Government and Law

Association files suit to stop Grand Rapids street-tax question

March 7, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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A Grand Rapids group with ties to Americans for Prosperity says the city missed the deadline for its street tax ballot proposal, making the special election invalid.

The Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association announced its suit March 7, filed because “it was revealed earlier this week that the city failed to meet a deadline for ballot proposals to be certified to the county clerk.”

The May 6 special election will ask voters to extend the city income tax increase of 2010, which is set to expire in June 2015. The 2010 vote raised the tax rate on corporations and city residents to 1.5 percent of their income, from 1.3 percent, and to 0.75 of a percent for non-residents, up from 0.65 percent. If approved in May, the extension would continue for 15 years, with that additional revenue dedicated to repair of Grand Rapids streets and sidewalks.

Jeff Steinport, the attorney representing the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, said because the election and resulting tax would be invalid under the statute, it was important to file the suit immediately.

“It's not about trying to block funding for the roads. It’s about making sure the city follows the same elections rules as everyone else,” said Steinport, who filed the suit in Kent County Circuit Court. “This is about saving the city the $80,000 that would be wasted on this invalid election should it not be canceled.”

Calls to the city for comment were directed to Catherine Mish, city attorney, who did return them by press time.

The group said in an announcement that if the court grants an injunction, or the city cancels the May election, the street tax could be placed on a ballot in a future election, such as in August or November.

The Facebook page for the Americans for Prosperity-Michigan states that it sponsored a February organizational meeting of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association at Brann’s Steakhouse in Grand Rapids.

The Washington Post has reported that the Americans for Prosperity are currently sponsoring television ads in Michigan against U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters, a Democrat and three-term U.S. Representative from southeast Michigan, because he voted for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Peters is opposed in the Senate race by Republican Terri Lynn Land of West Michigan.

Steinport said the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association is a “committee of volunteers.” He said about 50 people attended the event at Brann’s on Feb. 7.

Update

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said Friday he believes the May 6 vote will go forward, and he is “distressed” that a citizens’ group would try to stop a vote on such an important issue.

“I am absolutely confident in our position on this,” Heartwell said, adding that elections officials from the city, county and state have reviewed and approved the ballot language.

“We’re confident that, procedurally, we are correct with this," Heartwell said. "Quite honestly, I’m distressed that this group of citizens would want to stop the people of Grand Rapids from voting on this, which I believe is the most important and critical issue the city has facing it, which is our crumbling infrastructure.”

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