Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed more than 200 township officials from across the state who gathered in Lansing for the Michigan Townships Association’s (MTA) 2019 Capital Conference.
As Gov. Whitmer prepares to unveil her budget, she told the crowd her proposal will address what she believes are the two biggest crises facing our state—infrastructure and education. While the state’s budget hasn’t seen enough growth to fully restore statutory revenue sharing this year, she said it is her goal to move in that direction. She also committed to working with townships and ensuring that the local perspective is heard.
“My pledge to you is, so long as I am governor, you will have a seat at the table,” Whitmer said. “I will scrutinize everything to see what the real impacts are, so that we are thoughtful and moving forward together.”
Township leaders traveled from as far as Houghton County to be part of the annual advocacy event, which is an opportunity not only for officials to enhance their relationships with lawmakers, but also to learn more about current issues in Lansing impacting local government.
Prior to the governor’s address, township officials were welcomed to the event by MTA President Ken Gauthier, supervisor of Sanborn Township (Alpena Co.), and MTA Executive Director Larry Merrill. In an age when politics are more divided than ever, Merrill urged township officials to speak with a united voice by reaffirming one of MTA’s core values—local control. Bills are constantly introduced that preempt local authority, a problem that should concern all townships.
“Issues don’t affect all townships equally,” Merrill said. “There will be some issues that are important to one particular township, but aren’t to all townships. This is where a common voice comes in. Our collective power rests on whether we speak as one voice or as a house divided.”
Legislators also joined local officials at the event, which included an opportunity to discuss key township issues, such as a legislative resolution to the “dark store” assessing issue, the erosion of local authority and decreasing revenue, as well as the need for infrastructure improvements and broadband expansion.
A panel discussion provided attendees with the unique perspective of three state lawmakers who are former local officials—Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Royal Oak), Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) and Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Polkton Chtr. Twp.). Experts from Michigan’s Department of Treasury, State Tax Commission and Bureau of Elections, as well as MTA legal counsel, led breakout sessions during the event, providing details on new marijuana regulations, assessing reform, election law changes and updates to the Uniform Chart of Accounts.