The Census Really Counts
When our country was founded after protests of “no taxation without representation,” one of the first things that the founding fathers had figure out was how to fairly allot representation and taxes. That’s where the census comes in. Every ten years, the Constitution calls for everyone in the country to be counted. Sounds simple enough. In fact, it is incredibly complex to achieve and that was before the 2020 census was sidelined by COVID-19. However, the count is on, and while the census is a federal government function, making sure everyone is counted is important because it’s effects are hyper-local.
In 2018, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative creating the Michigan Citizen Independent Redistrict Commission charged with redrawing state legislative and federal congressional district lines. After the census results are finalized, the commission will determine new boundaries for state senate and house districts and US congressional districts that will go into effect with the 2022 elections. his year marks the first time this commission will use the results of the decennial census to redraw these political boundaries; a job previously, that lay with the state legislature. While more than 9000 Michiganders applied to serve on the commission, according to a press release from Secretary of State Joceyln Benson, “the commission will be composed of 13 randomly selected Michigan registered voters: four who affiliate with the Democratic Party, four who affiliate with the Republican Party, and five who do not affiliate with either major political party.”
In addition to determining who represents you in Congress and the state legislature, census data helps allocate tax revenues for local governments. At the state level, accurate census data helps make sure that Michigan receives its fair share of federal funds for everything from interstate roads to education. More locally though, the data also affects how the State of Michigan allocates “revenue sharing” from state coffers to municipal governments based on the population. The Michigan constitution requires that 15% of 4% sales tax revenues be shared with local governments based on their population. Further revenue sharing is based on state law and can be adjusted by the legislature and governor from year to year, but that too is based on formulas that depend on population data from the census. According to Portland city manager Tutt Gorman, these funds that “Michigan cities, villages, and townships receive...help pay for core government services such as police protection, fire service, roads, water and sewer service, and garbage collection.”
Gorman says that another area where census data determines local funding is through the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF). This fund contains money from fuel taxes, vehicle registrations and other automotive-related taxes. These funds are distributed to local governments for the maintenance of certain streets deemed important to the community subject to the approval of the State Transportation Commission. According to Gorman, “All other streets are City or Village Local Streets. The local governing body makes the determination that a street is local or major.”
City budget aren’t the only ones affected by census data; it also affects some funding for our local schools. Most school funding from the State of Michigan is determined by the number of students enrolled in the school. However, according to Derrick Stair, finance director for Portland Public Schools, several important programs use census data. Especially, federal funds for Title 1, programs that help struggling students for instance in becoming proficient readers. According to Stair, “the district receives about $140,000 that we use to employ additional staff that provides intervention support to those students who are struggling academically. This funding supports students at both our Oakwood and Westwood elementary buildings along with students at St. Pats who also receive services.”
Stair said that “While that may not seem like much, census data does play a larger role in overall federal funding. The state’s total census data does impact the amount of federal money that is allocated to Michigan. If the census shows a lower population then our state’s federal funding allocation will also be lowered. This means less money available to be distributed to schools – regardless of what distribution method is used. A strong census turnout by all Michigan residents benefits all Michigan students.”
While census work has been delayed by COVID-19, much of the process is now done electronically. Earlier this spring, the Census Bureau sent invitations to households to complete the questionnaire online. Later those households that hadn’t replied received a paper form to fill out and mail back in. Now, moving into August census workers will begin visiting houses in person to survey residents who have not yet responded. According to the Census Bureau, there are only nine questions on the census questionnaire and they all pertain to “demographic questions: who lives in the household; how they are related; their age, sex, and race; whether they own or rent their house; and their phone number.”
If you haven’t responded to the census yet, you can do so by visiting 2020census.gov.
PHOTO: US Census Bureau