Left behind: L’Anse lobbies state for revenue sharing

L’ANSE- The Village of L’Anse on Monday joined numerous other Michigan communities in asking the state legislature to use its budget surplus to return to local governments state funds that were cut over the past decade.

Estimates for this year’s state budget show a more than $1 billion surplus. The resolution, which the village council approved unanimously, says the state took back $6 billion that had been legally promised to local governments over the past decade for funding of things such as police and fire services, snow plowing and drinking water.

At the same time local property tax revenues were shrinking due to a poor housing market, the legislature was “taking local revenues to plug holes in the state budget,” according the resolution.

“We’re the group that’s been leaned on the most,” said L’Anse Village Manager Robert LaFave of local governments. “We have fewer employees now and it’s hard to maintain services.”

L’Anse’s resolution is part of a local government campaign for legislative support of municipalities that has been led by Michigan Municipal League President and Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan, and larger cities such as Southfield and Royal Oak were also scheduled to vote on similar resolutions last night. Local municipalities can’t force the state to provide more funding, but the goal of the resolutions is to garner legislative support to help local governments with their fiscal woes.

In a statement echoing the resolutions, Noonan urged the legislature to “fix Michigan’s broken municipal finance system.”

While it’s doubtful local governments will see the entire $6 billion they feel is owed them, they do have some support among legislators who’ve seen the challenges municipalities in their districts have faced.

State representative Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said he felt municipalities should be returned to state revenue sharing levels from before the cuts. He noted that state mandates require local governments to provide various services, but the legislature doesn’t necessarily help them get the funding they need to do so.

He added that he feels local governments do a good job using what money they do have efficiently, referencing his time with the Calumet Village Board of Trustees.

“Nobody really spends a dollar wiser than local government,” he said. “When I was involved with Calumet they could stretch a dollar pretty thin.”

Dianda said that while there are other worthy budget priorities as well, such as repealing a new tax on retirees, he felt other legislators would likely also be willing to support local governments with increased funding.

“When everybody goes back to their districts, they’re talking to local governments – the townships, counties, cities and villages,” he said. “They can see the challenges, especially with increases in fuel costs … and that’s part of our conversation down here.”

LaFave said the state believes about $600 million of its projected surplus is what it considers one-time revenue, or funds that it can’t count on annually. This could lead to talk of a one-time cash infusion, but LaFave said what’s really needed is a long-term funding solution municipalities can count on.

“Local governments are the closest to the people, where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “We need a partner.”