Legislature Considers Overturning Voter Enacted Proposal A
In March, 1994, Michigan residents considered a referendum, entitled Proposal A. Inclusive in Proposal A was a new mix of tax changes that would provide funding for Michigan schools. Different from previous proposals, voters in 1994 were not able to keep the status quo, should they have voted against Proposal A. Instead, they were asked essentially to decide between an increase in the sales tax rate (Proposal A) or increase the income tax rate if Proposal A failed (Statutory Plan).
Indeed, Michigan’s residents in 1994 approved Proposal A, changing the formula for funding public education from property taxes to a 2% sales tax on consumable purchases. Before Proposal A, Michigan’s property tax burden was more than 33 percent above the national average with the sales tax 32 percent below the national average. Since then, Michigan’s residents and businesses have seen large decreases in the millage rates assessed on their property. In 1993, the average statewide millage rate for all property was 56.64 mills. In 2000, the statewide average homestead millage rate was 31.54 mills and the non-homestead rate was 50.10 mills.
Clearly, these were big, mutually beneficial changes, with school districts realizing more equitable funding (the funding ratio between the highest and lowest funded school districts went from 3:1 to 2:1) and property owners benefiting with decreased taxes. Twenty years ago, these were much needed adjustments to taxes.
Without question, in Michigan, our votes count. We go to the polls to voice our perspectives on many issues ranging from our representation in Lansing to our opinions on taxation. It’s essential that, when options come before us, we vote. When we do so, our government must listen.
Yet, within the current lame-duck legislative session, House Speaker, Jace Bolger, is floating a plan to repeal the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline and replace it with a tax on the wholesale price of fuel. This is estimated to reduce public school funding by more than $600 million per year, or over $400 per student. Seemingly, the Legislature has the power to make the move — unlike other sales tax road proposals that require voter approval under the state Constitution.
Recently, I had a conversation with a preschool teacher who shared with me how her students had worked together through a difficult situation related to their classroom rules, necessary to ensure student safety, security, and happiness. When asked for ideas of what to do for children who do not follow the rules, the class could not come up with a consequence, and they responded that in fact they fully intend for everyone to follow the rules--especially their leaders. Their reasoning? “Everyone just has to follow the rules because the students in the class made these rules.” In so doing, they collectively decided what was best for the class and everyone in it. There are no exceptions. To not follow the rules is not an option. The rules are for the class, created by the class, and a shared expectation of everyone in the class.
How is our legislature any different? How can the people of Michigan voice their opinion on public school funding via a statewide referendum and then have the legislature unilaterally overturn it twenty years later? This seems as undemocratic to me as breaking the collectively agreed upon rules do to a classroom of four-year-olds.
There’s no question that Michigan’s roads and bridges are broken. Safe roads matter greatly to everyone. We need a solution. Diverting public school funding to fix the roads is not a solution. Instead, it creates deeper potholes, destabilization of bridges to the future for Michigan’s children, and cuts to essential programs and services.