Politics & Government

Detroit
7:21 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Iconic former train station could get a fix-up

The Michigan Central Depot
MichaelNPatterson Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”

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Business
7:03 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Senator Levin to attend small business summit in Detroit

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) will be in Detroit today along with federal officials
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin and officials from the White House, the Department of Defense, and the City of Detroit will host a small business summit at Cobo Center in Detroit today. As the Associated Press reports, the event is, “designed to help Michigan small businesses explore contracting opportunities with the defense industry. Small business representatives are to learn about the defense acquisition process, meet defense contracting officials and explore contracting opportunities at the Department of Defense."

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Budget Cuts
6:54 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Michigan State Police plan to close 21 posts

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it would be closing 21 state posts
Nikonmania Flickr

As part of a plan to save nearly $21 million, the Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state. Closings include posts in Adrian, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bridgeport, Bridgman, Cheboygan, Corunna, Detroit, Gladwin, Groveland, Hastings, Iron River, Ithaca, L'Anse, Manistee, Munising, Newaygo, Richmond, Stephenson, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

From the Detroit News:

Gov. Rick Snyder announced his intention to close posts last month but gave few details. The severity of the plan shocked some: No troopers will be laid off, but come October, the number of posts will fall from 62 to 29, as 12 posts will be downgraded to detachments that are closed to the public but open to troopers for administrative work.

The move is one of the biggest changes in years to a system of policing that has remained virtually unchanged for seven decades. And it's got some worried if troopers can adequately cover larger areas...The plan is designed to save about $3.2 million to help the department offset a $20.7 million shortfall to its $521.5 million budget. Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that troopers will continue to patrol roads and assist communities at the same level they have in the past.

Lawsuit
4:21 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

ACLU sues state over lemonade mix-up that cost parent custody

7-year-old Leo Ratté was placed in a foster home after his father unknowingly bought him lemonade that contained alcohol.
Jon Sullivan Wikipedia Commons

The ACLU is challenging a state law that allows children to be taken away from their parents without proof that they’re in immediate danger.

Claire Zimmerman says she hopes the lawsuit will make sure what happened to her family never happens to anyone else.

Three years ago, Zimmerman’s son, who was seven at the time, was at a Tiger game. Her husband, Christopher Ratté, unknowingly bought their son a bottle of lemonade with alcohol, and in the ninth inning they were approached by a security guard, who asked Ratté whether he knew his son was drinking an alcoholic beverage. Ratté said no, but the police were called. The boy was taken into the state’s custody later that day.

The state refused to release the boy to Zimmerman, even though she was not at the game with her son, and the next day he was placed in a foster home, where he stayed for three days.

Zimmerman says the ordeal was a nightmare:

"(It's) very difficult not to know where your child is physically. We of course felt that we had really let him down."

ACLU-Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg says if the boy’s parents had not been University of Michigan professors with access to the school’s legal resources, they might have been separated from their son for much longer:

"Families without the resources of our clients are sometimes unjustly separated for weeks, if not months."

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare Michigan’s law unconstitutional because it violates parents’ rights to due process.

Crime
2:33 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

U.P. man arrested in connection with 'explosive components' left at federal building in Detroit

A man from the Upper Peninsula is accused in connection with ‘explosive components’ discovered outside the federal building in Detroit. Law enforcement authorities arrested 42-year-old Gary John Mikulich today after linking him to the package discovered at the McNamara federal building in Detroit.

The package was discovered February 26th.  But it wasn’t disposed of right away. A security guard placed the package in the ‘lost & found’ room. It sat there for three weeks before the Detroit Bomb squad disposed of it.

Gary Mikulich is a graduate of the engineering program at Michigan Technical University.  Federal prosecutors allege Mikulich has often complained about the FBI’s ‘card system’, which he allegedly blames for the deaths of thousands of people, including his father. An FBI spokeswoman says the agency is "not aware of what this 'card system' (Mikulich) refers to."

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department says:

Mikulich and his vehicle match the description of an individual who purchased a Husky brand tool bag and a GE timer used in the commission of the crime alleged in the complaint. Mikulich made the purchase of these items from the Home Depot store in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on February 14, 2011. Moreover, Mikulich’s white Oldsmobile was spotted in Livingston County–450 miles from his home and just 50 miles from Detroit–in the early morning hours of February 25, 2011.  Also, search warrants were executed this morning at Mukulich’s residence and his vehicle.

Mikulich faces up to 20 years and a quarter million dollar fine if convicted of attempting to set off an explosive device at a federal government building.

Politics
1:24 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Democrats want Snyder to veto jobless benefits bill

(Flickr swanksalot)

UPDATE 1:24 p.m.:   A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder says the governor expects to sign the bill which would reduce the number of weeks jobless Michiganders will be able to recieve state unemployment benefits. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says:

"(The governor's) priority was to ensure no one receiving unemployment benefits was cut off abruptly. It's a lifeline for Michiganders right now - we simply can't risk tens of thousands of Michigan's families immediately losing their benefits in April.  He’s continuing to work tirelessly to help turn around Michigan's economy and create more and better jobs so that we can hopefully reduce the need for unemployment in the first place."

ORIGINAL POST 12:17 p.m.: Democrats are calling on Governor Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that will reduce state unemployment benefits to Michiganders from 26 to 20 weeks. The Republican controlled legislature passed the benefits  cut Wednesday, as part of  a bill to continue extended federal jobless benefits to Michigan’s unemployed.

Royal Oak Congressman Sander Levin says the governor should veto the bill that will eventually reduce benefits for Michigan’s most in need.  

"This is the worst time to do this for Michigan workers.  I think it is reckless.  It’s inexcusable.”

Cutting state benefits will reduce the cost to Michigan businesses that must pay into the unemployment fund.  Cutting state unemployment benefits by 6 weeks could also reduce federal unemployment benefits by up to 16 weeks for jobless Michiganders. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the change will save state businesses $300 a year starting in 2012.

Levin says it’s unfair to shorten the period unemployed Michiganders can receive jobless benefits. 

“The governor can say to the legislature 'Get back.  Do what needs to be done here.  And stop the hijacking.'”

Federal jobless benefits for 35,000 unemployed Michiganders will expire April 1st  if Snyder vetoes the bill.

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Jennifer Granholm
1:09 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Former Governor elected to Dow Chemical Board of Directors

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been elected to the board of directors of Dow Chemical. The Midland-based chemicals industry giant announced Granholm's election today.

In a written statement, Dow CEO Andrew Liverus says Granholm will help the company as it pursues growth.  

“Jennifer Granholm’s experience and perspective will be instrumental as we continue to advocate for national and international policies that drive innovation, increase productivity, encourage investments in technology and create jobs." 

This has been a pretty busy week for the former governor. The Pew Charitable Trust announced this week that Granholm will serve as a Senior Advisor to the Trust's Clean Energy Program. She was also recently appointed to a public policy position at the University of California-Berkeley.

Granholm served 8 years as Michigan governor.  Her second term ended in January. 

Commentary
10:21 am
Thu March 24, 2011

The UAW’s Dilemma

You may not have noticed, but the United Auto Workers union has been holding its bargaining convention in Detroit this week.

Every four years, union leaders get together to plan and map out their strategy for negotiating a new contract with the automakers. Once, this convention was an enormous deal, intensely covered by both local and national labor media.

The big question every time was - which company would be the strike target?

Years ago, the union came up with the concept of “pattern bargaining.”  One company - Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler, would be selected as the target. Union officials would then try and hammer out a contact with that automaker first.

Sometimes they’d have to go on strike to achieve that; sometimes not. Meanwhile, the workers at the other companies would keep working under the old labor agreements.

Once the new contract was finally hammered out, the unions would then go to the other two automakers and say -- “okay; this is what we negotiated with them; this is what you need to agree to as well.  No fooling around; take it or leave it; sign or we walk.”

That’s how it’s been done for many, many years. In the past, there were sometimes historic strikes which led to historic settlements that gradually won the workers everything from paid vacations to profit sharing to dental care, on top of high wages.

But as all the world knows, excesses and globalization caught up with the auto companies. General Motors and Chrysler nearly went out of business less than two years ago. They survived in part because the union was willing to make major concessions.

New hires, for example, now make half of what a longtime autoworker  does -- $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year. The union decided that and other sacrifices were  necessary to keep their employers alive.

Well, the world is different now. Ford and General Motors are now making profits in the billions. Chrysler is believed close to profitability, and at any rate, has a new owner with deep pockets.

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News Roundup
8:47 am
Thu March 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

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

Debate at State Capitol Over Unemployment Benefit Extension

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

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

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

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

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

State Jobless Rate Continues Decline

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

Why the ‘Underwear Bomber’ Targeted Detroit

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

Jennifer Granholm
7:30 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Granholm joins Pew as senior adviser

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm
Photo courtesy of michigan.gov

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will serve as a senior adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ efforts to promote clean energy policies, the Associated Press reports. As the AP explains, Granholm will:

…demonstrate the jobs, manufacturing and exporting opportunities that can come from advancing policies that make cars cleaner, industry more efficient and renewable energy more accessible and affordable.

Granholm and Pew staff members will meet with clean energy startup companies, research facilities, entrepreneurs, manufacturing plants, elected officials and community members.

Granholm was succeeded in office by Governor Rick Snyder on January 1st.

Earlier this year, Granholm announced that she would be a contributor to NBC’s Sunday news program, “Meet the Press" and that she and her husband, Dan Mulhern, received a two-year academic appointment at the University of California- Berkeley. She also announced that she and Mulhern would be co-authoring a book about her time as Michigan’s governor.

Politics
2:23 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Detroit, Bank of America announce "new partnerhip"

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announces the partnership
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit and Bank of America have announced what both call “the start of a new partnership.”

Bank of America says it will demolish 100 “vacant and low-value” homes in Detroit at their own expense.

The bank says it will also donate 10 refurbished homes to the city’s Project 14. That’s an effort to lure Detroit police officers back to the city with housing incentives.

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Politics
11:20 am
Wed March 23, 2011

Republicans set to redraw political boundaries

The 15 Congressional Districts will drop to 14. Republicans will redraw political maps with the new 2010 Census numbers.
wikimedia commons

With the detailed U.S. Census numbers in, Republicans in the state legislature can begin the process of redrawing the state's political boundaries for Congress and for the State Senate and the State House of Representatives.

Some ground rules first.

  • Because the state lost population, Michigan will now have 14 Congressional districts (down from 15). When these districts are drawn, they must hold an equal number of people in them. That's why you see districts that cover large areas in the state's northern districts (places where there's less population) and smaller districts in the southeast (places where population is more concentrated).
  • For Michigan's state legislature, districts must hold close to an equal number of people (they can deviate within 95% to 105% of each other), and "existing municipal and county boundaries should be respected as much as possible."
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News Roundup
9:17 am
Wed March 23, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Detailed Census Data released

The U.S. Census Bureau released detailed population numbers for the state yesterday. The numbers spurred a number of stories across the state as cities and counties reflected on what the numbers mean:

Census: Detroit Shrank while the suburbs changed

Census: Lansing population falls 4 percent

New 2010 Census data shows Flint population at 102,434

Ottawa County shines as West Michigan shows relative strength in latest U.S. Census figures

Census 2010: Bay County's population decrease could have been worse

U.S. Census data shows slight growth in Muskegon County during decade of Great Recession

2010 Census data shows Michigan shifting rural

Granholm enjoying post-Governor life

In one of the first interviews since leaving the Governor's office in Michigan, Jennifer Granholm says she's enjoying life as a private citizen.

From the Detroit News:

Granholm — after getting to avoid the airport security line as governor — now faces the same indignities as all frequent travelers do.

"I got the whole pat-down today, but it is what it is," she said with a laugh.

Granholm relishes her new quieter life. "I kind of like being low-key. I kind of like being able to wear sunglasses again," she said.

She ate lunch on Cosi and was glued to her BlackBerry — and no one bothered her. "It's a beautiful thing," she said. "I am enjoying life."

Granholm and her husband, Daniel Mulhern, are moving to California, temporarily they say, before moving back to Michigan. Both will be teaching at U.C. Berkeley  and they're working on a book together.

Granholm says she won't engage in criticizing her successor, Governor Rick Snyder.

Republicans will start to redraw political districts in Michigan

The U.S. Census numbers are in hand, now its time for politicians to re-draw some fancy lines for new political districts. MLive's Peter Luke says Republicans are wasting no time in redrawing political boundaries for Congressional and State legislative seats.

From M-Live:

Republicans, who have a 9-6 edge in congressional seats, likely will seek to put two or more Democratic incumbents — say U.S. Reps. Dale Kildee, Sander Levin and Gary Peters — in the same district.

The process could give some Republicans heartburn as well. The 1st Congressional District currently represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, extends from Ironwood to Bay City and will require about 55,000 more residents in the northern Lower Peninsula from districts held by fellow Republicans.

Giving Benishek Grand Traverse County, for example, shifts the 4th Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, somewhere else.

Politics
8:33 am
Wed March 23, 2011

Detailed Census data is bad news for Detroit

The U.S. Census Bureau has to deliver detailed data to all states by April 1st.
U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau released detailed data on the state's population. Earlier this year, we heard that Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population. Now we can take a more detailed look.

You can explore the data below, or by going to the Census Bureau page.

The big news to come out of the data was the number 713,777.

That's the population in Detroit. According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit's population hasn't been this low since 1910:

four years before Henry Ford offered $5 a day to autoworkers, sparking a boom that quadrupled Detroit’s size in the first half of the 20th Century.

Detroiters reacted to the news in this video, saying crime, a lack of employment, and poor schools are reasons people have left the city:

MPRN's Rick Pluta had reaction from Governor Snyder:

Governor Rick Snyder says the U.S. Census Bureau information shows Michigan cannot continue down the path it has been on for many years:

"It’s time to step up. It’s time for bold action, and thoughtful action, and that’s the message we’re on, and the path we’re on, and I just hope people join us in that effort," said Snyder.

"I think this decline in population for the state really just reemphasizes the issue we’ve been facing; we are in a crisis in the state, and we need to take an approach and an attitude to say we need to reinvent Michigan."

Detroit’s population presents a problem as the Legislature deals with the state budget, which operates on the assumption that Detroit is the only city with more than 750,000 people.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has said the city will challenge the Census numbers. Bing was quoted in the Detroit Free Press:

"We are in a fiscal crisis, and we have to fight for every dollar," Bing said in announcing that the city will seek a recount. "We can't afford to let these results stand."

The city stands to lose investment from the state and federal government if they can't get the numbers to add up to 750,000.

Politics
7:22 am
Wed March 23, 2011

Audit uncovers costly mistakes and fraud at unemployment office

The Michigan Office of the Auditor General reports says mistakes and fraud at the unemployment office cost the state $260 million.
Daniel Johnson creative commons

A legislative watchdog says Michigan’s unemployment office failed to catch overpayments and cases of fraud as the agency was hammered with jobless claims during the Great Recession.

The Michigan Auditor General says the mistakes cost taxpayers an estimated $260 million.

Like many states, Michigan’s been forced to borrow money from the federal government – almost $4 billion - to cover its jobless claims as unemployment reached peaks not seen in three decades (higher than 14%).

The Auditor General report found the agency ran into trouble handling all those claims.

The auditor’s sample found thousands of cases where the state accidentally overpaid benefits that were never recovered.

The audit also found instances where the state failed to detect cases of fraud that would have also been punished with big fines.

The unemployment agency is disputing some of the findings where the auditor determined there was fraud. The agency says in the other cases, it’s taking steps to fix the problems uncovered by the Auditor General.

Politics
6:58 am
Wed March 23, 2011

State House fails to reject domestic partner benefits

Domestic partner benefits include benefits to gay and non-gay couples.
user dbking Flickr

The State House failed to reject the Michigan Civil Service Commission's decision to allow state employees to enjoy domestic partner benefits.

The benefits, originally negotiated between the Granholm administration and about 70% of the public employee unions, are scheduled to go into effect October 1st. The benefits are extended to unmarried partners (gay or heterosexual) and their dependents who have lived together for more than one year.

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber reported on yesterday's vote in the State House:

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Politics
7:52 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Bing plans to challenge Detroit census numbers

Hanneorla Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he wants a recount of Detroit’s 2010 census numbers. That data shows the city with its smallest population since 1910.

Bing says he thinks census numbers that fix Detroit’s population at just under 714,000 are wrong.

 Bing says a recount could turn up as many as 40,000 more residents. That would put the city above a key 750,000 person threshold.

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Politics
3:56 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Ambassador Bridge owners settle lawsuit with lonely bait shop

Lafayette Bait and Tackle
Sarah Cwiek/Michigan Radio

The Detroit International Bridge Company, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, has settled a lawsuit with the owners of a bait shop.

Lafayette Bait and Tackle sits near where the Detroit International Bridge Company hopes to build a second span. The company purchased the land to remove what it saw as a final obstacle to their plans.

Both sides in the case agree fault lay primarily with the bait shop’s former landlord, a group called Commodities Export.

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Commentary
3:03 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Mergers and Acquisitions

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

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

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Politics
1:03 pm
Tue March 22, 2011

Forcing government workers to pay more for health care

The State Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing committee tomorrow will discuss a bill forcing government workers to pay between 20% to 25% of their health care costs.

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