This week was exciting, as we had a some controversial resolutions at our Board meeting.
First, we considered a resolution that I authored with Commissioner Brian McGrain that would create a Task Force to study the idea of an economic development millage. The idea of the resolution is to look at the positives and negatives of PA 88. The task force will be made up of commissioners, business groups, taxpayer groups, and anyone else who is interested. I hope we can discuss the pro's and con's of having a fund specifically targeted to assisting in small business and entrepreneurial job creation. I look forward to hearing what the businesses of the county have to say, and to hearing what people are willing to pay (if anything). There are no predetermined outcomes of this task force, and we will see what the parties recommend. All Commissioners supported this except Commissioners Schafer, Dragonetti, and Vickers. They indicated that all task forces result in something so they are opposed to discussing it. I, of course, disagree with that and think discussion of issues like this are vital to assist the county in things helping entrepreneurs to create jobs...but we can agree to disagree and still stay civil.
The second controversial resolution was calling on the Legislature to oppose cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Several Commissioners indicated that cutting the EITC would be a tax on low-income workers who can now receive the benefit of this credit. The Republicans indicated that they didn't think it is appropriate for the County to weigh in on state issues. I pointed out that eliminating the EITC could result in low-income residents of Ingham County in needing more services from our Health Department. That, combined with the revenue sharing cuts we are expecting and the declining tax collections, will cause big problems for the County so we have every reason to weigh in. The resolution passed 12-4 on party lines.
Finally, we again considered the Pollution Prevention (P2) resolution. This resolution, as lyoal readers of the Schor Blog found out last week, would require that businesses in possession of certain amounts of dangerous chemicals on site have to create certain plans and provide them to the county. This would, in essence, codify current county policy and would add a fee to it. We don't charge a fee now, and the taxpayers pick up the entire cost of the program. In public testimony, we had several first responderd (police and fire) testify in support of the resolution. They said that they need these plans for if there is a fire and they have to run into a building. They need to know where the chemicals are and what the dangers are of exploding. Other groups, like the Michigan Environmental Council, also weighed in as supportive. The business community opposed the resolution. Demmer Corporation and Granger and the Michigan Manufacturers and others testified that there are problems with the regulation and that they didn't want to pay the fees.
As you may recall, I voted against this in the Finance Committee. Regarding the fee, I have indicated that I believe that the taxpayers should not have to foot the whole bill for this program, especially with a $5.3 million deficit coming to the county for 2011. But, I thought that 75% in the first year was just too much at one time. On the Board floor, Commissioner Victor Celentino proposed and I supported an amendment that would reduce the fees from 75% to 50% to the businesses (and 50% to the taxpayers). When that passed, several of us were more comfortable with the fee and it passed 13-3. We then considered the regulation. Commissioner Todd Tennis, the Human Services Chair, offered several amendments to satisfy the concerns of the business community that were raised in public comment. Commissioner Tennis also indicated that he would review the regulation in a few months. I offered up an amendment to require the affected businesses be notified electronically in advance when that hearing happens. When that passed, I expressed that I would support the regulation. I am not sure it is perfect, but it is a lot better than it was last year and we will have a required review to ensure we can work out any problems that are raised. After having this come up twice and having new issues brought up at the last minute each time, I decided that it is now time to start this program in order to collect the 50% fees for the 2010 budget (which is less than budgeted).
Oh, and as an aside, I was on the radio talking about this regulation yesterday and one of the Republican Commissioners indicated that it is a tax. I am not sure why they are saying that, as it is false. This is clearly a fee, as it is only assessed on those that use the program (those that have the chemicals) and the money collected is not being used for anything other than this program (which only covers 50% of the cost). I understand that the businesses don't want to pay this fee, but I honestly believe that the taxpayers can no longer afford to subsidize this 100%. And I am disappointed that this is resolution is being mis-characterized as a tax when that is clearly not true. The final resolution passed with 12 of the 13 Democrats supporting it (the 13th abstained because her business is affected by the regulation) and one of the three Republicans supporting it. I would like to thank Commissioner Todd Tennis for all the work he did on this with the outstanding Health Department staff this year, and Commissioner Brian McGrain for all the time and hard work he put into this last year. I also would like to thank Commissioner Randy Schafer for going against his political party and staying consistent in his continual support of first responders and voting in support of this regulation.
This week, the County Commissioners also heard from our staff about some of the budget challenges coming for the 2011 budget. This blog is long enough already, though, so I will report on that another week.
And don't forget, my exploratory committee for the State House of Representatives! Please go to facebook and click on “like” for the page at www.facebook.com/andyschor, and go to the website to read my letter and provide information if you want to volunteer. Soon, the webpage will be updated and there will be fundraiser information and information about supporters. The effort is going really well!