Contact Your State Reps Today and Tell Them to Oppose Income Tax Elimination Bill

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***UPDATE:   

The Michigan House just adjourned session for the day (Tuesday) after adopting a substitute version H-3 for HB 4001 that would reduce the income tax rate from 4.25% down to 3.9% by January 1, 2021 and stopping at that point.  Following hours of caucus and floor discussion, the new version was introduced and adopted on the House floor with no explanation of the new version.  The House Fiscal Agency analysis of the new proposal pegs the state’s General Fund loss in the first year and $195 million and progressing upwards to $1.1 billion in FY2021-22.  The H-3 version of the bill is now on 3rd reading in the House and has been listed for action on TODAY’s (Wednesday’s) House calendar. So it is just as important to contact your Reps today and ask them to oppose the sub version of HB 4001. Governor Snyder came out with a statement last night opposed to the revised bill (he was also against the original bill).

Legislation being considered in Lansing would eliminate the state income tax, potentially blowing a massive hole in our budget and destroying vital programs and services communities and your residents rely on every day. Let’s face it, nobody likes to pay taxes. But we need the services those taxes support – police and fire protection, road maintenance, street lighting, drinking water, libraries, parks, and the list goes on and on.

This plan to eliminate the state income tax is moving quickly and we need your help to oppose it. On Feb. 15, a state House committee passed out HB 4001, which would cut $680 million from the state budget in the first, partial year alone. This idea is poor fiscal policy that would harm the state’s future ability to provide critical services for its residents, communities, and businesses. There is no question that with revenue reductions of that magnitude, the remaining statutory revenue sharing payments would be at risk and any future restoration of the cuts from the past decade would be a virtual impossibility.

Proponents of the tax cut say it would spur economic growth and allow people living paycheck to paycheck to see meaningful tax relief and allow them to buy more. A recent Midland Daily News editorial disagreed and broke it down like this: “But the reality is that is a bunch of bunk. A person making $50,000 a year would see a tax cut of $175 — about $3.37 per week (48 cents a day). That’s hardly going to bail out people living paycheck to paycheck and is a very minimal increase in buying power.”

Governor Snyder and Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri also have spoken against the proposal and recent polling reveals little support for an income tax cut from voters, regardless of political party or geography, and almost no support once voters are told of the impact of the repeal. The poll found 74 percent of people oppose the idea of eliminating the income tax without a plan to replace revenue lost by the state.

Michigan communities have already lost $7.5 billion in revenue sharing dollars since 2002. This is money that should have gone to local communities, but instead state leaders kept the funds for their own budget priorities. Further risking cuts in revenue sharing, coupled with the dramatic declines in property tax revenues from the Great Recession, will only further devastate local governments. We should be talking about growth, not more cuts. With Michigan’s economy finally recovering, we should be looking for ways where our communities can share in that recovery, not push them further into crisis.

Please contact your State Representative today (look up their contact information by clicking here) and tell them to oppose HB 4001.

Matt Bach is director of media relations. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org.

Legislative Committee Orientation Event at Capitol Teaches Ins and Outs of State Politics

League staff John LaMacchia and Chris Hackbarth at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

League staff John LaMacchia and Chris Hackbarth at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

(View more photos here)

About 60 local municipal officials from throughout the state were at the state Capitol Thursday in Lansing for the Michigan Municipal League’s Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation. The first-time event for the League was highly successful as members from the League’s various legislative policy committees heard from state lawmakers, League staff and communications experts.

The League makes policy decisions based on the input from its five League policy committees that are broken into topics – energy, environment and technology (chaired by Brighton City Manager Nate Geinzer); land use and economic development (chaired by Lake Isabella Village Manager Tim Wolff); municipal finance (chaired by Howell City Manager Shea Charles); municipal services (chaired by Novi City Manager Pete Auger); and transportation infrastructure (chaired by Farmington Hills Public Services Director Gary Mekjian).

The event was hosted by State Rep. Dan Lauwers in the Speakers Library in the Capitol across the street from the League’s Lansing office. Lauwers welcomed the group to the Capitol and was followed by League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin who thanked the members for their services on the policy committees and explained how important their work is to the League’s success as an organization.

State legislators speak at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

State legislators Rep. Christine Greig, Rep. James Lower and Sen. Ken Horn speak at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday. Kyle Melinn (left), co-owner of MIRS News Service, was moderator of the panel discussion.

Other event speakers were League staff members Chris Hackbarth, director of state and federal affairs; John LaMacchia, assistant director of state and federal affairs; Jennifer Rigterink, legislative associated; Emily Kieliszewski, member engagement specialist; and Shanna Draheim, policy director. There was also a panel discussion moderated by Kyle Melinn, news editor and co-owner of Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) and featuring State Rep. Christine Greig, House Democratic Floor Leader; State Rep. James Lower; and State Sen. Ken Horn.

Local officials listen to a presentation at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

Local officials listen to a presentation at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

Policy committee members from throughout the state attended representing the following communities: Village of Beverly Hills, City of Novi, City of Flushing, City of Gibraltar, City of Wyoming, Village of Copemish, City of Dexter, City of Center Line, City of Howell, City of Southgate, City of Grosse Pointe, Village of Chesaning, City of Livonia, City of Taylor,
City of Brighton, City of Charlotte, City of Westland, City of Woodhaven, City of Springfield, City of Dearborn Heights, City of Ann Arbor, Village of Mendon, City of Grand Blanc, City of Menominee, City of Midland, City of Berkley, City of St. Clair Shores, Village of St. Charles, City of Ovid, City of Monroe, City of Ann Arbor, City of Hazel Park, City of Douglas, City of Farmington Hills, City of Mt. Pleasant, City of Hamtramck, City of Alma, City of Hastings, City of Farmington Hills, City of Grandville, City of Dexter, City of Adrian, City of Rochester Hills, City of Orchard Lake, City of Cadillac, City of Rochester
City of Plymouth, City of Wayne, Village of Cassopolis, City of Dexter, City of Milan, City of Midland, Village of Sparta, City of Alpena, City of Saline, City of Gladstone, City of East Lansing, City of Clio, Village of Lake Isabella, Village of Blissfield, and Village of Quincy.

Dusty Fancher and Dave Waymire speak at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

Dusty Fancher and Dave Waymire speak at the Legislative Committee Kick-Off Orientation Thursday.

After lunch, the group heard about communications, public relations and the insider’s guide to lobbying from Dave Waymire, partner at Martin Waymire; and Dusty Fancher, partner with Midwest Strategy Group.

To learn about the latest legislative issues involving Michgian’s communities, subscribe to the League’s Inside 208 blog here: http://blogs.mml.org/wp/inside208/ (view subscribe box on right side of page). Learn more about the League’s policy committees here: http://www.mml.org/advocacy/committee/index.html. View additional photos from the event here.

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

Governor Snyder Signs Recreational Authorities Bill with Support from Big Rapids and League

The League's Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (green tie) joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing HB 4578.

The League’s Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (green tie) joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing HB 4578.

Today, the Michigan Municipal League’s Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing House Bill 4578.

The new law clarifies the use of tax proceeds by a recreational authority and is expanded to include school districts. Working in conjunction with officials from the City of Big Rapids, the League was successful in getting the legislation approved with support from bill sponsors Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac. View a previous blog about the legislation here.

The legislation, modeled on similar legislation from previous sessions, expands the definition of an eligible municipality to include a school district. This change also allows a city, village, or township to partner with a school district to form a recreation authority allowing broader access to recreation programming and facilities throughout a region.

Thank you to Mayor Warba and other Big Rapids area officials for their support on this bill! We also like to thank bill sponsors Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac.

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

Revenue Sharing Budgets Positioned for Initial Action; Senate Cuts Statutory by 1.5%

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. A 2016-17 Senate budget plan would cut statutory revenue sharing to communities even more. Learn more at SaveMiCity.org

The Michigan House and Senate Appropriations committees made their opening moves on the state budget this week by reporting the full budget bills to the floors of their respective chambers. Following expected floor action on these bills in the coming week or two, each chamber will review the other’s proposal and move toward a final budget deal sometime in early June.

Both proposals continue the current practice of ignoring the fiscal needs of local government, failing to make revenue sharing and the larger issue of municipal finance a budget priority. Without a renewed focus and commitment by the Governor and Legislature, Michigan will continue to occupy last place nationally in our treatment of local government. Learn about the League’s municipal finance initiative at SaveMiCity.org. View how much money your community has lost in revenue sharing here.

The House committee reported an omnibus budget bill, House Bill 5294, to the floor which includes funding for revenue sharing. The House proposal maintains current-year funding for revenue sharing, only deviating from the Governor’s original recommendation by maintaining the $5.8 million that the Governor would have removed for approximately 100 townships that hadn’t received revenue sharing previously.

The Senate committee, on the other hand, moved Senate Bill 788 to the Senate floor with significant changes to the Governor’s proposal for revenue sharing. Statutory revenue sharing would see a 1.5% reduction ($3.85 million) in the Senate version, with the dollars from that reduction being shifted to cover a proposed local match requirement for the purchase of new voting equipment. The League urges you to contact your Senator, asking them to join us in opposition to this approach.

In the Governor’s original budget proposal, the effort to replace existing voting equipment statewide was supported by $10 million in General Fund and $5 million in requested (unidentified) local match. These dollars would be coupled with remaining federal Help America Vote Act funds and dollars appropriated for this purpose in the current budget year. The purchase of new voting equipment has been championed by the County and Municipal Clerks Associations and the Secretary of State’s office, but the call for a local match requirement had not been voiced prior to this year’s budget.

The proposal to accommodate the Governor’s local match request in the Senate version raises serious concerns for the Michigan Municipal League and member communities, even beyond the further erosion of an already devastated statutory revenue sharing base.

  • All cities, villages, townships and counties would benefit from the purchase of new voting equipment, but the local match requirement would only be paid by those cities and villages and few townships that receive a statutory payment. ***Counties and townships that do not receive non-Constitutional revenue sharing payments would pay no local match.  
  • By paying the local match only out of the statutory revenue sharing line, there is no correlation to the actual match requirement for equipment being purchased within each community. In a sample comparing similarly sized communities, one with 19 voting precincts would forgo only about $1,500 in revenue sharing, while another community with only 12 polling places would lose more than $22,000 … and this does not account for the more than 1,000 local government units that would pay nothing in local match!
  • County statutory payments, already funded at 100%, would receive a 2% increase ($4.3 million) in this proposal. Again, without any requirement for a local match for voting equipment purchases by a county.
  • This match requirement would be deducted during the FY 16-17 budget year, yet voting equipment would not be received by any local government until at least 2017 and delivery would like be phased in over two to three years.

Comments have been made that under this proposal, every local unit will receive at least what they received during  the current budget year even with the 1.5% base reduction, but this statement assumes that there will be growth in sales tax revenue driving higher Constitutional revenue sharing payments. Early indications from the most recent Senate Fiscal Agency monthly revenue report reveal that it is unlikely that the state will even meet its already reduced sales tax estimate for the current year, let alone meet the overly optimistic 3.9% growth estimate for the coming year. It is more probable that Constitutional revenue sharing payments will be flat for a third year in a row, if not reduced at some point over the next year.

It is expected that the Senate’s revenue sharing plan will be voted on by the full chamber next week. Please remember to contact your Senator and urge them to begin restoring the cuts of the past decade and reform the way local governments are funded. They should start by rejecting the committee proposal.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 and chackbarth@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.

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.

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.