Eastpointe joins filing against state government

Charges allege that state has violated its own constitutional local funding requirements

Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published March 23, 2016

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EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe City Council voted unanimously March 15 to provide $1,500 for a legal effort by the newly formed nonprofit organization Taxpayers for the Michigan Constitution to take the state government to court over municipal and school revenue-sharing issues.

City Manager Steve Duchane, who helped form the group, said communities across the county have discussed it, and that they seek to end state practices that he said have led to less money being provided to local governments than the state constitution requires.

Duchane said that under its constitution, the state should be providing 48.9 percent of all state spending to be used locally, going toward local municipal governments and public schools. The state has instead been providing closer to 33 percent, he said.

“They’re not meeting that,” Duchane said. “They’re funding things such as charter schools that don’t count toward local government. I’m not saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on them, but they can’t be calculated as a local government because they’re not — and the state also has decided to calculate spending on roads where they contract with us to maintain a (state-owned) trunk line; they’re calling that local spending, which it is not.”

The other factor, he added, is that state law limits how much a city or school can raise in taxes within its own borders through the Headlee Amendment. Duchane said the state failed to adjust the amendment accordingly when Proposal A passed and schools started getting their money through the state as well.

Eastpointe Finance Director Randy Blum said that the city has lost millions over the years since the state started reducing its shared revenue to local governments.

“Based on how much it’s dropped over the years, if you did it cumulatively, maybe $3.5 to $4 million, maybe even more,” Blum said. “I would comfortably say if they did it right, (we would see) $200,000 to $250,000 more a year.”

Duchane believes the issues communities like Detroit and Flint, and school districts like Detroit Public Schools, have faced are all symptoms of these funding issues, and despite participating in state-designated task forces to come up with solutions, the Legislature has failed to act on them up to this point.

As a result, Duchane said the organization hopes to utilize a right under the Michigan constitution to bring the state government to court and force it to change these funding calculations.

“The state has shown no interest in fixing these problems,” he said, adding that the problem goes back to before Gov. Rick Snyder’s time in office. “We don’t believe there’s any negotiation available to correct this without more significant legal action to force their hand to do so.”

He said they have people at the Wayne State University law school and another law center helping with the “legal grinding” and filing costs, and they are trying to raise money to help get expert witnesses to prove their case in the courtroom.

Currently, the nonprofit has pledges of around $10,000, though Duchane said they are still trying to raise money. Around a dozen communities have already voiced support, Duchane added, and more information is pending as the nonprofit rolls out its goals and strategy.

Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley said the city’s donation of $1,500 is a small investment compared to what it could get back.

“I think the city stands to gain a great deal more than the $1,500 would cost,” Pixley said.

State Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, and a representative of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office could not be reached by press time for comment.

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