Commentary: Time to step up against Proposal 5 and 6?

Oct 11, 2012

There’s one thing that the vast majority of mainstream Republicans and Democrats agree on—Governor Rick Snyder, the man he defeated, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, and virtually every other elected official in the state:

Ballot Proposal 5, which would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a statewide vote of the people to raise any taxes, would be an absolute disaster for Michigan. It would cripple our ability to change with the times, respond to crises or make infrastructure improvements necessary to attract new business.

Worse, it would hurt local government, school districts, colleges and universities and, most of all, our state’s future. Nor would it necessarily keep spending from increasing. The trustworthy, non-partisan Citizens’ Research Council of Michigan found that states that enacted similar laws ended up jacking up things like other fees and tolls. Ready for a $100 fishing license?

Oddly enough, this amendment could also prevent taxes from being lowered, since, for example, ending tax exemptions for a few could be seen as illegally broadening the base of taxation.

What is clear is that schools and roads and those who use them are going to suffer. This amendment would hit our state like a time bomb with a short fuse. We’re voting on it mostly because of one man, Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, who spent more than $20 million to pay a Las Vegas firm to pay people to gather signatures to put it on the ballot.

Polls show most voters support Proposal 5, as of now. At first glance, it sounds good. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep politicians from easily raising taxes?  But -- where are the people with the most to lose? Why aren’t they out there, with an ad campaign or their own to educate the public?

The Detroit Free Press recently argued that defeating Proposal 5 should be the governor’s main priority, from now till the election. But where is he? Well, Snyder has a YouTube video out there saying it’s a bad thing. That’s not going to be enough. A similar situation is going on with Proposal 6, the one that would prevent any new bridge or tunnel from being built without statewide voter approval. This is designed purely to preserve Matty Moroun’s monopoly. He spent nearly six million to get this on the ballot. He is spending millions more on the most arrogantly false TV advertising campaign anyone has ever seen.

Yet those opposed to him are sitting on their hands, or more to the point, their wallets. The people who have most to lose are the domestic auto makers and other big Michigan corporations. They agree their continuing prosperity depends on a new bridge.

Yet all the pro-bridge forces have been able to muster is one amateurish TV commercial that ran briefly last summer. Canadian Consul General Roy Norton is frustrated that Michigan’s corporate leaders aren’t willing to put their money where their interests lie.

You get what you pay for. You have to say this for Moroun: He is willing to spend his money in his own self-interest.

What baffles me is that those who have the most to lose if these two proposals win don’t seem willing to do the same.     

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.