Before I get into this piece, I want to clarify a couple of things. First of all, in the conversation on Proposal 1 in Michigan, at least on the progressive side, we are starting from the position that Republicans are hideous leaders that created gigantic hole in our budget by slashing taxes for corporations. And they are now compelled to fill that hole by cutting essential programs and services – including education – or by forcing Michiganders to raise taxes on themselves. That is self-evident and, if we as citizens are doing our jobs – something we too often fail to do – they will be ridden out of Lansing on a rail in the next election. Given our history, that is not at all a given.
Second, Proposal 1 sucks. It’s flawed in profound ways that have people on both sides of the political aisle rallying against it. It’s also absurdly complicated. What most people fail to realize is that our current system for paying for education, local governments, and road repair is actually MORE complex and convoluted. If you want to understand how the proposal works, I encourage you to look at this presentation by the League of Women Voters: “May 5 State Ballot Proposal: What Is It; What Would It Do?”. Once you look at where are now, you’ll appreciate just how out of whack things are in Michigan when it comes to fixing our roads and why such a complicated “fix” is necessary.
With that, I’m going to address some of the more common excuses people on the left are using for not voting YES ON PROPOSAL 1. I have heard every single one of these excuses, most from more than one person or group.
I don’t want my taxes to go up, find the money somewhere else.
This is largely the tea party argument but it has also been used by a large number of self-described liberals. Here are the facts: Michigan spends less money on road repair and maintenance than any of the other Midwestern states and we’ve been doing so for decades. Take a look at this graphic put together by the Michigan Department of Transportation that shows how Michigan’s spending on transportation compares to our neighbors:
As they MDOT says in fact sheet on this issue, “Ohio’s DOT doesn’t have any secret method for building smoother, longer-lasting roads. They just spend more to get them.”
We can’t keep doing this. We HAVE to spend more money on our roads if we don’t want them keep degrading. If we do that without raising revenue, essential things like education will be cut. Period. That’s the reality in our state legislature which has even more anti-tax tea party types in it now than it did before January 2015.
Fine. Tax the rich instead!
If you believe that the Republicans that control our state House and Senate or Governor Snyder are going to raise taxes on the rich, you are engaging in what I call “fairy tale thinking”. They aren’t going to do this and nothing you do, no “message” you wish to send will change that. Period.
Well, then take back the tax cuts on corporations that created a huge hole in our budget.
As attractive (and rational and sensible) as this may sound, it is also fairy tale thinking. Like it or not, the current crop of Republicans in the Michigan legislature, along with our Governor, Lt. Governor, and just about everyone else with political power in this state truly believe (or at least behave and vote like they believe) that cutting corporate taxes is the way to increase economic prosperity in our state. They are NOT going to raise taxes on business. Unless we take back the House, Senate, and Governor’s office those budget-busting corporate tax breaks are here to stay.
It’s a regressive tax.
Yes, it is. That is woefully true. Sales taxes hit low-income people much harder on a percentage-of-income level than they do middle class and wealthy taxpayers. This is why the Democrats in our legislature fought hard for and won a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 6% to its original 20% to compensate for the disparate impact an increased sales tax has on poor Michiganders. While not every single poor person in Michigan is eligible for this tax credit, nearly 800,000 Michigan families are.
According to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, the average increase in sales taxes for a family is $195 per year. The average increase in the EITC tax credit by restoring it to 20% is $333. That’s an extra $138 in a family budget each year that they wouldn’t have if Proposal 1 is passed. Is it a perfect solution to the problem of this being a regressive tax? No. Is it a good one? Yes. And we should all thank our Democratic caucus for their advocacy for low-income Michiganders in negotiating this.
One more thing: Low-income people are much more likely to drive older vehicles, vehicles that are much more susceptible to being damaged by the degrading road conditions. The average annual bill due to road conditions is $357 according to a national transportation research group called TRIP. The impact on older cars is likely to be even higher. This is a hidden “tax” that is largely eliminated when our roads are repaired.
Tell the Republicans to do their job.
I have bad news for you: the Republicans believe they ARE doing their job. They believe they were sent to Lansing to reduce the size of our state government and to reduce spending. They want nothing more than for Proposal 1 to fail – the bigger the margin of defeat, the better, in fact. Then they can go back to the work they believe they were sent to do and start cutting, cutting, cutting. In fact, in preparation for the failure of Proposal 1, Senator Patrick Colbeck has an 83-bill package of legislation ready to go to start that process. If you think they’ve gone crazy slashing and burning things progressives value over the past four years, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, my friend.
So, if you want them to “go back to the drawing board” and “do their job”, you are asking them to inflict more pain and suffering on the groups of people who have already taken it so hard on the chin from our Republican lawmakers. That’s the reality. Any other way of seeing it is fairy tale thinking.
I don’t trust Republicans not to simply find a different way to take money from schools and local governments, etc.
This is the excuse that draws the loudest scoffing laugh from me. What this is saying is that you don’t trust Republicans not to do nefarious things after we raise the sales tax and make the other changes but you DO trust them to “go back to the drawing board” and find a different way to fund road repair. I don’t trust Republicans either which is why Proposal 1 is a tolerable compromise, in my opinion. It puts some specific protections into our state constitution and adopts some very progressive policies and programs in the process.
If you don’t trust them to do the right thing if Proposal 1 passes, why on earth would you trust them to do the right thing if it doesn’t? That’s especially relevant if we “send them a message” that Michiganders don’t want their taxes increased which is exactly the message they will receive if Prop 1 goes down. It is, as I’ve said, the message they are counting on us to send.
Democrats are spineless because they voted for this.
If the “trust” excuse draws my laughter, this excuse draws my ire. Democrats are virtually powerless in Lansing. We literally do not control a single government entity except the State Board of Education and that has had much of its power taken from them by Gov. Snyder. Our Democrats have, in shrewd fashion, exploited the rifts and dissension in the Republican caucus to fight for very progressive elements in Proposal 1. They should be THANKED for what they managed to accomplish, not derided for not having power they simply do not have.
Want to blame someone for all this? Blame Democratic voters who didn’t show up in 2012 and 2014 to replace conservative, corporatist, tea party Republicans and return some semblance of power to the Democrats. It’s difficult to explain just how difficult their job is as a minority party. All things considered, they are doing a damn good job and they have my personal gratitude for that. They should have yours, too.
Things have to get worse so that people will vote Republicans out of office.
If people aren’t already outraged at what Republicans have done, doing something that will cause more pain, more harm to education and seniors and kids and the poor borders on cruel. These are real people’s lives that we’re talking about here and making things worse – and they WILL get much worse if we send Republicans the message that we don’t want our taxes increased – is not a progressive value. If you are in this camp, you need to examine your premises and ask yourself if you are really as compassionate as you say you are because this is the route to hurting vulnerable people for years to come.