Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

CNS budget – Sept. 25

MICHIGAN EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AHEAD: On Monday, Sept. 29, your correspondents will interview MEA President Iris Salters. Likely topics include state aid cuts for public schools (K-12), federal No Child Left Behind law impact, school district budget cuts, school district innovations, status of charter school movement, education-related legislation, pluses/minuses of new Michigan Merit Curriculum.

HERE’S YOUR FILE:

ANIMALWELFARE: Poultry and pork industry groups have reached a compromise with animal welfare activists to limit restraints on pregnant pigs, veal calves and egg-laying poultry. A Lapeer County representative, who co-sponsored the original legislation but opposed the approved version, says it reflects the views of a “radical organization” that threatened to launch a ballot initiative if the Legislature failed to act. The Farm Bureau and the sponsor, from Jackson, said they accepted the compromise. Top poultry-producing counties are Ottawa, Allegan and Ionia. Top pork-producing countries are Allegan, Cass and Ottawa. The measure awaits the governor’s signature. By Mehak Bansil. FOR HOLLAND, GREENVILLE, SOUTH BEND, LAPEER, OAKLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING & ALL POINTS.

BRAINDRAIN: As young professionals continue to leave Michigan, efforts to stop the “brain drain” are threatened by cuts in state spending on higher education, including the Michigan Promise scholarship program. We hear from a Traverse City senator, Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, and the Cool Cities program which has projects in Cadillac and Traverse City. A new Web site helps Michigan students find internships in the state. By Adam DeLay. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, CADILLAC, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS & ALL POINTS.

PROMISENMU: Republicans and Democrats at Northern Michigan University disagree about health care, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, abortion and taxes, but one thing has united them: threats to eliminate the $140-million-a-year Michigan Promise Scholarship Program. A legislator from Marquette says that if savings are needed, he’d prefer basing the scholarships on need rather than eliminating all funding. By Emily Lawler. FOR MARQUETTE & ALL POINTS.

RENEWABLEENERGYLOANS: The Legislature is moving to make $10 million in federal stimulus money available for revolving loans to promote renewable energy. That’s good news, according to an Alpena company that casts components for wind turbines, but an Alpena Community College faculty member doesn’t see the new loans having much impact. A Saugatuck senator sponsored the bill with colleagues from Grand Rapids, Canton, Gaines Township, Monroe, Troy and Traverse City. By Caitlin Costello. FOR ALPENA, HOLLAND, LANSING, LUDINGTON, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, OAKLAND, ROYAL OAK, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, CHEBOYGAN & ALL POINTS.

PUBLICTRANSIT: Public transit ridership increased by 6 percent last year in the state as motorists drove fewer miles, resulting in significantly reduced greenhouse gas emission and fuel consumption, according to a report by Environment Michigan. SMART in Southeast Michigan, MAX in West Michigan and the Rapid in Grand Rapids are carrying many more passengers. The Oakland County Road Commission warns of tighter budgets for road repair. The Michigan Environmental Council said fewer cars on the road may reduce smog levels and alleviate the asthma rate. By Vince Bond Jr. FOR OAKLAND, MACOMB, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, ROYAL OAK, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, HOLLAND & ALL POINTS.

VETERANS: Groups that provide services to Michigan military veterans face a $1 million cut in state funds in the upcoming fiscal year, following a similar cut this year. Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars say that means staff layoffs, making it more difficult to assist veterans in need. All Senate Republicans and three Democrats from Roseville, Burton and Bay City voted for the cut. By Quincy Hodges. FOR LANSING, MICHIGAN CITIZEN & ALL POINTS.

TABLESSREGISTRATION: Senators from Troy, Lake Leelanau and Sturgis want to do away with those pesky license plate tabs, saying computer technology makes them obsolete. The secretary of state likes the idea but says the Legislature should wait until next year to act. By Jordan Travis. FOR OAKLAND, ROYAL OAK, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, SOUTH BEND, CADILLAC, TRAVERSE CITY & ALL POINTS.

PROMISESCHOLARSHIPS: A promise is usually recognized as an assurance between separate parties, but in Michigan, not all promises are always kept, say education experts and students opposed to proposed funding cuts for the Michigan Promise scholarship program and other financial aid to college students. We hear from the Community College Association, a Michigan State official and student, lawmakers from Lansing and East Lansing, and the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. By Nick Mordowanec. FOR LANSING, MICHIGAN CITIZEN & ALL POINTS.

ROADREPAIRS: The St. Joseph County Road Commission is waiting for legislative action to provide more federal stimulus money for local road and bridge projects. The commission has been dealing with reduced funding for several years. Several Southwest Michigan lawmakers are among the sponsors. By Hyonhee Shin. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, SOUTH BEND & ALL POINTS.

LAKELEVELS: Answers to Great Lakes climate questions may show up in an unlikely place — the rings of trees growing in the Pacific Northwest. Researchers at College of Wooster are using tree rings as climate indicators to reconstruct fluctuating water levels in Lake Erie over the past 265 years. DEQ says lake levels depend on a variety of factors including precipitation, diversion, groundwater, surface runoff and dredging. Lake Erie is at record high, and water levels in Lake Michigan are also high. By Rachel Gleason. FOR OAKLAND, MACOMB, ROYAL OAK, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, ALPENA, CHEBOYGAN, PETOSKEY, TRAVERSE CITY, LUDINGTON, HOLLAND, MARQUETTE, SOUTH BEND & ALL POINTS.

LAKELEVELSPHOTO1. Tree rings. Credit: College of Wooster.

LAKELEVELPHOTO2: Researchers core a tree as part of their study of climate change and Great Lakes water levels. Credit: College of Wooster.

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Welcome news for farm birds and beasts

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By MEHAK BANSIL
Capital News Service

LANSING—A controversial farm animal welfare bill would limit the restraint of pregnant pigs, veal calves and egg-laying birds, including chickens, turkeys and ducks.

Awaiting the governor’s signature, the bill would outlaw confining the animals so they could not lie down, stand up, turn around or extend their limbs.

The final bill reflects a compromise among the Humane Society of the United States, the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries Inc., and the Michigan Pork Producers Association.

The compromise was reached only after the Washington-based animal welfare group warned it would launch a ballot initiative if the industry groups were unwilling to reach an agreement.

An important source of income for the state, poultry and pork farming is prevalent on the western side of the state.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that the top three poultry-producing counties are Ottawa, Allegan and Ionia, and the top three hog-producing counties are Allegan, Cass and Ottawa.

The Michigan Humane Society, although not an affiliate of the Washington group, supports the bill and said it hopes that common interests of the groups will protect the animals from further abuse.

“People in Michigan want to make sure that animals on our farms are living good lives,” said Jennifer Robertson, public relations coordinator for the Michigan humane group headquartered in Bingham Farms.

“We truly hope that the revisions to the bills will help Michigan become a leader in these regards. We look forward to working with the farm industry going forward to ensure positive changes for thousands of animals in Michigan,” she said.
Several states, including Maine, Colorado and Arizona, already prohibit several of the practices covered by the legislation. A ballot initiative in California to give egg-laying hens more space was successful.

According to George House, executive director of the poultry industry group based in Ada, surveys of Michigan residents indicated farmers would lose a ballot initiative and then would most likely face stricter regulations.

“Because there’s no chicken psychologists, our measures of appropriate animal welfare standards rely on three factors,” House said. “How many birds die in production, how many eggs are laid and the amount of feed it takes to produce a dozen eggs.
“It’s all about the cost.”

With the current state of the economy, cost is another concern. However, both House and Sam Hynes, head of the pork producers group based in Holt, said the bill’s 10-year implementation period should allow the industries to find ways to comply without drastically increasing prices for consumers.

Because concessions by the two industries caused a considerable difference from the original standards, some co-sponsors of the original bill asked that their names be removed.

One is Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, who is also a farmer.

“This wasn’t the same bill we introduced,” Daley said. “This bill took a radical organization and adopted their standards under the scare of a ballot initiative.”

The Michigan Farm Bureau endorsed the measure because the rival  parties had come to a compromise.

“I cannot say food safety, animal welfare and economic weights are taken into account in this legislation,” said Tonia Ritter, manager of state governmental affairs for the Farm Bureau said. “However, we supported the bill because the poultry and pork industries stood behind it.”

The chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Simpson, D-Jackson, accepted the compromise for the same reason, according to his chief of staff, Mark Sadler.

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State money for veterans programs face more cuts

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By QUINCY HODGES
Capital News Service

LANSING — Veterans’ service organizations face another $1 million in state budget cuts for programs that help veterans file claims for benefits and guide them through the
federal bureaucracy.

There already has been a $1 million cut, which led to layoffs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other service organizations, including the American Legion, Catholic War Veterans, the Purple Heart and Vietnam Veterans of America, according to VFW state Quartermaster Robert Weiss.
Lawmakers say it’s tough giving veterans less funding, but money is running low.

The Republican-controlled Senate has already voted for the cut for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

All Senate Republicans and three Democrats supported the cuts in a bill that funds both veterans and military programs. Democrats are Sens. Jim Barcia of Bay City, Deb Cherry of Burton and Michael Switalski of Roseville.

Weiss said the VFW had to “ lay people off permanently.” With less money to operate, the staff had to get smaller in places like Iron Mountain and Marquette.

The proposed budget plan would cut nearly $226,000 from the VFW budget alone, he said.
Veterans need help with housing and health problems and with wars going on now, the last thing needed is more cuts, Weiss said.

Veterans come to the VFW for help in filing claims.

“We have soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that are coming back needing help,” said Weiss.

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Energy loans could fuel new jobs

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By CAITLIN COSTELLO
Capital News Service

LANSING—Revolving loans would be available for renewable energy projects if a Senate bill passes.

Michigan received $82 million under the federal stimulus program to use for renewable energy projects, and $10 million of it can be used to create a revolving loan fund.

Energy efficiency in government buildings and energy manufacturing projects are the focus for loans, said Amy Butler, Bureau of Energy Systems director, the state unit that would review loan applications.

“The bill is a mechanism to get more money flowing through the state,” said Amanda Price, a legislative aide to Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatauk, the bill’s sponsor.

The amount loaned and the time in which the loan must be repaid would be flexible because different energy projects require different resources, said Butler.

The loans are revolving, so as soon as they are paid back, the money can go out again for other projects. The goal is to use stimulus money to generate as many renewable energy projects as possible.

Sens. Bill Hardiman, R-Grand Rapids, Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, John Pappageorge, R-Troy, and Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, have also signed onto the bill.

Butler said she is confident of the success of renewable energy loans because applications have been high for already established federally funded grants.

She said the loans would bring money and jobs to the state, especially in renewable energy technology and the manufacture of parts for renewable energy equipment.

Dan Greenfield, director of investor relations and corporate communications at ATI Engineered Products, said job creation would be important to his company, which casts wind turbine components and other products. It is the parent company of ATI Casting Service in Alpena.

Many ATI employees were laid off when the economy spiraled downward and orders declined, he said.

“If the bill is good for the wind industry in the U.S., then it will help wind industry employees,” he said.

Todd Artley, an electrical instructor at Alpena Community College, is more skeptical about the potential impact of the loan program.

“Grant money will work for the initial installation, but it will not defray the costs of energy,” he said. “I don’t think it will create jobs. After installation, few maintenance people will be needed.”

The bill cleared the Senate Energy, Policy and Public Utilities Committee unanimously and is now in the Senate.

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St. Joseph County hopes for more road money

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By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Southwest Michigan drivers may continue to see better roads to drive next year, along with occasional construction delays.

A bill by Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, would provide $419 million for state and local road and bridge repairs for the fiscal year 2010 that begins Oct. 1.

The proposal would use federal stimulus grants for $213 million for road and bridge construction, $200 million for local road improvements and $6 million for railroad crossing repairs.

Like many counterparts across the state, the St. Joseph County Road Commission has been forced to make budget cuts because of a reduction in the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), said Manager Bruce Jones.

“We don’t get enough monthly checks,” said Jones. “We’ve lost nearly a half-million dollars in our budget over the past three years.”

The MTF money, which it uses for day-to-day operations, has continued to decline since January 2005. By the end of 2009, it will have decreased by $600,000.

The commission’s property tax revenue, meantime, increased $107,000 in the same time period, but that money can be used only for routine road maintenance, not to build bridges, and mainly in small urban areas, such as Sturgis and Three Rivers, Jones said.

Declining funds from the primary road repair revenue sources – gasoline taxes and vehicle license fees – make it difficult to keep roads in good condition, Jones said.

“There are 1,000 miles of roads that are not funded for repairs,” he said. “We have to cut back, as far as paying for construction.”

In addition, the road commission reported that the last two winters have been tough. It cost $1 million to remove nearly 90 inches of snowfall last winter alone, and the cost was just below that of 2008.

Because of the money spent in the winter, summer work was cut back, and the commission did not hire summer help this year.

“Summer time is relatively nice,” said Jones. “We have to save money for winter.”

Consequently, the road commission cut back on its chip-and-seal program this year because of budget cuts, Jones said.
Chip-and-seal is a maintenance project for about 55 miles of county roads. The process includes sealing cracks in the road surfaces and widening the causeway of Langley Covered Bridge and placing new guardrails.

With federal stimulus money available, Jones said, maintenance and repair activities would increase significantly.
“I’m hoping to take advantage of the federal stimulus package,” said Jones. “It’s nice to share, but there are 83 road commissions across the state so I’m not sure how that would work.”

The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. James Bolger, R-Marshall; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; John Proos, R-St. Joseph; Larry DeShazor, R-Portage; and Matt Lori, R-Constantine.

The bill is pending in the House Appropriations Committee.

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Bus ridership rises, greenhouse gas emissions drop

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By VINCE BOND Jr.
Capital News Service

LANSING- Public transit ridership in the state increased by 6 percent last year, resulting in significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption, according to a report by Environment Michigan.

The group found that motorists drove 4.4 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007, saving 35.6 million gallons of gas and reducing global warming pollution by 321,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the process.

Environment Michigan associate Shelley Vinyard said “wildly fluctuating” gas prices probably played a major role in the changes.

The Ann Arbor-based advocacy organization researches environmental issues.

By taking advantage of public transit, “we can decrease our energy dependence and reduce carbon dioxide pollution,” Vinyard said. “We’re excited to see that demand is increasing. People are voting with their feet and using public transit while driving less.”

On a national scale, transit ridership rose 4 percent as gas consumption dropped by 4 billion gallons in 2008.
Overall, carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 37 million tons.

Ridership jumped 15 percent last year in Southeast Michigan, said Beth Dryden, director of external affairs, marketing and communications at the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

SMART serves nearly 13 million people in Macomb, Wayne, Oakland, and Monroe counties with 54 bus routes and 7,000 stops.

Of Smart’s 13 million riders, 70 percent relied on bus service to get to work, while students from colleges such as the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Macomb Community College and Oakland University accounted for 20 percent.

Although $4-a-gallon gas had an impact on last year’s higher ridership figures, Dryden said the trend will continue because of the influx of new riders who prefer to save $6,000 a year on fuel and other vehicle-related expenses.

“Once they try public transit and see how convenient it is, they stick with it,” Dryden said. “As the only public transportation service in Southeast Michigan, it helps with the economic vitality of the region.”

More than 75,000 businesses and 1.3 million jobs are located within four blocks of a SMART route, Dryden said.
Ridership was just as strong in the western portion of the state.

The Macatawa Area Express Transportation Authority (MAX), which provides bus service for Holland and Zealand, experienced a 26 percent boost in ridership last year, said Linda LeFebre, MAX coordinator.

“We saw huge increases,” LeFebre said. “Consumers in the area were looking for an option to reduce their expenses. We’re glad that people are considering other options.”

In Grand Rapids, ridership rose from 8.1 million in 2007 to 9 million last year, said Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager of The Rapid.

Kalczuk gives only partial credit to the gas price spike, attributing some of the rise to improved services and increased environmental awareness.

“Our ridership has been going up consistently,” Kalczuk said. “As people become more environmentally conscious, they are using more alternatives. We’ve actually doubled our ridership since 2000.”

With fewer people driving and buying vehicles, gas tax and vehicle registration revenues are taking a major hit, said Brent Bair, managing director of the Oakland County Road Commission.

Bair said that nearly 60 percent of commission’s $100 million budget depends on gas and vehicle registration.
As a result of depleted funds, the commission will be able to employ only 150 snow plow drivers this winter, down from last year’s 190.

Several road commissions have converted paved roads to gravel because they can’t afford to maintain them, Bair said.
“It’s getting pretty dire,” he said. “Our level of maintenance won’t be as good. We’ve been warning legislators for years that a crisis is coming and it’s here.”

According to the Environment Michigan study, transportation accounts for more than two-thirds of America’s oil consumption and nearly a third its carbon dioxide emissions.

Hugh McDiarmid, communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the asthma rate could be “alleviated” as smog levels fall because of reduced tailpipe emission.

“It’s one little step towards curbing our global warming pollution,” McDiarmid said. “It’s good news for the environment and people’s pocket books.”

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Plan would eliminate license plate tabs

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan drivers may no longer have to buy tabs for their vehicle license plates.
A Senate bill would eliminate the small stickers that show the expiration date of a vehicle’s registration. The bill is sponsored by Sens. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau, and Cameron Brown, R-Sturgis.

In 2008 there were 9.6 million registered vehicles and trailers in the state, according to the Insurance Institute of Michigan.

Justin Winslow, Pappageorge’s chief of staff, said that tabs are “essentially obsolete at this point.”

Instead, he said, police can verify whether a vehicle registration is up to date through a computer database.

Drivers would get a new plate every five years under the proposal, and anyone with an out-of-date registration could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $200.

Nearly 50 percent of Secretary of State office visits involve people buying license plate tabs, he said. The change would save the state money by reducing the number of visits to branch offices.

Saving money is a concern, but “the real impetus is the Secretary of State updating its systems,” Winslow said.

He said the move would be the latest in a series of efficiency-related changes. Others include registration renewal at self-serve kiosks, the Internet and by telephone.

Ken Silfven, a communications specialist for Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, said that the department supports the concept.

In fact, Land has pursued the idea for several years while initiating other modernizations, such as the kiosks.

“There were a lot of other changes that needed to be done first,” he said.

Silfven said that the department is concerned about the timing of the bill, saying that technological updates, such as the creation of a computer database, are in progress, so any changes with vehicle registration should wait until next year.

Currently, the state pays $2.5 million per year for the printing of registration certificates and tabs, he said.

The bill is pending in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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To keep or not to keep, that is a promise

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By NICK MORDOWANEC

Capital News Service

LANSING – A promise is usually recognized as an assurance between parties, but in Michigan, not all promises are kept, critics of proposed budget cuts say.

The Promise Scholarship has been eliminated from the state’s proposed 2010 budget, along with at least $60 million in financial aid for students attending college, as part of an effort to balance the books for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

With the overall budget facing a $2.8 billion deficit, about $200 million in higher education spending is at risk.

The scholarships currently provide up to $4,000 to high school graduates for completing two years of postsecondary education, such as obtaining an associate’s degree. The Promise program began with 2007 high school graduates, and 96,000 college students are currently benefiting from the program.

In a state whose graduates often flee for employment opportunities in other parts of the country, reducing financial aid to students from low-to-middle income households may keep many high school graduates from seeking a degree, education experts say.

“We oppose the elimination of the Promise Scholarship program,” said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

“Of maybe bigger concern, however, are the cuts or elimination of many of the other need-based financial aid programs, including the State Competitive Scholarship Program, the Part-time Independent Student Program, Michigan Work Study Program, the Michigan Education Opportunity Grant Program and the Nursing Scholarship program.”

The need-based programs cited by Hansen cover varied amounts of educational expenses which, like the Promise scholarships, help needy students enrolled in both public and private institutions.

Hansen said, “Given that these are need-based programs, their elimination affects some of the most needy students in this state, many of whom attend community colleges. We are hopeful that the Legislature continues to search for other ways to find funding for these vitally important financial aid programs.”

“It’s clearly the wrong message,” said Michael Boulus, the executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. The organization acts as a coordinating body for the 15 state universities.

Boulus said that in addition to pending cuts in financial aid and Promise scholarships, other educational programs such as preschool may be cut as well.

“There is no vision, no investment strategy,” he said. “They are attacking both sides of the spectrum.”

Boulus cited a correlation between college graduates and a state’s economic prosperity, saying that Michigan ranks last in the nation in terms of investments in higher education.

Many students have expressed dissatisfaction about the cuts.

“We have been in contact with students since June,” said Val Meyers, associate director of Michigan State University’s Office of Financial Aid. “Kids counted on money for books, but now we are all looking at different options. Everything depends on which direction the state goes with its budget.”

Travis Foote, an MSU junior from Mount Pleasant majoring in computer science and economics, views Gov. Jennifer Granholm as an onlooker and not a contributor to fix the problem. Foote receives a Promise scholarship.

“It is poor fiscal responsibility,” Foote said. “If someone took enough time to calculate, they would realize that reducing a person’s debt could contribute far more to Michigan’s economy because of the lower interest rate.”

At a Capitol rally to protest the proposed cuts, Reps. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing and Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, opposed eliminating the scholarships.

Mitchell Rivard, president of the MSU Democrats, said his organization submitted more than 2,000 signatures to House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, in an attempt to spare the scholarships.

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Republican, Democratic students unite on scholarship program

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

LANSING- They may disagree on health care, U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, abortion and taxes, but something is bringing rivals together on campus.

College Republicans and College Democrats at Northern Michigan University are coming together over the elimination of the Michigan Promise Scholarship program.

For many of the 7,500 NMU students from Michigan, more than a semester’s worth of tuition is on the line as state lawmakers battle the Oct. 1 budget deadline.

In-state students at NMU pay $7,455 per year in tuition, according to communications director Cindy Paavola. That means a full scholarship pays for more than a semester of school.

And that’s something students were counting on.  “Obviously in these economic times, anything that impacts the bottom line for students is a big deal,” Paavola said.

Legislators and Gov. Jennifer Grandholm are wrestling with the future of the $140-million-a-year Promise program.

College Republicans President Matthew Fusilier doesn’t support the cut, despite the stance of most Republican legislators on the issue.

In fact, it’s a bipartisan issue on campus. Earlier this year, the College Republicans, College Democrats and Associated Students of Northern Michigan University came together to talk about ways to keep the scholarship program alive.

“I don’t think it’s right. Most college students don’t think it should be taken away,” said Fusilier.

The proposal to cut the $4,000 scholarship awarded to high school juniors who perform well on the Michigan Merit Exam remains in contention.
The scholarship program was established in 2006. Students must pass the merit exam and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average in college to receive the full amount, which is often paid in installments.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, opposes the cut. He says it would have serious consequences, and not just for students.
“I think we’ll see a serious dropoff in trust of government,” Boulus said.

So far in the Legislature, most Democrats oppose cutting the scholarship and most Republicans support the proposal.

Rep. Steven Lindberg, D- Marquette, says there are better solutions than eliminating the program. One option is to make the scholarship need-based instead of universal, which Lindberg said he’d go along with reluctantly.

He said what he really wants to avoid is the proposal as it stands.

“I think to cut all the Promise grants would be criminal,” said Lindberg.

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Education cuts may accelerate ‘brain drain’

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By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service

LANSING — As young professionals continue to leave Michigan, efforts are underway to stop the “brain drain.”

Karen Gagnon is program manager for Cool Cities, a state program dedicated to making cities more vibrant and attractive to young professionals and new businesses. She says young people and businesses are looking for specific features.

For example, Cool Cities is helping to equip the restored historic opera house in Traverse City with new technology. The restoration is intended to bring a cultural attraction to the city’s downtown that will entice young people, which in turn will lure businesses.

In Cadillac, Cool Cities is working with the city, which will take possession of the historic but vacant Cobbs & Mitchell Building to redevelop it.

“You have to attract businesses, and they want to know where the talent pool is. Youth want to live in a place where they can live, work, and play,” Gagnon said, adding that keeping college graduates in Michigan is critical because their presence contributes to the economy.

But as such programs try to keep young talent in the state, lawmakers are looking to cut educational incentives such as the Michigan Promise Scholarship.

The $140 million-a-year program offers up to $4,000 to high school graduates who complete at least two years of post-secondary education in the state. Currently, 96,000 college students receive program scholarships.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, says education is critical in producing young professionals. He opposes the proposed cuts.

“We must get more 21 -to 35-year-olds with degrees and attract knowledge-based industries,” he said. “By its very name, it’s called the Promise Scholarship, so you can see where the problem lies. Cutting the scholarship means that the state will be going back on its promise to students.”

Boulus also said college students are an important part of Michigan’s economic future, and that his organization, which represents 15 public universities, is working to bring college students and employers together.

“We just launched Intern in Michigan, a Web site where we’re getting employers to sign up and post internships,” he said.
“The program is a way for such groups as the Detroit Regional Chamber, which is a partner of the project, to pursue the retention of young professionals, and find students internships in the state,” said Tricia Llewellyn, director of the Meeting Employer Needs Division of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

According to Intern in Michigan, about half of Michigan residents who graduate with a four-year degree leave the state, and a survey of recent graduates shows that half of those who are moving cite their inability to find a job as a key reason.

Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, says the state must make difficult choices because of the high budget deficit.

“Unfortunately, we’re approximately $10 billion in debt,” he said. “The challenge is how do we come up with the resources to fund these programs?”

Boulus predicts the state will continue to suffer from a lack of education funding.

“The bottom line is that we must get younger and better educated or we will get poorer,” he said.
Lawmakers and the governor have until the end of the month to make final decisions on the budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Allen said, “We’re trying to work out a bipartisan solution that works for all.”

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