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taxes

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Today is Michigan’s Tax Freedom Day. It’s the day when the average Michigander will have earned enough money to pay their local, state and federal taxes for the year.  That’s three weeks earlier than it used to be mainly because people are earning less money because of the recession. 

Kail Padgitt is with the Tax Foundation, which produces the annual Tax Freedom Day list. He says Michigan’s local and state taxes are higher than most other states.

 “But when we look at federal taxes…Michigan actually paid  a little less in federal taxes due to the (state’s) high unemployment...leading to lower income taxes …federal income taxes.”

Padgitt says as the nation’s economy improves, special federal tax breaks expire and more Michiganders find work, Michigan’s tax freedom day will shift back to the end of April or maybe the beginning of May.

John-Morgan / creative commons

Eastern Michigan University officials say two of its former student employees may have filed fake tax returns using other students’ personal information.

The two students were already under investigation for allegedly stealing 58 student records.

Walter Kraft is VP of communications for EMU. He says now six more students have come forward to say their personal information was stolen:

"Apparently what happened in this case is that the student records were used for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns in order for someone to obtain a tax return to which they were not entitled."

Kraft says EMU police and federal authorities are investigating the two former student employees, whose identities have not been released.

He says EMU already does background checks on student employees, and is looking to see what other steps can be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

 Nearly 2,000 EMU students currently work for the university.

Two of the biggest topics of the week when it comes to Michigan politics involved the proposal to mandate employers to let workers earn paid sick time and the effort to put gerrymandering on the ballot in 2018.
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants controversial social questions to take a back seat to taxes and job-creation. He says to do otherwise could create intense debates that enflame passions and sideline his efforts to fix Michigan’s economy.

But that has not stopped some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. They say GOP control of state government makes this the moment to tackle controversies surrounding abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, and medical marijuana.

Governor Rick Snyder meets up with his inner nerd every morning as he checks an electronic application that reminds him how much time is left before the budget deadline he set for the Legislature—May 31st.:

 “All I have to do is turn on my iPad and it shows me how many days and hours are left, and how many seconds…”

Snyder says he is singularly focused on completing the budget before that time on his iPad runs out. He has proposed massive cuts and tax reforms that would affect the budget. He says right now that should be the focus of everyone’s energy at the state Capitol. He’s finding some people – including Republicans – disagree. State Senator Rick Jones is one of those Republicans:

 “My job is looking at other issues that concern Michiganders."

Jones says the Legislature is working very hard on Snyder’s budget proposals and goals. But he says that does not mean lawmakers cannot and should not also work on social issues. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he recently took up and voted on a controversial abortion bill that is already covered by federal law. And he sponsored a measure that would add rules to the use of medical marijuana. Jones:

“The issues we take up, are issues where I could walk into any coffee shop in my district and the vast majority agree that it’s something we need to address."

Ifmuth / Flickr

State lawmakers have begun their two-week spring break, but many of them say they will still be in Lansing working on budget issues. That includes negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder on tax reforms.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he expects lawmakers to meet Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline to complete work on the budget.

“Any time that we waste right now adds time on the back end, and we really owe all the constituencies who depend on state an answer before we get to the same type of timeframe that we’ve dealt with in the past. So, it’s not really fair to put these things off until fall or even late summer.”

Snyder has proposed a tax on pensions, a new corporate income tax to replace the Michigan Business Tax, and scaling back tax credits.

Calley told lawmakers that if they don’t like Snyder’s plan, they need to put something else on the table that will help end the budget deficit.

Republicans in the Senate are expected to unveil a plan that includes an expanded corporate income tax, and to hold off on taxing pensions.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Property values have plummeted across the region.

That means cities and towns have watched their tax revenue plunge as well. But many homeowners and businesses think their property taxes are still too high.

The result is a double hit.

Local governments are in fiscal crisis, and the tax courts of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are clogged with people who want refunds.

People like Donald Betlem.

Allan Cleaver / Flickr

Ever since Governor Rick Snyder released his budget plan last month, people have been looking at the details and wondering how they might be affected by the plans.

For people with pensions and the working poor, it's been clear, you would pay more if Snyder's plan is approved. But how much more?

The Detroit Free Press, in a series of reports, is seeking to break down the numbers. In their first report What Snyder's income tax plan means for you they summarize their findings this way:

Parents with low-paying jobs would stop getting state income supplements worth as much as $1,000.

High-income retirees with generous pensions would pay thousands of dollars more.

But taxpayers in brackets that cover most Michiganders would see little change in their state income tax bill under Gov. Rick Snyder's sweeping proposals.

The Freep provides some detailed examples of how the tax proposals might affect certain people.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than 60 people in Grand Rapids rallied against Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts Tuesday night. Protestors took over a normally quite block in a residential neighborhood.

Speaking into a microphone and speaker set up on a sidewalk, Rich Fink told the crowd he’s a proud member of the Jenison Education Association.

“They are after the middle class and it’s time that we say enough is enough.”

Their signs say they’ve had enough of cuts to public education, fair wages, benefits and most prominently Governor Snyder.

60-year old retired General Motors worker Gregg Shotwell is not against balancing the budget. But he says Snyder’s plan to create jobs by lowering taxes for businesses won’t work. 

“They’re not going to use that tax break to create jobs. Because there’s not going to be greater demand for their products or their services if we’re all making less money.”

Snyder says replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a flat 6% tax on corporate income is "simple fair and efficient."

Shotwell was among many other retired UAW workers who are very upset about Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. But Shotwell says the proposed cuts to public education is what brought him out to the protest.

“Our children are the future and you can’t expect to improve the state of Michigan, improve our economic future if you’re going to sabotage education and this is sabotage.”

If lawmakers approve Snyder’s budget, state funding to public universities would be cut 15 percent. K through 12 schools would be cut by a little more than 4 percent.

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.

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.

Tax forms
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.

Alan Cleaver / Flickr

Update 12:21 p.m.

The State of Michigan will have to honor some tax credits for years to come because of contractual obligations.  In a speech today, Governor Snyder indicated over the next four years, the state was on the hook for $2-billion dollars in credits.  About $500-million of that is in next year's budget. 

March 2nd, 8:23a.m.

Governor Snyder says his approach to taxes in Michigan is “simple, fair, and efficient.”  One way the Governor wants to make the tax structure more fair is by eliminating all tax credits for business.  It’s a controversial move which surprised many people in Lansing.

Snyder defends budget and tax plans

Mar 1, 2011
Bill Rice / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending some of his controversial budget plans.

He says taxing pensions is the right thing to do, even though some Republican lawmakers say they will not support that plan.

And Governor Snyder says his proposal to cut funding for universities by 15% this year is necessary, but he says it will get better for the schools in the future:

"We shouldn't have to walk away from our universities. Again, I'm a big, long-term advocate of we need more students going through our universities. Higher Ed is very important in our state, actually we're a very fortunate state in having the high-quality institutions that we have.

We have a tough budget situation and we need to deal with that, but if you look forward to 2013 we’re able to show that hopefully this is the bottom point in terms of where we go with higher education funding."

Snyder also told building-trade union members that he wants to work with unions to help balance the budget, not against them.

He says he is not interested in Republican proposals in the Legislature to strip unions of their power.

Image from the Center for Michigan's website

Try your hand at fixing the state's budget problems.

The Center for Michigan has released an interactive state budget calculator - YOU Fix the Budget.

The idea is similar to the New York Times interactive budget calculator for the federal government.

You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.

Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.

So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.

Andrew McFarlane / Creative Commons

A new study shows Michigan’s tax incentives for the TV and film industry generated close to 4,000 fulltime jobs last year with an average salary of $53,700.  

Larry Alexander is President & CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, one of several bureaus across the state that helped commission the study.

“Diversifying Michigan’s economy by investing $84.7 million- and generating over a half a billion dollars of economic activity and nearly 4,000 high paying jobs- sounds like a pretty good deal to us.”

Rick Hert heads the West Michigan Film Office. He says talk about limiting the film incentives in the past reached Hollywood and caused some producers decide not to come to Michigan.

 “This is much bigger. This is a new governor of the state of Michigan and his comments are doing more than reverberating, they’re putting a clamp on the future of this industry.”

Hert is thankful the governor didn’t totally remove the incentives, but worries they’ll be too limited to keep attracting producers.

Hert says he understands the state is broke and that legislators have some tough calls to make.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Each Wednesday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry to get an update on state politics. This week, the focus is on Governor Snyder’s budget proposal and what cuts he might suggest.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

By some estimates, the city of Flint is facing a $17 million budget hole.

Flint's Mayor is hoping state officials will allow the city to go to the bond market to overcome the budget deficit.

The State Administrative Board is meeting tomorrow to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the city's request.

The Flint Journal reports:

A state board made up of Michigan's top elected officials (or their delegates) is expected on Tuesday to consider the city's application to issue $20 million in bonds, part of Flint Mayor Dayne Walling's budget plan.

The State Administrative Board meeting will take place at 11 a.m. in the Lake Superior Room of the Michigan Library and Historical Center in Lansing. The meetings are open to the public.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that without the money, Mayor Walling said the city will have trouble making payroll in March:

“There is nothing more important for our city right now than the bond.   We’ve been carrying a crushing load of past deficits on our shoulders.  And we’ve come to the point where the pooled cash is not there to make payroll throughout the entire month of March without an infusion of cash,” said Mayor Walling.

If state officials do not approve of the bond plan, the state may eventually takeover Flint’s finances.

Personal property tax proposal spurs debate

Feb 13, 2011
facebook.com

The Michigan Small Business Tax isn’t the only tax getting attention right now: A lawmaker from Battle Creek wants to eliminate the personal property tax that businesses pay.

State Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, says Michigan doesn’t create a very welcoming climate for business.

Nofs wants to get rid of a tax that businesses pay on things like equipment and furniture.

Michigan’s current personal property tax is based on a community’s millage, and generates revenue for local governments.

Homeowners are starting to get their property tax assessments in the mail. A few organizations are hosting workshops for people who think their home’s value might be over-assessed.

Rose Bogaert is chair of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association:

"Going to the Board of Review and saying 'my taxes are too high' will get you nothing. You have to have information that justifies your contention that your house is over-assessed."

Bogaert says her organization’s workshops educate homeowners about things like how to analyze sales in their neighborhoods. Information about the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A – which govern property tax assessments in Michigan – is also part of the workshops.

Oakland County officials are also hosting a series of sessions about tax assessments through early March.

Governor Snyder will roll out a citizen’s guide to the financial troubles facing the state, local governments, and school districts before a meeting of business leaders in Lansing this afternoon.

The governor is a retired investor and certified public accountant. He says the guide will give the public an easy-to-grasp outline of the condition of government finances in Michigan.

Governor Snyder says the state’s official financial report runs more than 200 pages and is too big and complicated, and it’s filled with too much bureaucratic jargon for most people to understand.

Snyder says his administration has picked what he considers the most critical information, such as the state’s revenue-to-expenditures, its reserves, and long-term obligations such as pensions, and put it into an easy-to-follow 13-page briefing:

“So I think this will be a big help in terms of the stage for a more-informed discussion, where all the public can participate because we’ll all have better facts to work off of and we’ll see how far beyond our means we’ve actually spent.”

Estimates peg the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year at about $1.8 billion.

The governor will present his plan to balance the budget later this month.

Governor Rick Snyder has not yet said whether he’ll support efforts to increase state taxes on the lowest-earning workers in Michigan.  He has indicated he’ll have something to say about whether to eliminate the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit when he gives his budget address.

“Well, we’ll save that for mid-February.  But the Earned Income Credit is largely a federal program.  That’s the main driver that brings results, is the fact that it’s on your federal return.  It’s a question of how much difference does the Michigan piece of that make in terms of changing behavior.”

Governor Snyder makes no bones about wanting to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax. Some details of his plan were revealed today.

But by getting rid of the business tax, the state will be left with $1.5 billion tacked onto its existing projected deficit for the next fiscal year.

Today, the Governor spoke to the Michigan Press Association at the Detroit Marriott. In his speech, he addressed how he plans to make up the shortfall.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to include most tax breaks in the budget rather than burying them in the tax code...Snyder says it's imperative to get rid of the Michigan Business Tax, which he considers "a dumb tax." To make up the revenue lost by having a lower corporate income tax, he wants to look at existing tax breaks and get rid of those that aren't moving the state forward. The governor says tax breaks should be included in the budget so they can be debated and weighed on their merits.

The Detroit Free Press reported on Snyder's speech as well. The Governor said that one of the "biggest tasks as the chief executive of the state is to find the elusive “they” in state government." From the Freep:

Snyder said his first days in office were a revelation. “The IT guys were in hooking up my computer and I had a square screen,” he said, explaining that it didn’t make sense because the larger, landscape computer screens are better and less expensive. “They told me ‘It’s been 10 years and they said that’s what we had to do,’” Snyder said the IT guys told him. “Almost on a daily basis, I hear about ‘they’ and they tend to have a different opinion that I have. I need to find out who they are and where they reside.

gophouse.com

Governor Snyder has said he wants to do away with the complex, "job-killing" Michigan Business Tax, and replace it with a more simplified flat tax for businesses in the state.

Some republicans in the Michigan legislature are beginning their push for a repeal of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

It's a credit that bell-weather conservatives, like Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, have supported on the federal level.

Library of Congress

The idea of an Earned Income Tax Credit, giving people who have low-income jobs a bit of a tax break, has been around for a while.  In 1975, a Michigan Republican, Gerald Ford, signed the first federal credit into law while he was president.

Proposals for different ways the state delivers payments to local governments for services are bubbling up at the state Capitol.

A bill in the state Senate would distribute revenue sharing payments to cities, townships and villages based on population.

Democratic Congressman Sander Levin of Royal Oak
http://www.house.gov/levin/

A Michigan Congressman says U.S. automakers need more help to sell large numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The Obama administration has set a goal of one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.

There’s already a federal tax credit of $7,500 to help defray the cost of buying a hybrid or electric car.   But there’s a cap on how many of the credits are available to each automaker. 

Michigan’s local governments say if the state cuts revenue sharing, then they should be allowed to ask voters for new taxes to replace that money.

The Michigan Municipal League met with Governor Rick Snyder last week, and has answered his call for proposals to save money and cut costs for local governments, and to make communities more viable and attractive.

Dan Gilmartin is executive director of the Municipal League. He says it starts by looking at regions:

Economies in Michigan are regional. The dirty little secret is there is no state economy. And there’s certainly no local economy. Economies are regional.

Gilmartin says local governments need the authority to ask voters for region-based taxes to support development, and maintain roads and services.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Republicans at the state Capitol are working to get rid of a tax credit for working poor people.

But people who support the Earned Income Tax Credit say the money helps poor people keep their jobs.

Without the credit they might have to go back on welfare, an they say that would cost the state more money.

Gilda Jacobs, director of the Michigan League for Human Services, says all lawmakers have constituents who claim the credit:

"We have some districts where 18% to 20% of the people are filers of this, and they’re putting multi-millions of dollars back into small businesses. So we kind of need to ask people to see this up-close and personal and to really be open to understanding what this is all about."

Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says the state cannot afford the Earned Income Tax Credit right now:

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is very new in Michigan. It didn’t exist a couple of years ago. It was added at a time where I believe we couldn’t afford it. So as we look at how we are going to revamp Michigan and how we are going to move forward, we have to evaluate things that we can maybe no longer afford, however we do have to look at that with a broader tax structure, and we have to understand that the best social program is a good-paying job.”

Bolger says eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit will be part of a large package of reforms that are expected to be introduced soon in the House.

Supporters of the tax credit say they have a lot of work to do to convince lawmakers that getting rid of it would hurt people in their districts.

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