March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Lansing says no to tax increase


Tuesday, May 3 — If you're as mad as I am about Tuesday's millage going down in flames, don't waste your time lashing out at the 52.23 percent of Lansing voters who put a black mark through "no" on their ballot.

Don't blame Mayor Virg Bernero or the small band of union and community activists who plunked down around $15,000 and a tub of elbow grease trying to push this 4-mill hike through. They got it within 601 votes (7,039-6,438).

We're going to see 100 fewer Lansing police officers and firefighters because the Lansing City Council didn't suck up a "yes" vote to protect our streets when they had the chance this spring. Instead, they put it up to a vote.

Be angry that instead of sticking up for lower crime rates and quicker emergency response times, our eight members of Council, armed with the facts, turned our community's safety into a political football and punted to a sacred electorate, letting "the people" unknowingly gut our safety net.

The Lansing City Council didn't need to put this 4-mill increase on the ballot. I know there were concerns about exceeding the Council's constitutional limitations on how much they could approve. But they could have gone a little under to stay within the cap. They could have gone above 3 mills. Shoot, even 2 mills would have saved a combined 50 jobs.

I understand there were concerns about Lansing's bond rating being impacted and there was some optimism that a bond would pass with the right message.

But the decision forced the Council to go all-or-nothing with a public scared to death about the state's horrid economy, years of double-digit unemployment and $4.25-a-gallon gas.

Try to convince Grandma in South Lansing, who’s watching her home value sink like a stone and listening to this chatter about a "state pension tax," that "paying more" in taxes is a good idea.

Try to explain to a single working mother of three how voting "yes" for a millage won't necessarily mean she'll pay more in property taxes next year. She doesn't have time to hear explanations about housing value drops and how city taxes are collected. Nor does she care.

Try to tell an unemployed autoworker whose benefits are about gone, whose house is in foreclosure and whose about ready to take the dive into Welfare Land that city government needs to be spared from pain. ("Do you know what pain is, son?")

You could even steer all of these people to the city's millage calculator and have them plug in their address like I did. If the Lansing millage had gone through, I'd have paid $38.80 less next year than I did this year. Lucky me, I'll be paying $250 less now that this millage failed.

Wow, I'm saving $211. I don't know if the cops will come to my house if it gets broken into, but I'm $211 richer. Yippee.

But these people read this column. They don't believe "government" and they don't care about "techno-speak." They believe there's always alleged fraud. There's always alleged abuse. (Doesn't Virg spend $2,699 to maintain his office fish tank or something?)

Voters elect a Lansing City Council to stay informed on city issues and act in their best interests. Our best interests are not to let our roads fall into disrepair, to close three fire stations or have our police respond hours after a serious incident, like our friends in Ingham County are experiencing.

Our City Council members are supposed to be people with vision for this city. Up to now, Lansing could take pride that our Capitol City hasn't turned into other cities that have lost much of their manufacturing base like Flint or Sag-nasty or Detroit.

The reason we don't need an emergency financial manager or we haven't lost 25 percent of our population base in 10 years or have next to nothing for a police force is that we care about our community.

Up to now, we've had city leaders who knew that we're not attracting new business if a) they can't count on police to show up if their security alarm goes off, b) there's a bombed-out road leading to their driveway or c) there isn't a functional fire station within a square mile of their shop.

Instead, we have a divided Lansing City Council, half of which appeared to be playing into the fears of the scared electorate for their own short-term political gains.

The results bear this out. Take away the absentee voters, who are typically the older voters — those most susceptible to scare tactics and misinformation — and the millage passes by 220-some votes.

A united Lansing City Council hammering home a common message to voters would have spared this city from the pain that is to come.

A united Lansing City Council intent on saving our city's services would have spared us from this painful vote.

(Kyle Melinn is editor of the Capitol newsletter MIRS. E-mail him at