News Story

Lansing Bus System: Free Rides To Vote On New School Levy

Government entities all-in when one of them seeks new taxes

Lansing’s public bus system is offering free rides to anyone who wants to vote on a Lansing School District debt proposal on May 3. The Capital Area Transportation Authority will offer free rides, systemwide and with no ID is required. “Riders should simply inform the driver that they wish to vote in order to board,” the transit agency states.

Some election experts question whether this is a form of political electioneering.

A study from 2004 found that half of CATA riders belong to a household with annual income below $20,000, compared to just 12% of nonriders. released a 2021 report that found that people earning $15,000 or less are far more likely to vote for Democrats. Democrats, it also said, are far more likely to support government assistance programs.

CATA serves Ingham County, which supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race by a margin of nearly 2-1. Voters in the city of Lansing supported Biden over Trump by more than a 3-to-1 margin.

“It is government-sponsored electioneering,” said Eric Doster, an election law expert and former general counsel to the Michigan GOP. “The clear effect of this service is provide Get Out The Vote activities for people who are inclined to voting yes on a bond proposal.”

CATA responded to an email and released a statement: "Providing free rides to the polls is a longstanding tradition at CATA and at many other public transit agencies across the country. Transportation should never be an obstacle to exercising one’s right to vote. We’re proud to provide a public service that helps citizens across the Greater Lansing region engage in our democracy, regardless of their partisan preferences."

According to a 2020 budget report, CATA collected $22.4 million from annual property tax levies. It's total revenue for the year was $50.4 million, of which $3.6 million came from fares. (In 2019 before the pandemic fares totaled $4.2 million.)

The Lansing School District debt proposal states the millage will impose a new tax of 0.58 mills on homeowners and other property owners, making taxpayers liable for $129.7 million in new debt over 25 years. The district claims that because some previous borrowing will be paid off this year, taxpayers will not see an increase in their property tax bills. (Taxpayers also will not see the tax cut they would otherwise receive if this new debt is not approved.) The added debt would represent the third new tax levy imposed by the district since 2016. The district will also receive $107.8 million in federal COVID-19 relief.

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.