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Sinking fund bill moves

*The House version of the sinking fund bill was reported out by the Education committee yesterday, coming much closer to passage in the Democrat-controlled chamber.*

The bill, as amended by the committee, has some key differences with its sibling in the Senate. Most importantly, the amended bill limits the expansion of sinking funds to the purchase and repair of school buses, and the purchase and upgrade of technology. These two areas were the highest priority for schools, but the bill had originally broadened the use of sinking funds to any purpose approved for bond issues. The bill was approved on a mostly party-line vote, 18-5.

Among other changes, the bill would require that sinking fund levies be renewed every 10 years, rather than every 20 (as in current law). Under an amendment offered by committee Chair Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills), districts could only place these issues on the ballot in the August or November elections. Rep. Melton argued that this would save money for districts and improve turnout, while school officials argued that the effect would be mixed as so many school board elections take place in May already. Districts would also be required to post their spending from sinking funds on their websites quarterly, thanks to an amendment proposed by Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) which foundered until he reduced the requirement from weekly to quarterly.

Voted down was an amendment by Livonia Republican John Walsh, who had proposed that commercial personal property be exempt from new sinking fund levies. Currently, all property in a school district is subject to a sinking fund levy.

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