Lester Graham

Investigative Reporter

Lester Graham is with Michigan Watch, the investigative unit of Michigan Radio. 

He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report/Great Lakes Radio Consortium, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998. 

He has been a journalist since 1985.  Graham has served as a board member of Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association(RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups. 

Graham received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Pages

Investigative
6:00 am
Mon September 12, 2011

Another tax break for Michigan businesses?

Large corporations such as automakers and their suppliers say they need tax relief at the state level.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers are considering eliminating the Personal Property Tax.  That’s a tax businesses pay on equipment.  The money goes directly to local units of government.  Businesses say it’s a complicated tax that punishes them for investing in equipment.  Cities, townships, counties and schools say if the tax is eliminated, that revenue has to be replaced. 

Read more
Investigative
6:00 am
Tue September 6, 2011

School supplies not required, but encouraged

Parents are not obligated to buy school supplies, but most do buy for their own kids and for the classroom to share.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

For most Michigan kids, today is the first day back to school.  And many are taking backpacks full of school supplies. They are not required to take school supplies. By state law the public schools are to supply everything students need for class. 

When you add it all up, the new school clothes, gym shoes, and all those binders, crayons, paper, pens and pencils, back-to-school shopping is big business.

“It’s really become probably the second biggest shopping period of the year, right behind Christmas.”

That’s Tom Scott with Michigan Retailers Association. One national estimate puts back-to-school shopping at about 16 percent of retail business in a year. It’s difficult to separate just how much of that is actual school supplies and not clothes or computers. 

The school districts always put out a long list of things kids might need for school and parents start hunting.

Read more
Investigative
7:42 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Consequences of eliminating mandatory no-fault auto insurance

If you're hurt in an auto accident, the personal injury protection part of Michigan's mandatory no-fault insurance will pay all of your medical costs. It's lifetime, unlimited coverage.
Robbie Howell Flickr

The Michigan legislature is considering bills to end the state’s mandatory no-fault auto insurance.  Its supporters say it will give consumers more choices and help reduce cost of auto insurance.  Opponents say it’s a misguided effort that will have very little effect on insurance rates and could mean people who suffer injuries won’t get the help they need to fully recover. 

Kristin Howard was driving, taking an interstate to work on a summer day in 2006 when her life was changed forever.

Read more
Investigative
6:00 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Collapse of salmon in Lake Huron (Part 3)

C. J. Baker operates a salmon fishing charter boat for Puddle Jumpers Charters. He moved his boat from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan after the salmon fishing collapsed in Lake Huron.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 3 of 3 part series -

Salmon fishing has meant a lot of tourism dollars for cities along the coasts.  But, changes in Lake Huron have caused a collapse of salmon.  But, what if other Great Lakes lose their salmon?

Fishing for salmon on some parts of Lake Huron is still a big deal.

INTERNET AUDIO ADVERTISEMENT

“This July for the first annual Mackinaw City Salmon Festival..."

Read more
Investigative
7:17 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Big returns for subsidized fish (Part 2)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery in Brimley, MI on Lake Superior. The trailers are 'mass marking trailers,' used to tag every hatchery fish introduced into the Great Lakes.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 2 of a 3 part series -

Fishing in the Great Lakes would not be what it is today without stocking Pacific salmon in the lakes.  But it costs a lot of money.  Michigan fisheries managers say it’s worth every dime.  In the second report of the series 'The Collapse of the Salmon Economy," we look at the economic benefits of subsidizing salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.

In the 1960s, the state of Michigan first put salmon into the Great Lakes.  It was a gamble to create world-class recreational fishing. 

Michigan spends about $8-million a year stocking salmon and other types of fish.  But the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t really know how many fish we’re catching for those millions of dollars.

Gary Whelan is in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries. 

“I wouldn’t say we have no idea.  I think we have a ballpark.  We don’t have a great estimate.  We would like to have a lot better estimates than we have now.  I would absolutely agree with that.”

A Michigan Watch analysis found the cost for each fish caught in Michigan waters ranges from a couple of dollars to $150 per fish caught, depending on species and depending on year.  We use catch estimates used by some other Great Lakes states.

The Michigan DNR’s Gary Whelan questions those estimates and our calculations.

And… he says besides, we’re looking at it all wrong.  It’s not about the cost per hatchery-raised fish caught; it’s about what those salmon mean to Michigan’s economy. 

“You have lots of people, for example, who are catch-and-release fishermen who will never take fish home.  But, they’re spending a lot of money to go fishing for this fish or the opportunity to fish for them.”

And stocking Pacific salmon does attract anglers from all over.

Read more
Investigative
7:51 am
Tue August 23, 2011

Collapse of the salmon economy (Part 1)

Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

To understand why salmon are so important to the Great Lakes and the Michigan economy, you first have to understand some history.

It used to be the lake trout was the fish to catch.  It was big.  It was tasty.  But, by the late 1950s, that fish and others had been severely over-fished.  And, an eel-like, blood-sucking parasite called the sea lamprey further reduced lake trout numbers.

Those weren’t even the worst problems for lake trout.  A fish called the alewife invaded the Great Lakes through manmade canals.  Lake trout starting feeding on alewives.  But  alewives caused a thiamine deficiency in lake trout.  A lack of vitamin B-1.

Mark Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

“The thiamine deficiency that the alewives cause is one of the top reasons why natural reproduction has been very slow to occur over the decades in the Great Lakes of these species.”

Catching a lake trout became rare.

Read more
Investigative
10:14 am
Tue August 2, 2011

Nobel economists mixed on taxes and jobs equation

Rick Snyder said the Michigan Business Tax was bad for business. 

 “I propose replacing it with a flat six-percent corporate income tax.  Let’s take a job-killer environment; let’s start creating jobs.”

He said it on the campaign trail.  He made the point to business leaders.

Read more
Investigative
9:50 am
Thu July 14, 2011

HIV prevention when time and money are short

I can only imagine, thinking you might have been exposed to HIV might be one of the scariest things of a person’s life.  Am I infected?  Will I get AIDS? 

Even more traumatic, is contracting it because you were sexually assaulted.

David—not his real name— says he was at a bar one night late in 2009.  He was hoping for a ride home.  He ended up at another man’s house and they had sex.  David says it was unwanted, that it was sexual assault.

“He doesn’t think he assaulted me.  So, uhm.  But, he was going to against my will.”

Read more
Investigative
10:19 am
Wed June 15, 2011

Why did gasoline prices spike in Michigan?

Production problems at refineries in the Midwest caused gasoline prices in Michigan to spike while crude oil prices remained stable.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Everybody’s got a theory why gasoline prices shot up.

“I think gas prices are up because we’re getting our gas from the wrong place.  We need to get gas from Alaska.”

“I think gas prices are up because it’s summertime and everybody wants to travel and it’s a conspiracy.”

 “Government regulators are not willing to rein in Wall Street.  If you can speculate on a commodity and you have a hedge fund that’s big enough, you can affect prices and earn profits.”

Read more
Environment
5:49 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Wind Energy in Michigan (video)

A brief look at wind energy in Michigan, using American Wind Energy Association data and other sources.

Read more
Mackinac 2011
2:58 pm
Mon June 6, 2011

Reinvention vs. Redevelopment: A panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is the site of the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham moderated a panel discussion looking into the current state of brownfield redevelopment in Michigan at the Mackinac Policy Conference last week.

He spoke with Michael Finney, the President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and James Clift, the Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

They talked about Governor Snyder's plan to replace the current system of brownfield tax credits with up-front grant money for redevelopment.

You can watch the discussion below.

Environmental Panel: Reinvention vs. Redevelopment

Environment
12:21 pm
Thu May 26, 2011

New requirements for 'fracking' in Michigan

Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced new requirements to address public concern about potential pollution connected with horizontal fracturing (fracking) for natural gas.

From the DEQ news release:

The requirements, issued as New Permitting Instructions by the state Supervisor of Wells, include:

Read more
Investigative
11:15 am
Tue May 24, 2011

No state help to bury the poor

A cloth-covered fiberboard casket. However, a cardboard box is also available at most funeral homes for about $50. The State of Michigan is eliminating emergency funding to bury the indigent, except for unclaimed bodies.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

UPDATE 11:13 a.m.:

At the request of Michigan Watch, the Michigan Department of Human Services retrieved data regarding the number of unclaimed bodies during the calendar year 2010.  The DHS reports State Emergency Relief (SER) payments were made to help 7,099 indigent burials.  Of that number, 125 were unclaimed bodies.    Since the new budget will limit (SER) funds to unclaimed bodies only, this will mean the amount of funds used for indigent burials will drop from about $4-million to an estimated $4-thousand.

May 23, 2011, 9:33 a.m.:

Read more
Investigative
9:20 am
Mon May 16, 2011

More efficient early childhood services

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to create a more focused approach to getting young children ready for school.  The Governor says Michigan’s publicly and privately funded early childhood programs are fragmented, segmented; there’s not a coherent effort. 

Read more
Investigative
7:42 am
Mon May 9, 2011

Redistricting: drawing the political maps

Michigan's 110 House Districts. Plans are underway to redraw the district lines after the results of the 2010 Census.
Michigan Geographic Framework

States must redraw congressional and legislative maps to adjust for the shifts in population when the census numbers are released every ten years.  This time Michigan lost population while other states gained.  That means Michigan will lose a representative in Congress.  But there were also shifts of population within the state which means the state house and senate districts will have to be redrawn.

Read more
Investigative
4:20 pm
Wed April 27, 2011

Some legislators voting to eliminate their own business taxes

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are considering a new tax structure for the state.  It would cut the state budget and shift some of the tax burden from businesses to individuals.  The Governor has said up to two-thirds of Michigan’s businesses might not have to file a state tax return at all.  Reporters Lester Graham and Bridget Bodnar with Michigan Watch learned that means some legislators who own businesses could be voting to cut their own taxes.

Read more
FOIA
9:20 am
Wed April 20, 2011

State Police want big bucks for public documents

photo by Vincent Duffy

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is 34-years-old this month.  According to a ranking by the Better Government Association, it’s one of the stronger Freedom of Information laws in the United States. 

Read more
Investigative
8:49 am
Fri April 8, 2011

Shifting money away from schools

Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would change how we fund public schools. That change would start with a cut to schools at a time when the School Aid Fund is growing.

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 

The last legislature ‘borrowed’ a couple of hundred-million dollars from the School Aid Fund to give to community colleges. I say ‘borrowed,’ but there’s no indication that it’s going to be paid back.

Federal stimulus money helped make up the difference. But for this coming fiscal year, there is no more federal stimulus money.

Read more
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.

Read more
Investigative
9:55 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Taxing the working poor

Rick Snyder talked about reinventing Michigan on the campaign trail (Snyder at the Republican Convention in 2010). Now, Governor Snyder says he's creating a "level playing field that encourages economic growth" with his budget proposal.
Bill Rice Flickr

When the budget was introduced, it was left to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley to explain some of the details.  Among them was the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit, a move that would take away a tax break for the state’s working poor.

Read more

Pages