Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mike Bishop Tax Increase: How You Pay the Price for an All-Cuts Budget

Got Cops?You've seen what they have done to the schools, now it's time to take a look at what they are doing to your cities. Mike Bishop and the Republicans love to brag about how they "stood firm against taxes" and "were able to cut $1.2 billion out of the budget" last year when they passed that 11% revenue sharing cut right on down to local leaders and made them deal with the problem. Chances are that either next week, or sometime in the months to come, you, tax-paying insurance-buying home owner of Michigan, will have to make a choice about how you want to pay the bill for Mike Bishop's campaign slogans.

Do you want to pay higher city taxes to keep police and fire fighters on the job? Or do you want to put your possessions, home, family and even your life on the line, and end-up paying higher insurance rates anyway?

Call it the "Mike Bishop Tax Increase". One way or the other, you will end up paying the price. For the greater Grand Rapids area, the bill comes due next Tuesday, as the city and the two surrounding suburbs of Wyoming and Kentwood will go to the citizens and ask them to do the job the Legislature won't do, and decide exactly how they want to pay to save their homes and perhaps their lives. Take a closer look at what is on the line in Grand Rapids:

If the vote fails, (City Manager Greg) Sundstrom said the city will have to cut at least 44 more positions from the city staff, the majority of them from public safety. Last fall, 125 jobs were eliminated, including several in police and fire, in budget cutting moves.

Another 14 fire fighters would be cut, and that "would likely" mean the elimination of one of the city's fire stations. And what happens when you close a fire station? The city of Wyoming found out the answer to that question a few years ago. They were warned that their insurance rates might triple... from the GR Press, Sept 2005:

The New Jersey-based Insurance Service Organization (ISO) is the leading supplier of fire -protection ratings to the insurance industry. The vast majority of insurance companies uses the ISO rating to set their rates.

In ISO terms, a rating of 1 is the best -- meaning your home or business has excellent fire protection services at the ready -- while a rating of 10 is the worst. Wyoming is rated a 3, but ISO officials say for a chunk of the city's southwest side, that rating will drop to a 10.

That could mean insurance rates for residents in that area could double or triple, according to insurance experts -- increases of between $500 and $1,000 are possible.

And that is exactly what happened.

Just a few years ago, the insurance rating for that specific neighborhood was a five. The home's policy provided $348,500 in coverage, with a premium of $500 a year and a $750 deductible.

Last year, the rating went to 10.

The homeowner increased coverage to $369,000. The premium went up to $1,500 a year, and the homeowner increased the deductible to $2,500.

The Fire Suppression Rating Schedule at theISO measures training, equipment, water supplies, communications - and response to emergencies. The ratings take a few years to go up, but they did go up, just as all the insurance agents warned they would. In the city of Grand Rapids, the loss of 14 more fire fighters, on top of the 26 we lost last fall, will mean slower response times...

"If we continue to take cuts, it's going to take us longer to get on scene," (GR Fire Chief Laura) Knapp said. "That decreases the chance of a positive outcome, in a medical or fire situation."

And when they say "positive outcome" - well, that is where your home and maybe your very life is on the line. Insurance rates in Grand Rapids will likely see an increase due to fewer fire fighters and increased response time, although it's not expected to be as bad as what happened in Wyoming. And not only that, we are set to lose our Parks and Recreation as well. Just a little added bonus from the Bishop all cuts budget.

We are not alone, as Wyoming and Kentwood are looking at the same kinds of cuts. Faced with the loss 15 police officers (out of a staff of 81) and up to 7 fire fighters (out of a staff of 24), Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll told a "just cut somewhere else!" teabagger-type citizen that there is nowhere else to cut. Period. 20% of the city staff has been lost since 2004, and the remaining workers have taken pay cuts and made concessions. Kentwood Mayor Richard Root has hit bottom as well. They have cut "dozens" of people and employee benefits since 2006, and will be making more cuts to police and fire if this millage doesn't pass. There comes a point where the concessions have already been made, many jobs have already been lost, and the cry to "just cut somewhere else" doesn't hold water, for there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to cut.

That is a brief snapshot of what is happening in the Grand Rapids area; just know that this is what is happening in cities and townships all across the state. You can pay for your police and the fire department, or you can pay higher insurance rates and gamble with your home and life. That is the Mike Bishop Tax Increase in action.

Keep in mind too that Mike Bishop and the Republicans are demanding another all-cuts budget this year. The House Democrats quietly restored another 3.1% cut to revenue sharing by closing some tax loopholes, but it remains to be seen if they can make it stick. Dillon recently said he wants to "make sure" to protect police and fire, but if the Republicans have their way again, be sure and look for more Mike Bishop Tax Increases down the road.