The 2020 elections are two years away, but already political candidates are laying the ground work and testing the waters. We’ll be nearing a lot of promises between now and the election, an election that is likely to be one of the nastiest in modern times. The tax structure, whether on the side of cutting or increasing, will be one of the top discussion points.

On a much smaller scale, albeit an important one for taxpayers, we couldn’t help but notice a tax law on the books in Michigan that has worked well for taxpayers for decades. In this instance, the law impacted a genuine effort by the Menominee City Council to assist in advancing the popular “Small Business Revolution - Main Street” that has pulled together our two communities for one major undertaking. The city council wanted to support a request for $5,000 to support the team efforts.

By Michigan law, the council was stymied. The city cannot earmark tax dollars to help promote the project. Although the initial response was disappointing it’s worth taking a step back and look at the overall picture when it comes to using tax dollars for non-profit organizations and those similar to the non-profits. The law is widespread and affects small cities and metropolitan municipalities.

Try imaging the millions of dollars that would be distributed to non-profits around the 83-county state, money that could be used for fixing roads, providing more aid to education, improving health care and so on. Such a loop hole would require an increase in taxes to satisfy all sides, something that has not been pleasing to taxpayers. In many cases, like improving schools and public works projects, tax dollars have not been sufficient to get these jobs done, which required special millage referendums to let voters decide.

City Attorney Rob Jamo was correct when he reminded City Manager Tony Graff and the city council about the long-standing Michigan law. It doesn’t mean that Jamo, Graff and the council opposed the $5,000 request. It simply meant they were unable to advance the money without breaking the Michigan law.

This is nothing new for the Menominee City Council. Similar requests have surfaced from non-profits over the years.

There was a time when an appropriation of about $2,500 was earmarked each year for the Menominee DAR Boys Club, one of the foremost recreation and social programs in the history of the community. The club began accepting girls for membership about 30 years ago. The $2,500 appropriation was important for the club’s operating budget.

Kenneth O. Doyle, city attorney at the time, had to make the painful call to inform the city council that it no longer could use tax money to support the non-profit organization. The backlash was swift and bitter. Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly, the longest-serving attorney general in state history, supported Doyle’s opinion.

Critics to the Doyle opinion pointed out the city council authorized $100 to $500 a year for the Menominee Indians baseball team, which competed in the Wishigan League. Doyle ruled the appropriation was OK because the team was sponsored by the city and it was not a non-profit organization.

In the latest instance, Jamo made it clear the $5,000 request for the “Small Business Revolution - Main Street” was a worthy cause, but public funds could not be used to support it without violating Michigan law. He also noted there was nothing in the law that prohibited individual council members, city manager or department needs from donating money to the cause, and encouraged them to do so.