CHICAGO -- Gov. John Engler of Michigan signed into law Thursday a bill that will allow Wayne County and five other counties in the state to place a package of taxes before voters to finance stadium and convention facilities.
However, most of the counties will not be rushing to voters with plans for new facilities.
Irma Clark, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County executive's office, which initiated the bill as a way to finance a new baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, said the tax package would not appear on the March 17 presidential primary ballot unless the Tigers agree on a downtown Detroit site for the stadium.
She said it is unlikely the tax package would make the March ballot, and that the next possible election would be the state primary in August.
Tiger officials, who could not be reached for comment, have reportedly said they would begin looking at possible sites outside of the city after they rejected site proposals offered by Wayne County and Detroit earlier this year.
If the taxes are approved by county votes, revenues would be used to back bonds for the stadium. The proposed taxes are a 1% tax on hotel and motel rooms and restaurant meals and a 2% tax on rental cars.
County documents have outlined a plan to issue $150 to $200 million of tax-exempt bonds, backed by the tax revenues, and taxable bonds, backed by team revenues, for the stadium. One public finance source has said the tax-exempt portion of the bonds could be structured to overcome restrictions contained in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 by flunking the private security test in the law, while meeting the private-use test.
The new law also gives Ingham, Kent, Muskegon, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties the ability to ask voters to approve the same tax package for the acquisition, construction, improvement, or enlargement of stadium or convention facilities.
Ken Kuipers, chairman of the Kent County Board, said that although no stadium or convention center plans are pending before his panel, the county wanted to be included in the bill. The county already collects a 5% tax on hotel and motel rooms and is completing a long-range plan on how to use the revenues over the next 15 to 20 years. Mr. Kuipers said that until that plan is completed the board would not consider implementing the new law.
Officials from Muskegon County, which was given the ability to seek voter approval of the taxes for a professional hockey facility, did not return phone calls.
Brian Jeffries, chairman of the Ingham County Board, said that while nothing related to the new law was before the board, the county may have been included in the bill for the proposed expansion of a convention center in Lansing, the county seat. Lansing officials could not be reached for comment.
Officials in Oakland and Washtenaw counties said they did not know why their counties were included in the bill because there were no stadiums or convention centers being planned currently.
State Senator Lana Pollack, D-Ann Arbor, who represents most of Washtenaw County, said that county was added to the bill by a Senate committee and not at her initiative. Sen. Pollack, who voted for the bill, said the five counties may have been added, regardless of their needs, to the original Wayne County legislation in order to build support for the bill.
Meanwhile, a portion of the new law may face a constitutional challenge by the Michigan Restaurant Association, which is considering filing a suit charging that the 1% tax on restaurant meals increases the sales tax above the constitutional limit of 4%.