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10:30 am
Fri May 27, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

When Governor Rick Snyder took office in January, he said he wanted to have the state budget signed, sealed and delivered by the end of May.

Nobody in Lansing took that seriously. In fact, if the budget had in fact not been completed until July, that would still have been seen as a remarkable victory. 

After all, we’ve become accustomed to lawmakers frantically struggling on September 30th, the last day possible, to pass a budget before the state would have to shut down.

True, this year is different in that the governor’s party controls both houses of the legislature. But the reforms that Snyder was calling on them to make were so revolutionary it was hard to see how he could possibly win early passage.

Well, we were wrong. Rick Snyder may officially be a “non-politician.” But he is in fact one of the shrewdest political operatives I have ever seen. People have consistently underestimated him, beginning with the famous “nerd” commercial which launched his candidacy. Everybody scoffs at Snyder, and he smiles and keeps on winning. Primaries, general elections, legislative fights. The governor got virtually everything important he wanted here.

Where he did have to compromise - on the pension tax, for example - one got the feeling that he had planned on compromise all along. With a series of wrenching moves, he changed the way the system works. He seems to have eliminated the structural flaw that for years has caused automatic billion dollar deficits. He did so at a terrific cost, balancing the budget, and providing huge tax breaks for business by cutting aid to the poor, to children, and to education.

But he got what he wanted, and now we’ll see what happens. Make no mistake: This is entirely a Rick Snyder, Republican Party budget. It did not get a single Democratic vote. If this pays off, if the lowered business taxes do create new jobs, Snyder should be able to waltz to re-election, and the political culture of this state may be forever changed. But if it fails - if the promised new jobs don’t materialize, and people keep falling through the tattered safety net - well, it will be clear who to blame. It will take awhile to know exactly what’s happening. But what does the governor do next?

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On-air note
9:19 am
Fri May 27, 2011

WFUM 91.1 off the air

Our technical staff is making electrical repairs at our WFUM transmitter. This work means WFUM 91.1 in the Flint area will be off the air for about an hour.

News Roundup
8:34 am
Fri May 27, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 27th

Legislature Completes the Budget

The Michigan Legislature completed work yesterday on a $46 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The process lacked all of the long hours and heated floor debate of recent years, Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber reports. Much of that can be attributed to a Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. In fact, not a single Democrat voted in favor of the budget. The budget includes cuts to K-12 education and public universities. It lifts the exemption on taxing some retiree pensions and reduces the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign the budget bills in the next few weeks.

Feds Eye Flint

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are auditing records from Flint City Hall, according to the Flint Journal. Reporter Kristin Longley writes a "city source" says the FBI accompanied the USDOE investigators:

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Energy is auditing the city's use of federal energy grant funds, a federal official confirmed today, following reports that federal officials are investigating Flint City Hall.

The DOE's Office of Inspector General has investigators in the city of Flint examining how a federal grant for weatherization of low-income housing is being spent, said Rick Hass, deputy inspector general for audits and inspections.

Detroit School Closures to Increase

The Detroit Public Schools says it’s increasing the number of school closures to 20 by the fall of next year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

That's up from the previously announced 14.  The Detroit Free Press reports district officials decided to keep open some schools that had been proposed for closure, and some proposed school mergers were changed. The district said Thursday the changes are the result of public input at more than 40 community meetings since April. DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts says the district still has too many schools for its shrinking student population, even though it has closed 130 buildings since 2005. That's half its schools.

Sports Commentary
8:10 am
Fri May 27, 2011

The Almighty Cleavers: a softball team built to lose

A softball season to remember.
Zach Chrisholm Flickr

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by all objective sources to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too.  But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less.  That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burn-outs got the park permits – God bless ‘em -- and every clique had a team, with names like the Junior Junkies, the Extra Burly Studs, and – yes – the ‘Nads.  If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

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Education
8:25 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

No one comments on Grand Rapids schools’ plan to deal with biggest budget shortfall

There were more reporters and school officials than members of the public at a public hearing on Grand Rapids Public Schools budget for the 2011-2012 school year.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids Public Schools is facing a $22 million dollar budget deficit for next school year. That’s the largest shortfall Michigan’s third biggest school district has faced.

The plan to close the gap includes eliminating close to 140 positions and use $5 million in savings. Despite that, no one showed up to speak at a public hearing on the school budget Thursday night.

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Education
5:56 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

School superintendent challenges lawmakers to "make my school a prison"

Ithaca Public Schools Superintendent Nathan Bootz wrote an open letter to Michigan lawmakers asking them to make his school a prison. He says prisoners have more advantages than students.
facebook.com

A Michigan school superintendent’s open letter to lawmakers makes a startling request and it’s getting national attention.

Nathan Bootz runs Ithaca Public Schools,  a district with about 1,300 students.

Bootz wrote a letter to the Gratiot County Herald newspaper and suggested that the state turn his school district into a prison.

He says the state spends a lot more money on inmates than students.

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Politics
5:46 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Proposal calls for inmates to pay state sales tax

Inmates would have to pay 6 percent sales tax on many items purchased from a prison commissary under a new proposal.
ruvilla.com

A Michigan lawmaker is proposing the state’s prisoners pay sales tax on items they buy from the prison commissary.

State Rep. Anthony Forlini, a R-Harrison Township, says inmates should not be exempt from the six-percent tax.

Forlini  laughs at the suggestion that it would be unfair to tax inmates because they’re not allowed to vote.

"To say that the regular public pays a sales tax and the inmates do not pay a tax is what's really unfair," Forlini says. "The fairness issue is treating us all alike."

Politics
5:34 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Court rules against Dearborn in leaflet case

A federal court has ruled that the city of Dearborn may not prevent people from distributing leaflets encouraging conversion to Christianity at an annual Arab-American festival.
The Arab American News.com

A federal court says Dearborn should not have prevented a Christian evangelist from handing out leaflets at an Arab-American festival last year.

The court ruled that the city of Dearborn violated the First Amendment rights of George Saieg of California at last summer’s event.

Saieg wanted to distribute leaflets encouraging Muslims to convert to Christianity.

Jack O’Reilly is Dearborn’s mayor.

He says the court made its decision because the Arab-American Festival does not charge an entry fee, and is not restricted to just festivalgoers.

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Arts/Culture
4:18 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

The Grand Rapids lip dub video released

Politics
4:11 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Budget done early, schools and local governments can plan for cuts

The State Legislature has passed a budget, the earliest a budget has been passed in decades.
user aunt owwee Flickr

The Michigan Legislature has wrapped up its financial planning for the future.

The $46 billion state budget is done - they'll start spending the money October 1st (that's when the fiscal year starts).

The Associate Press writes:

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature has finished approving a new state budget that will cut state aid for education and many state departments...The quick resolution of next year's budget is a victory for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who wanted lawmakers to wrap up votes by May 31.

This is the earliest the state budget has been completed in 30 years, according to the Detroit News.

Early passage gives school districts, agencies, and local governments time to plan for their next fiscal years.

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Politics
2:20 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Feds investigating Flint City Hall

There are a number of federal investigations going on at Flint City Hall.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update 2:20 p.m.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are auditing records from Flint City Hall, according to the Flint Journal. Reporter Kristin Longley writes a "city source" says the FBI accompanied the USDOE investigators:

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Energy is auditing the city's use of federal energy grant funds, a federal official confirmed today, following reports that federal officials are investigating Flint City Hall.

The DOE's Office of Inspector General has investigators in the city of Flint examining how a federal grant for weatherization of low-income housing is being spent, said Rick Hass, deputy inspector general for audits and inspections.

Update 11:56 a.m.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody said Mayor Walling's press conference lasted all of 30 seconds. Here's the Mayor's full statement:

The Mayor confirmed there were a "number of ongoing federal investigations" underway.

10:34 a.m.

There's a federal investigation underway at Flint City Hall today. We don't know what federal officials are looking for at this point. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody will be at an 11:00 a.m. press conference being held by Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and will have an update for us later.

Kristin Longley from the Flint Journal writes:

In the past, the city has been the subject of reports from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development related to misspent grant funds.

It was unknown whether today's investigation was related to any of the OIG's previous findings.

Arts/Culture
1:18 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

The making of the Grand Rapids lip dub (video)

Rob Bliss (in the green shirt) and crew set up for another take of the Grand Rapids lip dub on Sunday afternoon.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Rob Bliss is known around Grand Rapids for putting on some crazy events. World record Zombie Walks, giant community pillow fights, water balloon fights, the ‘world’s largest inflatable water slide’, electronic music festivals, sidewalk chalk floods…I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two.

The latest is a professional lip dup video featuring at least a thousand people from the Grand Rapids area.

Here's a video we put together on the making of the lip dub:

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Commentary
12:54 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

Canada and the Bridge

We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.

Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.

But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.

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Environment
12:21 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

New requirements for 'fracking' in Michigan

Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced new requirements to address public concern about potential pollution connected with horizontal fracturing (fracking) for natural gas.

From the DEQ news release:

The requirements, issued as New Permitting Instructions by the state Supervisor of Wells, include:

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Food
11:47 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Five recipes for the morel mushroom hunting season

Morels in Michigan. May and June are the morel hunting months in Michigan.
user ladydragonflycc Flickr

I've heard people talk about the thrill of morel hunting in Michigan, but have never stalked one myself. My neighbor recently gave us a few morels she plucked from her backyard.

So now that we've got some in the house, what to do with them? Eat them, or course, but what's a good way to prepare them?

Here are five moral recipes to try out this season:

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Environment
11:09 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Transporting tar sands oil (Part 2)

The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the Enbridge pipeline broke.
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

The Enbridge pipeline that broke and spilled into the Kalamazoo River last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil.

Enbridge spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the company ships both conventional crude, and tar sands oil through its pipelines. She says in recent years they’ve been getting an increasing amount of tar sands oil.

“Because there’s being more produced (sic), and there’s more of a demand for it in the United States.”

This increase in tar sands oil transport worries environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates.

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News Roundup
9:03 am
Thu May 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 26th
Brother O'Mara Other

Wet Weather Continues

Rain and storms are expected to continue in many parts of the state today. Most of the region is under some type of flood advisory, watch, or warning during the morning hours. Yesterday, rain caused flooding throughout the Southeast. Yesterday, "thunderstorms... dumped more than 4 inches of rain on parts of southern Michigan, causing widespread flooding of streets, expressways and basements,” the Associated Press reports.

State Senate Completes Budget

The Michigan Senate handed a state spending plan over to the state House yesterday, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval. The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children. Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Foreclosures Hurting Michigan's Real Estate Market

Foreclosed homes continued to drag down home sale prices in the state in the first quarter of the year, Steve Carmody reports. “Realty Trac reported nearly 32 percent of homes sold in Michigan in the first three months of 2011 were repossessed homes. The average price for a foreclosed home was just a little more than $70,000. That price is about a third less than similar homes on the market. A Realty Trac spokesman says that is keeping home prices from appreciating. Michigan is among a dozen states where foreclosed homes accounted for at least 25 percent of the homes sold during the first quarter of the year,” Carmody notes.

Weather
7:10 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Thunderstorms bring roadway flooding to Michigan

Flood warnings are being posted in southern Michigan.
Tom Grundy Flickr

Update: 5/26/11 6:52 a.m.

DETROIT (AP) - Thunderstorms have dumped more than 4 inches of rain on parts of southern Michigan, causing widespread flooding of streets, expressways and basements. The National Weather Service says 4.15 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period Wednesday in Detroit, while 3.12 inches fell in Ann Arbor and 3.1 inches in Wayne County's Canton Township. Flood warnings were in effect across several southeastern counties Wednesday night.

You can view photos and video of the storms at these links below:

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Presidential Visit
6:49 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Obama to visit Chrysler plant in Toledo next week

President Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio next Friday, June 3rd.
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama will visit a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, next week to discuss the car maker's repayment of a federal loan that saved the company from financial disaster two years ago.

The White House says Obama will visit the auto plant on June 3.

Chrysler announced Tuesday the repayment of $5.9 billion in U.S. loans and $1.7 billion in loans from the governments of Canada and Ontario. It covers most of the federal bailout money that saved the company after it nearly ran out of cash in 2009 and went through a government-led bankruptcy.

The company recently posted its first profit in five years and has bolstered its lineup of Jeeps and cars.

State Politics
6:44 am
Thu May 26, 2011

Snyder signs tax restructuring... Now what?

Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed a sweeping tax overhaul for Michigan yesterday.
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Two-thirds of Michigan businesses are in line for a tax rollback next year. The rest will pay a six percent tax on profits. Pensions in Michigan will be taxed for the first time. An income tax reduction will be delayed to save money to help balance a budget that reduces spending on schools, local governments, and higher education.

These are all details of a sweeping tax overhaul signed into law yesterday by Governor Rick Snyder.

Snyder made cutting and simplifying the taxes paid by businesses his marquee campaign promise, and he got to fulfill that promise just a few days short of five months in office.

“It will create jobs. I’m confident of that.”

The governor says Michigan’s business tax plan will be simpler, and fairer. Only a third of Michigan businesses – those with lots of shareholders and registered as “C” corporations under the tax code – will pay the six percent tax on profits after expenses.

The governor acknowledged some parts of the plan are controversial – especially taxing pensions. Next year, someone living on a $50,000 pension can expect to pay about $1,400 in state income tax.

Snyder says extending the income tax to people born after 1946 with pension income exceeding $40,000 means that share of the burden won’t be shifted to younger people.

“That’s going to help on that issue of keeping our young people right here in Michigan.”

And the governor – a former tech company CEO and venture capitalist -- says the state’s new business tax system should be solid enough to endure for another 50 years.

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