Michigan would ease bank taxes if bill passes


Capital News Service

LANSING– If you’re a bank in Michigan, the state takes a slice of your foreign revenue that other states and even the federal government leave untouched.

That could change with legislation sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart,  that would revise definitions and tax liability for financial institutions operating outside the U.S. Booher and other experts say they expect the House to pass it by year’s end.

But Michigan’s Department of Treasury opposes the measure that could cost the state $13 million in revenue each year.

Booher’s bill came out of discussion with the banking industry. In addition to the foreign taxation issue, it addresses how capital numbers used to calculate the institutions’ tax base are figured and the period that the tax base is determined. Continue reading

State limit on emissions cheaper than plant caps


Capital News Service

Otto E. Eckert Station, a coal-fired power plant in Lansing, Michigan. Image: Jennifer Kalish.

Otto E. Eckert Station, a coal-fired power plant in Lansing, Michigan. Image: Jennifer Kalish.

LANSING — Michigan can save money in the move towards clean energy by choosing

a path that limits the amount of carbon dioxide produced by power plants, says a new electric industry report.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-lobbying national research institute, reports that this is possible due to the expected closures of coal-based power plants in the next 15 years.

By the year 2030, Michigan’s electric utilities have to cut emissions by almost 32 percent of their 2005 levels under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Continue reading

Pennycress could be next cash crop


Capital News Service

Commercial pennycress field in April. Image: Jerry Steiner, Arvegenix

Commercial pennycress field in April. Image: Jerry Steiner, Arvegenix

LANSING — A new crop could add a harvesting season for farmers in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest, a spring harvest rather than the traditional fall.

Pennycress is planted in August or September, toward the end of the corn season. It continues until May. Because of this unique characteristic, this member of the mustard family could benefit both the environment and farming, according to agricultural researchers.

The plant is valued for the oil produced from the seeds which can be used as a raw material for biodiesel. And pennycress helps meet federal and state goals to reduce the production of carbon that contributes to climate change.

The plant may see its rise in Michigan soon.

Metro Ag Services, located in Detroit, plans to build a 30 million gallon oil processing facility in Flint, said Lance Stokes, a research specialist at Metro Ag Services. It will serve nearby farms and cut the distance that farmers must send harvested pennycress. Continue reading

Old bikes get recycled into burgeoning rental programs


Capital News Service

LANSING — As the number of abandoned bikes grows on college campuses, bike rental programs flourish.

In New York, abandoned bikes are recycled or trashed. In Denver, they are auctioned and the proceeds go to the city’s general fund. Elsewhere they are donated to charities.

In Michigan, some colleges are recycling them into bike rental programs.

The University of Michigan and Western Michigan University have programs stocked with brand new bikes. Some universities such as Grand Valley State and Michigan State University save money by reusing bikes left behind by students.

Abandoned bikes are an excellent resource to get a bike rental program started, said Tim Potter, sustainable transportation manager at Michigan State.

“It’s a very cost-effective, environmentally-friendly way to start up a bike program and perhaps grow it into a full-on bike center,” Potter said. “People really start to get behind it when you can show some activity.” Continue reading

Police recruiting not a problem in U.P., but retention a statewide issue


Capital News Service

LANSING—While the state’s Upper Peninsula can attract new police recruits, its Lower Peninsula has challenges attracting qualified officers, experts say.

The number of police officers is at an all-time low in Michigan, said Fred Timpner, executive director of the Michigan Association of Police.

“I’ve got departments in lower Michigan that have 10 openings and five applicants,” he said.

The reason is low pay and no retirement benefits, Timpner said. “What the public doesn’t realize is that 70-some percent of officers aren’t eligible for Social Security.

“People are going out of state because why would anyone risk their lives for $13 to $14 an hour after a college education?” Timpner said. Continue reading

State groups dispute how downtowns spend special millages


LANSING– A dispute between the state groups representing counties and downtowns has erupted over the way tax money is spent.

Michigan Association of County officials say some special millage tax dollars that could be spent on senior citizens, veterans and other causes get diverted into a popular tax strategy for helping downtowns.

A five-bill package was recently introduced in the House of Representatives to improve the oversight and transparency of groups capturing this tax revenue. Cosponsors are Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Lana Theis,R- Brighton; Amanda Price; R-Park Township; Pat Somerville R-New Boston; and David Mature, R- Vicksburg.

The issue is over Tax Increment Financing, called TIF for short.

“Downtowns support the bulk of economic development, so this is a powerful tool to provide a way for the county as a whole to give back to downtowns that sustain their communities,” said Kent Wood, director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “And there’s not a lot of tools we’ve got left in the toolbox.” Continue reading

Clock is ticking on dark stores


Capital News Service

LANSING — A delay in changing the tax math for big-box stores could cost local governments big bucks for generations, say supporters of a bill that would stop the stores from claiming big tax breaks.

“That’s the really scary thing,” said Greg Seppanen, a former Marquette County commissioner fighting low tax assessments as part of the county’s Citizens for Fair Share.

The Michigan Tax Tribunal hears appeals from taxpayers who think their municipality has over-assessed the value of their property.

In 2013, the tribunal agreed with a big-box store that said the value of its property had more to do with their business and less to do with property characteristics. This ushered in a wave of big-box stores demanding tax breaks and pointing to vacant big-box stores  as evidence that local governments were overcharging them.

Local governments say their revenues have been gutted as a result, and in some cases, they have to cut a check for tens of thousands of dollars to Menard’s or Lowe’s or Wal-Mart, said Chris Hackbarth, director of state affairs at the Michigan Municipal League. Continue reading

Young farmers excited about working with communities


Capital News Service

LANSING — In the past few weeks, 35-year-old John Krohn estimates his urban farm in Lansing has donated 40 pounds of food to people in need.

But don’t call it giving back.

“I don’t feel like I’m giving back because I don’t owe anybody anything,” Krohn said.

Call it community. A community Krohn said he relies on as a market, and the community where he has chosen to live.

Brigitte Derel, 35, also wants to feed her community. She sells food from her small rural farm in Chatham in the Upper Peninsula at farmers markets and also works for the Marquette Food Co-Op. Continue reading

Park, shop and nest in new downtown buildings


Capital News Service

LANSING—Medium-sized cities looking for ways to expand parking in cramped downtowns are turning to mixed-use structures that combine retail and housing with parking.

The Holland City Council is considering a proposal from Burton Katzman, an Ann Arbor developer, and Rockford Construction of Grand Rapids, to buy a surface parking lot and replace it with a parking ramp wrapped by apartments. The council agreed to take the proposal under advisement.

The city council hosted an open house recently for 10 to 15 developers, residents and merchants to gauge the public’s reaction, said Joel Dye, the director of community and neighborhood services. Continue reading

Northern Michigan pioneers effort to reduce food waste


Capital News Service

LANSING – Emmet County’s recycling program has been recognized as one of four model programs in the state for having a high quality service that matches the needs of the community.

The Michigan Profile of Recycling Programs and Potential Recycling studied recycling programs across the state, concluding that the level of participation among residents and businesses is a strong social cue to encourage others to recycle. The study was done by the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments with a grant from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Under a recent law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, beginning October 1, establishments that recycle 100 tons or more per year must collect data and report their activities to the state. The law requires the Department of Environmental Quality to operate a statewide database of recycling efforts, exclusive of food waste, by the facilities, which will be published annually online. Continue reading