Judge may rule Thurs. on GR tax ballot issue

A hearing to discuss a lawsuit over Grand Rapids' effort to extend an income tax with a May ballot question. (March 18, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge will soon rule on whether the City of Grand Rapids violated election law regarding a ballot question to extend an income tax increase.

The income tax increase, originally passed to pay for programs to improve city efficiency, was supposed to run out in the summer of 2015. If voters approve extending it to 2030, it will pay for road repairs.

The city is already printing up ballots for the tax extension request, even as it is fending off a lawsuit by a Grand Rapids taxpayers’ group.

A hearing on a lawsuit against the city just wrapped up Tuesday afternoon. In court, attorneys for the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association argued the city must scrap its plans to put the measure on the May ballot because it didn’t file the paperwork with the county clerk by a Feb. 27 deadline.

Attorneys for Grand Rapids say the section of the election law that the taxpayer group claims the city violated doesn’t cover this type of election. Though it has previously had ballot measured certified by the county clerk — including the initial income tax increase four years ago — the city says it is not required by law.

However, the city didn’t learn that until the language was challenged. In the past, the city has operated under the assumption that it had to send ballot language to the clerk.

The city’s attorney, the Kent County Clerk and the State election officer now say that was an extra step not required under the law. Instead, because there are no county-wide or state issues on the May ballot, the election is under the total control of the City of Grand Rapids.

The taxpayers group says it will mount a campaign against the tax extension proposal if it does make it on the ballot. They say the income tax increase was supposed to be temporary and want it to expire so tax rates will fall.

A judge is expected to make his decision on the lawsuit Thursday in an effort to clear up the issue before absentee ballots become available Saturday.

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