Michigan Government 101: Want More Taxes? Hold elections when few vote

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Next March, two years before its current property tax expires, the Detroit Institute of Arts wants to ask voters in southeast Michigan for more money.

If the DIA wants the tax to pass, choosing the March 2020 primary was a good idea.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Michigan pollster Bernie Porn and president of EPIC-MRA in Lansing said.

This is because it is the presidential primary, and the The property tax of DIA 0.2 million over 10 years will likely be decided in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties by a strongly Democratic electorate as President Donald Trump faces token opposition to the Republican primary. And Democrats, as polls and election results show, are more tax-friendly, Porn said.

Besides the DIA, the city of Detroit wants to ask voters in March a A $ 250 million bond for burn removal and the Macomb Middle School District intends to seek a county-wide tax increase of $ 1.9 million.

Enemies say that the programming of these elections is undemocratic and designed to suppress votes.

“It’s avoiding voters and picking the voters they want,” said Leon Drolet, Macomb County commissioner and founder of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance.

The March election is a new take on an old and controversial method of increasing the prospects for tax proposals by scheduling them in infrequent elections. The practice is so controversial that Michigan lawmakers have tried, unsuccessfully, in 2017 to demand that all tax claims be filed only on the November general election ballots.

“If something is as important as raising people’s property taxes, we should put it on (to) elect a high turnout rather than low,” said State Representative James Lower. , R, Greenville, co-sponsor of Bill.

Michigan election officials don’t follow the local bond election calendar, but schools and municipalities often schedule tax demands throughout the year. The results can vary as widely as the participation rate. In May 2018, for example, a mileage failed by three votes for Van Dyke Public Schools in southern Macomb County. Last November, in the gubernatorial elections, a similar proposal for the district was passed overwhelmingly when the turnout rose dramatically.

The DIA defended its election schedule, saying it would cost too much to send campaign materials to potential voters in the high-turnout primary and general elections next year and 2022. About three times as many Voters are expected in the general election only in the presidential primary, said David Flynn, the DIA’s senior vice president for public and community affairs, .

The other alternative, 2021, would have cost the museum $ 500,000 to hold a special election because there are no statewide issues with the ballot.

Flynn argued that nothing prevents voters from voting.

“Everyone has the right to vote in every election,” he said.

The turnout in March will likely be a fraction of the general election. Last November’s gubernatorial election saw 4.3 million voters. Michigan’s hotly contested 2016 presidential primaries drew a total of 2.5 million votes – 1.2 million for Democrats and 1.3 million for Republicans, who may have less incentive to vote with Trump as an apparent lock. for a renomination.

The DIA tax would increase by approximately $ 26 million per year and allow free general admission to residents of participating counties.

Wayne County has already put it on the ballot and Oakland County Art Commission officials will review it on November 21; the DIA is still in talks with Macomb officials. The decision to put him in the March ballot must be made by Dec. 17, Flynn said.

For decades, tax bodies such as school districts and municipalities have chosen low-turnout primaries for tax increases. And it’s not a Michigan phenomenon – voters in Toledo, Ohio, will likely consider a city income tax increase. in March.

Porn said the polls confirmed the reasons why: If you can get a pool of Democratic-leaning voters, you get a group more in favor of tax hikes. And conversely, a high turnout usually attracts more “no” votes, he said.

Lower, the state representative, is a former village chief and former Ionia County commissioner who once worked for a consulting company that conducted surveys for groups who wanted to spend vintages.

He said he knows that school boards and cities put mileage requests on the ballot when they feel they have the best chance of passing, even if it is only a tiny fraction of the overall votes of. the community.

“Of course they do,” Lower said.

The legislature consolidated the elections in 2015, eliminating the February elections in a bill signed by the government of the day. Rick Snyder. Supporters said it would reduce costs; opponents, including school officials, argued that it would limit the ability to plan budgets by reducing the possibilities of asking voters for money. Others said it would limit “democracy” by removing one of the four elections each year.

Macomb County has its own upcoming county-wide request to replace its aging jail. The council of commissioners considered an election in March – they too were aware that could help matters, Drolet said. But the council opted for the August primary.

Even Democrats backed the change even though March would have made it more likely to pass, said Democrat Rob Mijac, Sterling Heights commissioner.

“Everyone pays their taxes,” Mijac said. “Why not get more people to vote? “

“In a democracy, why wouldn’t you want that?

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