Best practices drive statewide efforts

October 13, 2008
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There it is again. Legislation to reconstruct Renaissance Zone tax abatement policy is waiting for lame ducks, not just because it is lame, but because it is the silly season.

And those paying attention know we can’t afford either. Not now. In fact, the Michigan legislature can have no “down time” as the ripple effects of a worldwide economic crisis begin to show on state shores.

The Michigan legislature has to grow up fast, and it is likely that some things that were “off the table” will indeed present themselves for action, like public school consolidations. Rapidly approaching problems call for leadership in the legislature, and that requires the leadership of finding and acting on compromise.

The Business Journal presents the example of taxing situations. The almost 600 business owners and leaders attending the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Regional Policy Conference in September called for elimination of the Michigan Business Tax, not just amendments as recently passed the Senate (though the business community is largely relieved even to have the surcharge phased out). State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, chuckles because, he asks, “How would we replace it?” (See page 30.) He evidently has not taken the time to review the innumerable options offered by business groups.

The new Renaissance Zones, for instance, would be “Aerotropolis Zones,” which would become nearly tax-free like the parent Ren Zone and could capture a portion of property taxes in the manner established by Tax Increment Financing Authorities. But the stipulation for such a zone is that the area be within a three-mile radius of a major Michigan airport and have a minimum of one million enplaned passengers in a year. Yes, it was written by Detroit Renaissance, Wayne County, Washtenaw County and Detroit area business leaders — some of the same individuals who attended the GRACC conference.

While those holding hearings are “open” to discussion to include the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the “me first” mentality of even proposing such legislation flies in the face of the logic that would provide a holistic, unified approach to economic stimulation. One part of the state will not succeed unless the rest of the state is succeeding.

The discussion seems even more incongruous this week, as the University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum is held in Grand Rapids. The purpose of moving the annual statewide conference from the Detroit area for the first time in 22 years was to share best practices from west to east. “The catalyst was the development that’s happening in West Michigan and the regional cooperation that’s driving that development,” said forum chairman Tom Wackerman. “We saw that and said, ‘This is a best practices showcase and that’s the objective of the forum.”

A “best practices showcase.”

“The regional cooperation that’s driving that development.”

Business leaders statewide see what needs to happen.

State politicians from every region must take off the blinders and emulate the business leadership that will allow the state to again flourish. Problem solving must extend beyond district boundaries.

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