Susan J. Demas: Business leaders should call GOP’s bluff on Whitmer’s gas tax

Michigan Advance

March 15, 2019

Susan J. Demas

It’s almost springtime in Michigan, which means that it’s time for another glorious season of pothole roulette.

Nobody really denies that our roads are in shambles, as most Michiganders have lost a tire (or several) or coughed up hundreds of dollars for far more serious car repairs. And the $2.5 billion annual cost to really fix infrastructure is considered a conservative estimate.

But GOP leaders who control the Legislature have already called Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s gas tax increase a “non-starter” — while naturally offering up no solution of their own. There’s a danger in this obstructionism, however, as business leaders are generally not on the same page.

In Michigan, we’ve become accustomed to politicians ignoring problems for years — and then settling for half-measures and calling it good.

So Whitmer’s call for bold action is jarring.

View the full article here

Baruah: Business community ‘amenable’ to Whitmer’s 45-cent fuel tax hike

March 14, 2019

Crain’s Detroit Business

By: Chad Livengood

There’s a “growing split” between the state’s business community and Republicans who control the Legislature over the need to dramatically raise taxes to fix Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said Thursday.

After interviewing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on stage at a chamber luncheon about her proposed 45-cent gas tax increase, the Detroit chamber’s chief executive said business interests are increasingly at odds with longtime allies in the GOP-run Legislature after lawmakers passed an “insufficient” $1.2 billion road funding plan nearly four years ago.

Read the full article.

Whitmer Visits Detroit To Sell Proposed Budget, Gas Tax Increase

WWJ News Radio

March 14, 2019

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer paid a visit to Detroit Thursday, part of a statewide tour attempting to sell her proposed budget, which includes a 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase.

“I’m going to need the help of everyone in this room to get this done,” Whitmer told the crowd at a working meeting with the Detroit Regional Chamber at the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit.

Whitmer called the gas tax increase the linchpin of her budget. The increase would be phased in, in three 15-cent-per-gallon increments, starting in October, if the plan is approved.

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Detroit chamber CEO: ‘Growing split’ with GOP, biz community on roads

March 14, 2019

Michigan Advance

By: Ken Coleman

Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said on Thursday that his organization believes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $2.5 billion roads proposal is the right amount to get the job done.

Business groups and Republican lawmakers have traditionally been in lockstep on policy in Michigan. But Baruah said that a divide is emerging on roads. Whitmer spoke at the group’s luncheon at MGM Grand Casino in Detroit and received a warmer reception on her 45-cent gas tax hike than she has from GOP leaders in the Michigan Legislature and some citizens.

“I’m really hopeful,” Baruah told reporters. “I think that there is a growing split between the Republican legislators and the business community. I think that the business community is becoming much more amenable to the 45-cents gas tax to solve the roads problem.”

Read the full article here.

Whitmer to Detroit chamber: ‘There is not enough pot to fill the potholes.’

March 15, 2019 

Bridge Magazine

By: Chastity Pratt Dawsey

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stood before Detroit business leaders on Thursday clicking through slides that showed state declines in infrastructure repairs, education and water quality.

Huge charts from her 2020 budget proposal were projected on three walls as she paced on a stage at the MGM Grand ballroom in Detroit.

“We rank at bottom for education revenue growth … the bottom 20 for post-secondary (education) attainment … and drinking water is not only a problem in Flint,” she said.

“We are not positioned to win the race much less be competitive.”

She called on Detroit’s business community to help persuade Republicans who control the state legislature to support her $60 billion budget proposal built on a historic 45-cent per gallon increase to the gas tax, one the governor said would cost an average motorist $23 a month and generate an additional $2.5 billion a year for the state.

View full article here

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Address to the Business Community: Focusing on the Fundamentals

“We’ve got to get the fundamentals right first. No one is going to invest in Michigan if we don’t invest in ourselves,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

On Thursday, March 14, Gov. Whitmer spoke for the first time to the Detroit Regional Chamber members at a luncheon hosted by the Chamber at MGM Grand Detroit. The event was a part of the governor’s Road to Opportunity Tour and follows her first state budget proposal to the Michigan Legislature. The event offered regional businesses the opportunity to learn more about the 2020 state budget proposal and the governor’s vision of collaborating with the business community to accomplish her priorities for Michigan and its citizens.

From the broken roads to the skills gap, the governor addressed critical issues facing the state and the need to drive change at the foundational level in order to move forward. Michigan ranks 46 out of the 50 states when it comes to per capita spending on roads. The governor said that when it comes to education, Michigan is at a crossroads—the state was last in education revenue growth funding between 1995 and 2015.

“I didn’t get elected to manage the decline of the state I love,” she said.

Her priorities for the state and its residents are aligned with fundamental improvements to roads, education, skills attainment, and drinking water. She called for strong measures to solve the issues.

“A real solution matches the magnitude of the problem.”

Her 2030 goals for Michigan include getting 90 percent of state roads in good or fair conditions and providing resources for local roads, ensuring that 100 percent of communities have clean drinking water, facilitating 60 percent of post-secondary educational attainment for adults, and making Michigan a top 10 state in third grade literacy.


View Whitmer’s slides from the presentation here

In a Q&A with Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah, Gov. Whitmer answered questions from audience members on her gas tax increase, skills attainment plan, third grade literacy improvements, state funding, civility, and her relationship with the city of Detroit and Mayor Mike Duggan.

She stressed the importance of civil discourse and giving others the benefit of the doubt in order to “get back to the table.”

“If we share a goal, we can figure out how to get there. We have to negotiate.”

In her vision for the state, the governor cited the need to triple the number of literacy coaches to boost 3rd grade literacy, provide scholarships for high school students, and fill skilled trades jobs to 15,000 by 2024.
Whitmer commended the announcement of FCA’s $4.5 billion plan to add 6,500 jobs in the Detroit area, and said this “kind of investment is not happening in any other place in the country.” She praised the economic development occurring in Detroit, under Mayor Mike Duggan, and said that she has her “foot on the gas” when it comes to the city.

Gov. Whitmer addressed her 45-cent fuel tax increase, noting that it would be “painful for a number of people in our state.” She touched upon her tax proposal affecting the business community.

“If you disagree with me on this particular part of the plan, I’m okay with that,” she said. “We can have that discussion. The crux of solving the water crisis, skills gap, and education, and fixing the roads is the gas tax.”

Overall, she emphasized her prioritization of the gas tax as the linchpin to accomplish her goals for the state.

Gov. Whitmer expressed that the Chamber will be integral to navigating her proposals.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us. This could be a monumental step. We have to bring people to the table and give them the support they need.”

The chance to make this historic budget a reality is exhausting yet exciting, said the governor. From conversations with everyday Michiganders, there are moments of learning and inspiration. And businesses are key to driving the state toward progress.

“Use your platform, voice, and relationships to help make sure that we solve problems,” Gov. Whitmer said to the audience. “I’m going to need the help of everyone in this room.”

News Coverage:

Bridge Magazine
– Whitmer to Detroit chamber: ‘There is not enough pot to fill the potholes.’

Crain’s Detroit Business
– Baruah: Business community ‘amenable’ to Whitmer’s 45-cent fuel tax hike

Michigan Advance
– Susan J. Demas: Business leaders should call GOP’s bluff on Whitmer’s gas tax
– Detroit chamber CEO: ‘Growing split’ with GOP, biz community on roads

WWJ News Radio
– Whitmer Visits Detroit To Sell Proposed Budget, Gas Tax Increase

Regional Women Business Leaders Talk Leading with Purpose

“Purpose is not a goal we can check off as ‘completed,’ but it is a guiding light to how we should be living our lives,” said The Cabinet Studio’s Leigh Ann Hello at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s inaugural International Women’s Day Lunch.

Hello joined a panel with Faurecia North America’s Ana Almeida, Benkari Mechanical LLC’s Adrienne Bennett, and Detroit Public Television’s Christy McDonald on Monday, March 11 to discuss what it means to lead with purpose. International Women’s Day was celebrated across the world a few days earlier on Friday, March 8 to acknowledge the success of women everywhere.

Over 75 items were donated to the Coalition On Temporary Shelter (COTS) at this event, but those who were unable to bring an item can also donate here.

Bennett was the first African American master plumber in the United States, but this designation did not come without challenges. She spoke of her experiences breaking ground in a typically male-dominated profession and offered five key pieces of advice to women moving into leadership positions:

  1. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
  2. Build a network of loyal, trustworthy staff.
  3. Stand by your word. Be who you say you’re going to be.
  4. Pay your bills and pay them on time.
  5. Invest in yourself.

Ana Almeida defined purpose as a unique gift that you can bring to the table, or something your staff will remember about you when you leave. Her advice for finding one’s purpose was to craft a “purpose statement” by thinking of what kinds of experiences you love the most, as well as what qualities help you get out of times of struggle.

After their discussions, all three women were joined on stage by McDonald to talk perceptions, diplomacy at work, dealing with fear, and more.

Bennett wrapped up the event well when she said, “In the workplace, don’t think of yourself as a ‘woman,’ just be yourself. Make a place for yourself at the table and others will follow suit.”

Watch a full video of the discussion here.

Walsh Students Conduct IRS Criminal Investigation Simulation

TROY, Mich., March 12, 2019 — Walsh students, professors and 10 Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) agents participated in the Adrian Project, an interactive program designed to introduce tax and accounting career paths in law enforcement, on Saturday, March 9, at Walsh’s Troy location at 3838 Livernois Rd.

Walsh graduate students, led by IRS special agents, pieced together a hypothetical financial crime while participating in several investigation simulations. Activities included assisting in a traffic stop by an (off-duty) Troy police officer, questioning a suspect, vehicle and trash evidence searches, undercover operations, presenting probable cause to a magistrate and the execution of a search warrant while dressed in IRS-CI vests.

“We want students to see if they can imagine themselves applying their accounting skills in a career outside of the cubicle,” said David Topolewski, IRS Special Agent and Public Information Officer who discovered his own career through the Adrian Project. “This is a gratifying career that ultimately helps protect the community.”

“The Adrian Project is an opportunity for Walsh to take learning outside of the classroom,” said Richard Davidson, Chair of Walsh’s Taxation and Business Law Department. “When we bring what we are teaching to life, it shows a whole new dimension to students. They are directly applying the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classrooms to these exercises.”

“I really enjoyed it. It was an eye-opening experience and I appreciated the agents introducing us to broader IRS job opportunities.” said Walsh Master of Taxation student Kabina Bhari, who acted as an undercover agent as part of the day’s activities.

The Adrian Project was developed at Adrian College in 2002 by a professor and an IRS agent.

For information about Walsh programs, visit


Walsh is an all-business, private, independent, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering undergraduate and graduate business and technology degrees, as well as certificate programs. Founded in 1922, Walsh is one of the region’s largest business schools and Michigan’s third largest graduate business school, offering classes in several locations as well as online. Our nationally ranked programs integrate theory and application to prepare graduates for successful careers. Walsh degree programs include accounting, finance, information technology, management, marketing, taxation and other fields. For more information, please visit

Walsh is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission ( and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (

Butzel Long senior attorney Mark W. Jane elected President of the Washtenaw County Bar Association

DETROIT, Mich. – Butzel Long senior attorney Mark W. Jane will officially swear in as President of the Washtenaw County Bar Association (the “WCBA”) on Thursday, April 11, 2019 during the Annual Meeting at the Ann Arbor City Club. His term as President will begin on July 1, 2019.

He has been actively involved with the WCBA for over a decade. He has served on the Board of Directors of the WCBA since 2008, currently serving as its President-Elect. Jane also previously served as a Co-Chair of the New Lawyers Section of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, to which he received the 2010 Outstanding Young Lawyer Award in recognition for his service. His other roles with the WCBA have included serving as a two-term Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee, a Co-Chair Community Liaison Committee, and as a Director-at-Large.

Based in Butzel Long’s Ann Arbor office. Jane practices in the areas of employee benefits and executive compensation, with a focus on complex issues arising from the sponsorship of group health and welfare plans.
He has worked with employers of all shapes and sizes, providing incisive counsel regarding the tax and employment implications on the design and ongoing maintenance of a wide array of employee benefit plans, including comprehensive health and welfare plans, cafeteria plans, defined benefit plans, 401(k) and 403(b) defined contribution plans, 457(b) tax-exempt plans, non-qualified deferred compensation plans for executives, severance plans, and multi-employer fringe benefit plans. He has experience representing clients with respect to their benefit plans before various governmental agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Jane has represented employers and administrators regarding their benefit plans across a broad spectrum of industries, including automotive, retail, manufacturing, health care, municipal, tribal, and non-profit. He assists such clients with a multitude of general employee benefit matters, including:

• Drafting and reviewing required plan documents, notices, and summaries;
• Providing consultation regarding fiduciary duties inherent in managing ERISA-governed plans or plans subject to state fiduciary or third-party administration law;
• Walking welfare plan administrators through various HIPAA portability, COBRA, and ACA dilemmas in order to find workable solutions, for example:

o HIPAA portability: preparing special enrollment notices and instructing plan administrators on rules for proper notice distribution;
o COBRA: consulting with small businesses over group health plan continuation coverage responsibilities and potential exemptions; and
o ACA: advising large employers on proper methods of counting full-time employees to assess employer shared responsibility compliance;
• Correcting plan errors for tax and fiduciary compliance; and
• Analyzing service provider contracts.

He also is a frequent participant with the State Bar of Michigan. He was a long-time member of the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section Council (including serving as Chair during the 2015-2016 bar year) and also served a three-year term on the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners from 2014-2017. He currently serves on the State Bar of Michigan Social Media and Website Committee and as a representative of Washtenaw County (22nd Circuit) on the State Bar of Michigan Representative Assembly.

Jane attended Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where he earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.), cum laude. He also attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction. Jane has been named an “Associate to Watch” by Chambers USA from 2016-2018, as one of the DBusiness Top Lawyers in Michigan for 2019, and as a “Rising Star” by Michigan Super Lawyers for the years 2009-2013 and 2015-2018.

About Butzel Long

Butzel Long is one of the leading law firms in Michigan and the United States. It was founded in Detroit in 1854 and has provided trusted client service for more than 160 years. Butzel’s full-service law offices are located in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as alliance offices in Beijing and Shanghai. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting or follow Butzel Long on Twitter @butzel_long or :

Letters: Other Views on Educational Achievement

March 11, 2019

The Detroit News

Greg Handel, Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson


Detroit Chamber helps students succeed

In a recent column (“Before free college, fix the schools,” Feb. 14) Ingrid Jacques examined the governor’s proposal for the creation of a statewide, tuition-free community college program citing examples from the Detroit Promise. As the administrator of the program, the Detroit Regional Chamber understands that providing access to tuition-free college is only one part of a broader strategy to ensure that individuals have a pathway to a successful career and employers have access to the talent they need.

Jacques rightly raises the issue that there is relatively low completion among community college students. This is a national issue, not just a Michigan issue. Completion rates are a significant challenge for many reasons, including academic challenges and job opportunities in a low unemployment environment.

In 2016, the Detroit Promise adopted a more comprehensive approach and implemented a best practice model that increases student retention from their first year to their second year. This model, known as “intensive coaching” helps students overcome barriers to education from the minute they get on campus.

This program places coaches on community college campuses to provide ongoing support, encouragement, and connections to more intensive resources. This is particularly beneficial to students who are the first in their family to go to college.

To increase the number of students enrolling in college and participating in the Detroit Promise, the chamber also added access to a four-year university track. With both additions, the total current enrollment has grown to more than 1,400 students. While there is still room for growth, those students would be less likely to continue their education.

In our region in particular, there is tremendous need – and opportunity – in the skilled trades. Acknowledging this, Mayor Mike Duggan, the chamber’s partner in the Detroit Promise and its chief champion, announced at his State of the City address a new partnership for the Detroit Promise with select community colleges to cover shorter-term skilled certification tracks. Depending on the track chosen, students could join the workforce following as little as six to 12 months of coursework.

Through a partnership with the mayor’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT), scholarship students are provided opportunities to work in summer career pathway internships to build career readiness skills in various fields, from accounting to junior police or fire cadets.

While we need to be aware of the challenges with scaling up tuition-free community college, those concerns must be balanced with the need to drastically increase Michigan’s level of postsecondary attainment.

The chamber is proud of the holistic methods we are taking to increase pathways to college and careers, and we know that others around the country, such as Tennessee, are finding success as well.

Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent initiatives

Detroit Regional Chamber

School goes better with breakfast

Teachers, tutors, resource centers and even homework are all geared to helping students learn. One thing that often goes missing, however, is more basic than any piece of curriculum – breakfast.

Studies have repeatedly shown that a student who goes to school hungry is at an immediate disadvantage because it is difficult for him or her to concentrate and learn when their basic needs are not being met.

Oakland County is Better with Breakfast is a groundbreaking public/non-profit collaboration between the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Oakland Schools and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan with the goal of expanding free breakfast to students in eligible schools across Oakland County. Our model for addressing the underutilization of federal school breakfast funding is unique to both the state and the country.

The Better with Breakfast program was developed to improve academic outcomes by starting with something as simple, yet fundamental, as breakfast. Did you know only 43 percent of Oakland County students who receive a free or reduced lunch are also accessing breakfast? That means as many as 7,300 students in Oakland County alone struggle with hunger.

Oakland Schools is proud to partner with Oakland County leadership and United Way for Southeastern Michigan, to promote and support this important initiative.

School breakfast fights hunger, improves nutrition, and empowers children to learn.

By providing students with easier access to breakfast, we are eliminating a huge barrier to student achievement.

Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent

Oakland Schools

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