Fourth group forms to lobby against sales tax hike

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Add Republican political strategist John Yob to the growing list of opponents of a sales tax increase proposal on the May 5 statewide ballot to help boost road funding.

Yob is forming a group called Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases and launching an online advertising campaign Thursday against Proposition 1, which is being championed by his former client, Gov. Rick Snyder.

Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases will initially operate an online grassroots campaign against Proposition 1 and eventually run television advertising against the ballot question asking voters to hike the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, Yob said.

Yob is serving as the lead strategist for the ballot campaign committee, which he said would include leaders in all 83 counties opposed to a nearly 17 percent increase in the sales tax rate.

"I am philosophically opposed to a tax increase on struggling middle-class families," Yob said late Wednesday in an email to The Detroit News.

The announcement came as the Small Business Association of Michigan's board of directors endorsed Proposition 1 Thursday, urging the its 23,000 members to vote "yes" and adding to the divisions among business groups.

The Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses is opposed to the sales tax increase. Business Leaders for Michigan and the Detroit Regional Chamber support it, while the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position.

Yob's group is the fourth to be formed in opposition to the proposed sales tax increase the Republican-controlled Legislature placed on the ballot as part of a complex package of bills that could raise $1.2 billion more annually for road funding.

The Detroit News reported Monday that Saginaw County millionaire Paul Mitchell was forming a group called Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals.

Keith Allard, head of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, formed a ballot campaign committee in December called Protect MI Taxpayers opposed to Proposal 1. And former state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, has affiliated himself with a group called Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan.

On Thursday, McMillin sent a letter on behalf of Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan to the Board of State Canvassers, arguing that the ballot language should reference 10 other laws tied to the constitutional amendment so that voters "fully understand what it is they are voting for."

If voters approve the sales tax increase, it will trigger the enactment of laws repealing the sales tax on fuel, imposing a new percentage-based tax on gasoline and diesel, hike fees for commercial trucks, end discounts for new vehicle registration fees, and require new warranties for road construction and competitive bidding for county road projects. The package also includes an increase in tax credits for low-income families and a $40 million one-time appropriation for reading programs at low-performing schools.

Yob did not rule out joining forces with the other groups.

"We are willing to work with any allied groups in accordance with campaign finance law to stop a tax increase on the middle class," Yob said.

The "yes" campaign, which is expected to be largely backed by the road-building industry, changed its name this week to "Safe Roads Yes." The group was originally called "Michigan Citizens for Better Roads and Schools."

"We believe Michigan voters will choose guaranteed funding for safer roads and bridges and pass Proposal 1 on May 5," said Roger Martin, spokesman for Safe Roads Yes.

Yob would not say who will fund his group.

"The other side will likely be funded by road builders who are looking for a financial return on their contributions but our group will be funded by people who are philosophically opposed to a tax increase on the middle class," Yob said.

Yob is the owner of the Grand Rapids-based political consulting firm Strategic National and is credited with helping propel Snyder from obscurity in 2010 into the governor's office. He worked on Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley's re-election campaign through the November general election.

In an email to The News, Yob said Snyder will go down in Michigan history as "our best governor for signing right to work, eliminating the Michigan Business Tax and saving the city of Detroit."

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