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U.P. officials weigh in on Enyart appointment: Dark store issue remains a central concern, municipal leaders say

Sara Cambensy

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Senate Advice and Consent Committee has until Oct. 13 to consider Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reappointment of Victoria Enyart to the state’s tax tribunal. The committee is expected to meet on Thursday to consider Enyart’s appointment.

However, calls for legislators to reject Enyart’s appointment keep growing in the Upper Peninsula, with administrations of all U.P. 15 counties signing a letter of opposition, as well as the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress.

Enyart has served on the tribunal for 13 years, with her most recent reappointment made by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018.

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette said Enyart has been “instrumental” in blocking efforts to abolish the “dark store” tax loophole, which allows big box retailers to artificially reduce their tax bill and strips local communities of the revenue they need to provide essential services.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, has also weighed in publicly on Enyart’s appointment.

Ed McBroom

“Ms. Enyart has served on the state’s tax tribunal for several years and she has a record that must be taken into account,” McBroom said. “During her time on the tribunal, Enyart has established a troubling pattern of devaluing the property of big box stores. The tax tribunal has accepted faulty reasoning for the property tax of big businesses across Michigan, and not only does it result in an unfair advantage of not paying their share, the revenue reduction puts undue stress on governments trying to supply services like fire protection to their residents.”

Marquette County municipalities are also banding together to oppose Whitmer’s reappointment of Enyart for a term expiring June 30, 2024.

Marquette Township and Marquette County adopted resolutions on Sept. 15 calling for Whitmer to reverse her decision to appoint Enyart or ask the Legislature to step in.

The appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the state Senate. Rather than the Senate approving the appointment by positive action –such as a vote–the law requires the legislative body to disapprove the appointment within 60 session days, according to a fact sheet on the mi.gov website.

“In other words, no action by the Senate constitutes a confirmation of an appointment after 60 session days,” the fact sheet states.

DURANT

Marquette Township, which has been at the center of tax tribunal disputes for over a decade, has been a very vocal opponent to Enyart’s reappointment.

Entities that the township collects taxes on behalf of have struggled to continue providing services in the face of a nearly $3 million combined cumulative revenue reduction in the last 10 years, according to figures provided by Marquette Township Assessor Dulcee Atherton.

The impact of the tribunal decisions have hit the Marquette Area Public Schools’ operating millage especially hard, causing nearly $1.2 million in cumulative budget reductions or refunds, according to Atherton’s calculations.

When asked about the impact tax tribunal decisions that favor the “dark store” theory, Whitmer’s office said in an email statement that one of her “top priorities remains making sure that schools and local communities are fully funded.

“The governor looks forward to working with the Legislature to pass policies that make sure our schools and municipalities have what they need to be successful.”

Marquette Township Supervisor Lyn Durant said she has received support from the city of Marquette, Marquette Township, Sands Township, Negaunee Township, Ishpeming Township and the cities of Negaunee and Ishpeming.

Durant said she is working to gather evidence reflecting that Marquette County municipalities specifically are opposed to Enyart’s reappointment.

“I did make a bunch of phone calls, I did get some meetings set up to get some information. (I) talked to McBroom’s office a couple of times, visited with Sara Cambensy’s office a couple of times,” Durant said during the board meeting on Sept. 15. “In the meantime of all this — the recommended appointment of Victoria Enyart (to the tax tribunal)– came up and (I) got a little more involved. I have been told by McBroom’s office that he and some of his cohorts are objecting to this. This is a start, I think, in the whole tribunal debacle of making waves, as it were. Shaking them up.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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