Proposal 1 crash shows lawmakers out of touch

Well, as you undoubtedly know, Proposal 1, the complicated ballot proposal that was supposed to provide money to fix our roads (and for a lot of other things besides) got absolutely crushed May 5.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if that vote signifies something significant about what’s going on at the core of our political system.

I see a set of things coming together:

First, people increasingly don’t trust politicians ‒ and were angry at what the system offered up this time around. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading reader comments on Proposal 1 in last week’s Bridge Magazine: “Pile of dung” was among the mildest. The usual manipulations carried out by the political system seem to be at the heart of much of the anger. One reader called it “legislative sausage,” while another pointed out “Our system of government is a representative democracy, which means we elect people to go to Lansing and represent us, the people. When our elected officials can’t, or won’t, come up with a plan to solve a problem that has been in the making for many years, they are failing in their jobs.”

The legislative insiders who cooked up the elements of Proposal 1 in the waning hours of last December’s “Lame Duck” session focused on the standard insider political problem: How do you get something through the legislature? Answer: You load up the “Christmas tree” so everybody gets bought off with something. But that’s a terrible way to design a proposal that’s going to have to meet the needs and expectations of ordinary citizens. Many people felt they were being played for suckers in a political shell game.

My second thought was well put by a reader who pointed out “how out of touch the legislature is with their constituents.” Many political leaders around the state urged a “Yes” vote because the measure was the “best the legislature could put together.”

Well, the best the legislature could do wound up getting less than 20 percent of the votes. Not exactly a rousing endorsement ‒ especially coupled with the pervasive feeling that gutless lawmakers ducked their responsibilities by punting the decision to the voters.

One thing this brilliantly highlights is that old school political leadership mechanisms don’t work well anymore. Leadership support for Proposal A was virtually unanimous. The governor donned a hard hat and brandished chunks of concrete from bad roads, while Democratic and Republican leaders alike supported the proposal. So did numerous business organizations, labor unions and police and fire leaders. Only one newspaper in the state urged a “No” vote, while both Detroit newspapers (one liberal and one conservative) endorsed it.

But it was all to no avail.

How come? Clearly, in addition to a lack of trust in society’s elites, as a number of readers pointed out, newspapers have less clout. One comment noted, “Studies have shown that the influence of traditional newspaper endorsements has greatly diminished over the years in influencing the public. With so many options to get information on a subject these days, that’s not too surprising.” Readers also pointed out that many, many people get their information these days ‒ not from newspapers ‒ but from social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

This is undoubtedly so, although I confess this worries me no end. For one thing, it’s pretty hard to get a thoughtful understanding of a complicated policy issue (let alone Proposal 1) in a 140-character Twitter post. Moreover, nearly everybody who has access to a computer, iPad or cell phone can be a “publisher” if they want, posting their opinions/rants as they please …without any seasoned editor to make corrections of fact or for balance.

Indeed, as the saying goes, while everybody is entitled to their own opinions, people are not entitled to their own facts.

The real question, and problem, is this: Who’s going to correct factual inaccuracies propagated over millions of posts?

The rise of social media is an established fact of our times. Cell phones are ubiquitous, and a few articulate and committed comments or snips of video can go viral to millions. An old friend with loads of policy and political experience told me last week that he worries the country is in the process of becoming ungovernable. “When you can create an uninformed but passionate mob in just a few days, you have the preconditions for a direct democracy that will destroy the core of the Republic.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far. But I do believe that last week’s election signified that something very serious is going on at the core of our political system ‒ and that both politicians and ordinary citizens need to shape up and pay close attention.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Le Roy G. Barnett
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 9:52am
As Phil noted, there were many reasons why 80% of the participating electorate voted against Proposal 1. I viewed it as a bait-and-switch trick. This conclusion was arrived at when I heard two Republican legislators speculate that if the measure passed it would generate so much additional income that it might be possible to lower the income tax rate. Because of views like this, you can include me in the category of those who no longer trust government. To be fair, though, it must be noted that this is the government a majority of those who went to the polls put in office. Pogo is having a good gloat about now.
Tom Backus
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 2:06pm
Nice Pogo reference!
john grant
Thu, 05/14/2015 - 1:49am
It is not what the majority voted for. Four hundred thousand more Michigan citizens voted Democratic. With those 400,000 votes we got a state legislature controlled by Teabag Lickers and their Republican cohorts. Make sense? Gerrymandering is the cause, and a Republican party that thinks nothing of corrupting the system to gain and hold power. Until we have a system that fairly represents the voters, nothing can change. If we had a government that represented the people, we'd have a Democratic legislature and Snyder, and this would have been fixed.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:06am
Regardless of merit, anything that fails by a 4-1 margin was a mistake. Michigan is skimping on roads, lower and higher education and several other vital elements of what government is supposed to be doing. Less emphasis on scoring points and more on getting things done is needed. How this will come about is an unknown. It does seem clear that more revenue is needed but it needs to be raised in a manner that will be recognized as fair.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:38am
The Proposal 1 flop and the folks who proposed it show the result of backward tea party thinking....a group that is not interested in anything other than their own narrow agenda with all of it social and political limitations...
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 2:20pm
DER - you are completely off base blaming this on tea party thinking. This legislation was created and supported with bipartisan leadership and was opposed by most who identify with the tea party (Taxed Enough Already).
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:38am
One big reason the proposal failed is that many voters believed the purpose of the increased taxes was for a lot of other things other than the roads, EITC, increased school and local funding - which were all legislative Democratic priorities and requirements for their support (actual lack of). So where is this going to leave your dreams of bi-partisanship and cross the aisle cooperation?
S Smewing
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 8:49pm
I agree with your point. The thing that was odd about this strategy was the inclusion of democratic priorities. The voters have clearly shown that they do not share them. The election results were still ringing loudly across the nation when this garbage was put together.
Fri, 05/15/2015 - 1:57pm
My understanding for the need to put education into the deal was due to the fact that education formed part of the spending within the gas tax and since that was to be removed, where would that funding be pulled from? It's time that taxes were clearly broken down into relevant categories and gas, road or license plate taxes go to road improvements and road improvements only - not paying off Detroit debt, school funding or anything else. We are living with past "tax sausages" which have to be unraveled in order to provide clear and traceable uses for the tax dollars we are paying. I have no issue at all with paying taxes. I just want to know where they money is going and why. Indeed I believe we should be paying more to deliver better quality public services but only under a trustworthy administration who will hold everyone's feet to the fire and require value for money.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:52am
The talk is now about a special summer session to figure out an answer for the road funding problem, when people are forced into doing something against their will (nobody is going to want to be in Lansing during the summer no matter what they say otherwise) the chances are that something poorly thought out will be rushed through just to get it done. It might be better to let the smoke clear over the debacle of proposal one for awhile before they jump into the fray.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:56am
Phil, I think your point that the pols aren't listening to the people is critical. People have actually voted to raise their millages to improve the roads - and only to improve the roads. Yet the Republicans continue to INSIST that they can't raise taxes for road repair. Because of their gerrymandering they have a big majority in the legislature. Now they need to have the moral courage to do their job. It's just a shame that all that gerrymandering is helping to put the worst elements of their voter base in charge of the primaries. Oh wait, whose idea was that?
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 11:50am
Let's not overlook the terrible PR, either. I had exchanges with several well-read, well-educated folks prior to the election who did not understand that, if passed, (1) all tax on fuel would go to transportation, (2) tax on diesel fuel would be raised to be equivalent to gasoline, making the personal/commercial balance closer to fair, and (3) most of the sales tax increase would just make up for the funds lost (especially to education) by removing the sales tax at the gas pump. Clarity on these might not have tipped the balance, but it sure would have made the vote closer.
Barry Visel
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 3:26pm
One problem for me is when the discussion about "roads" all of a sudden changes to "transportation", which includes much more than roads. This was one of my problems with the explainations I read through. Going from "roads" to "transportation" did not work for me (as did all the other uses of funding that was not targeted to roads).
David L Richards
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 11:40am
Barry, you are not alone in your thinking, and that is part of why Michigan is in decline. The states with good transportation systems (not just roads) are doing well economically. Even Texas cities have mass transit systems far beyond the wildest dreams of advocates in Michigan (OK, that is a slight exaggeration, but not far off). If we keep thinking that individual automobiles, with a few buses thrown in, is the way to go, then you are going to continue to live in a declining state.
Gregoire Bolduc
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 11:55am
Why not make proposed laws in a 140 character (like Twitter) or 140 words or less format that almost everybody would understand? A big problem with Proposal 1 is that it was complicated. The second is that many voters no longer trust politicians on anything! At least making proposed laws in a short, easily understood format would be a step in the right direction. Oh and a short format law would make it harder to hide all the things that our "leaders" like to hide in proposed laws! Deal with one issue per law or proposal!!
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:08pm
Prop 1 was a disaster. The devil is always in the details. Unless you have thoughtful, educated people in policy making (not politics) you get proposed legislation that is poorly crafted. The vast majority of people get their news from sources other than newspapers and why not since the newspapers all seem to have their own biases and their "fact checking" is laughable. Whatever happened to investigative reporting and newsprint you could trust. Sadly, the voter must dig deep for the facts and discern whether what is proposed makes sense to them. (This is not something the average voter will bother to do.) There is a much earned "distrust" among the voters for those in office.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:23pm
Newspapers, like broadcast news, are more responsible to their advertisers than to the truth. Maybe that's why people don't want to read newspapers or watch the news. I'm smart enough to read from multiple sources and infer where the truth lies, and I bet I'm not the only one who prefers to find out for oneself rather than to rely on newspapers to tell us how to think and vote.
Jan Russell
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 1:12pm
I think what really lies behind this most recent legislative failure is the impact and failure of term limits. Since term limits were enacted in Michigan, the legislature has become increasingly more parochial, leaderless, and ineffective. The misguided notion that inexperience in governance is a good thing has been a huge set back here, particularly during lame duck sessions. I understand why people have issues with life long public servants perceived as unresponsive to citizens. However, we have replaced this system with single issue and one dimensional legislators. They don't have the long term commitment needed to solve thorny problems like Michigan's roads. Indeed, we are legislatively "broke" here in Michigan, but it's not social media. We have a fundamental issue with governance infrastructure.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 4:33pm
Agreed. Before term limits, we had experienced elected officials, who sometimes even managed to act like statesmen and stateswomen, and actually enact reasonable policies. I miss the likes of William Milliken, Phil Hart, Richard Austin, Frank J. Kelley. I miss the formerly progressive State of Michigan, which seemed to be in the forefront of smart ideas and smart policies. Now we're in the race for the bottom.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 2:20pm
Phil, in regards to your observations on "lack of trust in society's elites", how do you explain the fact the almost exactly the same coalition of media, business groups and communities were successful in passing Personal Property Tax reform? Perhaps the difference is that it involved a tax cut rather than a tax hike.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 2:39pm
Seriously, you blame part this on social media and a misinformed public?!!? How about this. The real message is KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. The friken bill was too complicated. Even those with accurate "Facts" were GUESSING at the FACTUAL outcome. You want people to vote for something, make it simple for them to understand.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 2:57pm
Phil is right that "old school political leadership mechanisms don't work well anymore". Indeed, Michigan's Primary system almost guarantees that political leaders pick our representatives - not the voters. Only 17% of voters participated in the primary last August, heavily weighted with hard line party loyalists voting for the candidates endorsed by party leaders. That means barely 9% of party regulars are needed to select candidates for the general election. Gerrymandering makes only 10-15% of those elections competitive. Voters also get the impression that only two parties will be on the ballot in November. Minor parties and Independents are given short shrift not only by electoral law, but by media promotion of the two major parties for nearly a year preceding the Primary. Until electoral law is changed to level the playing field with the same rules and regulations for ALL parties and independents, we will continue to be ruled by legislators chosen by the 7% of party insiders who control the Primary election process. At a time when those identifying themselves as independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats, the need for electoral reform is urgent. It is no wonder that many people do not vote because they believe the system is rigged - it is!
Barry Visel
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 3:22pm
I would support an open primary. I would support "none of the above" as a choice. If at least two candidates can beat "none of the above" then have an open runoff, otherwise, start over with new candidates.
Kimberly Johnson
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 7:21am
WillTyler: Amen!
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 6:42pm
The thought that the country is becoming "ungovernable" gives me good cheer. Always felt George W moved us a good century closer to that anarchy date. Glad it still is approaching quickly.
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 9:28am
Can we support you to run for public office? Neil Armstrong declined in the 1970's as he did not want to "wrestle with the pigs in the mud"!
John Q. Public
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 8:16pm
Far from worried, I was quite encouraged by the voters’ rejection of the near-unanimous exhortations of the political-media complex. The media and politics have become one. Look at how, based on the way they could be counted on to uncritically parrot the political message via “reporting by press release”—though both the bodies politic and the former MLive employees will deny it—at least two reporters were hired as political spokespeople in Lansing. Neither the media owners, their hired opinion-givers, nor politicians have anything particularly noteworthy to say about what public policy ought to be, and the people are showing indications of grasping that. Why should we listen, for example, to David Waymire continually chastise as misinformed, the readers who said they wanted the gas tax dedicated to road repair by repeatedly pointing out the gas tax is guaranteed to go to transportation? While that is indeed a fact, he always avoided the just-as-factual point that many voters didn’t want the tax increase dedicated to transportation—buses, trains, bike paths, recharacterization of automotive traffic flow in addition to roads and bridges—they wanted it 100% dedicated to road maintenance. “Road maintenance” and “transportation” are not synonyms. That type of deliberate obfuscation was endemic among the proponents. It was pointed out that police and firefighters were laid off by the thousands due to the loss of local tax revenues. We were being asked to replace the local revenues that were lost in large part by giving tax cuts to a different population. Lost in the conversation was why it was police and firefighters that were cut, instead of other programs. Also lost was whether those cuts were even harmful to taxpayersl. I haven’t heard of any massive crime wave sweeping the state unabated, or fires that aren’t suppressed. There are few creditable reasons to listen to the opinions of the ersatz “thought leaders” in the media and in the executive and legislative bodies at all levels of government not only now; there always has been. Mr. Power vastly overestimates the size of any perceived chasm in the veracity of information disseminated by longstanding traditional media sources and that from newer ones. The “complicated” nature of the proposal and the “Christmas tree” aspect of it that people claimed to be objectionable are smokescreens. Most people are just too genteel to say for public consumption that lack of trust is the real issue. The legislature is populated by too many people who make a living either lying to us outright, or at the very best can muster little more than “no comment” when asked for the truth. So worry away, Mr. Power. When the power elite spend decades sowing hemlock, they shouldn’t expect to harvest peaches. That even 20% of the voting public is willing to stand up and say, "Enough!" is cause for celebration, not lamentation.
sam melvin
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 9:10pm
Dear Phil, in 1990 the ROAD & bridge budget...was....$ 328 million in 2001 the road & bridge budget was ... $ 1,54 BILLION under Gov. Engler a 368% increase So what is the road & bridge budget under Gov.Snyder ..... in 2001 we had no we have over 25 ..... SHOW us the MONEY.
Mary Lindell
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 9:36pm
It's not just distrust of politicians and government. It's the record of THIS Governor and THIS legislature. Governor Snyder has done very little for the average Michigander and he and the Republican dominated legislature have done quite a few things that negatively impact the middle class, the working class and the poor. Gov. Snyder presented himself as one who had a plan. In a state with Michigan's climate, how could the "nerd"have failedl to include roads and infrastructure in his plan. It's the outstanding hole in his plan and the people just sent him the message to walk the walk.
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:13pm
Maybe the problem is people are smarter than politicians and media think. Proposal 1 was a lot of loose ends tied up in one sweeping package. I supported some provisions, but the variable gas tax turned me away. Also, I'm still angry that our legislators who earn a salary for their time, don't mind allowing special interest groups like ALEC to write bills. And, as a teacher, plowed under by the demands of the legislature, I just don't feel like supporting them until they can show they earn their money by working as hard as they can to reach unattainable demands that are completely unsupported by multitudes of research. We have to write personalized and detailed lesson plans for every student every week, write a detailed, personalized bill for every constituent for every issue. Proposal A failed because it was a bad plan, not because people are stupid and get their information from social media. By the way, I read the Bridge magazine articles on this Proposal and your Truth Squad findings as well, and then I took your work to social media for dialog.
MaryJo Nye
Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:19pm
My husband and I voted no because we read the bill. That is all, no ads, newspapers or social media affected our opinions. We (and most voters) are intelligent, we can see bad legislation all by ourselves. It's that simple.
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 12:12pm
Once again shows how irrelevant Phil Power is. Preposterous to imagine that he can write this column without addressing the need to create a system of elections that results in legislative bodies that are representative of the voters. He continues to be happy with gerrymandering. He presents no solutions. Seems like a four to one failure rate on the part of the legislature should be a good trigger for dissolving the present legislature ........ both houses ......... calling new elections and barring members of the dissolved legislature from seeking state office for a period of ten years.
Jeff Irwin
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 12:27pm
I heard from hundreds of voters who opposed the measure because they felt it unfair to ask low and middle income Michiganders to pick up the tab for transportation funding right after Michigan Republicans raised taxes on seniors and the working class in order to engineer over $2 billion each year in tax cuts for the wealthy. Although I can't see the current legislature suddenly changing their loyalties to undo these tax policies to benefit the upper crust, it was always unreasonable to assume that voters would ignore recent history. That's why this proposal was doomed from the start with significant and reasoned opposition from both the right and the left.
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 1:22pm
The slogan I used for my campaign last year was "No taxation without justification". Michigan legislators are constitutionally mandated to provide quality education, support mandated local services and safe infrastructure. Michigan lawmakers are not mandated to spend hundreds of millions on Hollywood incentives, political payoff positions, pet projects, duplicative administrative costs or the very large number of appointees to the ridiculous list of commissions and committees. Rather than paying people to talk about the problem, why don't we pay the people who provide the solutions: those teaching our children; providing care for our seniors; keeping our communities crime rates low; protecting lives and resources through fire departments and the Michigan Guard. In short, if you can't justify why money should be taken from a single working mom to pay your state salary, you need a new job. A bad personal financial strategy is to raise money simply to find ways to spend it. Budgets work better when we justify our top priority bills and then work hard to pay them - investing what's left for unforeseen expenses. Alcohol causes about 7/8ths of our court expenses. Why doesn't the revenue generated from alcohol taxes go to corrections? I have income because I went to school and our economy exists in great part because we have education. So why don't sales taxes and income taxes go to schools? Businesses need advanced training for their workforce. Why don't business taxes go to higher education? Every local government knows to the penny what they need for road workers, school teachers, cops, firefighters, senior care providers, and so on. That creates a very exact, non-arbitrary number. Once you have that number, look at those things that require those expenses, figure out what tax rate it would take to generate the revenue to cover those expenses - and there you have a justified tax rate going to justified state services. Finally, use science. The DNR is required by law to use sound science to create wildlife policy. Perhaps we should require the entire State Government to use the sciences of economics, criminal justice, pedagogy, etc. to form our state policy. Its not a matter of right or left, but a matter of which policy is simply correct according to empirical science.
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 4:27pm
"For one thing, it’s pretty hard to get a thoughtful understanding of a complicated policy issue..." [Prop 1 not complicated, no confidence/trust in spenders.No vote. No hope for value from spenders, No vote.] Is Mr. Power right about the complexity or is he another 'big picture thinker' looking for the 'grand solution'?
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 4:51pm
Trying to find a media outlet that reports the truth instead of propaganda, lies and deliberate misinformation is damn near next to impossible.... leaving citizens who actually do care, out in the cold....
Fri, 05/15/2015 - 7:38am
Phil, paragraph 5- you mention the " legislative insiders who cooked up the deal for proposal 1"- would you be able to identify those "insiders" for your readers. I think your readers would like to know the names of those knuckleheads.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 12:19pm
Lots of thoughtful comments here. As many have said, election laws, gerrymandering, and money in politics have subverted our republic (not social media, though maybe TV). Mr. Power's friend doesn't trust us? “When you can create an uninformed but passionate mob in just a few days, you have the preconditions for a direct democracy that will destroy the core of the Republic.” Maybe it's time to try a democracy?
Charles Richards
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 5:21pm
Mr. Power says, " You load up the “Christmas tree” so everybody gets bought off with something. But that’s a terrible way to design a proposal that’s going to have to meet the needs and expectations of ordinary citizens." He is right that that is a terrible way to formulate public policy, but what is the alternative? That was the only politically feasible solution.
Wed, 05/20/2015 - 4:29pm
This information is fact not my opinion this all started even before I entered office in 2008. Interesting read. Dale Westrick trustee 2008-2012 website www.wacousta.orgMy Consent Agenda no vote: This document includes all the information on why I always voted no on the Consent Agenda. My opposition to the up to $4,500.00 Health Benefits Reimbursement paid to Trustees. View details.