Street Talk: And now, about your income tax …


What? How much are we Michiganders paying in income tax?

The Tax Foundation said recently Michigan ranks 21st among states with the highest state and local combined tax burden. We paid 9.6 percent of our collective incomes in state and local income tax in 2011, while the national average was 9.8 percent.

How can that be when our state income tax rate is a little over 4 percent and residents of the city are paying 1.5 percent?

The Business Journal found a tax expert who can explain the mystery. Chris Harper is a faculty member at Seidman College of Business at GVSU who is teaching the individual and entity tax class this semester — he’s a CPA with an MBA — and he’s also a senior manager at Hungerford Nichols accounting firm in Grand Rapids.

Harper made an assumption about how the Tax Foundation arrived at its percentages and did the math, and he was right. The foundation looked at the per capita amount paid in combined state and local income taxes and divided that by the per capita income, which averaged out to 9.6 percent tax burden in Michigan (not counting your IRS return).

“I think they’re pretty reliable,” said Harper of the Tax Foundation.

The foundation said that in 2011, residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had the highest state and local tax burdens, at more than 11.9 percent of income. Wyoming had the lowest percentage at 6.9 percent, followed by Alaska, South Dakota, Texas and Louisiana.

It should be noted that some states, such as Texas, don’t even have a state income tax.

When it comes to business taxes, things in Michigan really have improved in the last few years. Harper remembers the long-standing and much-hated Single Business Tax, under which, at one point, “You could owe tax to the state of Michigan even if you had a loss on your federal return.”

Under Gov. Jennifer Granholm, it was finally overhauled with much sweat and tears in Lansing and renamed the Michigan Business Tax — but it was still so complicated that Harper remembers people describing it as a “plate of spaghetti.”

But that was then. Now, he said, the business income tax in Michigan is “a lot simpler” and “seems more business friendly.”

Who ya gonna call?

Goatbusters! With invasive shrubs and plants setting up shop in Ottawa County’s parks, officials there are taking a look at an invasive species and land management plan that includes some unlikely heroes: goats.

Melanie Manion, natural resources coordinator for the county, said the mighty munchers will arrive next month and are the perfect foil to unwanted foliage because, unlike other livestock, they prefer to eat woody, shrub-like plants.

The eco-friendly alternative to herbicides is a pilot program and will be tested in three parks: Bur Oak, Eastmanville Bayou and Riverside.

Manion said using this innovative yet simple method reduces the need for herbicide application, is cost effective, and allows access to locations where mowers or machinery could not otherwise reach.

Officials expect 90 percent of the invasive, woody plants can be eliminated over three years.

Following the summer of 2014, staff will assess the program to identify any unanticipated issues, and then will continue using the goats for two additional years for maximum impact. The cost for the project start-up is a one-time fee of $3,000 for fencing, plus $2,500 each year to lease the goats. A donation of $2,500 was received from the Friends of the Ottawa County Parks group to support the project.

Growth spurt

Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan recently completed its capital campaign, Standing Tall, topping its original goal by more than $1 million.

Planning for the campaign began in 2011 and the quiet phase kicked off in July 2012. Standing Tall went public in September 2012, with $2.5 million in lead donations already raised. At that time, a $3 million goal was announced.

“We were blown away by the level of interest and the generosity of our donors,” said Rev. Doug Van Doren, campaign co-chair and pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ. “Before we knew it, we were raising our goal to $4 million and then surpassing even that! We just can’t thank our community of supporters enough.”

In addition to an annual campaign that raises $1.1 million for operations at PPWNM’s eight health centers, the Standing Tall campaign was created to raise money for three critical special needs — facility renovations, technology upgrades and an endowment fund.

Four PPWNM-owned properties are receiving upgrades and renovations this year totaling $2.3 million. The building at 425 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids, which houses the Irwin/Martin Health Center and PPWNM administrative and education services, is undergoing a $2 million, top-to-bottom overhaul during what is its 50th year in Kent County.

Health centers in Marquette, Petoskey and Traverse City are receiving smaller-scale remodels totaling $300,000.

Technology upgrades, including a new electronic patient record and practice management system, will align PPWNM with federal and state requirements, provide better quality care for patients, and offer increased connectivity with other health care providers and insurers. The three-phase overhaul is anticipated to cost $1 million.

The capital campaign also is funding a $1 million addition to PPWNM’s endowment fund.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our donors to shape the future of Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan,” said PPWNM President and CEO Kathy Humphrey.

“With the enormous changes taking place in health care, PPWNM is positioned as an essential provider within the new system, prepared to meet the sexual health needs of all people in the communities that we serve. Whether they have private health insurance or a new marketplace plan, Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan, or no coverage at all, we pledge to care — no matter what.”

During the campaign, lead donors came forward in Ionia and Traverse City, Humphrey said. PPWNM’s Ionia Health Center was renamed the Lemmen Health Center in honor of a leadership gift from Grand Rapids-area philanthropist Harvey Lemmen, originally of Ionia. The Planned Parenthood in Traverse City is now known as the Karen Christensen Walker Health Center in honor of a major gift from Edward C. and Karen C. Walker and family, of Traverse City.

“We are very grateful to these and other generous lead donors who stepped forward in this campaign,” said Standing Tall Co-chair Betsy Calcutt of Traverse City. “They paved the way for us to reach out to our broader base of supporters who answered the call to help us make substantial changes that are already benefitting our clients and communities.”

To date, 29 commitments have been made to the Standing Tall campaign, totaling $4.1 million.

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