Taxes — May 6, 2015

With the failure of Prop 1 Michigan voters gave Republicans a mandate to continue their dismantling of our state

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“Proposal one goes down in flames!,” gloated Todd Courser last night on his Facebook page. “Time to get to work and come up with a solution that will fix our roads without raising taxes! The money is there… all we lack is enough legislators with the political will to make the hard choices necessary to prioritize spending.”

“The taxpayers sent a very clear message today with their rejection of Proposal 1: no new taxes,” said state Sen. Jack Brandenburg. “We in the state Legislature now need to move in the most aggressive fashion to free up funds badly needed for road repair.”

With these comments and many others like them from the Republicans who control our government, the era of post-Proposal 1 Michigan was kicked off. Any Republican who lacked the “political will” that Courser mentioned was surely bolstered by the 4-to-1 drubbing that sent in down in flames. With a nearly unanimous voice, Michigan voters have sent a clear message to our state legislators: “Fix the roads without raising additional revenue”. In other words, slash our state budget to come up with the billions of dollars needed for road repair and maintenance.

The failure of Prop 1 can be seen a decades-long Republican plan being played out to perfection.

Step 1: Make voters hate the government by making it inefficient and complicated and making people feel they have no voice:

Step 2: Once voters are completely turned off by government, use that disgust to solidify and consolidate your power by positioning yourselves as the anti-government party.

Step 3: Force voters to raise taxes on themselves to generate essential revenue with a ridiculously complicated ballot proposal knowing that they no longer trust you and won’t do so. Divide your opposition in the process.

Step 4: Use the predictable and intended results of that vote to justify slashing the state budget, preserving corporate tax breaks in the process.

I knew that right-leaning voters in Michigan had succumbed to this approach. What I hadn’t realized until recently was how much even many liberals have. Take this comment on Facebook, posted last night by a self-described liberal:

You seem angry that it failed. The majority of us had a lot of reasons to vote no. We don’t have to take it or find a solution and be convincing. We elect our representatives to come up with solutions. Maybe, we should go to a part time legislature like many other states. That would cut down on the gridlock and grandstanding. And then of course, we could vote them out of office.

Or this one from a group ironically calling themselves Liberals United for American Progress:

VOTED NO and I am damn HAPPY I DID. Tired of the media pushing their agenda down our throats. Either you are with us or you are NOT. Taxed to death in MICHIGAN.

These are the responses of people who have been successfully turned into cynical tea party liberals. I know that many of you despise me for making that comparison but the fact is, when you refuse to compromise to achieve your goals and when you blame “the legislature” and “the media” for our problems rather than the Republicans who are truly to blame, you’re doing same thing as the tea partiers we decry. I’ve been called a “Republican” because of my support and told that I have sold out. I can take my lumps (you can’t be an effective blogger without having a thick skin) but if you consider ME anything but an ally in the progressive fight, it’s game-set-match for the Republican plan; they have successfully turned you. Tony Trupiano has experienced this more intensely than I have in the dozens upon dozens of appearances he’s made to advocate on behalf of Prop 1.

But it’s not just liberal bloviators like me and Tony who have been maligned in this process by people on the left. Our courageous Democrats in the state legislature have been called “spineless” and worse. I’d be willing to bet that’s a side effect of the Republican plan that even they didn’t anticipate – they managed to get Democrats to turn on each other and to despise their own legislators for being powerless, a lack of power the voters themselves are responsible for. The most eloquent pushback I’ve seen on this absurdity came from East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett:

Forgive me, but I resent the hell out of ridiculous statements like that. “Progressives that don’t stand and fight for what we believe in?” Frankly, it’s cheap and utterly indefensible. I’ll stack my progressive bona fides up against anyone.

The best we are going to get from this legislature? No, it’s the best we’ve been able to do in almost 20 years. The last time the gas tax was increased was in 1997. Here’s an inconvienant truth: we had eight years of a Democratic Governor in that timeframe and the Democrats controlled the State House from 2006-2010. Even then we couldn’t get something better than this.

Gretchen Whitmer doesn’t fight for our values? Carl Levin doesn’t fight for our values? Baloney.

Progressives fight for investments in education. Proposal 1 will provide $300 million for education. A no vote is a vote against $300 million for our schools.

Progressives fight for investments in our communities. Proposal 1 will provide $100 million for constitutional revenue sharing. A no vote is a vote against $100 million for our cities.

Progressives fight for investments in public transit. Proposal 1 will provide $100 million for public transit. A no vote is a vote against $100 million for public transit.

Progressive fight for strong infrastructure. Proposal 1 will provide $1.2 billion for our roads and bridges. A no vote is a vote against $1.2 billion for infrastructure.

Progressives fight for working families. Proposal 1 will increase Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 6% of the federal credit to 20%.

Progressives care more about getting tangible, important things done for our schools, our communities, and our state, even if that requires compromise. We can’t pave our streets with self-righteousness.

Folks clearly have their reasons to vote against Proposal 1, but I’ll call bullshit on the argument that voting no is the progressive thing to do.

Not one of the things Nathan mentions here that were part of Proposal 1 would have been in there had it not been for the shrewd negotiating that our Democratic lawmakers engaged in. To call them “spineless” when they managed to pull that off while being in the stark minority in both the House and the Senate should be lauded and applauded, not shit on by careless, thoughtless liberals who should know better.

So, what’s next?

Next we need to be prepared to see funding for public schools get cut.

Next we need to be prepared to see essential services get cut.

Next we need to prepare to see more and more of those services privatized to for-profit corporations who enrich themselves on our tax dollars.

Next we need to prepare for education investments to be cut again.

And, next we need to prepare for the roads NOT to get fixed anytime soon because, honestly, if the last legislature couldn’t get their act together enough to do it, there is literally no reason to believe this one will be able to in the foreseeable future.

Here’s what won’t happen, despite the laughable amount of liberals who suggested that this is what our lawmakers would, or at least should do:

They will NOT repeal the giant corporate tax cuts they put in place after they took control in 2010.

They will NOT return the Earned Income Tax Credit which benefits Michigan’s working poor back to 20% from the 6% they slashed it to in 2011.

They will NOT ensure that local governments don’t take an even bigger hit on revenue sharing they are owed.

And, they will NOT invest in mass transit.

Republicans wanted Proposal 1 to fail so they could forge on full steam ahead with their corporatist model of small government that puts all of the burden on the citizens and gives all the benefit to the corporations. They created a catastrophe and are using the Shock Doctrine to move forward with their agenda.

And, if you voted no on Proposal 1, you played right into their plan.

Tony is correct when he said this morning that we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and unite once again against those who seek to diminish our fine state. We don’t have the luxury of nursing grudges from our disagreements on this issue. We must be united in our progressive efforts and we must continue to show Michiganders that there is a better way and that government doesn’t have to be bad, run by religious zealots, and to serve only corporate interests.

We will keep fighting together to win in 2016 and beyond because Michigan is our home and it is beautiful and it is worth saving. And the writers at Eclectablog will be in the middle of that fight to seize the reins of power back from those who would do it harm.

  • judyms9

    You have correctly highlighted the right wing’s overarching scheme to replace democracy with oligarchy. And, yes, it will be a hard slog to get others to take note of their fingers being crushed from those above as they attempt to grasp onto that next rung of an economic and educational ladder that the corporations keep twisting and turning. And finally, the majority, those making the climb and those at the bottom must work for the power to hold that ladder in place so more can rise.
    Despair is not an option.

  • Well said. The reason ballot proposals have to be fairly simple in order to pass is because the vast majority of voters don’t have the time or inclination to slog through the wonky intricacies of the tax code and legalese.

    That sort of stuff is supposed to be the job of the legislators…except that they refused to do it (and let’s be frank, as I just proved the other day, idiots like Patrick Colbeck *can’t* do basic math even if they want to, much less decipher the state tax code).

    Let me put it another way: Back in 2001, there were a number of early MP3 players from companies like Rio and so forth which were barely selling. They gunked up their advertising with a lot of wonky specs about “bit loss rates”, how many megabytes (yes, MB, not GB) of storage capacity they had and all sorts of other geek speak terminology.

    Then Apple came along with the iPod, which simply said “A thousand songs in your pocket.” BOOM. They put it in terms anyone could understand.

    Perhaps some of the legalese was necessary, but if they’d just made it as close to simply “Sales tax increase to 7%, all extra revenue to go towards road repair and the school fund” I think it would’ve passed (or at least had a chance).

  • MIAtheistGal

    So, enough with the fatalistic attitudes and finger pointing. What’s done is done. What are we, as progressives, going to do to help michigan regain her footing? What plan does Electablog recommend?

    We were screwed either way, whether prop 1 passed or didn’t.

    • My plan is to continue to hold Republicans accountable, to continue to advocate on behalf of Democrats, to continue to organize as the Chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party, and to get out the vote as effectively as I can across the state with the blog and locally with door-knocking and phone banking for our Democratic candidates. I will do anything I can to support our Democratic caucus in Lansing as they attempt to negotiate with the Republicans in Lansing but hold little hope that they will have much influence. They are an even smaller minority now than they were when Prop 1 was negotiated and more rabid, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-women, anti-public schools, pro-Big Business Republicans have even more power now.

      Simply put, Prop 1, flawed as it was, was our best chance at salvaging something progressives can support out of this, an opportunity that has now evaporated.

      I think it’s perfectly reasonable for us to post essays like this the day after the catastrophe occurred. We don’t just shut up and go lay down by our bowls as soon as it’s over. This is largely an opinion/commentary site and your suggestion that we should remain silent after something like this is, frankly, ridiculous.

      • MIAtheistGal

        I don’t believe I ever said we should remain silent. I was asking what the plan was next because I want to help but I can see that’s not going to be possible here. If you continue to bash people ON YOUR SIDE of the fight, you will lose that support. I can tell you’re very upset by the results, but that’s no reason to act like a child.

        In short, I’m done with this site. You are rude and then turn around and accuse others of being rude to you. I’ve been nothing but respectful, even though we disagreed. Too bad I couldn’t get the same respect in return.

  • BillW

    The Freep has a good summary of possible plans we’re going to see considered. Note that all of them have regressive funding and/or deep cuts in things we support. No Democrats were consulted in writing the article because none of our legislators have any leverage in the legislature.

    http://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2015/05/05/proposal-one-michigan-road-fail-alternatives-plans/26947533/

    • Of those 10 listed (and yes, the obvious solution: Make businesses actually pay a reasonable tax rate isn’t among them), the only ones which seem remotely reasonable to me are, as I said above, simply raising the sales tax and having *all* additional funds go towards the roads only, *or* increasing the gas tax.

      Yes, both of these would still be regressive.

      • BillW

        The reason that the obvious solution wasn’t in that list is because it has absolutely no chance of getting to the floor of either the House or the Senate and even less chance of passing.

  • Fred Horein

    You still don’t get it. We didn’t play “right into their plan”, we were already caught in a catch-22 that we had no hope of winning. That money was never going to reach our roads or schools. You keep talking about how the funds would be mandated by our constitution yet you conveniently ignore that our state legislature has violated that constitution on multiple occasions. Sometimes the courts have pushed back and helped, but we all know that’s not something that we can rely on these days (if ever). We voted “No” not because we don’t want our taxes raises, but because we don’t want to waste our money. And they would have found a way to waste that money. Either they’d have siphon funds from other sources, or they’d have redefine the legal terms so that “school funds” and “road repair” mean something unrecognizable to us, or they’d have blow it on overprices private corporations that are riddled with corruption. The word “constitution” isn’t some magical spell that protects everything, you of all people should know that by now. Okay, I’ll admit a few liberals are being optimistic and hoping this legislature will find a new solution, but most of us simply acknowledge that we are screwed either way until we get a more progressive legislature. And by time that actually happens (however long that takes) that legislature will have the option of proposing better solutions to our problems.

    Also, for someone that’s consistently whined about being insulted about your stance on Proposal 1, you sure are doing your best at insulting us as well, both in your articles and in comment replies. Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of your condescending attitude. Just because somebody disagrees with you that doesn’t automatically make them a Tea Partier or an idiot. I’m getting sick of it, and am not afraid to look elsewhere for my political news if it continues.

  • gaspare

    You wrote a great essay Chris. As I told Tony and Tim last night at our North Oakland Party meeting, you helped convince me to vote yes. I think the breakdown of why the vote went No was that it seemed like too convoluted a solution. Democrats did work hard to get write a bill that would have done great good for the state of Michigan. However, Michigan republicans feel politically insulated. Nothing will change until the threat of political oblivion actually exists. At this stage, there are just enough Democratic legislators to sell the veneer of Democracy when in reality the strings are being pulled by an extremely tiny minority. The no vote is gloating about a 77% thumping, 77% of what? 15% of the voters? 8% of the population? The MI Senate can appropriate $134 million to build a new office building that works out to $3.4 million per senator, while pot holes are literally swallowing cars or at the very least busting and average of $200 in tires and rims. This means they sense absolutely no political backlash. Until we Democrats figure out how to connect with the 600,000 voters about to be kicked off Medicaid, or the millions more that will be bombarded with bake sales to pay their teacher’s salaries then we won’t be getting anywhere.

  • William Keith

    I think that Michigan progressives — and, officially, parties across the state; you should get your local party to pass a resolution to this effect — ought to unite now behind one solution, and keep hammering it in op-eds: unwind the corporate tax credit giveaways to pay for infrastructure. Don’t lay asphalt on the backs of schoolkids and seniors.

    And when GOP legislators come around your neighborhood sniffing for programs to cut, you be there to remind them that there are megabucks waiting to be picked up before you start firing teachers.

  • No

    You mad, bro?

  • MCJ

    You complain that folks on the progressive side are maligning you for supporting the proposal but you are doing the same to those who didn’t agree with you by calling them tea party progressives. You should just respect that those who disagreed with you on this had their good reasons also and agree to disagree. It was a horrible choice no matter what

    • No

      Respect for others is not something this child knows about. Next he will be telling us to vote for Hillary because Sanders is unelectable. Calling it now. Just watch. This guy is a Rahm Emanuel dem.

    • Untrue. I’m calling people who refuse to compromise politically to achieve their goals tea party liberals. It’s an entirely apt label.

      • MCJ

        And you still don’t get it. Compromise politically means agreeing with you. Sorry no can do

      • grs

        Except it wasn’t a compromise. Using the logic to accept Prop1 or the GOP will do worse is called blackmail.

        If liberals attempt and fail to repeal the lame-duck, last minute right to works laws over 50 times, if liberals needlessly block all of Snyder’s appointments and attempt recalls, if liberals come up with crazy conspiracy theories and endless non-scandals about Snyder and GOP, if liberals start accusing the GOP of creating detention centers to imprison progressives en masse – then, by all means, start saying we’re like the tea party. Simply by voting no on a single proposal that was a political landmine from the start? Your comparison is absurd.

  • patb

    Electing the Republicans to begin with is the PROBLEM!

  • Buy_Used

    “With a nearly unanimous voice, Michigan voters have sent a clear message to our state legislators: ‘Fix the roads without raising additional revenue’.”
    I’m not sure that’s correct. Polls have shown that most Michiganders are willing to pay for better roads.
    I don’t blame our Democratic representatives for negotiating the best they could out of the deal. It’s in our bones to try to accomplish things. But in this case, it meant dealing with the Devil—and you know how that goes. Now they have become tarnished with the proposal’s failure along with the ruling Republicans. (If we’re going to assign any blame, let’s look at Democrats who stayed home for the midterms.)
    The roads weren’t “bad enough” in years past for average people to want to do something about them. Now they are. I suppose the same theory may have to hold true for our elected leaders. When presidential-year-only Dems see the results of their cities or school systems being kicked to the curb by Lansing’s new cuts, maybe more of them will vote?

    • I may not be the message people wished to send but, based on the rhetoric coming out of the MIGOP today, it is the one they received. That’s by intention, by the way.

      Here’s Speaker Cotter’s take-away (http://gophouse.org/cotter-road-priorities):

      “Yesterday, the people of Michigan were heard loud and clear: focus on the roads, find a simple solution and keep taxes low…”

      Two of his four priorities relate to taxes: “Fair taxes” and “Use existing dollars”. Pretty sure I got this one right.

      • Electionblog

        Pretty sure you didn’t.

  • Tim

    I have no doubt that the proposal was a more progressive solution than that which can come out of this legislature through statute. I anticipate that the billions spent on the roads would have resulted in a more beneficial economic climate in Michigan. The improved employment and economy would then be claimed to be the result of their policies and preserve the imbalance power perpetuated by redistricting.

    No doubt republicans would do what is best for their party at the expense of Michigan. If I feel that the democrats are a better progressive solution to Michigan, why would I want to help them politically? The failure of the proposition means someone has to be alienated by the Republicans. Either people will be hurt by cuts, or revenues will be raised, or the roads will not be fixed.If I truly feel democrats need to get leverage in an election to do good, why should I not use Republican tactics and make them cause the pain and alienate some voters?

    I don’t mean this as rhetorical. I struggled with this decision for a long time.

    • I’m gonna go with, “Because voting to do the wrong thing in order to hurt your opponents at the expense of innocent, vulnerable people is vile and evil.”

  • rialto55

    I am a liberal that voted against Prop 1, and I am under no illusions whatsoever that the rethugs will do the right thing. They will do the worst things; and MI voters need to see the ugly GOP consequences of their actions, or inactions, before they will pull their stupid heads out of the sand, or get up off the couch,and vote these bastards out of office. Better to boil the water fast, then let it boil slowly. Americans are lazy and uninformed, and they need to be shocked awake.

    • Of course. Because they’ve been so reasonable for the past four years. People haven’t felt the pain yet.

      Gimme a break.

      • rialto55

        Exactly, they have not.

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