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Snow
9:31 am
Tue February 1, 2011

Predicted snow storm brings new financial headache to Michigan cities

Forecasters say the snow is coming.  It’s expected to make travel hazardous on Michigan roads.

It’s also expected to cause another financial headache to many cash strapped Michigan cities and towns.

Anthony Minghine is the Associate Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal League.

"Budgets have become so incredibly tight that these events become more and more difficult to absorb.  And again, depending on the magnitude of the storm, if it’s as big as it says, it could be a two to three day event, and you know, getting everything cleared and back up to speed it will become very costly for folks." 

Minghine says money spent now on snow removal is money that won’t be spent on road repair and other projects this Spring.

Politics
8:43 am
Tue February 1, 2011

Snyder Report: a frank look at Michigan's finances? (audio)

The state spends more than it takes in.
Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health Michigan Governor's office

Governor Snyder says he wants you to understand the state's budget crisis. He's rolled out a guide to help you do that.

It's called the "Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health."

Michigan Radio's Morning Edition Host, Christina Shockley, spoke with Lester Graham this morning.

Graham heads up Michigan Watch, Michigan Radio's investigative unit.

Graham took a look at the Guide and gave us his first impressions. You can listen to the audio here:

News Roundup
8:15 am
Tue February 1, 2011

In this morning's news...

Big snow band headed our way.
National Weather Service

Gearing up for snow

People in the state are gearing up for the coming storm that's expected to dump around a foot of snow in the region in less than 24 hours. Survival instincts are kicking in as people flock to grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports some plow drivers are getting their sleep now in anticipation of staying up for the next couple of days. Andy Northey, the owner of R & A Lawn Maintenance and Landscaping in Plainwell, said:

"We're not going to be able to keep up with all the snow that’s expected," said Northey, whose company clears snow from residential and commercial properties from Allegan to Kalamazoo to Battle Creek. "Absolutely no way."

The Detroit News reports that Delta airlines is allowing people to change their flight plans without charging an extra fee:

Delta and other airlines encouraged passengers to change their travel dates. Anyone scheduled to fly this week can switch their flight to a time through Feb. 8 without incurring a fee, said Delta. The waiver involved Michigan and 19 other states expected to be hammered by the storm. The states range from Nebraska to Maine, and Wisconsin to Oklahoma.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the southern part of Michigan as the dense snow band travels across the state. The warning takes effect around 5 p.m. for the western part of the state and around 7 p.m. for the eastern half. The warning will last through much of the day tomorrow.

Snyder releases report on state's finances

Governor Rick Snyder released the "Citizen's Guide to Financial Health" yesterday around 3 p.m. The Governor said the report is "a plain-English, easy-to-understand look at Michigan's financial situation and the challenges ahead."

One of the more controversial parts of the report said that state employees are over-compensated compared to their private sector counterparts. Many state employees and union members are disputing the numbers in the report. The Detroit Free Press said that Snyder called the report a 'call to action':

"Here are the facts; let's solve the problem," he told 430 people who attended the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit in Lansing. "Now we can have an intelligent discussion about what we need to have to put the state on the road to success."

Snyder is expected to release his budget proposal for the state's next fiscal year on February 17th.

Red Cross looking for blood

Bad winter weather has hampered the Red Cross' blood supply. They've made pleas before, and now with a big storm bearing down on the Midwest, they're renewing those pleas. Monica Stoneking, communications manager for the American Red Cross, was quoted in today's Bay City Times:

"Those who live in the path of the storm are asked to schedule a donation time when it is safe to travel," Stoneking said. "All blood types are needed, but there is a special need for donors with O-Negative and B-Negative blood."

The Red Cross says 18,000 expected blood donations have gone uncollected over the last several weeks due to bad winter weather.

Auto/Economy
6:14 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

General Motors gets back into Superbowl advertising

General Motors is jumping back into advertising during the Superbowl.  GM will likely spend $15,000,000  on ads focusing on its Chevrolet brand.

Many car companies like Ford Motor Company are using social media and Internet-based advertising more and more.  But analyst Ed Kim of AutoPacific says Superbowl ads still generate a lot more buzz.

"Any automaker advertising during the Superbowl is certainly going to have a whole lot of exposure to a whole lot of people all across America," says Kim.

Kim says GM's current marketing czar, Joel Ewanick, used to work for Hyundai, so he has experience using the Superbowl to improve a car company's image and sales.   At the peak of the recession, Hyundai began a highly successful campaign which allowed people to return Hyundai cars if they lost their jobs.  Kim says Hyundai used the campaign to good effect in its Superbowl ads.

GM did not advertise during the Superbowl last year and the year before.  The automaker does plan a social media campaign in conjunction with the Superbowl.  GM will release its Superbowl ads early to its Facebook fans.

Kim says that will generate some extra buzz for GM.

The ads will focus on the Chevrolet brand.   Chevy generates about 70% of GM's sales in the U.S.

Auto/Economy
6:04 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Chrysler loses money in 2010 but gives performance bonuses anyway

Chrysler lost $650 million in 2010, primarily as a result of high interest payments on its government loans.

It's a far different result from the other automaker that received federal bailout loans, General Motors, which posted a healthy profit in 2010.  And GM paid back a significant portion of its loans from cash reserves and proceeds from its Initial Public Stock Offering.

But Chrysler is a much smaller company than GM, and its sales were still weak last year.  That means less revenue to lower the debt burden.   

Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marchionne says, "We’ve got more than a billion in interest costs a year, which are effectively chewing up the operating profits that we’ve got."

Marchionne  says he hopes to secure private loans to pay off the federal loans by the end of this year.

On the plus side, Chrysler has entered the new year with 16 new or significantly remodeled vehicles, just as U.S. auto sales are improving.

Despite not being able to turn a profit, Marchionne says the company met or exceeded all of its targets last year.  He says everyone pitched in to help Chrysler refresh its vehicle lineup in record time, and implement a new cost-saving manufacturing system. 

"I think it would been absolutely inexcusable on our part not to recognize what our people have done," he said during an earnings conference call with analysts and media.

The publication Automotive News reports Chrysler UAW workers will get payments of $750 each.

GM workers are expected to get actual profit-sharing checks.  GM releases its fourth quarter and full 2010 year results later in February.

Ford workers will get an average $5,000 each after the company posted its best profit in 11 years.

Read more
Politics
5:48 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Michigan Egyptians voice support for protestors

Egyptians in Michigan are voicing their support for anti-government protestors in that country.

Members of the newly-formed American Egyptian Muslim Society issued a statement of support Monday for continued demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The group says it affirms the “non-violent” portions of the movement for “political and social reform” in Egypt.

Shereef Akeel, an Egyptian-American civil rights lawyer, says the protesters come from all segments of Egyptian society.

“We’re witnessing a collaborative effort by a people of different religions, different persuasions, different economic classes…poor, rich…different worshippers from different denominations, all in the streets together.”

Akeel says he never dreamed the Egyptian protests would turn into a possible revolution.

He says it’s understandable the U.S. would be concerned about a potential “vacuum of power” if Mubarak is overthrown. But he maintains the diversity of the demonstrators shows it’s possible the country has a moderate, secular future.

Medicine
5:43 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Michigan Attorney General praises 'unconstitutional' ruling of nation's health care reform law

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is praising Monday’s ruling by a federal judge calling the health care reform law unconstitutional.

Michigan is among 26 states which sued to stop the law from taking effect.

Schuette says the law’s mandate that all Americans buy health insurance is an overreach by the federal government. 

"This is a big decision to protect the Constitution and to defend the rights of Michigan taxpayers."

 Schuette expects the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to step in to decide whether the federal Health Care Reform law is constitutional.

Politics
5:30 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Snyder report: state workers making more than twice their private sector counterparts

Legislators are looking for places to trim the budget as they stare at a $1.8 billion budget hole.

Reducing state employee compensation is on the list.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released a report today that says public employees are making more than twice their private sector counterparts.

The Detroit Free Press says the "Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health," may be sending a signal about "one way the new governor expects to address...the budget shortfall." From the Freep:

He said the overall compensation of the average private sector workers fell 13% from 2000-09 while rising 19% for state employees and 13% for local government workers. For state workers, the average annual compensation -- $53,453 in salary, $31,623 in fringes and $13,000 for insurance-- was more than twice that of the private sector, the report said.

The governor was quoted as saying, "I'd be careful about over generalizing on this data but it does show an important trend that needs to be addressed."

Rick Pluta from the Michigan Public Radio Network reports:

Public employee unions and advocates for human services question some of the data used in the report. They also say they’d like to see Snyder’s plans for investing in schools and infrastructure, as well as protecting people hurt by the economy.

Education
4:48 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Detroit Public Schools looks to open boarding school in 2012

A new DPS public boarding school could open in 2012
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools wants to open a public boarding school for the 2012-13 academic year.  But first the district  needs to find a charter operator to run the school.

Jennifer Mrozowski, a spokeswoman for the district, says the boarding school will serve high school students:

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Domestic terrorism
4:22 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Details emerge about attempted attack at Dearborn mosque

Suspect Roger Stockham

Dearborn Police have released more details about an attempted terrorist attack at one of the country’s largest mosques.
 
Police arrested 63-year-old Roger Stockham at the Islamic Center of America last Monday. The trunk of Stockham’s car was packed with high-powered fireworks.
 

Read more
Politics
3:56 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Pure Michigan campaign heads for a House hearing

The Pure Michigan campaign will run out of money mid-year without an infusion of more funds.

A state House committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow on a plan to tap into a state-operated venture capital fund to keep the Pure Michigan campaign on the air for the rest of 2011.

Earlier efforts to come up with an acceptable fee or tax to pay for the campaign have failed.

Read more
Economy
3:32 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

4 Michigan cities get some marketing help

Clare, Michigan is one of four communities chosen to receive downtown rebranding
Michigan Main Street Center

Four Michigan communities are changing their downtown identity with help from the Michigan Main Street Center.

The Center hopes to help each city market their unique characteristics to residents and future visitors.

Laura Krizov manages the program for the Michigan Main Street Center. She says the four cities to receive rebranding services - Boyne City, Clare, Grand Haven, and Niles -  have a downtown presence, but wanted to cultivate one that was more readily identifiable with their community.

Six communities applied for the program, but Krizov said the four were chosen because they demonstrated the need and the ability to benefit from the program:

"We feel that they will be able to pull this off and in the end, we’ll be able to give them a great brand, telling the community who they are and what they want to do."

Each community will get a logo and website that is meant to help them build a cohesive brand.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Medicine
3:21 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Federal judge issues ruling in health care reform law challenge

An empty hospital emergency room bed
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A federal judge in Florida has ruled sections of the health care reform law are unconstitutional.


  The judge specifically cited the 'Commerce Clause' in the U.S. Constitution. 


Michigan is among 26 states that took part in the lawsuit trying to dismantle the health care law. 

Read more
What's Working
2:12 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Making Detroit more liveable

The Midtown Woodward Historic District in Detroit
Andrew Jameson wikimedia commons

Today's topic for What's Working - "What can help Detroit?"

Morning Edition host Christina Shockley spoke with Susan Mosey, the President of the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) at Wayne State University.

The UCCA aims to guide development, encourage reinvestment, and celebrate the cultural assets of Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.

Lately, Midtown has become a source of optimism for Detroit.

You can listen to the interview here:

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Technology
1:58 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Meijer offers to ships items anywhere in the world

Meijer says it will ship around the world
Meijer Facebook fan page

Michigan-based retail giant Meijer says it will now ship any of the items from its stores to any place in the world. Before now, customers could only get bulk items shipped to their homes.

Frank Guglielmi is a Meijer spokesman.

“There’s the customers who are familiar and predisposed towards Meijer who perhaps lived in the Midwest or Grand Rapids and have moved to other destinations and then there’s providing a good offering online for groceries for any consumer out there.”

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Arts/Culture
1:33 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

The Green Hornet airs 75 years ago today on WXYZ-Detroit

The Green Hornet was a Detroit creation but was eventually syndicated across the country.
ssoosay flickr

If you had tuned your radio to WXYZ-Detroit on this day in 1936, you would have heard the inaugural broadcast of the masked hero,The Green Hornet.

Each week brought audiences the latest adventures of Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher by day and masked crusader by night, and his trusty side-kick, Kato.

You can listen to a sampling of the original programs at Archive.org.

Alexander Russo is an American media scholar at the Catholic University of America. He says The Green Hornet had a special appeal to listeners during the Great Depression who may have been frustrated with the lagging success of New Deal policies:

“In all of these characters, you have individuals who step outside the socially sanctioned ways of achieving social change and enacting it themselves.”

Today, The Green Hornet is a movie for the second time and has also been a television show.

The Green Hornet was created by George Trendle and Frank Striker.  Their previous radio productions included another masked hero - The Lone Ranger

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
11:57 am
Mon January 31, 2011

A "citizen's guide" to the state's financial troubles

Governor Snyder will roll out a citizen’s guide to the financial troubles facing the state, local governments, and school districts before a meeting of business leaders in Lansing this afternoon.

The governor is a retired investor and certified public accountant. He says the guide will give the public an easy-to-grasp outline of the condition of government finances in Michigan.

Governor Snyder says the state’s official financial report runs more than 200 pages and is too big and complicated, and it’s filled with too much bureaucratic jargon for most people to understand.

Snyder says his administration has picked what he considers the most critical information, such as the state’s revenue-to-expenditures, its reserves, and long-term obligations such as pensions, and put it into an easy-to-follow 13-page briefing:

“So I think this will be a big help in terms of the stage for a more-informed discussion, where all the public can participate because we’ll all have better facts to work off of and we’ll see how far beyond our means we’ve actually spent.”

Estimates peg the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year at about $1.8 billion.

The governor will present his plan to balance the budget later this month.

Offbeat
11:35 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Saline wins "Snowman Building Champion of the Free World" trophy

The city of Zeeland placed second in the snowman making contest (second out of three cities).
Abby deRoo

Looking at the photos... they don't really look like snowmen - more like snowbots, but I guess that's the kind of quality you can expect when the goal is quantity.

The cities of Zeeland, St. Clair and Saline took part in a snowman building contest over the weekend.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, the goal of the contest was to see who could build the most snowmen (at least 4ft. tall) in a 2 hour period with 50 volunteers.

The volunteers employed garbage cans, pickle buckets, and Pam cooking spray to help them churn the snow creatures out.

The city of Saline came out on top winning the soon-to-be coveted, wood-carved trophy known as "Frosty."

Here are the final tallies:

1st Place - Saline with 483 snowmen like creatures

2nd place - Zeeland with 268

3rd place - St. Clair with 113

St. Clair Downtown Development Director Dan Lockwood blamed their poor showing on "terrible packing snow."

The Grand Rapids Press has several photos of the contest as it took place in Zeeland.

You be the judge, do they need to tighten up their definition of a snowman? Or should snowbots count?

Investigative
8:52 am
Mon January 31, 2011

'No tax hike' pledge include eliminating tax credit?

About two dozen Michigan anti-tax legislators could find themselves in a bind.  The Michigan legislature is likely to vote on eliminating the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit.  Killing the credit would mean the  lowest paid workers in the state would have to pay more in taxes.  Kelly Cobb is with the group Americans for Tax Reform.  He says if eliminating the credit meant the state got more money, it’s a violation of the “no tax hike” pledge.

“That’s where the question lies is whether or not this would bring in revenue to the state.  And as a stand-alone proposal, it would certainly do that and therefore be a pledge violation.”

There is an escape clause for legislators who signed the pledge.  If they vote to increase taxes on the working poor, and also cut taxes for business by a like amount or more, it would meet the requirements with the tax reform group.

Read more
Winter Weather
7:26 am
Mon January 31, 2011

Forecasters expect big winter storm to come our way

Weather forecasters say Michigan will likely get hit by big winter storm late Tuesday
Sami Flickr

Forecasters are predicting a big winter storm is on its way. It's forecasted that the storm could leave up to a foot of snow on the ground across much of the southern part of the state by Wednesday morning. As the Associated Press reports:

Meteorologist Brian Meade with the National Weather Service's Grand Rapids office says the storm is expected to include "considerable blowing and drifting snow" in the southern and central parts of the state.

Snow is expected to begin piling up Tuesday and continue overnight through Wednesday morning.

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