Michigan campgrounds, hotels, libraries, museums, retail stores, casinos, barbershops, public swimming pools, restaurants, day camps, hospitals, laundromats, dentists, nail salons, day spas, car dealerships, bottle returns, vacation rentals, colleges and a host of other things are open, but not gyms or movie theaters.
If we can find a way to safely social distance at all these other places, Michigan can find a way to safely open gyms and theaters. We need action on this. Permanent closures and layoffs are happening. Just recently the YMCA announced more than 1,000 layoffs.
At the same time, these businesses that remain completely closed or significantly restricted after months of the public health emergency are still facing their summer 2020 property tax bills. In addition to calling for the safe and appropriate reopening of these businesses, the Grand Rapids Chamber has put property tax deferral at the top of our Smart Restart Agenda to support the industries that have had the most difficult path and have the most uncertainty ahead.
Property taxes are often the largest bill a business receives, and it is a looming threat to the long-term viability of many businesses. It also is a fundamental issue of fairness.
Should a business, closed by government order, be forced to bear the additional burden of interest, penalties and fees on property taxes it cannot pay due to the government’s response to a public health threat?
The answer is a resounding: “No.”
Following months of work with stakeholders, the Legislature overwhelmingly sent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer legislation to give certain businesses and individuals until March 2021 to pay this year’s summer property taxes without penalties or fees. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bills despite nearly unanimous, bi-partisan support.
No one is asking for forgiveness. There is no handout, subsidy or free money. This is a bridge into 2021 for the businesses that, through no fault of their own, may not be able to earn enough revenue this year to pay the bills.
Some of the businesses that help define our community as cultural cornerstones are the most likely to suffer without a solution. Our ballparks, theaters, concert venues and restaurants, where people create shared experiences, deserve an extension without punishing interest. We need to stand up for them and their employees.
The Chamber hasn’t given up on them. We continue to urge the safe opening of these venues and urge the governor and Legislature to pass a property tax deferment solution into law.
Doing nothing and keeping these vulnerable businesses shuttered while piling on unfair fees and penalties is the path we are on. We need to change course. We need action to give these businesses a fighting chance.
We call on Gov. Whitmer and the Legislative leaders to make it a priority to support these businesses, and soon.
Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce