Friday, June 11, 2010

State and Local Governments Fiscal Issues Intertwine – No Quick Fix on the Horizon

At the Leadership Summit conducted by the Business Leaders of Michigan on May 17, Robert Daddow, Deputy County Executive for Oakland County pointed out several areas related to local government solvency that he believes are being overlooked. His comments reinforced the idea that the fiscal fortunes of the state and local governments are truly linked.

My take on his comments are:
  • Foreclosures are on the rise again. Declining property values will continue to drop assessed values, which in some places remained above taxable values, but now will begin to drop below taxable values, such that property tax revenues will drop even more than in the past years.

  • The assessed values of properties are determined by the increase or decrease in the average price of property sold in the previous year (at least for residential property). The lag in the drop in assessed values will result in past years’ property value drops now showing up in assessed values. In other words, the taxable values will continue to drop even after the actual property values level off until the lag time is worked through.

  • Recourse payments (aka “chargebacks” by county treasurers) are expected to be larger than normal as tax delinquencies rise.

  • Michigan Tax Tribunal losses will finally begin to show up as backlogged cases start being cleared in late 2011, causing not only a drop in taxable values for current and future years, but also refunds for previous years.

  • Many schools and other municipalities have passed millages and issued unlimited general obligation bonds. These were approved on the assumption of increasing property values, but as property values drop, the debt service must still be paid. The municipalities will have two choices: increase the millage rate or cover the property tax shortfall from the already stressed General Funds.

  • Debt issued by DDA’s, TIFA’s and LDFA’s were projected to be paid from property taxes collected on assumed increasing property taxable value. Even if the debt is solely backed by the entities’ revenues, will defaults affect the local government’s bond rating? Will local governments need to step in to prevent default?

  • Lag in funding due to different fiscal years results in need for borrowing which is increasing as fund balances drop. For example, school districts are paid in 11 convenient installments (August is skipped), two months late. Will there be adequate borrowing capability by the municipalities on their own via tax anticipation notes or for schools, “state aid notes”? If access to the Michigan Municipal Bond Authority will be needed, what about the state’s credit rating and ability to access money? Municipal bond insurance is more difficult to get at reasonable rates. How will this impact the interest rates municipalities will need to pay?

Result: Taxable values are expected to decline by roughly a third in the next several years, such that even with optimistic economic forecasts, it will take until 2020 – 2025 to return property tax revenues back to the 2007 collection levels. When these property tax impacts are added to the huge unfunded liability for pensions and retirees’ healthcare and declining revenue sharing payments to the municipalities from the state, you can see why local governments are truly in peril. Local governments will need to significantly tighten the belt, and get all the help they can get in controlling its wage and benefit costs. But, even given that, state revenue sharing or local millage increases will be needed to maintain essential services.


  • with the state 6 mill school tax based on taxable values, the state property tax collections will decline.
  • the per pupil foundation grant received by school districts is comprised of the amount per student collected from the 18 mills levied on non-homestead property in the district plus whatever additional the state needs to make up. With taxable values declining, the amount extra the state will need to make up will continue to increase.

We truly are in this together – state and local fiscal issues intertwine. We need to work together to reposition the state to turn this state around economically. To get more tax revenues, we need to get more businesses making money, more workers earning pay checks and paying taxes, fewer homes in foreclosure, and stabilizing property values. There is no quick fix, and attempting to get the quick fix by simply raising taxes and making the state even less competitive in attracting and encouraging businesses will only prolong the agony.

The good news is that there are plenty of very smart people who have put together a collection of ideas or proposals that can turn the state around economically - to make Michigan a Top Ten state again. That was the impetus for the Leadership Conference, to promote the Michigan Turnaround Plan proposed by the Business Leaders for Michigan. We can and must do better. Daddow’s presentation is valuable, for the first step to finding solutions is a brutal recognition of the facts.


  1. Placing "Yard Signs" in the public way (e.g. Lohr Road, and freeway entrance ramps) is a violation of nearly every local sign ordinance. Although I am as conservative/capitalist as they come, the likelihood I would vote for anyone that so clearly disregards the rule of law, even before being elected, is pretty close to zero.

  2. I was not aware any had been placed in those locations. If you can let me know where they are, I will see that they are removed. My e-mail address is Thanks.