ALPENA - Five Michigan lawmakers on a government affairs committee spoke to Alpena Rotarians at their Monday lunch about a wide variety of topics, including changes to the personal property tax, road funding and a proposed international bridge in Detroit.
State Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, acted as host to fellow Republican members of the Local, Intergovernmental and Regional Affairs Committee, including Chairman Mark Ouimet, of Scio Township. Reps. Deb Shaughnessy of Charlotte, Bruce Rendon of Lake City and Al Pscholka of Stevensville also spoke to Alpena Rotary Club members about current governmental issues.
Pettalia said he often faces questions about current issues being tackled by the state legislature.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
State Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, introduces four other Republican members of the Local, Intergovernmental and Regional Affairs Committee at Monday’s Alpena Rotary Club lunch. Left to right are, Al Pscholka, Deb Shaughnessy, Bruce Rendon and committee Chairman Mark Ouimet.
"I always find it better to bring people up here to help explain it better than I can," Pettalia said.
Prior to the lunch, the lawmakers sat down and talked about what they've been dealing with and what they're seeing as of late.
"Actually, I think the feeling that I'm getting, we stayed in Petoskey last night, I think folks are a lot more optimistic than when we ran in 2010," Pscholka said. "I remember when I announced back in '09, the unemployment rate was 14.2 percent. Now, we're at 8.5 percent down in my area, which is Benton Harbor, St. Joe."
He said some manufacturers are actually hurting for workers.
Rendon and Ouimet agreed, both saying they've heard anecdotal evidence of an upswing in the housing and construction markets.
However, Pscholka said he believes there's still work to be done improving the business climate, and one of the possibilities discussed at the lunch is reforming or removing the personal property tax. Pettalia spoke to the audience about the tax that businesses pay on their equipment.
"The personal property tax is a very cumbersome and inaccurate form of taxation in the state of Michigan, and we believe it's a definite job killer in the small business realm," Pettalia said. "I think that's been proven."
The tax was introduced during President Jimmy Carter's administration as a temporary means to get through economic hardship.
"Just like any other tax, what happens in government, you learn to live on it," he said.
Part of the problem is the tax chases after small amounts from many businesses, which means assessors spend "too much time and energy for very little money," Ouimet said.
Despite the problems, legislators are considering revenues lost by communities because they're already facing decreasing revenues from other sources, Pettalia said.
"Today as their revenue goes down in other forms, we have to be concerned on how to replace it with something a little bit more meaningful," he said.
After Ouimet briefly discussed a bill to allow municipalities and government entities to more easily share services, Pscholka and Pettalia both discussed the highly controversial law enabling the appointing of financial managers to fiscally troubled cities.
The Fiscal Accountability Act prompted so much outrage, Pscholka said, that a sheriff jokingly told him to stay away from windows and open doors.
"I've had 17 death threats and two recall attempts after we did that legislation ... so it was quite an orientation for me starting out in the legislature," he said.
The law came about as Pscholka realized the impending debt crisis, with the federal debt and unfunded social program liabilities at $65 trillion.
In Pscholka's county, there were three communities that needed intervention, he said, with the worst being Benton Harbor. The 10,000-population city was $17 million in debt, and a year later the city won't need emergency management for much longer.
Emergency management also is considerably better than the alternative, Pscholka said, adding municipal bankruptcy would hurt a city more than help.
There are two common misconceptions that Pettalia wanted to dispel, he said. One of them is that emergency management means Gov. Rick Snyder becomes a city's dictator. Another is that emergency management means a city's employees all will be fired. Neither of these are true, he said.
Ouimet also discussed some plans to fix the state's road funding model, although one has elicited a push-back from state farmers. It would call for raising the registration fees by $120 per year. Since farmers have a lot of vehicles they use sparingly, they would be disproportionately affected.
In the meantime, the state's needs vastly outstrip its income. As roads and bridges decay faster than the state can afford to rebuild them, money from gasoline taxes and other sources is as much as $1.6 billion less than what is needed to fix them.
Pettalia called it an emotional issue. He mentioned a plan to raise the state sales tax by 1 percent, which would be dedicated to roads.
At the end, lawmakers weighed in on the controversy surrounding a proposal to build a second Detroit-Windsor bridge. Canadian officials have offered money to build it because they're unhappy with truck traffic from the Ambassador Bridge going through the heart of Windsor, Pettalia said.
While Matty Moroun is a "nice guy," Pettalia had his doubts about Moroun's company's attempts to discredit Snyder's effort to get the bridge built.
"He is spending millions upon millions of dollars to discredit the governor's bridge proposal," he said. "We're watching the commercials on TV, or reading them in the newspaper, they're biased at best."
Shaughnessy went even further, calling them "misinformation" and urging the audience not to believe what they're hearing from a new round of commercials.
"The fact is that the proposal in front of the Senate, they worked very hard on this to make sure no Michigan tax dollars are being used, that we would not have any liability for that bridge," she said.
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