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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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Transportation
10:19 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Report: Light rail plan in Detroit has been scrapped in favor of a bus system

An artist's depiction of the M1 light rail system. The Detroit Free Press reports the plan has been scrapped.
M1 Rail

The on-again-off-again light rail plan in Detroit is now officially "off," according to the Detroit Free Press.

A light-rail system was planned between downtown Detroit and 8 Mile Rd.

The paper reports the $25 million pledged to the project from a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant will go toward a bus system instead.

From the Free Press:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Detroit Mayor Dave Bing that doubts that Detroit could pay operating costs over the long term for the light-rail line because of its and the state’s financial problems swayed him against the plan. The decision came despite earlier public support that included LaHood’s 2010 visit to Detroit to award a $25-million grant to get the project moving.

LaHood, President Barack Obama’s top transportation official, met last week with Bing and Snyder, and the sides agreed that the better option is a system of rapid-transit buses operating in dedicated lanes on routes from downtown to and through the suburbs along Gratiot, Woodward and Michigan avenues and along M-59, the officials said.

Private and philanthropic investors had pledged $100 million toward the light rail project. Though some investors had shown signs of wavering.

The Free Press reports the decision to scrap the light-rail plan "outraged Megan Owens, director of the Detroit advocacy group Transportation Riders United." Advocates said the investments made in light-rail line would lead to redevelopment along Woodward Avenue:

 “We’re basically throwing away a $3-billion economic development investment,” Owens said. “I’m outraged Mayor Bing would let this happen on his watch.”

Critics of the project said the light-rail project would be a waste of money and could suffer the same fate as the People Mover in Detroit. That system has been struggling to remain economically viable.

Politics
5:52 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Health exchange debate will continue in New Year

A debate over establishing an online Michigan exchange where people and businesses can comparison shop for health coverage have been pushed into next year.

Governor Rick Snyder has said he’d like to see a state-run exchange established soon to ensure Michigan does not get pushed onto a federal system set up under the new national health care law.

But he’s been getting pushback from some Republicans in the Legislature.

“My members do not like Obamacare and they see this as steps to the implementation of Obamacare," said State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham). "And, given that it’s iffy in the courts and possibly going to be repudiated in the next election, why do we want to get on that train now?”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Business groups have split on creating a state exchange. Governor Snyder says it’s a good idea even if the federal law is reversed.

Politics
5:40 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

GOP lawmakers nix move for Detroit bailout

Bernt Rostad flickr

Republicans in the state House said “no” today to Detroit lawmakers who tried to add $220 million for the city to a budget bill. Detroit officials say the money is owed the city from an earlier deal with the state.         

Detroit could run out of money to pay its bills by April. A state review team is examining the city’s finances in a process that could wind up with Governor Rick Snyder naming an emergency manager to run Detroit. But members of Detroit's legislative delegation say there are better options.

"It’s not a good investment in the state of Michigan to have your premier city go belly up and bankrupt, which will kill Standard & Poors’ rating of the state of Michigan as a state and all of the other cities and municipalities will go down the drain with them,” said State Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Detroit).

Durhal says he’s working on a plan to get a cash infusion to the city if it develops a state-approved proposal to manage its finances.

Politics
5:35 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Workers' comp changes head to governor

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Major changes proposed to Michigan’s workers compensation system are on their way to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The legislation would allow insurance companies to reduce payments to injured workers by the amount the insurer believes they could make at another job.

Opponents say injured workers should be allowed to recover from their injuries before they’re expected to work again.

 “I urge my colleagues to please don’t take injured workers and force them back before they’ve healed, that’s not what the bill was supposed to be about, and it’s certainly not the kind of people we hope to be," said State Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills). "Let injured individuals get the time they need to heal.”

Supporters say the changes would help prevent fraudulent workers’ comp claims. And they say they’ll help stabilize the finances of the workers’ comp system.

Politics
5:21 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Lesbian family addresses Troy Mayor, city council (VIDEO)

A lesbian family addresses Troy Mayor Janice Daniels at a city council meeting on December 5, 2011.
screen grab from YouTube video

Last week, Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported that Troy Mayor Janice Daniels faced protesters outside a city council meeting who were angered over homophobic remarks Daniels posted on Facebook before she was elected Mayor.

A video making rounds on the Internet shows that inside the council chambers, Daniels heard cordial but tough comments from a local family, a married lesbian couple and their daughters.

Take a look:

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
5:05 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Panel sends UM union issue to judge, excludes Attorney General

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Update 5:05

An administrative law judge will decide whether graduate students at the University of Michigan get the chance to try and form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has decided to send the case on for a hearing.

The commission also ruled that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette cannot be a party to the case. Schuette has argued the commission should reject the unionization proposal.

Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represents a group of students that’s opposed to unionizing. Wright criticized the commission’s decision to deny those students’ request to be a party to the case.

“The only parties that are going to be admitted to be full parties in that hearing are the university and the union, which both want the graduate students to be designated as public employees,” said Wright.

The commission said the students Wright represents can present evidence to the administrative law judge.

At issue is whether the students are public employees. If the judge rules they are, they’ll be allowed to hold an election.

-Allison Lyons, Michigan Radio Newsroom

9:32 AM

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission is expected to decide today whether graduate students at the University of Michigan can try to form a union. Some graduate students who also work as researchers and teachers have been trying to unionize for years.

Now, Michigan’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, also wants to get involved.

So today at its public meeting the Commission will need to decide two things.

First, graduate students need to be employees to unionize. The Commission has to decide if the students are employees, and might pass the decision along to an Administrative Law Judge.

Second, the Commission has to decide if the Schuette can get involved.

In a letter to the commission Schuette says a graduate student union would make U of M less competitive, hurt the state, and that the Commission decided the issue thirty years ago.

His letter says it’s important Schuette be involved on behalf of the state to express these concerns. His office thinks it’s likely the Commission will allow him to take part as the matter moves forward.

Sports
4:51 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Skating for the gold in East Lansing

Hundreds of the nation’s best teenage figure skaters are in East Lansing this week competing in the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships. Organizers say the Lansing area economy is among the winners.   

On the ice, figure skaters glide through their routines to strains of classical music.  But it’s the hundreds of skaters, their coaches and families who are music to the ears of East Lansing businesses.   

Read more
Politics
4:47 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Detroit City Council rejects member's proposal to slash budget

The Detroit City Council has rejected one member’s efforts to slash its own budget.

Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown wanted to cut the council’s roughly $13 million budget by a third.

Brown says that’s the same level of concessions city unions are being asked for to avert a fiscal catastrophe in Detroit —and the council should lead by example.

“That’s $5 million the unions don’t have to look for, that we don’t have to ask the unions and the lower-wage city employees to come up with," Brown said. "I think that’s leadership.”

But most of Brown’s colleagues rejected the measure. They said 30 percent was an “excessive” cut that would damage the council’s ability to function.

Council member Ken Cockrel Jr. says the council has already cut its budget about that much over the past three years, and additional cuts could damage the council’s ability to do its job.

“What it really comes down to is, you can do cuts that are responsible for the sake of sharing the pain, or you can do cuts that are really all about trying to score political points,” Cockrel said.

Cockrel says if it wasn’t for Council’s diligence, the depth of the city’s fiscal crisis might never have come to light.

Members ultimately voted the measure down 6-2.

Environment
4:36 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Michigan's aging water systems

Rainwater Infiltration into Sewer Line
(Courtesy of the East Bay Municipal Utility District)

A coalition of union and environmental groups says it’s time for the federal government to invest more money in the nation’s aging water and sewer lines.    

The group points to the city of Lansing as an example. The Laborers’ International Union of North America says it would cost more than $280 million to fully repair and replace the capitol city’s aging water lines. It  estimates the cost statewide would be in the tens of billions of dollars. 

The union’s Ben Lyons says water systems everywhere are failing.  

Read more
Politics
4:25 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Detained indefinitely without a trial? Michigan's Amash says "no"

Courtesy photo facebook.com

Freshman Republican Congressman Justin Amash opposes a bill that would give the federal government the power to detain American citizens indefinitely, if suspected of terrorist activities.

"The federal government could come to someone’s house, pull the person out of the house and the family could ask, 'why are you taking my husband away?' and the federal government can simply say, 'we don’t have to tell you, he’s suspected of terrorism,'" he said in an interview with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White.

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Politics
4:14 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Detroit City Council rejects call for 30 percent cut to its budget

City Council rejected an austerity proposal today from Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown.
Andrew McFarlane Flickr

Detroit leaders are working to come up with cuts that will put the city on a stable financial path, but they don't think a 30 percent cut to their own budget is the right way to go.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on Gary Brown's austerity proposal last week. From Hulett's report:

The Detroit City Council’s budget is more than $13 million, and includes perks like city-issued cars and cell phones for council members.

Gary Brown is the Council President Pro Tem. He says like other city employees, he only pays ten percent of his health care costs. Brown’s proposal calls for upping that employee contribution to 30 percent. He says that’s a change the entire city workforce needs to accept.

"And the message, if we don’t show leadership on this issue, is that we’re asking our employees to do something we’re not willing to do," Brown said.

Brown made a similar proposal last month that went nowhere. This time he’s introduced a resolution that will get an up-or-down vote next week.

The Detroit News reports Brown's proposal has been rejected:

Read more
Education
3:23 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Bill to allow more charter schools in Michigan stalls in Republican-led House

user jdurham morgueFile

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate has passed a measure that removes the 150-school cap on university-sponsored charters. The bill is now stalled in the House.

The way the current cap works: If a charter is considered "high performing," it is re-labeled a School of Excellence, and removed from the cap, which leaves a vacancy for a new university-sponsored charter school to fill.

Read more
Offbeat
2:52 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Wisconsin and Michigan use mitten flap to launch donation drive

"The Wisconsin Mitten" - some say it is a little misshapen. The mitten states are turning attention over their "flap" toward charity.
travelwisconsin.com

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism started using a mitten image to represent the shape of its state.

Michiganders took umbrage. In their mind, there is only one true "Mitten State."

Now, tourism officials in both states are working to convert the light-hearted flap over mittens into a donation drive.

More from the Associated Press:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Tourism officials in Wisconsin and Michigan are trying to parlay their recent dust-up over mittens into a donation drive.

The two states' tourism departments got into a good-natured battle last week over whose state has the better claim to looking like a mitten. Now the states are trying to capitalize on the publicity with the Great Lakes Mitten Campaign, an effort to collect mittens for charities.

Wisconsin officials are urging people to drop off mittens at state travel centers around the state and participating chambers of commerce through Jan. 15. The mittens then will be donated to local charities.

Michigan officials, meanwhile, are asking people to donate mittens directly to their favorite charities.

Arts/Culture
2:51 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Ann Arbor library considers getting into the bike business

user kconnors morgueFile

You may one day be able to check out bicycles for free at the Ann Arbor District Library.

The library is considering teaming up with Common Cycle, a non-profit bike club, in an effort to provide free bike rentals to library patrons.

Eric Jankowski is with Common Cycle. He says details are still being worked out, including what the late fees will be, and for how long a library patron can check out a bike. As for how many bikes they’ll need?

Read more
Politics
2:07 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

$3.6 million in federal funds to fix Michigan road

According to a press release from the office of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the federal Department of Transportation has granted $3.6 million to the St. Clair County Road Commission for repairs on a section of Smiths Creek Road. Work will take place on a 2.6 mile stretch of the road and will include replacement of a bridge spanning the Pine River.

From the press release:

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