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For The Week Of March 24, 2017 Through March 30, 2017

If The Income Tax Is Ended, Here Would Be A Quick, Easy Replacement

By John Lindstrom
Posted: March, 30 2017 3:39 PM

Eliminating Michigan’s personal income tax remains under consideration, generating hope among supporters it would be the catalyst to drive major population growth and business development. Of course, it would open a nearly $10 billion hole in the budget if the tax were eliminated. Which raises the inevitable question of what would the state do to close that hole?

Actually, there is a potentially easy fix. Surprisingly, no one has really talked about it. But we know how much money the fix would raise. It could be done through simple legislation.

And it’s not new, either. In fact, it is something that has been talked about for decades.

Nor is it an absurd notion. Nothing at all on the order of closing that $10 billion hole by massive budget cuts that would close every university and every prison and a bunch of other stuff.

Or something like requiring every man, woman and child in Michigan to consume 20 packs of cigarettes a day. Or, having every man, woman and child file for and pay for a Freedom of Information Act request of 2,000 pages of state documents. Trust me, with this last idea, the money raised would allow Michigan to repeal the income tax and maybe the sales tax as well.

No, no. This proposal would require a modest adjustment in how people act. Residents of most states already do this activity.

And truly it would bring in a ton of money. The state has tracked how much money it could raise for nearly 40 years. Seriously, it has.

For the 2016-17 fiscal year alone it would raise nearly $12.5 billion. That’s what the state said.

By now, if you have spent any time dealing with state finances, you know what this fix could be. And when I say it could be a potentially easy fix, that is because it would not require much tinkering with the law.

However, 10 years ago when then Governor Jennifer Granholm proposed a variant of this fix, it sparked a massive political fight and after it actually became law such a backlash that the Legislature and Ms. Granholm repealed it shortly afterward.

Still, no one disputes if the income tax is repealed revenues will have to be raised elsewhere.

Why not, then, require sales taxes paid on services? If people don’t have to pay income tax, why not pay sales tax on a haircut, the plumber, a medical visit, a round of golf, a funeral? The latest state report on tax credits, deductions and exemptions (what used to be, in the non-politically correct days, called tax expenditures) put the amount the state loses by taxing services at just below $12.5 billion. In fact the report said that if all sales and use tax exemptions were eliminated – including that for grocery stores – the state would realize $17.6 billion.

The Constitution requires that 4-cents of the 6-cents sales tax go to the School Aid Fund. Changing that would require an election. But the governor and the Legislature could probably say prisons and medical services and whatever are contingent to education and pay for everything out of the SAF.

However, we know how difficult actually convincing the Legislature to impose the sales tax on services would be. We know how difficult coming up with nearly $10 billion to replace the income tax would be. Might be easy, relatively, to eliminate $10 billion. That, however, would not result in immediate massive growth and the state would still have mammoth responsibilities to meet.

Hard decisions will be needed, whatever the Legislature decides.

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Media Moved To A New Home In Capitol

By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer
Posted: March, 29 2017 3:58 PM

For those few who are still looking, the Edward Augenstein Room has moved again.

With the move across the hall, the media retained Mr. Augenstein’s ever-present picture, his signed pitch table and our mailboxes. And we have exchanged a few working cubicles for an automated teller machine (though Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for House Speaker Tom Leonard, said the latter was going and the former coming back).

The move represents a combination of changing needs for the Capitol and changing needs for the media.

When this reporter started, the House press room was a hub of information. Those same mailboxes found in the current room were often the source of breaking news, as press releases were dropped there long before they would come in the mail. Not email, mind you, but good ol’ U.S. Mail.

The media room was also frequented by legislators, lobbyists and other sources because that was the place to find the key reporters. Several outlets, including UPI, had permanent offices in that space, but there were also work spaces and telephones for more transient media and those of us who had our own offices outside the Capitol.

That room also boasted a full-time staff person to distribute releases and help track down information. Mr. Augenstein held that position for many years, earning his name on the room.

As the House expanded its technology, those media offices were annexed, leaving only the temporary work spaces and a part-time overseer.

But the room was still a hub for activity as those mail boxes remained a key source of news releases. Indeed, a regular part of any news organization’s workday covering the Capitol until about the year 2000, when virtually all news releases moved via email, was sending a reporter at least twice a day to “check the box” – the cubby for each news organization for any news releases, reports or other newsworthy information.

With House staffing, budget and technology changes, the room was moved a couple of times before landing at its most recent site on the north side of the west wing ground floor.

Those moves have also seen changes in the Capitol press corps and its needs for the room.

Mr. Augenstein’s table has not seen a game of pitch in many years (likely most current reporters, yours truly included, don’t even know how to play) and only a few media outlets regularly used the space for their daily reporting tasks.

The mailboxes have been moved from room to room, but it is not uncommon now that the releases in them, if there are any, are several days old. The information likely came in an email long before the paper releases were delivered.

While the room is smaller and its uses have changed, it is good to know that the media still has a place in the Capitol should anyone want a rousing game of pitch.

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The Role Michigan Played In Saving Lives, Through Vaccines

By John Lindstrom
Posted: March, 24 2017 2:29 PM

State pride and history really ought not to play a role in something that should be common sense. But when the contrast of history is so striking to today’s reality, then reminding one of what was once may help in convincing them of what should be done now.

Fair warning: this reporter has struggled mightily to be an honest, objective broker of information in his career. Not an easy task when one covers politics. There are some subjects, some involving sports teams, for which this reporter makes no pretense of objectivity. Vaccination is a subject where I try to understand the viewpoint of anti-vaxxers, I try to thoughtfully convey their views in stories.

And then I think of the kids I knew growing up, trying to grow up healthy, when vaccines for so many diseases were not available. I think of myself, and the miseries I endured. I think of my mother weeping when…well, to continue.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and a number of other organizations, announced the I Vaccinate campaign to help boost vaccination rates of Michigan children. We should be grateful most parents do vaccinate their kids. But still, Michigan has a lousy vaccination rate. Too many parents have religious or philosophical objections to vaccinations, or they believe nonsense that has been scientifically disproven time and time and time and time again regarding vaccines and autism.

That Michigan has such a poor vaccination is galling when one considers this state’s history in vaccines. Scientists the world over have labored heroically to create vaccines, and no location can claim primacy in this ongoing battle.

But here, in this state, we have reason to be proud of what we did to further public health through vaccines.

There was, of course, Michigan Biologic Products. For more than 70 years it produced vaccines not just for Michigan residents but for the U.S. military and people in need across the globe. Former Governor John Engler spearheaded its sale in the 1990s. It was the last of its kind, a government-owned vaccine manufacturer, when it was sold and is still in business as Emergent Biosolutions. Its chief product is an anthrax vaccine.

MBP made a wide variety of vaccines. In its last years as a public entity it sent hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to help refugees from the genocide in Rwanda. And when a budget standoff between then-President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress forced the shutdown of the CDC in the 1990s, one could call the CDC and hear a voice message saying if you represented a public health agency in need of certain vaccines, call Michigan. Michigan would have the vaccines.

However, the most famous Michigan connection to vaccines stems from a two-month fellowship at the University of Michigan that a young doctor from New York, Jonas Salk, had under Thomas Francis. Mr. Francis was a leading virologist and those two months gave Mr. Salk his life’s passion. He wanted to conquer viruses, and no virus was more terrifying than polio.

When Mr. Salk finished his residency, he couldn’t get a job. He was Jewish, and hospitals and universities had quotas limiting how many Jews could get jobs or admissions. We have at least advanced from that. Mr. Francis wrangled money to get Mr. Salk back to Ann Arbor, where over the next two years the two men developed a vaccine for a flu strain.

Mr. Salk won appointment to the University of Pittsburgh and there began research into how many strains of polio virus there were and he turned that into research into a vaccine. By 1953, he had developed a vaccine but it needed critical tests.

Mr. Francis oversaw the tests and in April 1955 held a press conference. It was so important a press conference it was broadcast live to 54,000 physicians sitting in movie theatres across the county. Eli Lilly and Company paid a literal fortune to broadcast it live over radio. Millions of Americans tuned in. Department stores turned their public address systems to the broadcast. Judges suspended trials so everyone in the courtrooms could listen. This was how devastating a disease polio was, a disease that struck down kids my mother knew in Cleveland and my father in Boston. The whole nation paused to hear a press conference broadcast from Ann Arbor about polio.

The results: the vaccine was safe and effective. And before the press conference ended, church bells rang across the nation. Special services were held in churches and synagogues. Every newspaper trumpeted the news, here is how the Chicago Tribune handled it (and for extra fun, you get to see the whole paper for that day).

The contrast to today could not be more striking. Parents opposed to vaccines do so for religious reasons, and I try to understand. But in 1955, churches rang their bells and held special services of thanksgiving because a vaccine was proven. What has changed in whose theology?

And parents wept, with relief, with joy and with sadness at the memories. So too did my mother.

Polio was conquered, but other diseases were common and this reporter suffered through chickenpox, measles, mumps, and those are the ones I remember. Kids would be missing from my classrooms for weeks, weeks, for diseases they caught. It was common for teachers to put together lesson plans and gather up books to give a family so their children would not be too far behind when they were finally well enough to come back to school. My mother brought bags of schoolwork home to me several times. With time, vaccines for so many other diseases, such as mumps and chickenpox, were invented. Someone like myself can look at disease reports and be pleased of few, if any, reports of diseases that once were common.

This is our history. We do not wish this to be our future. In launching I Vaccinate, officials talked about how people no longer recall the effects of these diseases. Many people have not forgotten the past so much as they never knew what happened and the effects it had.

I have not forgotten. And to any parent questioning whether to vaccinate their kids, look to our history, consider the suffering and anguish and outright fear people had, and then get your kids to the doctor.

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