L'ANSE - Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Friday afternoon that puts to rest a Baraga County taxation issue.
House Bill 5609, introduced by Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, is now Public Act 234 and it amends the General Property Tax Act to make delinquent property taxes a personal liability for someone transferring property on which taxes are owed to a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member. Previously, such an action would have prevented the county from collecting those back taxes due to the tribe's treaty-upheld tax exemption.
"It made my day when I found out it passed," said Baraga County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph O'Leary, who testified before the House Tax Policy Committee May 30 about the bill's effect.
"This thing was first introduced May 9 and here we are and it's not even July and it made it through both the House and the Senate, and the governor's office. That's a real credit to everyone working on it and it shows that some common-sense lawmaking can still happen."
The law will not prevent the transfer of property, but it will prevent non-tribal members from abusing the tribal tax exemption. The county will now be able to collect delinquent taxes, including $130,000 worth on a parcel of land in the county that could have come off the tax rolls as early as July.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on May 31 by a vote of 110-0, and the Senate on June 13 by a vote of 37-0. A minor Senate adjustment was then approved by the House 110-0 on June 14, Gov. Snyder approved it on Tuesday and it was officially filed with the Secretary of State at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
"I'd really like to give a thank you to Matt Huuki. He and his office really worked hard. They understood the urgency and importance of this bill," O'Leary said. "In the big scheme of things in Lansing this wasn't a huge issue, but it was huge for Baraga County."
The bill also had full support from the KBIC, which helped clinch the unanimous House and Senate votes.
"The tribe understands they have a lot of services coming in from the tax base and to have that peeled back, either the services have to go or the rates have to go up on everyone else," Huuki said. "It was great to have definite support from the tribal council and that definitely helped to have this pass."
Gov. Snyder also signed 14 other bills Friday and vetoed another.