LANSING — The financial hits just keep on coming for Wayne County, which was socked with a $32-million court judgment last week.
The state Legislature will hear testimony Wednesday on a bill that could cut more than $13 million from the county’s already deficit-laden budget.
The bill would cut the tax customers pay to park at Metro Airport’s parking lots from 27% to 6%.
“If you look at the policy, this tax was passed back in 1987 to help with some bonds and those bonds were paid off in 1994. But the government is still collecting a 27% use tax and I just don’t think it’s fair,” said State Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, one of the sponsors of the bill.
The sharp cut in the tax rate would reduce revenue coming into the state, the city of Romulus and Wayne County from roughly $21 million to $4.6 million.
Under current state law, the state takes the first $6 million of the tax revenue to use for security at other airports around the state. The next $1.5 million goes into the city of Romulus’ general fund and Wayne County gets the rest with the money earmarked to provide health care for indigent county residents. Since the latest version of the bill was passed in 2002, Wayne County has received from $6.6 million a year to $15.2 million a year from the tax.
Assistant Wayne County Executive Alan Helmkamp said the bill does not address the distribution of the money, and said there won’t be enough to satisfy the first two claims on the cash from the state and Romulus.
“That would just really gut our ability to pay the health care for that at-risk population,” he said, noting the county provides for health care for about 30,000 low-income residents a year. “The county is dying a death from a million cuts.”
Hune said it’s up to Wayne County to figure out where to cut to make up the difference.
“They’re going to have to make some sacrifices,” Hune said. “But in terms of having an unfair tax out there, we need to do what’s right for the taxpayers.”
Some form of a cut to the airport tax has been introduced four times since it was last cut in 2002, but it’s never gained a majority of support in either the House or the Senate.
“This is the most draconian of the bills,” Helmkamp said. “And it still has a fatal flaw. It doesn’t mandate a rollback of what parking customers are charged.”
Wayne County is in a particularly fragile economic position. On top of a deficit estimated at $135 million, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last week that the county had to put $32 million into a fund that provides retirees with a thirteenth pension paycheck each year.
The county had reduced the paycheck, first approved in the 1980s, as a way to offset inflation for retirees.
The Senate Finance committee will take testimony on the bill Wednesday
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