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News Roundup
8:50 am
Tue September 27, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

UAW talks with Ford heat up

Officials from the United Auto Workers are pushing for more from Ford Motor Company. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports the union leaders "expect to get better terms" from Ford, since the company is in a better position compared to GM and Chrysler. From Cwiek's report:

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, there is the possibility of a strike. Since Ford didn’t go through bankruptcy, it doesn’t have the no-strike clause in its current contract that the other companies enjoy.

Like its fellow U.S. automakers, Ford is reluctant to increase its fixed costs by raising wages. But the union is expected to make a major push for bonuses, more generous profit-sharing formulas and retaining jobs in the U.S.

Costs of Enbridge oil spill going up

Officials from Enbridge Energy have revised their estimates for cleaning up the oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. It's original cost was $585 million. Now, they say it will cost $700 million. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports the new estimate was part of paperwork Enbridge Energy filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An Enbridge spokesman says the increase is due to "additional work around submerged oil and just some more active remediation of the impacted environment."

New state policy: ties for guys

In contrast to their chief executive's style, officials from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs have issued a dress code for men that calls for ties. Governor Rick Snyder prefers a sport coat and dress shirt with no tie. The Lansing State Journal reports the new policy is aimed at thousands of state employees:

The new policy went into effect Sept. 12 for about 3,700 employees at the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. It's part of a move to implement a consistent dress code among the several state bureaus and offices that merged this year to create the agency.

"Some of the old bureaus had dress codes, others didn't," said Mike Zimmer, the agency's chief deputy director. "We thought it should be consistent throughout the department."

Lansing
11:40 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Lansing city council may tweak city's snow removal ordinance

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Lansing’s ordinance requiring people to shovel snow from their sidewalks might get a tweak before the snow flies this winter.   

Last night, the Lansing City Council voted to allow four people off the hook for failing to shovel snow from their sidewalks last winter.  The reason?  They either didn’t actually own the property last winter or there was an administrative mistake.  

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Politics
9:36 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Amash says he's gaining support for plan to balance federal budget

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) took questions from students at Grand Valley State University Monday night. He has town hall meeting planned Tuesday evening.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) is pushing for a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. Amash shared his proposal with a group of college students Monday night and he’ll host a town hall meeting Tuesday night in Barry County.

Amash is one of 66 Republicans who voted against raising the debt ceiling back in August. He says he’d vote against a deal again if “it’s not very serious” about reducing federal spending. 

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Education
8:19 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Senate committee to look at lifting the state limit on the number of charter schools

Students arrive for the first day of school in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

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Environment
7:01 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Estimated cost of cleaning up Kalamazoo River oil spill rising

Oil spill cleanup workers on the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek in August, 2010.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The new estimate was part of paperwork Enbridge Energy filed today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.   The company says it’s revising its estimated cleanup costs, from $585 million to $700 million.  That's about a 20 percent increase.   

 “The cleanup cost to date includes some additional work around submerged oil….and those recovery operations….and just some more active remediation of the impacted environment." says Terri Larson,  an Enbridge spokeswoman,  "So there are a few factors that are at play within that expected increase.” 

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Auto/Economy
6:51 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

UAW, Ford talks heat up

Ongoing contract talks between the UAW and Ford are heating up.

The union has indicated it expects more for workers from the only Detroit automaker to avoid bankruptcy.

Since Ford is the best-positioned of the three US carmakers, union leaders expect to get better terms from that company than from GM and Chrysler.

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Politics
6:36 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Very little "common ground" for Michigan U.S. Reps

Three Michigan members of Congress talked about jobs, the federal budget deficit, and partisan gridlock at the Detroit Economic Club.

Democrats Gary Peters and Sander Levin, and Republican Candice Miller all represent suburban Detroit districts in the U.S. House.

Miller says the current problems in Washington stem from ideological differences about the role of government. She thinks the government needs to slash what she calls “out of control spending.”

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Politics
4:32 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Some fear needy Michiganders may struggle to heat their homes this winter

State officials and local social service groups are working together to help needy Michiganders pay their heating bills this winter.  But how much government will help pay those heating bills remains a question.  

Earlier this year, a court ruled against how Michigan raised money for the low income heating assistance program.    And state lawmakers have not yet agreed on a new funding plan. That has some social service groups concerned about the future of the program.   

More than 90 thousand Michiganders rely on the program. 

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Environment
3:13 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Wangari Maathai, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, dies

Wangari Maathai in Kenya in 2004 - the year she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mia MacDonald Green Belt Movement

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died on Sunday in her native Kenya.  She was 71.

The New York Times reports:

The cause was cancer, her organization, the Green Belt Movement, said. Kenyan news organizations said she had been treated for ovarian cancer in the past year and had been in a hospital for at least a week when she died.

Maathai was a leading environmentalist and feminist as well as a human-rights advocate.  She has also worked to encourage nations around the world to work together to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

During an interview on Michigan Radio's The Environment Report in 2009 (click on audio above), Maathai also called on everyone to help work to solve the global warming problem.

"I think it’s very important to encourage farmers, individual citizens to plant trees. And, I’m very happy to know that in some of your states, tree planting has been embraced as one of the solutions. It’s one of the activities that every one of us citizens can do and feel good about it, and teach kids to do it, because every tree will count. And when there are 7 billion of us, almost, in the whole world, so you can imagine, if every one of us planted a tree and made sure that tree survived – can you imagine the impact?"

What's Working
2:30 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Empowering Flint youth to improve communities

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better. The Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center is targeting youth violence in Flint by getting kids involved in activities that improve their community.

Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES) is an after-school program run by the center that gives students the tools to initiate and manage community development projects. Today we speak with Susan Morrel-Samuels, the managing director of the Youth Violence Prevention Center at the University of Michigan, who tells us what’s unique about the YES program.

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Investigative
1:41 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Fewest traffic fatalities in Michigan since the 1940s.

Each recession has one upside: fewer traffic accidents. But since 2008 it's also meant a lot fewer traffic crash deaths.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

While doing some research for a story, I went back over some data issued by the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information last May. 

It might not be surprising that the number of traffic crashes is lowest during years of a down economy.  After all, there’s less commercial traffic and there are fewer people driving to work because so many are unemployed. 

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Economy
12:59 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Snyder in Tokyo: Michigan retooled for trade

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has told a Tokyo audience of Midwestern and Japanese business and political leaders that Michigan is "a very different place" than it was when he
took office in January.

A statement released Monday by Snyder's office says the Republican governor told the annual meeting of the Japan Midwest U.S. Association that legislative and policy changes should "open new doors for trade" between Michigan and Japan. Changes cited by Snyder include repealing the Michigan Business Tax and adopting a two-year balanced budget.

Snyder's eight-day, three country trade mission that began Sunday includes stops in Japan, China and South Korea.

The international trade trip is Snyder's first as governor. The former Gateway computer executive and venture capitalist took office Jan. 1.

Politics
11:52 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Republican leaders say a bridge vote will happen this fall

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are waging a multi-million dollar ad campaign against a second, publicly-owned bridge.
Jim Wallace Flickr

State Republican leaders say they hope to move forward in October with a proposal to build a publically owned second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says a second bridge would benefit businesses throughout the state.

"Those entities that make things here, be they automobiles, furniture, chemicals, cereal or baby food or even Slinkys, all these things we make in Michigan, and agricultural products as well, Canadians buy more of that than anybody else in the world," said Calley.

He says a publically owned bridge that connects major highways on both sides of the river would keep exports streaming into Canada from Michigan.

Calley was on Mackinac Island over the weekend for a Michigan Republican Party conference.

He lobbied for the bridge project while there saying the bridge project is a conservative one that will be attractive to Republicans and Democrats alike.

The proposal has been unpopular with some Republicans who think a second bridge should be built by a private company. The owner of the existing bridge in Detroit was also at the Michigan Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island to try to influence lawmakers oppose a publically owned bridge.

Calley says he and Governor Rick Snyder are not deterred by campaigning against the project by the company that owns the existing bridge in Detroit.

"[We're] making very steady progress and feel good about the track that it's on right now," said Calley. "It's really always been more a matter of getting through all of the garbage on the TV ads, and simply articulating what the proposal is."

Calley says one of the biggest hurdles they face is countering the influence of the multi-million dollar ad campaign. The campaign is paid for by the owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge.

Politics
11:14 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Romney’s Moment

Last weekend was certainly a good one for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He took the Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island by storm. Romney was expected to do well here.

He was born in Detroit; his father was a popular and respected governor in the nineteen-sixties, and he is seen as a native son, even though he hasn’t lived in Michigan since nineteen sixty-five.

But he performed even better than expected. By nearly all accounts, he considerably outpointed his main rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry, when the two addressed state party leaders.

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News Roundup
10:47 am
Mon September 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Governor Snyder on trade mission in Asia

Governor Rick Snyder and a delegation of business and government officials left for Asia over the weekend. On Sunday, the governor and the delegation met with Japanese officials in Tokyo. From Governor Snyder's press release:

Governor Rick Snyder today met with Governor Yukiko Kada of Shiga Prefecture, Japan, to discuss mutual interests in promotion of business investment, tourism and job creation in Michigan and Shiga and protection and preservation of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan and the Great Lakes, the world’s largest group of freshwater lakes.

The Governor's office say the Michigan-Shiga partnership "is one of the oldest sister state relationships between the United States and Japan."

Snyder will head to Beijing, China on Tuesday and to Shanghai on Thursday. While there, the governor's office says Snyder and the Michigan delegation will "meet with senior government officials, executives of some of China's largest companies and a number of Michigan companies that operate there."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is in China covering the trip. You can read about her trip by following her travelogue.

New state aid formula for Michigan schools

Changes in how state education officials calculate per-pupil aid to public schools could mean an overall decline in state school aid. The Detroit News reports officials have changed how they count attendance numbers:

The number of students counted in classrooms during the fall Count Day next week will be worth 90 percent of state aid, rather than 75 percent as in past years. A winter count in February will be worth 10 percent instead of 25 percent.

The change in the state formula was prompted by research that showed as student enrollment continued to decline statewide, the state was paying for students counted in the spring who were no longer there in the fall.

Under the new formula, districts with falling enrollment stand to lose money, while those adding students each school year will get more cash from the state.

Overall, the state's public schools could receive $12.6 million less in school aid this year because of the change.

Michigan National Guardsmen head for Afghanistan

1,200 members of the Michigan National Guard leave home today to make their way to Afghanistan's Konduz Province, reports the Detroit Free Press:

Family and friends are saying farewell this evening to members of units of the 125th Infantry.

The Headquarters Company gets a send-off at Grand Blanc High School. Wyoming-based Company C gets a send-off at Grand Valley Armory, Bay City-based Company F gets a send-off at Dow Diamond in Midland and Big Rapids-based Company D gets a send-off at the Big Rapids Armory.

Detroit-based Company A gets a send-off at the Detroit Light Guard Armory.

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Auto/Economy
7:30 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Ridership on The Rapid bus system surpasses 10 million

The Rapid Central Station is the first LEED certified transit facility in the United States.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The public transportation system in greater Grand Rapids is celebrating a record number of riders this year. The Rapid is operated by an authority made up of Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding suburbs; Wyoming, Walker, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, and Kentwood.  

Barbara Deming waits for a bus at The Rapid Central Station which is packed every morning and afternoon on the weekdays. Deming has ridden the bus nearly every week since moving back home to Grand Rapids from a small town up north 7 years ago.

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housing
6:45 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Housing advocates, landlords argue over housing code changes

There are roughly 4,000 vacant homes in the city of Grand Rapids. In February, Grand Rapids Public Schools had to cancel classes for several days after a major snow storm because of unplowed sidewalks.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Dozens of rental property owners and housing advocates are expected at a meeting in Grand Rapids this week. The rise of foreclosures could prompt the city to change parts of its housing code.

The city inspects rental properties with two or more units. They check for fire alarms, peeling or chipping lead paint, and other safety hazards. But single family homes for rent are exempt from inspections.

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Arts/Culture
6:00 am
Mon September 26, 2011

North Woods: An artist residency on Rabbit Island (with photos)

Rabbit Island lies about three miles east of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Earlier this summer we told you about a remote island in Lake Superior called Rabbit Island:

New Yorker Rob Gorski saw the 91-acre island listed for sale on Craiglist. At first, he was skeptical. But after talking it over with his brother, both of whom are Michigan natives, they bought the island for less than $150,000.

The land, known as Rabbit Island, is about a half hour boat ride from the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Gorski says the plan is to preserve the island as is, and build only a small, green cabin where future artists can stay.

"We’d like to be able to send an artist, maybe two, out to the island to practice their creative process within an entirely isolated environment. We think it’d be a very remote experience, it’d be very difficult in some ways, but I think the end result could be very interesting."

As part of my series, Stories from the North Woods, I took the 3.5-mile boat ride from Rabbit Bay to Rabbit Island to see how the residency is coming along.

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Politics
5:00 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Jennifer Granholm looks back at her years as Michigan's Governor

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recounts her time in Lansing.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s book, “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future,” is on bookstore shelves. It offers her perspective on eight years in the job she described as the toughest facing any governor in the U.S.

She battled budget shortfalls, Republicans in the Legislature, and skeptics of federal efforts to bail out the Detroit auto industry.

Granholm and her co-author, former First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, spoke with me about the book and her legacy.

Jennifer Granholm says she wrote “A Governor’s Story” to offer her  prescription for the nation’s economy to lower taxes and smaller government. She says it’s based on her experience, and an often trial-and-error road to an economic strategy that can work for the entire nation.

“We’ve got a story to tell. So for everybody who cares about how to crack the code to create advanced manufacturing jobs in the American economy, we’ve got the story to tell.”

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Lansing
1:01 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Oliver Towers saga moves to Lansing City Council chambers

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero (left) sits with Davenport University president Richard Pappas at a news conference discussing the proposed land swap. The Oliver Towers stands in the background.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tonight, the Lansing City Council will begin weighing in on a  land swap deal that’s pitted two local colleges against each other.    A final council decision may come next month.

 Officials with Lansing Community College have been complaining that they didn’t get a chance to bid on the Old Oliver Towers apartment building before city officials cut a deal with Davenport University. 

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