Sikkema Makes An Appeal

June 8, 2006
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LANSING — Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema has filed an amici curiae brief with the state Court of Appeals charging that Gov. Jennifer Granholm violated the separation of powers clauses contained in the Michigan Constitution.

The brief from the Grandville Republican is similar to the one he filed nearly three years ago as part of the Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos v. State of Michigan case that was heard by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Although the state’s top court ruled against TOMAC, the justices sent Sikkema’s brief to the appellate court for its review.

The brief filed by Sikkema took issue with action that Granholm took in July 2003, when the governor amended a 1998 casino compact with the Odawa tribe for its Petoskey casino and also gave the tribe a second casino near Mackinaw City.

Sikkema felt the governor acted as a legislator, not as an executive, when she took those actions. The senator based his contention on Article 3 Section 2 of the constitution. Sikkema said that section separates powers and prohibits a person in one branch from acting as someone in another branch.

When Granholm amended the Odawa compact, the governor also altered the tribe’s payment to the state for the second casino.

The agreement the governor made with the second casino has the tribe paying a 10-percent tax on annual winnings for the first $50 million and 12 percent for net winnings above $50 million.

Under the 1993 compacts made with Native American tribes, the casinos pay the state 8 percent on net winnings, with 2 percent going to the local unit of government that is home to a casino.

Granholm also retained the right to redirect the revenue from the Michigan Strategic Fund, which was designated to receive gaming revenue, to other accounts.

Sikkema argues that Granholm can’t appropriate money because that function belongs to the Legislature. The senator claims that redirecting revenue without legislative approval violates Article 9 Section 17 of the constitution and state law MCLA 18.1441.

Ari Adler, press secretary for the senator, said late last week that Sikkema has filed his brief with the appellate court.

State Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, said several weeks ago during a meeting with the Business Journal’s editorial board that he expected some action on the state level that would keep Granholm from signing a gaming compact.

Kooiman emphasized the importance of stopping the spread of tribal gaming.

“I think one would be enough, let alone 23 or 24,” he said.

Kooiman argued that a tribal casino would lead to an increase in white-collar crime, blight and a host of other social concerns. But chief among Kooiman’s complaints was the very existence of tribes as sovereign nations, a status protected on multiple occasions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Once they have tribal designation, what they can do environmentally, they can literally take over counties,” he said, alluding to the possibility of a tribe extorting neighboring townships with environmental complaints or through direct annexation.

“It’s like a relationship with another country. You have to be careful. If we give them this, then we might as well secede most of that nation to Indian tribes,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the path we want to go down. Hell, we’ll have a war before that happens.”

While Kooiman’s argument pertained to the area surrounding the Soaring Eagle Casino Resort in Mount Pleasant — where no proof of such activity exists — it is true that designated Indian lands are not limited to reservations

Ironically, the only known case of such an action occurred with a Connecticut tribe that never received a gaming compact, the Mashantucket Pequots.

Using revenue generated from a 1,200-seat bingo hall, the tribe was able to purchase land outside of its settlement area, and eventually annexed the land despite the protests of the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston.

Kooiman told the Business Journal a House-passed resolution that awarded a gaming compact to the Gun Lake tribe for Wayland Township was no longer valid.

“That resolution specifically named Governor (John) Engler,” the Grand Rapids Republican said. “The House believes that resolution is null and void. It would have to be a new resolution adopted by the Legislature.”    

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