The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 06, 2015

Michigan's imperfect Proposal 1 deserves a 'yes' vote on May 5

By The Building Tradesman



(By Tony Trupiano)

In just over eight weeks the voters of Michigan will be asked to vote on the ballot question titled Proposal 1, or as it is commonly being called the “road fix bill.” Here are the main elements of Proposal 1:

  • An increase in transportation revenue of $1.3 billion, with $1.2 billion a year going to roads and about $112 million going to mass-transit.

  • Removal of the sales tax from fuel sales.

  • An increase in wholesale fuel taxes that will result in about a 3-cent-a-gallon increase from the average fuel price.

  • An increase of $45 million in vehicle registration fees and $50 million in fees for heavy trucks. Registration fees for cars and light trucks won’t go up, but the 10 percent discounts new car buyers receive for each of the first three years they own their cars will be eliminated.

  • Restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which was slashed in 2011, to its full 20 percent of the federal EITC level.

  • Protection of funding for schools and local governments, which receive much of the money that was formerly raised from the sales tax on fuel sales. The plan would actually increase school funding by $300 million a year. Universities could no longer be funded from the School Aid Fund, though community colleges could be.

  • An increase in registration fees for commercial trucks while also hiking the cost of registration for hybrid and electric vehicles between $25 and $200.

So, there it is and, of course, the critical piece of this is that the revenue is raised by increasing the existing sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, an almost 17 percent increase. As a result, you and I have to vote on this because the state constitution mandates it.

Clearly and loudly this became instantly controversial. Groups from both sides of the political front were clamoring both printable and non-printable responses to this legislative act of cowardice, as many see it. Some, of course, believe this is the best path forward. Still others believe the monies that will be raised and designated by this Proposal can be found in the current budget by re-addressing budget priorities and slashing funding to certain departments. And, frankly, if you can think it, it has most likely been bandied about as the solution to this critical problem, and let’s be up front about that with great clarity. Our roads are a mess of epic proportions and they need to be fixed, rebuilt, retooled and restructured - and that doesn’t happen by talking about it.

This road repair boil has festered for far too long and there isn’t a politician, either Democrat or Republican, that doesn’t and shouldn’t share in the embarrassment of the neglect of this massive infrastructure nightmare. I have suggested both privately and publicly that the $1.2 billion that would be raised and designated to fix our roads, bridges, etc., isn’t even close to enough to do the job adequately. But it is obviously better than nothing, which is my point and I will get to that in a moment.

I also embrace just about every argument that I have heard as to why we should vote no. I agree that this is a regressive tax. I agree that “fair share” is once again ignored. I agree that once again big business has been let off the hook. I agree that truck weights need to be readjusted and then those policies that cover the weight limit maximums MUST be better policies and those companies that ignore limits should be held accountable, fined, and forced to comply. I agree with so many of the anti-Prop 1 crowd that I could be nominated to be the poster child for the anti-Prop 1 movement, which is why you might be a bit surprised when I exclaim in full-throated voice the following:

I am supporting the passage of Proposal 1 and will do whatever I can to see that it is passed.

Why? Have I gone completely mad? How can I claim to be the voice of the people and support this? Has Tony gone over to the other side?

My answer is actually quite pedestrian and logical. It is based in REALITY, or what I think reality is, anyway, and as I share with you how and why I came to this decision, you will either agree with me, disagree with me, or walk away from me. I’m prepared for any and all scenarios but, truth be told, I don’t believe we really have a choice, and this is why, and it’s pretty simple, if you think about it:

If we don’t pass Proposal 1 on May 5, then what?

That’s it. That’s my reasoning. That’s the basis of my decision.

I have spoken to a dozen people over the past three weeks as I researched and gathered information on my journey to decide what to do. My initial reaction was what most of yours was: Hell no! I will not once again make decisions for the Legislature because they didn’t have the courage or leadership to be bold, honest and daring. I was disgusted that this “compromise” was more like a hostage situation than a solution to what ails us. I was there with so many of you initially, and for the most part I still am. But I need the roads fixed. I need more money for schools guaranteed by Prop 1. I need to make sure that the working poor get the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) restored to its former 20 percent level. I need to know that public education dollars cannot be co-mingled for higher education purposes, and again, I need my roads fixed, and if you are being 100 percent honest, so do you. Every one of you.

This was not an easy decision in any way. But as I talked to even those who are passionately opposed to this proposal, not a single one of them had a solution to the problem – now wait for it – that could actually get passed or have any possibility of getting passed in the current political environment.

There is the key. The turning point for me. The REALITY. Friends, this is not an issue that can be allowed to be ignored any longer, and I mean not another day longer. If Proposal 1 does not pass on May 5, we are left with nothing and no political will or expectation of political compromise that anything can or will get done, because it won’t. We have an obligation to hold our elected leaders accountable, but we are not doing that very well either, are we?

We had an election in November 2014, remember that? And because of the art of gerrymandering, low Democratic turnout, and a confluence of events, it leads us to our REALITY. That reality raises the question, “If we don’t pass Proposal 1, then what?” And if you start throwing out your solutions to this fix, which I know would be excellent solutions, and I mean that sincerely, it won’t matter because it won’t pass a divided legislature and especially the Republican Party who isn’t in love with Proposal 1 to begin with -but they offer the only solution they know and would NOT compromise on. And what is that? I wrote it earlier, but I will repeat. Take the current budget, with its $500 billion-plus hole, and find $1.2 billion dollars there. That means massive cuts and massive lay-offs, etc. That is not an answer, that is actually a massive problem, but they don’t care, and you know it. It also mean s no money for public education, restoring the EITC, etc.

Let’s avoid clichés. None of this “it’s the ‘lesser of two evils'” or whatever conveniently fits this situation. We need to deal with reality and that reality is this: Proposal 1 does guarantee money for roads, bridges, infrastructure repair and enhancement. It also guarantees almost $300 per student more than the schools are currently getting. It’s not nearly enough, but I can’t think of a single school district that would say no to that amount of money. I will sleep better knowing that those who participate and need the EITC restored will be able to breathe just a little easier and that money will ALL end up back into the economy with the purchases of food and essential needs every family has, infusing about $300 million dollars a year as well.

Proposal 1 is no panacea. I get that. It does not solve all of the problems that need to be solved and it certainly is not fair to many. I get that, too. But again I ask, if not this, then what? And, keeping in mind you will have to either have the likelihood of it passing in the House, the Senate, and the Executive branches of government – and knowing that will NEVER happen – or to find a ballot proposal that will more easily pass with the voters (good luck there, too.)

I’ve debated this with others and myself. I have asked and been told what could possibly work, but that it would take a start-over strategy that the currently seated legislature has no desire to do. Given that the GOP faction of the legislature controls our entire universe, we have no choice right now, do we?

Bitch, holler and complain all you want, but Proposal 1 was designed for two things: to get the roads on the path to recovery and quickly, and to restore some sanity to our budget that reflects MY values as a Democrat, a parent and an activist. We do get something for this, by the way, and that seems to get lost in the anti-Proposal 1 message, but the alternative to voting no or not voting at all is that what you have is what you will have. There is no nice way around that. If Proposal 1 goes down in defeat, we all lose.

Maybe we lose anyway, depending on your point of view, but I feel an obligation for progress and when I see an actual fix that proactively address issues that matter to me, even though I don’t like how we got there, my reality, yes MY REALITY, is that I have no choice but to vote yes on Proposal 1 and I will be advocating for that passage immediately.

(Trupiano is host of the Michigan-based radio show, The Voice of the People)