State of the state: Don’t hold your breathPublished 10:07pm Tuesday, January 17, 2012
There are plenty of issues that local city and county officials would like to hear about from Gov. Rick Snyder when he gives his State of the State speech Wednesday night, but they aren’t holding their breath that he will address them.
Both Niles City Administrator Ric Huff and Berrien County Administrator Bill Wolf, in interviews with the Daily Star this week, expressed disappointment with the governor’s reduction in statutory revenue sharing last year.
The City of Niles lost about $200,000 in revenue sharing this year, while Berrien County’s share was slashed by about $900,000.
“For 2012-13, we don’t know whether we’ll be flatlined or they will reduce (revenue sharing) again or restore it,” Wolf said. “I’d like to hear they are restoring it. But I’m dreaming.”
Experts forecast the state could be looking at a $633 million surplus this year, and Huff said he hopes the state will allocate some of that to municipal-revenue sharing.
But that would be a sharp 180-degree turn from recent developments in the Legislature. According to the Michigan Municipal League, municipalities have had revenue sharing cut by more than $4 billion over the past decade.
“The revenue-sharing cuts have forced local cuts to public safety, road repair and maintenance, drinking water systems, parks and libraries across Michigan,” said Summer Minnick, director of State Affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. “Now the Legislature and the governor have the funds and opportunity to keep their promise to local communities by restoring some of the cuts to revenue sharing.”
Huff said Niles is no exception to budget reductions due to revenue sharing cuts. The city lost a firefighter and a police officer as a result of cuts in this year’s budget. Niles has also been unable to hire a police captain after former captain Jim Millin was promoted to chief.
“Public safety was hit pretty hard,” Huff said. “It would be an area I would suggest the council to look at (if revenue sharing would be increased).”
The city has already come into compliance with two of the requirements of the governor’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP), which municipalities must follow in order to qualify for revenue sharing this year.
“It will still be one-third less than last year,” Huff said. “They just keep cutting and cutting and ask municipalities to find the funds.”
Wolf said he is also interested in hearing where Snyder stands on the potential elimination of the personal property tax, which would mean a big hit to county, municipality and public school revenues.
Roads are another big issue, according to Wolf.
“I want to see the state and governor accepting responsibility for funding of transportation,” he said. “And not just big interstates but local roads.”
Berrien County voters will vote this year on a county-wide road millage, on the ballot due to the road commission’s declining revenues and increasing material costs — a problem that could be solved if the state would help financially support local roads, Wolf said.
But more than anything, Wolf would like to see the governor increase communication and partnership between the state and local government.
“At the top of the list, I would like to see the governor talk about a new partnership with local government,” he said. “Have the state recognize and appreciate local government and what we do in providing services to the public, to restate the obvious that we are a partner with the state.”
Proos maintains governor is on track
State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said he has been pleased with Snyder’s first year in office and believes the governor has gone a long way in achieving the goals he set in his first State of the State address.
“He’s had a very good start to the reinvention of Michigan,” Proos said in an interview Tuesday.
Proos likes the governor’s state “dashboard,” which assesses the state’s performance in economic strength, health and education, quality of life and public safety.
“He’s looked at how best to get the most value of taxpayer money,” Proo said.
Proos also appreciates Snyder looking to the governments of other states when considering Michigan’s own policies.
“In representing border communities, like Niles, it’s critically important that we don’t look at Michigan in a vacuum of our own goals and objectives,” Proos said. “But I’m glad the governor is looking at how they match other states in terms of tax policy and best practices.”
As far as what he hopes to hear from the governor in today’s State of the State, Proos said Snyder needs to maintain a “laser-like focus” on economic competitiveness and giving businesses a competitive environment to grow jobs.
State of the State address
Who: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: State Capitol
Watch live: The address will be streaming live on wkar.org/stateofthestate. It can also be viewed starting at 6 p.m. on Michigan Government TV, carried by most cable providers.
The day after: The governor will hold a “virtual town hall meeting” 6 p.m. Thursday that will be streamed live from www.michigan.gov/townhall. Michigan residents can submit questions at the same website.