News Story

Prop 1 Unpopularity to Voters was Unprecedented

'We can elect Democrats and get that result'

Proposal 1 may go down as the most unpopular constitutional amendment in the history of the state. Its record as most unpopular amendment proposed since the current state constitution was adopted in 1963 seems assured.

Eighty percent of voters rejected the $2 billion proposal to fix the roads and give extra money to public schools, local governments, municipal bus systems and other interests. The final results were 1,405,715 “no” votes and 349,813 “yes” votes.

Of 68 constitutional amendments placed on the ballot since 1963, Proposal 1 is the only one not to get at least 400,000 “yes” votes. And the percentage of "yes" votes was also the lowest on record since 1963.

On the flip side, the most decisive margin of victory since 1963 was enjoyed by Proposal K of 1978 (deny bail for certain violent crimes), which won with 83 percent support.

The colossal defeat of Prop 1 is even more intriguing since it had the backing of both the Republican and Democratic parties as well as the governor, who campaigned for it in the final weeks. With a few exceptions the mainstream news media also overwhelmingly favored the measure, with the state’s three statewide print and online news sources (Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, MLive) all calling for a “yes” vote.

The defeat came despite the fact that a scattered opposition was massively outspent. According the most recent reports the election committee Safe Votes Yes raised $9.6 million to get the measure passed, mostly coming from road builders but also from other special interests that appeared to have no direct stake in the outcome, such as large utilities (who have separate issues of their own pending before the current Legislature).

Tom McMillin, chairman of Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan, which opposed the tax hike, said he thinks the tactics used by the proponents of Prop 1 backfired. In the final weeks leading up to the vote, the "yes" campaign had a prop school bus on tour, outfitted with a mock piece of a bridge smashing through its windshield.

“I think they’ve seen scare tactics work in the past and maybe they thought the voters wouldn’t see through it,” McMillin said. “I think a lot more people were driven to the polls the last few weeks with the whole idea that the sky is falling unless you vote ‘yes.’ It was an insult to our intelligence.”

McMillin said he also thought Democrats were unsure of the proposal while conservatives were dead set against it.

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said conservatives were upset that the plan promoted by a GOP-controlled Legislature was a $2 billion tax hike.

Drolet said Proposal 1 was “the liberal wish-list proposal.”

McMillin agreed: “They thought, ‘We can elect Democrats and get that result.”

The conservative voters came out and voted “no” because they were upset the GOP didn’t live up to its fiscal-conservative reputation, Drolet said.

“Where is the conservative dividend for having a Republican-controlled House, Senate and governor?” Drolet asked. “When does a conservative plan actually emerge with a commitment to re-prioritization for roads without new taxes?”

Another grievance on the right was the process by which politicians and government spending interests assembled the proposal's various spending increases in an extraordinary "log rolling" exercise during a lame duck session. Adam de Angeli, McMillin's partner in a grass-roots opposition campaign that raised some $12,000 in individual contributions, detailed the objections in a widely distributed email a few weeks ago. Among his criticisms:

  • Combining legislation on unrelated issues to get combined support of various interests.
  • Hiding behind voters to approve legislation politicians don't want to take a vote on.
  • Passing “emergency” legislation with no reforms to solve underlying problems that caused the emergency in the first place.
  • Turning public servants into taxpayer-funded lobbyists with the promise of bigger budgets in their future.

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.