Column: Pure Michigan communities matter, too

William Wild

As Gov. Rick Snyder and our legislators attempt to finalize the fiscal year 2018 budget, it is my hope, as well as my fellow mayors, township supervisors and county officials, that they pay heed to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s mantra “all politics is local.”

Unfortunately, recent history suggests they won’t. Since 2002, the state has cut revenue sharing to cities, villages, townships and counties by $7.5 billion. Flint’s revenue sharing has been cut by $62 million, Lansing by $63.5 million, Marquette by $7.8 million, and Detroit by $827.6 million.

My city, Westland, the state’s 10th largest city, has been cut by $35 million. That is unacceptable. Lansing’s failure to meet their statutory obligations and equitably share tax dollars with communities has hurt taxpayers close to home. It is poor public policy that has needlessly jeopardized our communities and is doing irreparable damage to our state.

Why does this matter to you? The police officer protecting your neighborhood and property is a city employee. The public health worker providing vaccination services for your kids and the elderly is a county employee. The fireman rushing to save someone’s home is a township public servant. If you are looking to start a business, buy or sell a home, get your trash picked up, or something as simple as drink a clean and safe glass of water, you are relying on a dedicated employee or a service provided by the city or township or county where you live.

When Speaker O’Neill said “all politics is local,” he was saying that it’s the government people see and interact with every day that they care about.

Revenue sharing cuts, coupled with the housing market collapse in the late 2000s, have put all of these services at risk.

Cuts in critical services have a disastrous domino effect as well. When communities have no choice but to make cuts to public safety, infrastructure, recreation programs, along with a disinvestment in schools, the business community takes note. In its 30th annual survey of corporate leaders in 2016, Area Development Magazine, a leading corporate site selection data resource, revealed that quality of life is the 3rd most important factor cited by CEOs when looking at decisions on siting new facilities or expansion. This ranked ahead of corporate tax rate, state and local incentives and labor costs. Business leaders are saying is it’s the community that matters, not the state or region of the country.

Much like the business community, people choose a place to live or set up shop by choosing a specific community. They don’t talk about a state. They are attracted to what a community offers, whether it’s a thriving, walkable downtown, quality parks and recreation activities, or good schools or diverse retail and restaurants, like our Shop and Dine District here in Westland.

Strong, stable communities foster civic pride. They incentivize residents to stay for the long term and raise and educate their kids here. When residents stay in a community they spend money there thus creating jobs. Now that’s good economic policy.

Once we embrace this important message, we will build a state that attracts people to move here, or return home and, maybe never leave in the first place.

William R. Wild is mayor of Westland.