Street Talk: 13 might be a lucky number


In its annual report on the state business tax climate across the U.S., the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., has declared that Michigan has the 13th best tax climate and recognized Gov. Rick Snyder as one of the leading advocates for a “smarter tax policy.”

In the latest edition of the non-partisan foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, released last week, Michigan remains unchanged from its 13th place position last October.

Michigan borders on three other states: Wisconsin, which is ranked 43rd; Ohio, ranked 44th; and Indiana, in the top 10 states with an eighth place finish, according to the Tax Foundation.

On Oct. 21, the foundation also presented Snyder with its 2014 Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform Award for what it called his continual efforts over the last several years to improve the competitiveness of Michigan’s tax code.

“Rick Snyder is one of the nation’s leading advocates for smarter tax policy,” said Joseph Henchman, vice president of state and legal projects at the Tax Foundation. “In 2012, Michigan ranked as one of the least competitive states on the annual State Business Tax Climate Index. However, through the efforts of people like Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan now has one of the most competitive tax codes in the country.”

Six leaders received the 2014 award, including New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The State Business Tax Climate Index, now in its 11th edition, measures how well-structured each state’s code is by analyzing more than 100 tax variables in five different categories: corporate, individual income, sales, property and unemployment insurance taxes. States lose points for overly complex, burdensome and economically harmful tax codes, but are rewarded for transparent and neutral tax codes that do not distort business decisions. A state’s ranking can rise or fall significantly, not only because of its own actions but also because of changes or reforms made in other states.

The breakdown of Michigan’s ranking this year is as follows (1st is best, 50th is worst):

  • Michigan’s overall State Business Tax Climate ranking: 13
  • Corporate tax structure: 10
  • Individual income tax structure: 14
  • Sales tax structure: 7
  • Property tax structure: 27
  • Unemployment insurance tax structure: 47

The 10 most competitive tax states, in order, are Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah and Texas.

The 10 least competitive tax states, beginning with the worst, are New Jersey, New York, California, Minnesota, Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Iowa.

The Tax Foundation says the goal of the index is to start a conversation between taxpayers and policymakers about how their states fare against the rest of the country. It promotes itself as the nation’s leading independent tax policy research organization, founded in 1937.

All aboard

The opening of the new $6.1 million Amtrak station in downtown Grand Rapids last week drew plenty of raves, along with a few pointed comments. And we won’t even mention the “Amshack” remark overheard in reference to the old facility (oops!).

Fittingly, Mayor George Heartwell took the opportunity to direct comments toward transportation officials in attendance.

“This is the first of many good things to come,” he said. “What we need to start on now, as long as we have Amtrak in the room, is that second train. We need a full round-trip service, two trains every day. It's time.”

If and when that time comes, Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, previously told the Business Journal the new station will be up to the two-train task.

“This is a permanent station, so you really have to anticipate 50 years from now,” he said. “You might have a different kind of system and you may need two trains to leave the station at the same time or similar times. The platform is designed for two trains.”

He said if the need for two trains comes to fruition, a second set of tracks will be built into the platform.

Varga said he thinks a more likely upgrade to take place in the nearer future would be increased service.

“My feeling is that if Amtrak develops anything, it will be frequency improvements,” he said.

On board

High school sure has changed since “back in the day.”

Last week, a group of students from Forest Hills Eastern High School went on a field trip to beat all field trips when they were invited to the Burton Co. in Burlington, Vermont.

For what purpose? To talk business, of course.

The students are part of a class called “Gone Boarding,” which is a cross-curricular experiential learning class combining physical education and industrial arts.

According to Elizabeth Brink, communications coordinator for Forest Hills Public Schools, the students spend two hours every day for a semester either surfing in Lake Michigan, stand-up paddle boarding, snowboarding, skateboarding or making surfboards, snowboards and skateboards.

“To our knowledge, Eastern is the only high school in the country with a program like this,” she said.

Now in its third year, she said the purpose of the class is to expose the students — a majority of whom are seniors — to problem solving, goal setting and real-world learning through “trial and error” experiences.

The program has apparently caught the eye of the higher-ups at Burton, the country’s leading snowboard manufacturer, who met with 11 students and three adults affiliated with the class. The FHE team pitched concepts and discussed the importance of a class like Gone Boarding. The goal is to set up a long-term partnership between Burton and the high school.

Teachers Bruce Macartney (industrial arts) and Bill Curtis (physical education) lead the class. Brink also credited Principal Steve Harvey, Superintendent Dan Behm and Assistant Superintendent Scott Korpak with being instrumental in the program’s success.

Too bored?

There must have been a good football game on TV Thursday.

Kent County Black Elected Officials, a bipartisan group formed more than 20 years ago with (almost) as many Republican members as Democrat, put together a community meeting last Thursday to host candidates from both sides of the aisle.

Republican outreach coordinator Kelly Mitchell and Grand Rapids City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins made the calls to the candidates, getting appearance assurances.

With guests assembled, Rev. Robert Dean, chairman of the group, was told every one of the Republicans had backed out, even Mitchell. Harold Mast, Donijo DeJonge, Dave Hildenbrand and various Republican Party officials were no-shows.

The group carried on, however, listening to Grand Rapids Community College trustee candidates and other candidates in non-partisan elections on Tuesday.

Off the board

Because everything you read on the Internet is true, we probably should set the record straight.

A tweet last week from GR parking commissioner Andy Guy said the Business Journal is calling for a moratorium on economic development. False. Guy’s reference was to a Business Journal editorial questioning the use of an outside consultant for a downtown parking study.

And to all those who responded with a RT of “Wow!” or some such nonsense, please take time to actually read the editorial and draw your own conclusions.

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