The Detroit News. Nov. 26, 2015
State should fix tax code to attract IT jobs.
The $5 billion data center proposed for the Grand Rapids area gives Michigan another opportunity to make its tax policy competitive for attracting jobs and investment.
Nevada-based Switch says it will build the largest data center campus in the eastern United States if Michigan makes critical changes to how it taxes such technology businesses.
Switch wants to fill the empty pyramid-shaped Steelcase building with 1,000 employees and billions of dollars of computing equipment that will store and process data for some of the world's largest corporations. The company also plans additional construction on the site.
What makes Michigan appealing, says Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy for Switch, is the available building, the fact that it is outside earthquake and hurricane zones, has a reliable supply of electrical power, a fiber data infrastructure and the Grand Rapids airport.
And its executives say they really like Grand Rapids.
"We were blown away by the community," Kramer says. "We believe it will be very attractive for our clients, who will be locating workers here."
What doesn't appeal to them? A tax policy that Kramer says is not competitive for the data center industry, a fast growing segment.
Most of Michigan's neighbors, Kramer says, do not charge companies like Switch a sales and use tax on computing equipment, nor do they apply the personal property tax to the equipment once it's installed. Michigan does.
And for a company like Switch, which plans a massive investment in such equipment, that could amount to $300 million over 10 years. Even the allure of Lake Michigan can't overcome that competitive handicap.
"For a company making a sizable investment, that is a non-starter," Kramer says.
Gov. Rick Snyder has a very tight policy in regards to attracting jobs with tax breaks and credits. It's the right strategy. A tax code should be universally attractive and not bent on a company by company basis.
That approach is what is busting Michigan's current budget, as businesses that were awarded breaks years ago are now cashing them in.
So Snyder should not approve a special deal for Switch, even though its investment in Michigan will be twice as large in terms of dollars than construction of the new Detroit River bridge.
What he should do is fix the tax code for Switch and all businesses like it. Bills pending in the Legislature that could be voted on as early as Dec. 11 would do just that.
Kramer contends that if Michigan lifts the sales, use and personal property tax on data centers, it would trigger an influx of those jobs to the state. He anticipates that companies that do business with Switch will locate operations here once the center is built.
The Snyder administration says it wants to examine the tax code and make adjustments to accommodate Switch and other data center companies, without making the exemption so broad it creates a revenue crunch.
But as Snyder knows from recent experience in Michigan, tax reductions that draw jobs and investment increase tax revenues. The employees hired by Switch and other companies in the industry would pay income taxes, and the company would pay the corporate income tax and other levies.
Other states have already recognized the benefits of not punishing tech companies for making investments in equipment. Michigan should do the same.
The Lansing State Journal. Nov. 26, 2015
Greater Lansing Food Bank is a pride-point.
The Greater Lansing Food Bank is a testament to the giving nature of the community and the people who live and work here.
Many give, but few know the full impact of the food bank: more than 7 million pounds of food collected and distributed to combat hunger across the seven counties it serves, working to alleviate the higher than 15 percent average food insecurity rate felt by area residents.
In addition to collection and distribution of non-perishables, the food bank also coordinates:
.The Garden Project, to encourage residents to grow their own food and experience agriculture;
.Food Movers, to transport excess perishables to places of need;
.Lansing Roots, to help create business opportunities for growers;
.and Community-Supported Agriculture as a sort of vegetable subscription program.
(For information on these and other programs, go to http://www.greaterlansingfoodbank.org.)
All of this helps combat hunger for those in need in Greater Lansing. The mission of the organization is to "partner to alleviate hunger one meal at a time, to create a future where everyone has access to nourishing food."
Partnerships range from letter carrier food drives to the donation envelopes recently distributed in the State Journal.
Working with senior living centers and youth education facilities across the region, the food bank brings real results to tens of thousands of people in need.
Among the statistics:
.38 percent of people served are younger than 18.
.8 percent are 65 and older.
.46 percent report having to choose between paying for food and heat.
.34 percent report having to choose between paying for food and medicine.
.36 percent of households served have one or more employed adults.
The Food Bank also raises money to provide emergency assistance to those in need. In previous years, the Envelope Campaign fundraising effort has raised more than $1 million for the food bank.
The food bank serves more than 100,000 people per year; that is more than 100,000 children, seniors and other vulnerable segments of the community that need help.
Food is a basic necessity and no one in our community should be forced to go without. The Greater Lansing Food Bank is on the front lines of this issue. Consider sharing your wealth.
The Port Huron Times Herald. Nov. 24, 2015.
Optional kindergarten is a quaint, outdated idea.
That 5-year-olds aren't required to attend kindergarten in Michigan was surprising enough. Even more surprising is that kindergarten is optional for school districts in a handful of states.
Sixteen states, though, mandate kindergarten attendance for 5-year-olds, and Michigan should, too. The simplest argument for it is what was obvious until yesterday, when nearly all of us learned that kindergarten was optional: Just keep on doing what we've been doing for generations. Shop for your child's first-day-of-school outfit and make an appointment for kindergarten roundup, not necessarily in that order.
School and kindergarten are not the same as they were a few decades ago. Milk, cookies and naps are off the kindergarten syllabus. They've been replaced by reading, writing and arithmetic. When American kindergarten was invented — amazing, not until the late 1800s — educators' goals were to tame the little beings who didn't know how to sit still, hold a pencil or play well with others.
Today, the goal at kindergarten graduation is to hand out diplomas to kids who can read them.
Some call it the new first grade, but it really is the first year of formal schooling for nearly all our children. Any parent who exercises the option of keeping his child out of kindergarten is placing him at a serious disadvantage both in first grade and in the rest of his school years.
We expect more from schools and the education they deliver. We set standards and then we raise them. Leaving kindergarten out of the mix — even as an option — seems as backward and old-fashioned as a pot-bellied stove in a one-room school.
Mandatory kindergarten is clearly the right thing to do.
All-day kindergarten might be a harder sell.
It, too, is the right standard to set. Just as with optional kindergarten, parents already have voted. When given a choice, parents sign their children up for kindergarten more than 90 percent of the time. When given a choice between half-day and full-day kindergarten, parents overwhelmingly choose all-day classes. In some districts, they choose all-day kindergarten even when they have to pay out-of-pocket to attend.
Of Lansing's many educational reforms, mandatory full-day kindergarten might be one of the smarter ones.
The Midland Daily News. Nov. 24 2015
Making a difference.
The campaign began in September and lasted into November, two months of hard work filled with an enthusiasm that kept building until the climax last Wednesday night.
On that night, the United Way of Midland County had two very special reasons to celebrate. One, the agency marked its 95th year of serving the community. And two, through the support of that community, the United Way of Midland County topped its fundraising goal of $4.9 million, bringing in an extra $16,827 to help those in need during 2016.
This is a big deal. Hitting campaign goals year after year requires a tremendous commitment from residents, businesses, corporations, community leaders, campaign volunteers and organizers and, of course, the United Way staff, which gives so much of itself to ensure the campaign is a success.
This year's campaign chair, Jim Nigro, understands that commitment very well, as he led this year's fundraising effort to a successful finish line.
"We've got a lot of history, coming together to make positive change," Nigro said at Wednesday's celebration, referring both to the agency's 95th anniversary and the way the community responds each year to the United Way campaign. "I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting United Way."
We join Nigro in saying thank you to every person who contributed in any way to this year's campaign. Each donor can be assured that because of their generosity, the agencies that provide a helping hand to those in need will have the resources next year to continue to make a difference in people's lives.