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Here's the bottom line on May 5 road funding ballot proposal

Apr 2, 2015

A number of people have been outraged that I haven’t denounced the Constitutional amendment that would raise the sales tax, largely to fix the roads.

Well, in a less imperfect world, this is indeed not how legislation should be made.

But in a perfect world you and I would both exercise more, and maybe have studied just a little harder in algebra class.

Yes, the Legislature should have solved this problem, primarily by raising the gas tax, something we would barely notice, especially with the low fuel prices today.

Yes, it was wrong to pass the buck to the voters, with a regressive sales tax as the only possible option.

But the bottom line is this:

If the voters pass Proposal 1 May 5th, there will be significantly more money to fix state and local roads.

Probably not enough, but they will get better.

There will also be a little more money for local governments and the schools, and even some to invest in mass transit. Plus, the working poor would get a much-needed break.

The EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit stripped from them earlier in the Snyder administration would be fully restored; for many, this will make a significant difference.

Politics really is the art of the possible, and I don't think there is any other rational choice.

If the voters turn down Proposal 1, none of those good things will happen, at least not for years, and the roads will get worse and worse.

Politics really is the art of the possible, and I don’t think there is any other rational choice.

Polls show, however, that voters are ready to turn this down. They don’t understand the ballot proposal, and don’t trust it.

This seems especially true of Democrats. To be sure, many are divided and resentful that they are being asked to carry the Republicans’ water on this.

One senior party official told me “no one is giving voice to the primary Democratic objection to this measure: Individuals are increasingly paying more for the cost of government, while corporations are not.” 

This person thinks the business community should have had to give back some of their massive tax breaks to help the roads.

Most tea party types are also against Proposal 1, because they believe the utterly false claim that you can find money to fix the roads without boosting taxes.

However, cooler heads on both sides know better.

Proposal 1 has been endorsed by Carl Levin and John Dingell; by the AFL-CIO, the Michigan Environmental Council and even the Sierra Club.

Endorsements don’t mean as much to me as explanations, and I turned to an authority I trust, Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard.

“I’m voting for Proposal 1,” he said.

The bottom line is that we can pass this, or things will continue to get worse for those who can afford it least, with no relief in sight.

Yes, he agreed the sales tax  hurts the poor more, but, he added, “a lot of low-income Michigan families will see a net increase in their incomes,” if it passes.

And he added, the poor are paying an even more regressive tax now, what Ballard calls “the ‘pothole tax’ – my name for the car repairs that wouldn’t have been necessary if we had decent roads.”

The bottom line is that we can pass this, or things will continue to get worse for those who can afford it least, with no relief in sight.

However you vote, you should do so without illusions.

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