Capitol News

November 10, 2019

SERA MEMBER APPOINTED TO STATE RETIREMENT BOARD

Governor Whitmer has appointed SERA member Lauri Schmidt of Williamston to the State of Michigan Retirement Board which provides oversight of the state employee’s pension fund. Schmidt is the SERA Plus Coordinator for Hantz Financial Group and the retired director of the Employee Benefits Division in the Michigan Civil Service Commission. She is also a former benefit representative for the UAW Local 6000. She is appointed to represent a retiree member of the State Employees’ Retirement System for a term starting January 1, 2020 and expiring December 31, 2023. She succeeds Laurie Hill, former Deputy Director of the Office of Retirement Services before her retirement and the most recent Chair of the Retirement Board.

Also appointed was Phil Thompson, of Bath, to represent the general public for a term commencing January 1, 2020 and expiring December 31, 2023. He succeeds Judge Mark Boonstra whose term expires December 31, 2019. Thompson is the retired executive vice president of the Michigan Public Employees SEIU Local 517M and the former international vice president for the Service Employees International Union among other notable achievements.

The State of Michigan Retirement Board was created by Executive Order No. 2015-13, and consolidated the State Employees’ Retirement System Board, the Judges’ Retirement System Board, and the Military Retirement Provisions. It is housed in the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget, in the Office of Retirement Services and has oversight of the three systems that service nearly 88,000 active and retired employees. These appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

ELECTION RESULTS

Elections were held in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties on November 5 as well as in several states around the country.

Municipal offices — Former State Representative and current East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows retained one of three seats on the East Lansing City Council by only a two-vote margin. Newcomers Jessy Gregg and Lisa Babcock led the field of six candidates. Current State Representative Sheldon Neeley was elected the next major of Flint, beating out current incumbent Karen Weaver by winning just over 50 percent of the vote. He had served nine years on the Flint City Council before running for State Representative. Former State House and Senate member and current Livonia City Council President Laura Toy lost narrowly to Maureen Miller Brosnan who became the first female Livonia Mayor. The race also marked a shift in that city from Republican to Democrat.

Local issues — Seventy-five percent of the 36 school bond proposals on the ballot passed, including one of the biggest in state history: the $1 billion bond proposal for the Ann Arbor Schools. Large bond proposals, totaling well more than $100 million apiece, also passed in the Hudsonville, Huron Valley and Novi schools. Of the 89 proposals to raise local property taxes for services and schools, 78 percent passed, according to a Gongwer News Service analysis of election results. Of the 36 school bond proposals to pay for new or renovated school buildings, 27 passed. Proposals to raise property taxes for police, fire and emergency medical services largely succeeded with 13 passing and two failing. In the midst of a standoff between the Governor and the GOP-led Legislature over statewide roads funding, two of four road millages passed in local communities. Voters seem willing to tax themselves for local services, but gerrymandered state legislative districts has produced state legislators opposed to state revenue increases for state services.

Weed news — In November 2018, statewide voters approved a ballot proposal that legalized marijuana for adult recreational use by a 56-44% margin. And while local elected officials can decide to allow or ban cannabis businesses, the new law also permitted residents to run ballot proposals to permit or ban the businesses also. More than 1,300 Michigan municipalities — two-thirds of the state’s 1,773 cities, townships and villages — have “opted out” of the law and prohibit recreational marijuana businesses. On November 5, voters in another 7 Michigan cities opted to keep recreational marijuana businesses out, while several voted to allow it. Whatever local governments decide, the new state law prohibits local officials from stopping individual residents from possessing, using or growing marijuana in their homes. The state began taking applications for recreational marijuana licenses on November 1. While the state could issue its first licenses rather quickly compared to the medical marijuana licensing process, the first retail sales likely won’t be seen until March or April 2020.

BUDGET STANDOFF

Governor Whitmer’s veto on September 30 of 147 budget line items totaling $947 million of a $10 billion General Fund budget and on October 1 using the Administrative Board to move $625 million around within 13 departments has caused a budget standoff of major proportions in this new era of divided state government. At this writing the State House GOP leadership and the Governor came to an agreement on a supplemental budget deal but the State Senate GOP leadership nixed it. Not only are dollars and program priorities at issue but the GOP wants the Governor to agree to limit use of her Administrative Board powers that have never in history been utilized to such an extent. But then no Legislature has refused to negotiate with the Governor before submitting a budget to her at the last minute.

PENSION TAX UPDATE

Surviving spouses of some retirees could have the benefit of their deceased spouse’s age classification for income tax purposes if HB 4171 sponsored by State Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover) becomes law. On November 7, the measure passed the House 109-0 after having languished in two previous terms of the Legislature.

As explained by the House Fiscal Agency bill analysis, HB 4171 would amend the Income Tax Act to allow widows and widowers to claim certain tax deductions that would have applied to their late spouses if they were still alive. The act currently allows for the deduction of a number of sources of retirement income, including pensions and Social Security. For a joint return, the limitations and restrictions in determining taxable income are applied based on the date of birth of the older spouse filing the return. Under the bill, if a deduction of retirement income had been claimed on a joint return for a tax year before the death of a spouse, and the surviving spouse had not remarried, the surviving spouse could claim that deduction in subsequent tax years for a single return subject to the restrictions and limitations that would have applied based on the date of birth of the older of the two spouses.

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2019, a surviving spouse born after 1945 who is at least 67 and has not remarried since the death of that spouse could choose to take the deduction that is available against all types of income subject to the same limitations and restrictions as provided under the act based on the surviving spouse’s date of birth instead of taking the deduction of retirement income, for a single return, based on the date of birth of the older spouse.

Michigan SERA, AARP and Retired Detroit Police and Fire Fighters Association supported the bill in Committee hearings. The Department of Treasury was neutral on the bill.

GUARDIANSHIP BILL MOVES

Relatives and friends of an incapacitated individual who have been denied visits could gain access to the incapacitated person through a limited guardianship under SB 110 sponsored by State Senator Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township). Testimony in hearings indicated that some guardians are denying visits and the relatives and friends have had no recourse.

Senate Bill 110 would amend the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) to allow a court-appointed limited guardian to supervise visits with an incapacitated individual if certain conditions were met. Under the bill, a court could appoint a limited guardian to supervise access to an incapacitated individual if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that all of the following apply:

  • The individual is incapacitated.
  • The person that has the care and custody of the incapacitated individual has denied another person access to the incapacitated individual.
  • The incapacitated individual desires contact with the other person or contact with the other person is in the incapacitated individual’s best interest.

The bill passed the Senate 38-0 and has had two hearings in the State House Judiciary Committee.

REDISTRICTING COMMISSION UPDATE

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on October 24 that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has officially started accepting applications. The application and information about the Commission can be found on the Secretary of State Web site www.michigan.gov/sos. Applications must be notarized before submission and are due by June 1, 2020. The state will host public forums throughout the state in November and December, coordinate a statewide grassroots education campaign with the help of Voters Not Politicians to promote awareness of the application and run an advertisement about the process on television. Physical applications will also be mailed to 10,000 registered voters at random. A final, randomized drawing to create the 13-person commission — which will include four Democrats, four Republicans and five independent or minority party voters — is expected to take place in September 2020. The commission would be seated by October 2020.

Caught up in the budget mess is $2 million funding for the SOS to get the Commission started. Once the Commission is seated it is supposed to be fully autonomous and the SOS role will be ministerial. The Commission budget will be housed in the Legislature’s budget and have its own line item similar to the Legislative Auditor General according to budget analysts.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net. Michigan SERA Recent News, a compilation of links to articles of interest to state employees, has been suspended until further notice.

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