PPT Exemption Expansion Gets Wrapped Into Economic Development Deal

Posted on December 15, 2021 by Dene Westbrook

Much of the focus of this final week of legislative session for the calendar year focused on negotiations between the Governor and Legislature on an economic development proposal reacting to Ford Motor Company’s recent decision to locate their new battery/electric vehicle plant in Tennessee.

As a component of the larger package, legislative leadership aggressively pursued a broader-based business tax relief proposal to counter the impression that the economic development package would only help a few, large businesses.  The House, Senate, and Governor came together, despite strong opposition from local governments and other taxing units, to include a major expansion of the Small Taxpayer Exemption portion of the state’s new Personal Property Tax system in the overall package.

Action between the two legislative chambers and the Governor’s office accelerated over the past few days on House Bill 5351, following the bill being reported from the House Tax Policy committee late last week, despite the objections of the League and other local government organizations. While the committee reported the introduced version of HB 5351, which would have simply instituted an annual CPI increase to the current $80,000 True Cash Value (TCV) Small Taxpayer Exemption threshold, the bill was completely altered by the House to double the existing $80,000 threshold to exempt all commercial and industrial personal property owned by a business below $160,000 in TCV. This change by the House was done without providing any replacement revenue to local governments to cover the roughly $50 million ongoing burden the expanded exemption would have cost local communities.

The League and our partners reacted quickly to the House’s action with a coordinated effort to convince the Michigan Senate and the Administration to slow these discussions and consider the impact this cut would have on local finances.  We contacted every Senate office to raise concerns about the state’s inability to properly estimate the cost of the proposed expansion, the lack of urgency to move the bill since the supposed relief to small taxpayers wouldn’t take effect until 2023, spotlighting the complete misperception that this change would help small, main street businesses, and explaining the unintended consequences that this proposal would have on the other parts of the complex personal property tax reimbursement system.  At its core, this expansion perversely serves as a disincentive to local economic development efforts as the cost of this expansion will be paid through a reduction in reimbursement funds for communities that have experienced new investments.

Under pressure to finalize their deal on the overall economic development package, the Governor and legislative leaders ended up agreeing to further expand the Small Taxpayer Exemption threshold up to $180,000 of equipment TCV (more than double the current $80,000 level), but in response to our messaging and League member engagement, $75 million was appropriated to the Local Community Stabilization Authority in Senate Bill 85 to cover the estimated cost of the first year of this expanded exemption.  In addition to this one year of funding support, we secured bipartisan public commitments from legislative leaders to pass a long term funding mechanism to support the ongoing costs of this expansion.

The headline of the Senate Majority Leader’s public statement following passage of the full package read, “Senate Majority Leader Applauds Economic Development Progress, Commits to Long-Term PPT Solution”.

Senator Ruth Johnson (R – 14th District), in a statement on the Senate floor, explained that she had concerns with the cut to local revenue and said the reason for her yes vote was because “I’ve been given a solid commitment that this body and our colleagues in the House will work to address the loss in revenue.”

Senator Jeremy Moss (D – 11th District) continued his staunch defense of local government in his floor speech explaining why he was voting no. “This funding pays for things that we depend on. Our residents who pay taxes depend on police and fire to show up when there is an emergency, so do – I presume – the businesses too, who pay this tax,” Moss said. “By repealing this tax in perpetuity with no replacement to local communities beyond the first year, you are directly defunding the money that goes towards public safety.”

While yesterday’s action did not have the outcome we had worked toward, the Municipal League and our local government partners will work together with our collective memberships to hold the legislature’s and Governor’s feet to the fire to pass an ongoing revenue replacement for this tax cut as soon as possible in the new year. We worked with our partners at the Michigan Association of Counties and the Michigan Townships Association to release this joint statement after the bill passed last night. We encourage all of our communities to remind their State Representatives and Senators of the need to make this a top priority for 2022.

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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