Community members discuss state property tax

Published 10:00 am Monday, July 10, 2023

BUCHANAN — Michigan home owners shouldn’t have to fear losing their homes if they fall on hard times and can’t pay their property taxes. That was the message from Karla Wagner of AxeMItax Sunday in a speech at Lehman’s Farmhouse in Buchanan. 

The grassroots AxeMItax organization will be collecting signatures this fall to place a proposal on the November 2024 state ballot that would eliminate the state’s current property tax system. Wagner is a Kent County realtor, small business owner and property tax expert. 

More than 50 people attended the meeting which was sponsored by the South County Republican Club. 

Wagner said the impetus for starting the movement to abolish the property tax was not only seeing how senior citizens and others can lose their homes if they can’t pay their property taxes but also all the waste being funded by property tax revenue going to bloated state and local governments. 

“Our number one goal is to keep people in their homes,” she said. “We are trying to eliminate the state, county and township’s ability to seize our properties through taxes. Last year in Michigan, nearly 185,000 properties were entered into the tax lien seizure process … It’s time to stand up and say no more.” 

She noted that forcing people out of their homes for nonpayment of taxes and making them homeless will only exacerbate the state’s homeless problem. “What happens when you displace people? You create more homelessness,” she said.  

“Then communities get money for affordable and Section 8 housing, that’s our tax dollars,” she added. “… All we’re doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We don’t need to create homelessness and then use our tax dollars to pay for affordable housing. Home ownership would be more affordable if there were no property taxes.” 

Wagner noted that the property tax issue also affects farmers and small business owners. She said the state lost 400 family farms last year and that business owners are also getting hurt. She pointed out that the state has been giving big property tax breaks to large corporations and foreign investors to the detriment of Michigan residents. 

Wagner said the first question she’s always asked is how will local governments get the revenue they need to operate. She sees it both as a matter of the state giving local and county governments the revenue they deserve and of governments cutting spending.  

“When people tighten their belts and the government gets fat, that’s a problem,” she said. “… I don’t want to keep talking about where the money is going to come from, we have a spending problem.” 

Part of the Axe MI Tax proposal is to require the auditing local, county and state governments so people can see where and how their tax dollars are spent as well as identify areas where there is waste and redundancy. “Where is the common sense in government?” she asked. 

“These different entities are always going to say they need more money,” she said. “Where is all the money going that they already collect in property taxes? We want more transparency. The issue is where is the money going, how it’s being spent and when does it ever stop?” 

She also thinks that state spending should be straightened out. For example, revenue designated for schools such as from the lottery and the sales tax should actually go for those purposes instead of being siphoned off to fund other projects. 

Wagner said her organization views equity as a big part of the problem. People who aren’t paying property taxes are still able to vote for millage levies that will raise other people’s taxes. 

“We have a lot people who are voting for millages but they’re not paying,” she said. “We have to make it more equitable. 30 percent of the people are renters and only 45 to 50 percent of the 70 percent who own property actually pay taxes. We want to equalize it. Property taxes are paid by the few for the benefit of the many.” 

Wagner told people to keep watching the organization’s website for news of when people will be collecting signatures on petitions to get the proposal on the ballot. She said they are still working on the ballot language and also spreading the word about the proposal throughout the state.