News Story

Are Michigan Voters Really Ready to Pay Higher Taxes?

The Center for Michigan think tank did an evaluation of the local millages in the August primary. Its conclusion: "In the age of the Tea Party, a would-be tax revolt clearly does not extend to local communities across Michigan. That's the obvious conclusion from a Center for Michigan analysis of more than 600 ballot proposals for police and fire, libraries, senior citizen services, and roads."

"The world is run by those who show up. Any group with a base had an opportunity to influence last week's elections," said John Bebow, executive director at The Center for Michigan. "The Center's story didn't advocate for tax increases — we simply reported what happened across the state.

Here are two other viewpoints:

Charlie Owens, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation for Independent Business:

That's the reason all these tax proposals should be on the November ballot, not that August ballot. Generally, there is a lighter turnout. Local municipalities and schools know that. That is why they avoid the November ballots. They get their folks out. The folks that want the tax increases are very good about getting out their base and the lighter turnout in the August elections works to their advantage in that regard.

That's why initiatives to increase taxes should be on the November ballot. It would be very naive to translate support for local tax initiatives in an August primary election as a reliable barometer of the tax mood of the citizenry at large.

Generally, people are more supportive of local tax initiatives because they know where the money is going and it is pretty specific. That is not the same as "increase my income tax so Granholm can go to Japan and find us jobs."

That is not anything you should take to the bank as an overall support for taxes from the citizenry. That doesn't mean an overall tax increase such as income or sales tax would find support from voters in a ballot question.

How many times has that millage been before the voters?

They are voting for the tax increases, not a lawmaker. Not a politician. That doesn't mean they want some lawmaker in Lansing voting to increase their income tax.

Therefore, let's put a tax increase before the entire voters and see.

Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

I agree with one of the report's conclusions: that people have a greater level of trust in local governments. In at least one area that trust may be misplaced, however: targeted millages used to pay for core government functions like police and fire, which should be funded from general tax revenues. This is a gimmick and a growing trend that shows local politicians can be as clever as state and national ones at extracting excessive tax revenues.

Here's why:

Asking citizens to pay extra for these core services is like a car dealer tacking on an extra charge to provide a motor. Voters haven't caught on to this yet, so local politicians know they are more likely to get support for a fire or police millage than one for non-core functions.

In other words, where voters are more likely to say "no" to extra millages to support municipal golf courses or indoor swimming pools, ones for police and fire are usually an easy sell. This frees up general-fund money for the non-core luxuries that in many cases represent local government "empire building" and mission creep.

The bottom line is that extra-added police and fire millages are an abuse of taxpayers' trust, and local politicians should be called on it.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.