March 8, 2020
With the March 10 primary behind us, we can enjoy a brief respite before intensive campaigning begins, our mailboxes fill up and phones start ringing. And with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 hitting the elderly hard, let’s follow the advice of our health experts to stay safe.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s short primary campaign that ended before Michigan’s March 10 primary shattered previous presidential primary spending records in Michigan. He spent nearly $12 million in Michigan alone according to Advertising Analytics tracked by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. In 2016, both parties’ candidates spent $10.6 million in Michigan’s presidential primary.
Absentee ballot requests were up 80 percent compared to 2016 due to the new voting law adopted by voters in 2018 permitting no-reason absentee voting. Early voting opportunities were also expanded with many city and township clerks having voting hours during the evenings and on the weekend before election day. With most of the Democratic presidential candidates having suspended or dropped out of the race before our primary, many early absentee voters scrambled to retrieve their ballots and recast a new ballot for a remaining candidate.
CENSUS MAILINGS COMING IN MARCH
Everyone living at an address, including children, need to be counted in the decennial American Census of Population. Federal funding of approximately $1,800 — $3,000 per person, per year will be allocated to communities over the next 10 years for each person counted. Over 40% of Michigan’s budget comes from federal funds allocated by census data. This federal funding is used to support housing, education, transportation, employment, healthcare, senior programs, and business decisions for a community. Census data also determines boundaries for political districts and how many seats in Congress each state is entitled to.
In 2010 only 72 percent of Michigan’s population was counted. The goal is to increase this to 82 percent in 2020. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent, Genesee, Washtenaw, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Ottawa and Saginaw counties collectively are home to about two-thirds of Michigan’s population, including 1.2 million the U.S. Census Bureau considers “hard to count.”
The Census asks name, gender, birthday, race/ethnicity, relationship to head-of-household, owner or renter, and phone number. By law Census information is confidential and reported only by aggregated number. This year you can answer the Census questions on-line, by phone, or by mail.
If you know of people who might have difficulty with answering the Census, please help them. This would include those isolated seniors, renters, non-English speakers, immigrants, people of color, people living in poverty, people who lack reading skills or with vision problems, people who don’t read their mail, people who distrust government, people who are experiencing homelessness, etc.
LGBT civil rights — At its February 7 meeting, the SERA Coordinating Council Executive Board endorsed the Fair and Equal Michigan proposed voter-initiated law to add a definition of sex (gender, gender identity or expression) and a definition of religion (a person’s religious beliefs) to Michigan’s civil rights law.
According to research by the non-partisan Glengariff Group, 77 percent of Michigan voters support adding LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law. DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Verizon, Michigan AFL-CIO, Quicken Loans, and 20 Michigan mayors have endorsed the proposal. The Michigan legislature has failed to act on this issue for the 37 years it has been introduced.
Fair and Equal Michigan has until May 27, 2020, to submit at least 340,047 valid Michigan voter signatures. Help is needed from SERA members with petition signature gathering to pass the measure like we did with anti-gerrymandering, voting rights reform, raising the minimum wage, and paid sick leave in former election cycles. Go to https://www.fairandequalmichigan.com/ to volunteer or for more information.
Lobbying reform — The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes led by Progress Michigan and including the League of Women Voters obtained Board of State Canvassers approval on February 19 to circulate proposed state constitutional amendment petitions to significantly change Michigan’s lobbying practices. Although Michigan has a lobbying registration and expenditure reporting law, Michigan has the worst transparency and ethics rankings in the country, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The proposal would:
The coalition must turn in at least 425,059 valid signatures from registered voters by July 6 for the measure to be put on the November 3 ballot.
Income tax reform — Ballot committee Fair Tax Michigan is attempting to get Board of State Canvassers approval for a constitutional amendment ballot proposal to repeal Michigan’s 4.25 percent flat tax and to require the legislature pass and the governor sign a graduated income tax plan by June 1, 2021, to take effect on January 1, 2022. The plan would have to reduce taxes for individuals making $175,000 or less annually or $350,000 or less for couples filing jointly.
It would also require the plan to produce at least $1.5 billion more annually in net revenue in the 2022-23 fiscal year than was produced in the 2019-20 fiscal year. If the Legislature did not pass and the governor did not sign a proposal by June 1, 2021, the governor would be permitted to create the plan through executive order by September 1, 2021, and the Legislature would not be able to reject or amend that order, according to the proposed language.
The new revenues generated under the proposal would be split between the School Aid Fund and a new Michigan Public Infrastructure Fund. Fair Tax Michigan needs to collect and submit at least 425,059 valid voter signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot.
PENSION TAX AMENDMENT
Recall that in the income tax overhaul of 2011, public pensions and certain retirement income were taxed for the first time for those born after 1945. Additionally, those born between 1946 and 1952 were allowed a $20,000 single/$40,000 couple deduction but those born after 1952 were not given the deduction. The state gets about $330 million in revenue from this tax treatment. In marriages where the couple were in different income tax treatment age categories, the age of the older taxpayer could be used to determine the deduction. If the older one died, the surviving spouse lost the tax advantage.
Michigan HB 4171 sponsored by Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover) would amend Michigan’s Income Tax Act to allow a widow or widower to claim a tax deduction that would have applied to his or her late deceased older spouse if the widow or widower had not remarried since the death of his or her spouse. The Senate Fiscal Agency analysis says the bill would reduce General Fund and School Aid Fund revenue by an unknown amount, and the number of affected taxpayers also is unknown.
The Michigan House passed the bill unanimously on November 7, 2019. At the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bill February 19, I testified on our behalf in support of the bill. I had previously conferred with the committee chair and his staff about repeal or substantial modification of the pension tax. I was urged to use the HB 4171 hearing to make remarks about modification of the pension tax because there is interest of some Senate Finance Committee members in doing something with the pension tax, not repeal, but something yet undecided but being discussed.
I used the opportunity to make the following points: retirees bring much economic activity to Michigan with our pensions, our investments, our Social Security, and our Medicare. We want to stay in Michigan to be near our relatives and friends, to stay in our homes, and enjoy all the wonderful aspects of Michigan. However, other states try to lure us away by offering no income tax or reduced income tax on retirement income or other incentives for seniors. SERA supports HB 4171 and urges its passage, but we want your action to be regarded as a down payment on future changes to income tax treatment for retiree income or seniors. I mentioned that the simplest thing to do was give those born after 1951 the same tax treatment as those born between 1946 and 1952 — a $20,000 subtraction from taxable income. The bill was reported out of committee on March 3 and is now ready for full Senate consideration.
Elder Abuse Bills — On February 25, the Michigan House passed the elder abuse package of bills — HB 4254 through HB 4260 and HB 4265 — with wide bi-partisan support. The legislation is aimed at preventing physical and financial abuse of elder adults in Michigan, defined as those 80 and older. The bills have now been referred to Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee for further consideration.
Annuity Bill — HB 4275 requiring the State of Michigan to offer an annuity option for state employees in their 401k plans passed the House 58-49 on February 18 and has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Salary Posting — HB 5015 would require monthly internet posting of a list of a department’s employees that includes the position title, classified or non-classified civil service distinction, salary, and general benefits information for each employee. The list could not include a name, initials, email address, Social Security number, phone number, street address, or other information that could be used to identify an employee or an employee’s beneficiary. The bill passed the House on February 18 on a vote of 104-3 and has been referred to the Senate Oversight Committee for further consideration.
State Retiree Re-employment — SB 592 that would allow under certain circumstances retired Department of Corrections officers working at an entity that contracts with the state to do so without forfeiting retirement benefits was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is awaiting full Senate consideration.
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