Voters choose to tax themselves

A powerful trend in state government this year has been to take decisions that reduce the amount of money flowing to local governments; money that gets spent to provide all manner of services. Details, in fact, are still being worked out on another state decision to alter the state's personal property tax, which will lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars more for local governments.

So, it's most interesting to see a countervailing trend out of Tuesday's elections: Voters backed more money for local governments.

In Lansing, voters approved a millage increase that they had rejected just six months previously. The revenue is meant to mitigate cuts to public safety and road programs.

Bloomfield Hills approved a library millage: Farmington Hills approved a public safety millage; Eastpointe approved a recreation millage; so did Roseville.

Warrenvoted for road spending; Dearborn did a two-fer -- money for "core services" and for the library.

It's an article of faith in state political circles that any discussion of how Michigan operates and funds government must begin with a nod to how burdened the Michigan taxpayer is. And, to be clear, there are burdens in a state that saw its per-capita income rank fall from 18th in 2000 to 37th in 2008. And there's the little matter of a persistent double-digit unemployment rate, too.

Still, people want public services -- especially those services invariably offered by local governments: police protection, fire protection, roads and infrastructure; trash collection; parks and recreational spaces. Cities, villages and townships across Michigan are reducing or eliminating such services -- not because they are doing voters' bidding, but because their budgetary health rests on the whims of state government.

If the Legislature decides not to meet its statutory commitment on revenue sharing, well, that's the locals' problem. And it is. Local councils and boards -- and their constituents -- have to figure out how to operate after the legislators make their votes and conclude their press conferences. In many places across Michigan, the decision is to go find the money to pay for the service.

And this all raises a question: If voters want local public services, why are state legislators so intent this year on reducing money to local governments?

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Anne Seaman
Tue, 11/15/2011 - 8:53am
You ask: "If voters want local public services, why are state legislators so intent this year on reducing money to local governments?" Because we are willing to pay locally to have them. I expect this trend will continue; i.e. the shifting of locus of funding to locus of control, from state to county to township. This reminds me of funding cuts to high school sports. Parent booster clubs stepped in to make up the difference. Now, pay-to-play is the norm and schools cover even less of the bill.(And we are inundated with cookie dough and pizza kits.) It really won't be long before a district contracts with recreation department or other external to offer all athletics programs and leases them the facilities. Same with local services including libraries, police & fire, recreation. It is not a zero-sum game. A state cut does not mean it will go away. And local citizens are much more aware of what costs are associated with what services. We begin to ask our officials... why is the city spending $$$ on public art when we really need $$ for safe pedestrian crossings, and $ for enforcing speed limits in pedestrian zones?