Giving Local Governments the Tools They Need
to be Successful
By Mark Ouimet
As chair of the House Local, Governmental and Regional Affairs Committee, one of my main priorities at the Capitol is to give local governments the tools they need in order to be successful.
But here’s the challenge: Michigan's local governments are facing the same budget difficulties the state has been experiencing. Retirement costs for employees, declining property tax revenues, and population loss are making it difficult for all governments.
I want everyone in the Michigan Municipal League family to know that we're doing everything we can, both in the committee and the House, to partner with cities to help them manage the immense challenges they face. We’d also like to present our cities with new opportunities for growth.
One issue that has been on our docket over the last year is urban cooperation. A set of bills that passed through the committee promotes consolidating or sharing services. We all know that employee wage and benefit protections limited Michigan locals from consolidating services. We removed these obstacles, and our Urban Cooperation Package, which is now law, is making it more financially attractive for local entities to work together.
Many Michigan municipalities have saved costs by consolidating services. For example, the range of emergency dispatch centers used to overlap, but now they can become highly efficient partnerships. Smaller townships with their own fire departments used to have to purchase expensive ladder trucks designed to serve small and medium-sized cities, but now they can split the cost with their neighbors without service interruptions. These are common-sense changes that help people work together and save taxpayer money. We need more of this in Michigan.
PA 312 Reform
The House also tackled reforms to PA 312 last year. PA 312 put too much power in the hands of an arbitrator who may or may not have considered what the municipality could afford. Our reform, PA 116 of 2011, puts the interests of the resident back at the forefront of these important negotiations.
As costs continue to skyrocket, local governments need every available option to stay fiscally sound and keep essential services, such as public safety, available. Our first responders are still allowed to collectively bargain like all other public employees, including teachers, under the new law passed last year.
Our local municipalities were facing an impossible choice—either lay off police and firefighters or increase taxes on struggling Michigan families. Making these changes to PA 312 was the right thing to do.
In 2012, we'll continue to look at ways to give local governments the tools necessary to be more successful. As with the 2011 legislative session, I’ll seek bipartisan solutions to our challenges. Having been in the minority party during my entire tenure at the local level, I make sure to always allow debate and input from both sides of the aisle and will continue to do so this year. We need all hands on deck to solve our state’s challenges, and that means bringing everyone to the table.
Personal Property Tax Reform
Many of you have heard the Legislature may consider personal property tax reforms this year. It has always been my intention to find some type of replacement revenue if, in fact, the Legislature votes to reform the personal property tax. This is a huge issue for Michigan local governments and I will continue to seek input from my local elected officials if this issue moves through the legislative process.
Our first priority is to make Michigan more conducive for job creation. To help in this process, we must end the double taxation of local job creators. Michigan should never punish small businesses for making long-term investments in our communities.
I'll work to make sure local governments are not undermined in any way. If PPT reforms take place, we will make them in a way that works for everyone.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any thoughts as we enter the 2012 legislative session. As a former city councilmember and county commissioner, I know the struggles local municipalities face and am always willing to work together with all stakeholders to find creative solutions.
Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township served as a member of the Ann Arbor
City Council from 1988-1992 and was a member of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners from 2004-2010. He can be reached toll free at 855-627-5052 (855-MARK052) or firstname.lastname@example.org.