Safe Roads Yes’ Proposal 1 ad gets a Truth Squad warning

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Editor’s note: Some of the Safe Roads Yes campaign’s media activities are led by Martin Waymire, a Lansing-based public relations firm which also does work for The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. The firm has no role in Bridge's reporting on Proposal 1.

Who: Safe Roads Yes, a pro-Proposal 1 consortium
What: “Vote yes!,” 2-minute web video
The call: Warning

Pity the backers of Proposal 1 who have to boil down its benefits into a 30-second spot, or even a two-minute one. Its complexities and many moving parts have made it an easy target for opponents. This longer web video encompasses claims also made in shorter, broadcast-length ads made by Safe Roads Yes.

Proposal 1 can be described as a plan to make sure state taxes paid at fuel pumps go to fix roads, and to protect the state’s education funding and local revenue sharing in the process. But that only hints at what’s behind it – a constitutional amendment and a 10-bill package that makes all that happen.

A slightly less simple explanation may be this: The governor has called for $1.2 billion in funding a year to fix and maintain Michigan’s unquestionably awful roads. State residents already pay 19 cents per gallon at the pump, along with 6 percent sales tax. The Legislature, which crafted Proposal 1 in last year’s lame-duck session, couldn’t agree on a less complicated way to raise the money, and came up with this plan to take gasoline out of the sales-tax base and replace the hole that left in the budget with a one-cent sales-tax increase, while simultaneously raising the gas tax, and...

This is getting complicated, isn’t it? Maybe this Bridge primer will help.

On to the ad.

Relevant text of the ad

“...Proposal 1 is our last best chance to deliver safer roads for all of our families. There’s no Plan B. There’s just Proposal 1. ...Proposal 1 provides $1.2 billion in funding for safer roads and bridges. ...We get guarantees from road builders. Every road project will come with a warranty. If the road isn’t built right, the builder pays, not taxpayers. We’re guaranteed in the state Constitution that every dime you pay at the pump will go to transportation. Lansing can’t spend it on anything else. And the School Aid Fund is guaranteed in the Constitution, too, with every dollar going to education."

Statements under review

Proposal 1 is our last best chance to deliver safer roads for all of our families. There’s no Plan B. There’s just Proposal 1.

A bit of dystopian hyperbole here, as “last best chance” implies that voters are standing at a pothole-pocked crossroads, with no avenue for funding road improvement if the ballot measure fails. Gov. Rick Snyder and other supporters have said repeatedly there’s “no Plan B” should Proposal 1 go down in flames. And that’s true to the extent that there’s nothing else on the table in Lansing. In a drawer under the table? Probably there’s a Plan B, or several Plans B. One such plan, as critics on both sides of Proposal 1 have noted, would be for legislators to ante up for road improvements themselves by, you know, voting.

Proposal 1 provides $1.2 billion in funding for safer roads and bridges.

This is mostly true. However, if you had the impression this means that every dollar immediately goes to road and bridge repairs, you’d be mistaken. The $1.2 billion raised annually doesn’t go 100 percent toward roads and bridges until the third year after the proposal, should it pass, goes into effect. For the first two years, most of the money would go to pay off debt incurred in 1997, when the state relied on bonds to finance its last burst of road maintenance. But by fiscal year 2017-18, an estimated $1.2 billion would be available every year.

We get guarantees from road builders. Every road project will come with a warranty. It the road isn’t built right, the builder pays, not taxpayers.

One of the 10 bills in the package, House Bill 5460 provides, “where possible” for “pavement warranties for full replacement or appropriate repair for contracted construction work” on projects with a cost of over $1 million. So maybe not every project, but as any road builder can tell you, they’re expensive. Costs per mile depend on too many factors to give a ballpark per-mile figure, but the vast majority of projects will run well over $1 million, and the “where possible” qualifier was added to separate contracted projects (again, virtually all of the larger projects) from those performed by local road commissions. The state will also produce a report on these warranties, to be available to the public. True.

We’re guaranteed in the state Constitution that every dime you pay at the pump goes to transportation.

The removal of sales tax from gasoline, should Proposal 1 pass, will usher in a new, gradually rising fuel tax, based on the wholesale price, and all of that money would go to transportation, true. There are provisions in state law that a portion of fuel-tax revenues go for mass transit and even recreational trails (buses and snowmobiles use gas, too). At least 90 percent, however, will be for roads and bridges.

And the School Aid Fund is guaranteed in the Constitution, too, with every dollar going to education.

Taking the sales tax off gasoline means taking gasoline out of the sales-tax base, and that means a big hit to the entities that rely on sales tax, primarily the School Aid Fund, local-government revenue sharing and the state’s general fund. So Proposal 1, besides boosting the sales tax a penny per dollar, adjusts the amount going to education and provides that it be used exclusively for school districts, community colleges, career and technical educations programs, scholarships for students in those programs, and their employees’ retirement systems. Public universities are excluded from the School Aid Fund. True.

The call: Warning

Even in a longer-than-usual ad, it’s impossible to get to every nuance of Proposal 1 in two minutes. In its broad strokes, this ad toes the line on factual claims. Where it stretches the truth a bit is in its claim that the state has no other options for road funding if Proposal 1 goes down. It does have an option. It’s called the Legislature.

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Thu, 04/30/2015 - 8:47am
There is always the option of doing nothing which is what I expect will happen at least initially after the proposal goes down in flames. The nerd will have to come up with some "relentlessly positive" (remember when he used that phrase to describe how he wanted people to look at things) solution and come up with some other course of action.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 9:38am
We already voted no. Hope this goes down in flames; enough is enough of the lying, misinformation, pressure tactics to cover the incompetence, bumbling of this legislature and administration. Maybe voters will finally realize the mistake they made in giving the government hating GOP in Michigan and vote in some adults who will make our state work for everyone, not just the wealthy and corporations.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 10:04am
In reality I am in favor of funding almost all of the side bar attachments: public transit, school funding stabilized, etc. etc.
David Hogberg
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 10:10am
Vote NO! Force the governor and the legislators to do their jobs!
Bill Hayes
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 5:38pm
I'm with you, Dave. They are passing the buck, rather than do the job they were elected to do.
Mark S.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 10:13am
Got cut off with my previous train of thought and it got sent... Anyway, I'm a leaning toward voting for this because I approve of the sidebar spending. And; realizing that the Republican legislature we currently have would never vote separately to fund any of it. My hesitation is that the whole reason this came about is because we had to many current legislators campaign on "no new taxes", quite sure there is plenty of waste and fraud to find. If I vote against it, I'm supporting their vendetta.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 11:25am
My husband, a retired teacher, has been told that his retirement check could be reduced if Proposal 1 doesn't pass. Funny, I haven't heard that any other "state" retirees would be affected. Why are the teachers--even those who are now retired--always a target due to our state government's incompetence?!
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 1:41pm
Scare tactics, don't buy it.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 6:48pm
It's not just teachers that "could be" worried if Proposal 1 doesn't pass. Retired public safety and local government workers may have to worry too because the so called Plan B, aka the Bolger Plan, they don't like to talk about, has to do with cutting funding to public safety, education, and local communities in order to raise the $1.2 billion.
sam melvin
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 11:46am
Detroit News FEB b.2013 Gov. Snyder budget: $ 50.9 BILLION in hikes on cars and trucks..$130 million low-income children to 4 years of age increase the per pupil by $ 34 to $ 7,000 per pupil Hunting and fishing license to $ 18 million add to rainyday fund $ 75 Million bringing it up to $ 589 MILLION include $ 20,7 BILLION from STATE checking to & school account leaveing a SURPLUS of $ 15.7 MILLION RAISE gas tax from 19 cents by a 74 percent. Raise Diesel fuel from 15-cent by 120 percent $ 1.24 BILLION to state universities! Raise license fee for car ( 25%)and trucks (60 percent) and so on ..check it out for yourself
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 12:01pm
I'm always reassured that there is a truth squad somewhere; a malodorous job that hopefully confers self arrogated legitimacy on the patient, otherwise obscure scribe. Who else will allocate the failings and triumphs of various beliefs to their ideological loci and tke heat for it? Puts me in mind of a "truth squad" often cited by NPR, the St. Petersburg TImes, known locally as Florida's Pravda. They occasionally criticize government although it's unclear why or where they place their moral fulcrum. Makes 'em sound upright, y'know. I read this as Bridgemi and Mlive having been the chief unpaid public relations arms of the 15-1 initiative, and now wanting to claw back their soiled virtue by criticizing the efforts of their paid competitors' role in promoting this money making racket.
Charles Rchards
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 12:26pm
As is too often the case, Bridge is not using language in a very incisive, significant fashion. The article says, "Probably there’s a Plan B, or several Plans B. One such plan, as critics on both sides of Proposal 1 have noted, would be for legislators to ante up for road improvements themselves by, you know, voting." The crucial thing is the expectation of a Plan B. You derive that by multiplying a Plan B by the probability of its occurring. So, while a Plan B may be proposed, the likelihood of a Plan B being implemented is quite small. Bridge is certainly entitled to disagree with that judgment, but it should have made its own judgment clear. So the ads statement: "Proposal 1 is our last best chance to deliver safer roads for all of our families. There’s no Plan B. There’s just Proposal 1." is quite true. Proposal 1 is our "last best chance" to get our roads fixed. Would Bridge like to go on record as saying that, when Proposal 1 fails, a Plan B will be enacted?
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 1:47pm
"last best chance" hmm.... so that means there is a chance but its not the best one we could have. That sounds like a plan b even if they aren't using that terminology or even not what the plan is. Maybe they should have a background song for the TV commercial with the chorus from "its the end of the world as we know it". :)
Carl Christoph
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 1:48pm
This proposal is a way for the "Tea Party/Tea Bag" types to rise our taxes without any ownership of the increase. It is painfully obvious that a quarter century of neglecting transportation results in a need for more tax dollars. A more equitable way to pay to correct this mess is a graduated state income tax system. The persons who gain the most from the system and make the most money should pay proportionally more for the use of the roads. The so called "job creators" should pay their fair share.
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:02am
That is a progressive solution. Much better than the one that says lets reduce the wages of the working poor by 17% and see if they can file a tax return for an EIC credit.
Tracy Davis
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:49pm
The persons who gain the most from the system and make the most money DO pay proportionally more for the use of the roads; They get up earlier, work harder, sacrifice more time....
e. vincent
Mon, 05/04/2015 - 12:48pm
Not sure about that. I've heard the theory. I've seen too much cheating and Snyder gave businesses a tax cut so the rest of us can pay their share and ours. Then there's GM's safety debacle. No, I'll keep them out of it. I mention it because it further sullies the environment of distrust. The Republican controlled legislature didn't take the responsibility they were elected to do. That's why we're having an election; legislature punted to the voters. Our legislature is dysfunctional and discouraging. It's a sorry state of affairs. I learned and think it a reasonable goal we have an obligation to pass to our children a world as good as we inherited. We're way short. Bridge is a ray of sunshine. Keep up the good work.
David W
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:08pm
Trust... our Michigan legislature gets both a "warning" and a "foul" for creating, in the average Michigan citizen, a total lack of trust in our state government.. I believe our legislature and governor have so violated the trust of Michigan citizens that right now no state wide initiatives could get approved, fouls or no fouls.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 4:12pm
We need to replace the self-proclaimed 'big picture' thinkers who can't see the problem with 'small thinkers' who will eat the 'elephant' in small bites. The ‘big thinkers’ haven’t solved anything; it is the thinking small that breaks complex problems into the simple parts that can be/are solved. The ‘big picture’ thinkers are so locked in the mindset of spend more and more of other people's money they can't listen to what the root causes are. Create a team of 12 with two or three technically knowledgeable on road construction (including one from MDOT) and the rest Bridge readers and that team could develop the means to 'eat the elephant' of road conditions. It seems there is a root cause to Proposal 1 failure and it isn’t taxes. If people want to address that then create a similar team with Bridge readers.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 4:16pm
Thank you Truth Squad for your work, but in this case nobody is listening because the ads aren’t about the real issue. From reading the comments it doesn’t seem taxes, roads, schools, or local budgets are the issue. If they aren’t then why would people hear what is being said in the ads. Just like proponents can't hear what the voters are saying.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 7:19pm
Poll released today shows proposal one losing by a 2 to 1 margin. About what I expected.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 11:53pm
The Bridge does an excellent job of covering the issue, but there are four glaring omissions to the complicated drama of Proposal 1. "We need a huge increase in the sales tax". "The new gas tax replaces the tax shift". "The new tax will fix the roads". "There are no other options". 1. Michigan charges a gas tax which has nothing to do with paying for roads. Under Prop 1, 19 cents per gallon comes off the existing gas tax. At current gas prices 11 cents of this is sales tax. The other 8 cents isn't ear marked for roads but goes into the general fund and our roads are actually paid for by whatever number the legislature thinks we can afford, meaning the least they can get away with. Our smug legislators have us ignore the impact of the $500 million tax increase on internet sales. A huge increase that they passed after they came up with this convoluted scheme to have the working poor pay more. We are led to believe that to maintain funding for schools we need a 17% increase in the sales tax? The internet sales tax just passed by the Republican legislature also goes up 17% under prop 1 making that new tax a $585 million cash cow. What about the other 8 cents? If we have a new tax on gas that is allocated to pay for the roads it actually puts nearly 8 cents back in the budget, since the general fund no longer has to pay from the general fund for the roads. The previous road budget money can go to local government. And the EIC for working families hit by the regressive increase in the sales tax? Without the 17% increase in the sales tax, the EIC isn't necessary. Unless you are quick to forget that these are the very same con artists that circumvented a reasonable increase in the minimum wage by passing a bogus wage hike that was more to their liking. Do you remember when Debbie Stabenow had property taxes repealed? Governor Engler had a fit and increased sales taxes 50% from 4% to 6%. I wrote everyone in Lansing and the news. I projected a $1 billion windfall the first year in violation of the Headlee amendment. That actually happened because all that extra money went into the economy and then was purloined by the 6%. In this case the economy takes the hit. 17% less spendable income for people working for slave wages. 2. The existing tax is a combination of a 6% sales tax and a cents per gallon tax. This is replaced by a 14.9% tax, which comes out to be about 20 to 23 cents per gallon with gas at $2.49. When gas was $4.00 the old tax was 19 cents. When gas is $4.00 next time the new tax will be $42 - 45 cents per gallon. I don't see this advertised, reported, or spoken anywhere. This is what they pay in California, the 2nd highest in the country. I think that is probably in the ballpark of what is needed, but it is disguised in Prop 1 because everything has to be sold by price. What I mean is we need 40 cents to fix our roads, but Lansing won't change the tax to 40 cents or come out and ask us to do it. They certainly know that we will be there soon, and gee whiz, that is what we voted for in Prop 1 back in 2015 isn't it? Please question why I said that is about the number we need. 40 cents is about $500 per year for 20,000 miles at 16 mpg. If we are lucky the roads will only damage our cars $400 per year. Or more, because if you listen to the advertising, the next pot hole may kill you. That's the price to fix our roads and it will probably be worth it. 3. A sign that I pass in town says "Proposal 1 does everything, except fix the roads". This is true because we need $1 billion per year to repair the current rate of deterioration. We are already 11 years behind. The new road tax money is being used to retire bonds written 20 years ago that went into paving the pot holes we have today. Why can't we sell new bonds that cover the remaining 2-3 years and pay off in 10? This would give us the cash we need now. You likely did that last year with your credit cards. Why should we wait three years to see money paving the way for our future while we retire bonds that were written 20 years ago? Our roads are falling apart $3 million a day. Let's delay things three years and they will be declining $4 million per day and we will be 15 years behind before we even get started. 4. They say there is no other option. Now I may be off a bit on my calculations. If I was buying groceries I could read the label. If I was buying alcohol or tobacco I could read the warning. If I was buying a refrigerator I could compare the cost and the energy star. These guys are giving you nothing that can help you logically make a decision. There are other options. As I argued above, the sales tax increase, the revenue sharing and the EIC aren't necessary so no option is necessary. The governor wants the entire world to know how Michigan has solved it's economic problems and our economy will only fuel more solutions. More solutions means more sales tax and 6 cents is certainly the number he was working with when he was interviewed in the Wall Street Journal. And then? The gas tax can be set at 25 cents or 50 cents and be legislated to go to the roads, or it can be set as a percentage of the wholesale cost of gas and float with oil prices. That's an option that doesn't require Prop 1. Remember last fall? The legislature passed a weak minimum wage to keep a real one off the ballot. Remember back in February when they passed a $500 million hike in the sales tax? They didn't ask for it to be on the ballot because they knew we would say no. I like my Amazon. Now they want a large tax increase and they want it on the ballot so they can say it is what we wanted. There are options. If we had more data a better analysis could be made. If any of my assumptions are wrong I am open to amend. The sales tax does not need to be increased. The gas tax does need to be increased. Roads must be fixed. Our government needs to start being open and honest about our business. And don't forget....... Prop 1 does not need to pass.
Chuck Fellows
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 9:12am
No to Prop 1. Yes to rewriting PA 51 of 1951, as amended, which allocates the billions of current and future road dollars approximately 1,400 different ways resulting in funds that flow based upon politics and not upon actual infrastructure needs. The political screaming will be deafening! If Prop 1 passes the same dysfunctional system will be used to allocate the dollars (probably result in tearing up perfectly good roads and rebuilding them) and Lansing politicians will have greater autonomy to fool with local and education funding. That said, Prop 1 is not about fixing roads, it's all about maintaining road funding status quo ( a tool for granting political favors) and concentrating political power in Lansing.
Sharron Solomon
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 2:30pm
Road work done by contractors should always be guaranteed. I'm sure that that stipulation would not deter contractors from bidding on the job. But, some members of the legislature have a difficult time holding their friends (big business) accountable.
Sun, 05/03/2015 - 7:39am
I can still remember a statement made at a conference several years ago with many legislators present. Quote " I want it all I want it now and I don't want to pay for it" She was just making a point about many Citizens attitude. Dale Westrick
Sun, 05/03/2015 - 12:16pm
It's a tax scam ... it's a NO vote!
Lora E.
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 4:21pm
All this breakdown of costs aside.. So ten years down the road there are no guarantees that whatever legislative body we have elected at the time can't just raise the gas tax back to current levels. This is temporary patch, not a fix. Give me some concrete guarantees that the money will ONLY go where we allocated it and that the language does not allow for shifting of funds. I see this proposal as a shell game. Why can't they make the proposal shorter ands more simple? Because then they can't get away with de-funding other GOP priorities at the stupid tax payers expense.
Wed, 05/06/2015 - 9:21am
Well STOP the work on ROUNDABOUTS .that are to small to do good.(see removed l in brighton )stop the work on turning 4 lane city roads into two lanes(cost of gas and waiting in traffic ..after a school bus .etcetc . Stop the work on bicyle roads (then can use the sidewalk when given walker FIRST rights! in the winter NO bicycle ..waist of taxpayer money! In 1990 the road& birdge budget was $ 328 million in 2001 under GOV. Engler...$ 1,54 BILLION a 368% INCREASE SHOW us the Work us the Money?