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Environment
10:29 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Can and bottle deposits add up for environment

The unredeemed deposits from bottles and cans go into a state fund to clean-up the environment
Vistavision Flickr

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about $12 million a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution clean-up is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

"Well the programs that are funding environmental clean-up no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs."

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible. They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

This might sound like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan. But the state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark-Michigan containers.

The state changed the bottle bill to require manufactures to add the mark, and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. They didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

"Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.

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Environment
9:50 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Congress to hear testimony about nuclear power plant safety on Tuesday

Fermi II is one of three nuclear power plants in Michigan
Nuclear Regulatory Agency

Congress will hear testimony on Tuesday morning from experts in nuclear energy to determine what lessons can be learned from the crisis in Japan.

Dave Lochbaum is the director of the Nuclear Power Project, part of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the United States needs to be prepared for disaster "not on bright sunny days, but on days when the infrastructure may be damaged or compromised and impede the ability of people to get out of harm’s way."

Lochbaum says U.S. plants are at risk for the same problems that nuclear plants in Japan are facing:

“It’s U.S. reactor technology that was used there, under similar regulations that are here in the United States, so faced with similar challenges, we’d probably experience similar outcomes and I think the United States and Congress more broadly will take steps to better protect Americans from that outcome. ”

There are three nuclear power plants in Michigan

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

News Roundup
9:14 am
Tue March 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, March 29th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Laws-a-Plenty

Governor Snyder signed a bill yesterday that extends unemployment benefits by 20 weeks to some 35,000 Michiganders. However, the bill also cuts six-weeks of state unemployment benefits for new filers beginning next year. The measure reduces jobless benefits in the state from 26 weeks to 20 weeks as of 2012. Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill this afternoon that would repeal Michigan’s item pricing law. Snyder first spoke about repealing the state’s law that requires retailers to put price tags on most individual items in his January State of the State address.

Bernero Lays Out Lansing Budget

Lansing Mayor, and former 2010 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero presented his 2012 fiscal year budget last night. Lansing faces a $20 million budget hole next year and Bernero said such a deficit requires a tough and painful response. The Mayor’s budget plan would cut more than 50 Lansing police officers and close three fire stations, Steve Carmody reports.

April 1st Deadline for DSO

Musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra say they have been given a Friday deadline to settle a strike with the DSO management, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The players say in a release Monday the orchestra's board has told them that if no contract agreement is reached by Friday the summer performance season "will be lost" and the fall season "would be in serious jeopardy." An orchestra spokeswoman would not comment on whether a deadline has been imposed. Board chair Stanley Frankel says in a statement that the board is "convinced that a settlement is within reach" and that negotiators have been meeting by phone and e-mail.

DSO musicians have been on strike since October of last year.

Election 2012
7:56 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Hoekstra says he'll decide Senate run within 2 weeks

Former GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra
Republican Conference Flickr

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra says he will decide within the next two weeks whether to launch a 2012 Senate run, the Grand Rapids Press reports. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow has held the seat since 2000. From the Grand Rapid Press:

Hoekstra, who lost a bruising Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010 and left Congress after nine terms, has consistently performed well in polls in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Stabenow.

The only Republican to declare candidacy for the seat so far is Randy Hekman, a former Kent County judge. He announced his candidacy earlier this month. Heckman is 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.

Other possible GOP candidates for the Senate seat include former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party Saul Anuzis.

Crisis in Libya
7:04 am
Tue March 29, 2011

President Obama's address: Reactions and analysis

President Obama defended U.S. military action in Libya during an address to the nation last night. The President explained that the U.S. intervened in Libya, “to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the world's conscience and 'been a betrayal of who we are' as Americans,” the Associated Press reports.

The AP noted that the President, “ruled out targeting Moammar Gadhafi, calling that a mistake that would be as costly as the war in Iraq. Obama announced that NATO would take command over the entire Libya operation on Wednesday, keeping his pledge to get the U.S. out of the lead fast. He offered no estimate on when the conflict might end and no details about its costs.”

Reactions and analysis of the President's address came out quickly:

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Economy of ideas
6:30 am
Tue March 29, 2011

$5,000 for good ideas in Grand Rapids

Steve Zaagman (middle) discusses his "upside-down-movie-night" with other contestants on February 22nd, 2011.
Paul Jendrasiak GRNow.com

Tonight two Michigan entrepreneurs will give away $5,000 in a competition devoted to creating buzz around good ideas. Rick DeVos and Bill Holsinger-Robinson are trying to help make the best ideas a reality.

On the last Tuesday of each month, Pomegranate Studios (a business incubator DeVos and Holsinger-Robinson founded in Grand Rapids two years ago) offers 5 people 5 minutes to pitch their idea for a business, an organization, art project, anything really.

A panel of 5 judges then awards up to five thousand dollars to those with the best ideas.

Bill Holsinger-Robinson says they want to give people a platform for their ideas to grow.

“The event is really less about the grant making and is more about people sharing ideas and then getting people to act on those ideas within a community.”

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State Law
6:27 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Snyder set to sign bill to repeal item pricing law

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Governor Rick Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill today that will repeal the state law that requires price tags on most retail items.

The Governor first proposed the repeal of the law  in his State of the State address in January. The Associated Press reports:

Supporters of repeal say technological improvements make pricing every item unnecessary and note prices must still be clearly posted. Massachusetts is the only state with a law similar to Michigan's. It applies only to food retailers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says grocery jobs will be lost when the new law takes effect in September, but some retail groups say workers are likely to be given other tasks.

Snyder is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Lansing.

Politics
7:13 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Lansing mayor proposes eliminating 200 city jobs

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero delivers his budget address during a meeting of the city council
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says he's presenting his 2012 fiscal year budget plan with a heavy heart. The city is facing a $20 million budget gap next year. Bernero says this requires a tough and painful response. 

He's proposing eliminating 200 positions. One hundred and thirty of these jobs are currently filled. Bernero's budget fall particularly hard on the city's public safety department. More than 50 Lansing police officers would be laid off and three fire stations will be closed under Bernero's budget. Bernero says he doesn't relish cuts, but with employee costs being the largest part of the city's budget, he has little choice. 

Bernero says the need for deep spending cuts might be lessened if state revenue sharing is not as deep as proposed by Governor Snyder. He says Lansing voters could help as well if they approve a millage increase on the May 3rd ballot.  

But Bernero says he has to propose a budget now with the "cards" the city's been dealt. Bernero says the city has already made all the easy cuts.    

Changing Gears
5:43 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Zoning out: Cities rewrite codes to transform their look

Part of Streetsboro, Ohio's current zoning map - separate colors for separate uses. The city is working on doing away with these blocks of color, and trying to mix more uses - a method called "form-based" code.
Steetsboro, Ohio

Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.

After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life.

Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place.

Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development.

This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different.

These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

 “A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities."

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

 “ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore.

As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars.

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Offbeat
4:31 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Not fast enough: Drunk driver rams next car in Burger King drive-through line

Jeremy Brooks Flickr

When is fast food not fast enough?

Well, last night in Detroit, one unlucky drive-thru-er found out.

From the Free Press:

A drunk driver got so impatient in the all-night drive-through line at Burger King that she intentionally bashed into the car waiting for food in front of her, police said.

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Infrastructure
3:01 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Update: Michigan Department of Transportation director responds to bad bridge rankings

Michigan's Mackinac Bridge
Julie Falk Flickr

Update:

Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.

“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”

“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”

“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”

“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”

“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”

Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.

Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.

-Laura Weber

1:01 p.m.:

How many bridges do you cross in a day?

However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."

In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.

From the Detroit Free Press:

More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.

With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.

The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.

This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

From an MLive article from last Tuesday:

Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.

One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process.  A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.

The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.

Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Offbeat
2:06 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Flying Dog sues state Liquor Control Commission over free speech

Not sold in Michigan. The label on Flying Dog's 20th Anniversary beer. Artwork by Ralph Steadman
flyingdogales.com

Flying Dog Brewery, a Maryland-based beer maker, is suing Michigan's Liquor Control Commission for violating its free speech rights.

The Brewery applied for a license to sell its 20th anniversary commemorative beer "Raging Bitch" in 2009. The beer's label included the following text:

Two inflammatory words... one wild drink. Nectar imprisoned in a bottle. Let it out. It is cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Uncap it. Release it....stand back!! Wallow in its golden glow in a glass beneath a white foaming head. Remember, enjoying a RAGING BITCH, unleashed, untamed, unbridled- and in heat- is pure GONZO!! It has taken 20 years to get from there to here. Enjoy!

According to Business Wire, the Michigan Liquor Commission barred the sale of the beer claiming the "beer's label — designed by renowned British artist Ralph Steadman — is 'detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare.'"

Michigan is the only state, of the more than 40 states where the beer is sold, to ban it.

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Legal Issues
1:25 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

ACLU says Rochester High School is denying students First Amendment rights

Rochester High School, Rochester, Michigan
(GOOGLE Earth, Street View)

The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing Rochester High School administrators of denying students their First Amendment rights. The ACLU claims the web filtering software on the school’s computers censors Gay and Lesbian websites.   

Jay Kaplan is with the ACLU of Michigan. He says it's an important legal issue.  

“Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse door.   Schools need to take a closer look at this sort of thing.”

Kaplan says if the school district does not change its web filtering software, the ACLU might take Rochester Community Schools to court. 

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Education Funding
1:24 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Senate Democrats want K-12 funding constitutionally protected

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D)
Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Democrats in the Michigan Senate want a constitutional amendment passed next year that would protect K-12 schools funding. The amendment would not allow community colleges and universities to tap money from the state's school aid fund.

At a news conference today, the Associated Press reports that Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said, “K-12 schools wouldn't need to absorb the $470-per-student cut Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing for 2011-12 if he wasn't trying to give nearly $1 billion from the $12 billion school aid fund to community colleges and universities.”

Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press explains:

To appear on the ballot, the proposal would need two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate. Whitmer and her Democratic colleagues believe a majority of Republicans, who control both chambers, would support the proposal.

State Law
11:47 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Snyder signs unemployment benefits extension law

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
(Courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Update 11:33 a.m.:

Michigan Congressman John Dingell (D) has released a statement condemning Snyder's signing of the new law. In a written statement, Representative Dingell said:

"This law is another in a long string of Republican assaults on working families and unions. In one fell swoop, the Republicans in Lansing have made it so that people in Michigan receive state employment benefits for a shorter period of time than anywhere else in the nation. Michigan does face a budget crisis, but it cannot be solved by declaring war on the unemployed, who - now more than ever - need all the help they can get in order to support their families and find new jobs."

Original Post 10:52 a.m.:

Governor Rick Snyder today signed legislation extending jobless benefits. The law will allow 35,000 Michiganders to receive an addition 20 weeks of federal jobless benefits. Their benefits would have expired April 1st. In a written statement, Snyder says: 

"These benefits are a lifeline for many Michigan families who are struggling in this challenging economy... Cutting them off so abruptly would have jeopardized the well-being of those who are trying hard to find work. Now that we have continued this safety net, we must renew our focus on improving Michigan's economic climate. We will continue driving forward with our job-creating reforms so that fewer people need to rely on unemployment benefits."

Democrats pushed for the extension, but many eventually opposed the final version. The final legislation was amended to reduce the number state jobless benefits from 26 to 20 weeks.

Republicans say reducing the length of state benefits will reduce the burden on state businesses that pay into the state jobless benefits pool. By cutting the number weeks of state jobless benefits,  future unemployed Michiganders will be eligible for fewer weeks of additional federal unemployment benefits.  

According to the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, the average unemployed Michigander uses about 19 weeks of jobless benefits. Michigan's unemployment rate declined to 10.4% in February. There were slightly less than a half million people in Michigan without a job who wanted one.  

Michigan's jobless rate is still about 2 percentage points higher than the national average. But the state's jobless rate has been declining since September 2009.

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Arts/Culture
11:27 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Fate of Detroit Symphony's 2011-12 season still unknown

The DSO's upcoming season is still up in the air
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians strike is now in its 26th week and the remainder of the season has been canceled.

The New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and many other orchestras around the country have announced their 2011-12 orchestra season, and tickets are already on sale.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has not been able to announce its upcoming season because of the current musicians' strike.

Mark Clague says that’s too bad because season subscriptions are an orchestra’s bread and butter.

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Commentary
11:01 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Why Business Leaders Support the Budget

The changes Governor Rick Snyder wants to make with his proposed budget are hugely controversial. But everyone agrees on this: They are designed to bring new business to Michigan.

The governor believes there is no other way to revitalize our state’s economy. But what does business really think of the governor’s budget? People in business aren’t monolithic. General Motors doesn’t have a lot in common with the mom-and-pop restaurant in my neighborhood with five employees.

So last week, I talked to two business leaders who each represent a broad cross-section of somewhat dissimilar interests. Doug Rothwell is president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of seventy-six of the state’s largest employers.  Rob Fowler has the same title with the Small Business Association of Michigan, sometimes known as SBAM.

SBAM has more than ten thousand members, many of whom have fewer than a hundred employees. Fowler and Rothwell don’t always see eye to eye -- but they do on the governor’s budget.

They support it, right down the line. “I think the governor’s tax plan is the right thing to do, even though some of our members are going to pay more,” said Rothwell, who ran Detroit Renaissance before it evolved into Business Leaders two years ago.

Rob Fowler, who has also had small business leadership positions in Indiana and Ohio, put it this way: “You have to understand the moment in time we are in.”

“Sure, there are things in the governor’s plan I am sure, standing by themselves, our members would not support.”

But both men said it was vitally important to pass the plan as a whole, that if lawmakers started picking off pieces, it would fall apart.

I talked to each man separately, and discovered that what both liked most about the plan was that it offers a coherent, comprehensive strategy for Michigan’s long-term economic recovery. Rothwell noted that this was not a budget of quick fixes and one-time solutions, but one with vision.

Critics have said that the governor is just betting an hunch, gambling that slashing taxes will bring new business into the state.

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Auto
10:48 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Founder of Automobile Magazine Dies

David E. Davis, Jr., founder of Automobile Magazine
Automobile Magazine

The founder and original editor of Automobile Magazine has died. The magazine says the man who was once called "the dean of automotive journalism" died in Ann Arbor, Michigan after complications from bladder cancer surgery.

This from Automobile Magazine Deputy Editor Joe DeMatio:

Davis founded Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine with Rupert Murdoch’s backing in 1985 after leaving his second stint in the editor’s chair at Car and Driver, which he moved from New York City to Ann Arbor in 1977.

Davis, who had already refashioned Car and Driver into one of the most literate and entertaining special-interest magazines in America, imagined Automobile Magazine as a celebration of the automotive good life with the rallying cry “No Boring Cars,” but the slogan could just as easily have been applied to everything else in his life:

No boring stories.

No boring meetings.

No boring road trips.

No boring wardrobes.

No boring friends.

No boring employees.

No boring food.

No boring parties.

When he was stuck with boring bosses, he suffered them most reluctantly, and in fact it was his disgust with the management team at CBS, which bought Car and Driver from Ziff-Davis Publishing in the mid-1980s, that propelled him to quit what he had considered the best job in the world, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver.

DeMatio writes that "Davis is survived by his wife, Jeannie, a.k.a. J.L.K., a.k.a. 'the woman who changed my life,' his sons Matthew (himself a well-known automotive journalist) and David III, his daughter, Peg, and his stepdaughter Eleanor, and stepsons Vincent and Tony Kuhn."

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State Law
10:15 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Bill could speed up adoptions in Michigan

A bill pending in the state legislature could speed up adoptions in Michigan. 

State law requires all adoptions be approved by only one person – the superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute.

That leads to delays of up to two months in getting an adoption finalized.

Maura Corrigan is Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services.

She says the superintendent should be able to choose people to act in his stead.

"We’ll be able to have the adoptions approved locally by one of his designees, instead of every local case going to Lansing and be looked at there," says Corrigan.

There are more than 4,000 children eligible for adoption in Michigan.

City Budgets
8:41 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Bernero to deliver Lansing budget plan today

Lansing Mayor Virg Benero will deliver his 2012 budget today
Photo courtesy of VoteVirg.com

Lansing Mayor, and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero delivers his city's 2012 budget to the Lansing City Council tonight. It's being reported this morning that Bernero will propose a budget that contains $20 million in cuts.

The Lansing State Journal reports:

In the run-up to Monday's formal budget presentation, Bernero's staffers have sent signals about the magnitude of possible cuts. Among the most notable: the potential closure of three fire stations and elimination of 60 positions in the Fire Department.

As the Lansing State Journal explains, Lansing, like many other cities and townships across the state, is, "caught between competing budget pressures. First is the drop off in revenue from local property taxes and from promised aid from the state government. City budgeters also have to cope with rising costs, particularly on pensions and on health care for workers and retirees alike."

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