They sat on opposite sides of the room, but when pressed to weigh in on making Michigan a right to work state, eliminating the personal property tax and improving area infrastructure, Macomb County’s local and state officials stood side-by-side on nearly every issue.
More than a dozen county commissioners, city mayors and state representatives gathered at Jan. 9 to field political and economic questions posed by senior capital correspondent Tim Skubick.
“Talk to us about right to work. Is it going to be on the agenda in this new legislative year and why would you stiff your governor by debating it?” Skubick asked state Rep. Pete Lund (R-District 36).
While Gov. Rick Snyder maintains he does not want Michigan to become a right-to-work state, for fear of the divisive deadlock experienced in Wisconsin and Ohio, the issue is one legislators are considering.
“The issue is brewing, I can tell you that for a fact,” Lund said. “I’m not sure if it will come before the legislature, but it is an issue you need to follow in the next few years.”
If the legislature does not bring the issue up, it can go before the general population as a referendum.
Although Macomb County’s representatives are divided on the issue itself, they are united in their stand that a referendum is preferable to action in Lansing.
“I have not and do not support right to work,” said state Rep. Harold Haugh (D-District 42).
“I think it should be the right of the business owner,” added state Rep. Ken Goike (R-District 32). “I would like to see it as a referendum as a state-wide issue. If it’s such an important issue, it can draw a lot of forces both good and bad.”
Non-officials present at the event gave their input as well. Little Camille’s Pizza owner Mark Miller said he favors a move toward right to work, while International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 President Dave Austin said he is “totally opposed to it in any way, shape or form.”
From a media perspective, Skubick said, “The governor is right on this one,” in that without bipartisan cooperation, a referendum is the preferred middle ground for tackling this issue.
Personal Property Tax
Though action on right-to-work is indefinite, eliminating Michigan’s personal property tax remains a top issue on the 2012 legislative agenda.
The consensus among Macomb County’s local and state representatives is that the tax needs to go, but would be crippling to local governments unless a replacement revenue stream can be supplied.
The city of Sterling Heights stands to lose $10 million, while Mount Clemens will miss $800,000 in revenue should the PPT be eliminated.
“Unless you can come up with a replacement, I would hope (legislators) would think twice about (eliminating PPT) because we just can’t take the hit,” said Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey. “($800,000) is half the budget of the fire department.”
Macomb County Commissioner Kathy Vosburg (R-District 25) said while she believes eliminating the PPT would help grow business in Michigan, she would have “second thoughts” if the legislature offered nothing to replace it.
Whether this replacement is immediate, or gradual, state Rep. Marilyn Lane (D-District 31) summarized the feelings of her counterparts saying, “Local governments can’t do with less or they’ll have to start sacrificing safety and services. How much more can we take? We can’t take any more.”
Raising Revenue to Improve the Roads
The only clearly divisive issue of the day was in regard to the governor’s call for renewed investment in infrastructure, which some representatives translated to mean "raising taxes."
Republican representatives such as Lund and Goike held to their party's "no new taxes" mantra, while Democrats such as state Reps. Jon Switalski (District 25) and Lesia Liss (District 28) maintained that investment in the area's infrastructure, even by means of taxes, would be beneficial in the long term.
Local officials agreed such investment is needed, but said the real issue at hand is transparency. Not all support new taxes, but all agree that wherever the money comes from, they must be able to see clearly where each dime is applied.
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, State Rep. Harold Haugh (D-District 42) was quoted as saying: “I have not and do not support right to work. I do agree a referendum would be the way to move forward. Macomb County’s delegation doesn’t always agree, but we have the ability to talk it out and work out what is best for Macomb County." The second and third sentences of this quote have been removed, as they were made in reference to a separate issue, not right to work.