Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says the governor’s office will push the Legislature to approve a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada as soon as next month.

Calley says they plan to introduce a bill after budget and tax deals have been ironed out. He says the state needs to create competition with the Ambassador Bridge Company and its monopoly at the crossing.

"The governor started out, right out of the blocks, advocating for a fix to that problem. A fix that doesn't really hold or contain any risk at all for the people of the state of Michigan, but instead put the power of the private sector behind a new project and says that 'we're not for monopolies anymore, we’re for competition.'"

Calley appeared at a speaking engagement with Roy Norton, the Canadian consul general to Detroit. Norton says the Ambassador Bridge is more than 80 years old and carries more than 10,000 trucks a day.

"One, very old bridge, by itself, carries almost 30% of the world’s largest two-way trade relationship, with literally millions of jobs in Canada and the United States depending on everything working right every day."

Norton and Calley reassured Lansing’s business community that the cost of a second, publically owned bridge would fall on the Canadian government, and not Michigan taxpayers.

They say the project would be paid for over time by tolls. And they say tolls for the new bridge would be cheaper than they are now at the Ambassador Bridge.

Meanwhile, the Ambassador Bridge Company appears to be ramping up its campaign against the proposed bridge project. The bridge company wants to build its own second bridge instead.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder continues to negotiate with lawmakers to try to get his budget proposal through the Senate.

Parts of his proposal are facing a tough sell, even among his fellow Republicans.

The Snyder administration changed its position on eliminating the earned income credit, and now says families should still be able to claim it, but at a reduced rate.

Families eligible for the state credit in 2009 claimed an average of $432 per household. The Michigan League for Human Services says the reduced credit will still allow eligible families to take $140 off their 2011 tax bill, or add part of it to their return.

Eric Sweet

Tomorrow, the Michigan Supreme Court will consider a rule change that could put local governments in a stronger position to challenge unfunded state mandates.  

The Headlee Amendment is a state constitutional amendment meant to reduce unfunded state mandates on local governments, like requiring but not necessarily providing extra money for special education programs. 

Eric Sweet

Michigan voters are not happy with Governor Rick Snyder according to a new EPIC/MRA poll.

Two months ago, Snyder's disapproval rating was at 36%.

Today his disapproval rating sits at 60%.

The disapproval of his performance seems to have influenced how voters view Snyder personally as well.

More voters have an "unfavorable" opinion of Governor Snyder today than they did back in February:

  • In February, the poll showed 44% "favorable" and 27% "unfavorable"
  • Today, the poll shows 41% "favorable" and 43% "unfavorable"

What "high-value target" does Snyder need to find to turn these poll numbers around?

user brother o'mara / Flickr

The city of Detroit is ramping up efforts to cobble together a budget and a five-year deficit elimination plan.

Detroit City Council members got a copy of Mayor Dave Bing’s deficit elimination plan Tuesday.

The Council wants more cuts than Bing proposed. They say that’s necessary to avoid a possible state takeover of the city’s finances.

Council President Charles Pugh says a Council work group believes the city should cut at least $120 million from the upcoming budget.

Elizabeth Albert / flickr

Detroit public schools face many challenges, and Dan Rather wants you to know how bad it is.

HDNet, a cable and satellite television channel aimed at "men's interests", will air "Dan Rather Reports: A National Disgrace" tonight at 8 p.m. (and again at 11 p.m.).

Here's a clip from the program:

HDNet says the program is "full of heartbreaking images: children sitting in class for days without a teacher; a principal addressing graduating seniors with stories of the violence they’ve seen; and abandoned schools left to rot in an increasingly empty city."

Dan Rather spoke with Paul W. Smith on WJR this morning. He told Smith that he hopes people learn that the nation's public education system needs to be changed:

"What I hope the takeaway will be is that we all, not just people in Detroit, we all should be ashamed of what's happening to our schools and we can change it. But we can't change it on the present course where all decisions are top down instead of being bottom up."

Life after GM

May 10, 2011

The top brass of General Motors were happily bound for Ohio today, to the newly revived automaker’s transmission plant in Toledo.

They are announcing the creation of four thousand new jobs, there and elsewhere.  What was once the world’s biggest corporation is once again hugely profitable -- less than two years after bankruptcy and near-corporate death.

The city of Grand Rapids is joining efforts to help victims of major flooding and deadly tornados in the Southern United States.

Mayor George Heartwell urged people to give whatever they’re able to afford.

 “I feel so strongly that the suffering of any people anywhere needs to be our suffering. As long as there are people in need and we have the ability and the capacity to help address that need, it’s critical for us to do that.”

Car production in Japan could return to normal earlier than expected.

From the Associated Press:

A report says Toyota's global car production, disrupted by parts shortages after Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, will likely return to normal two to three months earlier
than expected.

Japan's top business daily Nikkei said Tuesday that Toyota's output will normalize earlier than the end of this year as parts shortages are easing. It didn't cite any sources.Toyota said last month its worldwide production will likely return to normal levels by November or December.

Toyota Motor Corp. spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto could not confirm the report.

The disasters destroyed many factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe parts shortages for Toyota and other automakers. The supply crisis has cost the company production of 400,000 vehicles in Japan, and 100,000 overseas.

On a clear night, we can catch a glimpse of certain planets with the unaided eye.

The five "naked eye planets" are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

If you're lucky, you could catch four of them at once in the next few days - Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter.

From Star Date Magazine:

On the morning of May 10, Venus and Jupiter will stand side by side, quite low in the east, as dawn brightens. So long as you have a horizon clear of buildings and trees, they will be easy to spot. They are the brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon. Venus is the brighter of the two; Jupiter is to its left.

Mercury is visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance as Venus is to Jupiter. It isn't nearly as bright, but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. Finally, Mars is about twice as far to the lower left of Jupiter. It's so low and faint that it will be difficult to see, but binoculars may help.

They say the planets are best viewed in the south, but if you have an unimpeded view of the horizon, you could catch them up here as well.

Two embezzlement stories came the Associated Press wires this morning. One person was sentenced for embezzling money from a bank in Grand Rapids, and another investigation is beginning into possible embezzlement at Munson Healthcare.

From the Associated Press:

BANK EMBEZZLEMENT

Grand Rapids bank embezzler gets 3 years in prison

A woman who admitted embezzling about $600,000 from a Grand Rapids bank has been sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

Joann Wierenga's lawyer says she needs help for a gambling addiction more than a long prison stay. Her sentence Monday was at the low end of the guidelines.

Wierenga pleaded guilty in February to embezzling from Huntington Bank for seven years. Her lawyer says she has repaid at least $132,000 and admitted the thefts when confronted by the bank in 2009.

Federal prosecutors say Wierenga took $1,600 from another employer last November, just three months before her guilty plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Borgula calls her an "irrepressible thief."

MUNSON HEALTH-EMBEZZLEMENT

More than $1 million stolen from Munson Healthcare
     
An accountant working for Munson Healthcare in Traverse City is accused of embezzling more than $1 million.

No charges have been filed, but the disclosure was made Friday in federal court in Grand Rapids. The Internal Revenue Service is asking a judge to order the seizure of personal bank accounts with $34,000 linked to the accountant.

In a court filing, IRS agent Brittany Hofstra says Munson's loss totals $1.1 million, and the accountant has been suspended. The accountant had access to accounts belonging to Munson and the Munson Foundation. The accountant was also responsible for paying payroll taxes and making deposits into employee retirement plans.

Munson is a health care provider serving 24 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. Its main hospital is in Traverse City.

Governor Rick Snyder's administration has agreed to restore a reduced version of the state income tax credit for working poor families.

The reduced tax break will allow families that qualify to claim 6% of the federal earned income credit on their state taxes.

In the past families could claim 20%.

Snyder's original proposal called for elimination of the credit.

In this morning's news...

May 10, 2011
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Funds for High Speed Rail

Michigan has been awarded almost $200 million for high speed rail projects. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Detroit yesterday to make the announcement. Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other Michigan lawmakers were on hand. The money will help pay for upgrades to a stretch of track between Detroit and Kalamazoo. The improvements will also help speed-up trains to 110 miles-per-hour. Michigan received the funds after Florida’s governor turned the money down.

State Senate to Take-Up Snyder Tax Measure

A Michigan Senate panel is set to hold a hearing on a broad tax proposal that's a key part of Governor Snyder’s strategy for the state, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it…

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Another Round of Federal Funds for Education

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Jennifer Guerra reports. From Guerra:

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants. It’s not clear just yet how the money will be used, but some analysts say it’s likely the money will go toward improving early education.

John Austin is president of the Michigan Board of Education. He says "early childhood education expansion of pre-K to all interested is a fantastic investment." It would cost about $300 million to expand pre-K and kindergarten access to all children in Michigan, says Austin.

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded 13 states and the District of Columbia Race to the Top funds. Michigan has yet to win any Race to the Top money.

Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

The Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under fire for what critics are calling aggressive and overzealous tactics.

ICE officials say they are concerned enough that they're reviewing a recent incident involving immigration agents.

But the union that represents agents is complaining that ICE isn't standing behind its officers.

A Ghost Town

The principal of Hope of Detroit Academy, Ali Abdel, says he was helping out with morning safety patrol on March 31, just like he does most mornings.

Crazy George / Flickr

A state Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later today on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposal. The Associated press reports:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it.

Some Republicans are opposed to taxing retiree income and to measures that would delay lowering the state's personal income tax rate.

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

jdurham / morgueFILE

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants.

United States Geological Survey

A state Senate committee opens hearings tomorrow on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposals.

Altogether, two dozen tax breaks could disappear if the governor’s plan is adopted.

Ending the tax exemption for pensions has gotten a lot of attention, but the plan would also largely eliminate the use of tax breaks that encourage the re-use of old factories and historic buildings.

Michigan will get just under $200 million to boost rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the official announcement alongside state and local officials in Detroit Monday.

The federal money comes with no strings attached. Officials say it will let them upgrade a stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

Khalilshah / Flickr

How many times a day do you wonder what a Spaghetti Western soundtrack would sound like composed by Danger Mouse and featuring Jack White's signature vocals? Forty? A hundred?

Whatever the number is, you can stop wondering. Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi are on the verge of releasing Rome, a Spaghetti-inspired album which features vocal performances by superstars Norah Jones and Jack White.

Photograph courtesy of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's office

A General Motors transmission factory will be adding 250 to 400 jobs, according to a union official quoted by the Associated Press.

The announcement will be made by CEO Dan Akerson and UAW Vice President Joe Ashton.

The AP reports:

A union official says General Motors plans to add 250 to 400 jobs at its transmission factory in Toledo, Ohio.

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