City Leaders Blast Gov's Revenue Share Plan

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Cities, townships and villages would get more state money than last year under the governor's proposed budget, but they say it's little consolation after years of cash-strapped operations.

Representatives from four different cities and townships spoke out against the state's Economic Vitality Incentive Program, or EVIP, at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Tuesday morning.

"We're doing as much as we can with less right now," said Middleville Village Manager Rebecca Fleury, "and to add more bureaucratic paperwork on top of that is frustrating."

At issue is the amount of money the municipalities are set to receive from EVIP, which divvies up state sales tax dollars and redistributes them. Gov. Rick Snyder's budget calls for cities, townships and villages to share $765 million -- an amount that is mandated by the state constitution. Another $272 million would be distributed through EVIP.

Municipalities must meet certain criteria to receive state aid, including filing reports outlining their accountability and transparency.

Treasury Public Information Officer Terry Stanton says the reporting and benchmarks weren't made to be impossible, and many cities, townships and villages comply happily.

However, those reports have become a focal point for opponents of the EVIP.

"Nothing gets me more angry than when I have to submit my EVIP report," said Alma City Manager Phillip Moore. "It seems to be adding another layer of bureaucracy."

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett agreed, saying his city has been able to implement sturdy practices in spite of EVIP, not because of it.

"EVIP hasn't improved government transparency and access to information in our community because we had already been providing it," he said. "What EVIP has done is become a burdensome and counterproductive diversion of scarce municipal resources."

East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks, who is responsible for filing the reports called them "time consuming, tedious" and "not a good use of taxpayer-supported time."

"We just don't feel that we should have to do this at all," she said. "But obviously we need the money and so we're going to do what's required of us."

The time it takes to prepare the reports -- Wicks estimated upwards of 20 hours -- is the reason Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) says EVIP needs to be scrapped.

"The EVIP program is broken," he said. "It wasn't a success and the Governor and his team need to acknowledge that and move on to something new. Why are communities struggling? Why are they having to raise taxes? It's because the state of Michigan has balanced the budget for over a decade on the backs of these local governments."

East Lansing estimates it has lost $19 million since 2001, when the state provided more than $7 million in aid. Now, the city receives about $2 million less than that.

"It really affects everything," said City Manager George Lahanas. "These are general dollars we use to provide general services: police, fire, parks."

The committee adjourned Tuesday after an hour and a half of testimony, but plans to reconvene over the next few weeks to hear further testimony.

"Taxpayers do expect their money to be spent well and to challenge all governmental units to run themselves well," said Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson), the committee chairman. "I think EVIP has contributed toward that, now the question is what's the next generation of EVIP?"

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