morning news roundup

News Roundup
9:05 am
Wed April 18, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Personal Property Tax

A plan was unveiled yesterday at the state Capitol to phase out the tax on most manufacturing equipment. Rick Pluta reports:

Local governments collect about $400 million in revenue a year from the industrial property tax, also known as the personal property tax. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley helped design the plan to get rid of the tax over the next several years. He says Michigan is unique in how it taxes industrial property - and he says it’s driving investments to other states and countries. But local leaders say the way the phase-out is drafted now, it would force disinvestment in schools, and city services. That’s because it does not replace all the revenue lost to local governments. The communities that would be most affected are industrial cities with the most factories.

Kalamazoo River Opens

Calhoun County Health officials are opening up a three mile section of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall this morning. It’s the first time the river has opened to the public since more than 800,000 gallons of oil spilled into the river in July 2010. “It’s just a tiny portion of the 37 total miles of the river that have been closed since the underground Enbridge pipeline ruptured. Crews have recovered more than a million gallons of oil from the river. Calhoun County Health officials say people using the river may still see small oil flecks or oil sheen. But they say an assessment of that portion of the river shows it is safe for public recreation. Health officials hope to open the rest of the river to public recreation as soon as July,” Lindsey Smith reports.

Utility Refunds

Customers of DTE Energy Co. and CMS Energy Corp.'s Consumers Energy unit are expected to get a refund soon, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Michigan Public Service Commission on Tuesday ordered DTE and its gas subsidiary MichCon to refund $30.9 million to 2.1 million electric and 1.2 million gas customers. Consumers Energy must refund $25.4 million to its 6.8 million electric and gas customers. The refund is for money collected from customers to support the Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund, which provides assistance to low-income utility customers. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last year that energy legislation didn't include provisions for LIEEF and that the PSC shouldn't administer the program anymore.

News Roundup
8:00 am
Tue April 17, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

They’re Back: Lawmakers Return to Lansing

After a two-week break, lawmakers are heading back to the state Capitol today. And, today’s tax filing deadline has kicked off political sparring over the state’s tax overhaul. “Democrats say a lot of the changes made last year should be reversed. That includes restoring the exemption for pension income. They are also calling to restore a dozen credits and deductions, including the tax breaks for raising children and charitable donations. Republicans say the tax overhaul made taxes more simple and fair and treats all income the same, regardless of its source,” Rick Pluta reports.

President Obama to Visit SE MI

President Obama is scheduled to attend two fundraisers tomorrow in suburban Detroit. The Associated Press reports:

The president plans to attend an evening event at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn. Later, he's set to appear at the Bingham Farms home of Denise Ilitch. She's the daughter of Mike and Marian Ilitch, owners of Little Caesar's Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. That event could collect up to $40,000 per donor… The president could raise $1 million at Wednesday's events. Obama last visited Michigan on January 27th when he spoke on higher education funding at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Engler: Tax Decisions Need to Be Made Quickly

Former Michigan Governor John Engler says politicians in Washington need to make important decisions now, despite the general election coming in November. Engler spoke to a gathering at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids yesterday. Lindsey Smith reports:

Engler says politicians have a lot of tough decisions to make to keep the U.S. competitive globally. That includes decisions on energy and education; but most importantly, he says, decisions about the tax code and the federal deficit. Engler says those decisions need to made as quickly as possible. Engler said lawmakers need to make long-term decisions about the tax code instead of one time quick fixes he says only add uncertainty for U.S. businesses. Engler says uncertainty about energy prices and the future of the new national health care law are also dragging down the economy.

News Roundup
8:38 am
Mon April 16, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, April 16th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Rehashing the Tax Debate

Democrats at the state Capitol see political opportunity in tomorrow’s tax-filing deadline, and they intend to use it to hammer Republicans on their overhaul last year of the state tax code. Rick Pluta reports:

Democrats believe the issue of taxes is a political winner for them this year. In Lansing, Democrats hope the tax question will turn the odds in their favor to win the nine or more additional seats they need to take control of the state House. Their message will target seniors paying taxes on pension income for the first time and people who take advantage of tax breaks and deductions that won’t be available when they file next year.  At the same, Republicans cut taxes for many businesses. GOP leaders say the sweeping re-write was necessary to streamline and simplify Michigan’s taxes, and free up money for businesses to create jobs. 

Romney Leads Obama in MI Campaign Donations

Federal Election Commission records show Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney out-raised President Obama through the end of February, the Detroit Free Press reports. “Obama had raised about $1.6 million in Michigan. That's far more than Obama had raised in the state at this point four years ago, but still less than Romney's $2-million total… Obama and Romney each have one Michigan city that towers above all others for fund-raising power. For Obama, it's Ann Arbor, where his campaign has collected $243,603. At $450,691, Romney's sweet spot is Bloomfield Hills, where he grew up,” the Freep reports.

Amtrak Delays

Amtrak says there will be some train cancelations and delays for three days beginning today on the routes from Chicago to Port Huron and Pontiac, the Associated Press reports. “Amtrak says the service interruptions are necessary to allow track work. It says normal travel times should return by early May. The passenger rail service says certain trains will be canceled Monday through Wednesday, while slowdowns of up to 90 minutes will continue until the work is done,” the Associated Press reports.

News Roundup
8:40 am
Thu April 12, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Foreclosures Decline

Realty Trac is reporting that Michigan’s home foreclosure rate is improving. “Foreclosure filings were down nearly 20% during the first three months of the year compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. The decline was even steeper compared to the same time a year ago. Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac. He says nationally foreclosure numbers haven’t looked this good since before the recession started in 2008. Bloomquist expects there will be a spike in new home foreclosures in the second half of the year,” Steve Carmody reports.

Ag Industry Grows

A new Michigan State University study shows Michigan’s agriculture industry has grown dramatically throughout the recession. Lindsey Smith reports:

Agriculture contributed more than $90 billion to Michigan’s economy in 2010. The economic impact of farming, food processing and the supply chain is twice as much as it was in 2004. “(Agriculture’s) critical to what’s happening in the state. And the story about our growth I think is significant versus other sectors of the state’s economy that have clearly been in decline,” said Chris Peterson, director of the MSU Product Center. Peterson says growing demand for food in big countries like China and India are a major factor in agriculture’s growth in Michigan.The latest report shows 618,000 jobs come directly from Michigan’s food and agriculture business sector.

Kalamazoo River Sheen

Officials say material apparently dumped into a storm drain has created a miles-long sheen on the Kalamazoo River. The Associated Press reports:

The Battle Creek Enquirer reports police were notified Wednesday about a possible spill near Albion. Booms were placed in the river to collect the material. Authorities say it appears the unknown material was apparently dumped into a drain at the former Union Steel site… Crews have been working to clean the Kalamazoo River further downstream since a 2010 pipeline rupture spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil near Marshall.

News Roundup
8:34 am
Wed April 11, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Conflict of Interest in EM Ballot Challenge?

While state elections officials inspect petitions seeking a referendum that could overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law, one of the key decision-makers could have a conflict of interest. Rick Pluta reports:

One of the people in line to decide the fate of the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law has a business interest in the outcome. Jeffrey Timmer is a partner at the Sterling Corporation. Sterling is a political consulting firm that works for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. That’s the group that’s filed several technical challenges to the petition in an effort to keep the question off the ballot…

While his firm tries to stop the referendum, Timmer also sits on the Board of State Canvassers. That’s the bipartisan panel that will make the initial ruling on the challenge. Timmer is a Republican who was appointed to the board in 2009. State elections officials say it is up to Timmer to decide whether he has a conflict and should recuse himself. Timmer did not return phone calls for comment.

EM for Muskegon Heights Schools

Governor Rick Snyder has determined a financial emergency exists in the Muskegon Heights school district. The next step is for the governor to appoint an emergency manager to the district. “Muskegon Heights Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row. The deficit is projected to be around $9.4 million by the end of this school year. Student enrollment has dropped by a third since 2006. Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights asked for a state takeover back in December. Emergency managers already run two school districts and four cities in Michigan. The City of Detroit is working under the terms of a consent agreement instead of an emergency manager,” Lindsey Smith reports.

High School Graduate Rates Remain Steady

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2011 in Michigan remained relatively steady compared to the previous year, despite new science and math requirements. Jennifer Guerra reports:

Wendy Zdeb-Roper is executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. She says most educators had "a certain degree of trepidation" when the requirements were introduced because they were concerned about graduation rates and how students would fare. According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average graduation rate dropped by only a little more than two percent – from 76 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2011. The new high school requirements were approved by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2006.

News Roundup
9:18 am
Tue April 10, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Court Lifts I.E. Suspension

The Michigan Court of Appeals has lifted a lower court order that delayed when two state laws took effect. The case is part of a procedural fight between Democrats and Republicans at the state Capitol. Rick Pluta reports:

State House Democrats sued Republicans for ignoring their motions for record roll call votes on a procedure, known as immediate effect, that allows a law to take effect as soon as the governor signs it – instead of three months after the end of a legislative session. Democrats won a court order last week that says Republicans have to recognize their motions for roll call votes. It also suspended two laws – one that forbids graduate teaching assistants from organizing a union, and another that bars teacher contracts that include paycheck deduction of union dues. The Court of Appeals lifted that order and took control of the case. But there will be another hearing on the case before the Court of Appeals makes a final ruling.

EM Repeal Petition Opposed

The group Stand Up for Democracy has been trying to overturn the state’s emergency manager law… they’re trying to get a measure to repeal the law on the November ballot. They’ve submitted petitions containing more than 225,000 signatures. But, now, opponents of that campaign say those petitions are flawed. "The group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility says the petitions aren’t legal because the heading is printed in a smaller font than what is required. A printer's affidavit says the heading size is correct. State election officials are expected to make a decision by late April," the Associated Press reports.

Flint Budget

Flint’s emergency manager and his staff are working this week to wrap up a budget plan for the city. Steve Carmody reports:

The plan will include a request for up to $20 million in bonds to help close the city’s massive budget deficit. Flint Finance Director Jerry Ambrose hopes the plan will be ready to submit to the state by early next week. He says the budget plan will address the need to do “less with less." Ambrose says layoffs and furlough days are likely. Michael Brown, the city's emergency manager, is negotiating with Flint’s city unions,  hoping to reach agreement on deep contract concessions. Flint firefighters have already reached a tentative deal with the city.

News Roundup
9:11 am
Mon April 9, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Recall

A group that wants to oust Governor Snyder will launch its second effort to collect enough signatures to put a recall question on the November ballot. “It will go before an Election Commission this afternoon looking for permission to let the petition drive go forward. The group Michigan Rising gathered half a million signatures last year, but that was well short of the 800,000 names of registered voters needed to put a recall question on the ballot. The group will ask an elections panel in Washtenaw County – where the governor lives – to approve its petition. Michigan Rising cites the state’s emergency manager law and cuts to school funding as the reasons to recall the governor. If the petition is approved, the recall campaign will have six months to gather signatures,” Rick Pluta reports.

State Fairgrounds

Governor Snyder is set to sign legislation today that will allow the state to sell the Michigan state fairgrounds. Tracy Samilton reports:

The Michigan state fair was first held in 1849, making it the second oldest state fair in the country. But the event lost money most years after 1970… Attendance dropped 39% over the final eight years of the Fair’s existence. In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm ended all state funding for the fair, and it closed. Today, Governor Snyder will sign bills which will authorize the state to sell the property. The 157 acre property is located just east of Woodward Avenue, close to 8 Mile.

Palisades Nuclear Plant Offline

Operators of the Palisades nuclear plant in southwestern Michigan say they've taken it offline for refueling. The Associated Press reports:

The plant has been under Nuclear Regulatory Commission scrutiny because of a series of safety problems in recent months. Operators say crews removed the plant from service about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. A restart date hasn't been announced. During the outage, Entergy says crews will place 64 new fuel assemblies. Other major work includes an inspection of the reactor vessel head, replacement of five control rod seal packages, an inspection of the moisture separator and re-heater heat exchangers,\ and an inspection of the plant's two steam generators.

News Roundup
8:31 am
Fri March 30, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 30th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Negotiations Continue in Detroit

The Detroit City Council vetted a proposed state deal to fend off insolvency yesterday. "The deal is formally called a “financial stability agreement.” The city and state have been trying to negotiate a deal for two weeks now. But after yesterday’s meeting, it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart. The Council is expected to take up the issue again on Monday. The city and the state have until April 5th to reach some kind of deal, or Governor Snyder could choose to appoint an emergency manager," Sarah Cwiek reports. Detroit is facing a $200 million budget deficit and could run out of money by the end of May.

Autism Treatments

The state Legislature has sent Governor Snyder a package of bills that would require health insurance plans to offer coverage for childhood autism treatments. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder called for the autism mandate in his State of the State address. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley has a daughter with autism. He says the case can be made for extending the mandate to other mental health disorders, but autism was a good place to start. Calley says the requirement will save taxpayers money because more children with autism will grow to live independently instead of requiring government assistance. But on the same day, the Legislature sent him the bills, a state Senate committee eliminated funding in his Medicaid budget for treating autism.

MI Economic Recovery

Things looked bleak in Michigan in January 2009, when the state’s economic activity index fell to 60 points. But, as Rina Miller reports, in January of this year it was up to 98 points. “The index looks at payrolls, exports, sales tax revenues, unemployment claims and other factors. ‘We're starting to see some sustainable progress in coming out of the depths of the recession,’ Robert Dye, chief economist with Comerica Bank, explains. ‘And in January, we really see evidence of this resurgence of the auto industry permeating into other parts of the economy,’” Miller reports.

News Roundup
8:58 am
Thu March 29, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Sign Helmet Law?

The state Senate approved a measure yesterday to end the requirement that motorcycle drivers over the age of 21 must wear a helmet. Now, it’s up to Governor Snyder to decide whether the measure will become law. Rick Pluta reports:

Governor Snyder has not said whether or not he’ll sign the legislation. The Senate bill would allow people 21 and over to ride without head protection – if they carry extra insurance coverage. But that did not persuade state Senator Roger Kahn, who is also a doctor. He says helmets save lives and protect against injuries that would otherwise be more severe. Advocates for repealing the law say safety training is more important than head protection. People in Michigan’s hospitality industry also support the repeal. They say there will be more Michigan motorcycle tourism without the helmet requirement.

Jobless Rate Continues Decline

The state’s unemployment rate continues to decline. Michigan's jobless rate fell in February to 8.8 percent, and the state's total workforce grew by 14,000, according to the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was below 9 percent was in September of 2008. Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush took a deeper look behind the numbers – you can find his report here.

Gas Prices Worry Retailers

Michigan retailers are becoming more concerned about the impact rising gasoline prices will have on sales. “Michigan’s average gas price leaped over four dollars a gallon this week. The Michigan Retailers Association released a survey Wednesday showing lower sales projections over the next three months. Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retailers Association. He says rising gas prices will force retailers to spend more to ship their products and discourage customers from coming into their stores,” Steve Carmody reports.

News Roundup
8:34 am
Wed March 28, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Hold Town hall Meeting

Governor Snyder will be part of a town hall meeting today in Detroit to talk about the city’s finances. “The meeting comes as state and city leaders are trying to finalize a deal to resolve major cash flow problems. A state review team has determined Detroit is in “severe financial stress”. The city’s deficit is nearly $200 million. Snyder says he’s trying to be transparent about the financial situation. He’s expected to go over the facts at the town hall meeting. He’ll also field questions and probably some criticism from the audience,” Lindsey Smith reports.

State Senate to Take Up Helmet Law

The Michigan Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a measure to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law – and send it to Governor Snyder’s desk, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The measure was stalled because Governor Snyder wants the helmet law to be part of a larger discussion on finding savings in Michigan’s no-fault insurance system. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he wants to get the law on the books in time for the new motorcycle riding season. Governor Snyder has not said what he would do if a helmet law repeal reaches his desk. Supporters of the helmet law say it saves lives and prevents expensive-to-treat head injuries.

Case Against Militia Group Dismissed

A judge dismissed key charges yesterday against members of a Michigan militia who were accused of plotting war against the government, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The decision is an embarrassment for the government, which secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia and claimed members were armed for war in rural southern Michigan. Detroit federal Judge Victoria Roberts made her decision five days after prosecutors rested their case. Her decision affects all seven militia members who've been on trial since Feb. 13. Only weapons charges remain against two of the defendants.

News Roundup
8:44 am
Mon March 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, March 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Healthcare Overhaul

Michigan is one of 26 states challenging the federal Affordable Care Act in arguments that begin today before the U-S Supreme Court. Meanwhile, “there is a fight in the Michigan Legislature over moving ahead with the internet exchanges required by the law to help people find affordable insurance. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, says the state should wait for a ruling. Governor Rick Snyder says exactly the opposite. He says the state can’t afford to wait – that a delay could cost federal dollars and doom Michigan’s ability to adopt its own system if the federal healthcare law is upheld,” Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing Budget

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero will tell the city council tonight how he plans to cut nearly $5 million to balance his city’s budget. Steve Carmody reports:

Last fall, the mayor’s office was predicting the city might be facing up to a $15 million shortfall. Mayor Bernero says voter approval of a special public safety millage, lower health care costs and more state revenue sharing money than expected has improved Lansing’s revenue picture. However, Bernero says painful cuts are still needed to balance the city’s budget. Bernero says without additional concessions from the city’s unions Lansing will have to institute employee furlough days and possibly layoffs of some non-public safety employees.

MI SUPCO

The Michigan Supreme Court says a lawsuit challenging health insurance for the domestic partners of state employees won't be placed on a fast track, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The court on Friday declined to take the case away from the Michigan appeals court. The lone dissenter was Justice Stephen Markman, who says it's an important matter that deserves "expedited consideration" from the Supreme Court. Attorney General Bill Schuette is challenging the Civil Service Commission's decision to extend benefits to domestic partners or other unrelated adults living with some state employees. Lawmakers tried to overturn it but didn't have enough votes last year.

News Roundup
8:29 am
Fri March 23, 2012

This morning's news headlines in Michigan

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Concealed Weapons Changes?

Under a new proposal in the state Senate, people with concealed weapon permits could carry handguns in more places if they get additional training. “A bill that would overhaul parts of the state's concealed weapons law was approved Thursday by the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.The bill wouldn't eliminate "no carry" zones such as schools, stadiums and churches. But licensed carriers who get training beyond what's already required in state law could get exemptions that would allow them to carry guns in those zones,” the Associated Press reports.

LGBT Protections

Democratic state Senator Rebecca Warren is calling for an expansion of Michigan’s civil rights law to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender from discrimination. Rick Pluta reports:

Warren says expanding the civil rights law would send a message that Michigan is trying to attract creative workers and entrepreneurs. Warren says the legislation would have no effect on the amendment that outlaws same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan. She doubts her bill will clear the Legislature in this session, but she wants to make sure the issue doesn’t go dormant. She also wants the bill to serve as a counterpoint to another bill that would outlaw local gay rights ordinances like the ones on the books in 18 Michigan communities.

Spartans Are Out

Michigan State University is out. The Spartan’s men’s basketball team lost 57-44 last night in their NCAA Sweet 16 tournament game against Louisville. “Tough defense by Louisville led to the defeat,” NPR’s Mike Pesca explains. “Some couch and garbage fires were reported near Michigan State University,” after the game, the Associated Press notes. But, no injuries have been reported.

News Roundup
8:56 am
Thu March 22, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup: Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Financial Crisis in Detroit

The state review team looking at Detroit’s finances yesterday formally declared the city to be in “severe financial distress.” Sarah Cwiek reports:

This means the review team will recommend some kind of state intervention in Detroit—whether it’s a consent agreement outlining steps the city must take to get out of financial distress (and likely giving elected officials some greater powers to take them), or appointing an emergency manager for the city. But, a Judge has issued an injunction forbidding a consent agreement before March 29th. The review team’s deadline to make a recommendation is March 26th. The state is appealing the injunction. Arguments are slated for today in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Oakland County Redistricting

A fight over drawing Oakland County commission districts has made its way up to the state Supreme Court. Rick Pluta reports:

The legal battle pits Democrats in Oakland County against Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder. The issue is a state law that will toss out Oakland County’s current county commission map that was drawn by a board led by Democrats. The state law will turn that job over to the Oakland County Commission, which has a GOP majority. Hundreds of e-mails to and from county officials that were made public appear to show partisan motives behind the law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the law soon. The court has a slim Republican majority.

Crops Threatened

It’s been an unseasonably warm month and that could jeopardize the state’s fruit crops. “While it's not unusual to have warm spells in early spring, it is unusual is for temperatures to average 40 degrees higher than normal for several weeks,” Rina Miller reports. "This is pretty much unprecedented," Matthew Grieshop, assistant professor at Michigan State University says. "It was back in the early 40s that we last had weather like this, and based on our experience, it looks pretty grim for the fruit growers."

News Roundup
8:59 am
Tue March 13, 2012

In this morning's news headlines...

Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Outline Detroit Consent Agreement

Governor Snyder will outline a proposed consent agreement for the city of Detroit today. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon, who leads the state review team looking at Detroit’s finances, have suggested a consent agreement for weeks. That measure could give the city’s elected officials broad powers similar to those of an emergency manager. City officials acknowledge that without some major action, Detroit will go broke in the next couple of months, with a $45-50 million shortfall expected by early summer. And it’s likely the only way to avoid emergency manager. Both Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council would have to sign off on a consent agreement.

Flint Finances

Michael Brown, Flint’s emergency manager, says he wants to borrow between $15 and $20 million to help pay for past city deficits. “Brown discussed the plans Monday at a meeting where Flint Mayor Dayne Walling also delivered a State of the City address. Brown says the city will pursue fiscal stabilization bonds while working to plug a projected $20 million gap between revenues and expenses in the 2013 budget. He says the city is meeting with municipal unions to discuss cost-cutting, but he expects the city's work force will shrink as it deals with the projected deficit,” the Associated Press reports.

Abortion Debate Continues in Lansing

The debate over abortion is expected to resume today at the state Capitol. Rick Pluta reports:

The state House is expected vote on measures to make it a crime to intimidate or coerce a woman into aborting a pregnancy. The legislation would create a new crime of coercing a woman to have an abortion against her will. It would cover anything from the threat of violence to refusing to pay child support or getting a woman fired from a job. No one is arguing in favor of allowing people to intimidate a woman into having an abortion. But opponents of the package say it should not single out as victims only women who are coerced into having an abortion. They say women who are threatened because they want to end a pregnancy should have the same protections.

News Roundup
8:53 am
Mon March 12, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, March 12th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

State Senate Takes up Autism Mandate

Measures on the state Senate calendar this week would require health plans to pay for autism treatments for children. “One bill would set up a fund to reimburse insurance companies for the costs of the treatments. Supporters say early treatment of autism helps children transition to healthy lives. But some supporters of the mandate say it does not go far enough. The autism insurance mandate has the support of Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley – who has a daughter with autism,” Rick Pluta reports.

Detroit Financial Review

The state team that is reviewing Detroit’s finances has avoided a scheduled court date—and possible contempt of court--by disbanding a controversial sub-committee. Sarah Cwiek reports:

An Ingham County Circuit Court Judge had ordered the team to appear in court today. That same judge had earlier ruled the team must meet in public to comply with the state's Open Meetings Act. They did, but quickly formed a sub-committee that had planned to meet in private to “advise the committee of the possible statutory options for its recommendation" to Governor Snyder. But State Treasurer Andy Dillon, who leads the review team, says they decided not to push the issue. The team has already declared that “severe fiscal stress” exists in the city. Barring drastic changes or an unexpected influx of money, officials expect the city to run out cash before the end of the fiscal year. 

State of the City: Flint

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is scheduled to deliver a State of the City address this evening. “The Flint Journal reports that Monday's remarks will be about 20 minutes shorter to accommodate the City Council meeting. Walling said his speech will be part of the meeting at City Hall. Council meetings were cut to once each month by emergency manager Michael Brown. Brown is to talk about Flint's finances during the meeting. He is a former acting mayor of the city and was appointed in November by Gov. Rick Snyder,” the Associated Press reports.

News Roundup
8:51 am
Fri March 9, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 9th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Corporations to Disclose Political Spending?

A ballot campaign is trying to amend the state constitution to require businesses to tell the public when they run their own political ads.  A petition drive will try to put the question to voters on the November ballot. Rick Pluta reports:

The amendment takes aim at the 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited political expenditures by corporations as a long as they are not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign. The amendment would require businesses to report political expenditures within 24 hours and identify themselves on their ads. Unions are specifically excluded. Benson says labor organizations are bound by other disclosure laws.

“Occupy” Homes

A group of anti-foreclosure activists says Chase bank continues to wrongly foreclose on people’s homes. And as part of the “Occupy our Homes” movement, they plan to fight for eight Metro Detroit homeowners they say are victims. “Chase bank and other mortgage lenders signed a consent agreement with the federal government in the wake of the national foreclosure crisis. The group says they want Chase to work with the homeowners—but they’ll physically defend the home from foreclosure if necessary. They’re also taking up the case of seven other families across Metro Detroit,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

Detroit Corruption

Detroit businessman Bobby Ferguson, a friend of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, obtained more than $55 million through extortion and other illegal conduct, according to federal records. “The allegations surfaced in a seizure warrant affidavit that was unsealed Thursday… The affidavit provides the most detailed account to date of the alleged trail running through the racketeering conspiracy case against Ferguson and Kilpatrick. It says Ferguson spent a fraction of the cash on his kids' college education, his girlfriend and construction equipment. The 43-year-old Ferguson is awaiting trial in separate federal corruption and bid-rigging cases,” the Associated Press reports.

News Roundup
8:02 am
Thu March 8, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, March 8th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder on Public Safety

Governor Rick Snyder delivered an address on public safety yesterday in Flint. Rick Pluta reports:

The governor presented his plan to fight high crime rates in Michigan cities in front of a room filled with police officers, prosecutors, and other local government officials. The plan has 34 separate initiatives and would cost tens of millions of dollars. Governor Snyder wants to hire and train 180 new state troopers to work in high-crime cities, put more scientists in crime labs, and place parole officers in local police departments. But the governor says he also wants to link welfare benefits to school attendance, attack urban blight, and start up a 15 million dollar urban jobs program. The governor says he will submit a budget request to the Legislature within two weeks.

Bing Delivers State of the City Address

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing delivered his third State of the City address last night. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Bing gave few details about how he’ll deal with the city’s most immediate threat: running out of cash. Bing said both he and Governor Snyder “agree that an emergency manager is not the best option” for Detroit. Bing has hammered out tentative cost-saving agreements with the city’s major unions. But they have yet to be ratified by members. The state could grant Detroit’s elected officials powers to impose new contracts and make other sweeping changes through a consent agreement. That’s seen as an increasingly likely option for the state to help Detroit get through its cash crunch.

State’s Unemployment Rate Drops

The state’s unemployment rate is continuing to drop. The state’s seasonally unadjusted rate was 9 percent in January. “During the past year, Michigan’s unemployment rate is down nearly two full percentage points. The state’s unemployment rate is now at its lowest mark since September 2008.  It’s also about five percentage points lower than at the height of the recession in 2009. Manufacturing and Professional services saw the biggest jump in new hires,” Steve Carmody reports.

News Roundup
9:01 am
Wed March 7, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Bing to Address Detroit

Mayor Dave Bing is set to deliver his State of the City address this evening at the Erma Henderson Auditorium at the Detroit City Hall. “Bing will deliver his third State of the City address as he, the City Council and union leaders seek fiscal answers to keep the state from appointing an emergency manager… A preliminary review from the state showed a nearly $200 million general fund deficit for 2011. A review team is looking over the city's books to determine if a financial emergency exists, a step that could lead to Gov. Rick Snyder appointing an emergency manager,” the Associated Press reports.

Anti “Right to Work” Ballot Drive Underway

Unions and progressive groups have launched a ballot drive as a push back against what they say is a wave of anti-labor measures from Republicans in Lansing. Rick Pluta reports:

The campaign wants to put a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot. It would prohibit Michigan from becoming a "right-to-work" state that allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It would also pre-empt a host of other laws that would restrict union organizing and fundraising. Opponents of the ballot drive said it’s motivated more by a desire of union leaders to drive voter turnout in November than to guarantee workers’ rights. Union and progressive groups launched the ballot drive today. They have until July 9 to collect enough signatures of registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.

Prop 2 Arguments Begin Today

The U.S. Circuit Court in Cincinnati will hear arguments today over Michigan’s constitutional amendment that bars state universities from considering race in college admissions."Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved ‘Proposition 2’ in 2006. Mark Rosenbaum is with the American Civil Liberties Union. He says Prop 2 violates the U.S. Constitution by forbidding the consideration of race, while other factors like whether a college applicant’s parent is an alumnus, are still permitted. Last year, a federal appellate court ruled against Prop 2,” Steve Carmody reports. The case could eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

News Roundup
8:48 am
Tue March 6, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Union Bargaining Rights

Unions and progressive groups plan to unveil a ballot campaign later today to preempt efforts to pass a right-to-work law in Michigan. “The so-called Protect Our Jobs campaign would block efforts to enact a right-to-work law that would forbid compulsory union dues as a condition of employment. It would also preempt about 80 measures pending before the Legislature that would enact restrictions on unions and union organizing. The campaign would do that by having voters approve an amendment to the state constitution. To get on the ballot, the campaign will have to collect more 323,000 signatures of registered voters in a six month window," Rick Pluta reports.

Snyder to Deliver Public Safety Address

Governor Snyder will deliver an address on public safety in Flint tomorrow. The Associated Press reports:

Snyder plans to call for $4.5 million to reopen the Flint city lockup to free space in the Genesee County Jail. Flint emergency manager Michael Brown has said opening the lockup is important because criminals are "laughing at the system." Snyder says it's unacceptable that Flint, Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw rank among the nation's top 10 in violent crime rates for cities with at least 50,000 people. His plan's expected to include $15 million for what he has called law enforcement "enhancements." He also says changes must include crime prevention and criminal justice reforms.

Home Prices Tick Up

After years of rollercoaster prices, Michigan home prices may finally be stabilizing. Steve Carmody reports:

Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capitol. He says an improving job picture, stronger consumer confidence and more investors buying cheap homes are all contributing to a more stable real estate market. But as with all things real estate, 'Location…location…location' is what matters. Villacorta says Grand Rapids’ home sale prices are up about six percent compared with a year ago, while home prices in Lansing and Flint continue to decline.

News Roundup
8:49 am
Mon March 5, 2012

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, March 5th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Santorum Rally

It's been almost a week since Michigan's presidential primary but Rick Santorum’s campaign is organizing a rally today in front of the state Republican Party headquarters in Lansing. Rick Pluta reports:

The rally is to protest how state GOP leaders awarded both of Michigan’s at-large delegates to Mitt Romney for winning a majority of the statewide vote. Santorum says the vote was so close that he and Romney each would have gotten a delegate – until GOP leaders friendly to Romney changed the rules after the election last Tuesday. The Santorum campaign has also asked the Republican National Committee to investigate the Michigan GOP.

MSU Nuclear Science

Scientists from across the country are in Washington D.C. today to ask Congress to support Michigan State University’s $600 million nuclear science facility. Rina Miller reports:

The scientists want lawmakers to declare MSU’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams a national priority, and to keep funding intact. Brad Sherrill is chief scientist of what’s called F-RIB. He believes the facility will bring $1 billion into Michigan – including hundreds of new jobs and thousands of scientific visitors. The primary research at F-RIB will be to understand the basic forces that hold atoms together. MSU was expecting $55 million from the federal government for the project, but the Obama administration budgeted only $22 million.

Stormy Weather

Tens of thousands of Michigan homes and businesses are without power after a winter storm brought up to 15 inches of snow and blacked out more than a quarter-million electricity customers, the Associated Press reports. “The storm that hit Friday also triggered deadly tornadoes across the Midwest. CMS Energy Corporation says about 51,000 customers remained without service at 4 p.m. Sunday, down from 147,000. DTE Energy Company says about 5,000 of 120,000 customers remained powerless at 4 p.m. Sunday,” the AP notes.

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