State Legislature
7:07 am
Mon January 24, 2011

Snyder: Michigan's finances should be easier to understand

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to make government finances easier for taxpayers to understand. Snyder says having the public understand the state’s budget troubles is a critical part of solving the problem. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder recently told local officials his administration is developing a model for explaining the state budget that could be adopted by cities, townships, and villages.

Snyder is a retired computer company CEO and investor with a degree in accounting. He says the idea came to him while he was examining the document that explains how state government spends its money. 

"If you’ve tried to look at it, and I don’t know if you have… I’m an old CPA and there should be a warning label – not made for human consumption," Snyder said.

Snyder says he’d like state aid to local governments to be tied, in part, to how well they explain their finances to their citizens. Cuts to revenue sharing payments are expected to be part of addressing a budget deficit, but Snyder says he’d like to reward local governments that find ways to save money and innovate.

Jennifer Granholm
6:37 am
Mon January 24, 2011

Former Governor to teach in California

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm
Photo courtesy of www.michigan.gov/gov

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is set to teach at the University of California – Berkeley. In an interview with Politico.com, Granholm says she and her husband, Dan Mulhern, will also write a book together about her experience as governor.

Though she plans to teach in California, Granholm will continue to live in Michigan.

Politico also reports that Granholm will be a paid contributor to NBC’s Sunday news program, Meet the Press.

Politico reports:

The common theme of the courses and book will be the lessons Michigan holds for the rest of the country as “the canary in the coal mine — the state hardest hit by the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs,” she said. “We want to be able to have the nation draw lessons, good and bad, about what can happen if the United States doesn’t take a more active role” in job creation.

As the Detroit Free Press reports, "The online article was her first announcement since leaving the governor’s office Jan. 1, as Republican Rick Snyder assumed the reins of state government."

Michigan Supreme Court
10:52 am
Sat January 22, 2011

Is a golf course a public park?

Google's view of Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor, MI
Google Maps

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on the dispute around Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

In 1917, some land along Lake Michigan was given to the city of Benton Harbor. The "Friends of Jean Klock Park" describe the gift this way:

In 1917, John and Carrie Klock deeded a half mile of lake Michigan frontage to the City of Benton Harbor Michigan in memory of their deceased daughter Jean. Their gift consisted of 90 acres of globally rare natural resources that included Great Lakes Dunes, a Great Lakes Marsh and interdunal wetlands. The donated land was named Jean Klock Park and was dedicated "FOR THE CHILDREN" - "in perpetuity" - "FOREVER."

Today, the city of Benton Harbor has leased part of the park to the Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation. The Redevelop Corporation used the land, including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

Residents didn't like it and they filed a lawsuit. The case made it to the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday.

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Politics
9:56 am
Sat January 22, 2011

Snyder: communities that innovate will be rewarded

In the world of corporate business, bonuses, perks and cash incentives rule the day. They're used to drive productivity.

Governor Snyder, a former corporate president, is bringing that mentality to Lansing.

Now, he says he wants to reward local governments that find better, cheaper ways to provide services.

Rick Pluta, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, says Snyder's budget proposal will call for cash incentives that encourage cities and townships to innovate.

Rick filed this report saying the Governor's announcement was a small bit of welcome news to local officials bracing for more budget cuts from the state:

Governor Snyder outlined his idea at a drop-by with local government officials meeting in Lansing.

He says local governments provide most of the services that people use, and the state should reward the ones that find ways to consolidate, cut costs, and innovate:

"So it's really to create an environment to say, here's a positive incentive to be the very best...so people first and foremost in Michigan and then people around the country and the world will look at Michigan are going to look and say, these people have their act together, this is the place to be, this is the place to have your kids grow up and succeed."

The governor provided few details.

He says those will wait for his budget proposal next month, and a special address on government reform that he will deliver in March.

homelessness
5:31 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

State agencies to receive less money in 2011 to prevent homelessness

Officials from Community Rebuilders with a number of people who've gone through thier programs for the homeless.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The federal department of Housing and Urban Development announced this week its granting $56 million dollars to Michigan to prevent homelessness. The money funds 269 separate programs all over the state.

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Politics
4:49 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

Autism insurance coverage campaign begins again

Michigan lawmakers will again consider requiring insurance companies to cover autism treatment.
parenting-skill-info.com

A new effort is under way to require Michigan insurance companies to cover some treatments for autism. Statistics  show 1 in 150 children is born with the disorder.

State Senator Tupac Hunter says it costs Michigan families an average of $30,000 out of pocket each year to treat an autistic child – an expense most can’t afford.

Hunter says parents and advocacy groups were disappointed when last year’s autism insurance legislation stalled in the Senate.

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Law Enforcement
4:42 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

Immigration bust in West Michigan

Update 4:41p.m.:

77 people are in custody following a 4-day operation in West Michigan by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Federal agents arrested the men and women in 7 counties; from Ludington south to Michigan, Indiana line. 

Khaalid Walls is with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office. He says they were arrested for their illegal immigrant status, but a few, he says face criminal charges.

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Auto/Economy
4:38 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

IRS won't process some returns until Feb. 14

Taxpayers who itemize deductions have to delay filing their returns until February 14 because of changes in the federal tax law.
levistaxes.com

Some Michigan taxpayers getting ready to tackle their returns may have to wait before filing because last-minute federal tax law changes caused a delay in processing.

If you file a simple federal tax return – that is, you don’t itemize your deductions -- you can do that right now.

Otherwise, you’ll need to wait a few weeks.

Luis Garcia is with the Detroit office of the IRS. He says the agency is updating its programs to reflect the tax law changes.

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Politics
4:29 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

Court says resident can challenge tribe's casino plans

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Wayland Township resident has the legal standing to sue to stop the development of a casino.

The Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians recently announced their plans to open the casino in Wayland Township south of Grand Rapids:

The Associated Press reports that the federal appeals court will allow David Patchak to "challenge how the federal government placed the land in trust for the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians."

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Investigative
2:35 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

State of Michigan giving more in tax breaks than it collects

I was sifting through the many reports by Gongwer News Service.  Gongwer covers just about everything that happens in and around the Lansing capitol complex.  What caught my eye was an article entitled "State Estimates Tax Expenditures of $33.8 Billion for FY'11." 

I read through the Gongwer story which linked to a 111-page report by the Michigan Department of Treasury.

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Commentary
11:35 am
Fri January 21, 2011

John Dingell, Running Again

He was a young man when he first came to Congress, tall, gangly, and with questionable taste in haircuts and ties.

Owlish old Sam Rayburn swore him in on a chill December day, saying something, no doubt, about his father, who had held the seat before him, and who had died just months before.

That was more than fifty-five years ago. General Motors, the world’s richest corporation was putting ever bigger tail fins on their cars, and consumers were just starting to wonder if they’d ever be able to afford one of those sensational new color TVs.

That was the world when John Dingell Jr. arrived in Washington at the end of 1955, the country‘s newest and youngest congressman. He was twenty-nine then. This summer he will be eighty-five. Everybody else who was in Congress when he arrived is gone.

Most are dead.

When he arrived, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin were years away from being born. He’s stayed in the House longer than anyone in history. Two men have stayed in Congress longer, when you combine time in both chambers.

John Dingell will pass one of them soon. But to beat the other, West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, Dingell has get reelected one more time, next year.

This week, the man they used to call the truck announced that he intended to try to do just that. He’s running again.

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Auto/Economy
10:44 am
Fri January 21, 2011

Will more ethanol in gas lead to more engine damage?

An ethanol plant in Iowa. The EPA is allowing more ethanol to be mixed into gas.
Fred Thompson Flickr

The farm lobby has been pushing hard to increase the amount of ethanol allowed to be mixed into gasoline. And it seems like the Obama Administration is obliging.

The vast majority of today's ethanol comes from corn. The alcohol is mixed in gasoline to make it burn more cleanly.

Right now, the standard is 10% (a 10% ethanol, and 90% gasoline mix is most likely in your gas tank right now).

The EPA increased the allowed amount of ethanol to a 15% mix last fall for cars made after 2007.

Now, the Associated Press reports the EPA is poised to allow the 15% mix for more cars. From the AP:

Two people familiar with the decision said late Thursday the agency is expected to announce on Friday that 15 percent ethanol in gasoline is safe for cars manufactured between 2001 and 2006. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

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News Roundup
8:58 am
Fri January 21, 2011

In this morning's news...

Legislation Planned for New Detroit-Windsor Bridge

State Senator Hoon Yung Hopgood says he will sponsor a bill that would be connected to the effort to build a new international bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Democratic lawmaker's statement follows Governor Rick Snyder's announcement that he supports the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC). Snyder announced his support on Wednesday evening during his first State of the State address. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the project is “absolutely critical” to trade with Canada.

Could Price Tags Become ‘A Thing of the Past’?

Also, during Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Governor Snyder said Michigan lawmakers should get rid of or modify, “antiquated laws.” As Mark Brush reports, one such law is the state’s "Item Pricing Law." Snyder said:

Requiring 'stickers' over other forms of price-marking costs Michigan’s economy over $2 billion dollars a year. Let’s use the technology we have to protect customers.

Not everyone, however, agrees that getting rid of price tags is such a good idea. Chris Michalakis, the Legislative and Political Director with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the law is necessary so shoppers can compare prices or catch errors at the checkout:

You know, in these hard economic times we need stronger consumer protection laws. There are more people than ever in Michigan on fixed incomes, and we also need to think about the amount of jobs this would cost if passed.

There's also the worry that changing the law could cut the number of stock workers required at stores around the state.

Dingell Will Run Again in 2012

Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell said yesterday that he will run for re-election in 2012. Dingell, who won his 28th full term in Congress last November, is The U.S. House of Representative’s longest serving member. The 84-yeard old, who represents Michigan’s 15th District, told the Detroit News, it is. “the greatest job in the world.” Dingell has been in Congress since 1955.

State Legislature
6:44 am
Fri January 21, 2011

Legislation on new Detroit-Windsor bridge to be introduced in state Senate

Runners underneath the Ambassador Bridget, Detroit, MI
J.Stephen Conn Flickr

State Senator Hoon Yung Hopgood said yesterday that he is sponsoring a bill that would be connected to the effort to build a new international bridge from Michigan to Windsor, Ontario. The Democratic lawmaker's statement follows Governor Rick Snyder's announcement that he supports the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC). Snyder announced his support on Wednesday evening during his first State of the State address.

As the Associated Press reports:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday the project is "absolutely critical" to trade with Canada. Some Republicans and the owners of the private Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor have opposed the proposal.

A statement released after the State of the State address on Senator Hopgood's website noted:

State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) is backing Governor Rick Snyder's measure to support the Detroit River International Crossing, which could create thousands of jobs and boost Michigan's economy. According to state officials, the project could create 10,000 jobs directly and 30,000 additional jobs through related economic activity...

The Canadian government has offered to pay up to $550 million to cover Michigan's cost to build the new bridge between the U.S. and Canada. This agreement mirrors the agreement to build the Blue Water Bridge. The U.S. paid for that bridge and Canada's offer to cover this investment is in the same spirit of cooperation. Canada will be repaid – as Michigan was – through tolls collected from bridge users.

Politics
5:46 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Clarifying what an Emergency Financial Manager can do

Governor Rick Snyder wants the Legislature to clarify the Emergency Financial Manager's Act.

There was a dispute over how much power state-appointed emergency financial managers have when the Detroit School Board sued the state's Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb.

They said he was exercising too much power, and the court agreed.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, filed this report:

Snyder wants the Legislature to rework the Emergency Financial Manager’s Act to provide more clarity on the powers of an emergency manager.

Robert Bobb is the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools. He says many other school districts and municipal governments are in serious financial trouble.

"There could be more in the future that an emergency financial manager should have complete authority over the operations of a school district and/or a municipality, working with their elected leadership."

Bobb says the emergency financial manager of a school district should be allowed to take over the curriculum as well as finances because, he says, money is involved in all facets of school systems.  A judge denied Bobb that authority.

Bobb says he is encouraged by the governor acknowledging the issue in his State of the State speech, but Bobb says he is not clear what is being proposed, and he is anxious to hear details.

Land use
5:36 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

MI Supreme Court to hear dispute over Benton Harbor golf course

A portion of Jean Klock Park before the golf course was developed
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

Attorneys will make their case before Michigan’s Supreme Court Friday over a disputed Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in Benton Harbor. The course opened last summer.

Nearly a century ago, the Jean Klock Park was donated to the city of Benton Harbor for public recreation. The city leased part of the 90-acre park to non-profit developer Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation, who used land including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

John Cameron represents the developers.

“We’re not focusing here on three golf holes, we’re focusing here on the entirety of a park and what its being used for, all the different uses; picnicking, hiking, kite-flying, volleyball, concerts, triathlons, and golf.”

Michigan’s Court of Appeals agreed with Cameron that designating part of it as a golf course is not against the restrictions. It also ruled that the city is allowed to lease the land.

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Economy
5:07 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Will price tags be a thing of the past in Michigan?

A law in Michigan requires retailers to label each product in their stores with a price tag.
Christopher Matson Flickr

Price tags? We don't need no stinkin' price tags.

In his State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder said the legislature should get rid of or modify "antiquated laws."

One law he used as an example was the state's "Item Pricing Law." The law, he said, is an undue burden on retailers. From Snyder's State of the State outline:

"Requiring 'stickers' over other forms of price-marking costs Michigan’s economy over $2 billion dollars a year. Let’s use the technology we have to protect customers."

Michigan Radio news intern, Sarah Alvarez, filed a report on the state's Item Pricing Law.

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Arts/Culture
4:31 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

DSO and musicians meet as strike enters 16th week

The Detroit Symphony musicians and the DSO management have agreed to meet
Zuu Mumu Entertainment Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra agreed to meet with striking musicians on Thursday. Musicians walked out on October 4th. The last time the two sides met to resolve the contract dispute was late November.

Meanwhile, patrons are hoping for a resolution soon. Jean Cranston has attended DSO concerts for the past 15 years.  She says missing out on the concerts is like “losing a friend.”

Cranston lives in the suburbs now – but she was born in Detroit.

"It made me have some connection with the city -- which I feel I don’t have too much of any more," says Cranston.  "And it also gives you hope when you go down there that things can revive in the city."

The DSO lost nearly $9 million last year. Management recently increased its wage offer to musicians. But the DSO also wants work rule changes that musicians oppose.

Transit
4:25 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Feds sink $25 million into Detroit light rail

Artist's rendering of light rail along Woodward Ave. in Detroit
M1 Rail

Plans for a light rail line in Detroit got a boost with a $25 million grant from the federal government.

The money will help with the first phase of the project, which will connect Detroit’s downtown and New Center areas. That 3.5 mile stretch could ultimately extend up Woodward Avenue to the city’s border at Eight Mile Road.

The project is backed by a powerful group of business leaders in the city – including Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos, and Roger Penske. They’ve helped pull together about $125 million in private funding. In an unusual arrangement, the federal government agreed to match those private dollars. Normally the city would have to put up the money, but Detroit is broke.

The project is expected to break ground this year.

Politics
3:34 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Dingell plans to run again

John Dingell (D), the dean of Michigan's congressional delegation
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The dean of Michigan's congressional delegation plans to stay in Washington. John Dingell says he plans to run again for the seat he's held since the mid-50's.

Here's the Associated Press story:

Two months after winning a 28th full term in the U.S. House, Michigan's John Dingell says he's going for 29. The 84-year-old Dearborn Democrat tells The Detroit News he'll be a candidate for re-election in 2012. Dingell has been in Congress since 1955. He calls it "the greatest job in the world."

The man known as "Big John" currently represents the 15th District, which could be in jeopardy as redistricting looms. The number of House seats in Michigan will drop one to 14 next year, and majority Republicans could change up Dingell's district.

It now encompasses the far southeastern portion of the state, including Monroe and Ann Arbor. Dingell says he's "had three bad redistrictings" and has "survived every one of them.

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