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State Legislature
7:16 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Education funding deal tied to Senate vote?

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flicker

It appears a deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate in order for Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul to be voted on yesterday by Democratic state Senators. Chris Christoff, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Detroit Free Press, reports:

A quiet deal from Senate Republicans to give public schools an extra $150 million next year helped smooth the way Thursday for the 20-19 Senate vote to cut business taxes by $1.7 billion, tax pensions and do away with many tax exemptions.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, confirmed the GOP's offer. It came in exchange for all Democrats going on the record with their votes. If any had not voted, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley couldn't have voted to break a 19-19 tie. A 19-19 tie (the Senate has 38 members) is the only circumstance under which a lieutenant governor can vote…

The deal would lessen a Senate-approved cut to K-12 schools from $225 per pupil less than this year, to $75 per pupil less than this year.

In a piece yesterday on Mlive.com, Peter Luke also mentions a deal:

Preserving the 19-19 vote that allowed Calley to break the tie required all 12 Democrats to vote "no." If one had declined to vote, there's no tie and the measure would have failed.

Democrats agreed to all vote in exchange for a promise that a good chunk of the extra tax revenue anticipated for FY 2012 will mitigate cuts in K-12 education.

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Environment
7:07 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Enbridge: Replacing 75 miles of Ind., Mich. pipe

Enbridge Inc. says it will spend $286 million to replace 75 miles of pipeline in Indiana and Michigan after a 2010 break that spilled at least 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River system.

The Houston-based company said Thursday the work is planned next year on the pipeline, which runs from Griffin, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

The company says it's already replaced 14 segments covering 1.7 miles in southeastern Michigan and has installed a new line under the St. Clair River.

The new work includes five miles of pipeline downstream from each of two pump stations in Indiana and three in Michigan, as well as 50 miles of pipeline downstream from the Stockbridge station and terminal, about 55 miles west of Detroit.

Politics
6:48 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Snyder tax overhaul victory caps months of negotiations

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Michigan Municipal League Flicrk

Governor Rick Snyder had to compromise along the way-- but approval of his tax reform package hands the governor a significant legislative victory. And, signing the bill will allow the governor to retire the signature issue of his election campaign.

Governor Snyder campaigned heavily on scrapping the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax and replacing it with a corporate profits tax. He took office saying fulfilling that promise would be part of an agenda of “relentless positive action.”

“So I believe we’re on a positive path to make that happen. It’s that old ‘relentless positive action.’ I think it’s a little bit contagious and I hope it is.”

His legislative win caps months of negotiations that often placed him at odds with Republicans who opposed extending the state income tax to pensions. He scaled back his original propose, and also relented on ending the earned income tax credit for working poor families. The governor says he’s still happy with the result and predicts it will help spur job creation.

But not enough to convince many Democrats, who intend to make this tax package an issue in legislative elections next year.

Politics
5:21 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Tax overhaul passes Michigan Senate

The Michigan Senate passed a tax overhaul plan today that rolls back taxes on Michigan businesses by about $2 billion. The Michigan House is expected to quickly concur with the Senate action and send the measure to Governor Snyder for his signature.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Update 5:21 p.m.

Republicans eked out a legislative victory today as Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul package cleared the state Senate.

It fell to Snyder’s lieutenant governor to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley delivered a short speech before he cast the vote to break the deadlock on the tax reform package he had a hand in designing.

Calley predicted some lawmakers will pay a price for supporting the administration's tax reforms.

"Because real change comes with real consequence," said Calley. "Real change will come with drama."

Seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the package, largely because the measure will end the tax exemption on pension income for anyone born after 1946.

Democrats say it will shift the burden of paying for government services to families and the elderly.

State Senator Steve Bieda was one of the Democrats who voted against the measure.

"It’s shifting the tax to those who are least able to pay in our society," said Bieda. "We are talking about the elderly, people who are living on pensions are going to see a huge increase. I think it’s unjust, unwise, and it’s certainly very unfair."

Bieda tried to delay the vote until next week when the state adopts new revenue numbers. It’s expected there will be a windfall of more revenue than was anticipated at the beginning of the year.

The package eliminates the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for people on pensions.

Overall, the package rolls back taxes on businesses by nearly $2 billion. Most of the businesses that would benefit are small and medium-sized corporations.

Republicans say the result will also be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says there are some hard choices in the package, but they combine to make Michigan more business-friendly.

"So we put the good, the bad, the ugly altogether in one package and said, we believe the greater good is worthy of some of the not-so-good or ugly, so to speak."

The Senate bill restores the earned income tax credit for working poor families, but at a reduced rate.

The House is expected to quickly concur with the Senate action and send the measure to Governor Snyder for his signature.

3:55 p.m.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has cast the tie-breaking vote to win Senate approval of Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul plan.

The package scraps the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It will be a net tax cut on many small and mid-sized businesses.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for pensions.

Republicans say the result will be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow and more business-friendly.

Politics
4:53 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Warren mayor declines to reveal age

Was Warren Mayor Jim Fouts born in 1942 or 1944? There are discrepancies in public records, and Fouts won't say which one is correct.
City of Warren

The mayor of Michigan’s third-largest city is refusing to reveal his age, saying he fears ageism could play a role in his reelection bid. But that may not be the whole story. 

Jim Fouts served on the Warren City Council for 26 years and was elected mayor in 2007.

But his age is a bit of a mystery.

Michigan Department of Education records show Fouts was born in 1942. His driver's license shows 1944 -- and that's the date he entered on official documents when he ran for public office.

Attorney Arthur Garton says Fouts may have broken the law.

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Education
4:39 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Mosaic Youth Theatre recreates 1966 student walkout in Detroit

"Northern Lights 1966" looks at the student-led walkout that took place in Detroit 45 years ago.
user hotblack morguefile

The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit will perform a play this weekend to commemorate the anniversary of a student walkout at Detroit Public Schools.

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Politics
4:30 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Mitt Romney calls for repeal of federal health care law

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney speaking at the University of Michigan.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

UPDATE 6:10pm  

The invitation-only crowd at Mitt Romney’s health care speech in Ann Arbor  Thursday generally liked what they heard.    The Republican presidential contender wants to repeal the federal health care law.  

 Romney painstakingly tried to draw a sharp contrast between the plan he put in place as governor of Massachusetts and the similar plan that President Obama helped create on the national level. 

Medical student Johannes Pulst-Korenberg thought Romney made some interesting points, but failed to make his case against the federal health care law. 

 “I wasn’t really convinced with how he characterized ‘Obama-care’ as a government takeover of Medicare….I don’t think it’s a government takeover of health care.”

But others in the audience liked what they heard.     Romney’s call for repealing the federal health care law replacing it with state-plans made sense to them.   Stan Watson is a member of the Washtenaw County Republican Party.  

 “I think it’s something that he had to stand up and address.  Because, as he said, it became a liability.  I think he’s bringing it back to an asset talking about health care.”  

Romney’s critics say he should apologize for creating a health care system in Massachusetts that became a template for the national health care law.

Romney told the audience in Ann Arbor on Thursday,  he will not apologize for a state system he says is working.  

 

ORIGINAL POST:   Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney says the Obama administration distrusts the free enterprise system, and the nation’s new health care law is an example of that distrust.

Romney spoke to an invitation-only audience at the University of Michigan this afternoon.

The former Massachusetts governor outlined his plan to repeal the health care law, and replace it with incentives for states to come up with their own solutions to the problem of people who are uninsured.

"Our plan was a state solution to a state problem," Romney said. "And his is a power grab by the federal government to put in place a 'one-size-fits-all' plan across the nation."

Romney said the Obama administration's health care plan is flawed.

"They fundamentally distrust free enterprise and distrust the idea that states are where the power of government resides," said Romney.

Romney said he will not apologize for the health care plan he put in place in Massachusetts, even though it might help him politically.

Romney’s biggest obstacle to winning the Republican presidential nomination is probably the health care issue.

He championed a health care plan in Massachusetts that served as a basis for the federal health care law.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized today that unless Romney can explain why his plans for health care reform are different from the president's, then he might make a better running mate for Obama in 2012 than the GOP presidential nominee.

Environment
4:22 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Environmental groups take state to court for allowing Holland coal plant expansion

The DeYoung power plant sits on the shore of Lake Macatawa in the City of Holland.
Holland Board of Public Works.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

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Politics
4:20 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Detroit missing out on tens of millions in unpaid income taxes

About a third of the income taxes workers owe to Detroit are going unpaid, according to Mayor Dave Bing’s finance director.

Tom Lijana told the Detroit City Council today the city will take in about $226 million in income taxes this year. But he says another $110 million is going unpaid.

"That’s a critical hole in our tax system today," Lijana told council members.

He says the city will push for legislation to allow it to garnish tax returns for people who owe back income taxes:

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Politics
4:10 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Detroit mayor reject's Bloomberg's immigrant idea

From left: Macomb Co. Executive Mark Hackel, Wayne Co. Executive Bob Ficano, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and Oakland Co. Executive L. Brooks Patterson
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing today flatly rejected the idea put forward by New York’s mayor that immigrants could be the key to reversing Detroit’s population loss.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the suggestion during an appearance on “Meet the Press” earlier this month, saying the U.S. became a superpower because of its immigrant population. But Bing ridiculed the idea during an event with the “Big Four” metro Detroit political leaders.

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Education
2:18 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Graduation at Michigan college postponed by norovirus outbreak

Norovirus
starnewsonline.com

Norovirus is the buzz killer that can bring a cruise ship home.

And now, it looks like the little bug is postponing the fun at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, MI.

The university has postponed its graduation ceremony for one week while it tries to contain a norovirus outbreak. Instead of being held this Saturday, the commencement will be held Saturday, May 21.

The university says more than 170 students are reporting an illness.

University officials are working to contain the outbreak and are consulting with the Jackson County Health Department and the State Health Department.

From Spring Arbor University:

All non-academic related activities have been cancelled from Wednesday, May 11, through Sunday, May 15, 2011. These activities include alumni events, National Christian College Athletic Association baseball regional tournament, and other public-related events. The fitness room, pool and other facilities are closed to the public through Sunday, May 15.

“These decisions are preventative and consistent with the medical advice received. Of utmost concern for all of us is the safety and health of our campus community and the families and friends planning on participating in the various academic year-end activities. Spring Arbor University has a responsibility of doing what is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus,” says University President Charles Webb.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people become infected with the virus by:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus,
  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth, and
  • Having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).

Food and drinks can easily become contaminated with norovirus because the virus is very small and because it takes a very small amount (fewer than 100 norovirus particles) to make a person sick. Although the virus cannot multiply outside a human body, billions of norovirus particles are shed by infected people. These shed particles can cause illness if they get into food or water.

Politics
11:46 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Close vote expected on broad Michigan tax proposal

The Michigan Senate is voting on a bill that would overhaul Michigan's tax structure today.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Michigan could see some sweeping changes to its tax structure after today's vote.

Michigan's former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop sent out this Tweet:

"Here we go ... Senate in caucus now, but will soon emerge to vote on Gov's tax proposal. If it passes, I expect it will be by a vote or 2."

From the Associated Press:

The Republican-led Michigan Senate is preparing for what likely will be a close vote on a proposal that would significantly shake up the state's tax structure.

The vote planned Thursday is on a proposal that would cut overall business taxes by about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year. The key would be replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax while eliminating many types of tax credits and exemptions.

Some exemptions on retiree income would end, which has drawn opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Some Republicans also will oppose the measure because it would delay scheduled rollbacks in Michigan's personal income tax rate, which is 4.35 percent.

A committee reported the bill to the Senate floor Thursday.

Crime
11:19 am
Thu May 12, 2011

U.S. Postal Service supervisors indicted for taking bribes

The five men were indicted for taking bribes in exchange for contracts to repair USPS vehicles.
Kevin Spencer Flickr

Five United States Postal Service supervisors were indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday in Detroit for conspiring to take bribes from  a private contractor in exchange for directing over $13 million in maintenance work on Postal Service vehicles.

From the United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Michigan:

The USPS maintains Vehicle Maintenance Facilities around the country, including in Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Akron, Ohio. The five Postal Service employees charged today worked at these facilities, and they had the responsibility to decide whether work on Postal vehicles would be performed by USPS employees or sent out to private contractors. They also had the responsibility to decide which private contractor would be used for work sent outside of the USPS.

Between 2004 and 2010, during the course of the conspiracies between the private contractor and the five USPS employees indicted today, the private contractor charged the USPS over $13 million for maintenance and repair work.

The bribes included things like tickets to sporting events, prostitution, drinks and lap dances at a strip club, Levitra (erectile dysfunction) pills, auto repair work, cars, and cash.

“U.S. government employees hold positions of public trust, and they are responsible for managing public funds," said United States Attorney Barbara McQuade. "Federal employees who personally profit by taking bribes in exchange for official acts will prosecuted.”

Environment
10:53 am
Thu May 12, 2011

A majority of Michigan's schools are in areas with high air pollution levels

A new University of Michigan study in the journal Health Affairs finds 62% of public schools in the state are located in places with high levels of air pollution from industries.

Paul Mohai is one of the study’s authors.

“Often schools are located in more polluted parts of their respective school districts.”

He says schools need a lot of land... and land is expensive but money is tight.

“There’s probably quite an economic pressure to put schools where land values are low, and those may be near highways or industrial facilities or that otherwise are polluted.”

Mohai says Michigan has no formal policy that requires school boards to consider the environmental quality of an area for a new school.

William Mayes is the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He says school boards do consider pollution when they’re finding new sites for schools.

“You know, intelligent people are thinking about this. The bottom line is you look at where your community is expanding, where your community is growing, and you seek the most economical and safe property you can to build a school.”

Mayes says people are drawn to where the jobs are, and that’s often near industries, and industries pollute.

Environment
10:41 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Farmers want to take land out of conservation to grow more corn

As part of the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers are paid to put in grassy strips to act as buffer zones along waterways. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Leaders in Michigan’s farm community are urging Senator Debbie Stabenow and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the rules for a land conservation program on farms. They say the current program could lead to higher food prices.

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Offbeat
10:33 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Copycat faucet-switching bandit strikes Michigan Radio

The scene at the station this morning. The original faucet had been modified.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Yesterday, we had a Batman in Petoskey.

Today, we have a faucet switcher in Flint.

As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. "

They're going pro in Flint.

This from the Flint Journal:

A man told police on Monday that someone mysteriously switched the faucet of his kitchen sink, according to a larceny report filed with Flint police.

The man told police he went into his kitchen at 9 p.m. Sunday and noticed a different faucet installed at the home on Colonial Drive near Fleming and West Carpenter Roads.

The man didn't know when or how the faucet was changed, but that it was a different one according to the report. The man told police he has insurance.

Staff here at Michigan Radio came to work this morning surprised to see that their faucet had been switched as well (see photo 1).

It now has one of those twisty-turny things screwed onto to the end.

Fortunately, we caught the copy-cat bandit red handed - Chief Engineer Bob Skon (see photo 2).

Skon said he was merely modifying the faucet so water would not flow onto the counter when people wash their hands.

Yea, right... save your story for the police.

Commentary
10:29 am
Thu May 12, 2011

What Should Be Private?

Robert Bobb, the tough, controversial Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, made an astonishing admission yesterday. He has been fighting a deadly form of cancer.

Thirteen months ago, he learned he had Stage Four tongue cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

His chances of surviving five years were put at less than fifty percent. Hearing such a diagnosis would be enough to emotionally destroy many people. Bobb toughed it out.

He clearly is an intensely private person. In fact, I had never  seen his age in print - he is sixty-six - or knew he was married until yesterday. People knew something was wrong with Bobb; he seemed to have lost weight, and at one point acknowledged he had been ill, but said he was feeling better. In fact, he was involved in an intensive course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bobb would show up at Henry Ford Hospital in the morning, checking in under a fake name, and get half an hour of intense treatment. Then he would go about the battles of the day, and sometimes endure abuse at school board meetings at night.

Remarkably, his secret held, until he decided to reveal it to the Detroit Free Press yesterday, adding, almost as an afterthought, “It was an hell of an ordeal, man.”

Why did he keep his condition from the public? His reasons make sense.

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News Roundup
8:45 am
Thu May 12, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 12th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Other

Romney in Michigan

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will deliver a speech about healthcare today at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. Steve Carmody reports:

The Republican presidential contender is expected to outline a path away from the nation’s recently enacted health care reform law… Romney has been extremely critical of the health care law enacted last year, even though it’s very similar to the law he enacted as governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s speech will address his proposal to replace the law.

Declining Profits at Toyota

Toyota announced yesterday that its fourth-quarter profit fell by 77%. Reasons for the decline include the strong yen versus the dollar that eroded Toyota’s profits overseas and the fact that the automaker’s global production plummeted after March’s earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Toyota says, “its North American production will rise to 70 percent of normal in June as the company begins to recover from parts shortages caused by the earthquake in Japan"

Lawmakers Continue Debate on Tax Reform

It appears Republican leaders in the state Senate are facing a difficult challenge in trying to win approval for Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul. Laura Weber reports:

The tax reform plan has been before a Senate committee this week, but there have been no votes on the measure. Republican Senators on the panel walked in and out of hearings, which may signal they weren’t ready for a vote.  The tax plan is controversial. It would eliminate the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a profits-tax on some corporations, reduce the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and tax some future pensioners. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he still hopes the Senate will vote on the package this week.

Politics
1:01 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Mitt Romney will call for repeal of "Obamacare" at U of M

Mitt Romney celebrating his victory in Michigan's Republican presidential primary in 2008.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be in Ann Arbor later today to talk about the nation’s health care system.  The Republican presidential contender is expected to outline a path away from the nation’s recently enacted health care reform law.  

Mitt Romney will outline his plan to change the nation’s health care system to an invitation only audience at the University of Michigan's Cardiovascular Center. 

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Economy
1:01 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Michigan's foreclosure process slows down

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan mortgage lenders are taking longer to foreclose on delinquent homeowners.  In 2007, the entire foreclosure process in Michigan took on average 78 days to complete.   This year, the average foreclosure is taking 235 days to complete.  The reason is a mixture of the economy and paperwork. 

According to Realty Trac, this is not just a Michigan issue:

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