Yesterday May 5, 2015 Michigan voters rejected a statewide ballot proposal to increase taxes for road and infrastructure repair by a 4-1 margin. That’s 80% against, 19% for. It’s the biggest loss for a statewide constitutional amendment ballot proposal since the Michigan constitution was written in 1963. How does a ballot question fail 4-1 at the ballot box?
Michigan’s roads are in horrible shape. Everyone acknowledges this.
Voters are demanding action on roads. This has been a legislative issue for well over a year.
Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason One: Prop 1 was a textbook example of everything voters hate about politics, politicians, and the political process.
The proposal was presented as a tax increase to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. In reality it was $2 billion tax hike containing a slew of special interest giveaways. When sausage, Er, I mean legislation is made, lots of back door and under the table deals occur. Horse trading, vote trading, and earmarks; huge bills are written where individual legislators get their pet projects funded and their friends get state contracts and family members get state jobs. The wheeling and dealing results in omnibus bills and hundreds or thousands of pages in a single piece of legislation that politicians haven’t read and nobody understands completely. A fancy feel good title is slapped on and the politicians shake hands all around. Sometimes it’s republicans, sometimes democrats, and when it’s really bad, it’s bipartisan. Voters know this, and voters hate this. Voters want a simple choice, they are not legislators. Legislators will horse trade to pass legislation because they can collect later. Voters don’t wheel and deal on legislation, they vote yes or no, they have nothing to gain later.
Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Two: The more issues you add to a ballot question, the fewer people will support the ballot question. Voters look for reasons to oppose a ballot question.
There are a few people around the country who work with ballot questions on a regular basis. It’s a specialized field in which I happen to have some experience. People working in this field full time will tell you, there is an inverse relationship between number of popular subjects you can include in a ballot question and the amount of support you’ll see at the ballot box. Take an issue like term limits, 75% support, all day long, across party lines. Take an issue like redistricting reform, very popular, 60%+ support across the board. If you put those issues together, support for both will go down, not up. Why? Voters like to vote against things. They default to voting against measures when they are uncertain, even if it looks good. If Prop 1 had been about gas taxes for the roads, or sales tax increase for the roads, or sales tax increase for the schools, or sales tax increase for earned income tax credit, or any single issue it would have been much closer. Legislators like this method, include a little something for everyone. Voters saw it differently, voters went to the polls with a half dozen specific reasons to vote against this measure.
Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Three: The campaign for Prop 1 was insulting to taxpayers.
Proponents of Prop 1 spent big money, over $9 million dollars, while opponents spent about $300,000. Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave has heard the arguments about big money buying elections i.e. Citizens United and the Koch brothers, yet it’s glaringly obvious big money hurt rather than helped this ballot question. Parading a crushed school bus around the state and running commercials about kids dying because of the roads didn’t help. Voters were insulted. Give us money or children will die in the streets, was clearly over the top.
Prop 1 should have never made it out of the legislature. It was a perfect storm created by lame ducks who have no business in office after an election, lobbyists who took an opportunity to grab for everything knowing voters would drive to the polls on potholes and cold patch, and a republican governor who is trying to show how centrist he can be by giving money to schools rather and raising the earned income tax credit.
The real solution is for Governor Snyder to lead by being a tough nerd. Sharpen the pencil and find room in the budget for the needed road repairs. Budgets are tight nationwide. Families are required to live within their means, they’ll support leaders who find ways to provide services without higher taxes.