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Education
10:48 am
Tue March 8, 2011

Report: Cuts to universities deeper than first expected

Central Michigan University could see the state's largest cut if they don't keep tuition increases under a 7.1% cap.
cmu.edu

Some officials from universities around the state are saying the Governor's proposed cuts are deeper than the 15% they expected.

The Detroit News had a piece on the reaction over the weekend by reporter Karen Bouffard.

Bouffard wrote "university officials said they discovered the cuts after pouring through the details of Snyder's proposed budget."

Mike Boulus, the executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the Governor didn't portray the proposed cuts openly:

"I find it less than honest that you would portray the cut as 15 percent, and call additional money an 'incentive' if you keep tuition less than 7.1 percent. It's clearly less than transparent in the way it's been presented."

Governor Snyder's spokesperson said the proposed cuts were portrayed clearly.

To keep their cuts at 15%, universities have to agree to keep their annual tuition hikes under 7.1%.

If they don't, cuts in state aid could be greater than 15%.

The cuts proposed for the 15 public universities in the state average 21%, according to the article.

Some of the specific proposed cuts mentioned in the piece (cuts if universities don't hold tuition increases under 7.1%):

  • 23.3% for Central Michigan University
  • 19% for Eastern Michigan University
  • 21.9% for Grand Valley State University

Some university officials said "they will try to hold tuition increases under the 7.1 percent cap, although they can't be sure until their boards begin approving next year's budgets in June or July."

According to the article, the largest cut universities have seen in the last 32 years was 8.5%.

Arts/Culture
9:06 am
Tue March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras LIVE!

The River Styx float in the Rex parade during Mardi Gras 2008.
user skooksie Flickr

It's Fat Tuesday, and while many of us are toiling away at work, others are gearing up to 'act a fool' in New Orleans.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a collection of live webcams on nola.com.

On "parade cam" we'll be able to catch the Rex Parade starting at 10 a.m. The Rex Parade is one of many parades taking place today. Here's a description of the parade from their website:

The Rex Procession has been the highlight of Mardi Gras day since the Rex Organization was formed and first paraded in 1872. While there had been celebrations in many forms on Mardi Gras before that time, the Rex Parade gave a brilliant daytime focus to the festivities, and provided a perfect opportunity for Rex, King of Carnival, to greet his city and his subjects.

The theme for this year's Rex Parade is "This Sceptred Isle."

It kicks off at 10 a.m. (it looks a little wet there today):

The Rex Parade will be followed by the parade by the Elks Krewe of Orleanians, and then the Crescent City parade. Enjoy!

By the way, have you ever been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? If you can keep it clean, share your experiences with us below!

Commentary
9:02 am
Tue March 8, 2011

Taxing Credibility

Two plus two equals four. Simple, right? That’s math even a journalist can understand. Unfortunately, the legislature and a large section of the general public doesn’t quite seem to get it.

State government is currently on course to run a huge deficit for the next fiscal year. State budget deficits are illegal, under Michigan’s Constitution. That budget has to be balanced by September 30.

Four months ago, we elected a ton of Republicans to the legislature who pledged they wouldn’t vote for any new taxes, no matter what. We elected a Republican governor who said he was going to deeply cut taxes on business, because he believed that was the only way to attract new jobs and industry to this state.

So we voted for no new taxes of any kind, less taxes on business, and we‘ve got a big budget deficit to start. And now we are shocked, shocked, that the governor is insisting on making huge cuts in state spending.

Well, we shouldn‘t be.

We voted for this. And, we tolerated the last governor, and several different past legislatures, refusing to deal with our problems. We put things off till we couldn‘t do it any more.

And now, we have to fix it. What‘s worse, we have to do this when we are still mired in the effects of the worst recession since World War II. Yes, I know the recession is officially over.

The economists say so, anyway. But hard times are not even close to over in Michigan. The auto industry is never coming back the way it was, and we need a new economy.

Read more
News Roundup
8:46 am
Tue March 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 8th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Protests, Vote Planned on Emergency Financial Manager Bill

The state Senate is planning a vote today on a measure that would give more power to state-appointed emergency financial managers. Opponents of the bill including teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees plan to protest today at the Capitol. Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts, Rick Pluta reports. Union leaders say they hope for a big enough turnout at the Capitol to persuade Senate leaders to delay a vote on the legislation.

‘Asian Carp Czar’ Returns to MI

John Goss, the Obama Administration’s so-called “Asian carp Czar, will be in Michigan today to talk about long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Federal officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also attend the meeting. The Corps wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp of the Lakes. But, many say that’s not fast enough. Last week, Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp announced legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways.

Embridge to Step Up Clean-up Efforts

It’s been 8 months since a broken Enbridge Energy pipeline leaked more than 800,000 gallons of oil near Marshall, Michigan. Winter weather has reduced the size of the cleanup response but now, Steve Carmody reports, the next phase of the cleanup is about to begin. Enbridge says it will focus this Spring on removing oil that is still resting on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Asian Carp
6:39 am
Tue March 8, 2011

'Asian carp Czar' to hold meeting in Michigan

Asian Carp jump out of the Wabash River
LouisvilleUSACE Flickr

John Goss, the Obama Administration's so-called "Asian carp Czar" will be in Ypsilanti, Michigan today. Goss, along with federal officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, will discuss long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:

The Army Corps is conducting a study of how to stop migrations of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. One option is separating the man-made linkage between the two watersheds in the Chicago area.

The study is scheduled for completion 2015. Legislation introduced in Congress last week calls for a quicker timetable.

Politics
7:50 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Unions to protest changes to emergency manager laws

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees plan to march on the state Capitol tomorrow.

They oppose a measure in the Senate that expands the authority of emergency managers named to run troubled local governments and  school districts.

Unions say the measures strike at their bargaining rights.

Union leaders hope for a big enough turnout to persuade Senate Republicans to delay a vote.

Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts.

Mark Gaffney, president of the AFL-CIO of Michigan, says that’s unfair when the state is also looking to cut money for schools and local governments:

“You’re saying to a city that it’s easy to get a dictator and you’re taking money away from that city that puts you at the point where you might need him or her.”

Republicans say the measures offer local governments early help to avert a financial takeover, but once it happens, emergency managers need crisis tools to set things right.

Scott Kincaid, a member of Flint City Council, favors keeping the law and the authority it grants emergency managers.

"These bills give them unlimited authority to do certain things that, currently, we were able to solve our problems without doing those things. The system works right now, and I’ve experienced it. And it worked very well. We had financial problems in our community and we turned them around in 18 months."

Flint was placed under an emergency manager in 2002. The city recently asked the state for the authority to sell bonds to cover a $17 million budget shortfall and meet its payroll.

The state Senate is expected to vote on the emergency management bills as soon as tomorrow.

Election 2012
7:30 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Republican challenger for Senator Stabenow's seat

A photo in the U.S. Senate in 2007. Randy Heckman hopes to be in a similar photograph in 2013.
US Senate

A former Grand Rapids judge is the first Republican to formally launch a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

This opens the campaign for a Republican primary that’s still more than a year away.

Former probate judge and conservative activist Randy Hekman is the first but by no means the last Republican to launch a primary campaign.

Big political names including former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis are among those eyeing the race.

Hekman says he intends to run on reducing the national debt and getting more people to support hometown churches and charities.

“You’ve got to change hearts of people because they’re core of our problem – the problem beneath the problem is in my opinion this self-centeredness.”

"I believe that we need local charity. I believe, for example, if every man, woman, and child that has an income in our country could tithe 10 percent of their gross income, that would be one-point-four trillion dollars that could go to charity that could meet this need in a much more efficient and human-based and human-centered way than currently."

The winner of the Republican primary in 17 months will face two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on the November 2012 ballot.

Culture
5:35 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Detroit gets ready to gorge on paczki

City of Hamtramck website

This Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, the last day before the 40 days of sacrifice that come with the Christian season of Lent.

But in Metro Detroit and other communities with large Polish populations, the day is better known as “Paczki Day.”

Sandy Bakic has spent her whole life making the fried, doughy pastries at the Martha Washington Bakery in Hamtramck. That small enclave is the historic center of Detroit’s Polish community.

Bakic says the day has become a festival for everyone in Hamtramck, regardless of race or religion.

“It’s going to be festive. It’s gonna be a happy time. There’s paczki parties all over town. There’s paczki eating contests still going on. The Paczki Cup is in our window on display right now.”

Bakic says she and other employees have been making the sweet treats since midnight Monday. The bakery will stay open all night to serve paczki-seekers from all over southeast Michigan.

Hamtramck also celebrates with a Paczki Day parade, lots of free entertainment, and a generally party-like atmosphere.

Read more
Auto
5:32 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Chrysler recalls 250,000 of its popular minivans

Chrysler is recalling a quarter million crossovers and minivans for ignition switch problems that can cause stalling. 

The recall involves 2010 model year Dodge Journey crossovers and Grand Caravan minivans and Chrysler Town and Country minivans. 

The company says in some of the vehicles, ignition switches can slip out of the “run” position while the vehicle is being driven. That could shut off the engine. 

At least two rear-end collisions have been reported due to the defect.   

The Grand Caravan and Town and Country minivans are top-sellers for the company. 

The automaker is struggling to increase sales while many of its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand vehicles remain at the bottom of many quality and reliability surveys.

Education
4:51 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Ravitch: School reforms are "tearing education apart and demonizing teachers"

Ravitch speaking in Dallas in the spring of 2010.
dianeravitch.com

Diane Ravitch, education historian and author of the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, spoke at the Novi Sheraton Hotel today at an education symposium about the current state of education and education reform in the country.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Michigan Education Association.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Ravitch had a welcome audience, getting a standing ovation before and after she spoke at the conference...She said national policy makers say they want to reform education. But, what they’re really doing “is tearing education apart and demonizing teachers.”

She alluded to Detroit as she talked about districts that are eliminating programs, laying off thousands of teachers, getting rid of art education and increasing class sizes, saying it’s kids in Detroit "who need much smaller classes."

Ravitch said poverty plays a big role in the success or failure of students in a school system.

The Grand Rapid Press had more on Ravitch's talk in which she said the United States is in an age of "national stupidity" in terms of how it views education.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

Ravich, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education who had a role in developing No Child Left Behind and the charter school movement, renounced both reforms, saying they've given way to a culture of incentives and punishments through testing that does little to help students...Ravitch said the country can't improve schools by constantly cutting budgets and using standardized tests to paint teachers as ineffective in an attempt to “de-professionalize” the work.

She said that current reforms that rely on test scores are a mistake:

“I take standardized test scores with a grain of salt – make that a ton of salt,” she said. “We've watched a gaming of the system and an increase in cheating because the stakes are so high.”

USA Today and the Detroit Free Press had stories over the weekend on this very subject. Their investigation showed anomalies in standardized test score results - anomalies that suggest cheating may have taken place.

Here is a clip of Ravitch talking about education reform and her book on the Daily Show:

The Daily Show - Diane Ravitch

Politics
4:39 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

MEA plans rally in Lansing as Senate considers financial manager bills

A protester at Saturday's MEA-sponsored rally in Lansing
Michigan Education Association

The Michigan Education Association, along with the Working Michigan coalition, is planning a protest rally in the capitol tomorrow. From the MEA's website:

"Working Michigan, a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting working families and Michigan’s Middle Class Dream, will be holding a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 8, to protest the package of "Emergency Financial Manager" bill that is currently in the state Senate."

According to the Detroit News, the state Senate may vote on Tuesday to bestow broad powers to emergency financial managers including the ability "to toss out union contracts and suspend elected officials in communities and school districts that are operating at a deficit."

The MEA is protesting what it calls a series of "attacks on Michigan workers."

Economy
4:24 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

US Postal Service may close Flint mail facility, among others

113 jobs could be affected if USPS consolidates Flint mail center into Pontiac
Carlota Soc creative commons

A mail processing center in Flint may be slated for closure next month. The United States Postal Service may move the city’s mail sorting and processing to Pontiac.

Shannon LaBruyere is with the U.S. Postal Service. She says if the closure goes through, 113 jobs will be affected; half would be relocated to Pontiac, half would be offered other positions likely outside of Michigan.

"They will be the people who bear the brunt of the change. Our customers, from our preliminary assessments, won’t see any change in the service they receive."

USPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the possible Flint closure on March 23 at the city's Holiday Inn Gateway Centre.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last fiscal year and plans to close 2,000 post offices nationwide this year. LaBruyere says USPS would save "$6.5 million dollars per year" by moving Flint operations to the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac. 

A Washington Post article in February says President Obama's 2012 budget recommends about $11 billion in relief to help stem losses at the Postal Service:

The losses stem in part from hefty personnel costs not borne by other federal agencies. One is a requirement, imposed by a 2006 law, that it set aside money each year to cover the costs of future health benefits for its retired workers.

In the Obama administration's first substantive attempt to address the Postal Service's fiscal woes, the budget would allow the agency to pay $4 billion less toward future retiree health benefits than otherwise required. The mail agency would have to pay about $1.5 billion of those costs in fiscal 2012 and make up the difference in later years.

The budget proposal also adjusts the size of the annual payments by taking into account the size of the workforce, which has shrunk to about 583,000 full-time employees since the law passed in 2006.

Auto
3:22 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Do high gas prices mean high times ahead for high mileage cars?

Ford Focus
(Ford Motor Company)

Rising gasoline prices are apparently spurring interest among car buyers in smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. Gas prices in Michigan are hovering around $3.50 a gallon. In California, the average price for a gallon of gas is nearly $4. 

George Peterson is the president of Auto-Pacific, an automotive marketing research firm. He says gas prices are helping boost interest in small cars. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest, especially with the new small cars on the road that are very, very good.  The Hyundai Elantra, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Volt, the Chevrolet Cruze, the upcoming Honda Civic.  All of those are very fuel efficient.  Very good small cars.”  

Still, Peterson says  SUVs remain the leading segment in the auto sales market.

“The largest segment of vehicles still selling is Sport Utility Vehicle.  Now most of those are cross-over SUVs.  So they’re much more fuel efficient than the old gas hog SUVs that we had before.   If you think about sales, SUVs are king, followed by small cars, followed by mid-sized cars.”   

Peterson says the last time gas prices spiked over $4 a gallon, many drivers traded in gas guzzling SUV’s for smaller, more fuel efficient cars. But, he says many of those drivers expressed buyers’ remorse, after missing their larger, more powerful rides.

Environment
3:04 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Enbridge set to begin next phase of oil spill clean up

Crews monitor the air near the site of the oil spill
EPA Region 5

It’s been 8 months since a broken pipeline spewed more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil near Marshall.

Wintry weather reduced the size of the cleanup response. But now, the next phase of the cleanup is about to begin. 

Becky Haase is an Enbridge Energy spokeswoman. She says about 200 cleanup workers have spent the past few months digging up oil-soaked soil from contaminated wetlands. Now that’s its getting warmer, Haase says oil may once again become visible along the Kalamazoo River. 

“It’s definitely possible that some sheen will be visible to folks…especially those who live along the river." 

Enbridge will focus this Spring on removing oil still resting on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. Haase  says work crews will begin cleaning oil soaked islands in the Kalamazoo River this month “and remove that soil and replace it with new, fresh soil. The restoration effort will follow that.”

Legal
2:54 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Is there a difference between a 'highway' and a 'forest trail'? The Michigan Supreme Court will decide

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case where a woman wants to sue the state for injuries she suffered while riding on a state-maintained off-road trail. The question before the Michigan Supreme Court is whether a forest trail is also a highway?

Beverly Duffy and some friends were riding All-Terrain Vehicles on the Little Manistee Trail. Duffy’s ATV struck some half buried boards in the trail, throwing her from the vehicle. She suffered spinal injuries and paralysis. She sued, claiming the State Department of Natural Resources failed to maintain the trail for all licensed vehicles, as required by state law.

The law applies to state maintained ‘highways.’ The state contends the off-road trail is not a ‘highway’ as defined by state law.   

The trial judge sided with Duffy, but the state Appeals Court ruled in the state’s favor.

Economy
2:25 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Gas prices going up as world oil prices rise

Gas prices continue to go up in Michigan.
Andrew Taylor Flickr

Gas prices continue to go up in that wake of tensions in the Middle East.

The price of a barrel of crude oil has gone over $100 - that number was a record breaker back in early 2008 - the start of the Great Recession.

From the Associated Press:

Gas prices AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 8.4 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $3.53. The auto club said Monday the statewide average is 80.5 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve regular fuel is in the Saginaw/Bay City area, where it's $3.48 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Marquette area at $3.59. Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

The White House chief of staff Bill Daley said on NBC's Meet the Press that opening up the country's strategic oil reserves is an option the Obama Administration is considering:

"It is something that only is done--has been done in very rare occasions.  There's a bunch of factors that have to be looked at, and it is just not the price. Again, the uncertainty--I think there's no one who doubts that the uncertainty in the Middle East right now has caused this tremendous increase in the last number of weeks."

Many people wonder why we're seeing an increase in gas prices when the U.S. imports most of it's oil from Canada and Mexico.

Libya doesn't even make the the U.S. Department of Energy's Top 15 list of countries we import oil from.

The answer, simply, is that oil is a global commodity, so when the global price of crude goes up, we all pay more. Crude oil prices influence the price of gas more than other factors like refining, distribution, and taxes.

How Stuff Works has a write up of how the complex system of gas prices are factored here in the U.S.

They break the cost of a dollar of gas down this way:

  • Taxes: 15 cents
  • Distribution and Marketing: 11 cents
  • Refining: 7 cents
  • Crude oil: 67 cents

You can check gas prices near you on michigangasprices.com.

Sports
12:17 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Fennville basketball team plays tonight without Wes Leonard

The Fennville community is remembering Wes Leonard this week.
Steve Johnson Flickr

The Fennville boys basketball team suffered an unbelievable tragedy last week when their star player, Wes Leonard, died from a heart attack minutes after hitting a game winning shot in overtime.

It was later found that the sixteen year old had an enlarged heart.

Now, the Fennville Blackhawks (20-0) have decided to play on despite their immense sadness.

From ESPN.com:

The Fennville team will play Monday night against Lawrence High in the Class C district playoffs. The game has been moved to Hope College in Holland.

The Sporting News says the game was moved from Lawrence High School to Hope College to accommodate an expected large crowd and large media presence.

The Lawrence High School coach spoke with ESPN about how he expects the Fennville boys team to play. From the Sporting News:

Lawrence coach Curt Meat told ESPN of Monday’s game, “Either they’re going to come out and break down and be terrible, and I’d hate to see that … or they’re going to come out and they’re going to have angels on their shoulders and really light it up.”

Drew Sharp has an opinion piece in today's Detroit Free Press. He quoted a statement from Fennville superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer talking about Lawrence High School decision to change the venue:

"They have been more than gracious and accommodating in making this decision. By doing so, they are relinquishing home-court advantage. We also recognize that Lawrence has been cast in an unenviable position and must feel as if the world will be rooting against them. Rather than focusing on the outcome of Monday's game, our joint goal is to make it a fitting tribute to the memory of Wes Leonard."

Wes Leonard’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday morning at Holland's Christ Memorial Church.

Visitation is today from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Fennville United Methodist Church.

Here's a video from WMMT TV in Grand Rapids:

What's Working
11:46 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Old prison breathes new life

user djbuchanan / Flickr

For this week’s installment of “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley speaks with Judy Krasnow, resident and tour guide of the Armory Arts Village in Jackson. Located in what once served as Michigan’s first penitentiary, the Armory Arts Village is a residential community originally set up to provide living, working, and presentation space for artists.

Read more
Politics
11:21 am
Mon March 7, 2011

AARP organizing rally to oppose tax on pensions

AARP is organizing a rally to be held in Lansing
nasaimages

Organizers for AARP Michigan say their rally will be held on the east steps of the State Capitol Building on March 15th from 11 a.m. to 1p.m..

From the AARP Michigan blog:

The rally was the brainchild of AARP member and retiree Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, who launched the effort on Facebook with the help of her daughter.  Woodward says she's heard from thousands of seniors who say new taxes on their pensions and other income will make it difficult to pay their bills. Many also object to elimination of a tax credit for low-income working families, and proposed cuts to schools, universities and local police and fire protection and road maintenance.

State Legislature
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Pension tax alternatives on the table for legislators this week

Michigan Senators plan to discuss alternatives to a pension tax this week
user lincolnblues Flickr

Michigan legislators are planning to discuss alternatives to Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposals this week.

One hot button issue is Snyder's plan to place a tax on pensions. That tax is estimated to raise $900 million.

It would go a long way in eliminating the state's budget deficit which is estimated around $1.5 billion.

It's angered a lot of seniors, and lobbying groups, like the AARP, are putting pressure on legislators in Lansing to keep the tax exemption on pensions in place (the AARP plans to hold a rally in Lansing on March 15th).

Laura Weber, with the Michigan Public Radio Network reported that Michigan Senate Republicans are meeting early this week to try to come up with alternatives to the pension tax plan.

Weber spoke with Republican State Senator Tory Rocca who said his opposition to taxing pensions is simple:

"It’s a tax increase, and on top of that it’s a tax increase on senior citizens, and if you look at what their cost of living is and what their cost of living increases are, they tend to have a higher cost-of-living increase than other people because a lot of their cost-of-living is weighted toward health care, which does increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year."

The Associated Press reports that State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville didn't say whether Snyder's pension tax plan had enough support to win approval.

But he did say that if legislators want to scrap the tax plan, they'll have to find money elsewhere. From the AP:

Richardville said that if the Senate opposes pieces of Snyder's proposal they will have to balance it out by cutting programs or finding revenues somewhere else within the budget.

That's $900 million more, which could mean more proposals out of Lansing for bigger cuts.

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