County aims to take lead against revenue sharing cuts

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board is expected to draft a resolution with “teeth” and “ultimatums” on state revenue sharing shortfalls, hoping to galvanize support for action among other Michigan counties.

Projecting a nearly $300,000 shortfall in revenue sharing money in next year’s state budget, the Marquette County Board considered adopting a resolution Tuesday calling on Gov. Rick Snyder and the state Legislature to fully fund revenue sharing payments to counties.

However, former county commissioner Michael Quayle urged the panel to consider stronger measures.

“My fear is this resolution falls short as just another resolution,” Quayle said.

Quayle, speaking under privileged comment, suggested the board not approve the resolution it had prepared and ask the county administrator and civil counsel to put “teeth” and “ultimatums” in the document.

Without the state paying for its mandates, residents have no hope of receiving additional services funded by county governments like road repairs and more sheriff’s deputy road patrols, Quayle said.

The county board has been fighting the revenue sharing disparity for many years. Despite past hopes the issue would be resolved, no notable progress has been made.

“I applaud your efforts, but how many times have you done this,” Quayle asked.

In April 2012, the panel sent a letter to lawmakers and urged the Michigan Association of Counties to take legal action to ensure proper funding was provided to counties. County board Chairman Gerald Corkin said the U.P. county commissioners supported a lawsuit, but the counties association didn’t act.

“Staff has always poo-pooed it because they play in the same sandbox in Lansing as all the others,” Corkin said. “As long as all 83 counties don’t stand up and take some action, nothing is going to happen.”

Corkin said Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature have failed to make progress on the issue over the years. Corkin said state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba is currently working on a revenue sharing bill.

County officials said Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2014 budget recommendation was scheduled to include a 22.9 percent cut to counties from revenue projected, based on a 2004-2005 agreement. Administrator Scott Erbisch said Snyder was reducing that shortfall by 4 percent.

“Revenue sharing is used by counties to pay for the multitude of state-mandated services, including the courts, the jails, the constitutional officers, elections and the public health system,” the board’s resolution stated. “Coupled with the recent reductions in property values and increased mandated state service delivery, counties are stretched to the financial limit.”

In 2004-2005, counties agreed to forego revenue sharing for a period of time to help the state balance its budget. The board said counties were promised a return of that funding once reserves were depleted.

“Revenue sharing is more than just a pot of money to be allocated in whole or in part to counties; it is a statutory promise made to counties in exchange for giving up local taxing authority and for a more recent change in local taxing administration,” the resolution said.

Corkin said “olive branches” extended to the Legislature over the years have not worked.

“It’s been a frustrating thing,” Corkin said.

Counties will also be required to “earn” 20 percent of their funding allotment by fulfilling County Incentive Program requirements. The board said the concept of earning what has already been earned was “unacceptable.”

“Counties have worked diligently for the past decade by leading the effort to reform, consolidate and right-size government in an effort to increase efficiency and adjust to declining revenues, but a one-size-fits-all approach to the County Incentive Program Employee Compensation Category is not acceptable,” the resolution stated. “Each unit of government is in a different financial place – some growing, some declining, some healthy and some struggling – with their long-term liabilities. To say that all counties need to comply with a prescriptive formula on employee compensation would be a step backward for some and unattainable for others.”

Commissioner Deborah Pellow reiterated a long-held suggestion that if state government does not provide money to provide its mandated services, the county would send officials the keys to the county building.

“If we don’t finally say, ‘Enough is enough,’ we’re never going to get anywhere,” Pellow said.

Pellow said if it’s just Marquette County making that proclamation, she’s OK with that.

Commissioner Steven Pence said successful efforts to eventually change state landfill provisions were begun with Delta County taking a stand on its own.

Commissioner Paul Arsenault suggested sending the new resolution to be drafted for the board’s June 18 meeting be sent, after approval, to the other 14 U.P. counties, which were willing to sue over the issue.

“I’m not sure what teeth you could put into it,” Arsenault said.

The board did decide Tuesday to “take issue” with any new state mandates.

Former Michigan House Fiscal Agency Director Mitch Bean said in a recent article cited by the board that cumulative reductions in statutory revenue sharing exceeded $4.4 billion from 1998 through 2011.

“In addition, nearly all of the major tax-policy decisions the state has made in recent years have hurt local government funding,” Bean said.

Bean served as the director of the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency from 1999-2011.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.