Having A Say

March 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With cuts looming because state tax revenues and lottery receipts are down for the year, Grand Valley Metro Council members want to have a say in any reductions that lawmakers and the governor make to this year's budget.

To get their collective voice heard in Lansing, the council is putting together a state tax policy it will forward to the capital with hopes the plan will be seriously considered in the budgeting process. But most members will have to wait to get a look at it.

"I do have a draft, but I'm not ready to share that with you," GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula told the board.

The council's Legislative Committee will get the first peek at that draft on Wednesday and the whole board will review it at the April meeting.

The basis of the policy came from a subcommittee meeting chaired by Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, who also declined to discuss its contents, and from suggestions made at the council's state tax policy forum held last month.

"I think we had a good discussion and there is a lot of common ground," said Root of his group's meeting. "We should have a policy shortly."

"I think we did make some progress," said GR City Manager Kurt Kimball, who served on the subcommittee. "I think there is some urgency to get it out there."

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has asked state senators to send her their changes to this year's budget, which is at least $800 million in the red due to lower than expected revenues, by the end of this month. But Stypula didn't think the deadline would be met.

"They're not even close," he said.

Tom Clay was the featured guest at the council's forum. The director-emeritus of Public Affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and a past state budget director laid out for the gathering what Stypula called "some sobering statistics."

Clay said Michigan was drop-dead last among the 50 states in personal income growth, unemployment rate, employment growth and economic momentum. He also said the state's lack of economic activity has resulted in seven years of spending cuts. Clay said revenue to this year's general fund was lower than the amount the state received in 1996, and the annual growth in the school-aid fund has been under 2 percent since 2000.

Also at the forum, council members offered a broad range of options the state could take on the personal property tax, a new business tax, and on tax restructuring in general. Some favored eliminating the personal property tax, some opposed a cut to the business tax, and some were against a lessening of any tax. All the suggestions were considered for the policy.

Forum participants also decided that the council should send a detailed list to Lansing of the services the group's 32 members share, and pursue reinstatement of statutory revenue-sharing payments to counties and restoration of the full amounts to other units.

Kimball reported that eight Grand Rapids officials recently went to Lansing and met with members of the House and Senate to learn what budget cuts will be made this year and how revenue sharing will be treated in the revamped financial plan. They came back empty-handed.

"All of them are being tight-lipped about the cuts," said Kimball.

Stypula said he tried to pull that information out of Republican State Sen. Mark Jansen, but had no luck.

Stypula did have better luck with his board members, though, as they gave him a vote of confidence and a 3 percent pay hike retroactive to October.

"The bottom line is Don scored very well on the numerical ratings," said Rockford City Manager Michael Young, who led the evaluation committee. "Don has some lofty goals."

Half of Stypula's performance rating was based on the progress he has made just five months into the year on the fiscal-year goals that he set for himself.

Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets wondered out loud whether it was fair to put so much weight on those goals.

"It's all of our responsibility to meet those goals," she said, "and sometimes we could be an impediment to meeting those goals."

Kimball, who answers to the city's seven-member commission and has received a few verbal clouts from some commissioners during his tenure, seemed especially struck by Sheets' comment.

"Would you move over to the City Commission?" he asked.    

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