Decades of state revenue sharing cuts have harmed communities, impeded racial equity

New report shows state funding for local governments has declined by up to one-third over 22 years, forcing budget cuts, diminished services and bad policies

LANSING—As local governments seek to address the COVID-19 crisis and address calls to reevaluate local spending and its impact on racial equity, a new report, Building Equitable Communities: More Funding Needed for Local Governments, looks at the role that revenue sharing declines are playing in these decisions. 

The research from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows that local revenue sharing payments—state funding that’s distributed to local governments—have declined 35.4% for cities, villages and townships and 25.4% for counties between 1997 and 2019. In addition to the report, related fact sheets offer an overview of the decline in state revenue sharing and a timeline of important policy decisions that have affected local government funding.

“I have served on the Huntington Woods City Commission and in the Michigan Legislature, so I have seen both sides of the revenue sharing equation and know how vital a fair deal from the state is to our local governments,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Local government spending touches our daily lives just as much as state spending, from the local health departments making important decisions right now, the emergency services we depend on in a crisis, the roads we drive on, the parks our kids play in and more, and for the past two decades, our state government’s commitment to our counties, cities, villages and townships has dwindled. COVID-19 has amplified the importance of our local governments and their funding needs, but equitable revenue sharing should be a part of every single state budget.”

The report reveals that local governments have been getting hit on both sides as far as their budget funding goes. In addition to state revenue sharing declines, property tax collections have also diminished. When adjusted for inflation, property tax collections in 2019 were 8.7% below collections in 2017 and only 11% above the trough in property tax collections brought on by the 2008-2009 foreclosure crisis. In 2019, real Michigan property tax collections were on par with collections in 2004. 

These trends in property tax collections are the product of two intertwined constitutional limitations: the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A. The passage of Proposal A had some unintended consequences when combined with the Headlee Amendment, and the report explores those policy changes and their impact in greater detail.

Increasing local revenues is a racial justice issue. To achieve the vision of racial equity, economic prosperity, and social justice, the people, organizations, and governments that support those goals need resources. With more flexible spending power, local units of government can target resources to programs and services as needed.

“Racial equity is an important concern in every policy decision, as they have both intended and unintended consequences, and revenue sharing is no different,” Jacobs said. “The continued fight against police brutality toward Black and Brown people has also raised important questions about local government spending, and with more resources from the state in revenue sharing, greater investments can be made in the areas that promote racial equity and economic security for all. And as state lawmakers tackle a variety of criminal justice reforms, including revisiting court fines and fees, they must also acknowledge that revenue sharing declines have pushed local governments to rely more on court fines and fees.”

The League’s analysis points out that local units of government are seeking to recoup declining revenues in increasingly inequitable and unpopular ways, including a growing reliance on fine and fee collection to pay for city services. The white supremacist system on which modern policing is built and longstanding racially biased policing in Michigan have created a system where Black and Brown people in Michigan are systematically targeted by police. As such, a heavy reliance on fines and fees is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities.

In addition, the movement to defund police is pushing for the reinvestment of revenues from policing into racially equitable systems that target and preempt the root causes of crime. To do this, local units of government are going to need funding to reinvigorate opportunities in communities of color to reduce income and wealth inequality. Funding a completely new vision of public safety will require injections of money from the state to help fund the mental health services, youth programs and social safety net that will achieve that vision.

The League’s report outlines the following recommendations to address local governments’ funding needs, improving racial equity in the process:

  • Significantly increasing statutory revenue sharing to counties and cities, villages and townships to at least match what is called for under the statutory formula from Public Act 532 of 1998;
  • Creating new formulas for the distribution of statutory revenue sharing to send more resources to communities with low housing wealth;
  • Expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit; and
  • Authorizing more tax options for local units of government, including motor vehicle taxes and registration fees, and alcohol, tobacco and cannabis taxes, and taxes on entertainment and amusement.

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

Only 2 more farmers’ market days: Oct. 24 & Nov. 7

11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE 49506

This Saturday at the Southeast Area Farmers Market:
Urban Core Collective is providing voter information!

Stop by the Southeast Area Farmers Market Saturday Oct. 24 for organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm, tasty cottage kitchen goods, and handcrafted personal care items and crafts. If you have Double Up Food Bucks left, now is a good time to spend them! (Our market warmly welcomes SNAP, EBT, WIC and many other assistance and coupon programs. 

OKT featured on “Thought About Food Podcast”

Listen in on the above link!

Ian’s Show Notes

Ian Werkheiser
  • Follow us on Twitter at @FoodThoughtPod, and you can drop us a line at ThoughtAboutFood on Gmail. Consider leaving us a review wherever you found us!
  • Lisa Oliver King and Estelle Slootmaker work for Our Kitchen Table, a grass-roots, nonprofit organization serving greater Grand Rapids.
  • Our Kitchen Table does amazing work, and they have resources for replicating those programs in your own organization or community. Check them out!
  • Our Kitchen Table was featured in the book Food Justice in US and Global Contexts: Bringing Theory and Practice Together, which I edited with Zachary Piso.
  • The intro and outro music is “Whiskey Before Breakfast” which is both a great traditional song and an increasingly common practice for parents helping their children with remote schooling. It was performed and shared by The Dan River Ramblers under a Creative Commons license.
  • Since we had two guests, we were lucky enough to get two recipes! Lisa Oliver King’s heartily endorses Bryant Terry’s recipe for greens in our episode. She also writes, “Bryant joined us for an event a few years back and has remained dear to our hearts. I always share his cookbook when we table at events.  https://www.sunset.com/recipe/garlicky-mustard-greens
  • And here’s Stelle’s recipe:
    “I love making this soup for my hubby and me. This big pot of soup lasts us two or three meals. I make and freeze vegetable broth from stalks, stems and leaves of vegetables we get from our CSA share all
    summer. If I don’t have sweet potatoes, it works just as well with winter squash, which we also freeze a lot of. This soup recipe launched my passion for making hearty soups, which have become a mealtime
    staple for us. I got this recipe when my daughter, Caitlin, worked at the People’s Food Co-op. I have lots of good memories of meeting her and her brother, Rob, there for lunch of coffee when I visit Ann Arbor.”

    People’s Food Coop of Ann Arbor West African Peanut Soup
    • 1⁄2 T olive oil This big pot of soup lasts us two or three meals
    • 1 1⁄2 C Spanish onion peeled and chopped
    • 1⁄4 T minced fresh ginger
    • 1⁄2 t sea salt
    • 1⁄4 t cayenne to taste
    • 1 1⁄2 C sweet potatoes, chopped
    • 2 1⁄2 C veggie broth (may need more)
    • 3⁄4 C creamy peanut butter
    • 3⁄4 C tomato juice1. Sautee onions in oil until transparent. Add carrots and spices. Continue sautéing about 5 minutes more.
    2. Add sweet potatoes and broth. Simmer until veggies are cooked through.
    3. Remove from heat. Add tomato juice and peanut butter. Process until smooth. Adjust consistency with more broth or tomato juice.
    4. Soup will thicken as it cools.

Farmers Market October 10 and 24!

The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market provides a wide variety of local produce, cottage kitchen foods, personal care items, crafts and ready-to-eat foods. Our vendors are primarily women of color, home growers and residents of OKT’s targeted neighborhoods. In addition to providing access to healthy food, the market hosts meal preparation activities, workshops and guests from community organizations.

We welcome Bridge Card, SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks, WIC and many other assistance and coupon programs. How the Double Up Food Bucks Program Works 

Plant trees with Friends Friday and Saturday

Help plant trees with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
Friday, Oct. 9: 2-4 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10: 9-11 a.m., 12-2 p.m. and 3-5 p.m

Register here by 5 p.m. Wednesday!

Friends of GR Parks believes that every person should have equal access to beautiful outdoor spaces and experiences, and is working hard to make this a reality in GR. You can volunteer with them for the Mayor’s Greening Initiative this week. Together with volunteers (in a socially distanced fashion), they are add 400 trees to the Garfield Park neighborhood.

There is a role for you, whatever your skill level or age. Whether you plant a tree, clean tools, run registration or move trees, YOU can make a long-lasting impact in your community by lending a hand!

TREE PLANTING: Plant 1-2 trees in Garfield Park or surrounding neighborhood during your 2-hour shift. 

SITE LEADER: These key volunteers are assigned a specific area to oversee during the event. This includes greeting volunteers assigned to work in the area, demonstrating tree planting, distributing and collecting tools, and communicating with Friends staff.

CLEAN-UP: Clear registration area, put away tools and supplies, and assist FGRP staff.

BruceMichael Wilson aims to shift the narrative for Black farmers

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media 9/23/2020

When a farmer’s first full year on the land falls in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s a pretty rough row to hoe. However, BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland, has a rich history to fall back on. For one, he grew up on his family’s 160-acre farm in neighboring Allegan County. For an African American, this was a rarity. During the 20th century, as farmers became more dependent on credit to get started each spring, racist lending policies put Black farmers across the United States off their land. In fact, in 1920, 14% of all U.S. farms were owned by Black farmers. By 2012, that number had fallen to 1.4%. Sad to say, Michigan’s history tells the same story.

Wilson’s father purchased his farm in 1970. To ensure he would be allowed to do so, he kept his race a secret until he signed on the line at closing. Happy on the family farm, Wilson wrote, illustrated and published his first book, “Our Big Farm” at age six.

“My earliest recollection of being on the farm was helping with chores, gardening, and feeding livestock,” Wilson says. “Farming has always been in my DNA so when the opportunity presented itself [at Groundswell], I made it happen.”

Groundswell Community Farm is a vendor at Holland Farmers MarketFarmers Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, and Southeast Area Farmers’ Market in Grand Rapids. The farm offers Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and sells to Ottawa County food pantries and Doorganics.

Originally founded by food justice activists Katie Brandt and Tom Cary, Groundswell has a history that lends itself well to Wilson’s next endeavor: Dunyun, an enterprise that will train Black youth to be the farmers of a more equitable future. Named for the nickname his late brother gave him, Dunyun will transform the farm into an educational center where Black children from throughout West Michigan can dig into their African American agricultural heritage as well as into the soil.

“I’m going to promote being excited about being Black,” Wilson says. “Being proud of who you are is the single most important step. I’ve learned to be proud of myself and proud of my people.”

Wilson wants Black youth to grow up knowing about successful Black Americans in agriculture like Daniel Webster Wallace, who was born a slave in 1860, ran away to become a cowboy, and ended up owning his own ranch, where white ranchers stopped by for frequent advice.

BruceMichael Wilson, owner of Groundswell Community Farm in Zeeland“There are a lot of untold stories that young Black kids have never heard They need to picture themselves doing the same kinds of things to feel some worth,” Wilson says. “Learning about our people in general will move them one step further ahead.”

Being a Black farmer in Michigan has not been easy for Wilson. He feels that others in the farming community do not take him seriously. And, when a series of thefts happened on the farm, he chose not to report them for fear of the reaction he might get when law enforcement came out to take a report.

“I might get shot or killed,” he says. “I am afraid I would have a hard time convincing police that I was the farmer if they were to show up after daylight hours.”

The hope is that Dunyun will free future Black farmers from those very real fears.

“If you are designated a Black farm hand or laborer, then you earn more respect than being a Black farmer. That’s where most people feel you belong,” Wilson says. “Our mission to stay in business long enough to get the winning hand and change that narrative.”

When Dunyun starts bringing busloads of African American children to Groundswell Farm from Grand Rapids’ and the Lakeshore’s urban communities, that change will begin. Wilson concludes, “I can tell people that I might be the first Black USDA organic grower in the area, but I don’t have to be the last.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Interim Innovation News Editor
Photos courtesy Groundswell Community Farm

Farmers Market at MLK Jr. Park Saturday!

Stop by for organic, fresh, local produce from Groundswell Farm, tasty cottage kitchen goods, and handcrafted personal care items and crafts.

Groundswell Farm organics will do your body good!

Ask our market manager, Belinda Hendersen, about ordering bulk whole foods with us, e.g. dry beans, whole grain flours, nuts and seeds, pasta, rice and more..

Items are ordered from Country Life Natural Foods, a supplier to Michigan food co-ops. View the entire PDF Catalog herePlace your order by emailing media@oOKTjustice.org or in person at the market.  Orders will be available for pick-up at the market on October 10.

As the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market accepts Bridge card/SNAP/EBT, its patrons using these programs will be able to buy bulk food items at the market along with fresh, local fruits, vegetables and herbs. The market offers some bulk foods for direct purchase as well. By ordering together, minimum purchase requirements for free delivery are met. Food orders will not be marked up from the catalog price. And, OKT is not adding any kind of fee to orders.

Food Justice Film Festival

The Food Justice Film Festival, Sept 24-27, features four award-winning films that connect issues of environmental justice with our food system, racial justice and access to healthy, sustainable food. Watch independently or set up watch-parties with your staff, friends, family to stay connected during these trying times. Films are free for all audiences. Each film will be available for 24-hours on its scheduled day during the #FoodJusticeFilmFestival.

  • Sept. 24: “Gather” – a brand new release about indigenous food sovereignty, traditional food systems that protect biodiversity of nature.
  • Sept. 25: “Invisible Vegan” – a film about African American access to healthy, sustainable food, cultural heritage, and plant-based diets.
  • Sept. 26: “Dolores” – featuring Dolores Huerta, an influential labor leader and her work to protect farmworkers.
  • Sept. 27: “Urban Roots” – highlighting the urban farming movement to address lack of access to sustainable, healthy foods.

Each film at the #FoodJusticeFilmFestival has an accompanying panel of interviews with filmmakers and activists including:

  • Dolores Huerta – renowned labor activist
  • Sanjay Rawal – dir. (“Gather”) and Jasmine Leyva – dir. (“Invisible Vegan”)
  • Jo’Vonna Johnson Cooke – Maitu Foods, Eugene Cooke – Grow Where You Are
  • Jacqui Patterson – climate activist from the NAACP
  • Twila Cassadore – San Carlos Apache activist
  • Samuel Genshaw – Yurok tribe and director of the Ancestral Guard
  • lauren Ornelas – director of the Food Empowerment Project
  • Kat Lopez – Veggie Mijas (activistas de la tierra)
  • Alfonzo Chavez – Food justice advocate, Flowers and Bullets
  • Neza Xiuhtecutli – Farmworkers Association, Florida