BAD AXE – Huron County should not look to the state legislature for help with getting its fair share of wind turbine tax revenue.
State Rep. Edward Canfield provided an update on local and state issues to the Huron County Board of Commissioners earlier this week.
The Michigan Legislature is in “district work period,” so the Sebewaing Republican was able to attend Tuesday morning’s meeting, where he updated the board on several issues and answered commissioners’ questions.
Commissioner Ron Wruble asked whether the legislature would “chime in” on the wind turbine issue currently being decided by the state tax tribunal.
Millions in tax revenue is being held in escrow as local township and county officials await a decision on the taxable value of wind turbines.
Canfield said that if the legislature weighed in the issue, locals would not be satisfied.
“… We have two counties that have wind generation in my district and there are 109 other legislators that have less concern about that than we do,” Canfield said.
“It is not something that I would like the legislature to chime in on.”
“I would consider any bill that you think would be appropriate, but I’m not sure that the other 109 legislators in our … state are going to necessarily look with favor on something that we see as a problem,” he added.
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t prevail if we have good arguments, and I’m more than happy to step up and take on that fight, but my feeling has always been that we’re up here in the Thumb and most folks aren’t …”
“We can only hope for fair judgments from our courts and our tribunals.”
Wruble responded: “You hit the nail right on the head because that’s exactly what happened. We haven’t been treated fairly.
There’s been decisions made that we weren’t even involved with “… There’s, I think, seven counties with wind turbines in them, and 83 counties … We know who has the leverage to get someone’s ear in Lansing.”
“It just seems that on that end of things, that we’re just fighting an uphill battle. It’s just not fair to the people in these communities that were promised one thing and what gets delivered is something totally different.”
Canfield said he takes that message to his colleagues whenever it comes up.
Canfield is the chair of the health and human services subcommittee on appropriations, which manages a budget of more than $25 billion.
“I think we’ve got that pretty much wrestled with, at least the house version,” Canfield said.
“The senate version will come up, and then we’ll wrestle some more.”
He also sits on the education subcommittee for appropriations, which is sending a recommendation of a $100 per pupil increase.
Canfield agreed with Commissioner Steve Vaughan, who said there is a shortage of skilled trade workers in the state.
Canfield said 50 percent of students who attend college after high school do no have a degree or certificate within six years.
“What they have in common with the other students who have a bachelors degree is a large student debt.
Many of those folks, their parents have signed for their student debt, which is also going to make their retirement much more difficult.”
He said the state is working on the issue of skilled trades education and lots of jobs are available in technical training.
“We need to be looking at technical training. We need to help parents understand that while all students should have the option of attending college, all students probably should not attend college right after high school.”
“We should never confuse education with intelligence. There are many very intelligent people who never attend college, and make a very substantial and a decent living. And we need to refocus on that.”
“There are a lot of issues related to what’s going to happen at the federal level – if they are able to get their act together and repeal the (Affordable Care Act).
“We’re looking at possibility block grants coming down which are going to potentially significantly change how many of our safety net programs are managed.”
“And so I’m glad to be in the position where I may have some input on that, having treated Medicaid patients my whole career, and dealing with issues, behavioral health and such, I think we can make some good impacts on that.”
Commissioner John A. Nugent asked whether behavioral health services would be cut for those in need under a recently introduced bill.
Canfield said the bill’s premise is to bring physical and mental health services closer together. “In no way do I read the (bill’s) language to indicate it will take money away from community mental health or behavioral health.”
“… A person who is on a safety net program in our state actually has a better, more robust opportunities to get medicines than anybody sitting in this room who pays for health insurance/managed care process through formularies, which is not inappropriate, so there are some issues that need to be ironed out.”
Caro Center: “The most important issue on my plate.”
Commissioner Steve Vaughan asked about the future of the Caro Center and whether it will remain a state hospital.
Canfield answered that he plans to address that April 13 when he attends the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners meeting.
“We’re going to present what I think is a very compelling argument why I think (the state) should leave it at Caro and this is the most important issue on my plate right now.
“As important or more important to me as the budget, which takes up the majority of my time.”
He called it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to build a new facility, and said the state is carefully considering where it should be.
“So I’m not blaming the state for that. I’m just suggesting that I continue and will continue in my dying breath the think that it should stay in Caro.”
Caro Center was founded 103 years ago, when it was built as an epileptic colony, Canfield said. It’s been in use since then.
Dark Stores Legislation
Commissioners David G. Peruski and John L. Bodis inquired about issues surrounding “dark stores legislation,” which has to do with how big-box retail stores are taxed.
Property values and, therefore, tax revenues, decrease because the property is compared to the sales of vacant structures.
Canfield said he supports legislation closing the loophole and has heard arguments from the opposition.
“I’m not sure I buy into their views that a store that’s working has less value that vacant land without a store.
“I don’t know what the temperature is of the house and of the Senate to pass that bill, but I know that it’s going to get a good hearing and we’re going to try to move it from the house side.”
Bodis noted that “deed restrictions make an unfair playing field when another business cannot be sold that would compete with a business that was in there before.”
“This is a big problem that especially hurts rural communities,” Canfield said. “These big stores come into our communities promising all of these things and often times delivering on some jobs and a place to go.”
“On the other side of the coin, a local hardware store, local lumber companies, local clothing stores that have been in business for 100 years go away. And when a store closes up, it can’t be used for anything in that line ever again.
“That is an unfair scenario and I do believe it, but people sign those agreements. Communities sign those agreements. And they have to be knowledgeable, and they have to be going in with both eyes open.”
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