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

Business groups, community colleges push to expand job training

By CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING – Business groups and community colleges are pushing to expand a statewide new job training program.

Community colleges run the program for employers that create new jobs. It gives the new employees free training.

It is paid for by capturing the state income tax revenue of the newly hired employees for the first year. After that, those revenues revert to the state, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

The program was approved in 2008 with a $50 million cap. When that cap is reached, the additional new revenues revert to the state’s general fund.

But the demand for more training programs is greater, supporters say. And now that the cap has been reached, the community colleges and employers  must wait for for the amount in the fund to dip below it before they can start new programs, Hansen said. Continue reading

Michigan car crashes are up; blame the economy

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — As the state’s economy grows, so does something else that affects the lives of every resident — the number of traffic crashes. And according to experts, the two are related.

Between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s total number of crashes increased by about 23,000, according to State Police statistics.

That rise to about 297,000 crashes can be attributed to a number of things, said Carol Flannagan, director of the Center for the Management for Safe and Sustainable Transportation at the University of Michigan.

One of them is a strengthening economy that has younger drivers hit the road more often. And those drivers cause more crashes, she said. Continue reading

Michigan among states forced to deliver the most with the least

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING– Michigan is one of 18 states required to provide the most state-mandated services with the least state funds, according to a recent national report.

Michigan local governments are among the most economically burdened nationwide.

Only Georgia and Montana didn’t feel similar budget pinches in 2016, according to the report by the National Association of Counties.

“It’s important that people realize this is a problem all over — not just in our state,” said Michael Selden, director of member information services for the Michigan Townships Association. “Citizens want more and more, but local units have less and less.”

It’s hard to pinpoint where the problem began, Selden said. Since the recession began in 2008, tax revenues decreased, and legislators reacted by reducing state revenue sharing. Continue reading

Michigan pursues Chinese investment to reinvigorate manufacturing

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — While the presidential campaign linked job loss to outsourcing to foreign countries, Michigan’s efforts to bring Chinese investment are reinvigorating manufacturing plants that have been vacant for years.

Since becoming governor in 2011, Rick Snyder has made five trips to China and has  pushed initiatives that have brought 23 Chinese companies to the state, said Josh Paciorek, the governor’s deputy press secretary.

That’s created 3,541 jobs and accounts for $649.5 million invested in 11 cities, he said.

During a trip there last year, Snyder signed agreements to promote trade and investment with the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Guangdong and Zhejiang, as well as the city of Chongqing. Those regions have many auto companies and related suppliers, making them a natural fit for Michigan because of its pre-existing auto industry, Paciorek said. Continue reading

Bill would decrease local government’s tax revenues

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Local officials are concerned that a legislative attempt to clarify how charitable organizations are defined could cost them property tax revenues.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, would define charitable organizations in a way that exempts more of them from property tax.

That may be good for them. But local units of government rely heavily on property tax revenues and this bill would decrease those revenues, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs at the Michigan Association of Counties.

The Senate Fiscal Agency says the bill would decrease property tax revenues by about $27.6 million across the state.

Property tax revenues are in steady decline for local governments. Counties lost an average of 36 percent of their revenues from 2006 to 2015, according to the counties association. Continue reading

Michigan would ease bank taxes if bill passes

By BRIDGET BUSH

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

By SHRUTI SARIPALLI

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

By BECKY WILDT

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

By ALEXANDER SMITH

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