Local governments seek help to regain big box tax revenue

By CHAO YAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Local governments continue to fight recent changes in valuing commercial properties that they say have cost them $100 million in lost tax revenue since 2013.

The problem, according to local officials and some lawmakers, is that the state’s Tax Tribunal is using methods to assess “big-box” retailers like Target and Menard’s based on sales of similar, vacant properties, often called “dark stores,” whose true value is not reflected.

That’s a shift from evaluating a store’s tax value based on more complete factors such as the cost of constructing the building and the amount of income it generates. Now, big retailers are appealing assessments and winning big tax breaks across the state.

Rep. David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, and dozens of co-sponsors are again pushing to solve the issue by insisting that the tribunal take more information into account when reviewing assessment appeals for any commercial property. Continue reading

Past pay should not affect women’s income, Dems say

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.

And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.  

As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”

In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent. Continue reading

40 percent of households struggle in Michigan, study shows

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — While state officials celebrate the plunge of Michigan’s unemployment rate from its 14.9 percent peak in 2009 to around 5 percent today, more than a million families are missing the party.

Some 40 percent of Michigan households, or 1.53 million, are considered as either living in poverty or among the state’s working poor, according to a new report from the Michigan Association of United Ways.

That group includes both the 15 percent of households living beneath the federal poverty level and the 25 percent of struggling households that earn too much to meet poverty standards but not enough to afford basic household needs.

The United Way, a nongovernmental health and human services provider, reached these conclusions after studying income and employment in the state from 2007 to 2015. Continue reading

If you want to find all the cops, they’re buying all the doughnut shops

By CARL STODDARD

Capital News Service

LANSING — What started as a simple rescue mission for nine Clare police officers has turned into breakout business success.

The nine officers, who made up Clare’s entire police force, learned that a longtime bakery and doughnut shop in their hometown was about to close. So they joined forces and bought the business in 2009.

Today it is called Cops & Doughnuts and is drawing customers from all over the world. The company also has rolled out other shops, called “precincts,” in Ludington, Gaylord, Bay City and South Bend, Indiana.

This summer, a fifth precinct is expected to open in Mt. Pleasant, according to Alan “Bubba” White, vice president of the Cops & Doughnuts chain. Continue reading

Small businesses warned against cyberattacks

BY CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — An unwitting business employee clicks the wrong link and suddenly finds her files have been locked. A message flashes on the screen: You can have your data back, for a price.

Small businesses are falling prey to such “ransomware,” a type of cyber attack and one of a variety of networking threats companies now face.

“Small business is vulnerable to a wide variety of cyber threats, like web-based attack, scripting, phishing, ransomware…and ransomware is huge in Michigan currently,” said Zara Smith, the strategic programs manager for the Michigan Small Business Development Center. Continue reading

Need a job? How about engineering a driverless car?

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — As Michigan accelerates toward leadership in the emerging driverless car technology, industry experts say its workforce needs to catch up.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in December allowing the public to buy and use fully self-driving cars when they are available — a package of four bills that is “leading the way in transforming the auto industry,” Snyder said in a statement.

Michigan, led by Detroit, has a 100-year history as the heart of the U.S. auto industry, but to be the first is not always easy.

“As the industry evolves and more information is available, we have a disconnection in workforce,” said Elaina Farnsworth, the chief executive officer of Mobile Comply and a member of the state’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force. Continue reading

Behind that romantic stand of pines, a history of abuse

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Long before “Pure Michigan” lured tourists and vacationers Up North, images of pristine forests and sparkling streams were doing the same thing — even if what tourists would see was neither pure nor pristine.

While the state’s slick tourism campaigns of the recent decades are familiar, people might not know that they hark back to post-Civil War advertising that romanticized the state’s nature “and gave it the transcendent qualities that remain in tourists’ imaginations today,” according to a recent study.

The study by Camden Burd, who grew up in Grand Rapids and spent summer vacations on Green Lake in Interlochen, dates the current “Pure Michigan” theme to a 2008 rebranding of the state’s tourism industry. Continue reading

Little birds have big impact on economy

By CARL STODDARD

Capital News Service

LANSING — Little birds have tourists and birdwatchers flocking in big numbers to Northern Michigan, a favorite nesting area for the rare Kirtland’s warblers, which were once nearly extinct.

Ilene Geiss-Wilson, the executive director of the Grayling Visitors Bureau, said she has gone on two tours to see the Kirtland’s warblers in their prime nesting areas east of Grayling. And she’s hardly alone.

“There’s a lot of interest” in the warblers, Geiss-Wilson said. “We have people contact us. They fly in from other countries for a day or two just to check that bird off their list. It’s pretty amazing.”

Diane Tomlinson, owner of the Woodland Motor Lodge in Grayling, said she’s seen “a huge increase in warbler traffic” from around the country and beyond in the last three to four years. Continue reading

Scientists worry about lake herring crash, say new restrictions may help

The lake herring, also called cisco, is similar to herring found in northern Europe used to make a popular caviar. Image: Peter Payette

The lake herring, also called cisco, is similar to herring found in northern Europe used to make a popular caviar. Image: Peter Payette

By SAM CORDEN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Scientists have been worried about the lake herring population in Lake Superior recently. In fact, last year they warned it could be headed towards a collapse.

Lake Superior is the only Great Lake that still has a significant population of herring – or cisco as they’re commonly called.

This fall, new rules protecting herring took effect in Wisconsin and Minnesota and things appear more stable. But there may still be a big problem lying beneath the surface. Continue reading

Senate passes bill to expand tax collecting job for business

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — Employers across the state would start withholding city income taxes from employees who live in cities that have income taxes even if the business isn’t in the city, according to bills proposed in the Legislature.

The bills, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and Rep. Al Pscholka R-Stevensville, would mandate that suburban employers collect the local income tax of employees who live in the 22 cities across the state that impose the tax.

The Senate version has cleared the Senate Committee on Government Operations and the House version is still in the House Committee on Tax Policy.

Employers in cities with income tax now have to withhold and remit the tax on behalf of their employees. Continue reading