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9:58 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Taxing Liquor in Michigan

There are taxes, and then there are taxes. Some are straightforward. If I spend ten dollars at the hardware store this afternoon, I know I’ll pay sixty cents in sales taxes.

But other taxes are hidden, and may be higher than we suspect. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is an independent, non-partisan think tank with a strong fiscally libertarian bias.

Last week, it released a statistical analysis of liquor prices. The center found they are higher in states like Michigan where the state government acts as the statewide wholesale distributor.

How much higher? A little over six percent. They took as their example a fifth of a particular common brand of Scotch. They found that it costs, on average, a dollar fifty-nine more a bottle in the seventeen states like Michigan where government is the wholesaler. The Mackinac Center said this amounted to, “a substantial hidden tax on a commodity already subject to large state and federal taxes.” The implication is that this is bad.

However, I’m not so sure. I suppose it would bother me more if it were a tax on baby formula, or if the tax left liquor costing twenty percent more than in Illinois, for example. But nobody forces anybody to buy a bottle of Scotch.

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Environment
9:17 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Water monitoring system in jeopardy

Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.
user william_warby Flickr

A system that monitors the quality of drinking water for 3 million people in southeast Michigan is in danger of being shut down for lack of money.

Monitoring stations are located in Lake Saint Clair, and the Detroit and Saint Clair rivers. Macomb County interim deputy health officer Gary White says federal and state grants, along with local money, have kept the system running since 2007:

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News Roundup
8:59 am
Mon August 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, August 29th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Gov Supports Hoekstra

Governor Rick Snyder will formally endorse former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. The seat is currently held by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. “The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant,” Rick Pluta reports. Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the GOP nomination.

Local Leaders Say Unions Have Negative Effect

A new survey by The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan shows 56 percent of local leaders think unionized workers have had a negative effect on their community’s fiscal health. The Associated Press reports:

The April 18 to June 10 survey got responses from 360 of the estimated 520 local governments in Michigan with unionized workers. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 says money lost to plunging property values and state aid reductions is responsible for local governments' financial problems, not union contracts.

Tea Party Express to Michigan

The Tea Party Express will visit Michigan later this week. “The conservative political activists hold rallies featuring fiery speeches and patriotic music… the focus will be on Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. Levi Russell, a Tea Party spokesman, says the Tea Party group is hoping to rally local conservatives to work to defeat Stabenow’s re-election bid next year…The Tea Party Express bus tour will stop in Hillsdale and suburban Detroit next Friday and Saturday,” Steve Carmody reports.

Investigative
7:42 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Consequences of eliminating mandatory no-fault auto insurance

If you're hurt in an auto accident, the personal injury protection part of Michigan's mandatory no-fault insurance will pay all of your medical costs. It's lifetime, unlimited coverage.
Robbie Howell Flickr

The Michigan legislature is considering bills to end the state’s mandatory no-fault auto insurance.  Its supporters say it will give consumers more choices and help reduce cost of auto insurance.  Opponents say it’s a misguided effort that will have very little effect on insurance rates and could mean people who suffer injuries won’t get the help they need to fully recover. 

Kristin Howard was driving, taking an interstate to work on a summer day in 2006 when her life was changed forever.

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What's Working
7:15 am
Mon August 29, 2011

A community in Lansing takes care of its neighborhood

All this year, Michigan Radio has been spotlighting people and organizations that are trying to improve life in Michigan. In 2004, residents of the Averill Woods neighborhood in Lansing started an association. Their goal was, in part, to promote a positive quality of life, to help neighbors connect with each other, and to improve safety. We speak this morning with the President of the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association, Melissa Quon Huber.

Election 2012
6:22 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Snyder endorses Hoekstra

Former Republican West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra (pictured) will be endorsed later today by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Republican Conference Flickr

Update 3:23

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber covered today's announcement. She reports Hoekstra says he and Snyder became friends after running against each other in a “hard-fought” primary for Governor last year:

“Isn’t it great that two people can go through a campaign, they can go through a primary, and at the end of that process they actually like each other, they actually have respect for each other, because they went through it in a way that the people of Michigan respected.”

Hoekstra said he does not think Snyder’s sinking approval rating will have a negative impact on his campaign for Senate. In his remarks, the governor reciprocated Hoekstra's admiration. Snyder said the experience of gave him respect for Hoekstra:

"Being one of our senators is critically important to our state, so I felt it was appropriate to speak up on this. And it was so easy to speak up. This is a case where we have a compelling candidate.”

6:22 am

Governor Rick Snyder has scheduled a press conference today to endorse former Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Michigan Radio was first to report the endorsement earlier this month.

Snyder and Hoekstra first got to know each other last year as rivals for the Republican nomination for governor. Snyder won, but people close to the governor say he walked away from the campaign with respect for Hoekstra. They say Snyder praised Hoekstra as a results-oriented congressman with a history of rising above partisan interests to get things done.

The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant.

Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the nod to face incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow next year.

Science/Medicine
4:05 pm
Sun August 28, 2011

Do your school children have all their vaccinations?

This 2006 image depicted an adolescent female in the process of receiving an intramuscular immunization in her left shoulder muscle, from a qualified nurse. The girl was assisting in the procedure by holding up her sleeve, while watching as the injection
CDC CDC

It's  the week to go before school doors open across Michigan.  And along with school supplies, children need their required vaccinations. 

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control finds that many teens and pre-teens have not received their required or recommended vaccinations.   Melinda Wharton is the deputy director of the National Center for Immunization at the CDC.   She admits it can be difficult for parents to keep track of what vaccinations their teenage children have and have not received. 

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Politics
4:01 pm
Sat August 27, 2011

Tea Party Express rolling back to Michigan

Sign wielding protesters at a Tea Party Express rally in Jackson, Michigan in 2010
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Tea Party Express will roll back into Michigan next week.     The conservative political activists hold rallies featuring fiery speeches and patriotic music.  Previous visits have focused on health care reform and government spending. This time the focus will be on Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

Levi Russell is a Tea Party Express spokesman.   He says the Tea Party group is hoping to rally local conservatives to work to defeat Stabenow’s re-election bid next year. 

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Iraq Draw Down
4:01 pm
Sat August 27, 2011

Michigan National Guard Units returning home

About a thousand Michigan Army and Air National Guardsmen will spend the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend back home, after spending the past year in Iraq and Kuwait.  Two battalions of guardsmen have been arriving in cities and towns across Michigan during the past few days.  

Captain Aaron Jenkins is a Michigan National Guard spokesman.    He says moving the troops from the Middle East to Michigan is complicated by the need to bring their equipment back with the troops.   

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Offbeat
6:00 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Runners take to the streets on naked feet in Grand Rapids

Man runs barefoot in the Los Angeles Marathon.
J Rosenfeld Creative Commons

The Naked Foot 5-K run is this Sunday. Runners are encouraged to wear no shoes or very minimal shoes.

Barefoot running has been catching on because of potential health benefits. Barefoot runners tend to land on the front of their feet, not their heels. The lower impact of the landing tends to minimize injuries. There other hazards to look out for though, like rocks or glass.

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Education
5:54 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Chancellor selected for state's struggling schools

DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts is also chairman of the Educational Achievement Authority, which approved a four-year contract for incoming chancellor John Covington.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The board that will oversee Michigan’s lowest-performing schools has chosen John Covington as its chancellor.

Covington plans to leave his post as superintendent of the Kansas City school system to take the job. He’s overseen efforts to close schools and balance the budget in that job, which he’s held for the past two years.

Covington says he’s the job offers a unique chance for innovation in education:

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Environment
4:20 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

EPA awards grants for Detroit-area water cleanup

NASA via flickr.com

The US Environmental Protection Agency has awarded more than $2 million in grants to Detroit-area water restoration projects.

These grants will go to four Metro Detroit projects. They include efforts to reduce toxins in the Rouge and Detroit rivers, and to eliminate e. coli sources near Macomb County beaches.

Congressman John Dingell says those projects represent “indispensable investments. But he notes that in a tough fiscal environment, “We’re going to have a difficult time defending” them.

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Education
3:16 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

State lists all public schools in Michigan from "Top to Bottom"

Teacher Assistant Preston Taylor assists student with class assignment at Kettering West Wing, Detroit Public Schools. Kettering West Wing ranked at the top of the "Top to Bottom" list.
MDE

Education officials from the state of Michigan released two lists on public schools today.

I posted earlier on Michigan's list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools."

Here's a look at the state's "Top to Bottom Ranking" (follow the link to find the list, it's an excel spreadsheet).

The Top to Bottom ranking lists all public schools in Michigan that have more than 30 students who were "tested over the last two years in at least two state-tested content areas." (You can read more about how the schools were ranked here - warning - It's Power Point file.)

There are 3,010 schools listed.

The Michigan Department of Education says "this list is being published to provide information to all schools and to provide 'light of day' reporting on the achievement, improvement, and achievement gaps of all schools in the state."

The rankings are based on graduation rates and the following three areas of student achievement:

  1. Achievement at the elementary, middle, and high school levels
  2. Improvement in achievement over time
  3. The largest achievement gap between two subgroups calculated based on the top scoring 30% of students versus the bottom scoring 30% of students

The school districts that had schools in the 99th percentile rank (highest) were:

  • Forest Hills Public Schools
  • Ann Arbor Public Schools
  • School District of the City of Birmingham
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Bloomfield Hills School District
  • Rochester Community School District
  • Berkley School District
  • Lake Orion Community Schools
  • Grand Blanc Community Schools
  • Novi Community School District
  • Saginaw City School District
  • Farmington Public School District
  • Spring Lake Public Schools
  • Hudsonville Public School District
  • Detroit City School District
  • Ottawa Area ISD
  • Grand Haven Area Public Schools
  • Troy School District
  • East Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Livonia Public Schools

And school districts that had schools ranked at the bottom (0 percentile rank) were:

  • Detroit City School District
  • Buena Vista School District
  • Benton Harbor Area Schools
  • Center for Literacy and Creativity
  • Willow Run Community Schools
  • Ecorse Public School District
  • Tuscola ISD
  • Monroe ISD
  • Flint City School District
  • Pontiac City School District
  • Lansing Public School District
  • River Rouge School District
  • Saginaw City School District
  • Southfield Public School District
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Auto
1:17 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Move over, Detroit Auto Show? Here comes "The Battery Show."

Michigan already has the North American International Auto Show.  

This year, the state will also host The Battery Show.  Michigan lured the advanced lithium-ion battery trade show from California. 

Of course, this is a trade show, not a consumer show, so unless you have an unusual interest in lithium-ion chemistries, you might want to stick to the Detroit Auto Show for now. 

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Education
1:07 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Judge says CMU faculty must work, but allowed to picket

Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
CMU

Both sides in the Central Michigan University fracas seem to like the court order issued today.

Judge Paul Chamberlain said members of the CMU Faculty Association must continue to work, but they are allowed to picket.

From the Saginaw News:

An Isabella County judge extended a court injunction that prevents Central Michigan University faculty from holding a strike or work stoppage.

The court order, signed by Circuit Judge Paul H. Chamberlain just before noon on Friday, states faculty are restrained from holding a work stoppage but are allowed to picket.

Laura Frey, Faculty Association president, said the court hearing was a "win" for the faculty.

"Our First Amendment rights have been restored," she said.

In a statement, CMU Provost and Executive Vice President E. Gary Shapiro said "we are extremely pleased with today’s court action, which places the priority on student learning and academic achievement. We now look forward to reaching an agreement through fact finding."

The University is seeking to cut faculty pay and benefits in response to state budget cuts. Members of the CMU Faculty Association, the union representing faculty, have said University officials are not bargaining in good faith with them.

A fact-finding process set up to resolve the dispute will begin on September 7.

In the Saginaw News article, Laura Frey "said the faculty intends on exercising their First Amendment rights when asked if they would picket."

Science/Medicine
1:03 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Medical marihuana is a hot topic at a weekend gathering of Michigan's county prosecutors

(courtesy of Flint Medical Dispensary)

Local county prosecutors are meeting this weekend on Mackinac Island.  This week’s appeals court ruling that medical marihuana dispensaries are illegal is a hot topic of conversation.

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Commentary
12:54 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Remembering Elly Peterson

She was, simply put, a woman ahead of her time, now nearly forgotten, who deserves to be better remembered in Michigan history.

It was she, not Debbie Stabenow, who was the first woman in Michigan to ever win a nomination for a U.S. Senate race.

She spent her life fighting for women to get a toehold in politics, fighting to be taken seriously by the men who led her party and weren’t accustomed to sharing power. She accomplished more than she ever took credit or was ever given credit for.

And despite all that, in the end, her party turned its back on most of what she stood for. But to the end of her days, she fought back with dignity and charm, and never let bitterness eat at her soul.

The woman I’m talking about is Elly Peterson, who gave her life to better conditions for women in politics -- and did so from within the GOP. Elly - everybody called her that - was ninety-four and living in Colorado when she died three years ago.

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Economy
12:52 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Will Michigan motorists feel Hurricane Irene's wrath at the gas pumps?

Hurricane Irene's path should take the storm up the east coast, forcing nearly a dozen oil refineries to shutdown, at least temporarily
(courtesy of the National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane Irene should not have an impact on Michigan gas prices, according to an industry analyst.  The hurricane is expected to make landfall along the North Carolina coast tomorrow, before bearing down on the Jersey shore, New York and New England Sunday. 

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Politics
12:33 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Court rules Michigan legislature illegally quashed pay raise

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the Legislature violated the state constitution by illegally taking money from state employee paychecks to cover retirement health care costs.

State employees are in line to get back $60 million dollars that was withheld from their paychecks if this decision stands.

The court of appeals says then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature could not take three percent of state employee salaries for retirement costs after lawmakers failed to block three percent pay raises.

The pay raises were approved by the independent state Civil Service Commission, and could only be reversed by super-majorities in the House and Senate.

The appeals court said that was just another way to take away the pay raise, and violated the process set up by the state constitution.

Governor Rick Snyder says the money is needed to help cover a shortfall in the state employee retirement fund. He could ask the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the current Michigan legislature and Governor Snyder "adopted the plan earlier this year that requires state employees contribute 3 percent of their paychecks toward their retirement health care costs."

The plan was adopted under a previous legislature and then-Governor Granholm.

The headline has been changed as well. (previous headline "Court rules Michigan legislature and Gov. illegally quashed pay raise").

We regret the error.

 

 

Auto/Economy
12:07 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

GM to cut production of pickup trucks next month

GM says it will cut production of pickup trucks next month. The 2011 Chevy Silverado, GM's best-selling truck.
Tino Rossini Flickr

Disappointing economic data seems to be rolling in more frequently these days. The U.S. economy grew "a meager 1 percent" from April through July (a downgrade from an earlier 1.3 percent estimate), and unemployment numbers show no signs of improving (here's a cartoon of people looking for work in downtown Portland).

Now, news of cuts in production at GM.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors is cutting its production of pickup trucks next month, a sign that truck sales aren't as robust as the company had hoped.

A GM spokesman says the company cancelled five scheduled overtime shifts on Saturdays in September and October. He didn't know how many vehicles would be involved, but the Flint, Mich., plant where the pickups are made can produce 900 trucks per day.

Full-size pickup truck sales were up 9 percent for the year through July in the U.S., compared with a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. But that increase was smaller than the industry saw as a whole. Continuing weakness in the housing and construction sectors has dampened demand for trucks. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's best-selling truck, were up 7 percent.

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