Opinion
10:10 am
Tue July 15, 2014

This ballot proposal is critical to Michigan's economy, but most people won't bother to vote on it

Michigan’s statewide primary is three weeks from today, and the one thing certain is that most people, even most registered voters, won’t even bother to vote.

They never do in primary elections.

Turnout seems likely to be especially dismal this year. While there are a few hot congressional and legislative races, there are no primary contests for governor or U.S. senator in either party.

That means, based on past practice, that at least 3/4 of the voters won’t show up. That’s not only disgraceful -- it also could be dangerous to our state’s economy.

There is a very important proposal on the ballot – Proposal 1 -- that everybody agrees voters need to pass. It has the strong support of everyone from solidly Republican Chambers of Commerce to liberals like State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

Nevertheless, everyone is afraid it is going to lose, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the ballot language has been written so poorly that its meaning is virtually incomprehensible.

I am a college professor, and I would have trouble understanding Proposal 1 the way it is written.

My own state senator, Vincent Gregory, just wasted state money by sending every home in the district the text of the proposal without explanation.

I am a college professor, and I would have trouble understanding Proposal 1 the way it is written. But there is no mystery about what it would do. Basically, it repeals an outmoded tax which has the misleading name “personal property tax.” It is actually a tax on business equipment, like office furniture and computers, money that goes to local communities.

This may have made sense in 1950, but it doesn’t now. The tax is a disincentive for businesses to expand or buy new equipment, which is obviously a bad thing. Worse, it fluctuates a great deal.

This is both a nightmare for businesses and accountants who have to calculate what they owe, and communities which have trouble figuring out what they will receive. That’s a figure that ranges from less than 10% of tax revenue in some places, and more than half the total in some older industrial towns like River Rouge.

What Proposal 1 would do is abolish this, and instead compensate communities by giving them a stable share of the state use tax, which is levied on things like hotel rooms and rented cars.

Two years from now, large manufacturers would begin paying an assessment to replace some of the lost revenue to the state. Small businesses, however, wouldn’t pay it, meaning Proposal 1 amounts to about a half a billion dollar tax cut for them.

The state would recover the rest of the lost revenue by allowing some business tax credits to expire. Basically, everyone wins.

The state doesn’t lose money; community revenue would be more secure, and small business has more reason to expand.

That is, if voters say yes. When people don’t understand ballot proposals, they tend to vote 'no,' which is normally a sensible reaction.

However, in this case, it would be an economic setback. We need to hope that Proposal 1 passes.

It would also be a good idea if the state could find someone who can write ballot language that humans are able to understand.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.