MLA Advocacy - October 22, 2015

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Dedicated Library Millages and Tax Capture are Front and Center

After extensive work this year, spearheaded by MLA and GCSI, we are close to having legislation introduced that would require transparency and accountability on the part of tax capture authorities. In the bills we are asking for the tax capturing entity to reach out and build a relationship with the library, explain their projects, clarify their value and then let the library board make an informed decision if allocating a portion of their funding to the tax capture is beneficial for all parties including library patrons.

The library community estimates that $8 million per year is lost to these tax captures. MLA, MLA legislative committees and GCSI have been working for many years to find a solution to Tax Increment Financing Authorities (TIFA), Downtown Development Authorities (DDA) and the numerous other tax captures that consistently and continuously siphon taxes from dedicated library millages. In addition, members, including current MLA legislative committee chair Lance Werner and past chair Larry Neal, have made inroads with legislators that greatly assisted the process. They will testify in the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bills.

Some tax captures and libraries work harmoniously. Even now there are many instances where the tax capture is a partner in the community and works with the library to a mutual benefit to ensure a vibrant community. The library chooses to support the tax capture district. The bills don’t change that.

In 1994 legislation was enacted that gave libraries an opportunity to opt out of new tax captures. However, this did not help with the millions of dollars that are lost to the old TIFAs and DDAs. In addition, the 1994 legislation requires the library to request an opt out at a hearing that, at times, has been a challenge for some libraries to locate and attend.

The TIFAs, DDAs or other tax captures developed prior to 1994 are automatically and continuously siphoning a portion of the library’s dedicated millage. As these tax captures are extended, expanded and changed many times from their original purpose, they keep taking the library millage with no end in sight. They become a never ending obligation.

This new legislation would allow libraries to determine if tax capture from pre 1994 is right for their patrons. We understand that debt has to be repaid, so if there is already a bond attached to the tax capture district, the bills would not eliminate the tax capture.

Soon you will be asked to contact your legislators and request their support of this legislation that would ensure dedicated library millages go to the library, unless the library board decides differently. As soon as they are introduced, the bills will be available on the MLA website.

Further details will be provided at the annual conference legislative update on Wednesday. In addition, Lance Werner will outline tips for engaging with your elected officials. Special thanks go to Lance as his outreach to legislators in west Michigan was instrumental to the significant progress of this endeavor.  Additionally, as part of our outreach to legislators on libraries and the tax capture issue, Lance outlined libraries’ concerns during our presentation to the House Local Government Committee last week.

Legislators Set Sights on Penal Fines - Again

HB 4651 and 4905 are another attempt to siphon penal fines allocated for library funding. This time it involves motorcycles. The legislation would increase penalties for unendorsed motorcycle riders from $100 to $500 but would earmark 25% of the total fine to the Motorcycle Safety Fund. Currently the penalties are treated as all other penal fines. On Wednesday the legislation was in the House Criminal Justice Committee and MLA went on record as opposing the bills. Our GCSI lobbyists Gary Owen and Chris Iannuzzi spoke with committee members and took the opportunity to educate these lawmakers about library funding. The committee spent 30 minutes discussing library funding and made clear the intent of the legislation was not to penalize libraries. In fact, the bill sponsor Rep. Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn Heights) believes it would be a net positive to the libraries’ bottom line. We were able to explain our concern that the preservation of penal fines for libraries is an ongoing battle and this legislation is another of many attempts to dilute that funding. Our conversations with the committee and bill sponsors continue. We fully expect to see additional assaults on penal fines as road funding heats up.

Dark Stores Legislation Offers a Solution

Sen. Tom Casperson’s (R-Escanaba) legislation Senate Bill 524 addresses the highest and best use of a property for taxable purposes. As the Michigan Tax Tribunal continues its practice of reducing tax obligations allowing thriving big box stores to be taxed at the same rate as closed-down, abandoned stores, some libraries have been forced to pay back thousands of dollars in tax revenue. This has caused a reduction in hours of service to the public as well as staffing cutbacks. In conversations with Sen. Casperson this week, he indicated that local chambers of commerce and the media are critical components to the success of his legislation. Now is a good time to contact your local chamber and let them know how these tax tribunal issues are negatively impacting libraries and ask them to support Sen. Casperson’s legislation SB 524. The media has been covering this issue extensively. Talk to your local reporters and bloggers about libraries, taxes and how this legislation is designed to keep businesses paying their fair share.

Currently the largest offender has been Lowe’s but we expect Menards, Kohls, Target, Country Fresh, Gordon Foods, Advanced Auto Parts and other retailers along with certain power plants to win additional tax reductions.

A second bill, HB 4909 sponsored by Rep. John Kivela (D- Marquette) addresses the negative use restrictions that prevent the leasing of the property to another retailer. MLA also supports this bill.

Legislation Attempts to Classify Presidential Primaries as Regular Elections

House Bill 4904 sponsored by Rep. Edward McBroom (R-Vulcan) would clarify the filing deadlines for local candidates and ballot questions and also classify the Michigan presidential primary election as a 'regular' election instead of a 'special election'. The bill would allow local units of government to add their issues and candidate races to the ballot as well. The legislation gives locals more flexibility in holding elections in presidential years. Earlier this year legislation was enacted to allow only three election dates a year instead of the traditional four. The February date was eliminated. The bill is currently in the Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee.

Library License Plate May be on Its Way

Have you always wanted a Library License Plate so you could show your fellow commuters your love for libraries? Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole, Carolyn Stacey, director of the Escanaba Public Library and Rep. Edward McBroom (R-Vulcan) have proposed that the State create a commemorative library license plate and libraries receive profits from the sales of the plates. Legislation is currently in the process of being written. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.

International Open Access Week is October 19-25

“Open for Collaboration” is the theme of this year’s Open Access Week. The theme highlights the ways in which collaboration both inspires and advances the Open Access movement—from the partnerships behind launching initiatives such as PLOS and ImpactStory, to the working relationships the community has established with policymakers that have delivered Open Access policies around the world. The theme also emphasizes the ways in which Open Access enables new avenues for collaboration between scholars by making research available to any potential collaborator, anywhere, any time.

Established by SPARC in 2008, International Open Access Week provides an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access the norm in scholarship and research.

To promote the importance of open access, one association, the Electrochemical Society, is allowing everyone to access its digital library making all of its digital content—more than 120,000 articles—available for free this week. ECS hopes it will demonstrate the importance of having a free repository of scientific research open and available to the public.

Another IRS Tax Form Nightmare May be Brewing

Libraries may be out of the frying pan and into the fire if Congressman Dan Benishek’s legislation HR 3673 “Personal Access to Paper Election Reform (PAPER) Act of 2015" passes. We applaud the congressman’s efforts to help Michigan residents gain access to copies of paper IRS forms by mailing the forms to taxpayers who used paper forms last year. But it’s possible the bill would eliminate their distribution to libraries. As you know, many people depend on libraries for not only the forms and reproducibles but for assistance with computer use and internet access as they complete their taxes. 

Last year MLA was contacted by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ office regarding the issues libraries were having due to fewer tax forms. We provided the senator’s office with substantial input from our libraries expressing the need for adequate supplies from the IRS. His office assured us they were taking the concerns seriously. MLA is attempting to gain clarification on Rep. Benishek’s proposed bill.

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