Land(ing) The Big One

August 6, 2007
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Gov. Jennifer Granholm last month hosted members of the National Governors Association for its annual conference of meetings and hand-wringing, with Traverse City as the selected venue, which is likely to be considered her contribution to travel and tourism and bringing entertainment dollars to the state.

A Republican from the midst of West Michigan, said to be encouraged to seek Granholm’s post, however, is not to be outdone. It is rumored that Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has won the bid to host the 2008 summer conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) for a four-day conference July 24-29 — in hometown Grand Rapids. Amway properties, soon to include the exclusive JW Marriott, are the selected conference site.

Local enthusiasm is already evident even at the prospect. It’s an opportunity to show off the Medical Mile, the new Grand Rapids Art Museum (soon to be LEED certified), Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and other attractions to the elected officials and the entourage of spouses, family members, vendors and corporate affiliates. One by one, America’s elected leaders will see for themselves the expanse of Lake Michigan, the freshwater ocean devoid of sharks (and whales, despite what was written by the New York Times back when the Gerald R. Ford Museum opened).

Expect to receive a fundraising call (if you haven’t already), and stash some cash for what could be Land’s initial foray into the gubernatorial election waters.

  • East Grand Rapids resident and newly appointed U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Michigan Janet Neff has (finally) assumed her new duties, leaving open her previous position on the Michigan Court of Appeals. Who now? Rumor among the local barristers is that the first choice would be Jane Beckering if she wants it — but she may not. After that it was a toss up, with wide mention of Dennis Kolenda. Then again, the governor could find favor in looking outside Grand Rapids …

  • Ever get so hungry, you could eat the plate? At Metro Health, anyway, you could. The Grand Rapids hospital has switched to biodegradable and compostable plates, water cups and parfait cups in the cafeteria. After 18 months of testing products, a process funded by a $6,000 grant from the Michigan Energy Office, Metro Health selected plates made from sugar cane and corn from Nature Friendly Products, of Beachwood, Ohio, and corn product cups from NatureWorks, a Cargill company based in Minnetonka, Minn.

The hospital uses 190,000 plates and 90,000 cups annually, notes John Ebers, sustainable business officer. He said the switch was “cost-neutral.” Adds Ebers: “It’s impossible to tell the new cups from everyday clear plastic cups, unless you look at the bottom and see the stamp. We have had a lot of positive comments.”

Metro Health is searching for a partner to handle composting not only the biodegradable pantry ware, but food waste, as well. Ebers said composting would divert more than 70 tons of garbage from a landfill and produce fertilizer for the grounds at the new hospital in Wyoming. Next up: earth-friendly napkins and utensils.

  • Plante & Moran packed 'em in at a free seminar on the new Michigan Business Tax last week. Curtis Ruppal and Brian Howe of the accounting firm's State and Local Tax Group spent two hours on the gist of the state's new business tax, which is (was?) supposed to be an improvement over the confusing and decried Single Business Tax that expires Dec. 31.

The MBT will levy two taxes on most businesses: a modified gross receipts tax and a business income tax. (But not on financial institutions and insurance companies, which will be subject to other taxes specific to those industries.) There are also lots of credits, further complicating the plot.

A lot of complicated detail was spiced up with some editorial comment by the Plante & Moran team. Ruppal pointed out at the start that one thing the Michigan business community hoped for in a replacement to the SBT was a lower tax rate. "This is where we may have missed the mark," he said.

A question accountants often heard in regard to the old SBT was, "How can I be losing money and still have to pay tax?"

Howe said the new MBT will probably result in "more of the same" questions.

The new MBT does include "significant" personal property tax relief for commercial and industrial property in Michigan. Ruppal offered a useful tip to the audience. If your industrial personal property is classified as "commercial" personal property, see your tax assessor, because the tax credits are higher for an industrial versus a commercial classification.

Another tip was to be aware of the closing date of major transactions. If concluded on or before Dec. 31 this year, it can make a significant difference in tax liability, compared to major transactions closing on Jan. 1, 2008.

They offered a snapshot of "Who's Happy" and "Who's Not," under the MBT. The "happy" payers will be manufacturers, small business and Michigan-based companies with significant payroll and property in Michigan, and minimal sales in Michigan. The not-so-happy payers will be banks, businesses with little personal property, and non-Michigan-based companies with minimal payroll or property in Michigan and significant sales in Michigan.

Lastly, Howe read a question from the audience: Will accountants' fees be higher for interpretation of the complexities of the new MBT?

"Figuring it out will take some time," replied Ruppal.

  • The 49th Wal-Mart Supercenter in Michigan opened Friday in Grand Haven with much fanfare as the event took sail during the city’s cherished Coast Guard Festival. Eventually employing more than 300 people, the 24-hour, 184,697-square-foot store increases Wal-Mart’s Michigan presence along with 30 of the company’s discount stores, 26 Sam’s Clubs and two distribution centers in the state.

The company pledges to firm up its ties with the Grand Haven community, announcing more than $75,000 in charitable contributions to area organizations upon the store’s opening.  Company officials also maintain that Wal-Mart’s national average wage for its full-time hourly workers is at more than $10.50 per hour.

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