Michigan

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.

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Arts/Culture
8:14 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

What’s to learn from Detroit? Spirit, determination, and action

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.

Check out Terry Johnston's awesome photos of the trip here.

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Government Shutdown
7:33 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Michigan officials keeping close eye on federal budget negotiations

President Obama met late last night with Congressional leaders to try to avert a partial government shutdown
Scott_Ableman Flickr

Governor Snyder’s administration says it expects most state services will continue with little or no disruption if a partial federal government shutdown occurs, the Associated Press reports. The federal government will partially shutdown tomorrow at midnight if there is not a deal to fund the government through September. From the AP:

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Wednesday that the administration is monitoring the situation closely and seeking more information. Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last.

The federal government faces a partial shutdown Friday at midnight if Congress doesn't take action to avoid one.

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

medical marijuana
9:03 am
Mon April 4, 2011

ACLU of Michigan to take medical marijuana case to Michigan Supreme Court

The ACLU of Michigan hopes to take a medical marijuana case to the Michigan Supreme Court
Kevin Connors MorgueFile

The Michigan Supreme Court may soon hear its first case on the state’s medical marijuana law.

Larry King of Owosso has a medical marijuana license from the state.  He was charged with a felony by the Shiawassee County prosecutor for growing marijuana in a locked dog kennel that did not have a roof. The Circuit Court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals reinstated the felony charges.

Dan Korobkin is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. He says the prosecution shouldn’t charge King with a felony because King is legally allowed to grow marijuana:

“Instead of simply telling Mr. King that he needed to move his plants inside, or put a roof over it, they’re now prosecuting him on felony drug charges for the same offense that he would be charged with if he never had any medical marijuana card at all.”

Korobkin said Michigan voters approved the medical marijuana act to protect patients that were approved to use marijuana for medical reasons.

“We’re representing him because the prosecution of a medical marijuana patient who is complying with the law is a gross injustice and thoroughly undermines the intent of the voters in passing the Medical Marijuana Act."

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State Legislature
6:35 am
Thu March 31, 2011

The debate over social issues during a budget crunch

Captiol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants controversial social questions to take a back seat to taxes and job-creation. He says to do otherwise could create intense debates that enflame passions and sideline his efforts to fix Michigan’s economy.

But that has not stopped some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. They say GOP control of state government makes this the moment to tackle controversies surrounding abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, and medical marijuana.

Governor Rick Snyder meets up with his inner nerd every morning as he checks an electronic application that reminds him how much time is left before the budget deadline he set for the Legislature—May 31st.:

 “All I have to do is turn on my iPad and it shows me how many days and hours are left, and how many seconds…”

Snyder says he is singularly focused on completing the budget before that time on his iPad runs out. He has proposed massive cuts and tax reforms that would affect the budget. He says right now that should be the focus of everyone’s energy at the state Capitol. He’s finding some people – including Republicans – disagree. State Senator Rick Jones is one of those Republicans:

 “My job is looking at other issues that concern Michiganders."

Jones says the Legislature is working very hard on Snyder’s budget proposals and goals. But he says that does not mean lawmakers cannot and should not also work on social issues. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he recently took up and voted on a controversial abortion bill that is already covered by federal law. And he sponsored a measure that would add rules to the use of medical marijuana. Jones:

“The issues we take up, are issues where I could walk into any coffee shop in my district and the vast majority agree that it’s something we need to address."

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Politics
3:27 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

K. Sawyer Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

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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

Economy
4:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Population expert sees good news in state Census data

The man in charge of charting population trends for Michigan says he would not be surprised to see the out-migration of people from the state reverse course.

The new U.S. Census data says Michigan lost people over the last decade.

State Demographer Ken Darga says Michiganders left the state in droves over the past decade for places like Florida where jobs were more plentiful. Now, Darga says, they may be ready to come back -- Florida’s jobless rate is higher than Michigan’s.

Darga discussed the good news on the Michigan public TV show  “Off The Record.”

“The economy is starting to turn around. There’s a lot of good news about Michigan’s economy in the past year or so.”

“Michigan has lost a lot of young people to Florida – as well as senior citizens – because Florida used to be one of the big states that had low unemployment and it was a place you could go to find a job while Michigan was in a one-state recession. But now, Florida’s unemployment rate is higher than Michigan’s.”

“One of the things I’ll be looking for is to see if some of those Michigan natives who moved to Florida are going to start coming back.”

The U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics says Michigan added 71 thousand more jobs than it lost in the past 12 months and its unemployment rate fell more than any other state’s.

Also, the decline in Michigan’s jobless rate for the first two months of 2011 was due to more people working, and not to discouraged jobseekers checking out of the workforce.

Michigan and Kentucky are tied for the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate.

News Roundup
8:47 am
Thu March 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, March 24th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Debate at State Capitol Over Unemployment Benefit Extension

People who file for jobless benefits next year would be eligible for fewer weeks of payments under a measure approved by the state Legislature. Laura Weber reports:

Lawmakers had to approve a jobless benefits package this week in order for the state to receive federal assistance for the program.

The debate was so contentious in the Senate that leaders ordered the doors locked to keep lawmakers in the chamber.

Democratic Senators are upset that Republicans reduced the total number of weeks that people who become unemployed in the future could receive the benefits.

The measure was approved by the Senate and House and now moves to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

State Jobless Rate Continues Decline

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped to 10.4 percent in February. That’s down three-tenths of a point from what it was in January of this year. The number shows about 11,000 more people working in the state in February. Officially, there are 495,000 people in Michigan out of work and looking for a job. There’s another 430,000 people who are either part-timers wishing they had full-time work, or unemployed people who’ve simply quit looking for jobs.

Why the ‘Underwear Bomber’ Targeted Detroit

More details are being learned about why Detroit was chosen as a target in an attempt by an al-Qaida operative to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day in 2009. It appears Detroit was picked because, quite simply, it was a cheap destination. The Associated Press has learned that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had considered attacking an airplane over Houston or Chicago but the plane tickets were too expensive so, instead, he chose Detroit. The AP explains, “the decision shows that al-Qaida's Yemen branch does not share Osama bin Laden's desire to attack symbolic targets.”

Commentary
3:03 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Mergers and Acquisitions

There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth statewide over the new proposals the governor outlined in Grand Rapids yesterday, the ones especially that will affect local governments.

He proposes to hold back one-third of the revenue sharing money communities get from the state, and release it only if cities, villages and townships adopt certain reforms. Those would include putting all new hires on a pension plan based on what they and their employer put in, a so-called “defined contribution plan.”

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Commentary
2:26 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Shortchanging the Future

Macomb County Commissioner Phil DiMaria is angry about Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pension income, and he’s doing something about it. He’s launched a statewide petition drive to oppose the tax, which is key to the governor’s proposed budget.

DiMaria, who has been on the county commission for twenty years, thinks the governor is badly out of touch. “He’s rich. He’s never going to be an old person who has to pinch pennies to try and get by, try and buy milk and bread,” he told me yesterday.

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Politics
4:02 pm
Fri March 18, 2011

State Budget Director says he hears complaints about pension tax plan

A protester holds a sign outside the state capitol during a March 15th demonstration against the governor's pension tax plan
(photo by Laura Weber/MPRN)

The state’s budget director says Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions is necessary to keep young people in the state.   Budget Director John Nixon says the proposed tax will move Michigan into a sustainable future economy. 

“We’re the only state in the country to lose population in the last decade. And when you look at Michigan’s growth projections going forward, by 2030, 20 percent of our population’s going to be retired. And what that means long term for the state is you’re going to be pushing more of the burden on your working segment of the population.”

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Commentary
2:45 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

You Never Can Tell

The governor’s made some decisions that are wildly unpopular. Unions are upset. Taxpayers are upset. His own party isn’t too sure he is right.

Behind closed doors, leaders of the opposition party are rubbing their hands in glee. They think they know a one-term governor when they see one.

That’s what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, to be sure, and also, to a lesser extent, in Lansing. Democrats are convinced that if Governor Snyder indeed manages to tax pensions, cut education, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit, he’ll be toast.

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Education
4:29 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Teachers could see freeze on pay & benefits during negotiations

Michigan State Capitol
Lester Graham

A bill passed by the Michigan House would freeze educators’ salaries during contract negotiations.  It would require employees (and not their employer) to pay for increases in insurance fees during negotiations. The bill would also ban retroactive bargaining. So if an agreement was reached six months down the road, employees would not be reimbursed for the higher rates they paid.

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.  He says the M-E-A wants the Senate to reject the bill.

“I’d like to see a real conversation in this state about what’s driving our financial crises. It’s not the compensation we provide to dedicated educators. It’s a broken tax structure; it’s a failure on the part of our state leaders to make tough choices to invest in the kind of state we all want to live in.”

Supporters of the bill say school districts cannot afford to pay the rising benefit costs, nor pay for the raises teachers get with time and experience.

Politics
6:42 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Snyder to sign 'Pure Michigan' funding bill

Governor Rick Snyder will sign a bill today to fund the Pure Michigan advertising campaign
David Plotzki Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill today that would extend the life of the state's 'Pure Michigan' advertising campaign.

The measure allows for an addition $10 million to fund the popular ads. The Associated Press reports:

That's double the previous amount and raises overall Pure Michigan funding for this budget year to $25 million, as Snyder requested.

It will be the third bill signed by the new Republican governor, who took office in January. He signed two agricultural bills Tuesday.

Pure Michigan campaigns promote the state's beaches, golf courses and other destinations to potential tourists. The extra $10 million will pay for regional campaigns targeting cities such as Chicago, Columbus, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

The Governor is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn.

Unemployment
6:21 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan jobless rate declines in January

Michigan's January unemployment rate was 10.7 percent
Khalilshah Flickr

Michigan's unemployment rate continued in decline in January to 10.7 percent. That's the lowest it's been in more than two years. And, it's three percentage points lower than the same time last year: the jobless rate in January 2010 was 13.7 percent.

The national jobless rate in January of this year was 9.0 percent.

Auto/Economy
2:41 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Is Right-to-Work next?

Getty Images

The labor battle seizing the Midwest right now is focused on the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees. But the fight over breaking these unions may have cracked open another door: the one labeled “right-to-work.”

So, let’s recap some of the big labor news that’s unfolded in recent weeks. Thousands of protestors flooded the capitals of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and, of course, Wisconsin.

Also – and this didn’t make headlines — In Grand Rapids, Jared Rodriguez began moving into a new office.

“In fact, I was unpacking boxes when you called,” he said.

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Education
3:27 pm
Sun March 6, 2011

FREEP questions test score improvements

COCOEN daily photos flickr

A newspaper analysis shows standardized test score gains from 34 Michigan schools over a one-year period are statistically improbable.

The Detroit Free Press joined a nationwide investigation with USA Today and other partners. The analysis of millions of test score results found 304 schools in six states and the District of Columbia had test scores so improbable they should be investigated.

The analysis that was specific to Michigan scores found that in 2008 to 2009, 34 schools, including 32 in the Detroit area, had test score deviations that statistical experts say are virtually impossible to explain through improved instruction alone.

Asian Carp
2:50 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Michigan lawmakers to introduce Asian carp legislation

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce Asian carp legislation
Kate.Gardner Flickr

Update 2:50 p.m.:

Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region say it’s taking too long to come up with an action plan to stop the spread of Asian Carp. They are now calling for work on that plan to speed up. 

Asian Carp have spent the past few decades slowly spreading throughout the Mississippi River watershed.   The invasive carp have destroyed indigenous fish populations from Missouri to Illinois.   One was caught last year just a few miles downstream from Lake Michigan. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend the next five years developing a plan to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.   Not fast enough for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”  

Recently, Illinois politicians have fought efforts to close canals linking Lake Michigan to carp infested waters near Chicago.   But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports expediting a carp action plan, making its passage more probable.   Though Durbin’s involvement also hints closing canals will not be part of the plan.  

 Stabenow  says she doesn’t know how much it will cost to ‘separate’ the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.    But she says Asian Carp could cost the economy of the Great Lakes billions of dollars if they are not stopped.   

11:01 a.m.:

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp plan to introduce legislation to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through Chicago-area waterways, the Associated Press reports. Stabenow and Camp will hold a news conference today to discuss their plans. The AP reports:

Stabenow and Camp previously sponsored bills that would have forced closure of shipping locks near Chicago that could provide access to Lake Michigan for the invasive carp. Those measures failed.

The House recently rejected Camp's effort to attach a lock closure amendment to a federal spending bill.

Michigan and four other states are suing in federal court to close the locks. Chicago business interests say doing so would damage their local economy and probably wouldn't do much to stop the carp anyway.

State Budget
7:43 pm
Mon February 21, 2011

Snyder seeks allies in budget fight

Governor Rick Snyder is looking for allies in his fight for deep state spending cuts. The governor received a warm reception at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon today in Kalamazoo. 

Governor Snyder spoke to an audience that largely backed his candidacy last year  and is very receptive to his budget plans that call for revising d Text - 16 lines]the state's business tax and deep cuts in spending. But many are also concerned some the governor's plans might hit close to home.

Snyder urged the business leaders to accept part of the sacrifice.

"The only way we are going to do this is talk together and help those people who think they didn't get a fair shake or that they're being disadvantaged when they probably were not." 

Labor unions and social service groups worry that the poor, children  and others might pay a bigger price under the governor's budget plan. Snyder says the state must address its billion and a half budget  deficit now and now just kick it down the road.

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