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Commentary: What's the Deal With K-zoo Transit Tax Bills?

Why did four fiscally-conservative Republican state representatives vote "no" on two odd bills allowing Kalamazoo County to have two transit authorities that impose two separate millage levies, when 59 of their GOP colleagues voted "yes"?

Or perhaps more to the point, given that the four no-voters are probably the strongest "fiscal hawks" in the House, why did the other 59 Republican reps vote in favor of these unusual bills?

One insider with access to the supporting documents behind the bills called them "unusually vague and misleading." House Fiscal Agency analysts expressed their own puzzlement in an analysis by simply reporting what the bill's sponsor and its main supporter said in committee, as follows:

Representative O'Brien testified that, "There is community consensus that the city of Kalamazoo needs and supports increased linehaul services [that] the rest of the county does not need. Kalamazoo County desires an efficient and effective transportation authority that can maximize community dollars. Current state law does not allow for a differentiated millage - meaning one millage with different rates for various townships or cities. But Kalamazoo County recognizes that the City of Kalamazoo has higher demand for services that would not benefit the rest of the community. Thus we have sought a compromise that reflects the unique desires of Kalamazoo County."

The chairperson of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners testified that one way to view this proposal "is the overlay of two authorities, one encompassing the urbanized core receiving line haul service at one millage rate, and one comprised of the entire county (primarily paying for demand response service) at another millage rate, but both under a single, efficient operating umbrella." The bills, the commissioner said, "will permit and make it easier to levy different amounts of taxation to support differing levels of service . . .and to better integrate governance of the system."

In the world of local government transit tax hikes and spending, citizens are generally advised to keep a tight fist on their pocketbooks and a suspicious eye on politicians and bureaucrats. Methinks this is no exception.

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.