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For The Week Of December 29, 2017 Through January 4, 2018

But, What If The State Wanted That $1.4 Billion?

By John Lindstrom
Posted: January, 4 2018 3:42 PM

State government finds itself in an enviable position, possibly being enriched by as much a $1.4 billion because of how the new federal tax law is structured. For those still recovering from holiday overindulgence and too bloated to get the gist of the story, the federal tax changes effectively do away with the personal exemption in favor of expanding the standard deduction, and because Michigan’s personal income tax law allows state personal exemptions only to the extent there are federal personal exemptions the state could see an unexpected benefit of as much as $1.4 billion.

So far, everyone has been very noble in saying the state should not have that money, that it was intended as a tax cut on the federal side and should not be a tax increase on the state end. It would amount to an annual tax hike of $170 per taxpayer and dependent. Governor Rick Snyder, Treasurer Nick Khouri, newspaper editorials (yes, they still write them occasionally) and others have said steps need to be taken to ensure the people aren’t on the hook for that money.

It is a little surprising, nonetheless, that no one thus far has raised a peep about: Wait a minute, couldn’t we use that money?

If Michigan decided to hold onto the $1.4 billion there are a number of different areas that could lay some claim arguing spend on us and then the taxpayers will save money in different, tangible areas.

One of this reporter’s neighbors said immediately when the topic of the $1.4 billion came up, “Spend it on roads.”

Even with increased funding beginning to work its way to the Department of Transportation, long-term highway financing remains uncertain. Another $1.4 billion could go a long way towards the state repairing more roads and bridges. One could also argue it will save the average taxpayer what they would spend on rotten road-related car repairs, tires and other costs. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development better roads affords the state.

Or Michigan’s universities. They too have a legitimate claim to more money since they are still working through not just Mr. Snyder’s cut in 2011 but former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s major cut in 2003. State funding of universities has shrunk dramatically over the last two decades, forcing the universities to raise tuition rates which in turn is making it more and more difficult for the children of the working class and middle class to afford college at all. Spend $1.4 billion on us, the universities could say, and we can hold the line better on tuition, meaning you save money there. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development by promoting a better educated and trained workforce.

How about Michigan’s local governments? They can tell you how they have taken it on the chin financially between the Great Recession, restrictions in the Constitution on recouping some of their property tax revenues and controversial changes in revenue sharing. They can also argue the state is more interested in them dealing with retirement costs than with local services. Spend the $1.4 billion on us, they could argue, it could all go towards long-term retirement costs and local residents would not then see cuts in police and fire protection, in public works maintenance, libraries, recreation services and the like. Or we wouldn’t have to ask the local taxpayers to contribute more in taxes to pay for those services or for the retirement benefits. Plus, think of the marketing for economic development by promoting are well-protected, well-maintained, cost-efficient communities.

Yeah, well, tough luck guys, it is pretty clear the state is going to find a fix of some sort to ensure the $1.4 billion does not come to state coffers. That being the case, one could just say, okay fine then, the people will just end up having to pay that money out one way or another.

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State Building Security Falls Through Automation Cracks

By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer
Posted: January, 3 2018 4:42 PM

From the time Governor Rick Snyder first announced he was running, he has promoted his ties to technology and throughout his tenure he has pushed for system improvements.

He has been able to hire some top technology people into the state service and has put a priority on upgrading the technology already there and integrating technology where it was not. The administration has overseen new systems to track welfare cases and moving State Police troopers from offices in post buildings to offices in their patrol cars.

For the general public, if you want to contact a state employee, you need only go to the state website and type in their name.

Unless you go to the front desk of one of the state office buildings. The technology there: large binders filled with pages of printed telephone directories.

Where names or numbers have changed, in many cases they have been updated by crossing out the old and writing in new. In some cases they have not.

This reporter recently made a security guard, flustered that he could not find the requested name to call for a staffer to escort the reporter elsewhere in the building, more flustered by letting him know that, if he had a terminal at the desk, the information was available with a simple internet search.

Mr. Snyder had kiosks that were installed under the prior administration removed, arguing that visitors to state buildings should be greeted by a person, but maybe there is room for some technology in that greeting process.

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A Diversion … Happy Birthday, Hugh McDiarmid Sr.

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: January, 2 2018 2:09 PM

Oh, my.

It has come to the attention of this V-E-R-Y junior reporter that on December 31, the legendary former Detroit Free Press political columnist Hugh McDiarmid Sr. celebrated his 83rd birthday.

Those under 30 may ask, who is this Hugh McDiarmid, eh?

Well, let me tell you…

NOBODY did it better.

It, was political commentary, and whether you agreed or disagreed with Mr. McDiarmid, his staccato, conversational writing style made politics accessible to readers, including…

This reader. When I was growing up, the Free Press was placed every day at our house in a beautiful yellow box with “Detroit Free Press” emblazoned on it in blue, using the classic Old English font, as it should be.

Mr. McDiarmid’s patented use of “Oh mys,” words in all capital letters (sometimes spelled out, sometimes not), ellipses, italics and various other devices was delightful. It made politics fun, even when he was tearing somebody a new one. To this kid in Troy, when Lansing might as well have been in another state, I could hardly wait for the next McDiarmid column.

How great was this start to a 1997 column?

“H-e-r-e comes Jim Blanchard. What, pray tell, are you talking about?

“Well, it's clear the ex-guv is running for something, isn't it?”

And who else in these parts could dismember someone so effortlessly with the written word? In a 1999 column, he dutifully went through the Michigan Republican Party’s tortured attempt to slap then-U.S. Rep. David Bonior, a Mount Clemens Democrat, as a carpetbagger. His ending to the column?


And… And…

It will always be one of the great privileges of this reporter, who was just cutting his teeth as a cub reporter in this town as Mr. McDiarmid was wrapping up his newspapering career, to have the chance to cover the same beat, if only for a brief period, and wonder how Mr. McDiarmid would write about the same stories. The first news conference I attended where Mr. McDiarmid also was in attendance was a true thrill.


So what?

So let’s end this conversation – which, in case you hadn’t noticed borrows extensively from Mr. McDiarmid’s writing style and some specific columns, lest anyone think I am trying to do anything other than pay homage to him – by thanking Mr. McDiarmid for all he contributed to the coverage and spirit of the Michigan Capitol during a career spanning at least the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Happy Birthday, Mr. McDiarmid.


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