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Politics
6:27 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Students protest selection of Governor as U of M commencement speaker

The University of Michigan’s selection of Governor Rick Snyder as its Spring commencement speaker has sparked a protest.

U-of-M Senior Rick Durance, a history major and progressive activist, started an online petition asking University Regents to withdraw the invitation.  As of 6:15 p.m. Tuesday evening, 3,759  students have signed it.

Durance says Snyder is a poor choice because he wants to make deep cuts to state funding for K-12 schools and universities. 

Durance says it appears the Governor is only interested in helping business people. 

"This in fact is not the proper person to be speaking for us or representing us at this particular junction of our lives," says Durance.

University of Michigan spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham says it's a time-honored tradition since 1967 for the newly elected governor to present the commencement address.

She says the school is very pleased that Governor Snyder, a three-time alum of the University, was able to accept the invitation.  

Durance says there will be a 1:00 rally on Wednesday on campus against Snyder as commencement speaker. 

But he doesn't favor a commencement boycott, should the petition fail in its goal.    He says students who oppose Snyder should join protests in Lansing.  But at commencement, students should act with decorum.  

"I've already invited people, my parents are going to be there.  I want to be there.  I would not miss my own graduation for the world."

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Awards
5:22 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Michigan Radio recognized for news coverage

Some of Michigan Radio's awards
Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio was recently honored with several awards for its news coverage.

The station put out this news release announcing the awards:

Michigan Radio, the public radio service from the University of Michigan, was recently honored with awards from both the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

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Economy
4:45 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Borders will get more time to review bookstore leases

Borders bookstore located in Arborland shopping center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A federal bankruptcy judge has decided to give Borders Group another 90 days to review leases for its bookstores.   The Ann Arbor-based bookstore change is working to emerge from bankruptcy later this year. Borders is already closing 200 bookstores across the country, including 4 stores in Michigan.   Borders is expected to announce plans to close additional stores and renegotiate leases on about 600 other outlets. 

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State Legislature
4:30 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Item pricing repeal and emergency manager bills clear legislature

Lawmakers moved on the item pricing and emergency fincancial manager bills today.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Two controversial measures have cleared the Michigan Legislature and will soon await Governor Snyder's signature.

One would repeal the law that requires store owners to put price tags on most items in their stores, and the other would grant sweeping power to emergency financial managers.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he agrees with Governor Rick Snyder that Michigan’s item pricing law is outdated, and it’s time to allow retailers to upgrade their systems.

"I've been a proponent for, I don’t know, most of my career I’d say," said Richardville.

Once signed into law, store owners will soon no longer be required to put price tags on almost every item on their shelves.

Richardville says removing price tags will not hurt customers or confuse seniors:

"I don’t think anybody’s trying to maliciously cheat senior citizens. I think if the market demands such, people will make it easy to see what the prices are. Whether it’s individual item pricing, or something different, I think the store owners are pretty responsive to their customers," said Richardville.

Democrats say price tags protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.

The item pricing vote fell mostly along party lines, but that wasn’t the only partisan bill moving through the Legislature.

The Republican-led House also gave final approval to a proposal that gives more authority to emergency managers of cities, townships or school districts.

The legislation passed on party-line votes.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rick Hammel says there are many "union-busting" pieces to the emergency manager bills, including elimination of collective bargaining rights at the local level.

"And on top of that, doing away with contracts of other folks that are just doing business with the local unit of government, so a lot of things that are really problematic for us in this," says Hammel.

Democrats railed against the measure for eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.

Representatives for the labor movement say they will be at the Capitol all week protesting those and other Republican proposals.

tax incentives
4:02 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

MEGA approves tax breaks for 10 companies, nearly 2,000 new jobs

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation headquarters in Lansing. MEDC staff serve the MEGA Board and administer activities and programs.
MEDC

Together the projects will generate up to $602 million in new investments and create close to 2,000 new jobs.

By far the biggest project approved by the board this month is in Charlotte. Spartan Motors Chassis designs and manufactures a variety of special products for vehicles. They’re expected to add 450 new jobs along with an expanded facility.

George Bosnjak manages business development at The Right Place. It’s an economic development group in West Michigan. He helped two companies expanding in Grand Rapids get the tax breaks. Atomic Object LLC will expand its current location over a site in California. They expect to launch two new programs that’ll add 30 high tech software design jobs. Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Company makes all kinds of storage related components in Grand Rapids. They purchased a company in Illinois and will move production to Michigan, creating more than 120 new jobs.  

Bosnjak is optimistic about industry growth in West Michigan.

 “We really see a positive trend across all sectors, certainly nothing where it’ll turn around and change what’s happened over the last three years overnight but I feel that our economy and companies here are certainly moving in the right direction.”

However, Governor Rick Snyder is proposing to eliminate these and many other tax breaks. Bosnjak says they’re playing it by ear.

“I don’t think anyone really knows exactly what the programs will be and what the changes will be and how it’ll affect companies. But we’ll certainly deal with the tools that we have and make the best and do the best job that we can.

Snyder says the incentives inherently pick winners and losers when he says the state needs to create a simple and fair tax structure so all businesses are on an even playing field.

Politics
4:01 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Feds target Medicare fraud in Detroit, nationwide

Two top Obama administration officials want people to know that cracking down on Medicare fraud is a “Cabinet-level priority.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius talked about those efforts at a Wayne State University summit Tuesday. The two have been holding “Health Care Fraud Prevention Summits” across the country.

Sebelius says government agencies and law enforcement are now using new tools to root out that fraud.

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Flint
3:13 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Flint can issue bonds to address deficit, still more to do

The city of Flint has scored a partial victory in its efforts to get its city budget deficit under control.   But there is still more work to do. The city of Flint is looking at a projected $17 million budget deficit.  

City leaders had asked the state for permission to sell $20 million in bonds to stabilize Flint’s budget. But the state only approved  $8 million in bonds. The Flint City Council must still approve the $8 million bond issue. 

Flint mayor Dayne Walling says that will help get the city through the current fiscal year. Flint has already laid off dozens of city employees, including police officers. 

But Walling says Flint may need to cut $12 million in city spending next year. The mayor says a proposed change in state revenue sharing could force evcen deeper cuts next year.

“We of course need to see where the state finally comes down with state revenue sharing when they’re through with their budget process.  Of course the legislature will have its say on the governor’s proposal.”

Flint, like other Michigan cities, stands to lose millions of dollars under the governor’s proposed changes to state revenue sharing.

Japan
2:15 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Japanese Consulate in Detroit issues statement on relief effort

Members of the U.S. Navy help a Japanese man remove debris from the Misawa Fishing Port.
U.S. Navy

Americans have been offering help to the people suffering in Japan.

The Japanese Consulate General of Japan in Detroit issued a statement thanking people for their support and providing more information about where people can donate, and how people may contact loved ones in Japan.

The Consulate says they are not yet accepting volunteers willing to travel to Japan as they are not in a position to "receive and deploy" them.

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Budget Protests
1:41 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Protests heat up for the week at state Capitol

About a thousand protesters gathered on the state Capitol lawn today and they say there will be more people joining them throughout the week.

They are protesting many budget proposals from Governor Rick Snyder and in the Legislature, including a plan to tax pensions.

Hundreds of people from AARP chanted loudly in opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions to help end the budget deficit.

Many people held signs that read: “Recall Governor Snyder,” and “Recall The Nerd.”

Jeanette Stang held a sign that read “One-Term Nerd.”

Stang says her husband worked in an auto plant for 37 years, and now they have trouble making ends meet with increasing medical expenses and living off of their pension. Their Flint home is up for sale, and both of their adult sons have already moved out of state:

"Our sons both would not come to Michigan. They said Michigan has gone to pieces...Michigan used to be a beautiful state, and Michigan has really gone downhill…All he wants to do is keep taxing the little guy—tax these bigwigs that have their yachts and have their trips and everything else. Let the people who earned this money and worked hard all their life have their pensions and quick taxing us to death."

Snyder says seniors use government services just like all other taxpayers, and should be taxed on their pension income accordingly.

More protests coming

Labor movement protests at the state Capitol are expected to get bigger and louder as the week goes on and the Legislature votes on controversial issues.

The House is expected to give final approval to a package of bills that would give emergency financial managers more control over struggling communities and school districts, and strip control from local unions.

Budget Protests
1:09 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Seniors rally in Lansing against pension tax

Retired Battle Creek school teacher Connie Cole Burland waves a sign at a state Capitol rally to oppose Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax pensions.
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio Network

Hundreds of senior citizens gathered in front of the state Capitol today to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not collect an income on pensions. Snyder’s proposal would change that.

Connie Cole Burland, a retired Battle Creek school teacher, says it’s not fair to ask her to pay more if Snyder follows through on his plan to cut taxes for most businesses.

 "We gave them 40-plus years of service. We had a deal when we retired, and this is tax hike. You can call it whatever you want, but this is a tax hike. We had a deal."

Governor Snyder says it’s reasonable to ask retirees with good pensions to pay the income tax when younger people with smaller incomes have to pay it.

He says it is part of the “shared sacrifice” necessary to fix Michigan’s budget troubles.

Some Republican lawmakers are looking for an alternative to taxing pensions.

State Legislature
12:46 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

State Senate passes item-pricing repeal

The Michigan Senate has passed the item-price repeal
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Michigan's law requiring individual price tags for most retail items appears headed for extinction, the Associated Press reports. The state House has already approved the bill, so the measure could soon be headed to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. Snyder called for the repeal of the 35-year-old law during his State of the State address in January. From the Associated Press:

The Republican-led state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill by a 24-13 vote that would repeal the item pricing requirement... Retail trade groups support the change, saying the current law results in higher prices. The revised regulations would require retailers to post an item's price where it can be clearly seen but would not require price tags on individual items.

Unions say grocery store jobs would be lost if item pricing is repealed. Some Democrats oppose repeal, saying it would do away with consumer protections.

Commentary
11:54 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Glimmers of Hope

I know we’re just a week or so away from the beginning of spring, but it’s hard right now to feel especially hopeful. It’s been a long and grinding winter, and we all know we haven’t seen the last of the snow and ice yet. And while unemployment is down, most of us know people who have been out of work, or still are.

But I can’t help but think of something inspiring that happened at the start of this winter. The American Civil Liberties Union of  Michigan ran a high school essay contest.

Students were asked to read Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty, the one that includes the famous line, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free.”

Then, they were to write about how their experiences as a part of this melting pot had defined their American identity.

The contest was sponsored by a friend of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, a humanist and community leader in the Detroit area who was tragically killed in a car accident in Morocco three years ago.

I was a friend of the rabbi, and since I supposedly know something about writing, I was asked to be the final judge. Frankly, I wasn’t too optimistic. This is a busy time of year, and for many students, reading and writing aren’t top priorities.

But I have to say, I was blown away. The ACLU asked me to pick the best two. But four were so good I insisted they honor all  their authors. When I judged them, I didn’t know who the writers were. But when I met the students, I had a pleasant surprise.

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Politics
11:47 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Video: Kids ask parents and grandparents to "help Governor Rick"

From the online video from Value for Michigan. Come on Mom and Dad... chip in.
valueformichigan.com

Value for Michigan, a political action committee that supports Governor Snyder's proposed budget, has released a video with kids asking their parents and grandparents to support "Governor Rick."

In the short 30 second ad, the children say:

  • "Please be responsible with our future."
  • "Don't pass the buck."
  • "Don't leave it on us"
  • "This is our one chance"
  • "So there will be jobs"
  • "Help Governor Rick change Michigan"
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Governor Snyder
10:36 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Snyder to outline government reforms next week

Governor Rick Snyder says he'll outline his reforms for state government next week
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he will outline his proposals to reform Michigan government next week. During his State of the State address in January, the governor said he’d give specifics on governmental reform in March.

Governor Snyder told the Associated Press that he hasn’t yet set a specific date for next week's address. The AP reports:

Snyder said Tuesday he wants state and local governments to offer better government accountability and transparency, spend less on employee compensation and share or consolidate more services.

He has proposed cutting revenue sharing for local governments by $100 million.

Local officials say the lost funds will force them to lay off police officers and firefighters and drastically cut services.

During his State of the State address, the Governor also said he’d deliver a special address on education in April.

Environment
9:55 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Michigan girl scouts take on saving endangered species in Asia

Rhiannon Tomtishen (left) and Madison Vorva (right) are working to save rainforests in Asia.
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

Two Ann Arbor teens are trying to save Orangutans on the other side of the globe from becoming extinct. Orangutans have become an endangered species because of poaching and the rainforests they live in are being destroyed.

15-year olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva became friends 4 years ago through Girl Scouts. Tomtishen says it their mission started when they decided to work together to earn a bronze award.

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Investigative
8:43 am
Tue March 15, 2011

What will the 'Michigan reinvention' look like?

Rick Snyder campaigned on "reinventing" Michigan.
Bill Rice Flickr

It was only a few months ago that Republican Rick Snyder and the majority Republican legislature were voted into office. Snyder said on the campaign trail that he wanted to change the way state government works.

He promised to “re-invent” Michigan.  People liked the sound of that.

As he’s revealed the path to his vision of Michigan, not everyone is pleased. 

(sound of protestors in capitol)

Union members, Democrats, public employees, retirees and the poor have been holding rallies at the capitol about as often as the legislature meets in Lansing.

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News Roundup
8:12 am
Tue March 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

News Roundup, March 15th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Protests to Continue in Lansing

More demonstrations are expected at the state Capitol today, this time from members of AARP Michigan. The group will protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that would get rid of the income tax exemption for pensions.  The Detroit Free Press reports that AARP Michigan has arranged to transport 400 seniors to the rally. AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck told the Free Press he wouldn’t be surprised if over 1,000 attend the protest

Japanese crisis raises questions about nuclear power in  U.S.

The nuclear accidents in Japan, following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, are raising questions about the future of around 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. Steve Carmody reports:

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

Holder, Sebelius in Detroit

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be at Wayne State University in Detroit today. They’re attending a regional summit that will discuss Medicare fraud prevention. The AP reports:

Waste and fraud cost the federal Medicare program and Medicaid, its state counterpart, an estimated $54 billion in 2009. Holder said at a December summit in Boston that the Obama administration's crackdown on health care fraud has recovered $4 billion in Massachusetts alone over two years.

Politics
7:18 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Sebelius, Holder to speak in Detroit

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary
US Mission Geneva Flickr

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will talk about health care fraud prevention at a regional summit at Wayne State University in Detroit this morning.

Law enforcement officials, consumer experts and health care providers are also expected to participate in the discussions, the Associated Press reports.

This is the fifth in a series of summits announced last June by President Obama. The AP reports:

Waste and fraud cost the federal Medicare program and Medicaid, its state counterpart, an estimated $54 billion in 2009. Holder said at a December summit in Boston that the Obama administration's crackdown on health care fraud has recovered $4 billion in Massachusetts alone over two years.

Politics
7:06 am
Tue March 15, 2011

U.S. House approves President Ford statue at Capitol

President Gerald R. Ford
Marion Doss Flickr

The U.S. House of Representatives has authorized a plan to put a statue of President Gerald R. Ford in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C., according to Michigan Congressman Fred Upton. Rep. Upton says all 14 of his colleagues in Michigan’s Congressional delegation co-sponsored the resolution.

The measure now goes to the U.S. Senate for approval. The Associated Press reports:

The statue would replace a statue of Michigan abolitionist Zachariah Chandler. Federal law lets each state display two statues in the Capitol at one time.

Upton says a presentation ceremony for the new statue is planned May 3.

President Ford represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representative before he became President Richard Nixon’s vice president. Ford succeeded Nixon in 1974. Ford passed away in 2006. Representative Upton released the following statement on his website:

“As one who has the honor and privilege of representing some of the very same people in southwest Michigan that President Ford did during his time in the House, it gives me great pleasure to witness this fitting tribute to Michigan’s native son,” said Upton.  “President Gerald Ford is a Michigan original and a model for all those called to public service.  A seemingly ordinary American who unexpectedly found himself in the presidency at one of our nation’s most tumultuous times, Gerald Ford led with honesty and integrity.  By standing above the political fray, President Ford allowed a wounded nation to heal.”

Budget Protests
6:41 am
Tue March 15, 2011

Seniors plan to protest at state Capitol

AARP Michigan is planning a rally at the state Capitol Tuesday morning
User goIfmuth Flickr

Protests are scheduled to continue at the state Capitol today. Older people are expected in Lansing today to oppose Governor Rick Snyder's plan to tax pensions. The Associated Press reports:

AARP Michigan is one of the main sponsors of a protest scheduled to begin late Tuesday morning. The group opposes Rick Snyder's plan to eliminate an income tax exemption for pensions.

The Michigan League for Human Services also is involved in the protest. The league opposes a plan to eliminate the state's earned income tax credit for low-wage workers.

The groups say Snyder wants to provide a tax cut for businesses at the expense of seniors, low-income workers and children.

Snyder and his supporters say the proposals would give Michigan a simpler and fairer tax structure that would help provide solid financial footing for the state's future.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

AARP Michigan has arranged to transport nine busloads totaling 400 seniors to today's "It's Not Fair" rally, where Snyder's proposed tax on pensions will be the target."If (attendance is) over 1,000, we won't be surprised," said AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck.

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