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May 3rd Election
4:53 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

May 3rd millages: Facing big deficits, some cities and schools seek to raise taxes

The city of Flint is running out of options to raise more revenue. Officials will ask citizens to pay additional real estate and property taxes for the city jail and for police services.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The impact of the Great Recession continues to be felt as cities and school districts across Michigan seek to raise revenues for basic services.

There's no federal bailout money to help this time around. And the state of Michigan is planning to cut revenue sharing to cities. The state also plans to cut school budgets.

Millages to raise revenue are nothing new, but this time around budgets are strapped. A failed millage could lead to more layoffs of police and fire officials in some cities. And schools might face more personnel layoffs as well.

On Tuesday, May 3rd, voters will decided whether to raise  their property and real estate taxes, or to at least continue them at current levels.

Here's a breakdown of some of the issues that will be on ballots around the state. It's by no means exhaustive. For and exhaustive list, you can check out the Michigan Secretary of State.

Note: One mill is equal to $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value, so if your house is assessed at $150,000, one mill would cost you $150 per year in property taxes.

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Religion
4:49 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

Controversial Florida pastor will finally hold his rally in Dearborn this evening

Pastor Terry Jones
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A controversial Florida pastor is scheduled to begin a rally in downtown Dearborn at this hour. The rally will take place in front of Dearborn city hall.  

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Offbeat
3:24 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

In case you missed it...

User cccpstorm Flickr

There's no way to catch everything that Michigan Radio airs during the week.

Here are some highlights from this week's shows, in case you missed them!

“The Fed: Policy and Transparency”

On Wednesday, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke held the first news conference in the Fed’s 98-year history.

On Thursday, Diane Rehm spoke to a panel about the conference’s contents, its historical significance, and the effectiveness of the Fed’s recent economic policy decisions.

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Auto/Economy
2:17 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

Why are Michigan's gas prices so high?

We’ve been hearing for weeks about gas prices rising around the country. 

The national average reached $3.909 today according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

Michigan, with an average of $4.116, is more than 20 cents higher than the national average.

When we tweeted the new state and national gas prices on Wednesday, one of our Twitter friends asked why Michigan's average was higher.

The answer may be a combination of state taxes and delivery costs.

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Education
1:08 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

Gov. Snyder may hear jeers during Saturday's commencement address at U of M

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
(official portrait)

Governor Rick Snyder may hear some jeers when he speaks at this week’s commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan.  Unions and other groups plan to rally outside Michigan Stadium during the governor’s speech.

  Rob Gillezeau is the president of the Graduate Employees Organization.  His group and others plan to voice their displeasure over cuts to education funding and the voiding of union contracts.  

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Politics
11:40 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Recall petition approved for Governor Snyder

Organizers of the effort to recall Governor Rick Snyder say they have to collect 807,000 valid signatures by August 5th to put the recall vote on the ballot.
Russ Climie Tiberius Images

A petition for the recall of Governor Rick Snyder was approved today.

The Washtenaw County Election Commission approved the language of the petition, which states – among other things – that the governor "sought tax increases upon retirees and lower income families."

Tim Kramer is with Michigan Citizens United, which helped craft the petition. Part of the petition talks about how Governor Snyder obtained power through emergency financial managers.

“I think the thing that tripped the trigger for me was the EFM law. That’s a dictatorship, in my opinion. You can’t have that. You can’t go in and remove the mayor of a city, just because you don’t agree—basically he can do it because he doesn’t agree with them, you know?”

Governor Rick Snyder opposed the recall petition.

Attorney John Pirich represented the governor. 

"I think anyone who would read the language would see that not only is it not clear, in our opinion, but it’s also very misleading in regard to events that have not occurred or events that are just completely inaccurate."

The petition supporters say they know they are fighting an uphill battle to collect more than a million signatures before August 5th.

They believe that’s how many they will need in order to get the recall request put on the ballot.

Environment
11:02 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Sugar companies sue over "high fructose corn syrup" rebranding

Sugar companies in Michigan make their products from sugar beets.
Rodney Burton creative commons

There's long been a tug of war between corn growers and sugar refiners over who can get their sweetener into more products. Reuters reports that high fructose corn syrup has been gaining on sugar lately because of higher sugar prices.

Now, sugar growers are suing over a ad campaign that is trying to change the image of high fructose corn syrup.

Michigan Sugar Company has joined a lawsuit against corn processors who are trying to rebrand high-fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."

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Commentary
10:27 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Great and Bloody Sacrifice

Many of us have been so consumed with our modern economic struggles that we’ve barely paused to note that we faced a much greater crisis one hundred and fifty years ago his month.

South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union, fired on federal troops at Fort Sumter that April, and the Civil War was on.

When it ended four years later, more Americans had been killed than in any war before or since, and the country was a different place. We don’t often think of Michigan in connection with the Civil War. We were then a small, pretty new, and not very major state.

Our entire population was only three-quarters of a million people - far less than the population of Macomb County today. Yet Michigan answered the call enthusiastically.

We overfilled our quota of volunteers. Abraham Lincoln had some anxious moments those first weeks of the war.

Would the states really respond by sending the troops necessary to put down the rebellion? Michigan did. From Detroit, Adrian, Marshall, Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids they came.

Washington asked Michigan for a single regiment. Governor Austin Blair protested. No. We could furnish more. Much more.

The first Michigan troops arrived in the capitol in May, lifting the President’s spirits. “Thank God for Michigan!”Abraham Lincoln said when they arrived.

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Education
9:16 am
Fri April 29, 2011

"A National Disgrace" Dan Rather's report on the Detroit Public Schools

A DPS student talks about her frustration with the leadership of the Detroit Public School system.
screen grab from HDNet clip

Dan Rather will air a special two-hour program on the Detroit Public School system titled "A National Disgrace."

It will air on HDNet Tuesday, May 10 at 8:00 p.m. eastern as part of their "Dan Rather Reports" program, and will be re-broadcast at 11:00 p.m. on the same night.

This from HDNet's press release:

The special takes its title from a controversial comment by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and presents an unflinching look at corruption, mismanagement and failure. Tens of millions of dollars have been stolen from the district. And a school board bickers over trivialities, while their students score at the bottom on national tests.

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Sports Commentary
8:53 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Remembering Michigan's swashbuckling football star

Jim Mandich carries the ball during the Woverine's upset of the no. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in 1969.
University of Michigan

On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.

Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.   

I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral. 

As he told Angelique Chengalis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You've lived a damned good life. You've got lot to be thankful for.’”

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Auto/Economy
9:55 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Treasury Sec. Geithner: Bailout never intended to yield profit

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner United States Treasury Department

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government will almost certainly lose money on its investment in the domestic auto industry.

But Geithner told business leaders in Detroit today  that making a profit was never the objective. He says the aim of the Troubled Asset Relief Program – or TARP – was twofold:

"One is to get these companies back in private hands as quickly as we can, it makes no sense for the government to be in there a day longer than is necessary, but we also want to recover as much of the taxpayers’ money as possible."

Geithner says, on the whole, he expects the TARP investments in all sectors – including banking and insurance – will yield a profit.

Politics
5:44 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

People in Benton Harbor disagree about what’s best for the city

People rally this week in Benton Harbor against the city's emergency manager and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Politicians and national media have been parachuting into Benton Harbor lately. They’re talking about the city’s emergency manager, Joe Harris. Harris was the first emergency manager in Michigan to exercise broad new powers under a state law passed last month, essentially removing power from elected city officials.

This week I sat down with many of those officials and Benton Harbor residents to hear what they think of the situation.

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Politics
5:17 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Governor Snyder's tax overhaul plan passes the House

Governor Snyder's tax plan has passed the State House.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Update 5:14 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan began working its way through the Legislature today as it cleared the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The Republican tax reform bill would replace the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax with a corporate profits tax.

Two-thirds of Michigan businesses would not have to pay the tax.

Part of the revenue lost to the state would be made up by eliminating dozens of tax breaks.

Many of them go to businesses and charities. Also gone would be earned income credit for working poor families and the income tax exemption for most seniors on pensions.

“This is a turnaround moment for Michigan,” said Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger. “Today’s winners are our local small business owners. Today’s winners are the unemployed because now those small business owners can create jobs.”

Democrats say it’s not fair to make working families and seniors make up the difference while most businesses pay less. Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says it's not a fair trade.

“This legislation is not a shared sacrifice and should not be adopted. Today is just another day another day to give an 82% tax break to wealthy, corporate special interests. Another day to take from our children, our seniors, and our working poor."

The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

3:41 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan has begun its march through the Legislature.

It won the approval of the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The measure would scrap the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax.

It would be replaced by a corporate income tax that would not be paid by two-thirds of the state’s businesses.

Part of that lost revenue would be made up by ending many tax breaks for businesses, working poor families, and seniors on pensions.

Politics
5:06 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Mayor Bing says Detroit is at a tipping point, could need emergency manager

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was in Lansing today asking the Governor and state representatives for help.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says the city is at a tipping point and could be assigned an emergency manager if the state doesn’t let it extend income and utility taxes.

Bing met privately with Governor Rick Snyder and lawmakers today.

He  says if the state does not allow Detroit to extend taxes, the city will lose about $100 million in revenue:

"Then I think we’re looking at an emergency financial manager," said Bing, "and I don’t think the state wants to go in that route, nor do we. So we need the support from the Legislature up here to make sure they make the necessary changes to give us the support that we need."

Bing needs legislation for the tax extension because of Detroit’s massive population loss. That drop disqualified the city from laws written for the state’s largest city.

Bing also wants Detroit’s 48 unions to make large concessions to help close a $200 million deficit.

Politics
4:41 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Jackson residents face difficult choice in Tuesday's public safety merger vote

Red-and-white signs can be found all across Jackson these days. The signs, which look very similar, carry very different messages: Some encourage city residents to vote for merging Jackson's police and fire departments, while others oppose it.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson voters will be asked next Tuesday if they want to merge their city police and fire departments.  It’s a decision that is dividing the southern Michigan city. Jackson, like many Michigan cities, is struggling to balance its budget. Tuesday’s vote to create a public safety department is a result of that. 

Interim City Manager Warren Renando says Tuesday’s vote is about better allocating what little money the city has left to spend.  

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Education
4:19 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

How Governor Snyder's education plan is playing

Flickr

Yesterday, governor Rick Snyder presented his plan for education reform at an event in Detroit.

We asked Susan Demas, a political analyst for the Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, a former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants to take a look at the political implications of that plan.

You can listen to my interview with them here:

Changing Gears
2:27 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Thunderdrome comes to Detroit this Saturday

This year's Thunderdrome will be held in Detroit's Dorais Park at high noon.
screen grab from YouTube video

The Thunderdrome comes to Detroit this Saturday!

It's not the post-apocalyptic competition featured in the Mel Gibson movie.

Instead of "two men enter, one man leaves" ...

It's more like "around 100 men and/or women enter, around 100 men and/or women leave... perhaps with some scrapes and bruises."

A write up on this wild, anarchic race is featured on the Changing Gears website by WBEZ's Robin Amer.

Robin writes about how the organizers unearthed an abandoned velodrome in Detroit's Dorais Park:

It was literally unearthed by one of the city’s vigilante lawn-mower gangs — people who mow the lawns at city parks because the city cannot afford to do so. The velodrome, on the city’s east side, was repaired by racing enthusiasts who cut down trees growing in its center and invested thousands of dollars of their own money and over 4,000 lbs of concrete fixing its surface. And now, it has come back to life as home to a variety of competitions.

When asked who the sanctioning body for this race is, organizer Andy Didorosi replied:

We are. We're the only sanctioning body in the world for zany two-wheeled party racing on abandoned Velodromes. :) Sanctioning bodies are silly.

Here's a video of last year's race. I like how the victor, instead of doing a lap with a checkered flag, does a lap with a torn-off portion of a Pabst Blue Ribbon box.

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Economy
12:33 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Business is solid for three Michigan companies

Roger Penske says the first quarter results for the Penske Automotive Group "exceeded my expectations."
Ted Van Pelt Flickr

Three big corporations in Michigan released their first quarter results today and according to the numbers, business is booming.

Dow Chemical exceeds expectations (Midland, Michigan)

The company says "sales rose 20% to $14.7 billion versus the year-ago period, with double-digit increases in all operating segments and all geographic areas."

As Andrew Dodson of Booth-Mid Michigan pointed out, analysts had expected Dow to achieve $13.8 billion in sales.

Dow's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (a measure of a company's operating cash flow) went up more than $600 million to $2.4 billion, "the second highest quarter in the Company's history," according to Dow.

CMS Energy reports net income of $135 million (Jackson, Michigan)

CMS Energy's principal business is Consumers Energy. The Jackson-based company's reported income of $135 million translates into $0.52 per share, for the first quarter of 2011. That's compared to a net income of $85 million, or $0.34 per share, for the same quarter last year.

From the company's press release:

The first quarter results reflect colder than normal winter temperatures that boosted natural gas and electric sales at the company’s Michigan utility, Consumers Energy. Those sales increases partially were offset by costs the utility incurred in restoring service to electric customers after a series of unusually severe winter storms.

Penske Automotive has strong quarter (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)

Penske Automotive Group Chairman, Roger Penske, said, "our first quarter results exceeded my expectations. I am particularly pleased with the same-store retail revenue growth generated in all lines of our business.

From Businesswire:

[Penske] reported a 51.7% increase in first quarter income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders to $36.4 million, which compares to income from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders of $24.0 million in the first quarter last year. Earnings per share from continuing operations attributable to common shareholders increased 50.0% to $0.39 per share from $0.26 per share in the first quarter last year. Total revenue in the first quarter increased 15.3% to $2.9 billion, including an 11.6% increase in same-store retail revenues, due in large part to increases in new and used retail vehicle unit sales.

Politics
12:21 pm
Thu April 28, 2011

Two Michigan Congressmen call for Syria sanctions

Syrian protesters
cell phone picutre via Associated Press

Two Michigan Congressmen are urging President Obama to renew—and strengthen—sanctions against the Syrian government.

Livonia Republican Thaddeus McCotter and Detroit Democrat Hansen Clarke say they both support renewing targeted sanctions that lapse next month.

Both Congressmen also support strengthening those measures to include freezing Syrian officials’ U.S. assets, and prohibiting business with American companies.

Both say the sanctions should also be extended President Bashar Al-Assad’s, and other top official’s, families.

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Crime
11:49 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Drug smuggling bust at Detroit Metro Airport

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will announce details of a major internal drug smuggling conspiracy at Detroit Metro Airport.
user ka_tate Flickr

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they will announce arrests in a "major internal drug smuggling conspiracy investigation" at Detroit Metro Airport.

They plan to hold a press conference this afternoon at 3:30 at the Homeland Security Investigations Office.

In the meantime, the Detroit Free Press is reporting 12 people were arrested:

Federal agents this morning arrested 12 individuals in an international drug smuggling investigation at Detroit Metro Airport, according to the U.S. Immigrations Customs and Enforcements.

All 12 arrestees are currently in federal custody. Of the 12, 10 are from Michigan; one is from Houston; another is from California, according to ICE officials.

The Detroit News reports that 10 of the 12 were baggage handlers who worked for Delta Airlines.

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