By David Lossing/Michigan Municipal League
The Economic Vitality Incentive Program, a.k.a. EVIP, has been around for a couple of years now. EVIP is a program created by the state in 2011 to eliminate statutory revenue sharing and replace it with an “incentive” based program with only two-thirds of the previous funding.
Under the program, local communities are supposed to be able to “qualify” for EVIP funds by complying with certain criteria. This follows nearly a decade of massive cuts totaling over $6 billion that have been made by the Legislature and the governor to local revenue sharing funds.
So what have we learned? Is it working? Are our citizens benefiting from the time and resources being invested into this program by our local governments and by the state? In a word: No.
At the Michigan Municipal League’s annual Capital Conference, the session on EVIP was easily the most volatile of the two-day event. To put that in perspective, we also had a session on the recent repeal of the personal property tax, which was the biggest tax policy change in over a decade.
People are angry over EVIP because it isn’t working. An entire bureaucracy has been created to provide an “incentive” to be more efficient. In my view that’s a bit of an oxymoron.
As you would expect from any government bureaucracy worth its salt, there are people in the back office creating rules to attempt to manage the program. You may be asking, what kind of important policy questions are being asked by the state to make sure we are all in compliance? For example, several communities were contacted because the state wanted to know, “When was the first time you ever spoke about your consolidation idea?” And why did they ask that? Because the law requires a timeline. Without knowing the exact date, the communities think they cannot be in compliance. Now that is bureaucracy at its finest.
To receive EVIP funding, communities must post their financial and related data on their websites. So at least the public is being given access to information, right? On face value you might think so, but upon closer inspection it seems counterproductive at best.
First of all, there isn’t any information available now that wasn’t always available in some other form. But now that we have this new bureaucracy in place, clearly people are taking advantage of the resources being expended, right? Well, the League did an impromptu survey of our members after our EVIP session to ask that question: How many people are viewing your EVIP information online?
Farmington Hills, a community of over 80,000 people had ZERO hits to their EVIP-related website data last year, as did six other communities. Birmingham had almost 174,000 visitors to their city site, but only 83 visited the EVIP pages during the same time frame. That is an astonishing 0.048 percent. The city of Wyoming, with over 70,000 residents, had 235 views in 2012. Novi, with a population of over 55,000, has had 25 visits this year. The city of Adrian had 11 hits to their EVIP page, which is less than half as many that sought out information about the city’s sculpture.
So I ask this question: Is this what EVIP was intended to do? I think not. If the goal was efficiency and better government, we have lost our way and instead managed to create a new bureaucracy, and add cost and inefficiency. But we should ask ourselves, is the return on our investment such that it negates the new problem we have built? In my view this is not spurring incentivizing vitality, it is applying a one-size-fits-all-approach to the services that matter the most.