29 December 2014


Original Story: woodtv.com

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — A settlement over a 2010 oil spill in southwestern Michigan is worth $6.25 million, not $6.75 million as lawyers reported earlier in December.

A new filing has been made in Grand Rapids federal court. Judge Gordon Quist still must approve the deal between a Canadian company and residents and land owners near the Kalamazoo River. A Tulsa Oil and Gas Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The size of payments will depend on proximity to the water.

A pipeline leak spewed more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek. The pipeline belongs to Enbridge Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta.

Enbridge has agreed to donate $150,000 to local groups committed to environmental conservation, such as the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council and the Calhoun Conservation District. A Texas Energy Lawyer is experienced in representing clients involved in energy disputes.

The company has estimated cleanup costs to be about $1.2 billion, including $227 million on environmental consultants.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Restaurant manager Rose Drys knows the look: the doubting, skeptical faces of customers offered a seat on the patio when it's as cold as ice cream outside.

"When we ask, 'Inside or out?' they look like, 'Yeah, right, I want to sit outside,' " says Drys, who runs Stella's Black Dog Tavern in downtown Plymouth.

"Sometimes it takes convincing to get people to believe they won't be cold. Once they sit out there and see how nice it feels, how nice everything looks outside in wintertime, they don't want to sit anywhere else." Enclosure Guy offers outdoor patio enclosures and plastic curtains for your business.

Stella's began investing in a year-round patio about two years ago by adding a heater and glass door walls that go up when temps comes down. The warming features were stepped up last year with thick warm chair cushions that are used only in cold weather. Rugs were also rolled out. And on Nov. 20, a fireplace went in. It will be removed come summer.

Stella's is among Metro Detroit eateries that have decided to keep outdoor eating areas open year-round, and they are finding that winter patios are good for the customer experience and for their business bottom line.

For customers, it's a way to enjoy the sights of winter — skies, snowflakes and snow-trimmed trees, bundled-up pedestrians, street and twinkling lights — without feeling chilled. For business owners, it preserves precious seating, which can be cut by as much as half when outdoor tables go into winter storage. Put your outdoor seating to good use with an Enclosure Guy outdoor patio enclosure.

As customers warm up to winterized dining rooms, restaurant owners, managers and chefs are seeing requests for outdoor seating are just as hot in the fall and winter as in summer and spring.

The fireplace and patio at Local Kitchen is a favorite spot for the Hughes family of Royal Oak. If they can't get a seat at the interior patio, nearest the fireplace, they go to the exterior patio.

"It very cozy and homey," says dad Brian Hughes. "The fireplace can get a little smoky sometimes, but it's like sitting around a campfire, the smell, the warmth. It's nice."

While fire pits and outdoor heaters are nothing new, the latest version brings more warming features. There are transparent, opaque and white plastic tents that can attach to the ground and keep the cold air out. There are personal heaters and dedicated room heaters as well as removable glass walls and permanent fireplaces. And building renovations can ensure that patios are protected from the elements.

At Social Kitchen & Bar in Birmingham, the patio, or The Via, is the place to be for many customers, says general manager Michael Gray. "People don't mind waiting for a table in The Via."

The Via is on the side of the building, just off the restaurant's main dining space, and looks onto the street. It's divided by glass partitions so people can see into the restaurant and covered with a tent/canopy that zips up to keep the wind out.

Above each table are electric heaters "that are extremely effective," and each is on its own individual breaker. The room has its own standard thermostat as well, Gray says.

"We actually get requests to sit out there no matter how cold it is outside," Gray says. "The perspective there is different. The people watching, the sights outside. … It's built-in entertainment."

The Via seats 48 and up to 60, if necessary. The space is popular as a rental for group gatherings, as is the case with other restaurants' outdoor patios.

"I think this is the trend. You never want to shrink dining space," Gray says.

Down the street, Café Via — a separate business — manages to maintain an outdoor patio that is warm and unusually elegant all year long. Several restaurants in Birmingham — The Bird & The Bread, Market and others — offer al fresco dining.

Red Crown in Grosse Pointe Park has enclosed its patio with a tent and uses large space heaters, as does Da Eduardo in Grosse Pointe Woods. Morning Glory in Grosse Pointe Farms adds a floor-to-ceiling glass wall each year to fully enclose its small patio. And when Bacco Ristorante in Southfield remodeled its patio, it added heaters and an insulated enclosure.

When the owners of Local Kitchen & Bar in Ferndale took over a restaurant space at 344 W. Nine Mile for renovations in 2012 "it was a prerequisite that we have a larger patio that be used any season," says developer and executive chef Rich Halberg.

The patio was changed to run the length of the building and made large enough to seat 100-120. It's divided into three sections moving in from the restaurant outward, from least exposed to most exposed. There is a fireplace between the indoor and outdoor spaces and clear plastic walls that can roll up and down.

Last year they decided to secure the walls to the ground to protect the tables from the cold, and the outdoor patio, which seats about 50, also has a warm air blowing furnace, says Halberg. It's well worth the investment, he says.

"The feeling of being indoors for winter, for our long winters, can make you feel claustrophobic," he says. "This lets people be able to sit outside and enjoy the outdoors. Plus, it gives us the space we absolutely have to have all year long."


Original Story: woodtv.com

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids woman who tenants said pretended to be their landlord and collected rent but then ‘took our money and ran’ is now the focus of a criminal fraud investigation.

Cheryl Murphy told Target 8 last week that she didn’t know what she was going to do about a place to live. She said she and her husband had paid $1,400 to Amanda Straight to live with her in a house on Griswold Street SE through February.

What Murphy didn’t know when she handed over the money is that Straight doesn’t own that home. She was a tenant renting it. Murphy said Straight took her rent money but never paid the actual property owner. A Plymouth Landlord Tenant Lawyer has experience representing clients involved in eviction disputes.

The real landlord is in the process of evicting Straight, who has since moved to another house. It is at least the third eviction notice she has faced this year, but Straight has never shown up for a court date.

Murphy, her husband and another tenant are going to be thrown out of the house on Griswold, too. Murphy said they didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have the money to find a new place.

After Target 8’s story aired, Tamara Holmberg — who doesn’t know Murphy — decided she had to do something to help. She started a GoFundMe.com account.

“We were able to raise, after the fees and everything, $1,400,” Holmberg said.

Tuesday, she presented Murphy with that $1,400 in cash, which was collected from mostly anonymous donors. The money will be used to help Murphy and her husband find a new place to live.

“They didn’t have to do this. They don’t know us. They have their own families and people to take care of that are close to their hearts, and for them to reach out to us and our situation that we were placed in , it has been a really overwhelming experience,” Murphy said.

The Grand Rapids Police Department said it also learned about Straight’s alleged shady dealings from Target 8. After the story aired, police started getting calls from other victims. GRPD forwarded the case to the Metropolitan Fraud and Identity Theft Task Force for investigation. No charges had been filed against Straight as of Tuesday. A Birmingham Eviction Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Sara Czachorski told Target 8 she was also ripped off by Straight. She lived with Straight at a house on Kalamazoo Avenue SE that she thought Straight owned. But she realized something was fishy.

“I knew things weren’t obviously OK. There were times where several people (would come to the house). She wouldn’t answer the door,” Czachorski said.

Straight kicked her out unexpectedly, she said.

“A couple of days later, we filed for small claims,” Czachorski said.

Czachorski told the judge that Straight owned her over $1,000 for an unreturned security deposit and cable and Internet service that was supposed to be included in Czachorski’s rent. Straight told her Czachorski’s name would have to appear on the bill and she would pay Sara.

“She said, ‘Well, they won’t let me get it in my name,'” Czachorski recalled. “She said she didn’t have good credit.”

Czachorski won a judgment against Straight when Straight, once again, did not show up to court. A Rochester Landlord Tenant Lawyer assist property owners in regaining possession of their land from tenants refusing to abide by the terms of their lease.

But she is being summoned there again. Murphy has also filed a small claims case for the rent Straight took from her. The case goes before a judge Jan. 7.

23 December 2014


Original Story: nytimes.com

Oil prices have plunged so rapidly that financial markets are treating them less as an opportunity than a danger, like a falling knife.

Currency rates are gyrating, oil-producing countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran are hurting, and sectors of the bond market are threatened.

But unless you’re directly involved in the commodity markets, you may not be following the futures price of a barrel of oil. What hits home, especially if you drive a car with an internal combustion engine, is the price of gasoline: It has become spectacularly cheap.

Even in New York City, where gas prices are among the highest in the continental United States, drivers are beginning to smile. On average, a gallon of regular costs less than $3 within the city limits, according to the AAA.

And for the nation as a whole, average prices are staggeringly low, at least when compared with recent levels. On Friday, the average for a gallon of regular was $2.45, down sharply from the 2014 peak of $3.70, reached on April 8. While gas prices have been falling for months, most forecasters, including the federal government, say the end is not yet in sight. Windshield glass repair kits are affordable and easy to use.

Painful as this may be for wildcatters in North Dakota and Texas — as well as oil companies in Siberia, Latin America and the Persian Gulf — it’s an immediate boon for hard-pressed American consumers: We’ve got more money to spend, and, based on history, we’ll spend it.

The only big question is whether — during this particular energy cycle — we will devote some of the windfall to items with long-term benefits, like repair and redevelopment of our battered infrastructure and measures to conserve the environment.

But there is little doubt that low gas prices lead to extra spending across the economy. In fact, there are signs that some of that spending has already started.

“The magnitude of the gasoline price drop is profound,” said James D. Hamilton, professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego. “It is a significant boost to the spending power of most Americans. And the data shows that when Americans get this spending power, they go out and spend it.”

An intriguing AAA poll suggests that prices are already low enough to make a psychological difference. The poll, taken in March, found that $3.30 was the point at which half the driving population found that prices were fair.

At current levels, the average price of gasoline across the nation is 85 cents below that $3.30 fair-value level, and it has stayed under that threshold since the first week of October. What’s more, the AAA expects prices to drop as much as an additional 20 cents a gallon by New Year’s Day.

When gas prices break below a three-year trading range and then fall significantly lower, as they already have, people start to feel better about spending, Professor Hamilton said.

“When prices drop, that should stimulate demand, and I think that’s happening,” he said. The latest reports on retail sales, vehicle sales and consumer confidence have all been strong, he said, and “the fall in gas prices is a big part of it.” Auto glass chip repair kits allow you to perform professional repairs.

In 2015, the government predicts, these trends are likely to continue: Gas prices are expected to remain very low, helping to reduce gasoline costs for the average household by $550 for the year, bringing them down to $1,962.

That should have an effect on the entire domestic economy. Despite the surge in American production that has contributed to the glut in supply and the fall in prices, the United States remains a net oil-consuming nation. That’s why the overall effect of falling oil prices should be positive for the United States — and harmful for net-producing nations like Russia — although it is hard to calculate the actual numbers.

Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics in London, made a stab at it with some back-of-the-envelope estimates. Based on full-year 2013 data from Capital Economics, a price decline of the dimensions we’ve already seen would cut six percentage points from the gross domestic product of Russia, a very severe blow.

For the United States, which is both a big producer and consumer of oil, some of the positives and negatives would balance out, resulting in a net addition of roughly one percentage point to annual G.D.P. The true number is debatable, but it’s clear that there will be a boost. And in a period like this, in which the economy has already picked up steam, it opens up some policy options.

Several factors have contributed to the price declines. An increase in oil production, especially in the United States, is part of the story, but so is a reduction in global demand.

“Outside the United States, much of the world’s economy has slowed down, and that’s had a big impact on global demand for oil,” said Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Northern Trust.

In addition, conservation efforts worldwide, including fuel-efficiency standards in the United States, have contributed to slackening demand and falling prices. We simply don’t burn as much energy as we did a few years ago to achieve the same amount of mileage, heat or manufacturing production.

But when prices drop, we run into a basic economic problem that could reverse some of these improvements in energy efficiency and conservation. With lower prices, demand rises and people consume more. Bargain gas prices induce people to hit the road. The AAA projects that during the year-end holiday period, people will drive 4 percent more than they did during the period last year. They also may be tempted to buy bigger, gas-guzzling vehicles. That’s happened before.

Certainly, if these trends continue as expected, fuel consumption will increase while the more expensive forms of oil production, now rendered less economical, will decline. With less supply and more demand, energy prices can be expected to rise again. We could be back, more or less, where we started.

That would be good for energy producers but not necessarily for anyone else. It’s why Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, has called on policy makers around the world to impose taxes on carbon emissions and cut incentives for fossil-fuel energy production. “In fact, this is a golden opportunity,” Ms. van der Hoeven said earlier this month. “Policy makers can take actions unthinkable a year ago.”

Professor Hamilton pointed out that a carbon tax of $25 a ton — which the Obama administration has advocated, but Congress has opposed — converts to less than the amount that oil and gas prices have already fallen. A carbon tax wouldn’t be painful right now, but it would provide an incentive for energy efficiency.

There’s another economically interesting option. The nation’s bridges, highways and mass transit systems are in dire need of a big infusion of capital — and a major source of such money, the national Highway Trust Fund, which relies on gasoline taxes for revenue, is nearly depleted.

The national gas tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, hasn’t increased since 1993. With falling gas prices, a tax increase would barely be noticeable at the pump. Such measures would make a great deal of economic sense, if politics didn’t get in the way.

15 December 2014


Original Story: chron.com

Police were called to quell unruly crowds after hundreds converged outside several Houston-area malls early Sunday morning in hopes of getting a ticket to buy pricey Nike Air Jordan sneakers being released next weekend. Chaos reached a crescendo when a rock shattered a glass entrance door at the Willowbrook Mall and a teenage girl was zapped with a Taser outside The Woodlands Mall.

Montgomery County Sheriff's spokesman Phil Fitzgerald confirmed a deputy had fired an electric jolt from his Taser during crowd control operations, but said he could not provide any further details because any use of force by an officer must be investigated.

Foot Locker, which had been promoting the release of the Air Jordan 11 Retro 'Legend Blue,' did not open Sunday after the incident, and nobody from the store could be reached for comment.

"Our deputies went there in response to a 911 call about a large disturbance. Several hundred had gathered. They were becoming unruly, acting defiant and not following directions," he said. The name of the teenager was not released and nobody was arrested.

However, a local TV station reported that the teen, who provided cell phone photos of the Taser barb attached to her backside, was taken to an area hospital to be checked as a precaution and then released.

"It seems kind of crazy to wait hours in line for a chance at a pair of sneakers," said Fitzgerald, adding these mob scenes are becoming a common occurrence when Nike does the very limited releases in years past.

This year fans and collectors were willing to wait over night in lines for the new release of the classic "Legend Blue" shoe, which Nike says it originally sold in 1996. If they made it to the front of the line, they would be given a ticket that would allow them to return next weekend to buy the actual shoe.

It's a simple white patent and smooth leather shoe with a translucent icy blue sole, listed for $200 on Nike's web site. Much of the hype surrounding the popular Air Jordans has been attributed to its namesake, Michael Jordan, on basketball's greatest players, shoe aficionados say.

However, law enforcement organizations are growing concerned that these staged promotions take officers needed to fight crime off the streets and use them for crowd control.

Houston Police officer Tim Norris said over 1,000 people mobbed Willowbrook mall for one of those tickets which resulted in an emergency "citywide assist' call that sent some 50 officers rushing there in the thick fog early Sunday morning. Glass in west entrance door to this mall was shattered.

The crowd had grown restless after waiting in line for hours. Some began pushing and suddenly things escalated--as the barricade collapsed and some in the crowd rushed forward, throwing rocks at the door, until finally brought under control, the Montgomery County Police Reporter said.

Rowdy crowds were also reported at Deerbrook Mall in Humble and Memorial City Mall in Houston, this news account said.

Similar incidents have happened in previous years as shoppers battled over buying these collectable shoes. The ticket system was designed to minimize crowd control problems within a mall and guarantee people could buy the right sizes.

In 2011, Houston police dispatched extra patrols to the Galleria and other area malls where "sneakerheads" lined up days in advance for another limited edition remake of shoes worn by basketball super star Michael Jordan.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Near the top of the list of the challenges Detroit faces as it starts its post-bankruptcy era is avoiding becoming two cities — one for the upwardly mobile young and white denizens of an increasingly happening downtown, and the other for the struggling and frustrated black residents trapped in neighborhoods that are crumbling around them. A Detroit Business Lawyer assists clients in structuring, restructuring and liquidating corporate and non-corporate entities.

Nobody wants to inject race into the marvelous story of downtown's rebound, driven largely by young creatives who grew up in the suburbs and are now fiercely Detroiters. I don't either. It's a downer, and the last thing I want to be involved in is another conversation about race. Druther have a stick for my eye.

But with racial tension simmering across the country, Detroit must heed obvious warning signs.

It's a clear red flag when you can sit in a hot new downtown restaurant and nine out of 10 tables are filled with white diners, a proportion almost exactly opposite of the city's racial make-up.

It's a warning signal when you go to holiday events for major Detroit cultural institutions and charities, and you can count the number of African-American revelers on both hands.

It should stop us in our tracks — as it did me the other day — when a group of 50 young professionals being groomed for future leadership shows up to hear advice from a senior executive, and there's only one black member among them.

Pay attention to the stories about the cool kids who are leading the Detroit revival by starting businesses, social groups and nonprofits. Overwhelmingly, the subjects are white. A Detroit Real Estate Lawyer has experience representing clients in major urban development projects, downtown office facilities, and industrial centers.

I'm not disparaging the newcomers. Detroit was an opportunity sitting there for the taking, and they seized it. And what they're doing is miraculous. We can talk all day about why more African-Americans didn't do the same thing. It doesn't matter. We have to understand that we're buying trouble if we don't encourage more black participation.

This isn't about handouts or set-asides or affirmative action. Nor is it about gentrification, an absolutely ridiculous concern in a city that needs so much rebuilding. I don't even believe it's about racism.

Rather, it's about downtown employers making sure they're truly cognizant of the diversity of their workforces, and stretching a bit more to recruit and train native Detroiters, who will then help fill the lofts and nightspots.

It's about encouraging black entrepreneurs to come to or stay in the city, and recognizing there are cultural and opportunity gaps that have to be closed to create a vibrant base of small business started by people drawn from the city's neighborhoods.

And it's about the African-Americans who've already made it showing up in Detroit, putting their money and time into the city's civic, cultural and charitable organizations. Drawing affluent blacks back from the suburbs is also a key step.

Detroit is now the city of opportunity. Fairness demands that those who were here when no one else wanted to be share in the fruits of the comeback.

It's like playing with dynamite to have black Detroiters looking out of devastated neighborhoods at a downtown bustling with hope and hopeful young people, and not seeing their own children among that hip crowd.


Original Story: freep.com

EAST LANSING – Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon was given a $230,000 raise and $100,000 bonus today at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting.

Simon has declined to accept raises yearly since 2007, often putting the board in an awkward position, and donating the money back to the university. She has been president for 10 years and is the second longest serving chief executive among the 14 Big Ten presidents. An Atlanta University Lawyer specializes in higher education finance and university charters.

"This has been an ongoing battle," said Joel Ferguson, chair of the university board of trustees with a smile. "But this time we are not going to apologize for compensating you for what you deserve. This is the one time we are going to ignore you."

The board increased Simon's salary from $520,000 to $750,000, and, gave her a $100,000 retention bonus.

That puts Simon in the top quartile of her Big Ten peers, according to Mitch Lyons, chair of the board's compensation committee.

"While we respect the wishes of our president we felt it was important to keep the compensation of the position competitive with our peers," Lyons said. "If and when Simon decides to retire, we want to make sure any new candidates would see that the position is compensated properly." A Georgia Education Lawyer is experienced in assisting clients with board governance, bylaws, and business-related issues.

Simon said she respects the wishes of the board and understands the need to compensate the position.

"Even though I can't deny it formally today I still have plans to give it back," she said.

The compensation committee estimated that Simon and husband Roy have donated at least $1 million to MSU over the years.

Last year, for example, the board gave Simon a $125,000 bonus, which she donated back to MSU.

But Duncan Tarr, a junior that is an organizer of the student group MSU Students United, said the fact that Simon was given such a raise is shocking.

"At that same meeting there were some students from the MSU Sexual Assault Program that said they don't have enough counselors and funding to be able to operate effectively and yet the board gives our president a $230,000 raise," he said. An Atlanta College Lawyer is following this story closely.

Faylene Owen, chair of the board's finance committee, said she is proud of Simon and what she has accomplished for the university.

"I am astonished and awestruck by this woman," Owen said. "She is amazing and I feel she was also very instrumental in getting the FRIB (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) here at MSU."

Simon was also complimented for her service on various public entities. She is the chairperson of the executive committee of the NCAA, vice-chair of the Association of American Universities and chair of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board among others.Board approves infrastructure, construction projects• MSU trustees approved a $9.5 million project that will provide infrastructure improvements to West Circle Drive. It is the fourth and final phase of a north campus project to replace the 100-year-old arch style steam tunnels.• Trustees authorized the planned construction of permanent restrooms for MSU's 4-H Children's Garden, a popular destination for area K-12 students.• Trustees approved plans to reconstruct the parking lot of the MSU Community Music School at 4930 South Hagadorn Road, which includes demolition of a house on the property. The demolition will provide more space for parking.

12 December 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — Amazon.com and some other online retailers would have to collect Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax on purchases under legislation approved Thursday by the state Senate.

Backers say the bills would level the playing field because brick-and-mortar businesses already must assess the tax on customers.

The legislation approved Thursday heads to the Republican-led House for its consideration in the waning days of the legislative session. It won approval on a 21-16 vote in the GOP-controlled chamber, picking up support from Republicans and Democrats.

Wal-Mart and other stores in Michigan must collect the sales tax when selling goods over the Internet.

The state Treasury Department estimates that $482 million in revenue from remote sales went uncollected in the last fiscal year. The bills could raise in the ballpark of $50 million a year.

It may be no coincidence the bills are advancing now. Lawmakers could throw taxes on Internet sales into the mix during talks over committing at least $1.2 billion a year more to roads and other transportation infrastructure.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Detroit — Members of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments urged the Legislature on Thursday to move ahead and approve a gas tax increase to generate more revenue for the state’s crumbling roads.

SEMCOG presented a resolution that supported a Senate-passed plan and opposed a House effort because it fails “to generate rough revenue to reverse the deterioration of our roads.” A Grand Rapids Transportation Lawyer represents clients in Michigan Transportation Law matters.

At a meeting Thursday morning, SEMCOG officials — along with representatives from local governments and road commissions — criticized the House bills because they would “divert a significant existing revenue stream from public schools and divert significant revenues from local governments.”

House Bill 6082 calls for the additional sales tax revenue to be split three ways for road repairs: 39 percent to the Michigan Department of Transportation, 39 percent to county road commissions and 22 percent to cities and villages.

“Michigan is standing on the precipice of a historic opportunity,” SEMCOG executive director Kathleen Lomako said. “We see three potential outcomes: Our Legislature could fail to act, which means more crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate transit and unsafe winter roads. A Detroit Transportation Lawyer has experience in Michigan Transportation Law and represents clients in transportation claim recoveries.

“We could follow the direction of the House: Fund roads by jeopardizing the future or our schools, transit and local government services. This is not an acceptable solution. Or, our leaders can follow the direction set by the governor and the Senate: Fix the roads, support transit, protect our schools and local government services.”

That statement comes as legislative leaders attempt to hash out a deal to generate $1.2 billion in additional money for road repairs in a conference committee — and extending the sales tax to some services is a possible option.

The conference committee is composed of three senators and three representatives, with majority Republicans controlling four of the seats. If the panel can get two votes from members of the Senate and House, their reported legislation would be advanced to the floors of both chambers for a vote, potentially next week during the final three days of the lame-duck session.

According to SEMCOG, the Senate bill:

 Provides $1.5 billion after four years phase in and residents will see an improved transportation system in two to three years. An Indianapolis Transportation Lawyer is following this story closely.

 Eliminates fuel tax and creates tax on wholesale price of fuel, which is phased in and fully funded after four years.

 Funds public transit through an existing formula.

 Provides first state increase in funding of public transit since 1987.

According to SEMCOG, the House bill:

 Raises $1.4 billion after eight years.

 Directs funding to maintenance rather than reconstruction. No new funding for public transit.

 Eliminates the fuel tax and creates a tax on the wholesale price of fuel. Legislation also eliminates the 6 percent sales tax on fuel, resulting in revenue losses to public schools and local governments.

SEMCOG recently released the results of its 2014 road evaluations, which concluded the metro area saw a staggering jump in the total miles of roads that should be repaired by completely rebuilding them from the soil on up. The study found that 1,900 miles of major roadways needed to be reconstructed, a jump of 500 miles compared to two years ago.

Another 1,900 miles are in need of preventive maintenance to keep them from slipping into poor condition. Only 650 miles of roadway in the metro area are considered to be in good condition, according to the SEMCOG evaluation.

On Thursday, the conference broke into laughter when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan began his remarks with references to the city no longer being in a state of bankruptcy. A Denver Transportation Lawyer assists clients in the resolution of cases involving transportation law.

“I greatly appreciate not having to ask Kevyn Orr for permission to be here,” Duggan said. “We put Kevyn on a plane, and it was just like sending your kid off to college.”

Duggan said he supported Gov. Rick Snyder as well as the Senate bill on how to raise revenues for Michigan roads.

“All of us here are behind the governor,” Duggan said. “We lost power to a number of buildings here in Detroit last week due to failing infrastructure. Well, the same thing is happening to our roads.”

Duggan was followed by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel who said the state “has a tremendous need for road funding.”

“There is a very limited amount of funding to do what needs to be done,” Hackel said.

“The Senate has a great plan. It raises funds but it doesn’t take away from local governments or the schools. We put the world on wheels but now people are embarrassed to put their wheels on our roads.”

Outgoing Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said the state can no longer afford to “kick the can down the road.”

“With good roads, you’re much more attractive for economic development,” Ficano said. “The time to act is now.”

Washington Township Supervisor Dan O’Leary came straight to the point when he spoke in support of the Senate bills.

“I’m a little angry because I just had to pay $1,700 for repairs to my truck’s suspension,” O’Leary said. “That’s one thing people don’t talk about: the hidden tax that comes with poor roads.”

The last time the gasoline tax was raised was in 1997 when the Legislature raised it from 15 to 19 cents per gallon. Over the past decade gas revenues have gone into a steep decline due to motorists driving less with more fuel efficient vehicles.

At the same time the cost of concrete, asphalt, road salt, fuel, insurance and repairs have continued to rise.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

The city could have millions more to spend on services, now that firms that helped Detroit through its historic bankruptcy agreed Thursday to reduce their legal and consulting fees.

After more than a week of negotiations with federal mediators, the law firm Jones Day and the investment firm Miller Buckfire agreed to make “significant concessions” on fees, a source briefed on the talks told The Detroit News. Other firms that have billed the city for bankruptcy-related services also agreed to reduce their bills. It’s not yet clear how much each firm cut back. Detroit Lawyers have experience assisting clients in bankruptcy and restructuring cases.

The source said only that the overall money saved — about $25 million — would pay for a lot of police, firefighters and equipment for Detroit.

Details of the deals are expected to be made public Monday during a status conference before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. The judge must approve the agreements.

The person briefed on the discussions told The News the amount of savings to the city may depend on how savings are defined. As one of Detroit's best law firms, Butzel Long attorneys have helped debtors, creditors, official and unofficial creditor and equity holder committees and acquirers.

Some of the companies, the source explained, cut fees, some gave back as “in kind” contributions and others agreed to not seek payment for future services from firms that Detroit will continue to use after the bankruptcy.

Mayor Mike Duggan has expressed concern escalating legal fees — which he said could climb to $177 million — would eat up money needed to revitalize the city.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell said Thursday that the city is “pleased” with the mediation process, and thanked Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen and the federal mediation team.

“We will make no further comments until the status conference on Monday, or the court releases us from the mediation confidentiality,” Hollowell said.

Before the deals were reached, federal mediators held at least four formal sessions over the reasonableness of more than $140 million in fees billed to Detroit by its bankruptcy lawyers and restructuring consultants. The team held talks with about a dozen firms, while the city held earlier talks with about a dozen smaller firms to reach settlements.

The city’s lawyers and consultants pointed out during mediation they had already made significant concessions on fees.

By late October, Jones Day had charged Detroit $52.3 million.

Miller Buckfire renegotiated its contract with the city twice, most recently in June. In the newest contract, the firm was to receive a flat fee of $28 million for all of its services. Prior to revising its contract, the firm had already given the city a discounted rate, according to former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s office.

The resolution comes one day after Detroit’s official exit from bankruptcy. Orr told The News on Wednesday that some administrative matters still need to be wrapped up, and that the legal fee mediation would not affect the exit date.

The mediation team, in a statement released Thursday, noted that representatives for the firms, Orr and Snyder — along with Duggan, City Council members and the city’s top attorney — “fully and vigorously” participated in the discussions.

“Their agreements reflect what the mediators hope will be their final work in the Detroit bankruptcy,” the statement reads. “As we have been from the inception of our work, the mediators are privileged and proud to have played a role not only in these agreements, but in all of the agreements that have led to the expeditious and successful resolution of the Detroit bankruptcy in which the city has been able to resolve its disputes with virtually all of its creditors and professional service providers on a consensual basis.” As one of Detroit's biggest law firms, Butzel Long has represented clients in every aspect of in-court and out-of-court restructurings.

On Wednesday, the mayor noted that the role of consultants in the city will be “dramatically reduced” as full-time employees are brought in to take over.

“All of the consultants are being phased out pretty quickly,” he said.

Orr, a former Jones Day attorney, told The News on Wednesday that the fees may seem high, but he said he didn’t believe they were out of line for a case of Detroit’s magnitude.

The bankruptcy allowed the city to shed $7 billion in debt and to restructure another $3 billion, he said.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that the fees are high. But everyone says this is a historical, outstanding result. Some mediators even called it miraculous,” Orr said. “You have to recognize there’s a cost to getting that kind of result in this time frame to deal with 50 years of issues.”

08 December 2014


Original Story: freep.com

For many students, living in an on-campus residence hall is synonymous with the college experience. But as the price tag for a college education continues to climb, more are opting to live at home and commute to campus.

Eastern Michigan University junior Joe Barroso, 20, said his decision to continue living at home with his parents and commute to the Ypsilanti school was purely financial.

"If I had more financial aid and scholarships, I would have chosen to live on campus or closer to campus," he said. "But it's just more affordable. I'm willing to trade off some of my independence to save money."

EMU has a large commuter student population, with only 3,700 of its 23,000 students living on campus. Minus a food plan, it costs the average student anywhere from $3,798 to live on campus to $7,062 per academic year. An Atlanta College Lawyer specializes in higher education finance and university charters.

Barroso, a sports management major, lives about five minutes from EMU and usually gets a ride to campus from his parents. He admits that as a commuter student, his engagement in campus activities isn't as robust as he would like, but he manages to interact with other students through his job as a student manager in the EMU baseball team office.

"Academically, my program is great and I really don't think there's a better place to study sports management — I love Eastern," Barroso said.

Many schools, including Eastern, have started to ramp up their offerings for commuter students. At EMU, new commuter students and their parents are encouraged to participate in an orientation geared specifically toward them, Fast Track, at the start of each school year. A Criminal Justice degree provides many options for a future career in law enforcement.

Similar programs are available at the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus, which also has a significant commuter student population, according to Stanley Henderson, U-M Dearborn's vice chancellor for enrollment management and student life. Nearly all of U-M Dearborn's 9,000 students commute to campus. The university only has about 500 beds available for on-campus living.

Henderson said the university has worked the past several years to help its commuter students become more engaged outside of the classroom.

"We want the commuter students to engage because research suggests if they're not connected in some way, if not through the classroom or through those clubs and organizations, that they're not as likely to be successful," Henderson said.

U-M Dearborn senior Latifa Bazzi has a full plate this semester balancing her job, classes and extracurricular activities as a member of Student Government, the Public Health Student Society and the sorority Delta Phi Epsilon. As a commuter student, Bazzi thinks it's important to be involved on campus. A Health Care degree offers great opportunities for jobs with an anticipated growth throughout the years, as compared to other occupations.

"I didn't want to just go to class and go home," Bazzi, 21, said. "I wanted to get a little more out of my college experience."

U-M Dearborn senior Haleigh Sluschewski, 23, said she initially thought she would attend the school for a few years before transferring to a larger university, but she decided to stay because of the connections she made through commuter student programs. Sluschewski is a member of multiple honor societies.

"I kind of stepped outside of my comfort zone," she said. "I know in the past years they have taken great steps to make sure students know what opportunities are available to them."

Zach Kerstein, a 22-year-old U-M Dearborn senior and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity member, said several of his friends decided to commute to school because it was less expensive. But he said they haven't let that deter them from joining organizations.

"I feel college is the best place to grow and get out of your comfort zone," he said. "I believe joining a fraternity, it really gave me the opportunity to have a full college experience."