GVMC to discuss Nov. 6 ballot proposals

October 5, 2012
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At Monday’s meeting of the Grand Valley Metro Council, board members are expected to discuss some of the six proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot. GVMC Executive Director John Weiss said the agency’s Legislative Committee talked about three of the measures at its last meeting, and the board is likely to get a report on that discussion.

But Weiss wasn’t certain if there would be any discussion on the others because state Attorney General Bill Schuette is the council’s speaker at its quarterly luncheon and is likely to address the board at the meeting. It’s also uncertain whether the council will take a public position on some, or even all, of the measures at the meeting as a way to be heard and possibly influence the vote.

Taking a stance on serious issues isn’t a departure for the Metro Council; the agency has done that multiple times in the past and has even traveled to Lansing to make its feelings known. But for at least three of the council members — the ones who represent Kent County on the board — taking a hard line on any of those proposals would be a deviation of sorts.

The county has stuck by its policy that if an issue doesn’t directly affect it, then the commission doesn’t take an official stance. However, in the upcoming election, one proposal presents the county with a gray area — and it’s gray enough that Commissioner Carol Hennessy, one of the county’s representatives to the council, wondered what the proper procedure was in this situation.

Hennessy sits on the council’s Legislative Committee, and at its last meeting, members voted on the three proposals that were discussed. “I abstained from the votes that were taken,” she said.

The voting issue surfaced at the county’s Executive Committee meeting when County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio brought up a proposal that, if approved, would amend the state constitution and require a two-thirds vote from the state Legislature to raise tax revenue.

Delabbio, who also sits on the council’s board, said the measure doesn’t affect the county directly. But he said indirectly it could realistically freeze the amount of state revenue the county receives in the future to its current level, a situation he saw as possibly another restriction in a line of existing ones.

“What is troublesome is that, given the ability of local units to see increases in revenue due to limitations on property taxes through the Headlee amendment and Proposal A and any proposed ‘remedies’ to the Personal Property Tax, this adds to the burden of capping already stressed resources and will impact the county’s ability to provide services,” wrote Delabbio in a memo he gave committee members.

“I think everyone universally believes this is not a good proposal,” he said. Delabbio added that the Michigan Municipal League, which represents the state’s cities, has gone on record against the measure known as Proposal 5. He said the statewide county association hadn’t taken a public stance yet, but he expects it will soon. “Some take positions, some don’t. We tend to stay on the sidelines and not take positions,” said Delabbio.

“A two-thirds vote can certainly come back and affect us,” said Hennessy. She asked whether the county representatives should weigh in on the proposals if the Metro Council takes a vote next week.

Commissioner Dan Koorndyk, who chairs the county’s Legislative Committee, thought they should as long as they offer a disclaimer of sorts.

“Your position should be that the county has not historically taken a position on things like this, but this is my personal position,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Saalfeld, the county’s third council representative, said they had to chime in if something can negatively affect county operations.

“I guess what I’m hearing is our members on the Metro Council should vote their consciences,” said Sandi Frost Parrish, commission chairwoman. But if a vote is taken at Monday’s meeting, Delabbio said, “We’ll probably have three ‘abstains.’”

In addition to Proposal 5, the council’s Legislative Committee discussed the collective bargaining ballot measure and the one regarding the construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Both also would amend the state’s constitution.

“We don’t know whether we’ll do anything with them at all,” said Hennessy. “It’s all special interest groups. That’s all it is,” said Koorndyk of the proposals.

At the last GVMC meeting, board members heard from Consumers Energy Lead Area Manager Karen McCarthy as to why her employer opposes Proposal 3, which would amend the constitution and require electric utilities to produce 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. McCarthy said Consumers is on track to reach the 10 percent level by 2015, a state standard the Legislature set in 2008. “We believe in renewable energy,” she said.

But McCarthy also said Consumers wants to wait another three years to determine where the energy situation stands. She added that the company doesn’t support amending the Constitution for this issue and prefers that lawmakers tackle it.

Consumers Energy has estimated that it could cost from $10 million to $12 million just to implement the 25 percent standard and doing so would raise electricity costs for consumers. Backers of the proposal, though, claim passage would result in 94,000 new jobs for the state, jobs that couldn’t be outsourced.

Consumers Energy is sponsoring Schuette’s appearance at the Metro Council on Monday.

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