Broken Municipal Finance System Discussed at Mackinac Policy Conference, SBAM Event and News Conference

League President Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of Grand Rapids, and Anthony Minghine, speak during a panel discussion about municipal finance during the 2017 Mackinac Policy Conference.

The Michigan Municipal League and the saveMIcity initiative was involved in three major events in recent days to spread the word about Michigan’s broken system for funding municipalities.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss talks about cuts made in Grand Rapids due to the broken municipal finance system.

League staff and League President Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of Grand Rapids, attended the Mackinac Policy Conference 2017 hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. Bliss, along with the League’s Anthony Minghine, participated  in a extremely successful panel discussion sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The session was attended by hundreds of people on Mackinac Island May 31.

The League’s CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin was also part of a news conference about Michigan’s failing infrastructure at the League’s Lansing office May 30. And the League’s Anthony Minghine spoke to the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) on May 24 for that organization’s Capitol Issues Forum.

These three high-profile events were significant for the League and well attended by key target groups from our saveMIcity work – business leaders and lawmakers.

Huge crowd attends panel discussion about the state’s broken municipal finance system.

The panel discussion, titled “Funding Michigan Cities: The Path Forward,” on Mackinac Island was particularly important for the League because it got us before a bipartisan audience of Michigan lawmakers, business leaders as well as media from throughout the state.

The event was sponsored by the C.S. Mott Foundation and Foundation President Ridgway White kicked off the session by introducing the panelists.

The discussion was moderated by Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher and Editor Ron Fournier.

Joining Mayor Bliss and Minghine on the panel was Joshua Sapotichne, associate professor at Michigan State University.

This article did a nice job summarizing the event. Here are some excerpts of that article:

  • “Grand Rapids weathered the recession better than some Michigan cities, but Mayor Rosalynn Bliss isn’t letting the city’s relative success cloud what she views as a broken state system of funding municipalities.”
  • “Bliss shared Grand Rapids’ strategy of passing more local taxes and cutting staff to make up for consistent cuts in revenue sharing from the state.”
  • “Grand Rapids’ population has continued to grow towards the 200,000 mark – but city staff has dropped from 2,000 employees in 2005 to about 1,500 employees today. There’s also 100 fewer police officers now than there were 15 years ago, Bliss said.”

Mayor Bliss also appeared on News/Talk 760 WJR on the Guy Gordon show to talk about the panel event and her being at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Listen to that interview here. There was also an article about the event by Gongwer news service (subscription required),

To view a portion of the panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conferencde go to Follow the arrows to watch it and fast-forward to the 1:26 mark.

A portion of the panel discussion on Mackinac Island was on live-stream and recorded on Detroit Public TV MiWeek program. You can view it, but it’s a bit tricky to find on their website. To view a portion of the event go here: and then click on the event posts button (see photo with red arrows to the left for instructions) and then click on the video titled “MPC 2017” and fast-forward to the 1:26 mark.

Another significant event that took place this week was a news conference May 30 at the League’s Lansing office about the state’s aging infrastructure.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin speaks at a May 30, 2017, news conference about the need for more funding to fix Michigan’s ailing infrastructure.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin was among the speakers at the news conference.

Also involved in the event were officials from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan; Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; Transportation Asset Management Council; Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association/; County Road Association; Michigan Department of Transportation; and Michigan Association of Counties.

The purpose of the news conference was to raise awareness that Michigan’s Legislature is disinterested in improving Michigan’s aging infrastructure, including roads and utility systems. Here is a summary of the news conference: As state lawmakers travel to Mackinac Island this week to talk infrastructure and other issues, it’s time to stop talking and find a solution. Our cars rattle down some of the nation’s worst roads. The Flint water crisis makes national news. Sinkholes swallow homes and crumble roads in Fraser, in and near Grand Rapids, and, just last month, in Hamburg Township. E coli contamination closes nearly 100 Michigan beaches every summer. Billions of gallons of sewage spill into rivers, lakes and bays across the state. Hundreds of dams across Michigan long ago exceeded their service life. Michigan’s infrastructure gets a “D” grade from ASCE. In recent polls, voters ranked fixing Michigan’s infrastructure as the top issue facing our state. Fixing infrastructure is a top priority for the business community — the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber, Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM). Following months of research and public meetings, the Governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission in December and BLM in January concluded that fixing Michigan’s infrastructure will cost $4 billion more, each year, for about the next 20 years. Despite all of this, the Legislature has no plan and no long-term solution to fixing infrastructure. In fact, the Legislature just eliminated all funds from the Michigan Infrastructure Fund.

The League’s Anthony Minghine speaks at the SBAM Capitol Issues Forum on May 24.

We did record the news conference and you can watch it anytime here on the League’s Vimeo page.

You can also view a press release about the news conference here. There were multiple media reports about the news conference, including articles by News Talk 94.9 WSJM, MIRS News Service (subscription required), and Gongwer news service (subscription required).

A third major event took place on march 24 when Minghine spoke to the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) in Lansing during the group’s regular Capitol Issues Forum.

This was an important presentation for the SaveMICity initiative because one of the goals of this effort is to reach the business community, particularly small business owners who often invest in local communities and in downtowns.

Minghine’s presentation was post on Facebook live and you can view it by going to the SBAM Facebook page here and scrolling down their page until you find the video that was posted on May 24.