How Local Governments Toe the Line Advocating for Tax Hikes

Rising revenue, but Muskegon County Road Commission wants more

The Muskegon County Road Commission wants voters to approve a $6.7 million property tax hike on Feb. 24. A road commission flier states, “Repairing our roads is costly, but if everybody pitches in to help with this 1.5 mill proposal, it’s not much at all.”

The flier is an example of how governments go right up to the line of illegal tax-funded electioneering. And it is far from uncommon.

The road commission’s revenue increased from $15.4 million in 2012 to $17 million in 2015. Yet the flyer claims, “Currently our budget is short $9 million.” Only in government is a desire to spend 53 percent over budget characterized as a shortfall. It would be like a household with annual income of $60,000 claiming a shortfall because they want to buy a $90,000 car next year.

Incidentally, if voters approve a $2 billion tax hike on the May 5 statewide ballot, the Muskegon County Road Commission will get an another $6.4 million annually by 2018.

ForTheRecord says: It’s against the law for local governments to use tax dollars to urge a “yes” or “no” vote on a ballot measure, what’s called “express advocacy.” To regular people, the line “if everybody pitches in to help with this 1.5 mill proposal” looks like a clear violation. But the state elections bureau generally won’t act on complaints unless a tax-funded document says “vote yes” or “support this bond.”

A 2011 Michigan Capitol Confidential report found that even those schools who were blatant advocating for a “yes” vote in their literature faced only a $100 fine.

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.