Documentary of the First Black Umpire in the National Baseball League to Debut in February

Black Enterprise
Atiya Jordan
Jan. 24, 2022

The day Art Williams became the first Black umpire in Major League Baseball’s National League, he knew it would be all worthwhile. And it was, just in time to celebrate his memory for Black History Month. Williams’ story—one of triumph and tragedy—will be documented by filmmaker Ed Bartel of Atlanta in greater detail.

Born in Camden, Arkansas, the Bakersfield, California-bred athlete began his career as a pitcher for his hometown Bakersfield Indians of the California League, in the Detroit Tigers organization, in 1953. He was the first Black player signed by the Tigers, mainly known for his hard-throwing right-handed pitches. In Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Ballpark, Williams laid down the roots for what would grow into a monumental career.

Image Credit: African American Registry

“I hope that this piece sheds light on someone who really contributed and opened the door for many African Americans and just people in general who have a dream,” Bartel told KGET News. “And they want to pursue it, and they don’t let anything stop ’em.”

Having ended his pitching career with an elbow injury, Williams became the second Black umpire in major league history, following Emmett Ashford and the first in the National League. Williams’ umpire journey began with local recreational baseball. While working, he was encouraged to attend Florida’s Major League Baseball’s umpire school in 1969 by a former scout for the San Francisco Giants. Later he was hired to umpire in the minor leagues before taking the big step from the Triple-A International League to ultimately working the National League Championship Series in 1975.

It all ended for Williams when he was fired after the 1977 season. By this time, he had worked 806 games in six MLB seasons. But Major League Baseball declined to renew his contract for unclear reasons. Williams suspected that not only was his dismissal racially motivated, but he believed that there was a one-Black-umpire quota system. Eric Gregg, a new Black umpire, was set to be promoted to the majors the following year. A complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was filed and was still pending at the time of his death.

Soon thereafter, Williams returned to Bakersfield and took a job as a bus driver. His health started to decline in the following year as he suffered from headaches and seizures. He underwent brain surgery for a tumor on his pituitary gland and was in a coma for six weeks until his death on Feb. 8, 1979. He was just 44.

Bartel, the documentary filmmaker, met with the late umpire’s brother in mid-January to tell the story of a history-making career.

Audie Williams told KGET News how pleased he is to celebrate his brother’s life by sharing his winnings and burdens as a pioneer in Major League history.

“I know Art would be very pleased,” said Williams, who was seven years younger than his late brother. “And it’s something that makes me feel warm and appreciative. Even my kids. They will tell me, Dad, that’s history! That was my uncle.”

Bartel’s documentary: Unbelievable: The Art Williams Story is set for release in February 2022.

View the original article.

UHY Advisors appoints twelve new managing directors, six from Great Lakes region; including largest female class

UHY Advisors, Inc. (“UHY Advisors”), one of the nation’s leading professional services firms and fifth largest in Southeast Michigan, announced the appointment of twelve new managing directors, including six from the Great Lakes region Jeremy Falendysz, John Gallo, Jenna Lamb, Matt Munn, Jeff Solis, and Loni Winkler. This year’s round of managing directors was the largest class of women, adding from other regions: Amy Bloom and Jeanine Marino from the Northeast, and Gina James in the Midwest.

Additionally, UHY Great Lakes promoted 77 other employees, including ten principals : Brian Baker
Preston Bencsik, Alison Dunleavy, Michael Federlein, Jennifer Pawlowski, Ben Raymond, Jonathon Schumaker, Brian Sparks, Jesse Stuart and Pat Wood.

“This group of managing directors demonstrates our firm’s young talent who are proven leaders” said Tom Callan, Great Lakes regional managing director. “We are continuing to diversify what our leadership structure looks like, including more female representation. We have tremendous growth plans on the horizon and this new group of talented professionals will be instrumental in executing our firm’s goals and initiatives. It’s a great time to be a part of such a people-driven organization.”

Jeremy Falendysz is a managing director of UHY Corporate Finance. With over 18 years of Wall Street and investment banking experience at some of the largest financial institutions in the world, he has completed more than 80 transactions with a total enterprise value of over $65 billion. He specializes in sell-side and buy-side M&A transactions for private/public enterprises and private equity funds, capital raises, general M&A advisory and pre-sale preparation processes, among other investment banking services. Jeremy is often called upon to speak at industry events and has been recognized multiple times for his work in the M&A space. His leadership has been helpful during the growth of UHY Corporate Finance from a handful of employees to over 20 in the last several years.

John Gallo is a managing director of UHY Advisors in the Great Lakes. He is a member of the tax practice with over 20 years of tax planning and compliance experience. He specializes in Internal Revenue Code Section 460 guidance and various construction revenue recognition methods and develops internal programs and training for construction accounting and taxation matters. Gallo leads the national construction practice, and for the first time this year, the firm was ranked in the top 25 of the “Largest Construction Accounting Firms” by Construction Executive Magazine.

Jenna Lamb is a managing director of UHY Advisors in the Great Lakes. She specializes in working with middle market companies providing a wide range of services that include attestation, business and strategic planning, financial reporting, and other related services. In addition to her involvement in the national manufacturing practice, she assisted in the establishment of the Great Lakes chapter of the Women Invested in Success and Excellence group (WISE).

Matt Munn is a managing director of UHY Advisors in the Great Lakes. He is a leader of the retirement plan and employee benefits services group specializing in designing and establishing retirement plans that maximize tax-deferred growth and accumulate wealth. Munn also has extensive experience with multi-state taxation issues, retirement plan compliance, IRS audit resolution and buy-side and sell-side advisory services. He is often called upon to contribute thought leadership in the PEO industry and is a member of multiple professional organizations in the PEO space.

Jeff Solis is a managing director of UHY Advisors in the Great Lakes. He is a member of the audit and assurance practice and leader of the national professional employer organization (PEO) practice. He specializes in performing financial statement audits and advising his middle-market clients on tax, transaction, and operational strategy. Solis is often called upon for thought leadership in the PEO space and is heavily involved in the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations.

Loni Winkler is a managing director of UHY Advisors in the Great Lakes. She is a member of the tax practice managing a group of professionals in areas of individual, corporate, and state and local taxation. Her 15 years of experience includes working closely with business owners and high net worth individuals implementing innovative strategies to minimize risk, maximize profits, preserve wealth and reduce taxes. Winkler was recently recognized in the “Women to Watch” by MICPA and is former “Notable Woman in Finance” by Crain’s Detroit Business.

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About UHY Advisors

UHY LLP is a licensed independent CPA firm that performs attest services in an alternative practice structure with UHY Advisors, Inc., and its subsidiary entities. UHY Advisors, Inc.’s subsidiaries, including UHY Consulting, Inc., provide tax and business consulting services through wholly owned subsidiary entities that operate under the name of “UHY Advisors” and “UHY Consulting”. UHY Advisors, Inc., and its subsidiary entities are not licensed CPA firms. UHY LLP, UHY Advisors, Inc. and UHY Consulting are U.S. members of Urbach Hacker Young International Limited, a UK company, and form part of the international UHY network of legally independent accounting and consulting firms. “UHY” is the brand name for the UHY international network. Any services described herein are provided by UHY LLP, UHY Advisors and/or UHY Consulting (as the case may be) and not by UHY or any other member firm of UHY. Neither UHY nor any member of UHY has any liability for services provided by other members.

Butzel attorney featured during 2022 AILA Midwinter Virtual Conference on February 3

TROY, Mich. – Bushra Malik, Butzel attorney and shareholder, will be featured during the 2022 American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Midwinter Virtual Conference on Thursday, February 3. She will participate in a panel presentation titled, “Post-NIES/ Consular Catch Up.” The discussion will focus on the most up-to-date rules and processes for U.S. entry in the new pandemic world as well as strategies and best practices for dealing with applications traditionally handled by consulates.

Malik currently serves on the AILA Department of State National Liaison Committee. She previously served as the Chair of the AILA Michigan Chapter; is the past Chair of AILA’s Global Migration Section; and speaks regularly at AILA national and international conferences.

Malik, based in Butzel’s Troy office, practices in the area of immigration law, focusing on the representation of multinational and domestic clients’ inbound and global migration needs. Her experience includes Employment based (Extraordinary Ability, Outstanding Researcher, Multinational Manager, and PERMs) and Family based Permanent Residence Petitions, Non-Immigrant Petitions (H-1B/Specialty Occupation, J-1/ Exchange Visitor, L-1/Intracompany Transfers, O-1/Extraordinary Ability, TN/ NAFTA); Employer Compliance (I-9 Audits and H-1B Public Access File Audits); J-1 waivers; Compliance under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiate (WHTI); U.S. Passports; complex naturalization matters; and currency seizures.

Notably, Malik was named to the 2022 edition of Best Lawyers® second annual Best Lawyers in the Midwest publication. Best Lawyers is the oldest and most respected guide to the legal profession. Using information excerpted from the 2022 editions of The Best Lawyers in America® and the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America, this stand-alone publication features more than 10,000 lawyers recognized for their top legal talent in the Midwest.

About Butzel

Butzel 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, Troy, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as an alliance office in Beijing. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting or follow Butzel on Twitter:

Butzel immigration law attorney invited to serve on AAPI in the Workplace panel on January 25, 2022

DETROIT, Mich. – Butzel immigration law attorney Reginald A. Pacis, has been invited by his alma mater, James Madison College at Michigan State University, to participate in an “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the Workplace” panel program on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

The (virtual) event is part of a multi-day program titled, “Identity in the Workplace,” designed to provide a platform for students and staff to hear from alumni about the challenges and triumphs that individuals with a range of identities have experienced across their careers as well as the positive work they are doing for diversity in the workplace.

Pacis focuses his practice in immigration law and has handled a variety of immigration matters including H-1B specialty occupation cases, L-1 Intracompany transfers, Labor Certification matters, Immigrant Visa Petitions/Adjustment of Status applications and interviews, TN Free trade cases, H-1B Department of Labor Investigations, I-9 employer verification compliance, and U.S. Port of Entry airport and land port interviews.

In 2021, Pacis was appointed a trustee to the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC), which helps address the needs and concerns of the Asian Pacific American (APA) communities in Michigan. Previously, he was a commissioner to the MAPAAC.

Pacis was named Immigration Lawyer of the Year 2013 in the field of Immigration Law by The Best Lawyers in America and has been listed in Best Lawyers for several years.

He is a member of the American Bar Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and the Samahang Pilipino Ng Oakland Filipino organization. He served two consecutive one-year terms from 2003 to 2005 as Chairperson of the Michigan Chapter of AILA and was a member of the AILA National Board of Governors for those terms.

Pacis also served as Vice Chair (2008 to 2009) and later Chair (2009-2010) of U.S. Customs and Border Protection AILA liaison committee; Vice Chair (2013 to 2014) of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Operations AILA liaison committee; Member (2014 to 2015) of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services National Benefits Center AILA liaison committee; and has served as a Member (2015) and later Chair (2016) of the AILA Election committee. He has presented in a number of AILA Annual Conferences Nationally and Internationally from 2004 to 2019.

Moreover, Pacis is a vice president and Board Member of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. He also is a speaker in demand on immigration law matters.

About Butzel

Butzel 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, Troy, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as an alliance office in Beijing. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting or follow Butzel on Twitter:

How to Access Procurement Opportunities Through TACOM, the Minority Business Development Agency, and Wayne County Airport Authority

As part of the Black- and Diverse-Owned Business Series, the Detroit Regional Chamber partnered with Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Pure Michigan Business Connect to host the webinar How to Access Procurement Opportunities.

The webinar featured a panel that was moderated by Chamber Chief Operating Officer Tammy Carnrike, and included:

  • Marie Gapinski, Assistant Director, Office of Small Business Programs, US Army TACOM
  • Tommy Marks, Director, Minority Business Development Agency Center, Virginia Department of Commerce
  • Malindia Westbrook, Procurement Deputy Director, Supplier Diversity DBE/ACDBE Liaison Officer, Wayne County Airport Authority

Accessing Procurement Opportunities Through the Minority Business Development Agency

Fifty-two years ago, on March 5, 1969, former President Nixon signed an executive order to set up the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). The office was created to exclusively promote equal economic opportunities for minority business enterprises (MBEs), specifically those owned by African Americans, Asian Americans, Hasidic Jews, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

Today, the MBDA continues to services those minority populations through its 45 general business centers, advanced manufacturing centers, export centers, and federal procurement centers. The MBDA also provides matchmaking opportunities and support services, such as capacity building and financial and tech assistance.

“Business centers will assist you to improve your operational efficiencies, increase resources, build a scale, manage risk, increase liability thresholds, strengthen your management teams, [and] access to secure financing, equity, and venture capital,” Marks said. “They also increase your profits and owner equity and implement and integrate new technology.”

Marks helps run 36 of the business centers around the country, all focusing on local, state, and federal government opportunities.

“A big thing that we pride ourselves on is managing relationships and sources of the deal by promoting your interests along with federal agencies, and also with corporate America,” Marks said. “In the state of Michigan, the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council is a big entity focused on minority businesses… Together, we work hand in hand with our Council presidents in order to bring what we believe can help our businesses prosper.”

According to Marks, the focus of MBDAs is to make sure small businesses get a seat at the table, both to help the business but also to help with mission responsibilities for agencies. But to ensure that, Marks emphasized that small businesses have to be ready when they come to the table, “so when those opportunities present themselves, you know that you can do them and that you can prove that.”

Accessing Procurement Opportunities Through the Office of Small Business Programs

At the United States Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), Gapinski said they are always looking for diverse-owned businesses to apply for procurement contracts. She said the best way to learn what’s available is to email her and send a capability statement and introduction to your company. One important thing to include is the past performance of your organization.

“I don’t care if it’s commercial, if it’s with one of the larger automotive companies, or you’ve been a Tier 2, or you’re just getting started – we need to know that because we have different levels available of types of work that you probably can engage with,” Gapinski said.

Gapinski and her procurement team also look at who you are, what you do, and where you need to go when you send a capability statement.

“We do market research, not only on our level, but at the contracting level. It’s not just about our goals,” Gapinski said. “I want to find you the good things you do, inventions, and the things you have available to us.”

While TACOM is not actively looking for computer or enterprise services and hardware because they have to get those types of items through CHESS contracts, there are still ample procurement opportunities through them.

“If it’s got wheels or track, if it’s petroleum water-based, if it’s on a soldier, if he shoots it, uses it, or sits on it, TACOM’s responsible for that procurement and then the repair of it as well,” Gapinski said.

 Accessing Procurement Opportunities Through Wayne County Airport Authority

At Wayne County Airport Authority, Westbrook said they are looking for small, disadvantaged businesses to participate in their Small Business Enterprises (SBE) program. It’s an authority-wide initiative governed by the WCAA Procurement and Contracting Ordinance that was created to increase the number of opportunities available to small business in Southeast Michigan on non-federally funded airport authority contracts.

Small disadvantaged businesses can also gain access to WCAA procurement contracts by getting certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), which includes Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (ACDBEs), through one of three certifying agencies in the Michigan Unified Certification Program (MUCP).

The three agencies include the Michigan Department of TransportationWayne County Human Relations, and Detroit Department of Transportation. By gaining certification through one of them, businesses will become eligible to apply to any federally funded Department of Transportation grant recipients’ DBE procurement contracts, including those by WCAA.

According to Westbrook, once a business gets certified either through their SBE program or through one of the MUCP agencies, they can “bet on those [contracts] and that their only other competition would be small businesses like themselves.”

Some procurement contracts available through the airport include runway reconstruction, janitorial services, snow removal around the terminal and airfield, audiovisual equipment, and office supplies.

“Anything you can think of that you’d need to run a city or small municipality, we need at the airport,” Westbrook said. “That’s in addition to our requirements for the concrete runways or building small buildings out on the airfield. We’re also looking for participation there.”

Panelists Contact Information:




13 Small Businesses in Detroit Selected for Motor City Match Grants in 18th Round

Detroit Free Press
Chanell Stitt

Jan. 26, 2022

A new round of small businesses have been awarded Motor City Match cash grants and the 13 winners expressed their gratitude for the program Wednesday.

The 18th round of the program is providing 63 business and building owners in all with assistance in funding, design, development, or planning. And a total pool of $500,000 will be distributed to the businesses that are receiving cash grants.

“What stood out about this round is that we have a lot of people that are ready to go,” said Drew Lucco, Motor City Match program director. “It’s been two years since we did a round, and people have been making moves during the pandemic. People have not slowed down.” Lucco said inflation is impacting construction costs, and some businesses needed a financial boost to get through that hurdle.

The 13 businesses that received $25,000 to $60,000 grants include Joyola Mei Hair, Fork in Nigeria, Mature, Detroit Dance Center, Supreme Café, RAMP Detroit, The Sandwich Lobby, Dulce Café and Bakery, Welcome Home Yoga & Wellness, Hooked on Books Child Care, Lily’s & Elise, Breadless Corporation and Detroit Soul.

“Motor City Match is continuing to give business owners the access and tools that they need to remove barriers between their success and the things that stand in front of them,” said Kevin Johnson, president, and chief executive officer of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. “We see more investments in neighborhood businesses providing services with goods and services that they need, more Black-owned and women-owned businesses, more local jobs and more money to reinvest in the community for which we desperately need.”

The city of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Economic Development Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are behind the program.

“We wanted to create a program for Detroiters to open their business and succeed in Detroit,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. He said there are plans to continue growing Motor City Match to “higher levels.”

In a news release, Duggan said there are plans to submit a proposal to City Council that will seek approval to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to increase the Motor City Match grant fund.

“No program in the country has the impact that Motor City Match does in creating a new generation of entrepreneurs, and the demand is only growing,” said Duggan. “During the nearly 70 community meetings we had on how to spend our share of ARPA funds, supporting small businesses in Detroit was something we heard from a lot of people, and so we included that in our plan.”

The program hasn’t announced new awardees since January 2020, after a one year and a half suspension, but workshops and other services continued throughout the pandemic. The applications for the 18th round opened Sept. 16, and Motor City Match received 377 applications for the four categories, with 87 applications for cash grants, Lucco said.

Here are some details about some of the grant recipients:

Joyola Mei Hair is owned by Joyell Lewis, who is set to open her hair salon in February at 1432 Michigan Ave. in Corktown. Her goal is to provide a holistic and eco-friendly hair salon experience, where she recycles hair care waste and upcycles refillable products.

Lewis received a $25,000 cash grant, which she plans to use to expand her staff. In the meantime, she will be the only stylist operating the space.

“This money is assisting me with my inventory to be able to sustain the business for the year while I build and find a staff,” said Lewis. “This money is going to allow me the capital to keep the business running while I’m able to hire up to six stylists.”

Mature, owned by brothers Darryl and Dekoven Humes,  sells casual and upscale attire for men. Mature, which started in 2017, has a philanthropic side, where it highlights and educates youths about style and excellence, and also hosts giveaways. Mature received a $30,000 cash grant.

Darryl Humes said: “This program does a great job of educating you on what’s out there, and opportunities, but it’s also a great opportunity for you to be able to take funds that can move your vision forward.”

The Humes brothers are planning to expand their business, with future projects coming to Twelve Oaks Mall and a new space in Detroit’s Fisher Building at 3011 West Grand Blvd., where they are currently located.

Detroit Dance Center is owned by Linda Hendricks, Jasmine Woods, and Dominique Hamlett. The center is set to open in spring 2022 at 831 Selden St. in Midtown. The owners are dancers themselves and will teach students ages 18 months and up about competitive dance and performing arts.

“The vision that we didn’t think was going to happen — or people weren’t going to participate because of the pandemic — is actually coming to fruition,” Hendricks said. “And our dream studio is going to come to fruition, so we’re really excited about this and having that opportunity to be able to open up something that the city desperately needs.”

City Council President Mary Sheffield commended each of the entrepreneurs who she said drive the economy by hiring locally, giving back. She said the City Council feels it is important to use city funding to support small businesses.

“The first thing that comes to mind is how difficult it is to become an entrepreneur,” Sheffield said.  “And oftentimes I hear about the barriers, the access to capital that our businesses struggle with. So I just commend the grit, the resilience, the perseverance that it takes for you all to succeed. I think that embodies in itself the Spirit of Detroit.”

Motor City Match started in 2015 to help entrepreneurs go from a business idea to an official launch. Over 80% of those businesses are minority-owned, 71% are female-owned and 64% are owned by residents of Detroit. The program has distributed $8.6 million in grants since its inception, 37 Motor City Match businesses opened in the last two years and 47 businesses are currently under construction. This has led to a reinvestment and total investment of $47 million, which Johnson said has remained in the community.

“We have been so blessed here in the city to have the kind of support from our mayor, our City Council, but most importantly, you and your spirit. The No. 1 assassin of a good idea is lack of capital,” Johnson said. “So what this does, it fights against that, and allows for the city to prosper because of your investment in us and your belief in your city.”

Chamber’s Perspective on Gov. Whitmer’s State of the State

On Wednesday, Jan. 26, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a centrist appeal in her fourth State of the State address. COVID-19 once again altered the setting for the speech, and Gov. Whitmer traveled to Southeast Michigan to speak from the Detroit Diesel plant in Redford Michigan. She centered her speech around a belief in Michigan’s strength and resiliency and “kitchen table issues”. Many of the issues and initiatives that Gov. Whitmer discussed will impact businesses, Chamber members, and the state’s economy.

Key Highlights from the Speech

  • An increase in funding for education
  • A push to return to students to the classroom
  • Eliminate Pension Tax
  • Tripling the state’s earned income tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers
  • Lower insulin costs
  • $2500 EV Rebate
  • Expand resources for mental health
  • A call for unity

Chamber Perspective on Key Initiatives

EV Tax Incentive

Gov. Whitmer made a significant proposal to support Michigan’s signature automotive industry, boost Michigan’s economy, and increase the adoption of the next generation of vehicles. The governor proposed a new $2,500 electric vehicle rebate for families that purchase an EV, with $2,000 going toward defraying the cost of the vehicle and $500 for installation of an in-home battery charger. The state tax incentive could be combined with the federal government’s $7,500 rebate on EVs.

“If we get this done, we can lower the cost of electric vehicles by nearly $10,000,” she said. “We can make it easier for Michiganders to go electric.”

This will position Michigan as both the home of mobility and a national leader in EV adoption. Furthermore, by adopting these credits, the Legislature and the Governor can build on the economic development gains of December to continue to lead Michigan forward.

Economic Development Tools

On Monday, Dec. 20, Gov. Whitmer signed the bipartisan Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) package to support small businesses and fully fund a historic economic development toolkit. Big bipartisan wins for Michigan are increasingly rare, especially ones that have a transformative impact on our economy.

The Chamber and MICHauto were able to deploy the full advocacy team in Lansing and the Detroit Region to connect with legislators and other partners around the state to push for the passage of the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund bills. The passage of the SOAR package was instrumental in General Motors’ plan to spend $7 billion and create up to 4,000 new jobs at two plants (Lake Orion and Delta Township). GM’s battery plant investments are a big win for the state and reflect Michigan’s global leadership in automotive innovation, workforce, and talent.

Earned Income Tax Credit

Gov. Whitmer called for increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income workers. The governor’s proposal calls for restoring it to the 2011 level of 20%.

Tripling the earned income tax credit is a perfect example of strategically and responsibly changing the tax code to support working families in Michigan and help incentivize individuals back into the labor force.  At a time when businesses are still struggling to find workers, it is critical that we have a tax code that rewards work.

Increasing Education Funding and Access

Gov. Whitmer also highlighted the key Chamber priority of expanding education access and increasing funding to ensure that 60% of Michigan residents have a two-year, four-year, or professional certificate by 2030. The Chamber’s 60 by 30 plan was adopted by the state in 2019, and is critical to expand talent in the workforce, increase prosperity, and ensure that Michigan is competitive on a global stage.

The Chamber will continue to monitor the Governor’s and Legislature’s proposals.

5 takeaways from Whitmer’s State of the State. From tax cuts to in-person classes

The Detroit News
Jan. 26, 2022
Craig Mauger and Beth LeBlanc

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for in-person classes in Michigan schools, targeted tax cuts and lowering costs during her fourth State of the State address on Wednesday, a speech that focused on unity during a pivotal election year.

Whitmer, whose own name will be on the ballot in November, spoke from Detroit Diesel in Redford Township, an engine manufacturer, emphasizing her efforts to improve the state’s economy and focus on what she described as “kitchen table issues.” She sought to draw differences between state government and the federal government, where President Joe Biden’s approval rating has slipped below 40%  in Michigan in recent months.

The first-term Democratic governor also attempted to counter attacks Republicans have made against her on education during the COVID-19 pandemic and rising prices on consumer goods. She laid out initiatives to boost funding for mental health, reduce taxes on retirement income and propose “the biggest state education funding increase in more than 20 years.”

“The state of our state is strong,” Whitmer said. “And it’s getting stronger every day.”

“We are doers, united against inaction,” she said at the end of her speech. “Optimists, united against pessimism. Believers, united against cynicism. We fight for each other, not with each other.

“We come together to get things done. We are capable of greatness.”

Whitmer’s speech was unusual in its setting at a manufacturing facility, believed to be the first time a governor has delivered a State of the State address from outside Lansing in more than a century, a state archivist told the Associated Press. The speech marked the second straight year that Whitmer delivered remarks virtually instead of before a joint session of the Legislature due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its own statement on Wednesday, the Michigan Republican Party described the state of the state as “fragile.” Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the Midwest at 5.6%, noted Gustavo Portela, the state GOP’s communications director.

“We need to return to sensible policies that help open our schools and keep our students in the classroom learning, we need to compete to bring jobs here not push them out of our state and we need a governor who will give our working class the relief they need with a real tax cut,” Portela said.

A call for in-person classes

Whitmer delivered her strongest call yet for school districts to offer in-person classes during Wednesday’s 26-minute speech, a request that came amid Republican pressure on the subject.

“I want to be crystal clear: Students belong in school,” Whitmer said.

“We know it’s where they learn best,” she continued. “Remote learning is not as fulfilling or conducive to a child’s growth. In-person learning is critical to social development and mental health. That’s why we will do everything we can to keep kids in the classroom.”

So far, her administration has generally left the decisions up to local districts during this school year after using broad restrictions earlier in the pandemic.

The wide majority of Michigan schools have been offering in-person instruction, but some, including Detroit Public Schools Community District and Flint Community Schools, have gone virtual in January amid spiking COVID-19 infection rates.

School officials have connected the decisions to staffing problems and a state law that ties funding to a requirement that 75% of students be in attendance.

Republicans have criticized Whitmer over the online only classes. The handling of education during the pandemic became a core issue in Republican Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race.

Eleven Republicans have formed committees to seek the GOP nomination to run against Whitmer in November. Their primary election will take place in August. One of the Republicans, businesswoman and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, blasted Whitmer, arguing the incumbent “can say she wants schools open … but talk is cheap.”

“Gretchen Whitmer is complicit in closing schools in our most vulnerable and needy communities,” Dixon said in a statement.

In a statement Wednesday, the Michigan Education Association was quiet on Whitmer’s comments related to in-person learning but applauded her plans to repeal the pension tax and “find solutions for the educator shortage.”

“For the sake of our children’s future, Michigan leaders must do more to attract and retain talented educators and school support staff — and that means increasing wages for starting and veteran educators, reducing our state’s overreliance on standardized testing and respecting educators for the professionals they are,” said Paula Herbart, president for the association.

The coming tax cut fight

A looming fight over how the state should handle multibillion-dollar budget surpluses also came into clearer view during Wednesday’s speech.

Whitmer wants targeted tax cuts aimed at seniors and the low-income workers, while Republicans who control the state Legislature are seeking broad reductions in the corporate income tax rate and personal income tax rate.

Whitmer said she plans to repeal a 2011 change that took place under former Gov. Rick Snyder and that subjected additional pension income to the state’s income tax. The Democratic governor said she wants to phase out the “retirement tax” “over the next few years,” saving 500,000 households an average of $1,000 a year.

“That’s money for prescriptions, rent, car payments or gifts for grand kids,” she said.

Some Republicans have voiced support for broadly easing taxes on retirement income. The details of the governor’s plan will be key for them. If they view it as favoring pensions over other types of retirement plans, the GOP lawmakers might oppose it.

According to the governor’s office, by the end of 2024, Whitmer’s proposal would again exempt public pensions and restore deductions for private retirement income, including private-sector pensions, withdrawals from individual retirement accounts and the portion of a 401(k) retirement savings account that is subject to an employer match.

Whitmer also wants to restore the state’s earned income tax credit to 20% of the federal credit, which benefits individuals and families with low to moderate incomes. It’s currently 6% after being cut a decade earlier.

“Restoring the EITC lifts more than 22,000 people out of working poverty,” she said.

Looking for harmony

Whitmer continued to stress her efforts to work across the aisle Wednesday night. The word “together” appeared 15 times in her speech.

“Tonight, I will stay focused on the things that unite us,” she said at one point. “I’ll speak to the progress we’ve made together, the opportunity we have right now, and why we all believe in Michigan.”

The governor spoke of the bipartisan effort to create a $1 billion economic development incentive program that helped lure a $7 billion investment in Michigan by General Motors. The Detroit automaker unveiled the plans that are expected to create up to 4,000 jobs on Tuesday, a day before the State of the State address.

“I know at times our nation’s capital feels hopelessly gridlocked, but at our state Capitol, Republicans and Democrats have shown we can come together to put Michiganders first,” Whitmer said.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the governor’s opening remarks, promising to emphasize what unites people, telegraphed what was to come in the speech.

“She has made the political decision, and frankly not a bad one in an election year, to focus on things that have broad appeal,” Baruah said.

The governor didn’t wade into ongoing debates over voting rights and gun regulations during her speech. She did briefly reference the fight over abortion.

“I’ll veto any legislation that would take away their right to choose,” she said.

Whitmer’s efforts to promote bipartisanship fell on doubtful ears with Republican legislative leaders. Whitmer’s ideas looked backwards at things already tried or started and did “little but celebrate other people’s accomplishments,” House Speaker Jason Wentworth said.

“Rising inflation, prescription drug costs and small businesses still trying to get back to full strength — these are all very real problems working families in Michigan face every day,” said Wentworth, the Farwell Republican. “The people we represent need real solutions and leaders who can deliver results.”

Election repercussions

Wednesday’s speech came more than nine months before the November election, when voters will decide whether to give Whitmer a second four-year term. Her efforts to work across the aisle and focus on what she described as “kitchen table issues” will likely be at the center of her reelection campaign.

“I show up for every Michigan family,” Whitmer said. “I want to keep delivering on the kitchen-table issues.”

Biden, the Democrat in the White House, has been criticized for rising inflation rates and struggled to accomplish some of his top agenda items. There have been questions about whether frustration with the president could hurt Whitmer’s reelection chances.

“We are all bearing the brunt of inflation,” she said Wednesday. “You see it when  you  buy groceries or boots for your kids. We have made meaningful progress to lower costs, and we should build on that work now.”

She specifically proposed a $2,500 rebate for the purchase of an electric vehicle and in-home charging equipment and touted bipartisan legislation to cap the cost of insulin at $50 a month.

“We all agree that insulin costs too much, and I know we can work together to hold drug companies accountable, lower costs and save lives,” Whitmer said. “Let’s get that done too.”

Whitmer wants to portray herself as pragmatic and willing to work with Republicans, which independent and moderate voters love, said David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University.

“There was also a big focus on bipartisan successes and possibilities,” Dulio said. “One would never know that the governor’s relationship with the Legislature has been as frosty as it has been.

“One would never know that there are so many complaints that Republicans and Democrats can’t work together.”

Whitmer and the Republicans who control the state Legislature have clashed over how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic for much of the last two years. Those battles have included a successful GOP lawsuit that eliminated her emergency executive powers and a string of high-profile oversight hearings probing her administration’s handling of nursing homes, unemployment claims and secret separation deals with appointees.

Mental health funding

Among her other policy plans, Whitmer said she wants to make “a historic investment to retain and recruit hundreds more mental health workers.” She also said she wants every person in Michigan to have “access to the mental and physical health care that they deserve.”

“I will propose another bold investment in mental health in next year’s School Aid budget too, building on work we did last year to help schools hire more than 560 nurses, counselors, and social workers,” the governor said.

She is calling for an expansion of the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program for behavioral health providers. The program currently helps employers recruit and retain primary medical, dental and mental health care providers by providing loan repayment to those entering into service obligations, according to its website.

Robert Sheehan, CEO of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, touted Whitmer’s plan in a statement.

“Gov. Whitmer’s proposals to close the behavioral health work force shortage through focused loan repayments, build upon and expand the capacity of Michigan’s nationally recognized community mental health system, foster the sustainability of school-based mental health services and close the coverage gap are exactly the kinds of innovative proposals needed to advance mental health care in Michigan,” Sheehan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has also prioritized mental health policy this session. During an event Wednesday afternoon, he said “rampant mental health emergencies” were one of the pressing issues facing the state.

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5 key points from Whitmer’s State of the State address

Crain’s Detroit Business
Jan. 26, 2022
Chad Livengood

With the fall election nine months away, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her fourth State of the State address on Wednesday to focus on pocketbook issues amid inflationary increases in food, gas and everyday household items.

“We’re all bearing the brunt of inflation,” Whitmer said. “You see it when you buy groceries or boots for your kids.”

Whitmer’s 25-minute address at Detroit Diesel’s plant in Redford Township was not delivered before lawmakers at the state Capitol because of Michigan’s ongoing fourth major wave of new cases of COVID-19.

Here are five key proposals from the Democratic governor’s speech:

Eliminating taxes on retirement income

Whitmer called for making all retirement income from pensions and 401(k) and IRA accounts exempt from the state’s 4.25 percent individual income tax.

She said the proposal could save 500,000 families $1,000 annually in taxes.

Whitmer first called for repealing the so-called pension tax in her 2019 State of the State address, her first year as governor. The proposal went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“It’s time to get it done,” Whitmer said Wednesday. “Repealing the retirement tax will help real people.”

The Whitmer administration estimates the plan would amount to a $470 million reduction in taxes for retirees.

In order to spare the state budget an immediate big hit in revenue, the governor wants to phase in the exemption over four years. The first year of the proposed tax break on retirement funds would reduce state revenue by $47 million, according to the state budget office.

In 2011, then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-run Legislature eliminated several income tax exemptions for pensions from public sector employers. In subsequent years, some Republican lawmakers have supported repealing the pension tax, but the measure has never gotten support from GOP leaders.

Whitmer’s proposal drew praise from her allies at the Michigan Education Association, but caution from one influential lawmaker.

“The focus is to find a way to responsibly provide relief, knowing that our current level of revenue is not sustainable with much being one-time federal funding,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland.

Increasing tax credit for working poor

Whitmer also called for increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income workers.

That tax credit was cut in 2011 by Snyder and fellow Republicans in the Legislature from 20 percent of the federal credit to 6 percent.

Whitmer’s proposal calls for restoring it to the 2011 level of 20 percent, or tripling the value of the current refundable tax credit.

Nearly 1 million children come from families that qualify for the tax credit and would benefit from larger refund, Whitmer said.

“We’ve done a lot of good work to lower costs, but I know families are still feeling squeezed,” the governor said. “Rolling back the retirement tax and raising the Michigan EITC will keep more money in people’s pockets, and we can ensure less comes out.”

Whitmer laid out her tax relief proposals hours after a Republican-controlled Senate committee advanced a plan Wednesday to slash the 6 percent corporate income tax and 4.25 percent individual income tax rate to 3.9 percent. They also want to create a $500-per-child tax credit. The Senate GOP plan would reduce taxes for businesses and individuals by $2.4 billion when fully implemented in the 2024 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

Tori Sachs, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative political organization, said Whitmer should support broad-based tax relief instead of the targeted cuts she proposed Wednesday.

“This was campaign rhetoric, with no details and no plan to address the real problems the people of Michigan face every day,” Sachs said in a statement.

Reducing household costs

Whitmer called for the passage of legislation that would cap the monthly cost of insulin for diabetics at $50. She said a vial of insulin can cost about $100 and most diabetics need two or three vials each month.

“Too many Michiganders are forced to forgo insulin or ration it — putting their lives at risk,”

Whitmer’s push for state government price controls on insulin came as Attorney General Dana Nessel launched an investigation this week into how big drugmakers such as Eli Lilly & Co. set insulin prices.

Three years ago, Whitmer signed into law sweeping changes to Michigan’s auto insurance laws that include cost-controls on medical care for injured drivers that went into effect last summer. The governor used Wednesday’s speech to tout forthcoming $400 per vehicle owner refund checks from the state’s injured drivers trust fund, the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Fund, or MCCA.

In December, the MCCA’s governing board of auto insurance companies approved the refund for any driver who had car insurance in place on Oct. 31. The $400 refund checks — totaling $3 billion — are supposed to arrive in mailboxes of drivers by May 8, Whitmer said.

“Her speech tonight struck me as Clintonesque … serious proposals geared toward a large audience,” said Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Spurring electric vehicle sales

On the heels of Tuesday’s announcement by General Motors Co. that it is investing $6.5 billion in Michigan for the manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries, Whitmer wants state taxpayers to incentivize buying an EV.

The governor proposed a new $2,500 electric vehicle rebate for families that purchase an EV, with $2,000 going toward defraying the cost of the vehicle and $500 for installation of an in-home battery charger. The state tax incentive could be combined with the federal government’s $7,500 rebate on EVs, Whitmer said.

“If we get this done, we can lower the cost of electric vehicles by nearly $10,000,” she said. “We can make it easier for Michiganders to go electric.”

Economic development tools

Whitmer used the speech as a victory lap of sorts for GM’s investment, which came after the Legislature created a $1 billion tax incentives fund for large-scale economic development projects. GM is getting $666.1 million of the $1 billion approved by lawmakers.

The new incentives were a direct response to critics saying Michigan is unprepared to compete for big industrial projects with southern states that pay foreign automakers direct cash grants for new investment.

“The knock on Michigan was that we didn’t have the tools to compete with other states, we moved too slowly and state government was dysfunctional,” Whitmer said.

The governor heralded the GM deal as a bipartisan achievement that could be replicated on other issues facing the state.

“Yesterday, the world saw what we can accomplish together,” the governor said. “Democrats, Republicans, businesses, utilities, and labor joined forces to equip Michigan with solid economic tools to attract big projects and create thousands of jobs.”

In response to the speech, a Michigan Republican Party spokesman said the “state of our state is fragile and the blame falls solely on Gretchen Whitmer.”

“Our economic development strategy is dysfunctional at best and our unemployment remains the highest in the Midwest,” Gustavo Portela, communications director for the state GOP, said in a statement.

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