Welcome to my latest e-newsletter! In addition to the usual information on state news, things to do and other community information, I am adding a new segment for 2018. I will give a one page overview of an issue or aspect of government, offering facts and both arguments if there is disagreement. My hope is that these overviews will raise awareness of some important issues and shed light on subjects that are often overlooked because they are complex or difficult to follow because of a very long process involving many groups.
Treasury: Resolve to Be Ready for Tax Scams in 2018
As the state of Michigan begins a new year and the state income tax filing season approaches, the Michigan Department of Treasury is asking taxpayers to resolve to be ready for tax scams in 2018. Cybercriminals typically increase their activity in the first part of the year through phone scams and email phishing schemes. These scammers try to obtain personal information using different tricks and tactics so they can file income tax returns and claim refunds on behalf of unsuspecting taxpayers. Some scammers may also allege a taxpayer owes taxes and aggressively demand payment for a quick payout.
Treasury will never:
- Initiate a phone call or email to ask for personal information.
- Call or email to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, Treasury will first send a bill through the U.S. mail to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Cybercriminals often alter caller ID numbers and emails to make it look like the state Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service or another official agency is contacting a taxpayer. Scammers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.
Taxpayers who have received a call or email from a scammer should report the case to the IRS through the web or by calling 800-366-4484. To learn more about tax-related identity theft, go to www.michigan.gov/identitytheft.
MI-TIME Line program is expanding at the Secretary of State
The innovative MI-TIME Line service that allows customers to use their phones or computers to make appointments or hold their place in line is being installed at 13 more offices over the next several months. The program expansion includes the following offices:
- Battle Creek (Calhoun County PLUS)
- Bay City (Bay County PLUS)
- Clio (North Genesee County PLUS)
- Delta Township (Lansing Area PLUS)
- Marquette (Marquette County PLUS)
- Port Huron (St. Clair County PLUS)
- Rochester Hills
- Trenton (Downriver Area PLUS)
MI-TIME Line sends text updates to notify customers of their estimated wait time and allows them to request more time if needed. Those who don’t have a mobile phone can check in at the MI-TIME Line kiosk and get a printed ticket. To schedule your appointment or get in line, go to http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1640_3408_9135-315692–,00.html
DNR conservation officers offer snowmobile safety tips
With Michigan’s snowmobile season in full gear, Department of Natural Resources conservation officers remind riders that safety is key to enjoying their sport.
“Snowmobiling is a great way to spend the winter months,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, DNR recreational safety programs supervisor. “But when operating a snowmobile or any type of vehicle, safety comes first. This includes riding within your own abilities, operating at safe and appropriate speeds for the terrain, always wearing a helmet and proper clothing, and never operating your machine while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
Other safety tips include:
- Always keep your snowmobile in top mechanical condition.
- Wear insulated boots and protective clothing, including a helmet, gloves and eye protection.
- Only ride in designated areas and trails.
- Check weather conditions before riding and be aware of changing trail conditions.
- Pick safe places to stop off the trail and never park or stand in the trail.
- Exercise additional caution when riding on an unfamiliar trail, or when riding at night.
- Never ride alone; use the “buddy system.”
- Keep headlights and taillights on at all times and keep them clear of snow, ice or other debris.
- Be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.
- Use caution when approaching a trail intersection, come to a complete stop when required, and look both ways for traffic before proceeding.
- Stay clear of trail groomers, if possible. Never follow groomers, and give them the right of way.
- Avoid crossing frozen bodies of water, when possible. If you must cross, never do so while riding in single file.
- Wear a life jacket if operating on frozen bodies of water.
- Don’t trespass. If you don’t know whose property you are on, you probably don’t belong there.
Snowmobile safety education training and online safety courses are recommended for all snowmobile operators and are required for those who are 12 to 16 years old. Snowmobilers also should learn the rules and regulations for snowmobiling in Michigan, as well as the universal snowmobile trail signage developed by the DNR to help ensure safety on the trails. A valid snowmobile registration from the Michigan Secretary of State, or another state or province, is required for all snowmobiles. Snowmobilers also must purchase a trail permit, which is valid for one year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), when operating on public trails.
Learn more about snowmobiling in Michigan at michigan.gov/snowmobiling.
DNR Ice Safety Tips
Ice fishing is another great outdoor activity many Michiganders enjoy each winter. Sadly, each year a number of people fall through the ice. Here are some things to consider before you go out:
- Ice conditions vary from lake to lake. Find a good local source – a bait shop or fishing guide – that is knowledgeable about ice conditions on the lake you want to fish on.
- Purchase a pair of ice picks or ice claws, which are available at most sporting goods stores.
- Tell a responsible adult where you are going and what time to expect you back. Relaying your plan can help save your life if something does happen to you on the ice.
What to know about ice:
- You can't always tell the strength of ice simply by its look, its thickness, the temperature or whether or not it is covered with snow.
- Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is very porous and weak.
- Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.
- If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.
- Be especially cautious in areas where air temperatures have fluctuated. A warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice; however, when temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, "spongy" or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.
- The DNR does not recommend the standard "inch-thickness" guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety. A minimum of four inches of clear ice is required to support an average person's weight on the ice, but since ice seldom forms at a uniform rate it is important to check ice thickness with a spud and ruler every few steps.
Venturing out on the ice:
- The DNR does not recommend taking a car or truck out onto the ice at any time.
- If you are walking out onto a frozen body of water with a group, avoid crossing ice in a single file.
- Never venture out alone without telling a responsible adult on shore your plans.
- Test ice thickness with an ice spud before you settle on a spot.
- If you are with a group, avoid standing together in a spot. Spread out.
- Wear a life jacket and bright colored clothing.
- Take a cell phone for emergency use.
- Look for large cracks or depressions in the ice and avoid those areas.
- Remember ice does not form with uniform thickness on any body of water. Underwater springs and currents can wear thin spots on the ice.
- If you fall through:
- Try to remain calm.
- Don't remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won't drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
- Turn in the water toward the direction you came from – that is probably the strongest ice.
- If you have them, dig the points of the ice picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
- Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
- Get to shelter, heat, dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks.
- Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature).
Experience #MiFreeFishingWeekend Feb. 17-18 and enjoy the outdoors
Grab a fishing rod and enjoy some of the finest fishing Michigan has to offer during the 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend Saturday, Feb. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 18. On those two days, everyone – residents and non-residents alike – can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.
In addition, during #MiFreeFishingWeekend, the Department of Natural Resources will waive the regular Recreation Passport entry fee that grants vehicle access to Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas. Several locations also may be hosting official 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend events that are perfect for the whole family.
Michigan has been celebrating winter’s #MiFreeFishingWeekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state's vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.
Official winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others. A full list of these events can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing.
State Budget Overview
The Michigan Legislature is starting to get deep into the work required to create the next budget for Michigan. For the next few months, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will work intensely with the governor’s office, including departments of state government, interest groups, and citizens to form an agreement on how to best use state revenue to manage and operate all aspects of state government. I feel fortunate to have been on the House Appropriations Committee each of my three terms as a Representative and will share some of what I have learned in hopes that it sheds light on a long and complicated process that appropriates more than $50 billion a year.
The state budget is created through a multi-step process. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC) is the unofficial start to the formal budget process. This year’s CREC was held last week. At this conference, multiple economists from diverse backgrounds including both the Senate and House Fiscal agencies, Treasury Department, State Budget Office and the University of Michigan present their economic forecast and estimates for state revenue. CREC is required by the Management and Budget Act, and is meant to establish an official economic forecast of major variables of the national and state economies and anticipated state revenues. This means that the state budget is created, in part, based on predictions of what will happen in the federal government. Occasionally, the state has to adjust the budget because of federal policy passed after months of work at the state level. To see the executive summary of the 2018 CREC results, please visit: http://www.house.mi.gov/hfa/PDF/Revenue_Forecast/Consensus_Executive_Summary_Jan18.pdf.
Following CREC, the next big step is for the governor to release an executive budget recommendation, indicating his or her priorities for the state. Because the governor can approve or veto the budget, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees often start with the executive recommendation and then make changes that reflect their own priorities. The House currently has 15 appropriations subcommittees that meet to create specific budgets that will be combined to form the House version of the budget. The process in these subcommittees often includes public hearings during which state departments, interest groups and members of the public offer testimony and suggestions. Once complete, the subcommittee recommendations are reported to the full Appropriations Committee. Additional changes may be made before committee members vote on individual budgets and the entire state budget. The budget then moves to the House Floor where all members have an opportunity to vote on and speak to the budget. The Senate follows a similar process, but will usually have different priorities. The two budgets are usually reconciled in a conference committee before one legislative budget is agreed upon and sent to the governor for approval.
For fiscal year 2017-2018, the Michigan Legislature appropriated more than $55,500,000,000. These funds were appropriated to state departments and services including agriculture & rural development; community colleges; corrections; education; environmental quality; health and human services; higher education; judiciary; military and veterans affairs; natural resources; school aid; state police; and transportation. Funding for these departments varies greatly; for example, the Department of Health and Human Services received $25,431,243,700, while the Department of Insurance and Financial Services was appropriated $66,000,000.
One very important but often overlooked aspect of the budget is the boilerplate language. Boilerplate refers to specific language sections in an appropriations bill that direct, limit or restrict line-item expenditures, express legislative intent, and/or require reports. Boilerplate allows the legislature to assert more control over the funding it sends to departments of state government, which otherwise may spend the funds as they choose.
For more information on anything to do with Michigan’s state budget, feel free to visit the House Fiscal Agency website https://www.house.mi.gov/hfa/home.asp or the Senate Fiscal Agency http://www.senate.michigan.gov/sfa/.
State Representative Pam Faris
48th House District