By Ilsa Matthes
HARRIS - The Michigan Township Association held its U.P. Summit Wednesday and Thursday, and more than 100 township officials attended the two-day conference, which featured a special guest appearance by legislative officials.
Sen. Tom Casperson, Sen. Howard Walker, Rep. Matt Huuki, Rep. Steven Lindberg, Rep. Ed McBroom, and MTA legislative liaison Tom Fraizer formed the panel during the Legislative Lowdown session on Thursday. The event was moderated by Judy Allen, MTA director of legislative affairs.
The panel discussed a number of topics, including beach grooming, personal property taxes and road funding.
Casperson fielded questions about the new beach grooming regulations, which he supported.
"I can't fix the Army Corps. The Army Corps still requires permits but we are monitoring it," he said.
Army Corps permits are required for some beach grooming tasks below the ordinary high watermark.
"Please keep us posted as you go through the process because if you run into snags, we want to know that and document that," Casperson told one woman who was trying to get clearance to groom her beach. "Again, I don't know what I can do on the state level to battle the Army Corps, but I'm going to be very vocal if I start seeing a pattern where all of a sudden they're coming in with this heavy weight."
Township representatives were very interested in the abolition of the personal property tax. Lawmakers have put in conditions that the personal property tax can only be removed if there is a source of replacement funding.
"I think the personal property tax, as a business owner, is one of the worst taxes out there," said Huuki. "It's counter-investment. Basically, if you go and invest in an expensive piece of equipment, you get hammered on that for years to come. For investment purposes, it's a horrible tax, but it's a very valuable tax for revenue streams to our units of local government."
Lindberg voiced concern about replacing the personal property tax with another tax. "The problem that I see with the replacement is, and what I want to be careful about is, what we replace it with and who has control over the tax that we replace," he said. "I think we have to be really careful with this bill, if we change this, that we make sure we hold our local governments harmless - and truly hold them harmless."
Even among proponents of a replacement tax there are concerns.
"One of the frustrations with the discussion that goes on for those of us who are lobbying for a replacement, is that 'Oh well, we're going to replace it, but at 80 percent' or something," said McBroom. "If we change those numbers a little bit, can't we get to a 100 percent replacement?"
Another major issue facing U.P. townships is the underfunding of roads. Walker explained a proposal that he has made to change the source of road funding.
"It changes the revenue source from a 19 cent per gallon tax and 15 cent per gallon diesel to a 1 cent increase in the sales tax.
"Using the sales tax ties it to the economy," he added.
The proposal would require a citizen vote because sales tax is part of the state constitution.
Walker did express that there was an issue bringing in the necessary match to receive money from the federal Department of Transportation.
"We did have trouble finding appropriation to match the federal dollars that were available this year, but we did identify a source which I think will last us a couple years," he said.