OPINION

Thompson: Duggan’s legislative wish list for 2016

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The actions of the Michigan Legislature including remarks from House Speaker Kevin Cotter in a recent interview with the Associated Press that fixing the Detroit Public Schools is not among his legislative priorities in 2016 underscores the unpredictability of that body. And last year the wrangling at the state capitol over issues such as road funding and paying for public education also explains why Lansing has been described in many ways, but “consensus” is often not one of them.

The fierce debate and the arm-twisting that was needed to achieve the “grand bargain” that helped push through a plan to address Detroit’s bankruptcy showed how the Legislature can be a difficult place to get anything done. And that occurred even though the Legislature is largely controlled by Republican majorities in its House and Senate bodies.

But Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is optimistic that the city’s legislative agenda in 2016 will get the deserved attention from lawmakers in Lansing, said Lisa Howze, the city’s chief government affairs officer.

The mayor will continue to visit Lansing urging lawmakers about the need to pass a bi-partisan package of bills that will empower the Michigan Department of Treasury to collect delinquent taxes on behalf of the city.

The bills also would require an employer to withhold and remit residential city income taxes from employees who live in the city, provided the employer has more than 10 employees and has a total payroll of more than $250,000.

“The greatest legislative priority for the city of Detroit in 2016 is getting the income tax legislation passed,” Howze said. “Our conservative estimates show that with this legislation becoming law, the city of Detroit stands to generate an additional $10 million in income tax revenue that is already due to it.”

Howze said the city’s Plan of Adjustment, adopted as part of the bankruptcy resolution, involves a 2 percent growth per year in income tax revenue, which underscores the need to get the legislation passed.

Another issue that rolled over is an effort to lower insurance rates for city residents, a proposal the mayor dubbed “D-Insurance,” and one that ignited debates among several lawmakers including members of the Detroit Caucus in Lansing, whose majority was initially skeptical of the mayor’s proposal.

The caucus leader, state Rep. Brian Banks, for instance, has been a hold-out on the insurance policy issue despite appeals in 2015 by the mayor during a breakfast meeting at Manoogian Mansion to give the lawmakers a preview of his plan.

“It is our position that we want to provide Detroit residents with lower auto insurance rates with the same level of benefits and consumer protections as our neighboring community,” Banks said in an earlier interview. “We believe that Detroiters should not have to compromise and accept a second tier insurance plan just to get a promise of lower auto rates.”

Howze said the mayor remains unfazed and will continue to push the issue in the coming year.

“The mayor is very much committed to giving Detroiters an option to save 25 to 33 percent on their auto insurance premium by foregoing unlimited medical coverage as mandated by current Michigan auto insurance law and purchasing $275,000 worth of combined medical and post-rehabilitation care coverage under the so-called D-Insurance auto policy,” Howze said. “The Personal Injury Protection medical benefits proposed by a D-Insurance policy will be higher than 45 other states — behind only New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and North Dakota.”

The mayor’s office is also closely watching how the Legislature is dealing with the mounting deficits of the Detroit Public Schools system. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a $700 million package to address the system’s troubles, even as scrutiny arises over his struggling Education Achievement Authority, including reports of financial mismanagement that led to federal indictments of some former EAA officials.

“The mayor believes that it is important that the state of Michigan accept responsibility for the financial condition of the district as they have in each of Gov. Snyder’s proposals,” Howze said. “However in order to improve educational outcomes in the city it is even more important that we couple financial assistance for DPS with a set of accountability standards that apply across the board to DPS, public charter schools, schools of excellence and the EAA.”

Snyder also has proposed creating a Detroit Education Commission whose members would be appointed by the governor and the mayor, which is critical, Howze added.

“A local education commission that would administer these standards is key to driving growth in academic achievement and high quality neighborhoods,” she said.

Meanwhile the governor told the Detroit News Editorial Board he is open to dismantling the troubled EAA if it would be part of a deal to get his DPS package through the Legislature.

Howze said: “No matter the frequency of visits to the state Capitol, Duggan will remain intentional in his efforts to bring solutions to the problems that impact the city.”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9 FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.