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What's Working
11:46 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Old prison breathes new life

user djbuchanan / Flickr

For this week’s installment of “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley speaks with Judy Krasnow, resident and tour guide of the Armory Arts Village in Jackson. Located in what once served as Michigan’s first penitentiary, the Armory Arts Village is a residential community originally set up to provide living, working, and presentation space for artists.

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Politics
11:21 am
Mon March 7, 2011

AARP organizing rally to oppose tax on pensions

AARP is organizing a rally to be held in Lansing
nasaimages

Organizers for AARP Michigan say their rally will be held on the east steps of the State Capitol Building on March 15th from 11 a.m. to 1p.m..

From the AARP Michigan blog:

The rally was the brainchild of AARP member and retiree Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, who launched the effort on Facebook with the help of her daughter.  Woodward says she's heard from thousands of seniors who say new taxes on their pensions and other income will make it difficult to pay their bills. Many also object to elimination of a tax credit for low-income working families, and proposed cuts to schools, universities and local police and fire protection and road maintenance.

State Legislature
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Pension tax alternatives on the table for legislators this week

Michigan Senators plan to discuss alternatives to a pension tax this week
user lincolnblues Flickr

Michigan legislators are planning to discuss alternatives to Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposals this week.

One hot button issue is Snyder's plan to place a tax on pensions. That tax is estimated to raise $900 million.

It would go a long way in eliminating the state's budget deficit which is estimated around $1.5 billion.

It's angered a lot of seniors, and lobbying groups, like the AARP, are putting pressure on legislators in Lansing to keep the tax exemption on pensions in place (the AARP plans to hold a rally in Lansing on March 15th).

Laura Weber, with the Michigan Public Radio Network reported that Michigan Senate Republicans are meeting early this week to try to come up with alternatives to the pension tax plan.

Weber spoke with Republican State Senator Tory Rocca who said his opposition to taxing pensions is simple:

"It’s a tax increase, and on top of that it’s a tax increase on senior citizens, and if you look at what their cost of living is and what their cost of living increases are, they tend to have a higher cost-of-living increase than other people because a lot of their cost-of-living is weighted toward health care, which does increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year."

The Associated Press reports that State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville didn't say whether Snyder's pension tax plan had enough support to win approval.

But he did say that if legislators want to scrap the tax plan, they'll have to find money elsewhere. From the AP:

Richardville said that if the Senate opposes pieces of Snyder's proposal they will have to balance it out by cutting programs or finding revenues somewhere else within the budget.

That's $900 million more, which could mean more proposals out of Lansing for bigger cuts.

Commentary
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Shared Sacrifice?

If you want to see why this recession was different from others in recent history, spend a little time over at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

They’ve been seeing and feeding people they’ve never seen before, people who never imagined they’d need help.

The other day, I went to see Dr. Chad Audi, the mission’s President and CEO. Not only is their caseload flooded, he said, “more and more we are seeing the working homeless.”

These are people who have jobs, but still have no place to live. The Rescue Mission does what it can to get them into housing, but the need is far greater than it used to be -- and for many, the ability to give is less.

Incidentally, there are some who think of the mission as just a soup kitchen, possibly because of their mass appeals for help with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless. A soup kitchen was pretty much what it the mission was when it was founded a century ago. Founder David Stucky kept people alive with food from his own pantry during the worst of the Great Depression.

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Science
10:07 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Race & Happiness

(flickr kk+)

A new Michigan State University study finds Black Americans who identify strongly with their racial identity tend to be happier. MSU researchers talked with African-Americans living in Michigan.  

Researcher Stevie Yap says they found people who said that ‘being black’ was an important part of their life and gave them a sense of ‘belongingness” to a wider community.  

"We did also find the sense of belongingness…the degree to which that is a mechanism…in racial identity to happiness…that is especially the case for women.”

The MSU study appears in the current issue of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Medicine
10:00 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Ingham Regional Medical Center starts layoffs this week

Ingham Regional Medical Center in Lansing will start laying off about 7 percent of it’s workforce this week.

Interim hospital CEO Patrick Salow says a 10 percent decline in patient numbers over the past year is forcing the staffing cuts. He says the layoffs will affect the hospital’s nursing staff, but the layoffs will also affect other divisions like the finance department.

“If we’ve got fewer patients, so there’s fewer bills to send out, do we need as many people to process bills for example."

The total layoff will be between 100 and 150 hospital employees.

State Legislature
6:45 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Senate ready to vote on Emergency Financial Manager bills

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

The state Senate is expected to vote this week on a proposal to give emergency financial managers more control when they take over the budgets of cities, townships or school districts.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says the purpose of the proposal is to help communities that are in financial trouble fix their problems before they have to be taken over by an emergency financial manager.

He says it sets warning signs so problems can be dealt with earlier. But he says if emergency managers do step in, they need to have total control of the situation.

“The emergency manager would be able to make some very difficult decisions, and we know that we have to have somebody with the power to do that under extreme situations."

Unions oppose the proposal because it would allow managers to throw out contracts.

Governor Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to approve the increased power for emergency financial managers during his State of the State speech.

Education
3:27 pm
Sun March 6, 2011

FREEP questions test score improvements

COCOEN daily photos flickr

A newspaper analysis shows standardized test score gains from 34 Michigan schools over a one-year period are statistically improbable.

The Detroit Free Press joined a nationwide investigation with USA Today and other partners. The analysis of millions of test score results found 304 schools in six states and the District of Columbia had test scores so improbable they should be investigated.

The analysis that was specific to Michigan scores found that in 2008 to 2009, 34 schools, including 32 in the Detroit area, had test score deviations that statistical experts say are virtually impossible to explain through improved instruction alone.

Environment
10:42 am
Sun March 6, 2011

Legal battle between Saugatuck Twp and private developer in front of federal judge Monday

Joe Gratz Flickr

Monday a federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments in a case that pits Saugatuck Township against a billionaire looking to develop his property that includes coastal dunes along Lake Michigan.

Aubrey McClendon owns more than 300 acres north of where the Kalamazoo River empties into Lake Michigan. He wants to build a marina, condos, houses, and a golf course there.

Township officials have to approve special zoning for him to develop his property. McClendon’s attorney Jim Bruinsma says the officials are biased against his client.

“We contend that we have been unfairly singled out for unique zoning restrictions and really unfair procedures.”

Bruinsma alleges the township worked illegally with an environmental group to restrict development and fund the township’s legal defense.

Saugatuck Township officials deny they’ve done anything illegal. They’re attorney Craig Noland is asking the judge to dismiss the case, forcing McClendon to go through normal zoning procedures. 

“Our position is that they should be required like any other citizen to file an application and allow the township to consider the application and make a decision.”

Noland says Saugatuck Township’s attorney township officials are prepared to handle McClendon’s zoning request fairly and transparently.

Offbeat
2:24 pm
Sat March 5, 2011

Underwater crucifix memorial

Little Traverse Bay
Flickr user Bkonrad

A yearly display of a sunken crucifix in Lake Michigan is scheduled to take place in Petoskey on Saturday.

The monument to people who have died in water-related accidents is submerged 21 feet down in Little Traverse Bay. The cross is 11 feet long and the figure of Jesus measures 5 feet, 5 inches.

It was put in place in 1962 and moved to its current location in 1984. A once-a-year winter viewing is held when the ice is firm enough.

Visitors can park Saturday at Sunset Park, then walk to where a large hole has been cut in the ice. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Coordinators say the showing will be canceled if the ice becomes unstable, but conditions look favorable.

On the city's website it says organizers believe it's, "the only freshwater shrine in the world dedicated to divers."

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State Law
1:03 pm
Sat March 5, 2011

Class helps ticketed drivers avoid points

Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Let’s say you get busted for speeding, disobeying a stop sign, or failing to yield. You still have to deal with the ticket by contesting it or paying up. But if you’re eligible you’re going to get a letter in the mail from the state. It’ll tell you about a class you can take online or in a classroom.

The new driver improvement course is a refresher on traffic safety.

Drivers who pass the class within sixty days can avoid getting points put on their records and that helps keep insurance rates low.

The program started in January and more than 1,000 drivers have taken the course so far.

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Economy
4:24 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Are Mexican truck drivers coming to Michigan?

A tractor trailer with the U.S. and Mexican flags
(Flickr-Chazz Layne)

Mexican truck drivers may soon start turning up on Michigan roads. U.S. truck drivers are not happy about it.

The Obama administration announced a deal Thursday that will allow Mexican truck drivers to ply their trade on US roads. The deal ended a nearly 20 year ban. Under the deal, Mexican drivers and their trucks will have to meet US safety and other standards.

Union and independent truck drivers don’t like the deal. Leo Wilkins is an independent trucker from the Saginaw area. He says allowing Mexican truckers on US roads will cost American jobs.

 “It would be a benefit to them, but it’s not helping our labor force any.  It’s just destroying more of our labor force that’s already been destroyed."

The US Chamber of Commerce applauds lifting the ban on Mexican truckers. Mexico imposed high tariffs on more than 2 billion dollars worth of US products annually, in retaliation for the ban, which Mexican officials claim violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Arts/Culture
3:35 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

So-Called 'Ordinary' People: Michigan on the Page Part 2

User b talbot Flickr

Patricia Clark is an award-winning poet, and the former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids. When I asked her to participate in our web-exclusive “Michigan on the Page” series, Ms. Clark chose a certain author’s first story collection, a writer who—like many recent college graduates—has made her way out of the state to advance her career.

Ms. Clark first encountered Suzanne Rivecca at Grand Valley State University, where she was, Ms. Clark insists, the most talented student she has seen there.

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election 2012
1:46 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

First republican announces candidacy against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow

Hekman hopes to replace sitting U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the U.S. Capitol building in 2012.
Jonathon Colman Creative Commons

A former Kent County judge is the first republican to declare he’s running against U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election.

Randy Hekman has a number of titles. He’s pastor of Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, CEO of  research consulting firm Hekman Industries. He directed and helped start the Michigan Family Forum; a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy. He served in the Navy, is an attorney and sat on the bench in Kent County probate court for 15 years.

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Education
1:37 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Detroit schools get $231M loan from state to help pay employees, vendors

DPS gets $231 million short term loan from state
User thinkpanama Flickr

The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan's most staggering provisions: 60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools.

The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with regional ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

Sports
1:33 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Michigan high school player dies after winning shot

User shockmotion Flickr

The Associated Press and USAToday are reporting that a 16 year old Fennville student died last night after making a game-making layup. From the AP:

The Fennville Schools superintendent says the basketball player who died last night after making a game-winning shot was "the quintessential all-American kid."

It's still not clear what caused the death of 16-year-old Wes Leonard, who collapsed on the court after making a last-second layup in Fenville's 57-55 win over Bridgman. The victory capped Fenville's undefeated season.

Leonard fell to the ground after teammates and fans rushed the court. Rescuers performed CPR, but he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

The junior was also the quarterback of the school's football team.

Grief counselors are on hand at the school today.

Health
1:28 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

MSU professors mapping 'urban food deserts'

Witherbees Market opened last year, bringing fresh produce to downtown Flint, Michigan for the first time in decades.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

‘Food deserts’ are a growing problem in Michigan cities. Two Michigan State University professors believe they have an idea that might help.

'Food deserts’ are created when local supermarkets close and there’s no place where people can walk to buy fruits, vegetables and other fresh food.

MSU professors Phil Howard and Kirk Goldsberry wanted to see how bad the problem is in Lansing. Goldsberry says he was surprised that large sections of the capitol city are ‘food deserts’. He says, in many cases, if you want fresh food, you must drive to Lansing’s suburbs.  

“The suburbanization of groceries has placed our best markets in commercially zoned in non-residential, automobile oriented areas.  Essentially geographically separating our best produce sections from our most densely populated neighborhoods.”  

The MSU professors have created an interactive map showing Lansing’s ‘urban food deserts’. They hope to create similar ‘food desert’ maps for Flint, Grand Rapids and other US cities.

Goldsberry says communities need to encourage more urban gardens and farmers markets to fill the gap in urban ‘food deserts’.

On the Radio
12:36 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

In case you missed it...

User cccpstorm Flickr

It's Friday. Time to take a look at a few radio pieces worth a second listen... or a first listen if you missed them.

Tough Lives

This past week, we caught several stories about growing up or living in a tough environment.

Andre Dubus III: "Townie" - The Diane Rehm Show

Diane Rehm talked to Andre Dubus III, best-selling author, about his recent memoir Townie.

Hearing someone talk about their memoir doesn't always make for radio magic, but I sat and listened to the entire interview with Dubus as he talked about his journey - going from a scrawny kid, to muscled brawler, to successful author.

From the Diane Rehm Show website:

In the 1970s, life along Massachusetts' Merrimack River was harsh and unforgiving. Jobs were scarce, neighborhoods were rife with drugs and violence, and hopelessness and despair prevailed. To survive amid such hardship, "House of Sand and Fog" author Andre Dubus III, built himself up from a scared, scrawny victim to a muscled street fighter who could defend his family and channel his anger at his absent father. Later on, Dubus found redemption through writing. He healed old wounds and forged a new life as one of America's bestselling authors.

In the interview, Dubus III talks about his rough and tumble childhood, touching on the difficulties facing single parents as well as issues surrounding bullying and empowerment, including Dubus's own vigilante-esque behavior in the face of would-be intimidators in his neighborhood.

Dubus III is charming and down-to-earth about topics which, one imagines, are very personal, and somewhat difficult to talk about. Not to be missed.

 

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Commentary
11:12 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Primary Problem

If you haven’t been traumatized enough by this seemingly endless winter and the governor’s budget proposals, I’ve got something that may really give you nightmares.

It’s presidential election time again. Now, you may be saying wait a minute. Wasn’t the last congressional election only four months ago? Well, yes. But the presidential election is next year, and the candidates are already out campaigning, though none of them are calling it that. I am aware that people who don’t know each other yet will meet, fall in love, and have babies before we finally get around to voting a year from November.

But presidents have a far longer gestation period. And one sure sign that the election season is on is that the leaders of our two great political parties are once again attempting to screw up the Michigan primary.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this, and last time, the Democrats managed to make themselves the laughingstock of the nation, by holding a primary that was both ruled illegal and invalid and which did not have a guy named Barack Obama on the ballot. 

Early indications are that they’ve learned nothing from their mistakes. Here’s the problem. For many years, the election calendar has worked like this. Iowa goes first, with a set of caucuses which pick that state’s delegates in January. Then, New Hampshire follows with the nation’s first primary election.

Then a couple other small states follow in February, and after that, the other states can do whatever they want. This is a good system, because it allows candidates without much money to be seen and tested in small states where you don’t need millions.

Iowa and New Hampshire are also now swing states that switch sides frequently in November. But Michigan party leaders are jealous. They want to go first. Last time they broke party rules and held a January primary which was a farce.

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Investigative
10:05 am
Fri March 4, 2011

State income tax on pensions

Seniors drawing pensions could be taxed under Governor Snyder's new tax proposal.
Flickr

When he presented his budget to the legislature, Governor Snyder explained part of the shared sacrifice would be taxing public and private pensions.  There is no state income tax on pensions right now.  The Governor noted, retirees still use government services.  He also said there are some retirees who are still working, paying the current 4.35% in state income taxes.  He said taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to people of retirement age who are still working.

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