House GOP introduces income tax rollback

State House Republicans have introduced legislation rolling back Michigan’s income tax three months early.

The tax rate was scheduled to fall from 4.35 percent to
4.25 percent on January 1. The GOP legislation speeds up that
rollback, making it effective October 1.

Republican State Representative Greg McMaster is co-sponsoring the legislation…

“The idea is to keep the money at home. We’re spending enough money on
government, we need to be accountable for what we’re doing with that
money. And frankly, we think we’re being paid too much in those tax
dollars. And we think it should go back to the family, and try to take
care of the family.”

Democrats are critical of the proposal, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

They say the tax cut only equals 90-million dollars. That compares to a
tax hike of 1.4 billion dollars for individuals that was
approved last year.

The tax cut, as proposed, would save a family with 50-thousand dollars in income 17-dollars and 60-cents this year.

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Legislature considers rolling back income tax early

A state House committee Wednesday approved speeding up an income tax break to Michigan taxpayers.  

The cut originally scheduled to take effect in January would move up to October if the legislation eventually becomes law.

The tax break would generate about 90 million dollars, or about 20 dollars for the average Michigan taxpayer.

Republican state representative Holly Hughes is one of the bills’ sponsors….

“$90 million to our hard working taxpayers I think is a good shot, a good start.  In this economy, if we can give back to the hard working taxpayers that’s what we want to do.” 

Democrats on the panel voted for the income tax cut, but they point out that tax policies pushed by Republicans in recent years have cost Michigan’s elderly and poor much more. 
The bills now move to the House floor, where a vote may come tomorrow.

Copyright 2012, MPRN

Formal investigation into McCotter petitions will wait

By Rick Pluta

The formal investigation into possible petition fraud by Congressman Thaddeus McCotter’s reelection campaign will wait until after an elections board meets next week.

The Board of State Canvassers has to officially reject the petitions before they can be turned over to investigators. Elections officials in the Secretary of State’s office say it looks like hundreds of signatures were faked by photo-copying them onto petitions.
   
That left McCotter short of what he needs to qualify for the ballot. He said he intends to run a write-in campaign.
   
Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Schuette said his legal staff is waiting to get hold of the petitions and other paperwork.

“When we do, we’ll review it thoroughly, do our job in a comprehensive way.”

Schuette said his office and the Secretary of State have been sharing information prior to the launch of a formal inquiry into what happened. Congressman McCotter is among those who’ve called for an investigation.

Copyright 2012, MPRN

Non profit organization presents information on Affordable Care Act

By Amy Robinson
   
The US Supreme Court is expected to rule within this month on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

While millions of Americans are watching and waiting for the ruling, a relative handful of people are continuing efforts to educate the public about the law.

Recently CMU Public Radio spoke with a representative of the group “Know Your Care.”  It’s a non profit organization with the goal of educating people about the provisions of the Care Act.

According to Lonnie Scott with “Know Your Care,” too many people are distracted by the politics of the Affordable Care Act ACA without really knowing the provisions.

“What we find, is when you ask someone, do you support Obama-care? Do you support the Affordable Care Act? It’s about a 50-50 split. But if I were to ask the people out there, do they support preventative services for seniors, and allowing seniors to have access to preventative services at a lower cost?  75% said yes.  If I say should we allow young adults to stay on their parents insurance plan until age 26? 85% said yes. So when they learn about the individual provisions of the bill, they’re very, very supportive.”

So what are some of the provisions?  Like Scott just mentioned, one allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26. It doesn’t even matter if the young adult is married, it doesn’t matter if they live in the same state, it doesn’t matter if they’re financially dependent or independent of their parents.

“So this is a big one for us, because we believe that this is going to be a boost to our economy. For a few reasons, one is because businesses want to offer insurance but a lot of times they may not be able to to entry level employees, which is what this age range generally ends up being. And so it allows a young adult the flexibility to take that first job maybe where they really want to work, that can’t offer them health insurance. It also allows for parents to have a little bit better peace of mind to know that their young adults are covered. But it will, I believe, allow young entrepreneurs to be able to start their own business.”

Small business owners, he said, are another beneficiary of the ACA.  They receive a tax credit for providing health care to employees.  30 percent of costs now, 50 percent in 2014.

The Group Small Business Majority spoke to congress last year in support of the ACA. The group said in a 2008 study, healthcare outranked fuel and energy costs for 78 percent of small business owners.

Scott said the ACA eases that burden

“Any small business that has 25 employees or less, whose wages are an average of $50,000 per employee or less, can receive this tax credit.  And I would say that that covers about 98% of the small businesses definitely in the UP and northern Michigan, but also throughout the state. And what we also know is that they don’t know about it.”

Scott said the ACA expands Medicare services so that seniors receive preventative care. It expands eligibility for Medicaid. And it requires at least 80 percent of all premium dollars collected by insurance companies to be spent on health care services. Not administrative fees or marketing.  If insurance companies don’t meet the goal, they have to send rebates to policy holders.

“So in Michigan, it was 19-million dollars that the insurance companies spent on things other than actual healthcare for their policy holders.  And so 19-million dollars is being returned to policy holders here in the state of Michigan. It’s an average of about $130 per person. And if you have an individual plan, you’ll receive that check yourself.  If your employer picks up the cost of your healthcare, they’ll be the ones to receive that rebate.”

Finally, Scott said, the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. That covers children now, adults in 2014.  And it gets rid of lifetime caps.

“It was common practice for insurance companies before to take your money every month on time, but if you got sick, they could call you and say, hey you’ve hit your limit and you’re done.  And they weren’t going to cover you any more. That was a pretty common practice for insurance companies.  And the Affordable Care Act also lifts all of the lifetime caps. So if you’re paying your premiums on time, you’re going to be covered.”

Scott said many insurance companies, doctors and hospitals support the Affordable Care Act.

That’s in large part due to what may be the most controversial part of the law; the mandate.  That is a key issue that the US Supreme court will be ruling on.  In the meantime, Scott said, he’ll continue to travel around the state; trying to separate political rhetoric from legislative fact.

Consumers Energy to begin installing “smart meters” this summer

Consumers Energy is preparing for a major upgrade of its electrical grid.

The Jackson-based utility will begin installing so-called “smart meters” this summer. Consumers said the new meters mean more control for customers, but as Mike Horace reports, some lawmakers worry that the new meters will actually do the opposite.

The days of a meter reader coming to your house to check your electricity usage will be coming to an end, at least, if Consumers Energy has its way.

The company wants to install new “smart meters” on every home in its coverage area. Roger Morgenstern is the Smart Grid communications coordinator for Consumers Energy…

“A smart meter is a two-way communicating device, that allows us to speak with our customers about their energy use in ways we’ve never been able to do. Customers will be able to understand their energy use in near real-time, so that they can log on to a secure website and understand more about how their energy use affects their energy bill.”

Morgenstern said the new meters are a huge improvement over the old, because they wirelessly transmit data about energy usage directly to the company.

The meters will also automatically alert Consumers to power outages and other disruptions…

“There will be no need to call Consumers Energy to let us know that you’re out of power. That allows Consumers Energy to know more quickly where an outage is, so that we can get crews dispatched there to get power turned back on more quickly.”

Smart meters are seen by electric utilities as a necessary step as they bring their electrical grids into the 21st century.

But some lawmakers are concerned that smart meters will actually end up taking control away from the customer…

“I think it should be optional, since we don’t have the option to buy electricity from anybody else.”

That’s republican State Representative Paul Opsommer. He’s concerned that the smart meters will be used to take away control from customers, and he cites what has happened in California as an example…

“The public service commission in California, where they’re installing Smart Meters, recently passed an administrative rule where the power company could regulate the amount of electricity you use, and the heat that your house was set at during the winter, or the air conditioning during the summer, remotely from, let’s say in this case, it would be if it was in Michigan, Consumers’ headquarters. Now they have since rescinded that administrative rule because of outcry from the public. But that kind of control, from outside of someone’s home, I think is simply wrong. Your home, Mike, my home, is my castle. That’s kind of a long-term American tradition, and that choice, I think, is also very important.”

Choice is important to Consumers Energy as well, said Roger Morgenstern. He said any programs controlling energy usage, like those in California, would be strictly voluntary…

“We are in the process of evaluating what types of customer programs we will be offering our customers, that are made available because of the intelligence in smart meters. Those programs have not been decided yet. But any of the programs that we do decide to offer our customers will be just that, they will be offerings to our customers. The customers will decide whether or not they want to participate.”

Such assurances have done little to alleviate Opsommer’s concerns. He’s introduced legislation requiring electric utilities to provide an “opt-out” option for anybody who wants it.

Morgenstern said that already exists.

“We are offering customers the opportunity, the choice, to opt out of the meter, if for some reason they feel they would not benefit. We feel customers will receive many benefits because of smart meters, but we also want to give our customers a choice.”

Another concern raised by smart meter opponents is the cost. Morgenstern said those concerns are overblown.  He said customer costs will increase only if they opt-out of having a smart meter…

“We are still determining the cost for maintaining an opt-out program, because this will mean we will have to keep meters in stock and testing equipment in stock that we otherwise would not be doing. Those costs would have to be reviewed by the Public Service Commission, and the Michigan Public Service Commission is the one that will determine whether or not there will be a fee charged to customers who opt out of the program.”

Opsommer’s legislation, requiring opt-out options for smart meters, is pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Consumers Energy, meanwhile, will begin rolling out smart meters this August. The company will begin in west Michigan and gradually work their way north. Officials hope to complete the project by 2020.

McCotter to launch write-in re-election effort

By Rick Pluta

Republican Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter is facing the daunting prospect of running a write-in campaign to get re-elected this year. That’s because his campaign fell far short of the number of petition signatures he needs to qualify for the August primary ballot. Compounding McCotter’s troubles, it appears election fraud may have played a part in the failure.

The Michigan attorney general’s office has launched an investigation into the ballot scandal that threatens to bring an end to Thaddeus McCotter’s decade-long career in Congress. The congressman from Detroit’s suburbs briefly suspended his own plans to seek re-election last year year to make a run for president.
   
McCotter made that announcement under cloudy skies to a small, chanting crowd last July.

“Remember the storms are coming. You may interpret that as any type of omen that you wish.”

The looming rainstorm might have been something of an omen.

McCotter’s dry wit and guitar-playing skills brought him some media attention, but he never caught fire in the Republican primaries. His presidential campaign quickly fizzled, and McCotter filed to run for a sixth term in a district considered safely Republican. No one expected what was to come next:

It takes a minimum of just a thousand signatures to qualify for the ballot. McCotter’s campaign claimed to have turned in twice that number. But now Michigan elections officials say McCotter fell far short with only 244 legitimate signatures. The rest were photocopies. That’s right, copies of the same 244 signatures over and over.

McCotter claims he was duped, but also said he accepts responsibility for what happened. He said he wants the Michigan attorney general to investigate, and he will run as a write-in candidate. There is already another Republican candidate on the ballot, so McCotter will have to get more people to write in his name.

Elections experts here said that’s a big hurdle.

“I think it’s do-able. I think he has a lot of work to do, and I think he knows that.”

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostack.

“We at the state party will support whoever it is that wins the primary.”

“You know, I heard someone say they’re waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell Congressman McCotter he’s being punked.”

Public relations executive Emily Gerkin Palsrok is one of about 15 hundred people attending the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference in the Michigan resort of Mackinac Island this week. Political gossip is served here as generously as the cocktails, and platters of shrimp and oysters.  

“Something this bone-headed doesn’t happen very often.”

Also here is Craig Ruff, a consultant and political analyst. He said McCotter is holding onto the slimmest of hopes if he thinks a write-in campaign will save his career.
 
“40 thousand Republican votes were cast in the primary two years ago, and so that means he’s probably going to have to have 20-25 thousand people write in his name correctly. So I suspect it’s the end of his political career in Congress.”

McCotter’s troubles are the talk of this collection of the state’s movers and shakers. They wonder whether anyone in the McCotter campaign will face criminal charges for what elections officials describe as one of the most brazen violations of Michigan election law they can remember.

Copyright 2012, MPRN

Snyder asks businesses to hire veterans

By Rick Pluta

Governor Rick Snyder asked a crowd of business leaders to make hiring veterans part of the plans for growing their companies.

Governor Snyder delivered the opening remarks at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual conference on Mackinac Island. It’s attended by about 15 hundred business and political leaders. He declared Michigan the nation’s “comeback state,” and said veterans returning from overseas should share in that.

“Cause they’re making a tremendous sacrifice for us and I could not be prouder of the people serving our country and the Michiganders doing that.”

The governor recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit Michigan National
Guard units. He’s made job training for veterans and connecting retired military personnel to jobs a part of his workforce development initiative. Michigan’s veterans have a low rate accessing benefits available to them.

Copyright 2012, MPRN