Politics & Government

Historical
4:51 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

The Ambassador Bridge: Looking back, looking forward

Patricia Drury / Flickr

In his state of the state address, Governor Rick Snyder urged the legislature to approve the construction of a new bridge span between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Michigan Radio’s Political analyst Jack Lessenberry sat down with Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White to talk about the role the Ambassador Bridge has played in its 82 year history, and the reasons why a new bridge may be necessary. 

Billions of dollars a week move across the Ambassador Bridge. “It’s the most important trade crossing between the United States and Canada, and perhaps in the world,” says Jack.

The Ambassador Bridge was built largely as a beacon of prestige for Detroit in the roaring twenties, and would eventual grow to be a massive economic asset.

Jack would remind us though that “nothing lasts forever.” While the Ambassador Bridge was state of the art in 1929, it’s no longer adequate for the amount of traffic or the size of today’s tractor trailers.

--Cade Sperlich, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:02 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Ethanol subsidies put to test again in Senate

Nathan Laurell Flickr

Subsidies for ethanol are being put to the test again in the Senate as budget cutters try to demonstrate a growing appetite in Congress to end special interest tax breaks to help reduce government borrowing.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on two measures that would end subsidies for producing ethanol, a renewable, liquid fuel additive that comes mainly from corn in the U.S.

One measure would repeal a tax credit that provides 45 cents a gallon to oil refiners who mix ethanol with gasoline. The Senate rejected an identical measure Tuesday, 40-59. The other would eliminate federal funding for building ethanol blender pumps or storage facilities.

Critics say the subsidies are no longer needed. Supporters say ethanol helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Commentary
1:08 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.

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Politics
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3.3 million for fighting food assistance fraud

user redjar

Michigan is getting 3.3 million dollars from the federal government to continue efforts to stop errors in the Food Assistance Program. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the state is improving on ways to stop errors, but there is a lot more work to be done.

"It is really an outrage when people are cheating and defrauding the system particularly when it’s something as basic as food for families. We have people in Michigan all across Michigan who have paid taxes all of their lives who never thought in their wildest dreams that they would be in a position where they needed to get some temporary help," said Stabenow. 

The senator said Michigan is keeping better electronic records on who is using the bridge card and how often it is being used. The USDA said Michigan was the most improved state last year in fighting food assistance fraud.

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Politics
10:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3M for fighting food stamp fraud

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan will get $3.3 million from the federal government for its past work toward stopping errors in state-administered portions of the food assistance program.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture award Thursday.

Stabenow says Michigan will receive the additional federal cash as a reward for improvements made during the 2010 fiscal year related to stopping payment errors.

Stabenow said the money should be used to make further improvements in the system to prevent fraud and other abuses in the food assistance program.

Stabenow also called for continued efforts at the federal level to stop fraud and abuse in the program.

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Politics
8:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court agrees to decide pension tax question

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take up the question of taxing pensions.
Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has agreed to Governor Rick Snyder’s request to make an early ruling on whether the new income tax on pensions violates the Michigan Constitution.

Governor Snyder made the request to avoid what potentially could be years of litigation.

The governor is trying to preempt an expected lawsuit from state employee unions. They say the tax on pensions will illegally reduce their agreed-to compensation under collective bargaining agreements.

The Michigan Constitution says the state may not “diminish” nor “impair” the financial benefits of pension plans.

The governor wants the question settled before the pension tax takes effect next year. The law extends the state income tax for the first time to pensions of people born after 1945.

The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments to be held in the case in September. The court has a Republican majority.

Politics
8:00 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Snyder declines to sign GOP letter on Medicaid reform, Obamacare

Governor Rick Snyder is the only Republican governor in the country to decline to sign a letter outlining their goals for healthcare.

The letter included a call to reverse the new federal health care reforms.

The letter was sent by the Republican Governors Association and signed by every member of the group except for Governor Snyder. The letter calls on Congress to give states more control over the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for low-income families. But it also says reversing federal health care reforms is the top priority of Republican governors.

Governor Snyder has been circumspect on where he stands on the health care reforms.

“My role is not to be a large advocate on the national scale. My role is to be governor of Michigan," said Snyder. "We’re focused on Michigan issues.”

Governor Snyder says the state will move ahead with plans to enact the federal reforms unless they are struck down by a court.

The governor sent his own letter to congressional leaders, pointing out that Michigan has not cut Medicaid services to low-income families despite a budget crisis.

Politics
7:36 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Senate committee opens bridge hearings

Michigan Senate hearings on a new Detroit River bridge crossing began this week.
Patricia Drury Flickr

A state Senate committee opened hearings yesterday on legislation that would start the process of building a new bridge connecting Detroit to Canada.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor-Ontario.

Governor Rick Snyder would like the Legislature to approve the initial stages of the bridge project by the end of the month.

Representatives of Governor Snyder’s administration and the Canadian government were on hand to insist the new bridge is an economic necessity that would not cost Michigan taxpayers any money.

Canada has committed to pay all the construction costs with repayment coming from tolls.

Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, says both Michigan and Canada would benefit from expanded border access.

“There are jobs in almost every county of Michigan that depend on companies being able to move things back and forth across the frontier with Canada,” said Norton.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are trying to stop the project.

Matthew Moroun’s family owns the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun will testify today before the state Senate Economic Development Committee.

“We intend to show the actual statistics," said Moroun. "You know, we’ve been in the bridge business for 30-some years, and you learn a lot about the bridge business from being in the bridge business, I can tell you.”

Moroun says the state and Canada cannot credibly guarantee taxpayers’ money is not at stake in going ahead with a new bridge.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is the governor’s lead negotiator to win legislative support of the bridge. He says a new border crossing in southeastern Michigan is critical to the economic future of the entire state.

“Our biggest customer is Canada," said Calley. "We sell more to Canada than anybody else. They buy more of our goods than anybody else, and so we need more access, better access to that market if Michigan is to be successful.”

Calley and the Snyder administration face skeptics in the Legislature.

Opponents of a new bridge say traffic studies show there’s no need for a new bridge. They also say the state should not be backing a public bridge to compete with a private business.

Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they remain skeptical the deal would be good for Michigan taxpayers or that a new bridge is necessary, and they say it will take more before they’ll cast a vote in favor of it.

Politics
3:32 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Patterson: Pontiac's problems too big for county to handle

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Pontiac can have access to Oakland County’s financial and technical experts, but a merger of the two governments is out of the question. That’s the message County Executive L. Brooks Patterson delivered at a forum today on Pontiac’s deteriorating financial situation.

Pontiac’s financial manager asked Patterson to consider a merger in a letter last week. But Patterson says the county can’t afford to take on Pontiac’s problems, and isn’t equipped to deliver services at the city level. But Patterson says the threat of bankruptcy is real:

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Politics
2:44 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Lawsuit alleges Detroit Mayor Bing planned to take over council and schools

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was named in a whistleblower lawsuit today. Bing dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous.
Dave Hogg Flickr

A former executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has filed a lawsuit that alleges the mayor had plans to dissolve the Detroit City Council and the Detroit School Board by becoming the emergency manager for both.

The plaintiffs in the case are Rochelle Collins, the former executive assistant, and her husband, Oreese Collins.

Rochelle Collins and her husband are suing the city of Detroit, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and Bing's chief communications officer, Karen Dumas, on four counts:

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Asia
2:22 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

International: Pakistan claims CIA informant wasn't detained

Pakistanis gather in front of the compound where al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad. A Western official said five Pakistanis have been detained in connection with the May 2 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Asif Hassan AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed June 15, 2011 5:12 pm

A Pakistani official denied Wednesday that an officer in its army was among those detained for allegedly helping the CIA track Osama bin Laden to the compound where U.S. forces killed him in May.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, first reported the detention of five alleged informants Tuesday, saying a Pakistani army major who recorded license plate numbers of cars visiting the compound was among those detained.

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Commentary
12:49 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Fixing Our Courts

How much do you know about Michigan’s Supreme Court, and how someone gets to become a justice?

If you asked me that back when I was in high school, or even college, I probably would have said something like, “uh, I guess they select the best and wisest judges in the state, and we elect them.”

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News Roundup
9:16 am
Wed June 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Drama in Detroit

It seems to be a case of "he said, she said."

Rochelle Collins, a former executive assistant to the mayor, says she was wrongfully terminated and is seeking a settlement from the city, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press reports that the city says Collins was not terminated, and now the Mayor's office is speaking out.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Mayor Dave Bing’s office launched an unusual preemptive strike today against a potential lawsuit by a former aide, saying her demand for reinstatement to a high-level position and $750,000 amounted to extortion to avoid the release of “salacious details” designed to embarrass the administration.

“We will not be intimidated by such tactics and will vigorously defend any attempt to raid the treasury of the City of Detroit and get a lottery-style payoff,” attorney Sharon McPhail, who is representing the city, told the Free Press.

Saginaw officials could pass "dangerous dogs" ordinance

On the heels of a debate in the State Legislature about pit bulls comes a city ordinance aimed at breeds deemed "dangerous."

Justin Engel reports in the Saginaw News that city officials say their proposed "dangerous dogs" ordinance could have prevented the mauling of a twelve year old boy.

From the Saginaw News:

The Saginaw ordinance, which the council could approve at its June 20 meeting, addresses both pit bull breeds and tethering.

The proposal requires owners of pit bulls — along with Rottweilers, German shepherds, presa canarios and bull mastiffs — to register their animals with the city for a one-time $20 payment or face fines up to $400.

The measure also forbids tethering dogs to objects outdoors “for extended periods” or face additional fines.

Black Bear wandering in Washtenaw County

From the Associated Press:

WEBSTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Authorities say they've confirmed that a black bear cub is wandering in Washtenaw County.

AnnArbor.com reported Tuesday that the sheriff's department confirmed the bear sighting in Webster Township near Dexter, about 9 miles northwest of Ann Arbor.

The confirmation comes after three bear sightings Saturday, including two at Hudson Mills Metropark and one at a home near the park.

Authorities are asking anyone that spots the bear to call 911. Since a cub was seen, authorities say a mother bear may also be in the area.

Backpack bomb scare

The backpack was left outside the IRS building in Detroit.

From the Detroit Free Press:

A backpack that set off a bomb scare outside the IRS building on Michigan Avenue in Detroit has been detonated by the Detroit Police Bomb Squad.

The backpack was found at about 4:30 a.m. at the corner of Third and Michigan, said Detroit Police Inspector Don Johnson. A power source spotted after an X-ray of the bag, prompted authorities to detonate the bag at the scene, versus remove it and detonate it elsewhere, he said.

Johnson, who would not elaborate on what the power source was, said investigators will review surveillance video to determine whether the bag was left accidentally or intentionally.

Politics
7:56 am
Wed June 15, 2011

Mayor Bing's plans for reshaping Detroit delayed

Mayor Bing's plans to reshape Detroit are delayed.
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's plans for reshaping the city as it deals with a shrinking population have been delayed.

The Detroit News reports Wednesday that Bing had been expected to deliver details of a plan this year but that has been pushed back to 2012.

Bing spokesman Dan Lijana says short-term solutions could be released in a "matter of weeks" along with detailed analyses of neighborhoods and the economy. The look at the city's neighborhoods was first expected in April but also was pushed back.

Lijana says the Detroit Works Project is trying to respond to residents who want immediate help.

Bing is working to strengthen the most viable neighborhoods and deal with some nearly vacant parts of the city.

Politics
5:38 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Detroit City Council responds to threatened service cuts

The Detroit City Council appears to be standing firm in an ongoing battle with Mayor Dave Bing over how much to cut from the city’s budget.

The Council wants to cut more from the budget than Bing to chip away at the city’s roughly $155 million accumulated deficit.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

ACLU and Detroit suburb fight medical marijuana battle in court

A Wayne County Circuit Court Judge has heard arguments in a case that involves Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The Michigan ACLU is suing the city of Livonia (and two other Detroit suburbs with similar laws) on behalf of Linda Lott, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Lott and her husband want to grow marijuana on property they own in Livonia. But the city passed an ordinance prohibiting any activity that violates federal law.

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Politics
4:27 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Elder abuse legislation unveiled

A proposal to encourage more reporting of senior abuse and strengthen penalties against people convicted of the abuse will be unveiled tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The measure will deal with physical and financial abuse of elderly people.

Republican state Senator Tanya Schuitmaker has worked on the issue for a couple years.

“You hear all too often about many cases that—where seniors are getting defrauded and certainly there are vulnerable adults out there that need to be protected.”

“I think [the proposal] strengthens and tightens the regulations that are also there. It also adds some assistance in terms of when someone with Alzheimer’s walks away that there’s a system of alert similar to the Amber Alert.”

Schuitmaker will introduce the bills during “Older Michiganians Day” at the Capitol. She expects the Legislature to vote on the measure this fall.

What's Working
1:29 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Michigan Innocence Clinic works to free those wrongfully convicted

David Moran is the co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
screen grab from YouTube video

Imagine being picked up by police for a crime you did not commit. You plead your innocence, but no one believes you.

Now imagine you're convicted and sentenced to prison for that crime.

For our What's Working series, Michigan Radio host Christina Shockley spoke with David Moran, the co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

The Clinic, at the University of Michigan Law School, aims to overturn the convictions of people who were wrongfully convicted.

It's estimated that 1,500 people currently in Michigan prisons were wrongfully convicted.

You can hear the interview with David Moran above.

And here's a video from the Michigan Innocence Clinic on the case of Dwayne Provience who spent ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

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Commentary
12:51 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Keeping Them Honest

Maurice Kelman ought to be feeling proud today, For years, the retired Wayne State law professor has been waging a lonely battle to get Michigan to enforce what weak campaign finance laws we have.

Specifically, he’s been focusing on the case of one Kwame Kilpatrick, who needs no introduction. Kelman discovered two years ago that the felonious ex-mayor used nearly a million dollars from his campaign fund to pay the lawyers who were trying to keep him out of prison during the text messaging scandal.

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Politics
10:37 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Michigan Secretary of State wants $976,000 from ex-mayor

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan's secretary of state is seeking $976,000 from imprisoned ex-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for using re-election campaign funds to pay legal fees associated with a criminal case that saw him jailed in 2008.

A spokesman for Ruth Johnson says a civil complaint has been filed with her department. An administrative hearing is expected.

Kilpatrick was jailed after pleading guilty to misconduct and no contest to assault. The charges stemmed from a text-messaging sex scandal involving a former top aide.

The Bureau of Elections writes in the complaint that the charges arose from personal misconduct and that campaign funds shouldn't have been used for legal fees.

The Associated Press left messages Monday afternoon seeking comment from Kilpatrick lawyer James Thomas.

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