In two weeks Michigan voters will be asked to decide the fate of Proposal 1, which would raise the state's sales tax to help fund roads. Polls show that, at this point, Michigan residents are solidly against this proposal despite support from the governor and every major newspaper editorial board in the state.
As with any legislation, there are obviously a number of issues that turn off various groups of voters. For example, raising the sales tax is a regressive tax that will increase the burden on the poor. Do we really want to fund public roads on the backs of the working poor? The proposal is also based on a percentage, which means when the economy is doing well, the state will have plenty of money; however, as soon as the economy hits another bump in the road, legislators will again be looking for ways to pinch pennies. Shouldn't we find a solution that functions not only in the ideal situation but also when the state is struggling? Additionally, Proposal 1 changes the way in which taxes are collected at the pump, allowing the legislature to avoid the voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires that a certain percentage of this money end up in public education. Given that the governor already admitted that he and this legislature "cut K-12 education" spending, can we really trust that this workaround isn't just another way to reallocate important education funds?
In spite of these and other problems with Proposal 1, there are certainly things to like. It increases funding to improve Michigan's crumbling infrastructure, which studies say could save Michigan families as much as $1,000 per year. The proposal also includes changes to the earned-income tax credit that will benefit working-class Michigan residents, as well as an additional influx of money for public education.
While these are all important components to consider when making a decision regarding how to vote on Proposal 1, they all pale in comparison to the one really damning issue at play in this special election: the reality that, were it not for the cowardice of elected officials, this trip to the polls would be completely unnecessary. The fact that the people voters tasked with making the tough decisions are so afraid of losing their jobs that they would put the desires of a fringe "no new taxes" group ahead of the needs of their constituents suggests that the real problem here is not road or education funding but a complete and total failure of leadership.
Polls show that Michigan voters' top two spending priorities are infrastructure and education, yet currently Michigan spends less per capita on bridges and roads than any other state in the nation, and this legislature has overseen a cut to the foundation allowance of $648 per pupil.
Instead of focusing on voters' preferences, these legislators proved just how beholden they are to corporations by issuing a nearly $2-billion tax cut to businesses while raising taxes on almost 50 percent of Michigan residents. Obviously most Michiganders would support these changes if they led to massive economic improvement; however, studies show that the vast majority of jobs created over the past few years are not due to any actions by the Michigan legislature. In fact, even organizations that the governor cited in his bid for reelection said, "Snyder's overhaul has not yet prompted as much job growth," and, "Snyder has been criticized for his tax overhaul being hard on working families and seniors."
Having said that, a recent LinkedIn poll found that the top two drivers of economic development are having an educated work force and a well-maintained infrastructure, while tax climate came in a distant fourth, behind access to affordable energy. Additionally, a survey of corporate executives found that the top consideration for where to locate was access to good roads, while the previous number-one concern was the availability of skilled labor. The data also show that the Republican legislative priorities of tax rates, job training, and "right to work" were all lower concerns when it came to finding a business location.
These findings suggest that if the Republicans' goal was to make Michigan a more competitive state, improving infrastructure and education, not tax cuts and divisive "right to work" legislation, should have been the legislature's first order of business. This failure to understand the motives of corporations is perhaps why, even with all the efforts that the governor and his Republican legislative counterparts claim to be putting in to make Michigan more attractive to business, Michigan still ranks as the 26th best state to do business.
The reality is that, like refusing to vote for a tax increase, the legislative priority of these elected officials has clearly been self-preservation by enriching top contributors and ignoring constituents and best practices.
Of course, failing to honor the will of the people is hardly a new thing for this legislature. When voters decided to eliminate the Emergency Manager Law, legislative Republicans quickly wrote a new law and tacked on some additional taxpayer dollars so that they could call it a budgetary item, which makes it referendum-proof moving forward. This means, whether voters like this law or not, they are stuck with it. Similarly, many of these same legislators have also been attempting to restrict women's right to abortions as well as standing against same-sex marriage, despite polls that show opposition to these positions.
This astounding hypocrisy illustrates just how spineless these legislators are. They clearly don't trust voters to make the right decisions, yet they would rather look incompetent than be seen as Republicans who support a tax increase.
Making matters worse is the fact that this special election will cost the taxpayers around $10 million. That is $10 million that could have been used to fix a few roads near you. That is $10 million that could have improved education for thousands of kids. That is $10 million that could have made the tax burden a little less overwhelming for Michigan's working poor. That is $10 million that this legislature squandered because they were too scared or self-absorbed to do their job.
With all due respect to the many editorials written that find just enough to like about this legislation to ask Michiganders to vote yes, this vote is way bigger than simply properly funding roads and education. This vote sends the legislature a message about what voters will tolerate. As the old business saying goes, "If I have to do your job, I don't need you." Well, this legislature has proven over and over again that the needs of Michigan residents take a distant second place to retaining seats. Vote no on Proposal 1 and tell the Michigan legislature that they either do their job or we will find someone else who will, because this sort of continued ineptitude is completely unacceptable.