- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

The Detroit Free Press. Nov. 4, 2015

Lawmakers fail LGBT in Mich., who deserve civil rights.

It’s a conundrum: Same-sex couples can now get married in Michigan, but only at the risk that prospective employers or landlords will punish them for exercising that hard-won right - or even for acknowledging an attraction to others of the same sex.

The state’s ban on same-sex unions may be history, but the Michigan civil rights statute that bars employment and housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status affords no protection for those targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Michigan’s constitution is even stingier, decreeing only that the state will not tolerate discriminatory treatment on the basis of “religion, race, color or national origin.”

Numerous polls indicate overwhelming bipartisan support for extending civil rights protection to members of the LGBT community. Most of the state’s largest employers also have expressed support, recognizing that Michigan’s reluctance to outlaw discrimination against gays handicaps their efforts to recruit the most talented employees.

But Republican state legislators have repeatedly sabotaged attempts to add protection for LGBT citizens to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The most recent attempt was scuttled last December after opponents balked at protection for transgender people and exempt those who cite religious reasons for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The depth of the frustration felt by gay citizens and employers alike now has manifested itself in a proposal to put a constitutional amendment barring discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual preference or gender identity on the November 2016 ballot.

Spearheaded by Detroit attorney Dana Nessel and Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, Fair Michigan’s ballot proposal has garnered the tentative support of elected leaders including Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Kym Worthy and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Paterson, and employers appear to have promised financial backing.

Initial polling suggests that only a deep-pocketed disinformation campaign could endanger passage of the proposed amendment.

Opponents have argued - disingenuously and erroneously - that extending civil rights to gays would force religious groups and individuals to violate their own beliefs. So we are likely to see 30-second spots alleging that the proposed amendment would require Catholic priests and Orthodox rabbis to renounce their vows or face civil penalties.

But the ease with which 22 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have recognized LGBT rights without infringing on anyone’s religious liberty gives the lie to such baseless claims, and we anticipate that in the end facts and experience will trump demagoguery.

It is sad that sponsors of the proposed constitutional amendment have had to look beyond their elected representatives in Lansing for validation of its simple thesis that every Michigander deserves to be treated fairly. But the vestigial forces of bigotry have forced this showdown, and there is little reason to doubt that, in the end, those who champion fairness and dignity for all will prevail.

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Lansing State Journal, Nov. 5, 2015

Positives for Lansing region.

Downtown Lansing Food Fight

The Downtown Lansing Food Fight, coordinated by Downtown Lansing Inc. (DLI), is an excellent example of a community (downtown workers) coming together in friendly competition to support a great cause.

With a coordinated push to collect non-perishables in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, participating offices vie for one of two trophies: the heavyweight trophy for most food collected (by pound) or the Food Fight trophy, awarded to the organization who collected the most food per person (averaged).

In this way, DLI and downtown workers collected more than $3,000 in donations and 5,000 pounds of food last year, just in time to provide food for holiday dinners to those most in need.

2016 GM Camaro

For the first time since 1992, the epitome of American muscle cars is being produced in America once again. The 2016 Camaro will now be produced right here in Lansing, and that’s good for the region. GM spent $175 million to upgrade the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant’s tooling and equipment to accommodate production, and this summer hired 450 employees. And the Camaro hasn’t even hit dealership lots yet (expected to be available in mid-November), but is already shortlisted for the 2016 North American Car of the Year award. This a another significant investment in the community by GM, and one that will have positive impacts on workforce and continued economic growth for both the city and region.

MSU football undefeated

With an 8-0 record (4-0 in Big Ten play) MSU Football is uniting the community in exciting ways.

Whether you think the undefeated team has played great or has been lucky on more than one occasion, no one can deny the excitement in the area when our team is on the field. This translates into tens of millions of dollars of income as local hotels, pubs and restaurants fill with a half million game-goers per year.

Admittedly there are some tough games ahead for the team, complicated by injury for multiple players. However, if MSU stays undefeated after playing Ohio State University, there will be serious talk of a No. 1 seed. And the effects to the community, both financial and emotional, would be off the charts.

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The Detroit News. Nov. 5, 2015.

Road deal not great but good enough.

The road bill passed by the Legislature this week is the least possible deal they could have crafted, but at least, after four years of struggle, they finally found a majority.

Make no mistake, it is worth celebrating that this package should eventually raise up to $1.2 billion to fix Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation roads and bridges. There has to be a sense of relief that the stand-off was at last broken, and that hundreds of millions of dollars in new money will be available for future road work.

And yet, the bill needlessly places the general fund at risk by eventually committing $600 million that may be needed for other urgent priorities. The better solution has always been funding roads in the traditional manner - through fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees that, by law, have to be used for transportation projects.

Instead, this bill calls for just a 7.3 cent increase in the gasoline tax and 11.3 cent hike in the diesel tax, which together will raise $400 million in new revenue, and a 20 percent jump in vehicle registration fees that will add another $200 million.

The other major flaw in this bill is that the money rolls in too slowly. Michigan’s roads are in urgent need of fixing today.

But for the next two years, road revenue will be fairly stagnant. After that the new funds will start trickling in, starting with an estimated $450 million in the 2017 fiscal year and reaching the full amount in 2021. Given that the 2016 fiscal year budget already contains $400 million in general fund money for roads, the actual year-over-year increase in 2017 is just $50 million.

Lawmakers took a page from the Affordable Care Act playbook and delayed the pain of the law they passed until they are safely beyond the 2016 elections. That’s the sort of cowardice that has marked these deliberations from the beginning.

The Legislature had a chance in the lame-duck session last year to pass a sensible roads bill that raised highway funds quickly and efficiently through a straight increase in fuel taxes and registration fees. Instead they passed the buck to voters in the form of the disastrous Proposal 1 ballot issue, which was decidedly defeated last week.

The overwhelming rejection of Proposal 1 in many ways limited what this new Legislature could do. The consensus was that any deal would have to combine tax hikes with general fund money shifted from other spending programs.

This final version, which Snyder has said he will sign, relies on $600 million from the general fund. That’s more than the governor wanted, and more than is prudent, given the uncertainty about future Medicaid costs, the Detroit schools bailout and other infrastructure needs.

Again, lawmakers took the coward’s path. Instead of identifying specific cuts, they punted those decisions to a future Legislature and governor. While Snyder contends the obligation can be covered by tax revenue growth, that’s far from certain. A downturn in the state or national economy would blast that projection to bits.

Democrats, aside from Detroit Sen. Virgil Smith, are attacking the deal for its potential impact on other spending. Their criticisms have merit, and are at the same time disingenuous. Democrats, even after their leaders agreed in principle to a road deal in September, took themselves out of the process when they weren’t allowed to lard up the package with non-transportation spending. They also wanted to fund road work by reversing some of the key reforms that have improved Michigan’s business climate.

Their charge that business is not paying its fair share with this bill is ridiculous; the diesel tax is mostly paid by commercial interests.

The minority party decided there was more political advantage in letting Republicans own the deal. Democratic votes might have produced a much better solution.

But there is a road funding package in place, and it will amounts to the largest investment in transportation infrastructure in 50 years. It also raises the fuel tax after 2021 with inflation, which should eliminate future funding battles.

It also heads off the ballot drive sponsored by labor unions to raise money for roads by increasing the corporate income tax, which would kill the state’s recovery.

So it’s not a great bill. But in the context of what was possible, it’s good enough.

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The Port Huron Times Herald. Nov. 5, 2015

Bill restores fairness to tax assessing.

How much are your teeth worth to you? How much would they be worth to the random stranger idling next to you on Pine Grove Avenue waiting for the signal to turn green?

Weird question; let’s try a different one.

How much is your car worth? That’s easier. It has a Blue Book value and a relatively predictable resale price.

Assessing property values for tax purposes is supposed to work about the same way. A 2,000-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two baths at one end of the block should have the same taxable value as an identical house at the other end of the block.

Increasingly in Michigan, though, that common-sense rule - designed to ensure property owners are taxed equally and fairly - has been tossed out the window for a single class of property owners: The large, multistate corporations that operate big box stores.

Their lawyers have convinced the Michigan Tax Tribunal, the final arbiter of property assessments, that their huge and expensively constructed buildings are worthless. Here is the argument Lowe’s, Menards and other big-box retailers have used to avoid millions in property taxes:

When a corporation erects a 120,000-square-foot behemoth suitable for selling lumber and home improvement items it has created a structure that can’t be used for anything else. It’s like saying your teeth have no value because nobody else would use them. So if Builders Square closes the store, nobody will buy it, which means it ought to have a value closer to zero than the millions spent to build it.

Additionally, in some cases, the corporations put deed restrictions on the property so that it can’t be sold to a competitor. A Menards building, for instance, might make a perfectly good Home Depot. But if the deed blocks Home Depot’s purchase, and McDonald’s won’t consider it, then the site has no resale value and should be taxed accordingly, lawyers argue.

Michigan lawmakers say that’s nonsense. State Sen. Tom Casperson and a coalition of Upper Peninsula lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prevent the Tax Tribunal from using that faulty logic. The bill would take a bite out of huge tax breaks that have gone to corporate retailers at the expense of local stores and every other property owner.

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