morning news roundup

News Roundup
8:20 am
Tue June 5, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Light Rail in Southeast Michigan?

Elected leaders and private backers of the proposed Woodward Avenue light rail line met yesterday with federal transit officials in Detroit. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Backers left the meeting with yet another 60-day deadline to try and secure federal funding. The so-called M-1 light rail project has had a lot of dramatic ups and downs in the past few months. Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing—at U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s urging—decided to switch an initial federal grant for the project to a regional rapid bus system in January. But M-1’s private backers, including Detroit businessmen Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert, have continued to push for the project. Federal officials are worried the rail proposal still lacks some key elements—including a regional transit authority to fund and operate it. Bing, Snyder and Penske said they’ll work on addressing those concerns before the two sides meet again in 60 days. The current M-1 proposal would extend just 3.4 miles down Woodward, connecting downtown Detroit and the New Center area.

New Pipeline Post-Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Enbridge Energy will take its plans for a new oil pipeline across the state of Michigan to state regulators this week. “The new pipeline will replace the one that ruptured in 2010, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. The Michigan Public Service Commission will meet with Enbridge officials tomorrow to discuss the company’s pipeline plan. The agency approved plans for another section of the same pipeline plan last month. The planned new pipeline is larger than the one it will replace,” Steve Carmody reports.

Anti-Bullying Policies

Every K-12 school in Michigan has to adopt an anti-bullying policy by tomorrow. “Michigan was the 48th state to pass a school anti-bullying law. Martin Ackley is with the Michigan Department of Education. He said the law is very important to help students feel safe. ‘The bottom line is to protect the kids who are being bullied because it is definitely not deserved and it’s not helpful to the kids, to the school, to the families, to the communities and the consequences are dire,’ Ackley said. Each school in Michigan will draft its own anti-bullying policy which will include state guidelines,” Emily Fox reports.

News Roundup
8:26 am
Fri May 25, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 25th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Budget

The Detroit City Council has approved a new budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st but, the Council spent a lot more time talking about Detroit’s consent agreement with the state—and whether to challenge it in court—than about the budget. “The budget that Council approved by a six-three vote is pretty similar to the one Mayor Dave Bing’s office proposed in April. The Council restored some money to the budget. But it mostly preserved the nearly $250 million in cuts the mayor proposed. They didn’t have much choice, because the city’s consent agreement requires Detroit to spend within its means. A decision on whether to take the consent agreement to court is expected early next week,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

State Prison Shakeup

The state Department of Corrections plans a shakeup of its network of prisons and holding facilities to add space for alleged parole violators. Rick Pluta reports:

The last remaining prison within Detroit’s city limits will close, and be converted to a holding facility for people accused of parole violators. A prisoner re-entry facility in the Thumb will also close, while a shuttered prison in Muskegon will re-open. Russ Marlan is with the state Department of Corrections. He says the department has few alternatives right now when dealing with parole absconders – either ship them to the state prison complex in Jackson or let them go free. Some Detroit lawmakers complain the move will make it harder for some families to visit inmates and weaken the support system for prisoners once they’re released.

Camp Take Notice

People who live at a large homeless encampment near Ann Arbor are worried they might be evicted. “About 65 people live at Camp Take Notice. Residents and their supporters held a rally last night to pressure the state to let them stay. The tent city sits on Michigan Department of Transportation property. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation says the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years.  He says there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate,” Mercedes Mejia reports.

News Roundup
8:36 am
Wed May 23, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Consent Agreement

Officials with Detroit’s law department say they expect to go to court to challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Last week, Detroit’s top lawyer suggested the agreement was illegal because the state owes an outstanding debt to the city.  State officials say that premise is all wrong. Some City Council members oppose a legal challenge, calling it pointless and counterproductive. But council member Kwame Kenyatta took the opposite view. He says if city lawyers are right and the agreement violates the city charter, that’s a serious problem. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declined to comment on the legal challenge.

Flint Teachers

The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers. Earlier this month, the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools. Board documents say the district selected teachers for layoff based on recent evaluations. Statewide teacher tenure legislation last year put an end to seniority-based layoffs. The board must adopt a budget by June 30.

Kalamazoo River Update

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated. “Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.  Jennifer Gray is a state toxicologist. She says a draft report released this week by the Department of Community Health shows no organic oil-related chemicals have turned up in any of the water wells.  But she says a few wells have tested positive for iron and nickel. Gray says testing will continue for years to come," Steve Carmody reports. A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

News Roundup
8:24 am
Mon May 21, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 21st, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Teacher Benefits

A state House committee will go to work this morning on legislation that would make some big changes to teachers’ retirement benefits. Rick Pluta reports:

The state manages the school employees’ pension fund. Governor Rick Snyder says the system is under-funded. He wants the Legislature to enact a plan to make sure it doesn't require a taxpayer bailout years down the road. Teachers’ unions say the governor is overstating the liabilities on the system. They say Republicans are using the numbers to force more costs onto school employees. One of the proposed changes would end retiree health care insurance for new hires.

Double Taxation?

Republican State Senator David Robertson wants to end what he calls a form of double taxation on new car sales. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Currently in Michigan, when you apply the trade-in value of your old car to the purchase price of a new car, you pay sales tax on the entire price of the new car.  Sen. David Robertson says that's not fair. He says most states only tax people on the difference between the value of the trade-in and the new car. Changing the tax means the state would lose $250 million in tax revenue a year, so he's proposing to phase in the tax change over six years.

Mayors Say ‘No’ to Occupy Groups

Two Michigan mayors who supported Occupy Wall Street protestors in their cities last year say they won't allow encampments on city property this year. “Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says Michigan's capital city won't let protestors stay in a downtown park past closing time.  Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje agrees. ‘We wouldn't tolerate tents in our parks or people sleeping overnight.  It was a special circumstance, it was a one-time thing,’ Hieftje explains. With warm weather in full swing, Wall Street protestors are expected to make a return,” the Michigan Radio Newsroom reports.

News Roundup
8:59 am
Fri May 18, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 18th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Court of Appeals Takes Up EM Repeal

It’s now up to the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine whether voters will have a chance to approve or reject the state’s emergency manager law. Rick Pluta reports:

The court held an hour-long hearing on the question yesterday. The referendum drive wants the court to order the question onto the November ballot. That’s after a state elections panel deadlocked along party lines, effectively blocking the referendum. The board’s two Republicans said the print size on the petition was too small. Attorney Herb Sanders says if the court lets that decision stand, it would send a grim message to more than 200,000 people who signed the petitions. Opponents of the referendum say if the rules were not followed to the letter, the question should not be allowed on the ballot.

Detroit Consent Agreement Legal?

Detroit’s top lawyer says the city’s consent agreement with the state is not legally binding. “Corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon sent a letter to Governor Snyder’s office calling the agreement “void and unenforceable.” The letter cites money the state owes the city—and says Detroit’s charter forbids it from entering into agreements with debtors. State officials called Crittendon’s letter “confusing.” They say city officials must have known these things before entering into the consent agreement,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

MI “Stand Your Ground” Law

More than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law after the fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the Associated Press reports. "The lawmakers on Thursday announced the measure to repeal 2006 laws passed by bipartisan majorities in the Legislature and signed by then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Backers say such laws protect innocent lives. Detractors say they can become a license to kill and are prone to misuse. Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida's targeted by civil rights and anti-gun violence groups," the AP reports.

News Roundup
8:52 am
Thu May 17, 2012

In this morning's Michigan headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 17th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Economic Outlook

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped by two-tenths of a percentage point in April to 8.3 percent. Rick Pluta reports:

That news came amid predictions that Michigan’s economic recovery will continue, but at a slower pace than it has. George Fulton is a University of Michigan economist.  He says Michigan’s jobless rate remains high, but the state has been outpacing the nation in creating new jobs. “The largest job gains have been the higher wage sector and we see job growth continuing for the next few years, but not quite at the pace we saw last year,” Fulton says. Fulton says that’s largely because of an expected slowdown in car and truck sales, plus overall slow growth in the national economy. Still the mostly good economic news was enough to convince state budget officials to up their revenue projections based on expected income improvements and more consumer spending.

Balancing the State’s Checkbook

Michigan's budget will have about $300 million more this year than state economists predicted in January. “That money is the result of a combination of higher-than-expected tax payments and fewer people receiving Medicaid and other state services. The news came from today's revenue estimating conference in Lansing. State budget director John Nixon says he thinks much of the extra money may go into the state's rainy day fund. Or it may be set aside in case the state loses legal fights over collecting income taxes on public pensions or having state workers pay more of their pension costs. Officials also estimate the state will have about $100 million more to spend in the budget year that starts Oct. 1,” reporters in the Michigan Radio Newsroom explain.

MI More Optimistic

Michiganders are becoming more optimistic about the economy, according to new results out today from Michigan State University's State of the State Survey.Michigan Radio's John Wilson reports:

The survey says state residents haven't been this positive about the economy since 2005, with 54 percent of survey participants characterizing their financial situation as "good" or "excellent" and 61 percent expecting things to get even better in the year to come. MSU notes, “In the fall 2011 survey, conducted from mid-September through early November, only 46.2 percent of those answering the survey called their financial situation "excellent" or “good.”

News Roundup
8:23 am
Wed May 16, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Michigan’s Budget

A conference today at the state Capitol will determine how much money the Legislature will have to work with for the current and upcoming fiscal years. “Preliminary estimates suggest the state is in for a windfall adding up to tens of millions of dollars. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he’s not interested in committing that money to new spending. He says the surplus is not all that big compared to the total budget… The Legislature has set a target of having the budget wrapped up by June 1st,” Rick Pluta reports.

GOP Senate Candidates

Yesterday was the deadline for candidates seeking state or federal offices to file to run in Michigan. And, it looks like the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary will be crowded as five candidates have filed nominating petitions. They are former judge Randy Hekman, businessman Peter Konetchy, co-author of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions Gary Glenn, former-congressman Pete Hoekstra and charter school CEO Clark Durant. The winner of the August 8th primary will face Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in November.

Anti-Fracking Ballot

People who oppose a form of oil and gas drilling known as "fracking" are officially launching a petition drive to ban the practice in the state. Tracy Samilton reports:

"Horizontal hydraulic fracturing" uses slant drilling to inject chemicals or water into rocks to fracture them, in order to extract oil or natural gas. LuAnne Kozma is the campaign's director. She says fracking uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate water. A spokesman for a company with exploratory wells in Michigan says the state has some of the most rigorous safety regulations in the nation for fracking. Petition organizers must get more than 322,000 signatures by July 9th, to get the issue on the November ballot.

News Roundup
9:07 am
Tue May 15, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

The Impact of EITC Cuts

A new report says Michigan's low-income working families will pay an estimated $244 million more in state income taxes next year due to reductions in the state's earned income tax credit, the Associated Press reports. “The Michigan League for Human Services released a report yesterday that shows the state earned income tax credit in 2009 reduced taxes for low-income families by $349 million. That savings will drop to $104 million for 2012,” the AP explains. A spokeswoman with the League says the tax credits boost the economy because poor families spend the money right away.

Political Ad Buys

Five politically conservative groups appear to be pooling their money to buy political ads on Michigan TV stations. Lester Graham reports:

The public files of Michigan’s TV stations reveal four different political non-profits and a super PAC are taking turns buying ads critical of President Obama.  Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, keeps track of this kind of political spending. Often this political money is reported nowhere else. “Millions of dollars have been spent in Michigan, characterizing the Obama administration and its policies, and there will be no accountability for who's behind that,” Robinson says. Most of the groups do not have to reveal who their donors are. Record-breaking amounts of money are expected to be spent in an attempt to influence voters this election year.

MI Budget Boost

A new report says Michigan is collecting more in tax revenues than previous guessed. Steve Carmody reports:

The state House Fiscal Agency reports that revenues in the General Fund and School Aid Fund are running nearly $200 million higher than previously estimated for this fiscal year. The agency predicts revenues will also be slightly higher in the next fiscal year. “General Fund revenues are fluctuating more than school aid. It does appear at this time that there may be more money in school aid,” says Ari Adler, the spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger. Adler says legislative leaders hope to pass a budget for next year by the end of the month. The next fiscal year begins October 1st.

News Roundup
8:35 am
Mon May 14, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 14th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Individual Tax Cut?

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says a tax rollback for individual filers could be part of an overall plan to cut taxes for manufacturers. “The state Senate has approved a proposed phase-out of the tax on most manufacturing equipment. The package now goes to the state House. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he wants to roll into it a reduction in the state income tax or some other tax on individuals. Calley says he and Gov. Snyder are open to the idea. Democrats have complained that the tax reductions enacted by Republicans in Lansing over the past year and a half have all been directed at businesses,” Rick Pluta reports.

Pure Michigan

The Obama Administration wants to step up efforts to promote the U.S. as an international tourism destination and that’s welcome news to the folks who run the “Pure Michigan” campaign. Steve Carmody reports:

Michigan tourism officials know people from foreign countries come here to vacation, but they don’t know how many. And that’s important to know when they’re planning how to spend the “Pure Michigan” campaign’s $25 million advertising budget. This year, only about one percent, or about $250,000, is being spent to promote Michigan as a tourism destination in Europe, mainly in England and Germany. Nothing is being spent in Asia. Right now, the “Pure Michigan” campaign is focusing on regional promotions with some national ads, .and “a modest effort” in Canada.

Northern MI Wildfire

Officials say two wildfires in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula burned nearly 400 acres before being brought under control by fire crews, the Associated Press reports. “WWTV/WWUP reports the first fire started in Ogemaw County's Foster Township and burned about 125 acres on Sunday. The second fire was about four miles away and burned about 250 acres. No injuries were reported. People along a mile-long section of roadway near the first fire were evacuated Sunday but since have returned home. There's no word of structure damage.The cause of the fires is under investigation,” the AP explains.

News Roundup
8:23 am
Fri May 11, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, May 11th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Senate Passes Industrial Tax Phase Out

The state Senate voted yesterday to phase out a tax on most industrial and business property in Michigan. "The tax is a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Senate Republicans amended their original plan so it now provides some assurances it won’t force big cuts to education and other services. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the tax on industrial equipment, in particular, is so unique it drives investment elsewhere. Democrats say the rollback is part of a pattern in Lansing of shifting the tax burden from businesses to individuals," Rick Pluta reports.

Bing Appoints a Detroit CFO

Jack Martin has been appointed chief financial officer in Detroit. Sarah Hulett reports:

The CFO is one of two key positions in the effort to turnaround the city's troubled finances. Martin served as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education several years ago, and in January he was picked to be the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park schools. The Detroit native says he also helped turn around Washington D.C.'s municipal finances. Martin will work alongside a still-unnamed program management director, and a financial advisory board. He starts the job on Monday with a yearly salary of $220,000.

Snyder Talks Bridge in Canada

Governor Snyder visited Windsor, Ontario yesterday to discuss plans with Canadian officials for another bridge across the Detroit River. Ken Silfven, a spokesman for the Governor says the administration, “remains committed to a Canadian-U.S. collaboration to build a span to supplement the privately owned Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The Windsor Star reports that U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson also attended the meeting. Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has been fiercely battling the proposal with ads and lobbying. He seeks to add a span to his own bridge instead,” the Associated Press reports.

News Roundup
8:38 am
Thu May 10, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Tuition Breaks for Veterans

Veterans who come to Michigan after retiring from military duty could soon get a tuition break at community colleges and universities. “A state House committee approved legislation yesterday that would waive the residency requirement for veterans to qualify for in-state or local tuition rates. State Representative Holly Hughes is one of the sponsors. Hughes says the tuition break would also encourage veterans to settle in Michigan once their service is complete. Universities and community colleges say the legislation does not make up for their lost revenue from the tuition breaks,” Rick Pluta reports.

Mandatory Sentences?

A bill in the Michigan Senate would impose tougher penalties on habitual criminals. Rina Miller reports:

A three-time felon who commits a fourth serious offense in Michigan would get a mandatory 25-year sentence under the proposal. The bill has the backing of State Attorney General Bill Schuette as well as law enforcement groups. The Attorney General's office says the mandatory sentence for fourth offenses would include assault with intent to murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and manslaughter. State Senator Steve Bieda says he'd like to refine the bill to give judges more sentencing discretion depending on the severity of the crime.

DNR Auction

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned off state-owned oil and natural gas drilling rights yesterday. More than $4 million dollars was made by leasing some 91,225 acres of land. “The money raised from these biannual auctions has been steadily increasing since 2000, hitting peaks in 2008 and 2010. In the first auction of 2008, the state leased all of the 149,000 available acres for more than $13 million. The last time the state had a 100 percent lease rate was in 1981. The first auction in 2010 had a 99.6 percent lease rate and raised an unprecedented amount: more than $178 million,” Suzanne Jacobs reports.

News Roundup
8:52 am
Wed May 9, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 9th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Election Results

Voters from more than 200 communities turned out yesterday for local elections. In West Michigan, the nearly $100-million-dollar Grand Rapids Community College millage failed. Voters in other parts of the state, however, seemed more willing to spend on education. The Ann Arbor Public Schools technology bond passed with 70 percent in favor of the bond. Voters also approved a bond proposal in the Bloomfield Hills School District. In Brighton, voters narrowly approved an $88 million bond issue. A one-percent city income tax was defeated in Ypsilanti. And, voters in the Lansing area defeated a proposal that would have added a surcharge on their water bills to pay for a sludge dryer in Delhi Township.

Romney Campaigns in Lansing

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney returned to Michigan yesterday to deliver an address at Lansing Community College. Rick Pluta reports:

Romney spoke to a crowd of about 500 people. He went on the attack against President Obama’s handling of the economy. Michigan is outpacing the nation in new hiring, but Romney says the recovery is anemic, and the President mishandled the rescue of the domestic auto industry. He says the President’s rhetoric has not matched his results. The Obama campaign says the resurgence of the auto industry and hiring in the manufacturing sector are proof the president’s policies are working. The Obama and Romney campaigns say they intend to wage a battle for Michigan, which has voted with the Democratic nominee for president in the last five elections.

Snyder Signs Taser Measure

People with concealed pistol permits in Michigan will soon be able to carry Tasers. “Governor Snyder signed the bill into law yesterday. The rules will be the same as those that apply to people authorized to carry firearms in Michigan. More than a quarter-million people in Michigan have concealed pistol licenses. Michigan joins 44 other states that allow people to carry Tasers in public,” Sarah Hulett reports.

News Roundup
8:39 am
Wed May 2, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 2nd
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Student Loan Debt

A pair of Michigan lawmakers is warning that people with government-backed student loans will see their interest rate double - unless members of Congress can agree on a plan to maintain and pay for a lower rate. Sarah Hulett reports:

The interest rate for Stafford loans is set to go up to 6.8 percent on July 1st. The U.S. House passed a Republican-sponsored bill last week that would maintain a lower rate, and pay for it with cuts to public health programs. Michigan U.S. Representatives Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke are co-sponsors of a bill that would instead end six billion dollars’ worth of subsidies to the oil and gas industries. That's the cost to the federal government of keeping the lower interest rate.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

A Republican state lawmaker has introduced a measure to make medical marijuana dispensaries legal in communities that want them. “State Representative Mike Callton has unveiled legislation to legalize dispensaries and allow the facilities to buy growers’ excess amounts of marijuana. He says that would help keep surplus medical marijuana off the black market. Right now, the legal status of medical marijuana dispensaries is waiting on a ruling from the state Supreme Court. Michigan voters approved the state’s medical marijuana law in 2008. The law makes no mention of dispensaries for medical marijuana cardholders,” Rick Pluta reports.

Federal Money for Community Health

Ten community health centers in Michigan will get more almost $20 million in federal funds. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Those health centers are key primary care providers for uninsured and underinsured people in many communities. The money is part of about $11 billion provided to community health clinics through the national health care reform law. Dr. Anand Parekh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Science and Medicine with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, calls the health centers “an important safety net.” Parekh says the Obama administration isn’t focused on legal challenges that could void parts or all of health care reform. Instead, he says they are in “full implementation mode.”

News Roundup
8:13 am
Tue May 1, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Chrysler sales rise in April

Based on strong demand for Jeep and Chrysler brand cars and trucks, Chrysler says its U.S. auto sales rose in April by 20 percent. The Associated Press reports:

The company said it sold more than 141,000 vehicles, its best April in four years. It was the 25th straight month that Chrysler posted year-over-year sales gains. Chrysler says its sales were led by the 200 midsize sedan with a 61 percent increase over April of last year. Jeep Wrangler SUV sales were up 35 percent. All major automakers are scheduled to report April sales figures on Tuesday. Sales are expected to slow a bit from the blistering pace of February and March. Auto research site Edmunds.com expects sales to rise 2 percent over April of 2011 to nearly 1.2 million cars and trucks.

Review team to Pontiac school district

Pontiac’s Interim Superintendent Walter Burt says a state review team is coming to his school district to review the district’s finances, The Oakland Press reports. From the Press:

The state is expected to send a review team to the Pontiac school district as school officials struggle to meet the mandatory plan to eliminate a $24.5 million deficit. This step by the state brings the district closer to having a state emergency manager put in place to run district operations. The Michigan Department of Education has been withholding the April 20 state aid of $1.25 million because district officials have not so far been able to satisfy the first year’s part of the three-year deficit reduction plan… Once it reviews district books, the team would make recommendations to the Pontiac Board of Education, which would be expected to give a stamp of approval to carrying out those proposals.

Personal Property Tax rolls on in state Legislature

The effort to phase out Michigan’s tax on industrial equipment is expected to clear a major hurdle this week as a state Senate committee wraps up hearings on the plan. “A vote in the full Senate could come as soon as this week. Manufacturers say Michigan’s tax on industrial equipment, also known as the Personal Property Tax, is a drag on the state’s economic recovery. The Senate plan would eliminate the tax on industrial equipment by 2022. But local governments rely on that revenue to pay for everything from police and fire to parks and libraries. Communities with a lot of factories would be hit hardest by the loss of tax revenue. Local officials complain the phase-out plan does not guarantee they’ll recover all the lost revenue, which would force cuts to services or force local tax hikes to make up the difference,” Rick Pluta reports.

News Roundup
9:06 am
Thu April 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

EM Repeal on November Ballot?

State elections officials say the campaign to reverse Michigan’s emergency manager law appears to have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But, the petition drive still faces at least one more challenge. Rick Pluta reports:

About 161,000 petition signatures were required. The state Bureau of Elections says the group Stand Up For Democracy has gathered more than 203,000 signatures and that’s plenty more names than they needed to qualify for the ballot. But opponents of the referendum drive say they will challenge the petition for technical violations of the law that specifies the size of the type used on petitions.  An evenly divided, bipartisan state elections board may reject the petitions on those grounds, or it could rule the campaign was still in substantial compliance of the law. Either way, the losers are very likely to take their grievance to the Michigan Court of Appeals to decide the fate of the ballot question.

Foreclosure Rates

Most Michigan cities saw their home foreclosure rates tumble during the first quarter of the year. One analyst says that might signal a trend for the rest of 2012. “Home foreclosure filings dropped between 20% and 30% in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids during the first three months of the year. That's compared to the first quarter of 2011, according to Realty Trac.  Lansing was the only Michigan city on Realty Trac’s list to see an increase in home foreclosure filings between January and March,” Steve Carmody reports.

Michigan Wildfire

Officials say a wildfire in the northern Lower Peninsula has burned at least 1,500 acres and forced the evacuation of about 50 homes, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

WWTV/WWUP reports the fire burned near Mack Lake in Oscoda County's Mentor Township. The U.S. Forest Service says the fire was about 90 percent contained as of Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries or structures being burned. An American Red Cross shelter was set up in the nearby community of Mio. Officials say rain was helping firefighting efforts. The fire is in the area of the Huron National Forest… The Oscoda County sheriff's department says the evacuated homes include some small subdivisions and most of them are seasonal.

News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed April 25, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Gov. Snyder to Hold Online Town Hall

Governor Snyder is set to hold another virtual town hall meeting this afternoon in Lansing. Questions can be posted to the governor’s website, to his Facebook page www.facebook.com/rickformichigan or on twitter by sending messages to @OneToughNerd and using the hashtag #AskGovSnyder. The Governor last held a town hall meeting in March to discuss Detroit's financial crisis. You can watch the town hall, beginning this afternoon at 12:15 p.m., at www.livestream.com/snyderlive.

Residents Question Lansing Budget

City residents are questioning how Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero plans to spend money from a recent property tax hike. Steve Carmody reports:

The tax hike was approved last year. Many voters expected the money would be spent to hire back dozens of police officers and firefighters laid off in recent years. But Mayor Bernero's plan calls for bringing back just seven public safety officers. Bernero says he’d like to hire more cops, but the city can’t afford it. Some Lansing city council members complain the mayor wants to spend money on rehabbing a building for the police department. That's money they say could be spent hiring police officers. The city council has until the middle of May to approve or change the mayor’s budget proposal.

Federal Money for MSU’s Rare Isotope Project

Michigan’s Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow say a Senate subcommittee has significantly increased the recommended annual funding for a planned $600 million physics research facility at Michigan State University, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Michigan Democrats said Tuesday that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water has budgeted $30 million in the 2013 fiscal year for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. That's up from $22 million that President Barack Obama recommended Feb. 13 in his budget proposal. About $55 million in funding was stipulated by the original agreement. Michigan State won a national competition to land the project in December 2008, and design work is under way. Levin and Stabenow say construction of the facility will create about 5,000 construction jobs, with 400 permanent jobs after completion.

News Roundup
8:28 am
Tue April 24, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Flint EM Presents Budget

Next year, the city of Flint will charge residents higher fees in exchange for less services. The budget plan unveiled last night was greeted with anger from city residents and city council members. Steve Carmody reports:

The Flint city budget plan calls for trimming 20 percent of city government workers from the payroll... The plan also raises city sewer and lighting fees. The average property owner will pay an additional $200 in city fees in fiscal year 2013. Emergency manager Michael Brown says the spending cuts and fee hikes are needed to close a $25 million gap in next year’s budget. The city of Flint also wants the state to let it sell $18 million in bonds to pay off the city’s past debt. Brown says he hopes to hear back from the state on the fiscal stabilization bond request sometime next month. Brown says there’s no other way for Flint to close out the debt that the city’s accrued over the past two years.

Detroit Light Rail

A group with plans to build a privately funded light rail line in Detroit says it has the money it needs to construct it, and to run it for ten years. Backers laid out their case in a feasibility study submitted to the federal government. “The M-1 rail line would run along a three-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Supporters say it’s an important project – especially at a time when the city of Detroit is cutting back dramatically on its spending. The project was nearly derailed late last year – after Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Governor Rick Snyder pulled their support in favor of a rapid bus system. The mayor and governor now say they think both projects should move forward... Construction is expected to begin in early 2013, and be completed in 2015,” Sarah Hulett reports.

More Options to Stop Carp

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has added three options to a list of possible measures for preventing Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

In December, the corps released a draft report suggesting methods such as overfishing, ultraviolet light, water guns and introducing native predators in Chicago-area rivers and canals that link the two massive aquatic systems. A final version issued last week also raised the possibility of freezing or drying sections of the waterways, or zapping organisms with carbon dioxide pellets. Next, the corps will decide which options merit further consideration. The report is part of a series as officials develop a strategy for halting species invasions of the Great Lakes, possibly including permanent separation of the two drainage basins.

News Roundup
8:28 am
Mon April 23, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, April 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Statewide Education Conference

State officials and educators will gather today in East Lansing for the 17th annual Governor’s Education Summit. “Last year, Governor Rick Snyder called for an overhaul in how students are educated. This year, organizers say they’ll examine ways to build an education system that begins with pre-school and continues to college or post-secondary job training,” Rick Pluta reports. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will address the conference this morning.

Budgeting Detroit

Detroit’s budget process gets started in earnest this week. Sarah Cwiek reports:

The Detroit City Council will dig into a detailed version of Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed budget for the first time today. Everyone acknowledges it will be a painful, multi-year process of cutting city spending – as outlined in Detroit’s consent agreement with the state. State and city officials have said Detroit needs to focus on delivering its “core services” effectively – and slashing or even ending most others. The proposed budget would eliminate the city’s health, human services, and workforce development departments.

Frost Damage to Cherry Crops

Northern Michigan's tart cherry growers are starting to report serious damage from a hard freeze that followed a late-winter heat wave, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A week-long hot spell in mid-March triggered widespread budding well ahead of normal. Then typical cold weather returned, with temperatures dipping into the 20s on the night of March 25th. Longtime Leelanau County fruit farmer Dave Alpers has 550 acres of tart cherries and 100 acres of sweet cherries in Leland and Suttons Bay townships, about 15 miles north of Traverse City. He tells the Traverse City Record-Eagle that he's finding 80 to 90 percent of the buds on the area's tart cherries have been killed, as have about 40 to 60 percent of the apple buds. The northwestern Lower Peninsula produces about four-fifths of U.S. tart cherries.

News Roundup
9:12 am
Fri April 20, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, April 20th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Struggling School Districts

Michigan school districts are struggling with growing budget deficits and even relatively wealthy districts are facing unprecedented cuts. Jennifer Guerra reports:

The Ann Arbor Public School district faces a $17.8 million deficit. The district's budget for the 2011-12 school year is $183 million. Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen met with the district's Board of Education on Wednesday, where he laid out three possible plans to deal with the deficit in Ann Arbor – each one progressively more severe. Ann Arbor School Board president Deb Mexicotte says the cuts are "reaching the bone," and "if you keep cutting, you’re going to reach the place where you can no longer maintain what you do well." The major difference between Ann Arbor and many other struggling school districts is that Ann Arbor has around $18 million in so-called "rainy day funds" from which it can pull.

Detroit Finances

Governor Snyder’s office released the names of three members appointed to the Detroit Financial Advisory Board yesterday. The consent agreement the city signed with the state earlier this month calls for the creation of the nine-member board which will have oversight over the city’s finances. “Former state Treasurer Robert Bowman, currently president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media LP, is the joint appointee of Snyder and Bing. Darrell Burks, currently a senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be one of three individuals appointed by Gov. Snyder, and Ken Whipple, chairman of the board of Korn/Ferry International, is Treasurer Dillon’s appointee to the FAB,” a press release from the Snyder administration explains. Six appointments to the board are left.

Pontiac EM's Water Plans

Pontiac Emergency Manager Louis Schimmel says Oakland County has agreed to issue $55 million in bonds for the municipal water and wastewater treatment systems, helping the city get out of debt, the Associated Press reports. "The plan would make the water system a stand-alone public corporation. Schimmel said Thursday that the move is projected to save about $52 million over 30 years. He says the savings plus the $55 million in cash will hasten his departure, "which should make some people happy. Schimmel says he may be able to finish reorganizing Pontiac's finances this this year, rather than in 2013," the AP reports.

News Roundup
8:54 am
Thu April 19, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 19th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Presidential Visit

President Obama made a broad, impassioned case for his re-election in Metro Detroit yesterday. Sarah Cwiek reports:

The President resurrected the “change” theme of his 2008 campaign. He said change is a slow process. But he touted some milestones of his first term, including health care reform and the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry. The Henry Ford Museum hosted the first of the two Metro Detroit fundraisers for the President. He then moved on to a private fundraiser at the Bingham Farms home of businesswoman Denise Ilitch. The top price for a ticket there: $40,000.

The President was last in the state in January when he spoke about college affordability at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.

Snyder in Afghanistan

Governor Snyder made a surprise trip to Afghanistan this week to meet with Michigan Air and Army Guard units. The trip was organized by the U.S. Department of Defense. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Snyder said the trip made him more committed to helping returning veterans.“I can tell from the experiences that I’ve had, it just makes me even more determined to say, for the hard work, the wonderful effort our service people are doing for us in all these countries, we need to a better job of helping them find a job, their health care.” Snyder, along with the Governors of Rhode Island and South Dakota, first stopped in Kuwait and, after his stay in Afghanistan, will travel to Germany before returning back to Michigan.

Calley Signs Autism Bill

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed a bill into law yesterday that will require insurance companies to cover childhood autism treatments. Rick Pluta reports:

Calley signed the bill to the applause of families and activists who’ve spent years lobbying for the coverage mandate. The issue is a personal one for Calley, who has a daughter with autism. He says early treatments help autistic children grow up to be self-sufficient and will save taxpayers money on special education and public assistance. Calley says there will also be more and better services for families now that autism specialists know their services will be covered. He says the administration has not taken a position on extending the coverage mandate to mental health conditions.

The lieutenant governor signed the legislation because Governor Snyder is overseas.

Read more

Pages