Ad pitches Prop 1 as 'permanent solution' for road ills

Gary Heinlein and Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The campaign urging a "yes" vote on the Proposal 1 sales tax increase is taking a new approach in describing the complicated road and school funding proposal — with less than three weeks until the May 5 special statewide election.

The Safe Roads Yes campaign launched a 60-second TV ad Wednesday to try to better explain how the sales tax increase from 6 percent to 7 percent would translate in $1.2 billion more annually to repair Michigan's roads.

The new ad features a female narrator saying passage of Proposal 1 guarantees money to fix more than 1,000 dangerous Michigan bridges and represents a "permanent solution, not a Band-Aid" for the state's chronic road repair shortfall. "Lansing can't play shell games," she adds.

It's the first full-minute ad following three shorter pitches highlighting road and bridge safety concerns and one currently running on state warranties required from road repair contractors.

The longer ad is being deployed in response to feedback the campaign has gotten from nearly 200 meetings with voters across the state, Safe Roads Yes spokesman Roger Martin said Wednesday.

"If we can really help voters understand what Proposal 1 really does, we get their support," Martin said. "But that's a longer conversation, so we're moving to a longer ad."

Saginaw-area millionaire businessman Paul Mitchell, leader of the most-active Prop 1 opposition campaign, said even a 60-second ad "cannot in any way shape or form adequately explain" the proposal.

"I'm not sure it's going to make much difference for them," added Mitchell, who heads the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals. "Our experience at town halls in which we've participated is that a fuller explanation hasn't resulted in people turning in favor of the proposal."

The commercial represents a new front in an intensifying battle over $1.2 billion in added road repair money sought by Gov. Rick Snyder as the Proposal 1 election draws near. Opponents have emphasized the total package adds another $700 million in spending for non-roads items such as doubling the earned income tax credit for the working poor.

The ballot proposition asks for a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax increase to raise $300 million more per year for schools, $95 million more for local governments and $261 million extra for expanding an income tax credit available to the working poor.

Voter approval would lead to a revised and increased fuel tax adding 3 cents to 10 cents per gallon to the pump price for gasoline, elimination of the current 6 percent sales tax on fuel purchases, and registration fee adjustments for new vehicles and commercial trucks raising up to $175 million a year. The overall result would be $1.2 billion more annually to fix Michigan's deteriorating roads and bridges.

On Wednesday as Martin was previewing the new ad, opponents of the proposed sales tax increase were rallying in a white tent pitched on the lawn directly in front of the state Capitol. It was part of an "action day" organized by Mitchell's group to give opponents access to lawmakers.

"Keep up the good work and we need to vote this puppy down," Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, told a gathering of about 50 listeners who included tea party-leaning Reps. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell.

Colbeck, who voted against the road-funding plan that passed the Legislature in December, maintains increased road repairs should be financed without a tax hike. Snyder and legislative leaders who fashioned the bipartisan plan say it's not possible without gutting funding of K-12 schools, higher education and other vital government programs.

While Colbeck and others spoke, two strategically parked trucks carrying large "Safe Roads Yes Proposal 1" billboards flanked the front statehouse lawn on Capitol Avenue. The signs featured a large photo of a crumbling concrete overpass.

Martin said the campaign has made saturation ad purchases for the commercial in major markets throughout the state and will continue to run it indefinitely. There may be additional ads prior to May 5, too, he said.

Recent public opinion polls have indicated that ballot proposition faces an uphill battle. A March 28-30 poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA indicated a big shift toward Prop 1 opposition, compared with a similar January survey, said Bernie Porn, president of the firm.

Of 600 registered voters surveyed, with a 4 percent margin of error, 66 percent opposed it when given just details of the 1 percent sales tax increase and added money for roads, schools and local governments. Opposition rose to 70 percent, he said, when given the ballot language.

But Martin said the result on election day will be based on which side is successful in turning out its supporters. A May 5 election of this consequence is "such an anomaly" for the state, the outcome is harder to forecast, he said.

"The only poll that matters is the one that is going to be taken on May 5," Martin said. "We continue to focus on turnout."

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