I have held back until now to see which way the wind blows and despite the best efforts of people trying to put this forth as a ‘fix the roads’ bill, they seem to be losing almost roughly 3 to one if the latest polls are to believed. As much as we Michigan people would like our roads fixed, there is a large amount of BS in this bill that people have sensed. Mostly because the way this is presented you would think it is simply raising the sales tax to pay for roads. That however is not how it is worded. The full text:
A proposal to amend the State Constitution to increase the sales/use tax from 6% to 7% to replace and supplement reduced revenue to the School Aid Fund and local units of government caused by the elimination of the sales/use tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles operating on public roads, and to give effect to laws that provide additional money for roads and other transportation purposes by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
Eliminate sales / use taxes on gasoline / diesel fuel for vehicles on public roads.Increase portion of use tax dedicated to School Aid Fund (SAF).
Expand use of SAF to community colleges and career / technical education, and prohibit use for 4-year colleges / universities.
Give effect to laws, including those that:
Increase sales / use tax to 7%, as authorized by constitutional amendment.
Increase gasoline / diesel fuel tax and adjust annually for inflation, increase vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes.
Expand competitive bidding and warranties for road projects.
Increase earned income tax credit.
I always get nervous when a ballot proposal is longer than a short paragraph.
OK, the first thing you notice is the change in sales tax but the first thing mentioned is School Aid Fund not roads. The idea of this bill is to create new taxes, abolish other ones and absolutely ties the fixing of roads and the School Aid Fund together. Now you will probably understand why the most humorous ad on TV to me was claiming this was not a shell game with tax money. Holy Cow is this a shell game in and of itself and unless you’re deleting things from the Michigan constitution that actually gives me more freedom, that is going to make me nervous as well.
Now you have to go back a little here to understand why the School Aid Fund and the Roads in Michigan are a mess. Firstly we need to understand that the way money is appropriated to road commissions in Michigan is based on a law form the 1970s and actually involves a dollar amount that is fixed. That’s right folks nothing has changed in five decades as far as how the money is given out.
Secondly in more recent history when Granholm was still in power, one of the ways the legislature balanced he budget was to ‘borrow’ the money from the School aid fund promising to return it the next year. The problem is then the Republicans won the governor’s mansion the next year and conveniently forgot they had done this. The money was never returned.
Thirdly, they got creative and decided proposal A from back in the 1990s which increased the sales tax from 4% to 6% for the specific purpose of funding education didn’t mean that is all they could fund with it. I remember this proposal because I was one of the few that opposed it because it involved an increase in taxes which I am always opposed to for the most part. The problem is that when Snyder took power he wanted to create a situation in which public schools would be in trouble. He wanted to hold teachers more accountable, but if the School Aid fund at the time had been all given to K-12 there would have been no need to lay off anyone because at the time it would have actually provided an increase per student. So how do you create a crisis that creates layoff? Give some of the monies to state universities and community colleges, that’s how.
What was practically created was universities swimming in cash with huge fund balances while K-12 school struggled and had to make cuts. I know I was on my local board when these cuts were made and schools everywhere were struggling to stay solvent and actually keep a fund balance. It created a perfect storm in which defunding combined with new laws on how teachers and administrators were to be evaluated based on merit instead of tenure resulted in layoffs. Good or bad it did get rid of some teachers that were less than effective but it was clearly in my mind manufactured.
The point I am trying to make is that the School Aid fund was depleted by a ‘loan’ that was never repaid and a clever loophole found in Proposal A from the 90s to basically defund the schools on purpose for another end. That is why the School Aid Fund is in trouble not that it does not make enough money. It was a shell game played already from the same people who now want to tell me that this proposal will stop the shell game.
The other thing Snyder did that exasperated the problem, was spending a large amount of time trying to build a bridge between Detroit and Canada. My personal opinion at the time was that it might help the economy and I could see the argument for it. The problem for me as a libertarian is that the people who it would directly benefit from the bridge should build it and not all the taxpayers. The other problem I began to have was the roads were so bad even back then that no one was going to be able to get to it if the roads didn’t get fixed first.
The bad roads in Michigan are a prime example of the many ways government screws things up. The road problems are not new like they just appeared yesterday, they always exist. This problem is always with us because of the weather being four seasons and you can wet, cold and warm all in the same Winter. When Snyder took office they were a problem and it was what some used in their campaign against him this last time running. The fact is the notion that things have suddenly got so bad we need to do something now is fear mongering. This should have been dealt with this a long time ago but once again I feel like this is manufactured crisis through deliberate neglect to try to pass Proposal One in May which is without a doubt the most deliberate shell game of law changes I have seen in a while. No thank you.
I have a more novel solution. How about you do what your supposed to do as government with regard to the roads? You fix them and if you need to change how money is appropriated, you change that first. Don’t tell me the only solution is raising taxes when you just eliminated tons of debt without doing so. Live within you means and fix the roads. You dug these holes through neglect and poor planning, fill them in yourself and don’t put that on the shoulders of the Michigan people. If that means trimming the fat and entitlements – DO SO! I will not notice your absence if government leaves an area of responsibility. You messed it up, you fix it and let me keep my money in my pocket.