LaMacchia: Infrastructure Issues in Flint Symptom of Larger Problem

The League's John LaMacchia (center, right) and fellow panelists.

The League’s John LaMacchia (center, right) and fellow panelists.

What’s happening in Flint, Detroit and other cities is a symptom of a larger problem. A problem where cities in Michigan are only allowed to fall with the economy but not to prosper as the economy grows. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t change the way the nation invests in communities.

This was a key message by the Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia when speaking Thursday in Washington D.C. as part of Infrastructure Week 2016. The Infrastructure Week celebration organized by the National League of Cities and its partners is to raise awareness about the nation’s infrastructure needs. Cities construct and maintain the majority of our nation’s infrastructure and depend on a solid infrastructure network to provide safe and healthy communities, and grow their local economies.

The League's John LaMacchia is in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Infrastructure Week celebration. As part of his work, LaMacchia (center left) met with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (right).

The League’s John LaMacchia is in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Infrastructure Week celebration. As part of his work, LaMacchia (center left) met with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (right).

LaMacchia, assistant director of state affairs for the League, spoke as part of a panel discussion on “Securing Our Water Future: 21st Century Solutions for 21st Century Cities”. Other panelists were Council Member Matt Zone, City of Cleveland, Ohio, and National League of Cities 1st Vice President; Council Member Ron Nirenberg, City of San Antonio, Texas, and Chair, National League of Cities Energy and Environment Committee; Commissioner Heather Repenning, President Pro Tempore, Los Angeles Board of Public Works; Tyrone Jue, Senior Advisor on Environment to Mayor Ed Lee, City of San Francisco, California; Jonathan Trutt, Executive Director, West Coast Infrastructure Exchange; and Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director, National League of Cities.

LaMacchia discussed the Flint water crisis and explained how the Flint issue is part of a much larger infrastructure problem in communities statewide.

Some of his key points included:

  • Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Gov. Rick Snyder agree Flint’s lead-tainted service lines need to be removed. But it will take at least $55 million to replace all the lead-tainted lines. Money for water infrastructure has been put into appropriations bills in the Michigan Legislature and U.S. Congress, but the bills are still making their way through those legislative bodies.
  • The service lines are just part of the problem. The rest of Flint’s water system, from aging water mains to other infrastructure, needs to be totally replaced. The city’s water system loses a large percentage of the water to leaks, one reason Flint has some of the highest water rates in the country. Again, the City of Flint will need help from the state and federal governments to modernize its water infrastructure, a process that is expected to cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • When we look at Michigan as a whole we have neglected to properly invest, maintain and right size our infrastructure.
    The league's John LaMacchia speaks on a panel during Infrastructure Week in Washington D.C. May 19, 2016.

    The League’s John LaMacchia speaks on a panel during Infrastructure Week in Washington D.C. May 19, 2016.

  • For nearly 30 years Michigan has been about 10 million people yet we have increased the amount of infrastructure in the state by roughly 50% and giving little thought to how we would maintain both the old and new infrastructure.
  • Time and time again we have built new water and sewer plants without capitalizing on the existing capacity of a nearby system.
  • This not only speaks to how we have been inefficient in managing infrastructure in Michigan but also how we have disinvested in our communities in general.
  • Why cities are important: Our goal at the Michigan Municipal League is to make Michigan communities places people want to be. Places that can attract a talented work force and businesses. Having placemaking strategies in all communities is important. But it’s hard to even think about creating great places when you’re fighting every day not to drown. How can you attract businesses and a work force if your roads are crumbling, bridges are in disrepair and you’re communities have slashed the number of police officers, firefighters, public works employees and more?
  • The numbers show that some states – particularly Michigan – do not understand the importance of cities as economic drivers. If they did they would be investing in cities. But unfortunately they are disinvesting in cities.
  • According to U.S. Census data all but one state showed growth in municipal general revenue between 2002 and 2012. View chart here.
  • Many want to blame this on a single state recession but the numbers tell a different story.
  • Why is this the case in Michigan – property values decrease in 2008 crash and the Michigan Constitution limits their ability to recover, PLUS revenue sharing to the tune of $7.5 billion over the last decade plus.

LaMacchia concluded explaining Michigan’s system for funding municipalities is fundamentally broken and unless it gets fixed we’re going to see more situations like what’s happening in Flint and Detroit occur in other communities.

Also earlier this week, NLC released a new report called, Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism. Read a blog about the report by the League’s Summer Minnick.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.

League’s John LaMacchia in Washington D.C. Talking Infrastructure

The League's John LaMacchia.

The League’s John LaMacchia.

The Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia will be in Washington D.C. Thursday to participate in Infrastructure Week 2016. The celebration organized by the National League of Cities and its partners is to raise awareness about the nation’s infrastructure needs. Cities construct and maintain the majority of our nation’s infrastructure and depend on a solid infrastructure network to provide safe and healthy communities, and grow their local economies.

LaMacchia, assistant director of state affairs for the League, will speak 2:30-4 p.m. Thursday, May 19, as part of a panel discussion on “Securing Our Water Future: 21st Century Solutions for 21st Century Cities”. The panel discussion will be live-streamed on the NLC’s Facebook page.

Other panelists are Council Member Matt Zone, City of Cleveland, Ohio, and National League of Cities 1st Vice President; Council Member Ron Nirenberg, City of San Antonio, Texas, and Chair, National League of Cities Energy and Environment Committee; Commissioner Heather Repenning, President Pro Tempore, Los Angeles Board of Public Works; Tyrone Jue, Senior Advisor on Environment to Mayor Ed Lee, City of San Francisco, California; Jonathan Trutt, Executive Director, West Coast Infrastructure Exchange; and Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director, National League of Cities.

LaMacchia will discuss the Flint water crisis but he’ll explain how the Flint issue is part of a much larger infrastructure problem in communities statewide.

Also earlier this week, NLC released a new report called, Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism. Declining funding, increasing mandates and misaligned priorities at the federal and states levels have put responsibility for infrastructure on local governments. But what ability do cities have to take up this call? The authority of cities to meaningfully address growing infrastructure challenges is bound by levers authorized to them by their states. The study finds that cities are limited in the number and scope of tools they are authorized to use, and that access to these tools is highly uneven in states across the country. Read a blog about the report by the League’s Summer Minnick.

View the report here: http://www.nlc.org/find-city-solutions/city-solutions-and-applied-research/infrastructure/local-infrastructure-funding-report

View the full infrastructure week schedule here: http://www.nlc.org/influence-federal-policy/infrastructure-week-2016

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

PPT Reimbursement and Budget Preparation Guidance from Michigan Department of Treasury

The Michigan Department of Treasury has asked us to share some information detailing changes to the Personal Property Tax local government reimbursements for 2016-17 budget preparation. Treasury has prepared a document below and requested the Michigan Municipal League pass it along to our members. If you have any questions, there is contact information at the end.

Here is the information from Treasury:

In 2012, legislation was passed providing new personal property tax exemptions for small taxpayers (starting in 2014) and eligible manufacturing personal property (EMPP, phase-in starting in 2016).  The Local Community Stabilization Authority (LCSA) Act, 2014 PA 86, requires reimbursement for the loss from the personal property exemptions.  The payments are made using the Authority’s share of the 6% use tax.

How the Loss in Taxable Value is Measured.  Beginning for 2016, the personal property exemption loss is calculated by subtracting each local unit’s current year taxable value of all industrial and commercial personal property from its 2013 taxable value of industrial and commercial personal property.  Calculations include IFT property, with IFT new facility TV reported at 50%.  Calculations exclude property classified as either industrial or commercial personal in one year but classified as either real property or utility personal in the other year.  County equalization directors will report the personal property exemption loss amounts to Treasury.

Millage Rates Being Reimbursed.  All types of millage are being reimbursed.  Except for local school district/ISD debt millage, reimbursements are calculated using each taxing unit’s sum of the lowest rate of each individual millage levied between 2012 and the immediately preceding year.  Treasury posts these rates on the Internet by May 1 of each year.  School districts/ISDs must report their current-year debt millage to Treasury by August 15.

Calculation of Reimbursements.  The personal property exemption loss is multiplied by the millage rates being reimbursed.  It is estimated there will be 100% reimbursement for all losses.  While all millages are being reimbursed, the reimbursements for certain losses and millage are calculated separately.  The following losses/millages are guaranteed 100% reimbursement:

  • Local school district and ISD millages;
  • Millage used to fund essential services, i.e. police, fire, ambulance and jails, including the loss from expiring tax exemptions that is reported on Form 5403 by the assessor;
  • Tax increment financing loss, including, for certain TIF plans, any loss from increased captured value; and
  • 2015 small taxpayer exemption loss.

Reimbursement for other millages may be at less than 100% or more than 100%, depending on the total calculated losses for those millages and the $ available for reimbursement.  We estimate the LCSA will have sufficient $ to reimburse all losses at 100%.

Beginning for 2019, 5% of the $ available for reimbursement under the previous paragraph will be distributed based on each taxing unit’s share of EMPP tax loss calculated using a modified acquisition cost of exempt EMPP.  That 5% is increased by 5% each year for 20 years, until no $ are distributed under the previous paragraph.

Taxing units will not have to claim reimbursement, except for tax increment financing plans, which will file Form 5176.  Reimbursements for most millage will be calculated using millage rates already available to Treasury.  Most local school districts receive reimbursement for their basic operating mills through operation of the state school aid formula.

Timing of reimbursements.  Reimbursement for county allocated millage will be paid on September 20th.  Reimbursement for other county millage, township millage, and other millage levied 100% in December will be paid the following February 20.  All other millage reimbursements will be paid on October 20th.

Fiscal Year 2016-2017 budget preparation.  In estimating FY 17 revenues, for the millage rates being reimbursed, local units should assume that their FY 17 property tax revenues from industrial/commercial personal property, including LCSA reimbursement, will equal their FY 14 property tax revenue from industrial/commercial personal property.  Millage increases after 2012 will not be reimbursed.

Total Amount of Reimbursements.  Reimbursements will total $374 million for calendar year 2016 losses, increasing to over $500 million for calendar year 2021 losses, as the EMPP exemption phases in.

For additional personal property tax reimbursement information, please email TreasORTA@michigan.gov, or call 517-373-2697.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Michigan Investment in Municipalities Worst in Nation – By Far, Census Data Shows

The League's Anthony Minghine discusses revenue sharing during the news conference Monday afternoon.

The League’s Anthony Minghine discusses revenue sharing during the news conference Monday afternoon.

How bad is the municipal finance situation in Michigan? It’s the worse in the nation over the last decade, according to new data unveiled at a Michigan Municipal League news conference Monday, March 21.

And the culprit? State policies and politicians who have ignored the needs of cities, in the process damaging the state’s overall economy.

U.S. Census data shows Michigan is the ONLY state in the nation where municipal revenues overall declined from 2002-12 (the most recent information available).

Across the state, municipal revenues were down by 8.63 percent over that period, led by a 56 percent reduction in state revenue sharing.

Meanwhile, overall state revenues increased 39 percent. The numbers show that the state balanced its budget on the backs of cities.

The successful news conference was covered by multiple news outlets and also was live-streamed.

savemicity-large-websticker-72dpiView articles by the Detroit News, Gongwer, the Associated Press, Crain’s Detroit Business, the Detroit Free Press, MIRS News Service and WDET radio. The Free Press report is a column by Nancy Kaffer and does a particularly good job explaining the plight of cities.

You can see all the details at SaveMICity.org, a new web site the Michigan Municipal League has set up to provide information about the severity of the municipal finance problem facing Michigan, and offer solutions over time.

The website also has a new data base showing the revenue sharing dollar amounts diverted from every community in the state from 2002 to 2015.

More than $7.5 billion has been diverted statewide in that time period. Look up your community’s information here.

One of the many charts showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state. That tiny red line you see is Michigan.

One of the many charts showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state. That tiny red line you see is Michigan.

“Our cities are facing desperate conditions,” said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

And he pointed to “fundamentally flawed” state policies providing for municipal finance, including massive cuts in revenue sharing since 2002, limits on assessment increases, but none on decreases, and other punitive state policy decisions.

Across America, the statewide average increase in municipal revenues was more than 40 percent.

The state with the next worse municipal finance revenue growth was Ohio, and there revenue grew by 25.7 percent. Around the nation, the average increase was more than 40 percent.

League Associate Executive Director and COO Tony Minghine has been leading a task force of League members and staff in examining the situation and brainstorming solutions. Minghine explained at the news conference that state policies have led to “strategic disinvestment” by cities, as they struggle to balance budgets in the face of declining revenues. He asked rhetorically whether Flint might have been able to avoid its man-made water contamination catastrophe if it had received the $63 million in revenue sharing withheld by the state since 2002 as a part of state budget balancing.

Minghine said more revenue is just one part of the League’s plan to be laid out in coming months, to try to address the pressing situation. He said cities will ask for legislative approval to address cost issues and look at the structure of local services in ways that are today prohibited by state law.

Another chart showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state.

Another chart showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state.

Wayne Mayor Susan Rowe showed how the situation is facing her city, which has seen revenue sharing cut by a cumulative $7.8 million since 2002 and has lost millions more in tax base due to decisions made at the state level regarding assessment practices. Wayne has laid off half its police force and still will run out of money in 2017. “We need the state to keep its promises to cities,” she said.

Mitch Bean of the Michigan Economic Consulting Group minced no words in putting the current plight of many cities on state policies. He pointed out that the combination of the Headlee Amendment to the state constitution and Proposal A allow assessments to drop during hard times, but limit their growth during good times. As a result, even a relatively well-off community like Farmington Hills, which saw assessments drop 30 percent from 2008 to 2012, will likely not see its tax base return to 2008 levels until 2025.

Why should state policymakers care about what they are doing to cities? Shanna Draheim of Public Sector Consultants, which has prepared a new report “Creating 21st Century Communities, Making the Economic Case for Place” said the result of these state decisions is that Michigan cities are lagging successful communities in attracting new talent. And that means the state is lagging in that vital category. You can see it in state personal income data, where Michigan has gone from a top 15 state to a bottom 15 state in per capita income since 2000.

Speakers during Monday's Michigan Municipal League press conference in Lansing. From left, Mitch Bean, Wayne Mayor Susan Rowe, Eric Lupher, Anthony Minghine and Dan Gilmartin.

Speakers during Monday’s Michigan Municipal League press conference in Lansing. From left, Mitch Bean, Wayne Mayor Susan Rowe, Eric Lupher, Anthony Minghine and Dan Gilmartin.

“States that have invested in cities are doing the best. They are growing economically. Michigan has the opportunity to do the same,” said Draheim.

But not unless we make some major changes to the state’s municipal finance policies, in a way that will let cities create the safe, walkable, fun locations that people want to move to. Until that happens, all of Michigan will suffer as the state’s economy sputters and fails to provide the public goods and economic opportunities that benefit all of us, whether we live in a big city, or rural township.

Matt Bach is director of media relations at the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.

League’s Dan Gilmartin Talks Flint Water Crisis, Infrastructure Issues at Congressional Briefing

Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin participates in a Congressional Briefing on the Flint Water Crisis and infrastructure issues in Washington D.C. Wednesday.

Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin participates in a Congressional Briefing on the Flint Water Crisis and infrastructure issues in Washington D.C. Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and fellow municipal leaders from across the nation called for a partnership between cities, states and the federal government to improve the country’s ailing infrastructure.

Gilmartin participated in a panel discussion at the Congressional Capitol Briefing earlier today (March 9, 2016) in Washington D.C. Gilmartin and the panel discussed national infrastructure issues and the Flint water crisis. Other scheduled panelists were Mayor Mark Stodola, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Councilmember Greg Evans, of Eugene Oregon; and Councilmember Andy Huckaba, of Lenexa, Kansas.

The panel also discussed whether federal policies are keeping pace with local efforts to reevaluate and reconfigure infrastructure for the next generation. More than 200 members of Congress and congressional staff attended the event at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium. The briefing is part of the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference concluding today.

In response to the Flint water crisis, the NLC on Tuesday announced a resolution that declared that the nation’s cities stand united in support of Flint. The resolution also included a call to Congress and the Administration to resolve the Flint Water Crisis. View the resolution here.

Here is an excerpt of the press statement about the resolution:

NLC is also calling on Congress and the administration to support robust funding for all water infrastructure mechanisms, including the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

“The true tragedy is that the families-and children-impacted by the lead contamination in Flint will endure long-term education and mental health impacts,” said National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Mo.”The federal government must make a long-term commitment to help these families with the challenges that lie ahead.”

“The Flint drinking water crisis is unconscionable and unacceptable. Cites stand in solidarity with Flint, and the National League of Cities stands united with all American cities in the need to update our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure,” saidNational League of Cities CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. “We must invest in the infrastructure our communities depend on. We need the federal government to step up, and work with cities to make sure there will never again be another disaster like in Flint.”

“The tragic events in Flint are a wake-up call for the nation. Policies that ignore critical infrastructure needs result in a shameful disinvestment in our cities, leading to problems like we are experiencing in Flint,” said Dan Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. “The Michigan state government has shorted communities $7 billion in revenue since 2000. The Flint crisis is the latest result of this ruinous policy.”

Access to clean drinking water is fundamental for the health and well-being of America’s communities and families. Lead-contaminated drinking water can have permanent and long-term effects on mental health, IQ and development, particularly in infants and children.

There is an urgent need to invest in our aging water infrastructure nationwide. The EPA estimates the U.S. water infrastructure capital needs to be approximately $720 billion over the next 20 years.

View the full press release about the resolution here.

NLC is the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for city officials, comprised of more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages representing more than 218 million Americans.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Michigan Leaders Outline Three Local Government Priorities for U.S. Congress

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, speaks to Michigan Municipal League members in Washington D.C. during the NLC Congressional City Conference Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, speaks to Michigan Municipal League members in Washington D.C. during the NLC Congressional City Conference Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

A contingent of Michigan local government leaders were in Washington D.C. today to meet with U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters on legislative priorities for local communities. The three priorities requested were in the areas of municipal bond tax exemptions; marketplace fairness and online sales tax parity; and transportation funding among other issues.

The Michigan contingent in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference 2016 was led by League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly; and League Vice President and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. Also attending were about 30 Michigan local government leaders, including Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, Fenton Mayor Pro Tem and NLC Board Member Pat Lockwood; League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and Summer Minnick, the League’s director of external relations and federal affairs.

The group has been meeting with various Congressional offices in the Capitol during their visit.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters meets with members of the Michigan Municipal League in Washington D.C. Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters meets with members of the Michigan Municipal League in Washington D.C. Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Here are details on the three priorities presented:

  1. Continuing to have municipal bonds be tax exempt. The tax exempt status of municipal bonds is critical to investment in infrastructure and provides tremendous economic growth in our communities. Eliminating that exemption would harm the future development of critical infrastructure projects and the jobs that come with them. The group encourages the Michigan Congressional Delegation to reject any attempt to eliminate or limit the traditional tax exemption for municipal bonds.
  2. Support marketplace fairness and online sales tax parity. Last Congressional session, the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act with a vote of 69-27 in a bipartisan manner. This would have allowed state and local governments to collect an estimated $23 billion in online sales taxes, thus ending the online sales tax ‘break.’ However, to great disappointment, the House failed to act before session ended and we are starting over with new legislation this session. Gary Peters and Rosalynn Bliss edited-smallWhile exact estimates vary, Michigan stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from purchases that are avoiding the tax today. This session the bill, S. 698, is sponsored by Senator Enzi (R-WY) and has 22 co-sponsors. Within the past few weeks, Congress passed a bill to, among other things, prevent state and local governments from taxing internet access. As part of getting support needed for that bill, we understand that Senate leaders agreed to have a floor debate on the Marketplace Fairness bill later this year. By failing to pass legislation to bring tax equity in the retail industry, we are punishing those who have invested in our communities. Main Street retailers currently operate at a 5-10 percent disadvantage because they are required to collect sales taxes while remote sellers are not. And, we are leaving billions of dollars on the table which could be used to help invest in other areas for economic growth and/or reduce the deficit. Marketplace Fairness simply allows states and local governments to enforce existing sales tax laws. It does not create new taxes or increase existing ones. The Michigan contingent encourages passage of S. 698 for the benefit of our state and local economies.
    League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly and the League's Summer Minnick meet with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

    League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and the League’s Summer Minnick meet with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

  3. Increase funding for transit and multi-modal transportation. Last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, making the first long-term transportation bill in a decade official. There are some wins for local governments within the new law, which is worth approximately $305 billion. However, while there are many positives with the FAST Act, there are still investment needs in our transportation infrastructure. Our nation must continue to make greater investments in transit and multi-modal transportation in order to be competitive worldwide. The Michigan contingent hopes that in having a conversation about increased investment in transportation that we can focus more on all users of transportation networks and not primarily on vehicle users. While the FAST Act was extremely helpful to local communities by providing some stability in transportation funding, the Michigan leaders request Congress for a long-term mechanism for increased funding must still be debated. Additionally, increasing funds for transit and multi-modal transportation is critical to the future prosperity of our communities.

Posted by Matt Bach, the League’s director of media relations, on behalf of Summer Minnick League’s director of external relations and federal affairs. Summer can be reached at sminnick@mml.org.

League CEO Dan Gilmartin to Speak at Congressional Briefing on Flint Water Crisis

Dan Gilmartin is interviewed during the NLC Congressional City Conference in Washington D.C. this week.

Dan Gilmartin is interviewed during the NLC Congressional City Conference in Washington D.C. this week.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin will participate in a Congressional Capitol Briefing Wednesday in Washington D.C. and talk about national infrastructure issues and the Flint water crisis.

Gilmartin will be part of a panel that will inform members of Congress about the most pressing infrastructure issues facing cities today. They also will delve into whether federal policies are keeping pace with local efforts to reevaluate and reconfigure infrastructure for the next generation. More than 200 members of Congress and congressional staff are expected to attend the event taking place 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium. The briefing is part of the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference happening this week.

Through his work with communities, Gilmartin is recognized as a national leader in the fields of urban revitalization, placemaking, local government reform, and transportation policy.  Model D Media has referred to him as “an urban thinker with an eye for the small, oft-unnoticed changes that can make ‘places’ out of streets and buildings.”  Dan serves as a member of the Michigan Future, Inc. Leadership Council and on the Placemaking Leadership Council.

Joining Gilmartin on the panel will be other local experts who will discuss the water crisis in Flint and what it means for federal-state-local relations nation-wide; contrasting state and local perspectives on accountability in the transit funding process; competing public and private interests in the broadband market; and differing federal and local points of view on infrastructure finance.

Other speakers include Mayor Mark Stodola, of Little Rock, Arkansas; Councilmember Greg Evans, of Eugene Oregon; and Councilmember Andy Huckaba, of Lenexa, Kansas.

NLC is the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for city officials, comprised of more than 19,000 cities, towns, and villages representing more than 218 million Americans.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Michigan Local Government Leaders Discuss Flint Water Crisis with EPA in D.C.

Flint Vehicle City SignThe Flint water crisis was on top of mind for a group of Michigan local government leaders who had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy Monday afternoon (March 7, 2016) in Washington D.C.

A contingent of Michigan local government leaders met with the Administrator and Mark Rupp, EPA deputy associate administrator for intergovernmental relations, while in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference 2016. The Michigan contingent was led by League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly; and League Vice President and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. Also attending the meeting were Carolyn Berndt, the NLC’s program director for sustainability and federal advocacy; Flint City Council President Kerry Nelson; Flint City Councilmember Jacqueline Poplar; League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin; Summer Minnick, the League’s director of external relations and federal affairs; and Chris Hackbarth, the League’s director of state affairs.

A birds-eye view from Flint's amazing Farmer's Market.

A birds-eye view from Flint’s amazing Farmer’s Market.

As most are well aware, Flint is in the international spotlight after elevated blood lead levels were discovered in some Flint children after its water source was switched to the Flint River. It had been purchasing Lake Huron water from the Detroit Water and Sewer System (DWSD). The decision to switch to the Flint River was made while the city was being run by a state-appointed emergency manager. At the time of the switch state regulators never required that the river water be treated to make it less corrosive, causing lead from plumbing and pipes to leach into the water supply. Even though the city reconnected to the DWSD in October, local and state officials continue to warn the public about the ongoing problem, are continuing to distribute bottled water and filters, and are encouraging pregnant women and young children against using the water unless it has been tested because lead levels in some cases continue to exceed what can be handled by the filters.

The Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees is bringing together a group of technical experts, public works administrators, city managers and local elected officials to discuss response strategies in the wake of the Flint crisis. This task force will discuss the overall link between the current crisis in Flint and Michigan’s broken municipal finance system. They will also develop a response strategy for all of our members to utilize when a resident or the media has questions about the safety of drinking water in their community.

Downtown Flint during the 2013 Back to the Bricks event.

Downtown Flint during the 2013 Back to the Bricks event.

The League believes that the issues we have seen in Flint, Detroit and other cities is a symptom of a larger problem. This isn’t just about replacing the lead pipes in Flint and saying “all fixed.” Certainly there is an immediacy to that issue that needs to be addressed and solved. But even with new pipes there are much broader issues that needs to be addressed. We must fundamentally change the way government operates. We should allow local government to maximize their opportunities to invest in themselves, control costs, and provide services deserving of a 21 century community. Until we allow this flexibility Flint and many other cities in Michigan and across this country will be limited in their ability to provide the foundation for a strong, thriving, diverse community.

As part of the meeting with EPA and Michigan officials vowed to work together to assist Flint and ensure something like this never happens again.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Federal Judge O’Meara Plans to Issue Ruling on PA 269, ‘Important Case’ Soon

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons speaks at a recent news conference opposed to PA 269. He is one of three League members listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Recognizing the urgency of the case, U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara today said he would issue a written ruling soon regarding a lawsuit charging that a “gag order” provision in Public Act 269 is unconstitutional and asking that the law be overturned.

Judge O’Meara heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday morning. Jerome R. Watson spoke as one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs – 17 local government officials and one private citizen. Defendants in the case are Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan.

“The heart of this case is not about misusing public funds. This case is about abusing First Amendment rights. This case is all about censorship of speech,” said Watson, of the Miller Canfield law firm, during the hearing at the U.S. District Court, Federal Building in Ann Arbor.

Calling it an “important case,” Judge O’Meara said he hoped to issue a decision soon on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. The case is regarding Subsection 57(3) of Public Act 269, which amended Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act. State law already prohibits governmental officials from using tax dollars to advocate for or against a proposal. This new provision goes far beyond what is constitutionally permissible.

Specifically, subsection 57(3) bans local officials or employees of local governments and school districts from using public resources to communicate with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages within 60 days of the election.

There is urgency to this case because more than 100 school districts and local governments have issues on the March 8 ballot and already are being affected by the 60-day gag order time period.

The case is Robert Taylor et al v. Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan. It was filed Jan. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, based in Detroit.

Lawsuit plaintiffs include Michigan Municipal League members Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor, Algonac City Manager Douglas R. Alexander, and Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons. Other plaintiffs are Tuscola County Commissioner Matthew Bierlein; New Haven Community Schools Superintendent Todd R. Robinson; Riverview Community Schools School Board President Gary O’Brien and Superintendent Russell Pickell; Tecumseh School Board President Kimberly Amstutz-Wild and Superintendent Gary O’Brien; Waterford School District School Board President Robert Seeterlin and Superintendent Keith Wunderlich; Goodrich Area Schools Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone; Clinton Community Schools Superintendent David P. Pray; Byron Area Schools School Board President Amy Lawrence and Superintendent Patricia Murphy-Alderman; Warren Consolidated School District Superintendent Robert D. Livernois; Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul; and Stephen Purchase, a private citizen.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 810-874-1073.

Roseville, Algonac, Dowagiac Officials Are Among Plaintiffs in Federal Lawsuit Against ‘Gag Order’ Law

League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly leads a press conference announcing a lawsuit against PA 269.

League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly leads a press conference announcing a lawsuit against PA 269.

City officials from Roseville, Algonac, Dowagiac are among 18 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed today in Detroit charging that a “gag order” provision in Public Act 269 is unconstitutional and asking that the law be overturned. (View a press release about the League plaintiffs in the lawsuit and view a statewide press release about the suit.)

Subsection 57(3) of Public Act 269, which amended Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act, prohibits elected and appointed public and school officials from providing factual information to voters about local ballot measures within 60 days of an election. State law already prohibits governmental officials from using tax dollars to advocate for or against a proposal. This new gag order goes far beyond what is constitutionally permissible.

“It’s an absolute gag order preventing public officials from addressing their constituents and residents of about matters of local concern,” said Scott Eldridge, an attorney with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone who has filed the lawsuit against Public Act 269. “It’s so overly broad and vague that it penalizes public officials with a crime if they speak in even an objectively neutral tone about ballot issues.”

Tuesday's press conference.

Tuesday’s press conference.

The League hosted a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the lawsuit. The news conference was led by Board President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and included some of the 18 plaintiffs named in the suit. League members serving as plaintiffs are Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor, Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons and Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander.

About a dozen media members participated in the news conference including reporters from the Detroit News, mlive.com, the Detroit Free Press, Dowagiac Daily NewsMIRS News Service, Gongwer News Service, the Associated Press, Michigan Public RadioMichigan Radio Network and TV 6 and TV 10, both out of Lansing.

More than 100 school districts and local governments with issues on the March 8 ballot already are being harmed by the new law, which bans local officials or employees of local governments and school districts from using public resources to communicate with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages in the final two months of an election.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander talks about the impact of PA 269 on his community.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander talks about the impact of PA 269 on his community.

The result will be that uninformed voters are likely to first learn about complex matters when they look at ballots on election day without having received basic information such as what the proposal is about, how much it will save or cost them and what the consequences of a yes or no vote are. In addition to being unconstitutional, the law will also negatively affect local credit ratings and result in higher costs for local taxpayers, Moody’s Investors Service has warned.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander said his city is requesting voters to allow the city to enter a 20-year lease agreement with the US Coast Guard for 200 feet of Riverfront Park dockage in exchange for the Coast Guard repairing at its cost the seawall at that location.

“Under the current law we can’t mail any information to voters about this lease agreement with the Coast Guard. For example, we would have normally explained a ballot issue like this in our quarterly newsletter that is mailed to about 1,900 city households,” Alexander said. “Should I expect a local group of citizens to get together and form a campaign committee to explain this to the voters? Not likely, nor should they have to. This is a function of government. People expect their local government to do these types of negotiations, put these questions before them and then share factual information with the public so that they can make educated decisions. Our newsletter would have just stated factual, objective and neutral information to our residents. But we can no longer do that.”

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons said his city is asking voters to change the city charter to have its clerk appointed instead of elected.

“This law strips away or brings into question the legality of many of the most effective means of communication that we have traditionally used,” Lyons said. “For a community that values transparency, the removal of some of our most effective means of communicating with our electorate by a poorly crafted and confusing piece of last-minute legislation is simply wrong. It is a sad day when the state Legislature tells me that I can no longer communicate effectively with the people I was elected to serve.”

Here are some excerpts from a couple of the media reports:

From the Detroit News:

… the law violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by banning “the free flow of objectively neutral, core political speech,” according to a complaint filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Detroit.

Attorney Scott Eldridge of Miller Canfield answers questions from the media during Tuesday's news conference.

Attorney Scott Eldridge of Miller Canfield answers questions from the media during Tuesday’s news conference.

The suit also contends the law violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the right to due process, by subjecting public officials to criminal prosecution without providing adequate notice or guidance about what amounts to a violation.

“As a result, it chills speech altogether,” said Scott Eldridge, an attorney with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone who is representing the plaintiffs.

“This law was created by the Legislature in the dark hours of the night, and this kind of last-minute, knee-jerk policy making is exactly what continues to plague our great state,” (said Warren Consolidated School District Superintendent Robert D. Livernois, a plaintiff in the suit). “In this particular case, that law resulted in the trampling — and I mean trampling — of our constitutional rights.”

From Mlive.com:

The lawsuit alleges that the 60-day limitation violates the United States Constitution’s free speech protections, ensconced in the first amendment. It also alleges the 14th amendment, which protects due process, was violated.

Reporters cover the press conference Tuesday at the League's office in Lansing.

Reporters cover the press conference Tuesday at the League’s office in Lansing.

“We’re confident that the court is going to rule in favor of free speech and against censorship,” …Eldridge (said).

… Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons said that in his 18 years as mayor he’s regularly communicated with residents ahead of ballot proposals to explain them.

“Think about this for a minute. Think about the fact that if I were to perform my duty as I have performed it over the last 18 years I would be subject to a fine, jail sentence and to charging with a misdemeanor, all because I tried to do my job,” Lyons said.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Douglas Alexander, Algonac city manager, said that while much of the attention is on ballot initiatives that have to deal with taxes, he’s concerned about what it will mean for a March 8 proposal in his community to approve a lease agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard for a section of the Algonac seawall.

In the past, the city would have provided “factual, objective and neutral information” in its quarterly newsletter “so our residents could make an informed decision.”

“Now, we can no longer do that,” Alexander said. “We would have explained that the Coast Guard would be paying for repairs.”

Residents, he said, will have questions.

“Should I expect every one of them to pick up the phone and call me? I hope not. But that’s the alternative we have now and it doesn’t make sense.”

From the Associated Press:

…But groups representing school districts, municipalities and other government entities said the “fix” pending in the House Elections Committee is inadequate and would only let them communicate the election date and a 100-word ballot summary of the proposal to voters.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, president of the Michigan Municipal League, said the secretary of state found only five valid complaints in three years of a local entity improperly advocating for a ballot measure.

“There is no indication there was any great calamity to be solved” by this law, he said during a news conference in Lansing to announce the suit. “This was a political thing that never should have happened.”
Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org or 734-669-6317.