League Connects Local Leaders With Senate Appropriations Chair; Mayor Donker Testifies in D.C.

Posted on May 5, 2020 by Dene Westbrook

Senator Jim Stamas (second row center) had a virtual meeting with community leaders and League staff Monday.

A number of local officials had the opportunity to meet virtually with State Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland) on Monday, May 4, to hear an update on the state budget process and the Legislature’s understanding of the state revenue picture at this time. The senator also wanted to hear first-hand about the financial impacts that COVID-19 is having on Michigan communities.

The Michigan Municipal League greatly appreciates Senator Stamas taking the time to meet with these local officials and our staff and to learn about the financial challenges being faced by local government across the state.

Officials from Saginaw, Westland, Battle Creek, Rogers City and Grand Rapids joined Michigan Municipal League staff in the meeting with Stamas, chair of the Senate appropriations committee and until recently, long-time chair of the General Government subcommittee, responsible for revenue sharing. Local leaders on the call were Saginaw Mayor Pro-Tem Brenda F. Moore, League president; Westland Mayor William Wild, League vice-president; Battle Creek City Manager Rebecca Fleury; Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Joe Hefele, city manager for Rogers City.

It was a very productive and enlightening meeting as the local officials heard Senator Stamas discuss how the state is facing a deficit that he is expecting could be as much as $3 billion for both the current and next fiscal year due to the coronavirus. He expressed concern that even those estimates are clouded by a lack of clear revenue data (until the May 15th consensus revenue estimating conference) and questions that remain over the eligible uses of federal stimulus money that the state has received.

Moore and Hefele discussed how their communities will be hard hit by the expected declines in constitutional revenue sharing, which is tied to the sales tax. The officials asked that the state do what it can to not cut statutory revenue sharing. They also highlighted concerns over required infrastructure investments in water, sewer, and roads that will likely be impacted by the reductions in state and local revenues. The local officials explained that most Michigan communities have yet to recover from the Great Recession and further financial hardship from COVID-19 will be extremely difficult to overcome.

Mayor Wild and Fleury talked about city employee furloughs happening in their communities. Mayor Wild said about 66 percent of his non-public safety staff have been furloughed. Battle Creek has furloughed 95 employees, including 11 from the city’s police and fire departments, Fleury said.

Mayor Bliss said local governments stand ready to partner with Senator Stamas, Governor Whitmer and other state leaders to help get local businesses up and running again, based upon the critical role that local government’s play in economic development within their community.

The League was pleased to help facilitate this meeting and continues to meet with key administration and legislative leaders in our ongoing effort to secure financial assistance for local governments that are on the front lines of battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the League sent a letter to Governor Whitmer and state leaders seeking a share of the $3.89 billion in CARES Act dollars that the state received from the federal government. We discussed with Senator Stamas how critical it is that the state share these funds with all local governments, regardless of population size, to reimburse them for their eligible expenses fighting this pandemic. We also reiterated the League’s commitment to working in D.C. to get additional, flexible federal stimulus funding directed at all local governments.

Dan Gilmartin, CEO and Executive Director, Michigan Municipal League

To that end, League staff shared with Senator Stamas our work with the National League of Cities and our coordination with state leagues from around the country, advocating for additional direct local government support.

For example, League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin is leading a discussion among state league directors from across the country. The discussion is focusing on establishing a formula on how local dollars would be distributed to local governments under this next stimulus package being developed.

Also on a national level, on Monday Midland Mayor Maureen Donker was invited to speak before a U.S. House of Representatives member forum on the Coronavirus Community Relief Act (HR 6467).

Mayor Donker discussed the fiscal responsibility of Midland and the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 is causing for cities and villages across the nation.

Midland Mayor Maureen Donker

In particular, Mayor Donker countered the narrative that some in Washington have expressed regarding fiscal mismanagement. My residents “pay their taxes on time. And they correctly expect good and uninterrupted service from city hall,” Donker said. “Survival is not and should not be the objective for local governments. Local governments want to be in position to come out of this crisis and help our residents recover and thrive.”

House members who attended the members forum understood and took away a better picture of the challenges that local governments face due to COVID-19.

“Every elected official must be all-in on economic recovery,” Mayor Donker said.

The bill’s sponsor, Joe Neguse of Colorado, praised NLC for its leadership. When the bill was in formation, only four members were on board. Now, due to NLC’s outreach, more than one-in-three members of the House cosponsor the bill.

Michigan Municipal League members are strongly encouraged to engage with their own state and federal legislators to share the impacts that the current crisis is having on their community as we advocate for additional support for all local units of government.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state & federal affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 and [email protected].

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