Sikkema Joins The Casino Fight

November 18, 2003
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LANSING — A brief filed by Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema will get its day in court and in front of the state’s highest court.

The amici curiae brief from the Wyoming Republican joins one filed in September by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Both will be argued before the state Supreme Court as part of the Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos (TOMAC) v. State of Michigan case.

TOMAC contends that the Tribal Gaming Compacts that were approved in 1998 are unconstitutional because lawmakers ratified the agreements by resolution instead of the normal legislative method. The lawmakers’ action, taken at the end of a session, gave gaming compacts to four tribes including the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.

But the brief filed by Sikkema takes issue with action that Gov. Jennifer Granholm took last summer and not that of legislators five years ago. In July, the governor amended the 1998 compact and gave the Odawa tribe a second casino site.

The second site would pay the state a 10 percent tax on annual net winnings for the first $50 million and 12 percent for net winnings above $50 million. Under the compacts, Indian-owned casinos pay the state 8 percent on net winnings and municipalities 2 percent.

“We have two constitutional issues with the governor amending the 1998 compact. One is, whether or not that constituted a legislative action. We think it did,” said Bill Nowling, press secretary for Sikkema.

The senator bases his contention on Article 3 Section 2 of the state constitution. He said that section separates powers and prohibits a person in one branch from acting as someone in another branch. Sikkema feels Granholm, part of the executive branch, acted as a member of the legislative branch when she amended the compact.

“In our belief, that is a legislative action,” said Nowling.

In his brief, Sikkema also argues that the governor can’t appropriate money. When she gave the Odawa tribe a second casino and raised the tax payment, she also redirected the revenue to the state’s General Fund from the Michigan Strategic Fund, which was selected to receive gaming tax revenue.

The senator said redirecting that revenue without legislative approval violates Article 9 Section 17 of the constitution and state law MCLA 18.1441.

“What she is doing is making an appropriation and the constitution is pretty clear that money in the Treasury may only be appropriated through a legislative act,” said Nowling.

The chamber claims that the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians was given a gaming compact for Allegan County by resolution, too, and only by the House. The organization says that action also violates the state constitution.

The business group alleges that Article 4 Section 22 specifically states that all legislation must be made into law by bill and that House members didn’t follow that process when they awarded the compact for Wayland Township.

Last February, the chamber said Kent County businesses would lose $605 million to a casino in Wayland Township over a 10-year period.

The Supreme Court hasn’t set a date to hear the arguments.           

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