By COURTNEY CULEY
Capital News Service
LANSING – How much land should the state own? The amount is unlimited by law, but some legislators are pushing for a cap.
Supporters of a bill want to cap the amount of state-owned land to improve the government’s track record for making payments in lieu of taxes.
Michigan’s payments in lieu of taxes have not been fully funded since 2008, according to the Michigan Association of Counties.
When the state government owns land, such as a state park, the property is no longer on the tax rolls, said Benjamin Bodkin, Michigan Association of Counties director of legislative affairs. Instead of paying a property tax bill, the government makes a payment to the local units in lieu of taxes.
When the state continues to buy land, it gets taken off the private tax roll, said Randy Girard, Marquette Township manager. Private ownership maximizes the townships tax revenues.
Supporters of Casperson agree with the land cap, but don’t believe that payments in lieu of taxes should be cut.
“We’re not in favor of it. We’re not in favor of anything that reduces our revenue stream,” Girard said. With a large amount of state-owned land, Marquette Township relies heavily on revenues from payments in lieu of taxes.
The township keeps a small proportion of the taxes collected, and the rest is passed on to local entities such as the local school district, Girard said.
“What is the end game?” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, the bill sponsor. How much land does the state government think it needs?
State government owns more than 4.5 million acres across Michigan, Casperson said. If the bill gets passed as is, the government could buy 17,000 more acres until it reaches the proposed cap.
If the land is bought for the public good and use, it is exempt from the cap, Casperson said. “We’re certainly in favor of that.”
The state will reach the cap if it buys land for no recreational purpose or for preservation purposes, Casperson said.
“The land cap was trying to get at the root of the issue,” he said. The goal is to highlight the purpose for buying land.
The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter disagrees with Casperson.
“The bill doesn’t address the problem it claims to address,” said Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist for the Sierra Club Michigan chapter. “It will keep the state from acquiring more land, but it doesn’t do anything to remedy the shortfall of payments in lieu of taxes to the counties and townships.”
“There is no point in the world for this bill,” Roberson said.
The Michigan Association of Counties supports the bill because the state can’t afford all of its payments in lieu of taxes, Bodkin said. Essentially, the government isn’t paying their property taxes.
When the state doesn’t make the payments, counties and townships that contain state land are greatly affected.
By COURTNEY CULEY