Easing permit process still on agenda

September 27, 2009
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Getting Lansing to streamline the permitting process was one of the key directives that business leaders pinpointed at last year’s Regional Policy Conference hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce at DeVos Place.

It’s not a revelation, though, to report that progress hasn’t been made on the issue over the past dozen months, as legislators have largely been fixated on a single topic all year.

“The focus in Lansing seems to be on one issue and one issue only, and that is how do we fix the budget without any tax increases, and how do we fix the budget without any real reform. It seems to be all they want to do is put a Band-Aid on everything,” said Jared Rodriguez, GRACC senior vice president of government affairs.

“Quite frankly, there hasn’t been much on any kind of streamlining of anything right now in Lansing. It’s been unfortunate, and this is just one area where we have certainly been disappointed with the lack of action in Lansing. So we haven’t seen a whole lot of movement in the streamlining of the permitting process,” he added.

Last year’s conference elicited five recommendations that the Michigan Legislature could use to simplify that process:

  • Prohibit administrative departments from creating internal policy or “ad hoc” rules outside of the formal rules-making process. Doing this subverts the legislative intent of Michigan laws and creates roadblocks to business investments.

  • Place clear timelines on the issuance of all state permits.

  • Require state departments to promulgate rules through a transparent process that offers adequate time for public comment.

  • Provide for vigilant legislative oversight of the rule-making process.

  • Cross-train state officials in both business and environmental permits licensing.

Rodriguez told the Business Journal that none of the five will be easy to get through the Legislature during the current session. He said once the budgets are adopted for the 2010 fiscal year, the timeframe to accomplish anything this calendar year will be short. Next year is an election year and the campaign efforts will likely begin in earnest in January.

“So we have between now and Dec. 31 to make any kind of change that we’re going to make on how the state does business, if you will. If we’re going to do that, it’s got to be done now because we see them focusing on elections come 2010.”

Help may come from a source that didn’t exist when the policy conference was held last year.

The state Senate recently ratified two bills — SB 340 and SB2 — that would establish an independent business ombudsman.

“Creating an ombudsman position will take Michigan an important step toward developing a reasonable regulatory environment for state job providers. Businesses can seek help from the ombudsman when they need help navigating the regulatory system,” said Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, who sponsored SB340.

Richmond Township Republican Sen. Alan Sanborn sponsored SB2, which places the ombudsman office within the Michigan Strategic Fund. Sanborn said the governor would name someone to the position, to be reviewed by the Senate.

“This legislation could help improve the regulatory climate in Michigan. It’s important for companies that may be looking to conduct business in the state to have someone to help with their questions and concerns,” said Birkholz.

Rodriguez said the chamber favors the creation of an ombudsman office and he felt those who attended the policy conference would also welcome having such a “clearing house” at their disposal. He pointed out that Michigan is currently at a disadvantage in trying to retain and draw businesses here. In other states, he said business owners can go to a single meeting to explain their plans, and get all their permits taken care of through a one-stop approach.

“They have every single kind of permit they would ever need to complete that process by the time they leave. Now if we could get to a point where that would happen in Michigan, it would be a tremendous asset to anyone that is looking to invest here,” he said.

Rodriquez noted that time is money for business owners. He added that many actually want to make an investment in the state, but they don’t want the excessive regulatory costs and headaches that often accompany those efforts.

“Businesses aren’t there to do unjust things or to try to get around things. They’re working on a time schedule and they’re willing to invest funds to make communities better, and certainly employ people,” said Rodriquez.

“So let’s all go into this regulatory process with the same mindset: that they’re coming here because they want to, and we need to at least make it a little bit easier for them to operate.”

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