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
9:43 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Economic gardening? What's that?

Michael Finney - As CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, he's the state's chief "economic gardener."
Photo courtesy of Inforummichigan.org and Peplin Photographic (larrypeplin.com)

When the Governor gave his State of the State speech, I was standing on the crowded floor of the House of Representatives.  Governor Rick Snyder outlined his plans to get Michigan back to work.  We all listened as he said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation would lead the way.

“The MEDC will recalibrate its efforts and become a better partner with these regional groups to enhance economic gardening, talent enhancement, and support service to companies.”

Read more
Investigative
8:52 am
Mon January 31, 2011

'No tax hike' pledge include eliminating tax credit?

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

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

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

Read more
Investigative
5:04 pm
Fri January 28, 2011

Governor Snyder on taxing low-income workers more

Governor Rick Snyder has not yet said whether he’ll support efforts to increase state taxes on the lowest-earning workers in Michigan.  He has indicated he’ll have something to say about whether to eliminate the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit when he gives his budget address.

“Well, we’ll save that for mid-February.  But the Earned Income Credit is largely a federal program.  That’s the main driver that brings results, is the fact that it’s on your federal return.  It’s a question of how much difference does the Michigan piece of that make in terms of changing behavior.”

Read more
Investigative
7:30 am
Fri January 28, 2011

Michigan legislature considers tax increase on working poor

The first federal tax credit for the working poor was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1975.
Library of Congress

The idea of an Earned Income Tax Credit, giving people who have low-income jobs a bit of a tax break, has been around for a while.  In 1975, a Michigan Republican, Gerald Ford, signed the first federal credit into law while he was president.

Read more
Investigative
2:35 pm
Fri January 21, 2011

State of Michigan giving more in tax breaks than it collects

I was sifting through the many reports by Gongwer News Service.  Gongwer covers just about everything that happens in and around the Lansing capitol complex.  What caught my eye was an article entitled "State Estimates Tax Expenditures of $33.8 Billion for FY'11." 

I read through the Gongwer story which linked to a 111-page report by the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Read more
Investigative
8:25 am
Wed January 19, 2011

Medicaid-welfare cuts could cost Michigan

A snapshot of Michigan's Assistance Application.
MDHS

There are close to 10-million people in Michigan.  And almost three-million are now receiving some kind of state assistance.  Half of them are children.

“A lot of them are my next-door neighbors.  It’s bad in Michigan right now.  And people are in a position where they’ve never been," says Becky Clark, who works with the Michigan Department of Human Services in Lenawee County.

Read more
Investigative
6:12 am
Mon January 17, 2011

Will cities, villages and townships lose revenue sharing again?

Lawmakers in Lansing may have to cut revenue sharing with local governments to fill the $1.8 billion budget hole.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The money the state sends to local governments is called revenue sharing.  But "sharing" might not be quite the right word.  It’s actually a promise, a deal the state made with the towns we live in. 

Summer Minnick is with the Michigan Municipal League.  It represents the interests of the cities, villages and townships to state leaders.  She says decades ago, local governments gave up the power to charge their own sales tax to raise money.

Read more
Investigative
7:42 am
Fri January 14, 2011

State employees... overcompensated fat cats?

Michigan governor Rick Snyder. Snyder says cutting state worker pay is "an extremely difficult issue because you’re talking about people and their families."
Governor's office

Over the last decade, factories have closed.  People have lost their jobs. Some have had their hours cut.  Some have had their wages cut.  It’s been hard for many Michigan families. 

With so many people hurting, it’s easy to look around and get a little resentful when people who work for the government still have their jobs. 

More than 53,000 state workers --from the people who sweep the floors in the capitol to lawyers in the Attorney General’s office to engineers in the Department of Transportation-- still seem to be doing okay.

Read more
Investigative
2:55 pm
Sat January 1, 2011

Snyder sworn in as governor

Rick Snyder begins his new job as Michigan Governor.  Snyder took the oath of office on the steps of the capitol under sunny skies and and falling temperatures.

Following his campaign theme, Governor Snyder outlined four goals as he called for Michigan to reinvent itself.

“We will be a globally competitive leader in innovation.  Number two:  we will create more and better jobs.  Number three:  we will create a bright future for our young people.  And finally, we will do this together and not leave some behind,” Snyder said during his inaugural address.

Read more
Investigative
5:19 pm
Thu December 23, 2010

Michigan's $1.6-billion budget hole

The $1.6-billion in cuts will have to come from the $8.3-billion General Fund. It amounts to a 19% cut.
Lani Chisnell Michigan Radio

The state budget amounts to $47-billion.  There’s a predicted shortfall of $1.6-billion in the upcoming fiscal year budget.  But, maybe $1.6-billion out of $47-billion isn't that bad.  Just cut everything by three-and-a-half percent and, Voila!  Everything’s fixed.

Read more
Investigative
12:28 pm
Wed December 15, 2010

Michigan's big budget hole

Michigan Watch's Lester Graham and MPRN's Rick Pluta ask Governor-elect Snyder's Chief Strategist, Bill Rustem about the budget hole and taxes.
Steve Chrypinski Michigan Radio

The incoming governor and new leaders of the legislature know they have a lot of work ahead of them.  The State of Michigan’s finances are a mess.  After a decade of cuts to education, prisons, arts, tourism and everything else, it appears more cuts are coming.  Lester Graham with Michigan Watch reports it’s not clear what the new government leaders are going to do, but they say it begins with some tough decisions about the budget.

Read more
Investigative
10:20 am
Fri December 10, 2010

Regulatory Changes Coming to Michigan?

"Governor-elect Rick Snyder has indicated the regulatory process needs to be streamlined.
rickforMI

Business groups say Michigan’s regulations and the state’s regulators make it more difficult to do business in the state than it needs to be.  During his campaign for governor, businessman Rick Snyder made it clear he agreed with that.

“Our regulatory system is backwards in this state.  Not only the amount of regulation, but how people are being treated.  Lansing is treating us as if we’re bad and should be controlled.  The average person is a good, honest person.  The average organization is trying to succeed.  We should be focused in on the exceptions.”

Read more
Investigative
9:47 am
Thu December 9, 2010

Realities of regulatory red tape

Don’t misunderstand.  Businesses in Michigan often complain about the red tape.  There are plenty of stories about Michigan government bogging down any attempts by business to expand in the state or to build new plants here.  But, it’s hard to determine whether those complaints are business people just griping about any kind of restrictions placed on them… or a real problem within the state’s bureaucracy.

So, let’s look at some of the ways you measure that.

Read more
Investigative
11:30 am
Wed December 8, 2010

Rick Snyder wants to streamline regulation, but what does that mean?

On the campaign trail, candidate Snyder talked a lot about streamlining government. Now that he's elected, how will he do it?
rickformi flickr photostream

Rick Snyder says the way government works in Michigan doesn’t work.

“Now government.  It’s time for bureaucracy to go away.  It’s been with us a hundred-plus years.  It doesn’t work.  It is time for a new model.  It is time for customer service government.  The role of government is to treat you, the citizen, as the customer and look at life through your eyes and say ‘How can we help you succeed and how can we get out of your way.’”

Read more
Documentary
12:20 pm
Wed October 13, 2010

Kennedy and the Peace Corps: Idealism on the Ground

Then Senator John F. Kennedy on the steps of the Michigan Union. In a short speech, he challenged students to serve in other countries.
Bentley Historical Library

Its critics called it "naive idealism."

In the 1950s, the United States' answer to the global spread of Communism had been military strength and monetary aid to prop up nations friendly to the U.S., including dictators and other authoritarian governments.

That changed late one chilly night on the campus of the University of Michigan when Democratic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy, challenged students to help the world.

They took it seriously. They organized. They made a proposal, and Kennedy embraced it.

He called it the Peace Corps.

In "Kennedy and the Peace Corps: Idealism on the Ground" you'll hear from some of the students who took on Kennedy's challenge and the White House staff who helped make it reality.

Listen to the documentary here:

Investigative
12:00 am
Fri October 1, 2010

Companies seek drilling contracts with landowners: Part 5 (with slideshow)

Hundreds of brokers for oil and gas companies are offering landowners in northern lower Michigan contracts to drill for natural gas. Energy companies are betting the access to deep shale gas reserves will pay off big. But landowners don't always know about the risks.

An exploratory well has produced good results from a new source of natural gas in northern lower Michigan. So, energy companies have hired agents, called landmen to go knocking on doors of private landowners, trying to get them to sign contracts to lease their land for drilling.

Read more
Investigative
12:00 am
Thu September 30, 2010

Keeping an eye on natural gas drilling rigs: Part 4

A natural gas drilling rig in Wyoming. Regulators in Michigan say they're ready to handle more of these drilling rigs.
Bureau of Land Management

A regulatory agency in Michigan says it can handle a new type of drilling for natural gas. That's what regulators in other states said before complaints about water contamination and leaking gas started coming in.

Read more
Investigative
12:00 am
Wed September 29, 2010

Gas drilling draws heavily on water resources: Part 3

Michigan could see more natural gas drilling rigs like these near Pinedale, WY.
World Resources Institute

When the Great Lakes water levels fell a few years ago, people began thinking more about how much water we use. Now, this new kind of drilling, called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, again is causing concern about how we use water.

Water already has been used for vertical hydraulic fracturing in thousands of gas wells in Michigan. It takes about 50,000 gallons to drill each well and fracture shale layers underground to release the natural gas.

Horizontal fracturing, also called horizontal fracking, uses a hundred times more water.

Read more
Investigative
12:00 am
Tue September 28, 2010

New gas drilling raises pollution concerns: Part 2

A natural gas line in northern Michigan.
Lester Graham

Environmentalists are concerned drilling for new sources of natural gas in Michigan could contaminate water. They're basing that on reports from other states that blame a new method of drilling for contaminating their water.

This new kind of drilling is called horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Until recently in Michigan, it was only used in vertical wells. Drill down, pump water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into a layer of shale, fracture it and release the natural gas trapped there.

Read more
Investigative
12:00 am
Mon September 27, 2010

Companies buy up drilling rights in Michigan: Part 1

A horizontal drilling rig in Appalachia
Creative Commons photo by user Meridithw

Michigan could be seeing the beginning of a new boom in drilling for natural gas. Leases for drilling rights are going for unheard of prices in northern-lower Michigan.

Drilling for natural gas in Michigan is not new. The first natural gas production began in the 1930s according to the Michigan Public Service Commission. Since then we've seen drilling booms come and go.

Read more

Pages