For immediate release
Senate Doubles Drain Taxes
By Gayle Miller, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Legislative Director
Friday, December 19, 2008
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“If you were a lawmaker who wanted to double your constituents’ taxes, when would you do it? At 2am on the last day of the legislative session, of course. And, that’s exactly what the Republican-led senate did today in an early morning assault on the environment and taxpayers.
“House Bill (HB) 4688, sponsored by Rep. Neal Nitz (R-Baroda) allows county drain commissioners to double the amount of taxes they charge residents to maintain existing drains. Rural residents will be especially hard hit.
“This is the absolutely worst time to double taxes. Right before Christmas, in the worst economy we’ve seen in our lifetime, the Senate decides to double this tax. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a higher tax bill!
“In conjunction with the doubling of the drain tax, the bill also eliminates penalties for the misuse of drain tax dollars. Before the bill passed, the law specified either jail time or fines. Now there are no penalties for misusing public drain maintenance funds.
“The bill does additional harm to Michigan residents by fundamentally re-defining the term “drain” to include drains that don’t even exist. The change will allow drain commissioners to tax residents to pay cleanup costs for pollution caused by animal factories. This is especially egregious since the rural residents who live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) already pay dearly in health problems and devastated property values. Now they’ll also potentially pay to clean up the pollution that is harming them, once again letting CAFOs off the hook and forcing Michigan citizens to pay in yet another way for bad agricultural policy.
“Senators in counties with high numbers of CAFOs in their districts, such as Senators Cameron Brown (R-Sturgis), Jim Barcia (D-Bay City) and Gerald VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores), pushed especially hard for the bill’s passage. Their support of this bill clearly shows their allegiance to “big ag” and their disregard for family farmers and rural residents.
“Prior to the bill coming to a final vote, Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) tried to amend the bill to soften the blow. Sen. Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks) spoke against the bill as taxation without representation. Both failed to convince their colleagues.
“The Michigan Drain Code is an antiquated law, written when drainage ditches were dug with pick axes and shovels. The law facilitated the development of Michigan, which was once largely a giant wetland. Over the decades, however, and with dozens of amendments like the one enacted today, the law has been used to drain Michigan’s remaining wetlands and to subsidize suburban sprawl and the construction of polluting CAFOs. Since the law contains no due process, no meaningful appeal mechanism and no environmental standards, the Drain Code has often resulted in tremendously destructive drainage projects that benefit few and cost many.
“Rather than giving more power, more taxing authority and more protection from the law to elected county drain commissioners, the Drain Code needs a total overhaul. Drain Commissioners need to be required to adhere to general environmental protection principles, to conduct cost-benefit assessments of proposed drain projects, and give citizens a meaningful way to participate and challenge expensive drainage projects.
“Unfortunately, HB 4688 adds to a long and lasting legacy of environmental destruction and taxation without representation. This change to the Drain Code is a truly devastating blow to Michigan. Governor Granholm should veto this bill.”
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