League, other organizations to Governor Snyder: VETO SB 571

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O'Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O’Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Governor Rick Snyder needs to veto a campaign finance bill sitting on his desk that would create more problems than it attempts to solve.

This was the basic message of a well-attended news conference Tuesday at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office about SB 571. The event was covered by nearly a dozen members of the media, including radio, TV and print/online. Read articles about the news conference by: the Detroit News, mlive.com, WLNS TV, WILX TV, WOOD TVLansing State JournalDearborn Press & Guide, WSJM radio and subscription news services Gongwer and MIRS. The League’s call to veto this bill (read details about that here from the League’s Chris Hackbarth) seems to be gaining momentum.

Check out this Kalamazoo Gazette article that quotes some Republican lawmakers who are having second thoughts about approving SB 571. View this Detroit News editorial calling for a veto.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Senate Bill 571 passed the legislature on Dec. 16 with some extensive last-minute revisions. The bill expanded from 12 pages to 53 pages, but the very last change is the one we had the press conference about. Section 57 of the bill would prevent public entities from distributing information about a ballot proposal in the 60 days before an election.

“In other words, in the weeks before an election we cannot use a mailing or local cable outlets to inform our constituents if a measure will raise or lower their tax rate, who it will affect, if it will mean the community will be selling a piece of property and where it is, how a charter change will affect them or anything else,” said Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, president of the Michigan Municipal League.

The legislation would prohibit them from distributing public notices on television, radio and in print media explaining property tax proposals, school bond issues or changes in a local charter.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

“Local officials wouldn’t even be able to tell voters in their newsletter who’s running for city council,” said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

Chris Barnett, supervisor of Orion Township, said the legislation amounts to a “gag order” on election officials 60 days prior to an election.

“What (voters) expect me to do is answer questions and give them information,” Barnett said.

Republican Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said perhaps this is a legislative effort to stop tax increases, but that’s not what’s going on in his community. Over the past four years the largely conservative community has considered seven ballot proposals, and only one was a tax increase.

To educate voters on these issues, which are often complicated, Rochester Hills government has turned to YouTube and public access television. But the line could get blurry.

“Can I respond to a resident asking a question about a millage proposal? It’s very concerning,” Barnett said.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League's Lansing office.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office.

That concern was echoed by Democratic Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly, who said “we’re going to end up having a lot of effort made trying to interpret where that line is.”

Governor Snyder has until Jan. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill and already some Republican lawmakers who initially voted for it are saying it might be worth a second look. Read these articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette and Holland Sentinel that talk to lawmakers willing to revisit the bill.

The press conference was emceed by League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and featured League Board President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and officials representing the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Sheriffs Association, Middle Cities Education Association, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan County Roads Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, and the League of Women Voters. View a joint press release about the issue.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

We had nearly a dozen members of the media attend including two Lansing TV stations, Michigan Public Radio, Gongwer, MIRS, mlive, Lansing State Journal, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

The League along with numerous communities and organizations have sent letters to Governor Snyder asking him to veto the bill. Read the veto letters from: the League, Michigan Association of Counties, and the Michigan Townships Association.

You can register your opinion about this bill with Governor Snyder during regular business hours at (517) 335-7858. Or go to https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx.

Excerpts from articles in mlive and Detroit News about the news conference were including in this blog post.

Matt Bach is Director of Media Relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 810-874-1073.

Michigan Municipal League Members Testify on Dark Stores Issue; Call for Immediate Fix

Chris Hackbarth testifies on the Dark Stores issue along with MTA and MAC officials.

Chris Hackbarth testifies on the Dark Stores issue along with MTA and MAC officials.

(UPDATE: View the League’s new Dark Stores resource web page and view additional Dark Stores-related photos here).

The Michigan Municipal League and some of our members were given the opportunity to offer testify on the Dark Stores tax loophole issue Wednesday before the House Tax Policy Committee. If you’re not aware, the Dark Stores situation involving property tax appeals by Big Box stores like Meijer, Kmart and Wal-mart, is quickly becoming one of the most significant issues, with the biggest implications, facing Michigan communities.

The League testified along with the Michigan Association of Counties and the Michigan Townships Association. We discussed the impact from Dark Store theory of assessment and the need for immediate fixes. We told the committee about the manipulation of property values that big box retailers are perpetrating through the placement of negative use deed restrictions to devalue buildings that they vacate and then point to later on as support for lowering their assessments.

The League has organized a coalition of more than a dozen organizations to take on this issue. View our joint statement previously given to the committee. Along with organizing this coalition, the League is pursuing an aggressive public relations campaign to bring attention to this important issue through radio, television and print media. We urge your assistance with this effort by contacting your Senator and Representative to explain to them the importance of addressing these dark store appeals and restoring a fair and proper valuation system.

Three Rivers City Manager Joseph Bippus and Mayor Thomas Lowry testify on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Three Rivers City Manager Joseph Bippus and Mayor Thomas Lowry testify on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Among those testifying Wednesday were League members Three Rivers Mayor Thomas Lowry and City Manager Joseph Bippus. They testified as guests of State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis. Lowry discussed the financial impact of the Dark Stores issue on his city.

“In the last two years we’re pushing well over $300,000 that we had to give back. We only have a $4.3 million budget, we’re approaching 10 percent of (our budget) just from the Dark Store theory,” Lowry told the committee. “We can get an employee for roughly 1 ½ percent of our budget. So for every 1 to 2 percent reduction in our general fund revenues we’re letting an employee go. This absolutely affects the level of services that we can provide to our citizens and our citizens still expect the same level of services.”

In essence, the Dark Store theory is a tax loophole scheme being used by Big Box retailers to lower the amount they pay in property taxes. Retailers such as Meijer, Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s, Menards, IKEA, Wal-Mart and Home Depot across Michigan are arguing that the market value of their operating store should be based on the sales of similar size “comparable” properties that are vacant and abandoned (aka “dark”) and may not even be located in Michigan. In the last few years, the political appointees on the Michigan Tax Tribunal have upheld this “Dark Store theory” and cut property tax assessments in some cases by as much as 50 percent. This impacts local revenues and subsequently local services and making Michigan one of the only places in the country that assess Big Box retail buildings in this manner. These rulings have resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments across Michigan and now other businesses – not just Big Box stores – such as drug stores and auto repair businesses are attempting to get their taxes lowered based on this same Dark Store argument.

Auburn Hills officials talk with State Rep. Jim Townsend following a House Tax Policy Hearing on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Auburn Hills officials talk with State Rep. Jim Townsend following a House Tax Policy Hearing on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

 

Grand Rapids Attorney Jack Van Coevering, former chief judge and chairman of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, testified about how the Michigan Tax Tribunal rulings have resulted in Big Box property tax assessments that are significantly lower in Michigan compared to other states. He gave multiple examples:

  • In Michigan, Lowes stores are assessed at $22.10 per square foot. In Lowes home state of North Carolina, the same stores are valued at $79.08 per square foot.
  • In Michigan, Menards and Target are valued at $24.97 per square foot. In Menard’s home state of Wisconsin, the sames stores are valued at $61.23 per square foot.
  • Sam’s Clubs and Wal-Mart now average around $25.68 per square foot in Michigan. Studies of those buildings in the home state of Arkansas are being done, but Van Coevering said he expects them to be much higher than they are in Michigan.

Van Coevering added that most of the Big Box stores in Michigan used to be valued in the $55 range per square foot and now the amounts have been cut in half due to the Dark Stores theory.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden attends the Dark Stores hearing Dec. 9, 2015.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden attends the Dark Stores hearing Dec. 9, 2015.

The House Tax Policy committee led by Representative Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, first met on the issue Nov. 4 and scheduled this follow-up hearing after it ran out of time to hear from all those who wanted to speak on the issue. Officials from Auburn Hills were also present and attempted to testify and unfortunately time ran out and they did not get a chance to speak. Instead, they did submit written testimony and those in attendance were recognized by Chairman Farrington. I want to thank the Auburn Hills contingent for their continued work on this issue – Auburn Hills City Manager Thomas Tanghe; Assessor Michael Lohmeier; and City Attorney Derk Berkerleg.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden also attended the hearing.

The House Tax Policy committee has established a work group to study the issue. The work group, being led by House Tax Policy Committee Vice-Chair David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, includes representatives from all sides of the issue, including the League. Check out an in-depth radio video interview of Maturen discussing the issue and the workgroup.

Posted by Matt Bach on behalf of Chris Hackbarth, the League’s director of state affairs. Chris can be reached at 517-908-0304 and chackbarth@mml.org.

Voting Yes Tuesday on Proposal 1 is Right Thing for Michigan’s Roads, Communities, Schools

Sterling Heights City Manager and MML board member Mark Vanderpool speaks at a Proposal 1 Safe Roads Yes! tour bus stop in Romeo. The League appreciates all the support it has received from members on Proposal 1.

Sterling Heights City Manager and MML board member Mark Vanderpool speaks at a Proposal 1 Safe Roads Yes! tour bus stop in Romeo with Governor Rick Snyder and MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. The League appreciates all the support it has received from members on Proposal 1.

The fate of Proposal 1 goes in the hands of voters tomorrow (Tuesday, May 5, 2015) and the Michigan Municipal League strongly encourages you to vote yes on this road-funding plan.

The League Board of Trustees in January officially endorsed Proposal 1 and the League has been actively supporting it ever since. League staff and members have participated in numerous community meetings, town hall events, public forums, debates and city council sessions to promote Proposal 1. Staff and members also were involved in the Vote Yes on Proposal 1 bus tour Thursday, Friday and today. In addition, we’ve encouraged communities to pass resolutions in support and you can view that list here.

Our message throughout the campaign has been the same: That this proposal is in the best interest of communities throughout Michigan and will improve our ability to attract and retain talent.

The League’s John LaMacchia, who has been leading our Vote Yes efforts, said this at a recent Proposal 1 event: “Michigan now spends less per resident on roads than any other state. Let me say that again: Michigan is now dead last in per-capita funding for roads. We’ve neglected to properly invest in our roads and bridges and everywhere you travel in this state you can see the repercussions of that. This proposal will constitutionally guarantees that every penny we pay in state fuel taxes goes to transportation while protecting funding for local governments and schools. This proposal is not perfect … nothing from Lansing ever is. But it does provide a long-term sustainable solution that will fix our roads, and the only guarantee we will have on May 5th if this fails is that our roads will get worse. Vote Yes!”

Here are some details about Proposal 1:

Ballot Proposal:

  • Raises the sales tax from 6% to 7%
  • Exempts sales tax from motor fuel
  • Removes higher education funding from the School Aid Fund
  • Dedicates a portion of the use tax to K-12 education

Statutory Changes Effective Only if Proposal 1 Passes:

  • Increases the tax charged on motor fuel
  • Eliminates the depreciation on vehicle registration fees
  • Increase registration fees on the heaviest trucks
  • Requires more competitive bidding and road warranties
  • Restores the Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal level

Revenue Generated:

League members - Lapeer City Manager Dale Kerbyson and Lapeer City Commissioner and MML Board member Catherine Bostick-Tullius - talk with Governor Snyder at a Proposal 1 bus tour stop near Davison.

League members – Lapeer City Manager Dale Kerbyson and Lapeer City Commissioner and MML Board member Catherine Bostick-Tullius – talk with Governor Snyder at a Vote Yes on Proposal 1 bus tour stop near Davison.

Fixing our roads will make them safer by repairing dangerous potholes and improving roadway design. Today, many drivers swerve to avoid dangerous potholes or lose control of their vehicles as a result of flat tires.

According to TRIP, a national transportation research organization, roadway design is a contributing factor in about one-third of fatal traffic crashes. Between 2008 and 2012, 4,620 people died in Michigan car accidents – an average of 924 fatalities per year.

For more information about Proposal 1 go to the League’s Safe Roads Yes! webpage.

To learn more about the Safe Road Yes! campaign go here. View here a series of question and answer videos about Proposal 1. Check out what MML members have to say about Proposal 1. See how much your community will get in additional road dollars and constitutional revenue sharing if Proposal 1 is approved. View which Michigan communities have passed resolutions in support of Proposal 1.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org. The League’s John LaMacchia can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org.

Proposal 1 Offers Michigan’s Last, Best Chance to Fix Roads with Guaranteed Funding

John LaMacchia discusses Proposal 1 at a recent Burton City Council town hall meeting.

John LaMacchia discusses Proposal 1 at a recent Burton City Council town hall meeting.

The fate of Proposal 1 will be decided by voters next week (Tuesday, May 5), and there is one thing guaranteed about the outcome: If it passes it will provide a solution to fix Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and will guarantee funding for transportation, local government, schools. And if it fails? No one can guarantee a solution out of the state Legislature.

That’s the simple message from the Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia, legislative associate, in his many speaking engagements, media interviews and community meetings about Proposal 1 in recent days, weeks and months. LaMacchia has been the League’s voice on Proposal 1 after the League board unanimously endorsed the road funding package in January.

“The one thing that those for and against Proposal 1 agree on is the longer we take to come up with a transportation funding plan, the worse are roads are going to get,” LaMacchia said.

If Proposal 1 passes, it would guarantee, for the first time, that every penny we pay in state fuel taxes goes to transportation.

Bad-bridge-small-for-webLansing would no longer be able to divert taxes paid on gas to some other state program or service.

Here is some additional information about what Proposal 1 would do:

Ballot Proposal:

  • Raises the sales tax from 6% to 7%
  • Exempts sales tax from motor fuel
  • Removes higher education funding from the School Aid Fund
  • Dedicates a portion of the use tax to K-12 education

Statutory Changes Effective Only if Proposal 1 Passes:

  • Increases the tax charged on motor fuel
  • Eliminates the depreciation on vehicle registration fees
  • Increase registration fees on the heaviest trucks
  • Requires more competitive bidding and road warranties
  • Restores the Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal level

Revenue Generated:

We would fix more roads instead of just fill potholes if Proposal 1 passes May 5.

We would fix more roads instead of just fill potholes if Proposal 1 passes May 5.

Fixing our roads will make them safer by repairing dangerous potholes and improving roadway design. Today, many drivers swerve to avoid dangerous potholes or lose control of their vehicles as a result of flat tires.

According to TRIP, a national transportation research organization, roadway design is a contributing factor in about one-third of fatal traffic crashes. Between 2008 and 2012, 4,620 people died in Michigan car accidents – an average of 924 fatalities per year.

For more information about Proposal 1 go to the League’s Safe Roads Yes! webpage.

To learn more about the Safe Road Yes! campaign go here. View here a series of question and answer videos about Proposal 1. Check out what MML members have to say about Proposal 1. See how much your community will get in additional road dollars and constitutional revenue sharing if Proposal 1 is approved. View which Michigan communities have passed resolutions in support of Proposal 1.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org. The League’s John LaMacchia can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org.

League Board Unanimously Supports Michigan Road Funding Ballot Proposal on May 5

League Vice President Nathan Triplett and President Dick Bolen listen to Governor Snyder discuss the state's road funding ballot initiative. The board voted to support the effort going before voters May 5.
League Vice President Nathan Triplett and President Dick Bolen listen to Governor Snyder discuss the state’s road funding ballot initiative. The board voted to support the effort going before voters May 5.

The Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees met with Governor Snyder on Friday, January 23, and following that discussion unanimously agreed to support the May 5 ballot proposal. The Board of Trustee believes that this proposal to support Michigan’s roads, schools and cities, is in the best interest of Michigan’s communities. The League will be taking an active role as an organization to help ensure its passage.

Support for the May 5th ballot proposal was based on the following factors:

  • The proposal provides for a sustainable long-term investment in Michigan’s infrastructure that includes $1.2 billion for roads and bridges, and more than $100 million for transit on an annual basis.
  • The proposal would also increase constitutional revenue sharing by more than $100 million annually.
  • Combined, this investment in Michigan’s transportation network and communities represents a significant step forward in building attractive and vibrant places.
Members of the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees listen to Governor Snyder discuss the state's road funding ballot initiative. The board voted to unanimously support the effort going before voters May 5.

Members of the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees listen to Governor Snyder discuss the state’s road funding ballot initiative. The board voted to unanimously support the effort going before voters May 5.

In the coming weeks the League will be working with other supporters help develop and implement a “Yes” campaign for Proposal 1.

Stay tuned for specifics ways your community can get involved and for information on the specific fiscal impact to each municipality.

Go here for additional photos from Friday’s board meeting featuring Governor Snyder.

John LaMacchia is a Legislative Associate for the League handling transportation and infrastructure issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

League’s John LaMacchia Participates in Road Funding Bill Signing with Governor Snyder

The League's John LaMacchia (left) attends the road funding bill signing Monday.

The League’s John LaMacchia (left) attends the road funding bill signing Monday.

The Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia II was among the dignitaries invited to the official signing of the road funding package approved by the Legislature last month. Governor Rick Snyder signed the bills during an event in Lansing Monday afternoon.

Late in December, the House and Senate put together the framework for a comprehensive long-term solution for investing in Michigan’s infrastructure. Although the Michigan Municipal League would have liked the Legislature to solve this problem independently, they approved a ballot proposal that will be put before the voters in May 2015. Read the lame duck recaps on Inside 208, the League’s legislative blog.

Read this blog for details on the road funding package.

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

Problematic Rental Inspection Legislation Dies in the House

On the final day of session Senate Bill 313, sponsored by Senator Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), was unable to secure final passage on the House floor.

This bill would would have lowered revenues rental inspection programs are able to collect and provide additional barriers to entry when attempting to inspect a tenants property.The League fully anticipate this legislation coming up again next year.

Thank to all of our members who reached out to their legislator explaining to them the harmful implications of this bill. You were the number one reason this bill was able to be stopped and your continued opposition to any future legislation that would have a similar affect will be needed to ensure we are able to provide a healthy and safe environment for the residents of our communities.

John LaMacchia is a Legislative Associate for the League handling transportation and infrastructure issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

FOIA Legislation Passes on Final Day

On the final day of session, the legislature  passed HB 4001, a bill that makes numerous changes to the FOIA law, making it more costly to comply and more punitive for local units of government if a mistake is made. The bill passed in bipartisan fashion.

While we recognize this version is vastly improved from the introduced version, we still had concerns at the end of the day and remained opposed.

Nikki Brown is a legislative associate for the League. She can be reached at nbrown@mml.org or 517-908-0305.

Please VOTE YES on Proposal 1 in the August 5, 2014 Primary Election

Please vote in Tuesday’s Aug. 5, 2014, primary election. On your ballot you may have a lot of things or just a few things to consider, but one of the most important issues for Michigan’s communities is Proposal 1. The League is in support of Proposal 1 and encourages our members to vote YES on Proposal 1.

This proposal represents a considerable amount of negotiations and work by League staff and our members. We thank our many members who have publicly supported this proposal by passing resolutions encouraging a YES vote, doing media interviews, participating in news events and writing letters to their local newspapers. Read this article by the League’s Samantha Harkins about this history of this issue and why the League is in support of Proposal 1.

So what happens if Proposal 1 fails?

A new community impact calculator by the Strong and Safe Communities YESon1 shows the potential losses communities could sustain if Proposal 1 is defeated and the Legislature decides to eliminate the personal property tax without any funding replacement for local municipalities. All you need to do is go to the calculator and follow the step by step instructions to see the impact on your community. For example, in Flint, if Proposal 1 fails and the PPT is eliminated without replacement that is the equivalent funding of 54 police officers, or 71 firefighters, or 464,746 meals on wheels for seniors.

Here are some details from the Strong and Safe Communities coalition about this:

A “NO” Vote on Proposal 1 and failure to pass Proposal 1 would hurt Michigan communities and Michigan small businesses. It would mean:

  • Michigan communities lose by having to go back to depending on an unreliable revenue stream for essential services like fire, police, ambulances, jails, and schools – plus other valuable local community services, including senior centers, parks and libraries.
  • Michigan businesses lose by having to go back to paying the antiquated unfair double tax that keeps them from investing and creating jobs.
  • Many community leaders across the state fear that if Proposal 1 fails in August, the legislature could still eliminate the PPT, but not reimburse local communities for that lost revenue.

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

 

Michigan Municipal League Staff Help Prepare Detroit City Council for Future After Bankruptcy

Detroit City Council MML Meeting

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones introduces League CEO Dan Gilmartin at a recent education session.

Michigan Municipal League staff has spent the last few weeks working with Detroit City Council members as they move forward and prepare to bring the city out of bankruptcy. League staff has led education sessions on a variety of topics, including the importance of placemaking, city finance and financial management, parliamentary procedure, legislative advocacy and other areas.

“We wanted to do this to help create a good foundation on which they can build as the city moves out of bankruptcy,” said Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin. Gilmartin was the first person from the League to meet with the city council in sessions that started July 14 and expected to wrap up later this month.

Gilmartin gave an overview of what the League does for its member communities and he discussed the concept of placemaking and why it is key to the revitalization of not only Detroit but to all of Michigan. In essence, placemaking is about creating communities in which people want to live, work and play. Detroit already has many outstanding placemaking examples.

The League’s Anthony Minghine, associate executive director and COO, spoke to the council about a variety of municipal finance topics. Several hours were spent laying a foundation upon which the council can use as the bankruptcy ends and the emergency manager prepares to leave. The dialog that took place made clear that the council is preparing for a new day and setting new expectations for reporting and management of the budget. Topics covered included Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) pronouncements, fund types, allowable expenses, understanding financial statements, municipal budgeting, and long range planning considerations.

Other sessions were on lobbying 101; planning and zoning; legal framework of municipalities by the League’s General Counsel William Mathewson; and roles and responsibilities.

Kelly Warren, the League’s director of events, said the goal of the sessions were to give Detroit leaders the core lessons taught through the League’s Elected Officials Academy (EOA) program. Go here for more information about this EOA program.

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