Clamp down on scrap metal thieves

From the Detroit News

Blight is eating away at neighborhoods in Detroit and other urban communities in Michigan, abetted by scrap metal thieves who strip buildings of their pipes and wires. These thefts render many of the structures too expensive to rehabilitate.

The Michigan Senate is considering a three-bill package aimed directly at illegal scrappers. The new laws would give police and prosecutors more tools to combat the thieves, and to hold metal dealers accountable for what they purchase. Lawmakers should give their approval.

The legislation would require anyone selling scrap metal more than two times per year to purchase a valid permit from their local sheriff’s office for $25.

Dealers would have to maintain records of what they buy, and from whom, and would only be able to buy scrap from sellers who have obtained a permit.

Penalties for scrap dealers who buy or sell stolen metals would be increased. They include loss of their license for one year, five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

The legislation has the support of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, among others. Officials say the proposed laws will help with the prosecution of scrappers and scrap yards that violate the law.

One key component is the establishment of a Scrap Metal Offenders Registry, financed by a $1 fee on each metal transaction, paid by the seller.

The revenue would be divided equally between a Scrap Metal Offenders Registration Fund and local law enforcement to help create and maintain the registry.

Stopping illegal scrapping is an essential piece of urban renewal efforts. In Detroit, scrappers have become so bold they even steal the copper parts out of streetlights, accounting for an estimated 25 percent of the non-working lights in the city.

Metal product thefts also hit schools, churches, cemeteries, parks, farms, automobiles and occupied houses.

The legislation has bipartisan support in the Senate; it’s co-sponsored by Sens. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, and Michael Kowall, R-White Lake Township.

Detroit and other struggling urban communities need every possible weapon in their war against blight. These new laws should give law enforcement more leverage against both thieves and the crooked dealers who enable them.

Passage of the package would signal that Michigan is serious about attacking illegal scrapping.


From The Detroit News:

Flint leaders tout region as ‘transforming’ in state Senate Economic Development Committee meeting

From by Jeremy Allen

FLINT, MI – Dozens of people gathered at St. Luke’s New Life Center in Flint on Friday, Sept. 13, as local economic and political officials and leaders from around the state praised the city’s redevelopment and revitalization efforts in presentations made to the State Senate Economic Development Committee.

“An exciting transformation is taking place in Flint,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said in his address to the committee.

“While known as a manufacturing center, Flint is establishing itself as a new kind of college town, a destination for medical sector companies, an intermodal and international hub for trade and transportation and a center of innovation.”

The economic development committee – made up of senators from across the state, including Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint – has taken its meetings from the Capitol in Lansing communities across the state including Escanaba, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit and now Flint.

The purpose of the meetings, said committee chairman, Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is to highlight the bright spots of economic development in cities as they redefine themselves and compete in a global market.

Ananich said that it was important to showcase what’s happening in Flint with the public-private partnerships and the development of the city’s master plan, among other revitalization efforts.

“We chose Flint and Genesee County, obviously, because we have a strong history of manufacturing, but we’re changing our economy and talking about some of the things we’re doing well and some of the challenges we have,” he said.

The committee chose to meet at St. Luke’s New Life because it serves as an epicenter for a lot of the change that the city hopes to replicate.

St. Luke’s is involved with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Community Ventures program – which sets aside $10 million in state and federal funds annually to train and provide full-time employment to the structurally unemployed.

The program at St. Luke’s is responsible for creating 27 full-time jobs for Flint residents and has made a commitment to create an additional 75 jobs within the next 18-22 months for city residents. Statewide, the Community Ventures program has provided jobs to 1,020 Michigan people since its launch on Oct. 1, 2012.

“When we started this some months ago, we only had nine people (with jobs at St. Luke’s). They now have 27 people who are employed and being paid – 27 people who were virtually unemployable just a summer ago,” said Phil Shaltz, owner of Shaltz Automation and business partner with St. Luke’s.

“One of the things we know about economic development is that we want to leverage our assets. What (the sisters at St. Luke’s) have done is create an asset. This is the type of development that will allow people to hone their skills and grow so they can go out and get other jobs within the community.”

Representatives from the University of Michigan-Flint, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College and Kettering University – the city’s largest land owner – all spoke about how the redevelopment of Flint has helped to improve their institutions, and what they’re doing to help in the revitalization.

Dr. Robert Simpson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kettering, said that the university is taking steps to ensure that the city of Flint continues to grow because it also helps the Kettering do the same.

“Our goal is to clean up the blight to make the University Corridor from Kettering to downtown Flint walkable and we’ve taken steps by adding a state-of-the-art security system on campus, adding the police center and Einstein Bagel, and taking control of the nearly 11,000-seat Atwood Stadium,” he said.

In addition to the universities, representatives from the county’s medical institutions – Hurley, Genesys and McLaren – each spoke at the hearing. Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy’s CEO Phil Hagerman, who is also instrumental in creating jobs for St. Luke’s, spoke about his company’s role in economic development.

“In just a few short years we’ve gone from 295 employees  to more than 800 employees. We expect to be able to hire about 15 to 20 people a month for the next few years,” Hagerman said.

“And we’re hiring for a wide range of positions, so even people who start out at entry-level positions have the opportunity to earn $50-$60,000 by moving up within the company.”

Genesys’ CEO Betsy Aderholt highlighted the company’s new downtown Flint facility. She said that it was part of the company’s 10-year plan that will invest $600 million into the Flint area and provide thousands of permanent and temporary jobs. She said the investment aligns with Flint’s “Eds and Meds” outlook for developing and transforming into a hub for educational and medical sectors.

Other presenters included Kevin Sylvester, the communications director for Genesee County Drain Commissioner, who discussed the economic impact of the new Karegnondi Water Authority Pipeline; Kyle McCree, the director of business financing for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, who discussed how the chamber provides support to its 1,000-plus members and the city as they look to reinvent the region; and representatives from the MEDC.

“Through our comprehensive master planning process – the first in more than 50 years – we imagine Flint as a city with a growing and diverse 21st century economy that spurs innovation and small business development and prepares our workforce for jobs that offer a livable wage and sustains a community with opportunity for all,” Walling said.

“We work hard every day to retain, attract and grow businesses right here in Flint, Genesee County and along the I-69 International Trade Corridor throughout mid-Michigan.”

State Senate Committee for Economic Development to host committee meeting in Flint

From by Jeremy Allen

FLINT, MI – Representatives from the political, business, health and education sectors will converge on St. Luke’s New Life Center on Friday, Sept. 13, as the Michigan Senate Committee for Economic Development hosts a committee meeting in Flint to discuss the general economic outlook of the city and its surrounding areas.

The committee chairman, Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, said Flint was chosen as a host city for the committee’s meeting because it represents a part of the economic engine that runs the state.

“Some of the complaints I get when talking to people start out with ‘You guys in Lansing.’ Well, we meet in Lansing, but we’re really a group of people who represent the entire state,” Kowall said.

“By taking our show on the road and out of Lansing, we really get a chance to bring Lansing to the people.”

Local representatives such as Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, Sen. Jim Ananich,D-Flint; Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc Township, and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, are all expected testify about the economic outlook of Flint and Genesee County, as well as provide introspection on the master plan and how the area hopes to bring manufacturing jobs back to the area.

“(This Flint meeting) is going to be based about a lot of manufacturing and spurring economic development,” Kowall said.

“It’s really important to focus on the businesses that have been here and weathered the economic typhoons here. Those are the ones that are overlooked sometimes, but we’re trying to change that.”

Kowell said that the committee has been hosting its meetings all across the state – from Detroit to Escanaba – meeting with communities and business leaders in hopes of showing people what it has been working on and how it impacts the state economically.

“While we’re in the different cities we try to get out and tour local business,” he said.

The committee will hear testimony from Kildee, Walling, Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright; representatives from the University of Michigan-Flint, Mott Community College, Baker College of Flint and Kettering University, Hurley Medical Center, Genesys Health System, McLaren Health Systems, Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Goodwill and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Spinal Column: An overview of road funding

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District
As summer winds down and the days get shorter, we will be seeing fewer orange barrels on the road. As in previous years, there was a substantial amount of road construction throughout the state in 2013.
Road work is a never-ending job. As soon as one road is fixed, another is in need of repair. But while road repair will always be with us, are we in Michigan currently approaching the problem the right way? Might there be better ways to fund our roads?
Once again, road funding is an issue before the state Legislature. Three main questions arise when the topic of road funding is considered: 1) Are we building our roads the best way possible given Michigan’s transportation needs and other considerations, such as climate and environment? 2) How much money is sufficient to fund better roads on an ongoing basis? and 3) What is the best method for raising these funds?
There are significant differences of opinion regarding the amount of funding necessary to maintain our roads. What most people seem to agree on, however, is that our current system is not raising enough money to build better roads and keep them in good repair. A large part of the problem is that less money is being raised through fuel taxes due to the increase in automobiles’ fuel efficiency, an increase in the use of electric and hybrid vehicles—which require little or no fuel—and other factors.
There are four key approaches to solving the problem of inadequate funding. One approach is to raise the necessary funding by using a traditional “user-fee” mechanism via a registration tax and fuel tax increases. This would raise the tax on gasoline and diesel fuels, raise vehicle registration taxes and eliminate carve-outs for certain types of commercial vehicles. Consumers would see an increase in gas prices at the pump under this approach.
I don’t think increasing gas prices is an effective way to raise the money needed to maintain our roads.
Another proposal is to eliminate fuel taxes and raise the sales tax to replace and increase transportation revenues. This would eliminate the excise taxes on fuel, raise the sales and use taxes by 2 percent—from 6 to 8 percent total—and constitutionally dedicate the revenues to transportation purposes. This option would mean a decrease in gas prices. 
A third plan would eliminate the sales tax on fuel and replace the revenue for schools and locals via a sales tax increase. This would:
  • Exempt gasoline and diesel fuels from the sales tax;
  • Eliminate the flat tax on gasoline and diesel;
  • Establish an indexed tax rate on fuel based on the average rack price of fuel;
  • Replace revenue for the School Aid Fund (SAF), revenue sharing, and/or other programs with a 1 percent increase in the sales and use taxes— from 6 to 7 percent total. Funds would be dedicated to the SAF, revenue sharing, and/or other programs at levels determined by the Legislature; and
  • Possibly restore some of the percentage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that was reduced last term.
Under this proposal, prices at the pump would remain the same, on average.
Finally, a fourth approach would raise the sales and use taxes 1 percent— from 6 to 7 percent total—and constitutionally dedicate the revenues to transportation purposes. Prices at the pump would increase under this proposal.
I hope you find these explanations of the various approaches helpful. Determining the best solution to the problem of road funding will be an ongoing debate in the Legislature. 
What do you think about the different proposals? Do you think one approach clearly stands out as the best? Do you favor a modified version of one or more of them? Please do not hesitate to contact my office at (517) 373-1758 or at to share your opinion. 
I look forward to hearing from you!
Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.
Note: This column first appeared in the Spinal Column.