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Judge rules Grand Rapids can put income tax hike extension on May ballot

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
If the proposal passes, Grand Rapids would use it to pay for street and sidewalk improvements.

A Kent County judge says Grand Rapids can ask voters in May to approve an income tax extension.

At issue is a temporary income tax hike that's set to expire in July 2015. The city wants to extend the tax an additional 15 yearsto pay for road improvements.

Grand Rapids Taxpayers’ Association that’s opposed to the tax sued the city over a legal technicality. The group says state law requires the city to get the ballot measure certified by the county clerk. The judge ruled in favor of the city, which cited a different section of state law that says it doesn’t, so long as the issue is within only the city’s jurisdiction.

The Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association opposes the tax, legal issues aside.  Jeff Steinport represents the association. The group had hoped to force the city to delay the vote.

“(The city) certainly has the opportunity if they want to put it back on the ballot in August or November and in fact that probably would be preferable because there’s a higher turnout and to us a higher turnout is a good thing,” Steinport said.

Steinport said he’s filed a request for an emergency appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals. Absentee ballots are supposed to be available for the May election this weekend.

Mayor George Heartwell is pleased with the ruling.

“For us at City Hall this has been a bit of a distraction but now we can really focus on making sure that we have the resources we need to get our streets back in good shape. We’re not trying to hide anything from anybody,” Heartwell said. “I think today it’s clear to anybody driving in the city of Grand Rapids that we desperately need to fund street repairs and improvements. There’s just no question about it.”

If the measure passes, the city says the money would be enough to get 70% of Grand Rapids’ streets into good to fair condition. With no new investment, close to 90% of city streets will be in poor condition by 2019.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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