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3:06 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

State of Michigan on unpaid taxes... "All excuses welcome"

A caterpillar ate all of his tax forms and disappeared into the night. What's your excuse?
screen grab from TV commercial

People and businesses that owe back taxes to the state of Michigan have until June 30th to pay up without paying fines and penalties.

There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people and businesses that owe the state unpaid taxes.

The state hopes to net $90 million dollars from the tax amnesty program. 

State Treasurer Andy Dillon says if you owe, now is a good time to pay:

"It doesn’t matter why you didn't pay your taxes – the penalties can be forgiven. And the penalties can be quite stiff. It depends on the tax that you’re talking about, but it can be as much as 25% of the liability that can be forgiven, and the sooner you pay it off, the sooner you stop paying interest on that obligation."

This is the third time since the 1980s the state’s offered amnesty to people and businesses with unpaid back taxes.

The program requires payment of all back taxes plus interest.

The amnesty program was approved by the Legislature last year to find some new revenue to help balance the budget.

The Michigan Tax Amnesty website declares "all excuses welcome."

Here's the program's TV spot:

Environment
2:06 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court upends major environmental ruling

The case involved a potential discharge into the AuSable River. The Michigan Supreme Court has limited the ability to sue the state over environmental permits.
wikimedia commons

It's a case that has turned into a political football for the conservative and liberal incarnations of the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order released today, the Michigan Supreme Court's conservative majority reversed a major decision that allowed Michigan citizens to sue the state over pollution concerns.

From the Associated Press:

The case involved the discharge of partially contaminated water to a popular trout stream. In December, the court's liberal majority used the case to give more rights to people to challenge
state regulators over certain environmental permits.

At issue is whether people have the right to sue the state over pollution concerns when the state issues things like pollution discharge permits.

The case that was argued involved the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Merit Energy, and the Anglers of the AuSable.

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Auto/Economy
1:39 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Third high-tech battery plant opening in West Michigan

The new LG Chem plant will be making batteries for the Chevy Volt in Holland, Michigan
redgoober4life flickr

Another advanced battery manufacturing plant is getting ready to open in West Michigan.

LG Chem will be opening in Holland later this year. It’s hosting a job fair today to fill 100 open positions with the company.

Two other advanced battery makers have also recently set up shop in West Michigan.

Jeremy Hagemeyer is with LG Chem.

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Environment
12:15 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Salmon fishery on the rocks

The Chinook salmon was initially introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1870s. Michigan, New York and Wisconsin reintroduced the Chinook salmon to the Great Lakes in 1966.
Photo courtesy of USFWS

There’s a decision looming for Lake Huron that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The state must decide whether it should keep putting chinook salmon in the lake. The fish has been the driving force behind sport fishing in the Great Lakes. But the salmon’s future in the Upper Lakes is now questionable.

It’s hard to overstate how drastically salmon transformed the Great Lakes after they were introduced more than 40 years ago.

Ed Retherford is a charter boat captain on Lake Huron. He says in the old days on a weekend in Rockport he’d see cars with boat trailers backed up for a mile or two waiting to launch. But that’s all gone now.

“You’d be lucky, except maybe for the brown trout festival, you’d be lucky to see twenty boats there on a weekend. It just decimated that area. You can imagine the economics involved.”

Chinook or king salmon practically disappeared from Lake Huron about seven years ago. Most of the charter boats are gone now because the kinds of fish that remain are just not as exciting to catch as salmon.

State officials figure little towns like Rockport lose upwards of a million dollars in tourism business every year without the fishery.

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Commentary
12:11 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Decency in Discourse

For some years, I have argued in favor of what has become the ultimate heresy in today’s political world. I think those of us who can afford it should pay more taxes.

No, not so people who are too lazy to work can sit on the couch and watch The Price is Right. Nor am I intent on subsidizing the birth of large numbers of out-of-wedlock children to non-working families, though I’ve been accused of that in less gentle terms.

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Auto/Economy
11:58 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Electric cars score big in safety tests

A Chevy Volt being crash tested. The big batteries in the car make them safter according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf top ratings for safety in crash tests.  The results could ease any lingering concerns people might have about the safety of electric cars.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says the results show that customers don't have to trade safety for environmentally friendly electric cars.  And the heavy batteries in the cars actually make them safer.

"We can have environmentally friendly, green vehicles and not give up the safety advances that we've made in the bargain… Even though they are small cars in their dimensions, they are considerably heavier than other small cars weighing as much as some midsize or even large cars.  And that is a safety advantage."

Car companies say the huge batteries inside electric cars shut down in the event of a crash to greatly reduce the risk of an electrical fire.

Both the Leaf and the Volt cost more than most similar sized small cars. But Rader says as the price of gas goes up, and the cost of producing the cars goes down, electric cars will become more economical.

Auto/Economy
11:34 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Ford makes out big in the first quarter

In the first three months of the year, Ford made $2.5 billion.
Marcus Wong Flickr

Ford Motor Company announced a profit of more than $2.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

That's the company's best quarterly performance since 1998.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally expects the rest of 2011 to be profitable as well - despite some headwinds like low U.S. consumer confidence and rising commodity and gas prices:

"Even though it's a slower recovery and the fuel prices are moving up, the demand is there and we are really pleased to have the product line that the consumers really do want and value."

Mulally says he's  optimistic that car sales will continue improving:

"In the automobile industry, the pentup demand is tremendous, you know the average age of car ownership is over ten years now."

Mulally says Ford also improved its balance sheet by reducing its debt by another $2.5 billion in the first quarter.

Ford took out a huge loan in 2006 before the recession.  That loan enabled the company to improve its cars during the economic downturn and avoid bankruptcy.

Since last year, the company has paid off $17 billion of debt.

Rememberance
10:59 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Live coverage of Officer Zapata's Memorial Service

From WKZO.com:

The memorial service for Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officer Eric Zapata will be held beginning at 11am this morning at Miller Auditorium.  If you can't make the memorial service it will be carried LIVE below:

 

Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

West Michigan
10:45 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Del Shannon's "Runaway" tops charts 50 years ago this week

Del Shannon performing on the TV show "The Golden Age of Rock And Roll."
screen grab from YouTube

Fifty years ago this week, "Runaway" by Del Shannon was the Number One song in the U.S.

It was the first rock 'n' roll song by a West Michigan-born artist to hit the top.

He was born in Grand Rapids, and grew up in nearby Coopersville.

Aside from his own hits, Del Shannon wrote Peter & Gordon's hit "I Go To Pieces", and he produced a 1964 recording by a young Michigan musician named Bob Seger, among other achievements.

Bonnie Raitt recorded her own version of "Runaway' in the 1970s.

Tragically, Del Shannon took his own life in 1990. He was inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Earlier this year, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the song's recording, John Sinkevics of The Grand Rapids Press wrote about Shannon and his no. 1 song:

Few could have guessed at the time that this pop single would propel the Coopersville native — born in Grand Rapids as Charles Westover — to national super-stardom or that it eventually would be regarded as a milestone in rock history.

 

Here is a link to Del Shannon on a show called "The Golden Age of Rock And Roll". The song recording is from 1961, but the TV show is from 1965... as evidenced by the groovy dancers:

Politics
9:26 am
Tue April 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

State seeks concessions from unionized corrections workers

In these austere times, governments large and small are seeking to save money by getting union workers to reduce the benefits and/or wages.

The State of Michigan is seeking $95 million in concessions from those unionized employees who work in state prisons.

From the Associated Press:

The amount requested from the Michigan Corrections Organization represents more than half of the $180 million in concessions Gov. Rick Snyder wants from state employees in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, The Lansing State Journal reported Monday.

The union's members make up about 16 percent of the state's work force, but are being asked to make 53 percent of concessions. Michigan Corrections Organization executive director Mel Grieshaber criticized the state's actions.

"We are in sticker shock right now," he told the newspaper. "It's not fair. Our membership is angry about it. . . . It's very offensive. You won't find a more dangerous job in state government."

Kurt Weiss, A spokesman for the Office of the State Employer, the agency that oversees all collective bargaining negotiations for the state, said the Department of Corrections is the "only major state department in which employees are solely funded by the general fund," and Governor Snyder is trying to close a $1.4 billion dollar budget gap in the general fund.

Ford Motor Company has a solid first quarter

Ford announced is best first quarter earnings since 1998. According to the Detroit News, the first quarter earnings were...

$2.6 billion, or 61 cents per share.

The results, an increase of $466 million over the first quarter of 2010, far exceeded analysts' expectations of about 50 cents per share.

Operating profit of $2.8 billion was the strongest for a first-quarter since 2004 and $2.1 billion of that was from automotive operations as consumers continue to embrace the automaker's vehicles, which include new and fuel efficient models. Total revenue was $33.1 billion, up $5 billion from the same period in 2010.

"Our team delivered a great quarter, with solid growth and improvements in all regions," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said.

And unlike the gas price spike in 2008, Ford Motor Company and the other domestic automakers are much more prepared for the current price spike with more choices for smaller, fuel efficient cars... 

Michigan's average gas price above $4 per gallon

It hasn't happened since 2008. That was the year gas prices shot up and consumers started looking for smaller cars. AAA Michigan says the statewide average for gasoline is $4.04.

From the Associated Press:

The auto club says Tuesday that prices for self-serve unleaded fuel rose 6 cents per gallon since Monday to a statewide average of $4.04. That's $1.20 per gallon higher than last year at this time. AAA Michigan says the last time the average hit $4 was Sept. 19, 2008, when it was $4.03 per gallon.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily. It typically releases its gas prices report each Monday. But the auto club says it decided to put out a special edition of its gas prices report Tuesday because the average topped $4 a gallon.

May 3rd Election
1:15 am
Tue April 26, 2011

Lansing voters have a choice: Higher taxes or deeper cuts in public safety

Millage increase opponents stand outside Lansing city hall
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing voters face a difficult choice in next week’s election.   Increase their city taxes or possibly see deep cuts in public safety.  

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Politics
6:47 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Muslim, Civil rights groups condemn Jones trial

Some Muslim and civil rights groups say Dearborn and Wayne County officials sent a bad message by prosecuting a controversial Florida pastor.

Terry Jones wanted to protest what he sees as encroaching “Sharia law” outside Dearborn’s Mosque of America last week.  But his plans were scuttled Friday, after a Wayne County jury found that his protest would “breach the peace.”

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Education
6:01 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Snyder calls for lifting school rules

Governor Rick Snyder offered some hints as to what his soon-to-be unveiled education reform plan will look like.

The governor addressed an education conference in East Lansing today.

Governor Snyder says student test scores are both “startling and scary,” and that Michigan is falling behind the country and the world in preparing young people for life after school:

“We need to do better and that’s something we need to focus on and we will,” said Snyder.

The governor says he wants to relax school regulations s to give teachers and principals more freedom and responsibility over educational decisions. And then he says the state will measure what happens:

“We need to put much more focus on proficiency, on growth, on measurements and results than we have had in the past," he said. "It’s about really delivering results for these kids. The whole system has to be geared to say, 'how do we make sure each and every child in our system gets a good year’s education each and every year?' Think about all the great talent, all the great resources that we have in our system, yet we’re not achieving the results that we have to achieve."

The governor also says he wants to do more to keep gifted teachers in classrooms instead of promoting them into administrative positions.

The governor says he envisions an education system that starts with pre-school and continues past college.

The governor will roll out his education reform agenda on Wednesday in Detroit.

Education
5:38 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Democrats: Don’t tap School Aid Fund to balance budget

The budget deficit might not be as bad as forecasted, Democrats say the Legislature can use the good news to better fund schools.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

It appears Michigan may be in for a revenue windfall of about $500 million dollars more than  it was expected to take  in this year.

The state Senate Democratic leader says Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature should use that money to avert cuts to schools.

The state Senate Democratic leader is calling for protections in the Michigan Constitution against using the School Aid Fund for any purpose other than K-through-12 education.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says she’s looking for any way she can to avert school aid cuts as high as $470 per student.

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Politics
5:18 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Snyder pushes back on stem cell rules in budget bills

Human embryonic stem cells
Nissim Benvenisty wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder says he is opposed to provisions in Republican budget plans that would restrict how money is spent on embryonic stem cell research at public universities.

Republican lawmakers are renewing efforts to enact additional rules surrounding the voter-approved amendment that allows public funds to be used for the research.

Voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in 2008.

Since then, Democrats have blocked efforts by opponents of embryonic stem cell research to demand reports or enact additional restrictions on  it, but now Republicans are in charge in the Legislature.

Governor Snyder is a Republican who supports the voter-approved amendment and stem cell research.

The governor says he wishes Republican lawmakers would leave stem cell research out of the debates on university spending:

"I think we need to focus on higher education, not stem cells. We passed a constitutional amendment on that topic some time ago and we need to follow through on what our voters said."

The governor has the authority to veto budget line items.

The governor and the Legislature are continuing to negotiate on the budget with the goal of having it wrapped up by June first.

Arts/Culture
4:26 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

"Like a massive oil tanker listing into jagged rock": Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson

courtesy of the artist

They're not calling it Honk Core... yet.

Saxophonist Colin Stetson, originally from Ann Arbor, has worked with Tom Waits, David Byrne, Sinead O'Connor, Arcade Fire, and TV on the Radio.

And sometimes he plays on a really, really, really big saxophone.

Stetson's bass saxophone, pictured above (and featured in the video below) is an impressive instrument.

And the sound, which NPR describes as "a massive oil tanker listing into jagged rock," is remarkable.

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Politics
3:35 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Senator Caswell makes changes to controversial thrift store policy

State Senator Bruce Caswell
facebook

A story by Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller about foster care expenditures went viral over the weekend, thanks to a post on Gawker. Gawker, it seems, caught wind of the story after the Michigan Messenger posted it.

The story deals with money that the state allocates to families to buy clothes for foster children.  

State Senator Bruce Caswell wanted to require foster families to purchase clothes at thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

From the original article:

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

The story originally aired on Friday, April 15. Since that time, we have received more than 270 comments - most people expressing their outrage over Caswell's proposal.

We received this comment from Sonja S. who says she was in foster care from ages 11-17:

Unfortunately, by demanding the money be spent in thrift stores, Mr. Caswell is doing emotional harm to the children. It doesn't matter what his motives are, the fact is that they're ill thought-out.

Senator Caswell said he received a lot calls after the story aired from people asking him to change his proposal.

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Economy
1:55 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

MSU: Workplace deaths increased in 2010

(MIOSHA)

The number of people who died on the job in Michigan increased in 2010.  Michigan State University researchers track workplace deaths.   Researcher Ken Rosenman says agriculture recorded the most on-the-job fatalities last year.  He says workplace homicides also more than doubled in 2010. 

In all, 123 people died in the workplace in Michigan last year. 

Rosenman insists most, if not all, job deaths could have been prevented.  

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Sports
1:49 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Ohio State Football: NCAA violations could be severe

The NCAA alleges that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is guilty of ethical misconduct.
user WDPGShare Flickr

The NCAA sent Ohio State University's president a letter citing the "notice of allegations" against the school's football program.

In the letter to Ohio State, NCAA officials say, "Your institution should understand that all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary."

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Politics
11:49 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Michigan's Legislative Black Caucus say they'll challenge the emergency manager law

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus will hold a press conference today at noon with the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Benton Harbor.

Also in attendance will be Congressman John Conyers and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Joe Harris, the city's state-appointed emergency manager, recently stripped power from local officials in Benton Harbor under the state's new emergency manager law.

The group says they will work to uphold voting rights as they plan to challenge the legality of the Emergency Manager law.

Fred Durhal, the chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said they "oppose this Draconian legislation.":

"Our coalition is prepared to ask the Justice Department to review this legislation and we will fight litigation to challenge its constitutionality," said Durhal.

Reverend Jesse Jackson is quoted in the media advisory saying, "the wind from Benton Harbor is blowing toward Detroit. This legislation usurps democracy by taking away voters rights in Michigan. Our constitution protects democracy, this inalienable right is non-negotiable."

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