Officials Rally To Defeat Engler Veto

    GRAND RAPIDS —The largest gathering of local government officials ever assembled in the state’s history is expected to attend a rally on the Capitol lawn in Lansing tomorrow in protest of Gov. John Engler’s elimination of $845 million in statutory revenue sharing funds for Michigan cities, counties and townships this fiscal year.

    Their collective goal is to persuade legislators to override the governor’s veto of the funds.

    Donald Stypula, manager of the Michigan Municipal League State & Federal Affairs Division, said everyone in local government and a growing number of citizens across the state are angry about the veto, which he described as “the greatest threat facing local government in the history of the state of Michigan.” 

    The override issue will be the No. 1 item on the agenda when legislators return tomorrow for a one-day session to wrap up budget issues, Stypula said.

    “Why do we need this override?” he asked. “We have sat down with fiscal officers from across the state, with municipal attorneys across the state, and we have come to one conclusion: Because this falls in the middle of the fiscal year for most communities, we have — and the Legislature has — a fiduciary responsibility to restore this funding.”

    That’s the only way to ensure that citizens across the state continue to have the police, fire and other basic municipal services that they’ve come to rely on, he said.

    Joining the MML in calling for an override the governor’s veto are the Grand Valley Metro Council, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of Counties, the Chiefs of Police and Fire Chiefs associations, and the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association.

    State Rep. Steve Pestka (D-Grand Rapids) said there had been a general consensus in the Legislature that if the tobacco tax was passed, revenue sharing would be left alone.

    He said a lack of trust has been created by the situation.

    “If our local municipalities, townships and counties cannot rely on the state government to keep their word in terms of funding we face a fundamental crisis in this state.”

    He urged the City Commission last week to send “the strongest possible message to Lansing” that the withdrawal of revenue sharing funds wouldn’t be tolerated.  

    “The trust must be restored not only between local government and units of state government, but the bond between the people of this state and state government must be restored as well.”

    State Rep. Jerry Kooiman (R-Grand Rapids) said State legislators had a commitment that revenue sharing would not be cut if they voted for the cigarette tax increase, which went into effect Aug. 1.

    He said some legislators reluctantly voted for the cigarette tax hike in order to save a number of other cuts from happening.

    “I do not believe we can allow the veto to stand because there was a commitment. There was a promise that was made,” Kooiman told commissioners. 

    The city stands to lose $14.2 million in general fund revenues for the 2003 fiscal year unless legislators override Engler’s veto.

    The city’s fiscal year began July 1 and ends June 30, 2003.

    In a letter to City Manager Kurt Kimball, Assistant City Manager Robert White outlined two budget reduction scenarios designed to offset the revenue sharing loss.

    The first would involve eliminating the following offices and departments: Parks & Recreation, which costs some $7 million to operate; the public museum subsidy of $2.3 million; the $2.2 million streets capital subsidy; and the $1.3 million that supports the Neighborhood Improvement program.

    Also on the chopping block would be the offices of Community Development, Economic Development, and Children, Youth & Families.

    The second scenario would require eliminating at least 206 full-time positions.

    Permanent position cuts would include: Police Department, 76; Fire Department, 48; 61st District Court, 16; Parks & Recreation, 11; Engineering, 8; Neighborhood Improvement, 7; and all other general fund offices, 48.

    The city encouraged residents to log onto to its Web site and fill out a form that asks legislators to override the veto and restore funding to local communities.

    Mayor John Logie will be keynote speaker at the rally tomorrow.

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