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State Legislature
6:50 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan House approves charter school bill

The state House has approved a measure that would allow an unlimited number of university-sponsored K-12 charter schools to operate in Michigan by the year 2015.

The proposal would lift the cap on university charters over a couple years, eventually eliminating the restriction on the number of charters altogether.

Democratic state Representative Steven Lindberg says that could lead to more failing public schools if charter schools are allowed to interview and hand-pick their students.

“It saddens me, because I see us going back to a time when we’re going to have separate but unequal education in this country.”

The measure would require universities to consider county populations and the number of kids in an area that are on charter school waiting lists before opening a new charter school.

Republican state Representative Deb Shaughnessy is on the House Education Committee.

“Many people have tried to paint this legislation as an attack on traditional public schools. I vehemently reject that portrayal. I don’t buy it, and I urge you not to either. I graduated from public school, and so did my children, and my children are leading very productive and successful lives.”

The measure now heads back to the state Senate for final approval.

Auto/Economy
12:33 am
Thu December 15, 2011

U.S. to fight new tariffs on big cars exported to China

American politicians are vowing to fight new Chinese tariffs on large U.S. made cars and SUVs.    

In 2010, the U.S. won a Chinese tire-dumping complaint before the World Trade Organization. 

China has complained about U.S. poultry dumping.  The U.S. is investigating whether China subsidizes solar panels. 

Now the fight is over cars.  Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas heads a trade subcommittee. 

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Politics
12:28 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Benton Harbor emergency manager “not surprised” at state’s review of Detroit's finances

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris explains parts of Michigan's emergency manager law at a monthly town hall meeting earlier this year.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A former long-time auditor for the City of Detroit says he’s not surprised the city is running out of cash. “I was a Detroiter, still am at heart, for 49 years,” Harris said. Joe Harris also served as Detroit’s auditor general from 1995 to 2005. He’s been the state-appointed emergency manager in Benton Harbor since March 2010.

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Politics
9:27 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Senate OKs bill allowing Oakland Co. GOP to redraw commission lines

Democrats in the Legislature are calling on Republican Governor Rick Snyder to veto a bill that would change the Oakland County Commission’s district lines. The measure would reduce the number of commissioners. And it would take the job of reapportionment out of the hands of a bipartisan reapportionment board that’s currently led by Democrats. Instead, the county commission – which Republicans control -- would re-draw its own district lines.

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer called on the governor to reject an attempt by Republican lawmakers to meddle in local politics:

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Politics
5:17 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Michigan lawmaker makes new call for mandatory, self-paid drug tests for welfare applicants

The debate of drug testing for welfare recipients is heating up again.

It’s been tried before: A welfare drug-testing program enacted under former Gov.  John Engler was never implemented because of a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.

State Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica) is trying again. He wants to require substance abuse tests for people before they get welfare benefits.

Michigan League for Human Services President Gilda Jacobs says  the law would be discriminatory, unless it applied to everybody getting money from the state.

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Transportation
4:36 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Bing: High-speed buses step toward "regional cooperation"

An artists' rendering of the now-canceled Woodward Light Rail project

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says plans for light rail in the city are being scrapped in favor of a regional rapid transit bus system.

Bus rapid transit is usually more efficient and faster than regular city bus services.

Years of planning and millions of dollars went into the proposal to run a light rail line up Woodward Avenue, from downtown Detroit to the city limits.

But Bing says he’s been talking with Obama administration officials, Governor Snyder, and other southeast Michigan leaders over the past several months.

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Transportation
4:23 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Rates to go up for "Big Mac" crossing in Michigan

The Mackinac Bridge in February of 2007. Rates for crossing the bridge are going up this January.
MBA

Starting next year, it will cost you more to cross the Mackinac Bridge.

The 54 year-old bridge is maintained and operated with toll revenue only.

Here are the per crossing rates that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012:

  • Auto/passenger vehicle: $4; vehicle with trailer: $2 per axle
  • Commuter: $2
  • Other, including commercial trucks and motor homes: $5 per axle

In 2013, the commuter rate will go up to $2.10 and in 2014, the rates are expected to go up as follows:

  • Auto/passenger vehicle: $4.50; vehicle with trailer: $2.25 per axle
  • Commuter: $2.20
  • Other, including commercial trucks and motor homes: $6 per axle

The Mackinac Bridge Authority says the increases "unanimously approved by the MBA board in 2007."

More from the MBA:

As stated at its December 2007 meeting, the MBA board will review financial forecast data in 2013 to determine future actions, such as the expected toll increases in 2014, modification of tolls, and/or bonding. Regardless of future traffic volumes, the MBA will work diligently on its long-term preservation strategy to continuously review and implement a variety of cost-saving measures, as appropriate.

Workers compensation
4:07 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Michigan workers' comp: quick facts and possible changes

user gadgetgirl Flickr

Potential large-scale changes to Michigan's workers' compensation laws now hinge on a stroke of Governor Rick Snyder's pen.

The Associated Press reports that Snyder "will likely support the bill pending final review."

In case you haven't been keeping up on the issue, here's a list of important facts about workers' compensation in Michigan from Changing Gears Public Insight Analyst, Sarah Alvarez.

We've also highlighted one of the more controversial changes that could take effect should the governor sign off on the bill.

5 things to know about workers' compensation:

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Politics
3:53 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder signs bill eliminating some "driver responsibility" fees

Governor Rick Snyder has signed bills to eliminate the fees charged to drivers convicted of driving without a license or insurance.

The $150 or $200 fees had to paid for two years on top of any other fines assessed for the infractions.

Critics say the fees were not fair, and encouraged some people to continue driving without a license or mandatory insurance coverage.

The fees generated somewhere between $8 and $13 million a year to help balance the state budget.

There is a movement in the Legislature to eliminate driver responsibility fees for some more-serious offenses, such as drunk driving, but it would cost the state money it cannot replace.

Politics
3:47 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Detroit councilman Gary Brown says "stop the bleeding"

Gary Brown, Detroit City Council President Pro Tem .
Courtesy of Detroit City Council website

The state Department of Treasury continues its review of the City of Detroit’s finances.

While Governor Rick Snyder insists he doesn’t want to see Detroit under and emergency manager…the city doesn’t seem to be making much headway in fixing its financial issues.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem, Gary Brown has some ideas on how the city can save money and cut spending. He spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White.

 

Jobs
2:43 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Michigan's unemployment rate falls to 9.8 percent in November

Michigan's unemployment rate fell by eight-tenths of a percentage point last month to 9.8 percent. This is the first time since November of 2008 that Michigan's jobless rate has dropped below 10 percent. The national November unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.

The jobless rate fell by eight-tenths of a percentage point in November. That’s a sharp drop and much of it was due to new hiring. But retail was the only sector to show significant growth from month to month and much of the decline is also due to about 19,000 fewer people in the workforce competing for available jobs. All told, there are still about 457,000 people in Michigan without jobs and looking for work.

At 9.8 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is still above the national rate.

When people who have quit looking are counted, along with part-time workers who’d like to be full-time, Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 18.8 percent. 

Auto/Economy
1:03 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Economist expects Grand Rapids economy will continue to grow, slowly, in 2012

Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids economy grew faster than predicted this year and economic forecasters say growth will continue into 2012.

George Erickcek is an economist at the Upjohn Institute for employment research. He says the Grand Rapids economy did grow in 2011, but only by two-percent. (His full presentation is linked here.)

“There’s been no talk of a double dip for many, many months. But the growth…is disappointing. It’s not the growth we want,” Erickcek told a group of business leaders assembled Wednesday.

He says a recovering auto industry and gains in advanced manufacturing are the main reasons Grand Rapids’ economy has grown.

In fact, Erickcek says Grand Rapids is technically over the recession in terms of employment numbers.

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Culture
12:46 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Survey: Teen pot use rises, alcohol use declines

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A new national survey shows more teens are using pot and see it as less of a risk, while alcohol use among that age group has dropped to historic lows.

The findings released Wednesday were based on an annual survey of 47,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

One of every 15 high school seniors reported smoking pot on a daily or near daily basis, the highest rate since 1981. Researchers also noted one of every nine high school seniors reported using synthetic marijuana within the previous 12 months.

Researchers say use of a particular drug drops when teens consider it dangerous. The percentage of teens who see "great risk" in using marijuana generally has dropped in recent years.

Arts/Culture
12:15 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Artpod: Detroit arts group inspires students to succeed

After just one year in Mosaic, nearly all of the students say they plan to go to college.
Ian Tadashi Moore Mosaic

Artpod is back!

In today's podcast, we look at how an arts group is encouraging lower-income kids to go on to college, with measurable results. It's called Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, which one student describes as a place filled with "pops of rainbow colors."

Here's an excerpt:

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Commentary
12:07 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Detroit’s City Council votes not to cut their own budgets

Yesterday, Detroit City Council sent a clear signal to Governor Rick Snyder and the rest of the state. By their actions, they said “we need you to send in an Emergency Manager and strip us of all financial power. You have to do this, because we are psychologically incapable of seriously addressing our financial problems.”

They would indignantly deny what I just said, of course. Barely a week ago, they huddled around a microphone with Mayor Dave Bing, and defiantly agreed they didn’t need outside help.

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Transportation
11:48 am
Wed December 14, 2011

People Mover in Detroit will keep moving through June 2013

The People Mover in Detroit has come up with funds to remain open through June 2013.
Michael Kumm Flickr

The group that runs the People Mover (Detroit's downtown light-rail system)  announced today that it has secured enough funding to operate the system though June 2013.

Officials from the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC) say they "have a special reason to give thanks this season" because they've made up for a $3.4 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. The system will also get $6.2 million for following fiscal year.

The money is coming from an escrow account set up in 1989 for maintenance of the People Mover’s guideway system. Officials say the guideway structure is "sound and has been maintained in good condition."

The Detroit News reports the system has seen cuts from city government and the state:

The City Council cut the People Mover's annual subsidy in July by almost a quarter to $3.4 million. That triggered the state of Michigan to reduce its $3.6 million matching subsidy to $1 million — a big blow to the system's $15 million budget...

Officials increased the People Mover's fares to 75 cents from 50 cents last month — the first bump in the system's 24-year history. But the system has never come close to its break-even point, which would require 10 times more annual ridership.

The News reports that fares from 2.3 million riders in 2010 generated $900,000.

Flint
11:38 am
Wed December 14, 2011

Flint emergency manager hires his team to run the city

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Flint’s emergency manager is filling out his team to run the city.   

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown announced today he’s hiring three experienced administrators to take over key positions.  

Jerry Ambrose has been the city of Lansing’s finance director for the past six years. He’ll oversee Flint’s Finance, Budget and Treasury Departments.   

Howard Croft is coming over from the private sector. The CEO of Mid-Michigan Solar will be Flint’s new Director of Infrastructure and Development. Croft will oversee Flint’s city parks, water and sewer, as well as Community and Economic Development.  

Gary Bates has previously worked as Flint’s Labor Relations director. He’s been hired to fill that job temporarily.   

Emergency manager Michael Brown has laid off about a dozen top city officials since taking office two weeks ago. He’s charged with solving Flint’s ‘financial emergency’…which includes closing a multi-million dollar budget deficit. 

Offbeat
11:01 am
Wed December 14, 2011

A Yarn Giver (not a Yarn Bomber), strikes in Ann Arbor (SLIDESHOW)

Yarn bombers have been "bombing" all across the country.

They knit their creations around trees, parking meters, light poles, and statues.

In Cincinnati, an entire city bus was "yarn-bombed" (see the slideshow above for a picture of that "bombing").

But along South Ashley Street in Ann Arbor recently, yarn has been put to a different kind of use.

A "yarn giver" has been leaving items for people to discover - or perhaps there are multiple "yarn givers."

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson recently spotted several parking signs draped with scarves.

The note attached to each scarf read "If you are cold take this."

When we came back to take a picture, one scarf was left.

And more than scarves are being left. Last month, my wife found a hat on a fence post along S. Ashley St.

Thinking someone lost it, she took a closer look to discover a note that read "FREE! Handmade wool and alpaca hat for YOU!" (photo in the slideshow).

The discovery totally lifted her spirit, and reminded her of the goodness in people.

Small gestures, either from "yarn-givers" or "layaway-payers," can be especially helpful in a world dominated by news of recession, conflict, and controversy.

Politics
8:35 am
Wed December 14, 2011

One year in office: Governor Snyder looks back at the last 12 months

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

It’s been almost a year, now, since Governor Rick Snyder took office. In the past 12 months, many long-time political observers have been more than a little surprised at the speed in which the Governor has been able to get his priorities through the legislature. The state has a new business tax and a balanced budget.

But, not everyone is happy with what the Governor has accomplished. The state now has some controversial new laws including new power for emergency managers and a law that taxes some senior citizens’ pensions. Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley spoke with the Governor this morning, on his way to Lansing, about the challenges he's faced this year and what he hopes for in 2012.

Auto/Economy
11:33 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

“Cash-mob” targets Grand Rapids small businesses

Shoppers in the 'cash-mob' check out the Shops at MoDiv, a retail incubator in downtown Grand Rapids.
Lizzie Williams Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

A organized crowd of people swarmed a local business in downtown Grand Rapids as part of an effort to buy local this holiday season.

Dozens showed up at the same store at the same time for the event, called a “cash mob”. It was organized by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Each person pledged to spend at least $20. Which store the cash mob goes to remains a secret until just a few hours beforehand.

“It’s a new spin on long time mission for the chamber of bringing exposure to local businesses,” said GRACC President and CEO Rick Baker. Baker says they heard about the idea from Cleveland.

The cash mob targeted retail incubator, MoDiv; a single storefront with nine generally new, small retail businesses inside.

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