The Traverse City Area Chamber’s recent endorsement of the May 2 property tax proposal from the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) spawned some push-back the organization occasionally hears: “The Chamber is a business organization; it should never support tax increases.”
But step back a moment and take a broader, longer-term look. Our support for effective economic development policy like brownfield redevelopment funding or tax increment financing just as frequently spawns allegations of putting business interests above those of the community, or that the business sector isn’t paying its “fair share” of the tax burden. Like most situations between two extremes, the reality falls somewhere in between.
The Chamber is well aware of the tax burden placed on our members and the business community in general. Businesses pay significantly higher property tax rates compared to homeowners on their primary residences. In most cases, business owners pay twice to support local services – on their homes and at their places of business. They also pay higher utility rates and related service fees that subsidize the cost of residential service across the community. Most don’t complain or feel taken advantage of. They know it’s the cost of doing business to maintain this beautiful place that we’re fortunate to call home.
Those are things our Board directors weigh heavily when considering the organization’s position on taxation issues. It’s also why the Chamber advocated on a state level for progressive business tax reform through elimination of the Michigan Business Tax five years ago, and endorses other pro-growth tax policies including recent support of the “Good Jobs for Michigan” package.
But our leaders are also duty-bound to our mission statement and signature tagline that’s guided the organization for almost a generation: “Growing business, building community.”
BATA’s evolution is a prime example of that axiom at work. BATA started as a small, rural bus system that’s grown into a critical piece of community infrastructure. From its infancy “dial-a-ride” days, BATA now connects outlying communities with the region’s commercial hub with regular, reliable service. It gets workers to their jobs, people to stores and medical appointments, and provides mobility to a growing segment of our population that would be isolated without it.
BATA leaders have worked hard with the public and the business community to seek input on how to improve their services and make them more efficient. What possible benefit to the business community – or the public in general – would be achieved by blowing a huge hole in its operational revenue that would force significant reductions in its vastly improved level of service? Indeed, it would be the height of irresponsibility for a business organization that professes to “build community” to let that happen.
It’s the same lens from which the Chamber views proposals like the local library millage, school bond and operating levies, and public funding for programs like early childhood development. It’s why we work with partners including Venture North to ensure that public resources are available to our local businesses to help them grow. All of these and more are critical cornerstones of a solid foundation needed to “build community” going forward.
There’s another saying much older than the Chamber motto that comes to mind: you get what you pay for. Look at the most attractive, vibrant and sustainable communities across Michigan, the Midwest and the country. None were built on the cheap, and they aren’t eliminating beneficial programs or slashing essential services to put a few more bucks in people’s pockets that will evaporate with the jobs that leave with them.
Chamber businesses have worked hand-in-hand with the community for more than 100 years to create one of Michigan’s great destinations. How selfish and short-sighted it would be to not continue to sufficiently operate, maintain and build upon what we’ve all worked so hard to achieve.