MARQUETTE - With frustration over revenue sharing cuts and potential tax law changes that could negatively affect local governments, dictated by Lansing lawmakers, talk at Tuesday's Marquette County Board meeting included a resurgence of the decades-old idea of the Upper Peninsula becoming a state of its own.
Commissioner Michael Quayle said he recently corresponded via email with a citizen who wanted more information about development of a potential severance tax for non-ferrous mining operations, including the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. mine in Michigamme Township.
Local taxing units have been concerned the severance tax could replace and shortchange current ad valorem tax revenue schools and local governments vitally depend on.
"The person kind of quipped at the end of the email and said we should secede from the state of Michigan," Quayle said.
Commissioners chuckled at Quayle's remark.
Quayle said his unnamed correspondent suggested a book by local historian James Carter on previous U.P. statehood efforts called "Superior, a State for the North Country."
"I actually purchased the book and it's kind of interesting reading," Quayle said. "It's too bad Mr. (Dominic) Jacobetti, back in '75, didn't see fit to maybe give it one more shot. It only lost by one vote. The vote was 67-66."
Quayle was talking about a state house vote and the late Jacobetti, a Negaunee Democrat who still maintains the longest-serving member status in the House of Representatives. He represented two districts over his career and held office for 39 years until his death in 1994.
"Quite honestly, with how we're being treated up here, and if you read through this book and all the efforts through the years of this talk of seceding from the state, at first I kind of joked or laughed about it, like I did back in '75, and earlier when Mr. Jacobetti had first proposed it," Quayle said. "I thought it was something that was probably impossible, not likely to happen and certainly there was a lot of anti-seceding issues going on at the time. But I think he had a very good vision back there and I think if he was sitting here today, he'd probably say he had wished he'd maybe taken one more vote on the issue."
Quayle said he didn't know "if we have the leadership in Lansing now to do something like this."
"Like I say, I kind of laughed about it at first, but the more I thought about it, all the problems that we're going through and all we're seeing and everybody else now that we got a little bit of money coming in up here, wants to help us spend it," Quayle said. "I don't know if there's anybody out there willing to take the issue on, but I'm beginning to not laugh at it so much anymore. I think it might be a good idea if we did secede."
Marquette resident Catherine Parker mentioned the issue during public comment.
"I came here tonight because a number of items that were on the agenda, it seemed to be one thing they have in common is problems with Lansing," Parker said. "And it's really interesting to listen to the discussion and actually see some smiles when you talk about separating from the state. I think we have a real disconnect with Lower Michigan and Lansing is becoming more and more, apparently, the enemy."
Parker said she respected a presentation earlier in the evening by Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda on regional economic development efforts, but said she was "disturbed" the information was communicated to the governor in February and is only now coming to the county board.
"This is our U.P., why are people talking about this behind closed doors?" Parker said. "I feel like Lansing is trying to write our narrative for us and we shouldn't be allowing them to do that. They don't live here. They don't have the emotional investment that we have in this place. I feel like they're trying to alter it and make it into something else that it's not or isn't meant to be."
Commissioner Steven Pence said he would echo some of Parker's comments on Lansing.
"We're being given less funds to work with and given more direction on how to use them," Pence said.
Pence said he's still struggling in Houghton County's Portage Township with a decision on gravel pit operations "that allows Lansing to determine zoning and entirely alter the master plan of a township or a county."
"So there is something alarming going on here," Pence said. "And yet, with term limits, we don't have a Jacobetti. We might have had a Steve Adamini accruing great seniority by now, but maybe he had enough in his six years."
Adamini, who is now Marquette County civil counsel, served as a state representative for the 109th District, from 2000 to 2006.
"But it is a feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness as we see a situation where remarkably some industries are allowed to determine their own zoning and what taxes they wish to pay," Pence said, referring to recent communications between the governor's office and Kennecott on severance taxes. "I look forward to the governor sending me that kind of letter as a guy who runs a small law firm."
Quayle said he was also concerned about the current legislature's passing of more than 500 bills, with all but 20 of them taking effect immediately.
"It's really kind of a scary situation," Quayle said.
Without Commissioner Gerald Corkin's chance discovery of the severance tax issue earlier this year, the tax could have become law before the board knew what happened, Quayle said.
"This is the type of thing we're dealing with and this is really scary to me," Quayle said. "I'm beginning to think that we've got too many legislators in Lansing. I think they've got too much time on their hands and maybe they should be part-time legislators and go home for a while and let us try to act on the laws that have already been signed into effect instead of day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, trying to come up with new laws and new bills to introduce and then really not give the public their due according to the constitution."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.