put its stink on you, but the real worry is what it could do to crops in the state.
David Lance USDA APHIS

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of invasive brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) in two Michigan counties. The bugs were discovered by students from Michigan State University.

Jennifer Holton is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. She says the bugs can do damage to the types of fruits and vegetables grown in Michigan. The damage makes them difficult to sell. 

And what is does is... a little bit of character distortion on the fruit, what they refer to as cat facing, and that makes the fruit, or the vegetable, if there may be one, unmarketable for the fresh market.

You can find more information about identifying BMSB at the Michigan Department of Agriculture website.

Holton also suggested never moving firewood and to contact your local Michigan State University extension office if you think you found a brown marmorated stink bug.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Education
4:02 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Lansing Community College offers LGBT scholarship

LGBT rainbow flag flapping in the sun
user Marlith Flickr

Scholarships for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are popping up all over the country and Lansing Community College has just created its own version of an LGBT scholarship.

The LCC scholarship is for gay students, under age 25, who have done advocacy work within the community. There are approximately fifty national scholarships for LGBT students, straight students who have supported the community, and children of gay parents.  There are more than a dozen similar scholarships for students who want to attend Michigan’s four year universities.

Candace Gingrich-Jones is with the Human Rights Campaign.  She says they’re seeing a lot of gay alumni who decide to donate money and create scholarships for LGBT students.

“It’s like if you’re a member of a fraternity or sorority, or if you’re a member of the theater club. You want to pass something on to the next group of people.”

The LCC scholarship was funded and named in honor of Betsy Lou Robson, a woman from Lansing. 

Human Rights Campaign maintains a database of LGBT scholarships, broken down by state.

Winter Storm
3:42 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Tens of thousands in West Michigan home from school for 3rd day

Sidewalks in front of many vacant homes in the city remain un-shoveled.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Holland and Grand Rapids’ Public Schools are both closed because the sidewalks aren’t shoveled enough yet to send kids to school safely.

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Science/Medicine
2:59 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

New obstacles for medical marijuana plant-growers

Joe Gratz Flickr

Michigan Radio's Laura Weber reports that the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled against growing medical marijuana plants in partially-exposed outdoor enclosures, setting a new precedent in Michigan’s medical marijuana debate. From the news spot:

A lower court had dismissed charges against an Owasso resident and medical marijuana card holder. But the Court of Appeals overturned that dismissal, and two of the three judges say the enclosure did not meet the standards set in the new law.

The medical marijuana law was approved by voters in 2008. Many lawmakers have said the law is too unrestricted and needs further clarification.

Clarification--and clarity--is an ongoing problem for medical marijuana advocates and critics in Michigan. John McKenna Rosevear wrote an article in November for arborweb.com which looks at some of the uncertainties surrounding medical marijuana. He describes Ann Arbor as a "Wild West" of in-plain-sight dispencaries and access:

The new frontier opened when voters passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008 (earlier laws enshrined the alternative spelling). The act protects people with "debilitating medical conditions" from prosecution for possessing or using marijuana, and sets what looked like tight controls on its production and distribution: "patients" can raise up to twelve hemp plants for their own use, or delegate the growing to a designated "caregiver."

The law says nothing about buying or selling. Yet by the time the Ann Arbor City Council hastily enacted a moratorium in August, eight businesses dispensing marijuana had already opened in the city. Anyone with a physician's recommendation can now walk in, join a "club," and walk out with up to 2.5 ounces of Blueberry Haze or White Widow--or "medibles" like marijuana brownies and rainbow-colored lollipops dosed with marijuana extract.

Roseyear's article goes on to describe how medical marijuana works--what the rules are, what kind of people are buying and who (he gets pretty specific) is selling--in Ann Arbor.

How is it affecting the rest of Michigan? What do these issues look like where you live?

-Brian Short

Auto/Economy
2:47 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Casino development in nearby Ohio

User Zoomar Flickr

After years of watching its residents travel to Michigan, Indiana, or Pittsburgh for gaming, Ohio is getting in on the action. Cleveland kicked off its first casino development yesterday.

Developers say they’ll spend $350 million to convert a former department store in the center of the city into a place for slot machines and poker.

Behind all this is Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner and founder of Michigan’s Quicken Loans. He sees this casino as the first phase of gaming in Cleveland. He’ll be building a casino from scratch a few blocks away.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says the project should create hundreds of local jobs.

They’re actually talking about how can we hire people? How can we hire local contractors, local vendors and make this investment a stimulus for this economy and the people of this city and region.

Dan Gilbert says the Cleveland casino will be integrated into the city, helping local businesses. 

Auto/Economy
1:57 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Jobless rate falling in Flint

Kettering University junior Steve Needham at the Innovation Center.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

From General Motors adding another shift at the Flint Assembly plant to expansion in the city's medical and echnology centers, Flint's job picture is brightening.

Flint city leaders say their community posted one of the ten biggest drops in unemployment in the U.S. over the last 12 months.

Between December 2009 and December 2010, Flint's jobless rate fell from 16 percent to just under 12 percent.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling says the city helped create or keep mare than a thousand jobs by encouraging entrepreneurial businesses.

For everybody who's left, there's a project out there that kept a job here too. That?s the other part of the story. It may not be a new job. It's not someone who's newly employed. But there are another 500 or 1000 people who would have left here if these projects wouldn't have been successful.

This all builds on what our president said in his State of the Union, that we need to create jobs and industries of the future by doing what America does best.  Investing in the creativity and innovation of our people.

Walling concedes people leaving Flint also helped improve the city's unemployment rate.

Flint's unemployment rate is still above state and national levels.

Health
1:06 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Report: Federal judge dismisses challenge against heath care law

In 2009, then Ohio Representative John Boehner spoke out against the health care reform bill. Now courts are weighing in.
GOP House Leader Flickr

A federal judge in Mississippi tossed out a lawsuit aimed at challenging the health care reform law. The dismissal comes the same week a federal judge in Florida ruled that the whole law was unconstitutional.

Politico.com reports:

Ten individuals without health insurance argued that the law’s requirement to buy insurance violated their rights. One of the plaintiffs is Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. Judge Keith Starrett said the individuals didn’t prove they have proper standing to challenge the law because they didn’t prove the mandate would apply to them. The suit was thrown out on procedural grounds.

It's not the first time lawsuits challenging the health care law have been tossed. Politico writes, "about two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the health care reform law since it was passed in March. Thirteen have now been thrown out over procedural matters such as a right to bring the suit."

Keeping score

NPR's Health blog went to their "go-to overhaul scorekeeper" Julie Rover for a tally on how challenges to the health care law have fared in court. The bloggers on "Shots" wrote:

The judicial scorecard on the law has pretty much followed party lines. Two judges who found the law constitutional were appointed by Democrats. Two who found the requirement for most people to have health insurance unconstitutional were appointed by Republicans.

The several dismissals issued for the health care court challenges, like the one today, have not followed any party ties.

Medical marijuana
12:05 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Royal Oak man sues city over medical marijuana restrictions

Neeta Lind Flickr

A Royal Oak man is suing the city over its medical marijuana restrictions, which took effect this week.

Adam Leslie Brook is a cancer patient in chronic pain who’s certified to use the drug under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. The law allows Brook to grow up to 12 plants at his home. But Brook’s attorney, Joseph Niskar, says Royal Oak’s new zoning rules bar him from doing that:

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Economy
12:03 pm
Fri February 4, 2011

Unemployment rate drops to 9 percent

The unemployment rate fell .4 percentage points in January to 9.0%.

Keith Hall, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics said today:

In January, employment increased in manufacturing and retail trade, while job losses occurred in transportation and warehousing and in construction.  Employment in most other major industries changed little. Manufacturing employment grew by 49,000 over the month and has increased by 161,000 since a recent low point in December 2009.

The Associated Press reports:

The unemployment rate has fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point in the past two months. That's the steepest two-month drop in nearly 53 years. But part of that drop has occurred as many of those out of work gave up on their job searches. When unemployed people stop looking for jobs, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.

Officially, there are about 13.9 million people in the country out of work. The AP says "that's still about double the total who were out of work before the recession began in December 2007."

The unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 11.7% as of December. New numbers should be out in the coming week.

Transportation
11:21 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Price tag for keeping the Zilwaukee Bridge clear of ice and snow

The Zilwaukee Bridge near Saginaw
user myself wikimedia commons

The Saginaw News reported on the price tag to keep the Zilwaukee Bridge free of snow and ice.

The don't use cheap salt which would result in corrosion of the multi-million dollar bridge. They use a more expensive melting agent - calcium magnesium acetate.

The News reported that the Michigan Department of Transportation used $236,640 worth of the stuff to keep the bridge clear last year:

The Michigan Department of Transportation spent $1,392 a ton to dump 170 tons of calcium magnesium acetate on the 8,000-foot-long bridge on Interstate 75 over the Saginaw River last winter.

Gregg Brunner, manager of the Bay City Transportation Service Center, told the News that MDOT "spends about $800,000 to $1 million a year to maintain the six-lane bridge year round with a four-member crew."

Around 31,000 cars and trucks pass over the bridge daily.

The mile-and-a-half  Zilwaukee Bride had an infamous beginning. It was built so freighters could pass under it on the Saginaw River.

The project was plagued with accidents, "spalling", and the discovery of PCBs. It cost the state $117.5 million to build the bridge and it was opened back in 1988.

Arts/Culture
9:23 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Google launches new "Art Project"

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)
Photo courtesy of UMMA

Always wanted to check out the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but couldn't afford a ticket? Well, you're in luck. Google's new "Art Project"launched this week, and it allows people to virtually explore some of the most famous art museums in the world, like the Van Gogh Museum.

You can take 360-degree tours inside the museums. On select paintings, you can zoom in so close as to see cracks, lines and brushstrokes. 

Of the 17 museums included in the project, 13 are in Europe. The remaining museums are in New York and Washington, D.C: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Frick Collection, and the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian.  Check out the full list here

Joseph Rosa is director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art. He thinks the project is a nice way to bring art to the general public, but he wishes more American museums were included. Rosa says Michigan, for example, has a lot offer -  from the DIA in Detroit to the GRAM in Grand Rapids - and he adds that UMMA has "the best collection of Korean art outside of Korea."

Rosa says if UMMA was asked to participate in the Google Art Project, the first piece he'd include would be Picasso's Young Woman with Mandolin:

"It's amazing; one of his earliest paintings. And when people come to our website or friends and the first thing out of their mouth is: 'You have that?' And I don't want that to be the response from people. They should be: 'Wow, you have that! That's fabulous.' So for us it's demystifying what a university art museum can be."

The Google Art Project is in its pilot phase, and more museums may be added to the project in the future.

Economy
8:03 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Banking on snowfall at the Chicago Board of Trade

The Chicago Board of Trade
Niala Boodhoo Changing Gears

Parts of the Midwest are still shoveling out after one of the worst blizzards in recent memory.  For some people, they can't see the good in all that snowfall.

But at the Chicago Board of Trade, this blizzard may be a boon for business.

Investors are banking on a futures market based on snowfall that’s the first of its kind in the world.

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Winter Storm
7:51 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Winter storm packs economic punch

Digging out from this week's winter storm in downtown Grand Rapids
Lindsay Smith Michigan Radio News

Ok, so we all know that this week's winter storm caused copious amounts of snow and ice to blanket much of the state. And, of course, we couldn't forget the school closings and sore backs (hey, shoveling a foot of snow out of a driveway is strenuous!).

But, what about the actual financial impact of a huge winter storm? Just how much money did all that snow cost the state? Hard to quantify? It sure would seem like it. But, one firm, IHS Global Insight, has decided to go ahead and try to figure the economics out.

In a report released this week titled, The Economic Costs of Disruption from a Snowstorm, IHS said the storm had a $251 million a day economic impact in Michigan. The study took into account both direct (think loss of income because of a missed day of work) and indirect effects (such as lost sales in the local economy) of the storm into account when figuring out the numbers.

Aside from the actual economic data, IHS also reached three conclusions about the financial impact of winter storms, and I quote:

  1. Among all economic classes, snow-related shutdowns harm hourly workers the worst, accounting for almost two thirds of direct economic losses.
  2. The indirect economic impacts of snow-related shutdowns, including loss of retail sales and income and sales tax revenues, roughly double the initial economic impact.
  3. The economic impact of snow-related closures far-exceeds the cost of timely snow removal. Although states and localities may be hesitant to expand significant upfront resources in the short-term, the long-term payoff more than justifies the expense.
Environment
7:16 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Michigan forests hit hard last year

Detail of emerald ash borer damage
Jhritz Flickr

New analysis by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment says state forests were hit hard last year by the emerald ash borer and a variety of other ailments and invasive pests.

According to the Associated Press, in a report released yesterday, the DNRE said:

...people continue to make the invasive species problem worse by moving firewood infested with exotic organisms. The unwelcome critters also work their way into nursery stock and wooden pallets that are hauled around the state.

Lynne Boyd is chief of the Forest Management Division and says insects and foreign species are a big danger to Michigan's 19.3 million acres of woodlands. Industries connected to Michigan forests such as timber and recreation provide 136,000 jobs and pump $14 billion into the state's economy each year.

The Traverse City Record Eagle reports:

The Michigan Department of Agriculture has set up a quarantine to limit the ash borer's spread — including a firewood checkpoint at the Mackinac Bridge linking the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. People caught hauling firewood into the U.P. can be fined or even jailed. Even so, the ash borer has been found in several U.P. locations after killing more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan.

Auto Recall
5:49 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Ford recalls 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks

Ford Motor Company is recalling more than 350,000 pickup trucks
Toolshed4 Flickr

Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 365,000 F-150 pickup trucks in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The problem is faulty door handles that could lead to the doors flying open in a crash.

The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Most of the recalled trucks were made in the 2009 and 2010 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a spring in the interior door handle can break, which means the door may not latch properly. So the door could potentially fling open if the truck is hit on the side.

Ford says there have been no crashes or injuries tied to the problem. Ford is also dealing with a large and expensive recall of nearly 600-000 older model Windstar minivans. That one is for corrosion in the axles that could cause the axles to break.

Education
5:33 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Harvard study asks: Does everyone need a 4-year college degree?

Harvard study says schools need to focus on "college readiness" and "career readiness"
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

A  new Harvard University report say high schools need to do a better job preparing students for whatever career path they choose…whether it’s becoming a doctor or an electrician.

The "Pathways to Prosperity" study finds that America’s education system is focused too much on college prep and not enough on alternatives, like vocational and career and technical education (CTE).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the release of the report on Wednesday:

The Pathways to Prosperity study envisions a new system of career and technical education that constitutes a radical departure from the vocational education of the past.

The need for that transformation is pressing.  I applaud your report’s frank discussion of the shortcomings of our current CTE system and its call to strengthen the rigor and relevance of career and technical education.

I am not here today to endorse the specifics of your policy recommendations. I want instead to suggest two takeaway messages from your study and the Department’s reform efforts.

Secretary Duncan's two takeaways?

  1. CTE, the "neglected stepchild of education reform," can no longer be ignored.
  2. CTE needs to be re-imagined for the 21st century.

Patty Cantu is director of the CTE office for Michigan’s Department of Education. She's not surprised by the report:

"The pendulum swings this way in education a lot. We focus on one area, and then we say, oh, that’s right, we have this other important thing and just as valuable thing that we also have to take into consideration."

Cantu says the head of Michigan's Department of Education, Mike Flangan, is very interested in "not only embracing academic rigor, but also the rigor of [the state's] career and technical education program."

The report says students should be able to choose career paths early, like they do in Europe. Secretary Duncan says "we can’t just copy the vocational education systems of other high-performing countries. But we can learn from them about how to build rigorous educational and work-experience programs with strong links to high-wage, high-demand jobs."

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