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New Michigan treasurer worked for state under Engler

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Nick Khouri wrote a memo more than 20 years ago to then-Gov. John Engler advocating that the Michigan Treasury Department collect municipal income taxes along with state taxes.

As Engler's chief deputy treasurer, Khouri's pitch for a streamlined tax collection system never went anywhere.

But starting next year, Khouri will get to oversee implementation of a new income tax collection system for the city of Detroit run by the state Treasury Department.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday named Khouri to be his third state treasurer, replacing Kevin Clinton, who plans to return to private-sector life in the insurance and financial services industry. Clinton's next employer was not disclosed Tuesday.

Khouri said he thinks state collection of municipal income taxes could be expanded to the other 21 cities that impose a local tax on workers' wages.

"Generally, I think it's a good idea for both the taxpayer and for local units (of government)," Khouri told reporters Tuesday. "It makes a lot of sense at the conceptual level."

The state has agreed to take over collections for the city in 2016, allowing residents and non-residents to electronically file their 2015 tax returns for the first time, Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton said.

State involvement in city tax collections also is expected to help Detroit collect untold amounts of unpaid income taxes from both non-resident workers and city residents who travel to the suburbs for jobs.

Khouri, 57, is currently a senior vice president at DTE Energy, in charge of the utility's governmental, regulatory and communications divisions. He previously served as chief deputy treasurer under former Treasurer Doug Roberts during the Engler administration from 1991-97.

He plans to retire from DTE next week and start work as the new state treasurer on April 20. Khouri's appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the state Senate.

Khouri of Plymouth is rejoining a Treasury Department that has been more focused in recent years on financial emergencies in troubled municipalities and school districts than ever before.

A native of Flint, a city that's been under years of emergency manager control, Khouri said Tuesday the state needs to create a more stable financial "infrastructure" for municipalities and public schools instead of continuing to deal with individual crises as they pop up.

"It's time that we all sit back, both with the Legislature, the local units themselves and obviously with us, and talk about more fundamental changes," Khouri said. "So the legacy we leave here ... is to have a more sustainable, sound, fiscal infrastructure ... for local units of government."

Before joining DTE, Khouri was a vice president and partner at Public Sector Consultants in Lansing. He also previously worked as an economist at the Senate Fiscal Agency and three different federal agencies. Khouri chairs a state advisory board that makes investment recommendations to the treasurer for the state's retirement funds.

"His strong track record of proven service in both the private and public sectors will be essential in this critical state role that directly works with and impacts Michiganders, communities and businesses," Snyder said Tuesday in a statement.

Khouri's annual salary will be $174,204, which Clinton made.

Clinton, who previously was Snyder's state insurance commissioner, succeeded Andy Dillon as state treasurer after Dillon stepped down for personal reasons in the fall of 2013. Clinton's last day on the job will be April 17, the governor's office said.

Clinton was out of the office Tuesday for a private matter and unavailable for comment, Stanton said.

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