Tax time is prime time for identity theft, officials warn

By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan residents suffer the nation’s sixth-highest rate of identity theft, and the approaching April 15 tax deadline makes people particularly vulnerable, officials said.

Tax filing season leads to increased IRS scams, as people working on their taxes respond to fake requests out of fear of getting on the bad side of government, said Marco Jones, a community service trooper for the Michigan State Police, Lansing post.

“Those (cases) are being reported to agencies across the state,” Jones said. “People will call and misrepresent themselves as a member of the IRS, basically trying to strongarm people over the phone, trying to get their information.”
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Michigan’s energy policy up for grabs

By CAITLIN McARTHUR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s future in clean energy is up for debate, with 2008 mandates set to expire, widely divergent proposals from government leaders, and environmental groups worried the state could turn back toward fossil fuels.

Michigan’s Democrats are proud of the state’s success in shifting to 10 percent renewable energy over the past seven years. They want to increase the renewable goal to 20 percent.

Republican legislators are concerned about Michigan’s energy capacity with federal mandates set to shut down a number of coal-fired electrical plants in the coming years. They want to maintain the 10 percent renewable energy requirement and reduce restrictions on meeting state energy goals.
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Michigan elections increasingly influenced by ‘dark money’

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service

LANSING — A growing number of Michigan political campaigns are being influenced by independent groups raising and spending unlimited funding, with donors not always disclosed to the public.

More money than ever was raised for the 2014 state elections, topping the previous record in 2006. The top 150 Political Action Committees raised a total of $68 million, over 30 percent more than the $51.9 million raised in the 2006 election cycle, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan network researches money in Michigan politics and works to expose anonymous funding, also called “dark money.”
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Bill would speed tracking of missing people’s cell phones

By COLLIN KRIZMANICH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Turn on any crime show, such as CSI, and you’ll see a scene like this: The police identify a suspect, and within seconds a tech expert has traced the cell phone to the perp’s exact GPS coordinates.

“I’ve had several people ask me, ‘You can already do that, right?’” said Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “But it’s not that easy.”

While federal legislation allows cellular providers to turn over a user’s location information, it does not require them to do so, unless the police have a warrant.
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Michigan teen driving program puts the parent back in the car

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Parents who have qualms about their teen getting behind the wheel can rest a bit easier through a Michigan Sheriffs’ Association-backed program.

The program, “Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers” — or STOPPED — informs parents any time a vehicle registered in the program is pulled over or involved in an accident, even if no ticket is issued.

“[Teens] are at the dangerous intersection of inexperience and risk taking,” said Terry Jungel, executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association. “It’s not only dangerous for the teen driver, it’s dangerous for the people the teen driver may hit. It is in all of society’s best interest to make sure these teen drivers are driving safely, because they’re not hitting other teen drivers, they’re hitting us.”
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Special events, indoor promotions increase winter tourism

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Vacationers in the Grand Traverse region this winter can do a lot more than ski.

At Shanty Creek Resort, skiers can take a shuttle to downtown Bellaire, home of popular breweries like Short’s Brewing.

Black Star Farms winery in Traverse City now offers horse-drawn sleigh rides on the winery’s grounds.

As of last year, visitors can snowshoe a trail connecting Brys Estate Vineyard, Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery of Old Mission Peninsula.
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Snyder’s higher-ed budget bump a departure from GOP peers

By COLLIN KRIZMANICH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s move to increase higher education funding separates him from a number of gubernatorial peers in Republican-run states who are proposing dramatic cuts to public universities.

“We have a governor who is keeping higher education as a priority as he starts his second term,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, which represents Michigan’s 15 public universities.

Under Snyder’s budget proposal, Michigan’s universities would receive an additional $28 million, or 2 percent, to go toward university operations. Community colleges would receive an additional $4.3 million, or 1.4 percent, in state funding.
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Jobs for veterans a priority for state, local agencies

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Officials working to reduce high unemployment among veterans now attack the issue from both ends — they prepare veterans for civilian jobs and educate employers on how to hire veteran talent.

In 2013, the veteran unemployment rate in Michigan was 10.6 percent, the second highest rate in the U.S. To combat this, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) created programs that bring veteran talent and employers together.

Local organizations are also doing their part to connect veterans to employers in their own community.

“It’s a matter of breaking down that wall between employers and veterans, and giving them the opportunity to communicate,” said Kristina Leonardi, director of strategy for Veterans Affairs.
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Barely making it — minimum wage still isn’t enough for single people in Michigan

By CHEYNA ROTH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan minimum wage earners are not making enough to afford their most basic needs like housing, food, clothing or transportation, statistics show.

The Michigan League for Public Policy argues that the minimum wage of $8.15 is not enough to live on. In Lake County, for instance, a single adult, full-time worker would need to make $10 an hour to meet basic needs, according to a 2014 study by the league. In Grand Traverse County, the amount goes up to $11 an hour. In Manistee County, you can get by on $9.94 per hour.

Not a single county lists $8.15 per hour or less as meeting the basic needs wage.

Take rental housing. According to Megan Bolton, research director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, homeownership rates declined and are still declining after the foreclosure crisis. This has resulted in a huge surge in the number of renters.
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Student loan tax credits could keep graduates in Michigan, bill sponsor says

By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service

LANSING — A bill to provide tuition tax credits for people paying off student loans is designed to keep young graduates in Michigan, but not everyone is convinced the plan will work.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat, has introduced a bill to ease college graduates’ loan burdens for up to five years after graduation if they live and work in Michigan. The bill would give qualifying graduates a tax credit up to 50 percent of the amount paid on student loans — up to $2,150 for an individual, and $4,300 for a married couple per year.

“The governor has talked a lot about talent retention,” Hertel said. “I sat down with some of our major universities, and one of the issues we have is the overwhelming number of students that are leaving the state, and not moving into our state.

“For people that are working here, staying here and investing here, we would be able to provide a tax credit for the first five years to try to get them on their feet, and try to get them back as part of the economy.”
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