Local Odds and Ends for February
By Stephen Tuttle | Feb. 4, 2023
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently gave her fifth State of the State address, and some people actually paid attention. Among other things, she proposed a tax cut for Michiganders. This is red meat for most Republicans, who always talk about tax cuts but are rarely able to enact them due to mostly Democratic opposition. Here, with a Democratic governor as an advocate, was a real opportunity.
But it might not be the best idea.
We know the state’s economy is not always going to be flush with a big budget surplus. Unless our memories have failed, it wasn’t that long ago Michigan was struggling to balance the budget as revenues had fallen and budget cuts were required. We might not face another Great Recession, but there will surely be some sort of economic downturn in our future. Lower tax rates will not help us weather that storm, and raising them to compensate would be next to a political impossibility.
A better idea for the governor would have been rebates to Michigan taxpayers, putting money in our pockets quickly while maintaining a stable tax rate for that rainy day sure to arrive.
Another ballot initiative has been gutted by the legislature’s adopt-and-amend abilities. This time it was a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, currently a paltry $3.84/hour, for service workers in the tip economy. Local restaurant operators who opposed the initiative claim their employees make way more than even the minimum wage for non-tip dependent workers. (Though one wonders why nearly every restaurant/bar has “We’re hiring” signs in place.)
Michigan needs an initiative we’ll call the Voter Protection Act, which prevents the legislature from altering citizen initiatives unless it is to expand or improve their intent. Voters should be able to have their say on initiatives unless the legislature adopts them basically intact. The current system is a sham.
On a more local note, Traverse City’s mayor, Richard Lewis, is now also the interim village manager (for a four-month stint during a search for a permanent manager) in Elk Rapids. Though both gigs are supposedly part-time, that would seem to be one job too many. There is some potential for conflict of interest, remote though it might be. Assume there is an issue that puts Elk Rapids and Traverse City at odds. Where would Mayor/Manager Lewis’ loyalties and priorities sit?
Maybe Lewis, who has plenty of experience, can help resolve Elk Rapids’ messy problems and restore some of their leadership’s lost credibility, but Traverse City needs his counsel and expertise, too.
Okay, let’s see if we understand this other local issue.
There are two lots in downtown Traverse City, one on West Front Street owned by the city and the other, larger lot on State Street owned by a construction company. The State Street site is a better location for the city’s Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) third parking deck. So a swap was engineered. The construction company lot is more valuable, so the city will have to come up with more than $1 million to complete the trade.
No problem; the DDA has the money to lend the city. So, the city will borrow the money from an entity it oversees so that same entity can build another parking deck about three blocks from an already existing parking deck, the Old Town Garage, which is so under-utilized—occupancy of only 21 percent in midday hours—they recently reduced the parking rates.
Another parking deck with more than 600 spots at a cost of a whopping $32 million to build might be utilized… or maybe not.
Lot O, at the corner of Cass and State Streets (the best little surface parking lot in the city), is being sold to HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing for some affordable housing. Really tiny affordable housing.
The city, which had to borrow money for the parking deck, will sell this lot for less than half its appraised value. Plans call for ground floor retail and four floors with 60 apartments, 80 percent of which will be reserved for lower income renters. Forty of them will be 245 square feet. Yes, some of you might have bigger rooms in your house. (By comparison, a 15-by-16-foot room is 240 square feet.) That size is not really ideal for even a small family that includes just one child.
So, people with the least amount of spendable income will be subsidized to live in the most expensive part of town in motel room-size apartments. That’s our affordable housing solution.