Ruth Beier is one of two incumbents running for two open East Lansing City Council seats in the November election. (There are a total of three candidates on the ballot.) For Beier, an economist with the Michigan Educational Association, entering the political arena was a pragmatic decision.
“I was at my neighbor's house with a few friends and we were complaining about bad decisions city council was making,” she explained. “Someone said, ‘Hey, Ruth, you should run.’ I thought about it that night and decided it would be much more efficient to try to fix things from the inside, so I decided to run. But, this is not a political career. I am not trying to ‘move up’ the political ladder, and I will only do this as long as I am needed. I don't enjoy it. It is unpleasant. I don't mind hard work, but the older I get, the less I am inclined to do work that is unpleasant.”
Beier said she’s running for re-election to solve “two huge issues,” namely “putting the City on solid financial ground” and “establishing rules and policies for development that improve the lives of residents.” If she is re-elected, her main goal is “to get revenue in line with expenditures.” She hopes to achieve that goal “by convincing residents to vote for the income tax/property tax cut. If that fails, we will have to make drastic cuts in fire and police services.”
Asked about challenges facing the City of East Lansing, Beier continued to focus on finance. “The Michigan Constitution severely restricts our revenue options. We can levy property taxes, but we are near our Constitutional limit and we already have the 5th highest property taxes in the state, partly because we have so much tax-exempt MSU property [in the City]. Our only other [potential] significant revenue source is an income tax. If we can't get an income tax, we will have to cut basic services.”
The income tax and property tax ballot proposals slated for the November ballot are, according to Beier, “good for residents. City property taxes will fall by 5 mills, which is about a 10% cut in the City portion of the property tax. Residents will pay 1% and non-residents will pay 1/2 % income tax. The income tax is deductible for itemizers. Retirement income is not subject to the tax.”
In response to concerns about the impact of an income tax on MSU students, she adds that “City Council proposed that anyone earning less than $5,000 be exempt from the tax, which will exempt low income households and most students. This is a way to diversify our tax base and keep us from having to make drastic cuts in services.”
At this point, Beier sees no point in continued negotiations between the City and MSU in the hopes that the University might give the City enough money that they would abandon the idea of an income tax for non-residents. “The income tax is on the ballot, so unless it fails, which I don't think will happen, there will be no further negotiations. In any case, it makes no sense to negotiate since the President can't deliver the board [of Trustees].”
Asked about the Park District, a redevelopment project previously planned for the blighted corner of Abbot and Grand River and recently withdrawn, Beier stated that “the [vacant] buildings will come down in October. Demolishing the blight was my major goal. I think the City should look at selling our properties on Evergreen to get out from under that debt. I hope the developer proposes something more modest for Park District.”
Finally, we asked Beier her thoughts on the issues unique to a college town like East Lansing. “I think about town/gown ideas all of the time,” she replied. “For example, I would love for students to have nice, new, appropriate housing near campus and have some of the single-family homes that are student rentals revert back to single-family homes.”
See Ruth Beier’s resume here.
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