Economic Development and Government

County lists legislative concerns

February 15, 2013
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Preserving its revenue base, especially its funding from the state, is the top legislative priority for Kent County.

The county’s Legislative Committee released its annual list of top priorities, which totaled 13 this year, all of them related to revenue preservation in some direct or indirect manner.

Topping the list was to make sure Lansing lawmakers offer an equitable replacement for the county’s revenue loss when the commercial and industrial portions of the Personal Property Tax are eliminated. Kent receives $10.2 million annually from the tax, but not all of that will go away, as utilities will continue to pay their PPT share.

The Legislature has designated income from the use tax that businesses pay as a replacement, which has been estimated at covering about 80 percent of the projected loss. But to seal that deal, voters have to approve a transfer of those dollars from the state’s general fund to this intended use in an August 2014 election.

Of the $10.2 million the county gets from the PPT, $8.1 million is spent on general services, $1.5 million goes to the detention-and-corrections fund, and $600,000 is deposited into the senior millage account.

“It is important that the county continue to monitor this issue to ensure that as much replacement funding as possible takes place,” said Jim Saalfeld, commission vice chairman and chair of the Legislative Committee.

Getting legislators to fully restore state revenue sharing was second on the priorities list. Last year’s state budget reduced revenue shares to counties to 78 percent of what each previously received. The reduction dropped Kent’s share to $9.1 million.

But for this year’s budget, the state’s revenue-sharing program became the County Incentive Program. It cuts all counties’ shares by 20 percent from last year’s reduced payments, which means roughly $1.8 million less would be coming to Kent. If a county qualifies for the incentive program, it could get the missing 20 percent.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said he expects the county will qualify to recover that projected reduction because it has complied with the new incentive program.

“We want to work with our legislators to ensure that what we get is what we’re getting now. We peaked at $12.1 million. Now we’re at $9.1 million,” he said.

Stopping unfunded state mandates, preventing Lansing from reallocating county dollars for state uses and limiting the county’s financial liability for inmates’ medical expenses are three other legislative priorities on the list.

Another one has a more localized feel to it. The county wants state lawmakers to stop tax-capturing districts, such as the Downtown Development Authority, the SmartZone and others, from taking a piece of the corrections-and-detention and senior millages.

Kent has consistently argued that county voters approved and renewed those property-tax levies with an intention that all the revenues from both would go to the jail and for services to senior residents.

“Whenever new tax capture districts are created, we want the opportunity to opt out. We don’t want any to capture revenue from millages in which the revenue is designated for a specific purpose,” said Delabbio.

As for Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plan for next year, Commissioner Tom Antor said a portion of it was self-defeating and ridiculous. Antor took issue with Snyder’s proposal to give more money to the Pure Michigan tourism marketing program, while raising the gasoline tax and the hunting and fishing license fees for those who are drawn here by the program.

“Pure Michigan is pure folly,” Antor said.                         

If lawmakers approve the governor’s spending plan, the state gas tax will rise by 14 cents to 33 cents a gallon, and registration fees for light trucks and cars will go up by 60 percent. At first, Snyder said he was interested in taxing gasoline at the wholesale level to increase the state’s transportation funding, but he apparently changed his mind.

Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates, the county’s Lansing lobbying firm, said Snyder’s budget proposal will be highly controversial with Republicans in the state House.

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