The last 10 years have not been kind to Michigan cities. We’ve been battered by a fiscal perfect storm of plummeting property tax revenues and rising legacy costs. The state legislature has exacerbated the situation by slashing revenue sharing dollars to local communities by over $4 billion since 2001 — dollars that once paid for public safety services like police and fire protection. As a result, Michigan has 1,800 fewer police officers on the streets and 2,400 fewer firefighters than we did only a decade ago.
While communities have been working overtime to get their budgetary houses in order, we have a long way yet to go. Unfortunately, special interests are trying to hijack our state Constitution and hobble efforts to provide adequate revenue for essential public services. Proposal 5 would effectively create minority rule in Michigan by giving just 13 state senators the power to block a tax policy supported by the other 135 members of the legislature. The proposal means that fewer Michiganders will have their voices heard at the state Capitol. Proposal 5 isn’t about making it harder for legislators to raise our taxes. It’s about making it impossible to ever include a tax in any future state budget solutions. The proposal empowers special interests at the expense of main street Michiganders. It will make it impossible to close special interest tax loopholes and redirect those funds towards vital services. Governor Snyder and his budget director have warned that this proposal threatens Michigan’s credit rating. If approved, it will mean either further cuts to education, public safety and other essential public services or increased local property taxes or, in all likelihood, both. Proposal 5 isn’t a prescription for fiscal responsibility. It is a recipe for fiscal calamity and legislative gridlock.
Just look at the experience of other states with super-minority budget requirements akin to Proposal 5. Of the 10 states with similar provisions, seven have unemployment rates above the national average and seven have per-capita incomes below the national average. California has failed to meet its constitutional deadline for balancing the state budget in 16 of the last 20 years because of legislative gridlock. Is that really the future we want for Michigan?
While special interests from outside Michigan are bankrolling Proposal 5, diverse groups from across our state are united in their opposition: Business Leaders for Michigan, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, UAW, the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Farm Bureau, AARP Michigan, the Michigan Association of School Boards, MEA, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, and leading Democrats and Republicans from every corner of our state.
On Nov. 6, it is imperative that Michigan voters stand with these organizations, and with us, against Proposal 5’s special interest power grab. Our state and communities continue to face very real financial challenges. Proposal 5 is not the solution. Let’s reject Proposal 5 and get back to work on finding balanced budgetary solutions that will put Michigan back on the road to prosperity.
Virg Bernero is the mayor of the city of Lansing. Nathan Triplett is the mayor pro tem of the city of East Lansing and a member of the board of trustees of the Michigan Municipal League.