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Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has agreed to Governor Rick Snyder’s request to make an early ruling on whether the new income tax on pensions violates the Michigan Constitution.

Governor Snyder made the request to avoid what potentially could be years of litigation.

The governor is trying to preempt an expected lawsuit from state employee unions. They say the tax on pensions will illegally reduce their agreed-to compensation under collective bargaining agreements.

The Michigan Constitution says the state may not “diminish” nor “impair” the financial benefits of pension plans.

The governor wants the question settled before the pension tax takes effect next year. The law extends the state income tax for the first time to pensions of people born after 1945.

The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments to be held in the case in September. The court has a Republican majority.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Update 5:14 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan began working its way through the Legislature today as it cleared the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The Republican tax reform bill would replace the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax with a corporate profits tax.

Two-thirds of Michigan businesses would not have to pay the tax.

Part of the revenue lost to the state would be made up by eliminating dozens of tax breaks.

Many of them go to businesses and charities. Also gone would be earned income credit for working poor families and the income tax exemption for most seniors on pensions.

“This is a turnaround moment for Michigan,” said Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger. “Today’s winners are our local small business owners. Today’s winners are the unemployed because now those small business owners can create jobs.”

Democrats say it’s not fair to make working families and seniors make up the difference while most businesses pay less. Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says it's not a fair trade.

“This legislation is not a shared sacrifice and should not be adopted. Today is just another day another day to give an 82% tax break to wealthy, corporate special interests. Another day to take from our children, our seniors, and our working poor."

The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

3:41 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul plan has begun its march through the Legislature.

It won the approval of the state House by a mostly party-line vote.

The measure would scrap the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax.

It would be replaced by a corporate income tax that would not be paid by two-thirds of the state’s businesses.

Part of that lost revenue would be made up by ending many tax breaks for businesses, working poor families, and seniors on pensions.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leadership in the State House and Senate appear to be close to a deal on the budget.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican state lawmakers are reporting "significant progress" on proposals related to business and pension taxes for the fiscal year starting in October...

Two people with knowledge of the talks tell The Associated Press that the proposals include many elements of Snyder's original business tax plan. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been finalized.

The Republican governor wants to replace the state's main business tax with a 6 percent corporate tax applied to corporations with shareholders.

The plan would include taxes on pensions and other retiree income but it would be modified from Snyder's original proposal. The new proposal calls for phasing in or scaling back the tax.

Some lawmakers have been loathe to accept any taxes on pensions, but it appears a plan to phase in a pension tax may be more palatable.

Peter Luke of Booth Newspapers reports on some of the details of the agreement:

Under the phased-in alternative, the status quo would apply to those 67 and up, whose pensions would continue to be tax exempt.

A middle group of retirees 60 to 66 would be subject to a pension tax, but the first $20,000 of pension income for single filers -  $40,000 for joint filers - would be tax exempt.

Those younger than 60 would pay tax on all their pension income.

An AARP spokesman said they remain opposed to a tax on pensions, whether its phased in or not.

A public announcement of the agreement is expected to come this afternoon.

Some people got locked out of today's Detroit City Council meeting, where Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was laying out a 5-year budget plan that called for cutting employee pension and health care costs.

Council security told citizens and several reporters that they couldn't come in because the hearing room was "filled to capacity."

That escalated into a dispute between security guards and the people who demanded their right to enter under the state's Open Meetings Act.

Detroit resident and volunteer organizer Felicia Sanders wanted to hear Bing's presentation.

"If you get up and you're willing to attend a meeting to fight and speak out for your city, you should be allowed to participate in the meeting."

Sanders and others questioned why the City Council didn't hold the hearing in a much larger public auditorium just across the hall.

A state House committee is debating a tax-reform package that includes eliminating the state’s business tax and replacing its revenues with a corporate income tax and taxing pensions. Governor Snyder says he wants a state budget in place by the end of May.

However, fierce divisions over how and where to reform taxes – especially over whether to tax pensions – are slowing negotiations.

Snyder’s pleased with the progress on the budget so far:

“Things are going reasonably well in terms of that process.   And we’re working on a very fast time frame.  We’re well ahead of the way things traditional done in past years.  And we’ll still on a path to get fundamental reform done."  

Snyder says he's not put off by the harsh criticism that his budget and tax plans have generated: 

“That’s part of the legislative process.  That’s part of democracy.   But as a whole, I believe the framework we put out there will go ahead and if anything I hope it could be an improved product with the good dialogue we’re having today.”  

Some Senate Republicans have said they will not vote for any pension tax. And many Democrats are upset, claiming they have been locked out of negotiations altogether.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say they have worked well together to approve many measures so far this year – including the expansion of power for emergency financial managers.

But one area they do not seem to agree on is how and where to reform taxes.

Richardville said "we actually have been disagreeing quite a bit," but he says those disagreements are fine because they are still listening to each other.

"It’s not about disagreement, it’s about passion. Everybody that got elected ran as hard as they could to get here, and is passionate about getting here," said Richardville, "but we have respect for the other passions in the room, so we’re going to get there."

Disagreement over taxing pensions

One area where they disagree is Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.

Snyder says he stands by his plan, even after receiving a cool reception from many Republican legislators:

"For higher income people, for people who have the wherewithal to say they’re also contributing to our system – I think that’s a fair answer. Because that’s the part of it that is, people shouldn’t just look at what they’re asked to give up, but when you look at where they’re ending up. Are they being treated fairly in respect to the other citizens in our state?”

Governor Snyder often stresses that low-income people on pensions would not be subject to painful tax increases.

Some Republicans state senators say there is no pension tax they would agree to, even one that only focuses on the very wealthy.

Democrats feel left out

Democratic lawmakers say they have been left out of negotiations so far.

Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says many of the Republican proposals are the reason why thousands of angry people have protested at the Capitol in recent weeks.

"I think we would do well – all of us here in this Legislature – to realize what it being said out on the front steps of the Capitol, what is being said out on the lawns of the Capitol. I think these are not crazy people – these are people who have elected all of us. These are people who go out, and they vote, and they vote in numbers and they’re carrying their concerns to the Capitol."

Johnson says Democratic lawmakers have been ignored in much of the work that has been done so far. He says Snyder will soon find that he needs Democratic votes as he tries to approve parts of his tax plan that are unpopular with Republicans.

(photo by Laura Weber/MPRN)

The state’s budget director says Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions is necessary to keep young people in the state.   Budget Director John Nixon says the proposed tax will move Michigan into a sustainable future economy. 

“We’re the only state in the country to lose population in the last decade. And when you look at Michigan’s growth projections going forward, by 2030, 20 percent of our population’s going to be retired. And what that means long term for the state is you’re going to be pushing more of the burden on your working segment of the population.”

Snyder stands firm against protests

Mar 16, 2011
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Rick Snyder says he respects the views of people protesting against his budget proposals. Many people have crowded the Capitol lawn this week to stand against Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. The governor says he understands their frustration, but he says a tax on pensions – done the right way – is only fair.

Protests heat up for the week at state Capitol

Mar 15, 2011

About a thousand protesters gathered on the state Capitol lawn today and they say there will be more people joining them throughout the week.

They are protesting many budget proposals from Governor Rick Snyder and in the Legislature, including a plan to tax pensions.

Hundreds of people from AARP chanted loudly in opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions to help end the budget deficit.

Many people held signs that read: “Recall Governor Snyder,” and “Recall The Nerd.”

Jeanette Stang held a sign that read “One-Term Nerd.”

Stang says her husband worked in an auto plant for 37 years, and now they have trouble making ends meet with increasing medical expenses and living off of their pension. Their Flint home is up for sale, and both of their adult sons have already moved out of state:

"Our sons both would not come to Michigan. They said Michigan has gone to pieces...Michigan used to be a beautiful state, and Michigan has really gone downhill…All he wants to do is keep taxing the little guy—tax these bigwigs that have their yachts and have their trips and everything else. Let the people who earned this money and worked hard all their life have their pensions and quick taxing us to death."

Snyder says seniors use government services just like all other taxpayers, and should be taxed on their pension income accordingly.

More protests coming

Labor movement protests at the state Capitol are expected to get bigger and louder as the week goes on and the Legislature votes on controversial issues.

The House is expected to give final approval to a package of bills that would give emergency financial managers more control over struggling communities and school districts, and strip control from local unions.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Hundreds of senior citizens gathered in front of the state Capitol today to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not collect an income on pensions. Snyder’s proposal would change that.

Connie Cole Burland, a retired Battle Creek school teacher, says it’s not fair to ask her to pay more if Snyder follows through on his plan to cut taxes for most businesses.

 "We gave them 40-plus years of service. We had a deal when we retired, and this is tax hike. You can call it whatever you want, but this is a tax hike. We had a deal."

Governor Snyder says it’s reasonable to ask retirees with good pensions to pay the income tax when younger people with smaller incomes have to pay it.

He says it is part of the “shared sacrifice” necessary to fix Michigan’s budget troubles.

Some Republican lawmakers are looking for an alternative to taxing pensions.

User goIfmuth / Flickr

Protests are scheduled to continue at the state Capitol today. Older people are expected in Lansing today to oppose Governor Rick Snyder's plan to tax pensions. The Associated Press reports:

AARP Michigan is one of the main sponsors of a protest scheduled to begin late Tuesday morning. The group opposes Rick Snyder's plan to eliminate an income tax exemption for pensions.

The Michigan League for Human Services also is involved in the protest. The league opposes a plan to eliminate the state's earned income tax credit for low-wage workers.

The groups say Snyder wants to provide a tax cut for businesses at the expense of seniors, low-income workers and children.

Snyder and his supporters say the proposals would give Michigan a simpler and fairer tax structure that would help provide solid financial footing for the state's future.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

AARP Michigan has arranged to transport nine busloads totaling 400 seniors to today's "It's Not Fair" rally, where Snyder's proposed tax on pensions will be the target."If (attendance is) over 1,000, we won't be surprised," said AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck.

mea.org

Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.

Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.

Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.

But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:

"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.

The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.

For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.

The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan. 

Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.

State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).

Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:

"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.

If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."

In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself  "Working Michigan."

User P.E.C. / Flickr

More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:

Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."

Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.

AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.

She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.

Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.

State Sen. John Pappageorge  R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.

He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.

"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."

The protest comes just days after the legislature added a $100 expenditure item to the governor's tax code bill, thereby making it impossible for Michigan voters to repeal.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that legislation that included expenditures was immune to repeal by voters.

nasaimages

Organizers for AARP Michigan say their rally will be held on the east steps of the State Capitol Building on March 15th from 11 a.m. to 1p.m..

From the AARP Michigan blog:

The rally was the brainchild of AARP member and retiree Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, who launched the effort on Facebook with the help of her daughter.  Woodward says she's heard from thousands of seniors who say new taxes on their pensions and other income will make it difficult to pay their bills. Many also object to elimination of a tax credit for low-income working families, and proposed cuts to schools, universities and local police and fire protection and road maintenance.

user lincolnblues / Flickr

Michigan legislators are planning to discuss alternatives to Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposals this week.

One hot button issue is Snyder's plan to place a tax on pensions. That tax is estimated to raise $900 million.

It would go a long way in eliminating the state's budget deficit which is estimated around $1.5 billion.

It's angered a lot of seniors, and lobbying groups, like the AARP, are putting pressure on legislators in Lansing to keep the tax exemption on pensions in place (the AARP plans to hold a rally in Lansing on March 15th).

Laura Weber, with the Michigan Public Radio Network reported that Michigan Senate Republicans are meeting early this week to try to come up with alternatives to the pension tax plan.

Weber spoke with Republican State Senator Tory Rocca who said his opposition to taxing pensions is simple:

"It’s a tax increase, and on top of that it’s a tax increase on senior citizens, and if you look at what their cost of living is and what their cost of living increases are, they tend to have a higher cost-of-living increase than other people because a lot of their cost-of-living is weighted toward health care, which does increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year."

The Associated Press reports that State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville didn't say whether Snyder's pension tax plan had enough support to win approval.

But he did say that if legislators want to scrap the tax plan, they'll have to find money elsewhere. From the AP:

Richardville said that if the Senate opposes pieces of Snyder's proposal they will have to balance it out by cutting programs or finding revenues somewhere else within the budget.

That's $900 million more, which could mean more proposals out of Lansing for bigger cuts.

flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

When he presented his budget to the legislature, Governor Snyder explained part of the shared sacrifice would be taxing public and private pensions.  There is no state income tax on pensions right now.  The Governor noted, retirees still use government services.  He also said there are some retirees who are still working, paying the current 4.35% in state income taxes.  He said taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to people of retirement age who are still working.

Kalamazoo City Commission
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Kalamazoo has a new balanced budget in place…with no layoffs, tax increases or cuts to city services. City commissioners unanimously approved the 2011 budget plan Monday night.

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