GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council recently set their legislative priorities for the 94th Michigan Legislature, which convenes next month.
But GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula made it clear to members that they should limit the number of priorities to a relative handful because new state representatives and senators will have their hands full with the matters they’ll be facing.
“They are overwhelmed with issues,” he said.
So the Metro Council decided to make the following four its focus for the upcoming state legislative year:
- Restore statutory revenue sharing to counties and begin making full revenue-sharing payments to cities, townships and villages.
- Continue local control for telecom franchising.
- Amend several state statutes to remove impediments for governments that want to share services.
- Restructure the business tax so it encourages job retention and business expansion, while maintaining revenues for public services.
“These are where we will expend most of our energies this year,” said Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, who chairs the council’s legislative committee.
But one of the priorities could be out of the council’s grasp, as the lame duck Senate followed the House’s lead and passed a statewide telecom cable franchise bill last week. A loss of revenue and control over rights-of-way are two concerns members have about the bill, if it becomes law.
In addition, a new law would let existing cable providers opt out of the local contracts they have with municipalities. Such a move would likely mean less revenue for the public access channels that Comcast Cable offers in Grand Rapids.
Under the existing contract, 40 percent of the $1.4 million the city receives from Comcast each year goes to the Community Media Center for those channels. A new law would reportedly cut that figure in half to about $280,000 a year.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm indicated earlier that she wouldn’t sign the bill unless the “net neutrality” issue was resolved. Stypula said legislators in the just-ended session were far apart on how to resolve that matter and those in the upcoming session could experience the same difficulty.
Stypula also said the Michigan Business Tax — the governor’s replacement for the Single Business Tax — was too complex for lawmakers to examine in the short session. He said the MBT would likely serve as the basis for a replacement tax, but it also may include portions of tax proposals from the Michigan, Detroit and Grand Rapids chambers of commerce.
“The MBT will be the vehicle they will use,” he said.
Revenue sharing probably won’t increase unless the economy picks up. Stypula said total revenue to the state in November was $80 million less than in previous years. Projections show that revenue to the state will remain low for much of 2007.
“I think we need to take a strong position that communities be held harmless (from budget cuts) and revenue sharing be reinstated to counties,” said Michael DeVries, Grand Rapids Township supervisor.
The Metro Council also unofficially adopted another legislative priority and that is to make their unified voice better heard in Lansing. Root said lawmakers called the arguments made against the telecom franchise bill by the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Township Association “whining.”
Root said it was critical to make legislators understand that the MML and MTA represent council members.
“If they don’t want to hear from them, then they’ll hear from us,” he said.
“It’s been a very, very good year for us,” said GVMC Chairman Jim Buck, also mayor of Grandville.