Making it nearly impossible for politicians to raise taxes may sound like a good idea. But Proposal 5 on Michigan's November ballot would also make it extraordinarily difficult to cut taxes, or to put in place reforms that make the state more competitive. That makes it bad policy.
The proposal, sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, is financed almost entirely by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. This is one of two ballot measures Moroun is funding; the other would preserve his monopoly over Detroit River crossings. In bankrolling this measure, Moroun is repaying AFP for its support in blocking the second Detroit River bridge pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder and the state's business community.
Passage of Prop 5 would make Michigan more like California in its governance structure. California lawmakers are so limited by constitutional amendments that responsive governing is almost impossible.
Prop 5 would require a super-majority vote of the Legislature to pass a tax bill. That means that 13 senators could block a measure supported by most lawmakers and the governor. That's too much power in the hands of a minority.
The measure would effectively lock in the state's tax code in its current form, since no tax measure in Michigan history has ever garnered two-thirds support of the Legislature. Lansing could make no changes to the fuel tax, sales tax or state income tax, even to make them lower or more efficient. Lawmakers would be unable to close loopholes, including the ones benefitting Moroun and his company, or end special tax breaks.
It would also make it harder to respond to Michigan's urgent needs.
Michigan needs to fix its roads and bridges, and can't do that without raising more state revenue. A gasoline tax increase may not be popular, but it is a vital option for repairing the crumbling infrastructure.
Likewise, Michigan's sales tax collection system is in need of major updating. Currently, state retailers are at a major disadvantage to online outlets that don't collect Michigan's 6 percent sales tax.
That's hugely unfair, and cheats the state of revenue. Neighboring states, including Indiana, have reached collection agreements with out-of-state online retailers, leaving Michigan at a competitive disadvantage.
Michigan also needs to reform its personal property tax to attract more job-creating businesses. It wouldn't be able to do that if Prop 5 passes.
This proposal would not force fiscal responsibility on the state. Instead, it would excuse elected officials from the responsibility of setting policy that serves the citizen's best interests.
The ballot box is the most important tool the people have. They should use it to elect representatives who serve them well, and get rid of those who don't.
Limiting the authority of those officials once they are chosen by the people will decrease the power of voters and increase the influence of special interests.
Vote no on Prop. 5.