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Public sector

Legislature, check your residency work

One of the more ill-advised things the Legislature and Gov. John Engler did back in the 1990s was to impose their “wisdom” on Michigan communities that made residency requirements for certain public servants. The Legislature decided that for the city of Detroit to require police officers to live in Detroit was unacceptable, for example.

They all but barred the practice via Public Act 212 of 1999.

The libertarian in me says this is a matter of freedom. Employers shouldn’t be able to tell employees where to live.

Of course, true freedom means the freedom not to choose a job or career. No one forces a person to become a police officer or firefighter or clerk in a city’s treasury department.

And local governments have a strong vested interest in establishing residency rules, for good reason.

Think like a taxpayer for a moment. You pay taxes to support your local government, including the salaries and benefits of public employees. Those public employees, however, may not contribute to the same degree; in some cases, they may not provide any local property or income tax to support the community that supports their family. Odd.

Cities also have a vested interest in having houses occupied and maintained. A residency program creates a better market for said housing. Neighborhoods are stabilized. Urban cores are strengthened and an entire region can benefit. (And, for another day, we’ll get into how suburbs don’t do too well when the nearby urban core falters.)

Sure, you can have incentive programs to attract public servants to live inside a jurisdiction. And private employers have been known to offer incentives as well. But incentives usually require dollars, something in short supply in local governments these days.

Is there an energetic lawmaker at the Capitol these days who would go to the trouble to hold some hearings to actually determine the value of Michigan’s 1999 diktat against residency requirements? The state has had 10 years to assess the effects of this state law. If it’s great, why not confirm the fact?

And if it’s not, maybe Michigan citizens can have a discussion about letting local communities decide for themselves.

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