Politics & Government

News Roundup
8:11 am
Mon March 14, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 14th, 2011

Protests Scheduled Over Snyder Budget

Groups across the state are planning protests today over Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal. Demonstrations are planned for cities including Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor. Protestors will include state workers, small business owners, and retirees, the Associated Press reports:

A press release issued by the liberal group Progress Michigan says Snyder's proposal is "an attack on Michigan families and their future." Snyder says his budget represents "shared sacrifice" and puts Michigan on the path to a better future because it solves the state's budget ills. His $45.9 billion proposal includes spending cuts for schools and would eliminate many personal tax breaks while slashing business taxes. The state is facing an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall.

Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami Threaten Car Exports

Some car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami.  Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S., Tracy Samilton reports. Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster.

March Madness

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament bracket was released yesterday. Seven Big Ten teams made the cut. No. 8 seed the University of Michigan will play No. 9 seed Tennessee on Friday. Michigan State University earned a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed UCLA on Thursday. Oakland University also made the tournament. Oakland will play the Texas Longhorns on Friday.

State Legislature
6:48 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue at state Capitol

Protests are expected to continue at the state Capitol this week as lawmakers debate local takeover bills
Thetoad Flickr

More protests are expected this week at the state Capitol as lawmakers continue to debate new rules for cities and school districts that run into trouble paying their bills.

The controversy is one of the first big showdowns between Republicans and Democrats this year over government reforms.

Unions and Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to stop the measures. They’ve turned their efforts to limiting its scope to protect bargaining rights, as well as cap emergency manager salaries, and require them to periodically meet with the public – so far without any luck.

Doug Withey is a Teamsters bargainer.

“Every community in the state, every governing body has an open meeting. Have the public involved with that. Nope. Not reasonable. Vote it down.”

But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say an emergency takeover would be the last option after all else has failed.

“The intent of the legislation is to get into an emergency situation and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.”

Governor Rick Snyder says his goal is not more state takeovers.

 “Anytime you have an emergency manager come in, that’s a failure point. The best answer is to put in a better early-warning system – to figure out how to work with communities before they reach the point of needing a financial manager because a lot of things can be done in those earlier stages to avoid the issue and that’s the best answer.”

Right now, Richardville, Governor Snyder and Republicans have the numbers they need in the Legislature to prevail.

Politics
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Unions say EFM bills bad for teachers

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
User P.E.C. Flickr

A teachers’ union leader says a proposal in the Legislature to give emergency financial managers sweeping control over school districts is a bad deal for educators.

The Michigan Senate approved the bills this week that would dissolve union contracts and eliminate collective bargaining rights at the local level if an emergency manager were put in control of a school district, city or township.

David Hecker is vice president of the Michigan division of the American Teachers Federation union. He says many financial problems can be better addressed through collective bargaining.

Hecker appeared on public television’s “Off The Record.”

“It either eliminates or severely undercuts collective bargaining – so it hurts the middle class – and it also hurts education. Because, you know, the problem with the EFM bill is if it’s an issue – and it’s an issue, there are districts and there are cities who are in financial difficulties – but you just don’t throw out a solution. You figure out what the problem is, and then you craft a solution.”

“We rather Governor Snyder work with us, we all work with the Legislature, and we work in support of communities, we work in support of the middle class, we work in support of our students. We think the EFM bill works against communities, works against the middle class, and is not good for our students. So Governor Snyder has a choice. We rather work together than become Wisconsin.”

“If people think we need this hammer to come to the table to say ‘yeah, health care costs are increasing, we have to address it. The school district’s in debt, we have to address it,’ we already do that at the table. You know, what do you say to a secretary of Detroit Public Schools who makes 22-thousand dollars a year and just took a three-percent pay cut?”

The House is expected to vote on the emergency financial manager bills next week. Governor Rick Snyder called for the reforms in his State of the State address.

State Legislature
4:40 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Emergency Financial Manager controversy continues

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
User P.E.C. Flickr

As protests continue in Madison over a controversial bill removing collecting bargaining rights from some public unions, attention is drifting to Michigan.

Governor Snyder has responded to reports and protests by saying that he does not want to follow Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's example, reiterating in an interview with WXYZ that he is eager to solve problems--including the specifics on $180 million dollars worth of concessions from state employees--through the collective bargaining process, and that he "was hired to solve Michigan's issues."

But whether Governor Snyder wants attention from national media or not, it is happening, including a ten-minute report on last night's Rachel Maddow Show.

But what does the law actually say? What is an Emergency Financial Manager? How are they appointed?

The following is taken from the "Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Public Act 72 of 1990, Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act, and the Appointment of Emergency Financial Managers."

And if the title wasn't a clue, the explanation is a little long.

From the FAQ:

 What triggers the Act?

Among the conditions specified in the Act are the failure by a unit of local government to pay creditors, the failure to make timely pension contributions, and payless paydays. In addition, certain officials, or residents, of a unit of local government may request a preliminary review under the Act, as may either the State Senate or House of Representatives.

What happens when the Act is triggered?

The State Treasurer conducts a preliminary review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. Once that review is concluded, the State Treasurer reports the result to the Governor. If a serious financial problem is found to exist in the unit of local government, the Governor then appoints a financial review team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government.

What is the purpose of a Financial Review Team?

...[A] Financial Review Team...conduct[s] a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. A Financial Review Team generally has 60 days (generally 30 days in the case of school districts) to complete its work and file its report. A Financial Review Team report must reach one of the following three conclusions:

-- A serious financial problem does not exist in the unit of local government, or

-- A serious financial problem exists in the unit of local government, but a Consent Agreement containing a plan to resolve the problem has been adopted, or

-- A local government financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the serious financial problem.

If the third conclusion is reached, or if a unit of local government signs, but subsequently violates a Consent Agreement, then a financial emergency is determined to exist in the unit of local government and an Emergency Financial Manager is appointed.

Who appoints Emergency Financial Managers?

For units of local government other than school districts, Emergency Financial Managers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of the State Treasurer, the Director of the Department of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Emergency Financial Managers for school districts are appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate

 

New Powers for EMFs

But a bill passed by the Michigan Senate this week expands the Emergency Financial Managers' powers to include ending union-approved contracts. Holland radio station WHTC reports:

After days of debate and protests, the State Senate passes a bill to give more power to emergency financial managers appointed to cities or school districts.  The 26-to-12 vote, which followed party lines, will allow emergency managers to cancel workers union contracts.

Democrats have said passing the bill would undermine collective bargaining in the affected communities or schools, while Republicans contend the legislation would help target municipalities or districts before their financial problems reach critical levels.

Six localities or school districts are currently affected by the law. From the Chicago Tribune:

The current state law related to emergency financial managers is affecting about a half-dozen local communities and schools at this time. Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place.

The bill has passed the House and the Senate and is on its way back to the House, where approval is required for some minor changes.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

Politics
4:20 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Judge weighs victims' rights against... victims' rights

Shayan Sanyal Flickr

A Washtenaw County judge is trying to broker an agreement that would allow the state and two counties to collect back child support and restitution from hundreds of women, while still protecting their identities.

More than 500 women were part of $100 million settlement from the state because they were sexually abused while in Michigan prisons. Attorneys for the state and Oakland and Wayne counties want to know whether any of them owe child support or restitution.

Read more
Politics
1:44 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Report: Psychotropic drugs "dominating" cost of prescriptions in prisons

Prison fence. State auditors say Michigan prisons could have saved millions in prescription costs.
Simon Brass Flickr

The state's prison system is in line for some budget cuts like a lot of other parts of the state government.

Now, a recent audit says the prison system could save more in prescription costs.

From the Associated Press:

DETROIT (AP) - State auditors say Michigan could have saved millions of dollars by choosing lower-cost alternatives to a mental-health drug that is widely prescribed in prisons.

The audit released Friday says psychotropic drugs are dominating the cost of prescriptions in the prison system. They added up to more than $8 million from January through July last year - 41 percent of all pharmaceuticals.

Seroquel is the most prescribed antipsychotic drug. Auditors say the Corrections Department could have saved $350,000 a month by switching just half of those prescriptions to a drug called Risperdal.

The Corrections Department says it's taking steps to control costs. The audit also found that prisoners are not being charged for over-the-counter medicine even if they can afford it.

Commentary
11:40 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Wacky Weather

You don’t need me to tell you this, but we’ve had a rough winter. Not nearly as tough as they’ve had in New York, or almost anywhere on the eastern seaboard. But it’s been cold and snowy.

How snowy? Well, in Detroit, we are already in the top dozen winters of all time, with more than sixty inches. Last month was the third snowiest February in recorded history.

But it could always be worse. If you have any interest in the weather, by the way, there’s a fascinating little book that just came out last year: Extreme Michigan Weather: The Wild World of the Great Lakes State, published by the University of Michigan Press.

Author Paul Gross is a longtime meteorologist who now works for WDIV-TV in Detroit.  His book looks at the strange and constantly changing weather we have in this state, or, as he puts it, everything from heat waves to bitter snows, ice storms to tornadoes to floods.

We don’t, however, have hurricanes, and his book will tell you why. (Not having any tropical ocean waters around here is a big part of it.)  Ice we do have -- in abundance.

Ice and snow. But if you are feeling so tired of snow you can’t stand it, consider this. We lucked out today. Grand Rapids once got almost seven inches of snow on March 11. In Flint, it’s been as cold as seven below zero this day, which I found in Paul Gross’s book.

He includes all these tables for fun in Extreme Michigan Weather. So, just in case you were burning to know, it was once twenty below zero on this date in Ironwood.

Read more
Japanese Earthquake
10:15 am
Fri March 11, 2011

8.9 magnitude earthquake strikes Japan

Tsunami travel times map from NOAA
NOAA

Update 10:15 a.m.

Updates from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

Update 9:23 a.m.

Reports that Tsunami waves have reached Hawaii. This from ABC news:

Tsunami waves reached Hawaii early today, following a massive 8.9 magnitutde earthquake in Japan, that triggered tidal wave warnings as far away as Oregon as the giant wave makes its way to the West Coast of the United States.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says Kauai was the first island hit early by the tsunami, which was quickly sweeping through the Hawaiian Island chain.

Screeching tsunami warning sirens woke residents through the night and Hawaiians were warned to seek higher ground and officials braced for the first 6 foot waves to make landfall just before 3 a.m. local time, 9 a.m. EST

Update 8:04 a.m.:

Hawaii is bracing for a possible tsunami following the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan early this morning (Eastern time). The AP reports:

Warning sirens have been sounding and coastal areas are being evacuated. The first waves are expected to hit around 9 a.m. Eastern time today. Waves are predicted to hit the U.S. Western Coast between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Update 7:46 a.m.:

President Obama has issued his condolences for the people who died in the earthquake in Japan. The President said the United States, "stands ready to help" in any way it can. The Associated Press reports:

At the same time, Obama said in a statement early Friday that his administration will "continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward."

The largest earthquake in Japan's history - measured at a magnitude of 8.9 - pummeled the eastern coast of Japan Friday, accompanied by a towering tsunami. A rising death toll is in the dozens.

Obama said he has told the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be ready to assist Hawaii and any other U.S. states and territories that might be affected. He said he's ready to support the Japanese people "in this time of great trial."

6:59 a.m.:

Officials in Japan say more than 30 people have died in the magnitude 8.9 quake and 13-foot tsunami that hit the northeast part of the country, the Associated Press reports:

People, boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris were swept away by the wave. The death toll has been rising.

Fires triggered by Friday's quake are burning out of control up and down the coast, including one at an oil refinery.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 8.9, while Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 8.8. It was followed by more than 19 aftershocks, including several at least 6.3, the size of the quake that struck New Zealand recently.

Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles from the epicenter.

A tsunami warning was issued for the entire Pacific, including areas as far away as South America, the entire U.S. West Coast, Canada and Alaska.

Politics
5:45 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Pure Michigan campaign gets funding

The Pure Michigan campaign is a good investment in Governor Snyder's eyes.
www.michigan.org

Governor Rick Snyder signed full funding into law for the Pure Michigan ad campaign.

He signed the funding plan at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn today, saying his plan to pay for the Pure Michigan ad campaign through a venture capital fund will work this year and next year.

He says he will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the ad campaign over the next two years:

“I’m the metrics and dashboard person, so we’re going to focus on metrics and dashboards on everything we do,” said Snyder.

Read more
Politics
5:25 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan congressman wants broad opt out waiver for health care law

Congressman Mike Rogers (R)-Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Republican congressman Mike Rogers says more than a thousand major corporations,unions and other groups have obtained waivers to the new national health care law, so they will not be immediately mandated to carry health insurance or pay a fee instead.    He says they shouldn't be the only ones with that option. 

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Pontiac
5:03 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Policing Pontiac: Oakland County Sheriff preparing to move in

A Pontiac police car
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard  is making plans to take over the policing duties in Pontiac.  The city of Pontiac is shutting down its police department as the city deals with severe budget problems. 

The city’s rank and file police officers voted to dissolve their union contract this week.    Other public safety unions must also do the same before the Sheriff’s department takes over.  Sheriff Bouchard says policing Pontiac will pose some public safety challenges to his office. 

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Politics
4:13 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Detroit civil rights group responds to anti-terror hearings

The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southfield says Muslims are unfairly targeted in hearings by the U.S. Homeland Security Committee.
islamizationwatch.blogspot.com

The head of a Detroit-area civil rights organization says hearings by the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee unfairly target Muslims.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is investigating what he calls the radicalization of the U.S. Muslim community.

Dawud Walid is director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southfield.

He says the scope of the hearings is too narrow, and ignores what he considers the biggest threats to national security.

Read more
Politics
3:45 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Dalai Lama to resign as political leader in exile

The Dalai Lama announced that he is giving up his role as the political leader of the Tibetan exile movement.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

In a statement today, the Dalai Lama said he intends to step aside as the political leader of the Tibetan government in exile.

He said he is doing so because Tibetans now have freely elected representatives, representatives who are also in exile, who can speak for them.

From the Dalai Lama's statement:

Today, within the framework of the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, the Kalon Tripa, the political leadership, and the people’s representatives are directly elected by the people. We have been able to implement democracy in exile that is in keeping with the standards of an open society.

As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect. During the forthcoming eleventh session of the fourteenth Tibetan Parliament in Exile, which begins on 14th March, I will formally propose that the necessary amendments be made to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, reflecting my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.

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Commentary
1:25 pm
Thu March 10, 2011

Emergency Financial Managers

Nobody in Lansing was neutral yesterday when the Michigan senate completed passage of new, tougher Emergency Financial Manager legislation on a straight, party line vote.

State Senator Phil Pavlov said this is needed to maintain “vital services, such as public safety and education,” when a city or a school district is in desperate financial straits.

This reform, he said, is necessary to allow steps to be taken “to protect public interests and the public’s money and strengthen local control and accountability.” His fellow Republicans all agreed.

But if you talked to any of the Democrats, they sounded like this was the equivalent of Mussolini seizing power.  “An unfair and unjustified power grab,“ Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer called it. One of her colleagues said it went way too far, “and was going to damage our communities and our schools.”

Well, you could say that it is nice to see that our time-honored tradition of bitter partisan divisions is alive and well, but I think the opposite. We’ve had four sterile years of that in Lansing. I think we’d all be better off if this could have been a bipartisan bill.

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Politics
9:41 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Congressional hearing on the "Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community"

Peter King, R-N.Y. is chairing today's committee
C-SPAN

The Committee on Homeland Security is holding a hearing entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.”

ABC News reports:

Today’s House hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response” has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.

Democrats and rights groups say he’s guilty of “modern-day McCarthyism,” and is using religion to divide Americans.

You can watch the hearing now on C-SPAN.

Here's King responding to critics of the hearing on a CBS affiliate:

Read more
News Roundup
8:56 am
Thu March 10, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, March 10th, 2011

State Senate Passes EFM bill

The Michigan Senate passed legislation yesterday that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more control over cities, townships, and school districts. Those opposed to the legislation say the bills make it easy to eliminate collective bargaining rights and dissolve union contracts. Some 1,000 union members protested against the bill at the state Capitol earlier this week. A similar bill was passed in the state House last month. The two Republican-controlled chambers must now agree on a final version of the bill.

Funding for 'Pure Michigan'

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill today that would extend the life of the popular ‘Pure Michigan’ advertising campaign. The measure, passed by both the state House and state Senate, gives an additional $10 million to the campaign. This will be the third bill signed by the Governor.

January Unemployment Rate Declines

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

Judge Continues Library Gun Ban

An Ingham County judge has continued a ban on openly carrying guns into Lansing-area libraries until June. Rina Miller reports:

A temporary restraining order was issued against the Michigan Open Carry group last month. Now an Ingham County Circuit Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction forbidding anyone – except law enforcement – from entering a Capital Area District Library openly wearing a gun. The case will be heard in June.

State Law
8:13 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan's price tag law headed for repeal

Michigan's item pricing law may soon be a thing of the past
Scorpions and Centaurs Flickr

Michigan has the strictest retail pricing law in the nation. But now the state is poised to repeal the law that requires individual price tags on everything from canned food to lumber.

Retailers have been trying to get rid of the law since it was passed 30 years ago to try to protect consumers from being overcharged in checkout lines.

Michigan’s item pricing law was enacted in the 1970s just as electronic scanners were becoming commonplace. No other state has a law this expansive. Massachusetts requires item pricing for groceries.

Consumers like this law, and it was once-considered untouchable. But now with a new Republican governor and emboldened GOP majorities in the Legislature, Michigan is on the verge of repealing it.

Retired construction supervisor John McKenzie isn’t happy about that. He says price tags ensure that he knows the cost of something before he buys it, and that he’s being charged the correct price in the checkout line.

McKenzie says he also double checks the price against his store receipt when he gets home:

“If you don’t have that price tag on there, how do you know what that item was priced at back at the store? I mean, we’ve all picked an item off the shelf and when we get up there the item rings up differently.”

Michigan’s pricing law allows consumers who find a mistake to collect a bounty of up to $5 per error.

Retailers also face fines for not putting price tags on items. Five years ago, Wal-Mart paid a record fine of $1.5 million here.

Big retailers say the law is expensive for stores and for shoppers – although no one can say how much consumers might save if the law is repealed.  Smaller stores say it fails to take their needs into account.

Musician Mike Daniels shows off a guitar on the showroom floor of Marshall Music.

Owner Dan Marshall says his store complies with the law – mostly. There are some things, small or thin items like woodwind reeds, guitar picks, and drumsticks, that it makes no sense to price individually:

“We’ve got an entire display of drumsticks and in each bin, the price is clearly marked, but on each individual stick, they’re not.”

Marshall says, in some cases, labels would cover up package information that customers care about:

“Truth be known, practicality trumps law in some cases, and we’re in violation of the item pricing. Not maliciously, simply because it’s so impractical and unnecessary."

Marshall’s not alone. In Michigan, the price tag law may be the most widely ignored law since the 55 mile per hour speed limit.

Retailers think they’ve made their sale to the state’s political leaders that’s it’s time to close the books on Michigan’s one-of-a-kind price tag law.

State Legislature
7:40 am
Thu March 10, 2011

State Senate votes to reverse unmarried partner benefits

The State Senate has voted to reverse unmarried partner benefits
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted by a super-majority to reverse a state Civil Service Commission decision that would allow unmarried state employees to claim domestic partners on their health insurance.

Earlier this year, a state employment panel approved unmarried partner benefits that would include people in same-sex relationships and their dependents.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen says the state can’t afford it – and voters have already spoken about domestic partner benefits by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.

“This is about economics. This is about our budget. This is about getting Michigan back on track."

But, Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren says rejecting domestic partner benefits would hurt children.

“Families are always stronger when health insurance is accessible to everyone in the household.”

The measure now goes to the state House, where Republicans will have to muster a two-thirds majority vote to reverse the policy. Otherwise, state employees will be able to claim unmarried partners on their benefits starting October first.

Politics
6:42 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Snyder to sign 'Pure Michigan' funding bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment
6:21 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Michigan jobless rate declines in January

Michigan's January unemployment rate was 10.7 percent
Khalilshah Flickr

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

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

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