HILLSDALE - With a Hillsdale fire truck, a Jonesville cherry picker, and several police cars as a backdrop, officials from Hillsdale County communities large and small came together yesterday to send a message to Lansing that they cannot handle any more budget cuts.
The noon gathering of police, fire, and municipality officials was one of about 60 rallies statewide organized by the Michigan Municipal League. As state lawmakers go into another round of cuts to overcome a $920 million budget deficit, local leaders wanted to make it clear that revenue sharing was not the place to slash.
In Hillsdale, officials talked of layoffs, thinning services, and overextended budgets. More cash taken from the municipalities now will only mean less services in the long run, they said.
“Our budgets are already so limited and we re working hard trying to provide services,” said Hillsdale County Commissioner Maxine Vanlerberg. “If we get another cut, it will surely affect our quality of life here and it s not an extravagant lifestyle at that.”
Michigan lawmakers are hoping to balance the 2003-04 budget sometime next month. That will mean midyear cuts. The state s current general fund and school aid fund equals $21.4 billion, the budget office said.
Liz Boyd, press secretary for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said communities were likely reacting to forums the governor held to educate the public, talk about potential cuts, and solicit reactions. She said though it may have been mentioned as a possibility, cuts to revenue sharing have not been officially proposed.
“There are many organizations and groups concerned about this budget deficit. We are concerned about this deficit,” Ms. Boyd said. “The short story is that we have a structural deficit and we need to cut spending because we don t have the money coming in.”
In Michigan, local governments have relied on state revenue sharing for decades. The state doles out funds to cities, villages, and townships each year on a per-capita basis and this money is an important part of most communities budget. More recently, the state decided to use the state sales tax to help fund revenue sharing.
Local leaders said they know the economy is hurting and less tax money is coming in. They contend that cutting revenue sharing as a way to balance the state budget means a “double hit” for local services.
Representatives came from the county s cities, villages, and townships, and from the local Michigan State University extension office and public safety offices. They talked about some services to cut if Lansing sends less cash. For example, they said, they may have to cut road patrols and end 4H programming.
Mike Brady, head of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, said the effort was an effective way to speak to lawmakers. Local municipalities are down $220 million in revenue sharing, he said, and a strong voice is the only way to make Lansing aware of the local government s importance. “They are cutting things that are taking away the ability of the communities to give their residents what they need to live,” Mr. Brady said. “We think that s nonsense.”