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Transportation
9:35 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Gateway Project: Thousands of trucks moving off streets in southwest Detroit

MDOT tweets "Keeping US-bound trucks off local streets is whole point of the #Gateway project - and it's starting today. #MDOT"
MDOT

As part of the work on the "Gateway Project," the Michigan Department of Transportation opened an access road that will move truck traffic coming from Canada over the Ambassador Bridge directly on to nearby highways.

Prior to the road opening, trucks had to drive on secondary streets in southwest Detroit to get to the highways.

The Detroit Free Press reports the road opened yesterday, and a ceremony for the opening is planned for today.

The Detroit News reports the opening comes 5 days ahead of schedule, but because of the legal battles around the Gateway Project, the road opening is really years behind schedule.

In actuality, the opening of the access road comes about four years behind schedule because of protracted legal battles between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Co. over the $230 million Gateway Project.

When completely finished, the project will remove up to 10,000 trucks a day from secondary streets in southwest Detroit and move them directly to and from the Ambassador Bridge plaza to nearby freeways.

The project was supposed to be a partnership between MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Company, but a judge found the DIBC to be in civil contempt of court after the company didn't follow the judge's orders to complete the project.

On March 8, the judge ordered the DIBC to cede control of its portion of the project and ordered MDOT to complete the remaining work.

MDOT says 95 percent of the new truck route is completed, and about 20 percent of the overall project is completed. When will it be finished? MDOT says their goal is to be done with the project "within a year and hopefully much sooner."

Here's MDOT's take on the overall project:

News Roundup
9:07 am
Tue May 15, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

The Impact of EITC Cuts

A new report says Michigan's low-income working families will pay an estimated $244 million more in state income taxes next year due to reductions in the state's earned income tax credit, the Associated Press reports. “The Michigan League for Human Services released a report yesterday that shows the state earned income tax credit in 2009 reduced taxes for low-income families by $349 million. That savings will drop to $104 million for 2012,” the AP explains. A spokeswoman with the League says the tax credits boost the economy because poor families spend the money right away.

Political Ad Buys

Five politically conservative groups appear to be pooling their money to buy political ads on Michigan TV stations. Lester Graham reports:

The public files of Michigan’s TV stations reveal four different political non-profits and a super PAC are taking turns buying ads critical of President Obama.  Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, keeps track of this kind of political spending. Often this political money is reported nowhere else. “Millions of dollars have been spent in Michigan, characterizing the Obama administration and its policies, and there will be no accountability for who's behind that,” Robinson says. Most of the groups do not have to reveal who their donors are. Record-breaking amounts of money are expected to be spent in an attempt to influence voters this election year.

MI Budget Boost

A new report says Michigan is collecting more in tax revenues than previous guessed. Steve Carmody reports:

The state House Fiscal Agency reports that revenues in the General Fund and School Aid Fund are running nearly $200 million higher than previously estimated for this fiscal year. The agency predicts revenues will also be slightly higher in the next fiscal year. “General Fund revenues are fluctuating more than school aid. It does appear at this time that there may be more money in school aid,” says Ari Adler, the spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger. Adler says legislative leaders hope to pass a budget for next year by the end of the month. The next fiscal year begins October 1st.

Sports
4:00 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Poll: Pay-to-play puts sports out of reach for many

Mitch Loeber flickr

A new poll finds that even kids from some middle-income families are cutting back on sports, because of "pay to play" fees in middle and high schools. According to the poll, conducted by Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, a majority of schools now charge students a fee to play sports.

One in five families earning $60,000 a year or less said their kids participated less in sports because of "pay-to-play" fees. The drop in participation was even greater for families earning between $30,000 and $60,000.

Researcher Sarah Clark, Associate Director of the National Poll on Children’s Health, says schools might want to consider installment payments to ease the burden.

"I personally have heard some parents talking about how difficult it is to come up with all that money all at once, where, if they could stagger it out, it might be a little easier to do," said Clark.

Clark says only six percent of families reported getting the fees waived.

She says sports participation helps kids improve their grades and their health, and it can help keep them from dropping out of school.

Lansing
9:34 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Rising pension costs may sink plans to hire more cops in Lansing

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Rising pension costs may throw a monkey wrench into the city of Lansing’s plans to hire police officers next year.

Lansing’s mayor proposed using money from a special public safety millage to rehire nine laid off police officers.    But the mayor’s office released a draft report Monday which says the city will have to come up with nearly two million dollars next year to cover rising police and fire pension costs.  

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Business
5:46 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Ally Bank to sell some assets, place another in bankruptcy, to pay off taxpayers

Detroit's Ally Bank, formerly known as GMAC, says it will sell off foreign subsidiaries and put its mortgage division into bankruptcy, in an attempt to pay back its government bailout.

The U.S. Treasury gave more than $17 billion to GMAC when it bailed out GM.

The money was meant to prevent the collapse of loan availability for GM vehicles and GM dealers.

So far, GMAC, now Ally Bank, has paid back $ 5.5 billion.   

But it was unclear how the company would pay back the rest. Its mortgage arm loses money every quarter on subprime mortgage loans made before the bank crisis of 2008.

Now Ally says it will put its mortgage division into bankruptcy, and sell off foreign subsidiaries.   The company says that will allow it to repay a total of 2/3 of what it owes the Treasury before the end of the year, leaving a balance of about $6 billion. 

Ally officials say they will provide bankruptcy financing for the mortgage arm, known as Res Cap, and strike a financial deal with the company's creditors, so that Ally can come out of the mortgage division's bankruptcy with no additional liabilities.

Auto
5:38 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

German auto parts company to expand in Michigan

A German auto parts company says it will open a third plant in Michigan.

Brose North America -- Brose is pronounced "Brose-uh" -- says Governor Rick Snyder's recent trade mission to Germany is part of the reason. 

Snyder visited Italy and Germany during a trade mission in March. 

Brose officials say talks about a Michigan expansion began "in earnest" during the Governor's visit to the company's facilities in Wurzburg, Germany.

Brose says it plans to buy a former Chrysler Mopar plant in New Boston near Detroit, to meet new demand in North America for seating and doors, after winning new contracts with Chrysler and Ford. 

The company expects to hire an additional 450 people in the next five years to work at the new plant and Brose's two other factories in Auburn Hills and Warren.  

Politics
4:44 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Report: State of Michigan collecting more tax revenues than predicted

Michigan state capitol building
Steve Carmody

A new report says Michigan is collecting more in tax revenues than previous guessed.

The state House Fiscal Agency reports that revenues in the General Fund and School Aid Fund are running nearly 200 million dollars higher than previously estimated for this fiscal year.

The agency predicts revenues will also be slightly higher in the next fiscal year.

“General Fund revenues are fluctuating more than school aid. It does appear at this time that there may be more money in school aid,” says Ari Adler, the spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger.   “But again, these are revenue estimates. We’ll know more on Wednesday when they have the final Revenue Estimating conference for this year. And we can get a better handle on how much money we’re expected to have.”

Adler says legislative leaders hope to pass a budget for next year by the end of the month. The next fiscal year begins October 1st.

Politics
3:28 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Report breaks down impact of earned income tax credit by legislative district

The Michigan League for Human Services is pressuring lawmakers in Michigan who voted last year cut tax credits for working poor families.

The earned income tax credit - or EITC - gives people who would qualify for welfare an incentive to go to work instead. There's a federal credit, and one offered at the state level too. But the state credit was reduced last year in a budget-cutting move.

The reduced tax credit allows families who qualify to claim 6-percent of the federal earned income credit on their 2012 state taxes. In the past, families could claim 20-percent.

Judy Putnam is with the Michigan League for Human Services; a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group. She says the tax credits boost the economy because poor families spend the money right away.

 "Whereas a business or an upper-income tax payer you know getting tax breaks they don’t automatically go and spend that money,” Putnam said.

The organization has published a report it hopes will convince Republicans to restore the earned income tax credit. The report outlines the legislative districts with the most residents affected by the change. 

Here's the breakdown by state senator's district; while another set here break the data down by state representatives. 

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Environment & Science
3:08 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

West Michigan's White Lake sees cleanup progress

A map of the White Lake Area of Concern (shown in orange)
Michigan DEQ

The cleanup of one of Michigan's environmental "Areas of Concern" (AOC)  is now a step closer to being finished.

White Lake in Muskegon County is one of 43 sites around the Great Lakes region (14 are in Michigan) that have been designated for special cleanup because of heavy pollution that impairs their use.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says White Lake has a history of contamination "with industrial discharges from leather processing and chemical companies."

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Politics
2:23 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Filing deadline nears for Michigan's U.S. Senate candidates

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Clark Durant is followed down the street by his suporters, as he pushes boxes containing thousands of petition signatures to the Michigan Secretary of State's Office
Steve Carmody

Tomorrow is the deadline for U-S Senate candidates in Michigan to file their petition signatures with the Secretary of State to get on the August primary ballot.

 

Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow is seeking reelection. A large crowd of Republican candidates is expected to be on the primary ballot.

Former west Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra filed his petition signatures last month.

Republican candidate Clark Durant filed his petitions today. The charter schools advocate says Michigan voters are ready to reject career politicians.

“People are tired of career politicians whether they be Republicans or Democrats,” says Durant

Durant has been actively involved with Republican politics for three decades, including previous unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate and the Michigan Supreme Court.

Economy
2:13 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Officials assessing flood damage near Flint, Michigan

A stranded trucked on southbound I-75 near Flint. He was recued by a boat from the roof of his cab.
WDIV Video YouTube

More than five inches of rain fell in parts of Genesee County near Flint, Michigan on May 3 and 4, leading to major flooding and damage to homes and businesses in the area.

Last Friday, Gov. Snyder declared a "state of emergency" in Genesee County, which made state resources available. The next step is to see if federal emergency resources will be made available.

Roger Fonger of the Flint Journal reports:

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are joining state and local officials this afternoon to assess damage to homes and businesses in the hardest-hit areas of the county.

"They will be out for the next few days -- until it's done," said Nicole Lisabeth, a spokeswoman for Michigan State Police's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

"This is for officials to get a really good idea whether the damages might qualify for federal aid and whether we (will) proceed with asking for a presidential (disaster) declaration," Lisabeth said.

Lisabeth said homeowners and businesses that suffered damage might qualify for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Education
1:44 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Kindergartners in Grand Ledge, Michigan are getting iPads

Lexie Flickinger Flickr

All 370 kindergartners entering the Grand Ledge school district will get an iPad next year.

Students will be able to use the devices for their first few years of school for spelling and math lessons. 

Superintendent of Grand Ledge schools Brian Metcalf said the kindergartners will use the iPads until second grade.

"We're really focused on the younger students with the iPad because it does not require the use of a keyboard," said Metcalf. "A touch screen allows the youngest children that do not have the well-developed motor skills to navigate with ease."

Metcalf said each iPad will also be customized to meet every kindergartner's needs.

"The students coming to us now are what we are calling digital natives and the iPads really provide lots of different apps to reach each and every student," said Metcalf.

Metcalf said the district is working with one company that programs apps based on students' test score results and other information.

- Emily Fox, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Afghanistan
12:20 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Michigan service set for Army nurse who died on Skype chat

ADDISON, Mich. (AP) - A Michigan memorial service is Saturday for a U.S. Army nurse who died suddenly in Afghanistan during a computer video chat with his wife.

The service for 43-year-old Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Addison Middle School, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. He grew up in Michigan.

Clark was assigned to a medical center in El Paso, Texas, and then deployed to Afghanistan in March. His wife, Susan Orellana-Clark, was in Texas chatting with him via Skype on April 30 when he collapsed. The death is under investigation.

A funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in western New York.

Clark's wife is from Spencerport, N.Y. He and his family lived there for six years before he joined the Army in 2006.

Arts & Culture
11:22 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Oakland commission to vote on Detroit Institute of Arts tax

aMichiganmom flickr

The Oakland County Commission is expected to vote this week on a plan to put a tax question on the August ballot. The millage would raise money for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The measure before the commission would create a five-member authority that would write the ballot question. The DIA is seeking a point-two mill tax increase in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

The millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $20 a year.

If all three counties approve it, the tax would raise $23 million for the museum. The money would pay for operations. The DIA is promising free admission to residents is counties that approve the millage.

Commissioners in Wayne and Macomb counties have already voted to create the authority.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that commissioners in Wayne and Oakland counties had voted to put the millage question on the ballot. Wayne and Macomb have done that; Oakland commissioners vote this week. Also, the money raised by the millage would pay for operations, not an operations endowment. The copy above has been corrected.

Commentary
11:02 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Commentary: Whole Foods in Detroit

This morning, ground was broken for a new Whole Foods Market in Detroit -- and plenty of people are excited about it.

Detroit is commonly said to be underserved in terms of supermarkets, and has even been called a “food desert,” because of its perceived lack of stores selling things like fresh local produce.  Whole Foods bills itself as the world’s largest natural and organic food chain, and they’ve never had a store in the city.

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Economy
10:46 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Employers having trouble filling IT jobs in Michigan

Seeking qualified technology workers in Detroit.
Detroit Venture Partners, LLC YouTube

New technology jobs are coming to Detroit.

Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert has been buying buildings and looking for technology tenants as part of a business he co-founded with Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and  Brian Hermelin called Detroit Venture Partners LLC.

In a promotional video, Detroit Ventures Partners say their goal is to transform Detroit.

"This is our time to turn a crumbled city into a new beacon of hope."

But the self-proclaimed "creative business builders" and "street-fighters" are having a tough time finding talent in Michigan.

The Detroit News reports today Quicken Loans and other tech companies are looking to fill positions with people from out of state.

Online mortgage company Quicken Loans Inc., looking to fill more than 300 information technology positions, has taken its search outside Michigan to find qualified candidates. The Detroit-based company recently launched a website aimed at recruiting laid-off Yahoo workers.

GalaxE.Solutions, a project management firm known for its "Outsource to Detroit" banner on its Woodward Avenue building, has stumbled trying to fill 500 IT jobs.

"There is a shortage nationwide of good IT talent," said Ryan Hoyle, director of global recruiting for GalaxE, which has 150 IT workers in Detroit and hopes to add 350 in the next few years. "There just aren't a lot of top students going into IT."

Michigan's Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives lists several IT jobs on its Michigan's Hot Jobs List. These are "high demand and high wage" careers in Michigan that are expected to continue to be in demand through 2018.

News Roundup
8:35 am
Mon May 14, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 14th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Individual Tax Cut?

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says a tax rollback for individual filers could be part of an overall plan to cut taxes for manufacturers. “The state Senate has approved a proposed phase-out of the tax on most manufacturing equipment. The package now goes to the state House. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he wants to roll into it a reduction in the state income tax or some other tax on individuals. Calley says he and Gov. Snyder are open to the idea. Democrats have complained that the tax reductions enacted by Republicans in Lansing over the past year and a half have all been directed at businesses,” Rick Pluta reports.

Pure Michigan

The Obama Administration wants to step up efforts to promote the U.S. as an international tourism destination and that’s welcome news to the folks who run the “Pure Michigan” campaign. Steve Carmody reports:

Michigan tourism officials know people from foreign countries come here to vacation, but they don’t know how many. And that’s important to know when they’re planning how to spend the “Pure Michigan” campaign’s $25 million advertising budget. This year, only about one percent, or about $250,000, is being spent to promote Michigan as a tourism destination in Europe, mainly in England and Germany. Nothing is being spent in Asia. Right now, the “Pure Michigan” campaign is focusing on regional promotions with some national ads, .and “a modest effort” in Canada.

Northern MI Wildfire

Officials say two wildfires in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula burned nearly 400 acres before being brought under control by fire crews, the Associated Press reports. “WWTV/WWUP reports the first fire started in Ogemaw County's Foster Township and burned about 125 acres on Sunday. The second fire was about four miles away and burned about 250 acres. No injuries were reported. People along a mile-long section of roadway near the first fire were evacuated Sunday but since have returned home. There's no word of structure damage.The cause of the fires is under investigation,” the AP explains.

Seeking Change
7:32 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Trying to end bullying, one text at a time

Tray Flickr

Last week in our Seeking Change series we heard about the kindness journal, an effort to get kids to write about being kind. One of the effects was fewer incidents of bullying among the kids who took part.Today we’re going to talk about cyber bullying. Paul McMullen is a father and he’s come up with a smartphone app, called Parenting Pride, to help combat cyber bullying among kids. It records text messages, but also aims to respect a teen’s desire for privacy. Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley spoke with McMullen about how he hopes to decrease bullying.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network.

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State Legislature
6:39 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Lt. Gov Calley: Individual tax cut could be part of business tax rollback

Matthileo Flickr

An election year tax cut could be in the offing for individual filers in Michigan.

State House Republican leaders want to bring that into the discussions on phasing out a tax on industrial equipment.

Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans with the complaint that tax reforms enacted over the past year and a half have all been directed at helping businesses, while many of the exemptions and deductions enjoyed by individual filers have been scrapped.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says a tax rollback for individuals and families has not yet been put on the table, but he and Governor Rick Snyder are open to the idea if that’s what the Legislature’s GOP leadership wants.

Calley says he hopes a debate over reducing the income tax or some other tax cut for individuals does not slow down a tax rollback that would encourage more investment in manufacturing in Michigan.

Economy
4:01 pm
Sun May 13, 2012

Is the world ready for Pure Michigan?

Is this view worth the trip from Europe or Asia?
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Obama Administration wants to step up efforts to promote the U.S. as an international tourism destination. That’s welcome news to the folks who run the “Pure Michigan” campaign.

Michigan tourism officials know people from foreign countries come here to vacation, but they don’t know how many, and that’s important to know when they’re planning how to spend the “Pure Michigan” campaign’s $25 million advertising budget.  

This year, only about one percent,  or about $250,000, is being spent to promote Michigan as a tourism destination in Europe, mainly in England and Germany. Nothing is being spent in Asia.

George Zimmerman oversees the “Pure Michigan” campaign for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. He says the Obama Administration’s tourism strategy includes determining where foreign visitors want to go.

“For about half the states, including Michigan, there just isn’t enough sample size to really have good data. So, that’s been a challenge for us, says Zimmerman. 

Right now, the “Pure Michigan” campaign is focusing on regional promotions with some national ads, and “a modest effort” in Canada.

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