Pro-Prop 1 group outpaces opposition in fundraising

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Safe Roads Yes, the campaign committee promoting approval of Proposition 1 that goes to voters May 5, has received more than $8 million in contributions, according to a required disclosure statement filed Friday.

The document also indicates the campaign committee has spent more than $7.2 million, mostly on a series of broadcast advertisements about the roads funding-related initiative in media markets throughout the state.

The most prominent opposition group, Saginaw-area millionaire businessman Paul Mitchell's Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, raised $128,443 and spent $157,320, leaving a negative balance, according to its report. But the committee also reported almost $303,000 in in-kind donations.

Coalition Against's balance sheet showed $421,489 in direct campaign investments by Mitchell between the end of March and the end of last week. The group took in smaller amounts from 59 other contributors, its report shows.

Two opposition groups, Grand Rapids-based Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases and Milan-based Concerned Citizens of Michigan raised a combined $22,972 and spent $8,509, according to their statements.

Citizens Against is headed by west Michigan political consultant John Yob of Grand Rapids. Concerned Citizens is headed by former Republican state Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills and consultant Adam De Angeli of Milan.

Friday is the deadline for disclosing pre-election fundraising and spending by ballot committees for and against the proposition. Organized opposition group contributions and spending paled by comparison to the outpouring of money favoring the proposal.

The ballot proposition asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment raising the state sales tax to 7 percent, up a percentage point from the current 6 percent rate. That would create $300 more in annual revenue for schools, $95 million more for local governments and $261 million more to fund an increase in an income tax credit for the working poor.

Voter approval also would lead to elimination of the state sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, levy a fuel tax and add vehicle registration fee revisions resulting in a $1.2 billion increase in the annual budget for road repairs. Overall, state tax revenues would go up by $1.8 billion.

Backers say the complex plan, a compromise hammered out in a long December legislative session, may be imperfect but it offers the best hope for Michigan to address a long-standing road repair shortfall and catch up on fixing its crumbling infrastructure.

Opponents claim the state can and should try to fix the roads by rearranging budget priorities and redirecting funds currently spent on other services.

"We are on schedule to make our campaign budget," Safe Roads spokesman Roger Martin said.

Pundits suggested earlier this year the approval campaign would need to raise $10 million to $15 million. Martin has declined to say what his group's target is, while expressing confidence it will have enough money.

The Safe Roads Yes campaign launched its sixth state-wide broadcast ad, starring Democratic ex-U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit touting the proposal, on Thursday. In the commercial, Levin says there's no other realistic alternative for solving the state's large and chronic road-repair shortfall.

The question is whether a huge spending advantage will result in a win for Safe Roads Yes, Gov. Rick Snyder and business leaders pinning their hopes for better roads on the ballot proposal. Lansing pollsters say their surveys indicate it's an uphill fight against voter skepticism.

Susan Demas, CEO of the Capitol newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said even $8 million raised so far may not be enough to turn the tide.

"That's a lot of money; I wasn't expecting that much," she said. "They have tapped Carl Levin, they've tapped (former Atty. Gen.) Frank Kelley — two of the most-beloved politicians in Michigan (as public supporters) — but I think this campaign's been over for a long time."

Backing for the Safe Road Yes effort has come from an array of Michigan businesses, but the heaviest funding is from firms likely to benefit most directly from the $1.2 billion in added road-repair funding that is projected to result if voters approve the ballot proposal.

According to Safe Roads Yes's disclosure statement, more than $5 million of the total has come from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. The association, whose membership is made up largely of heavy-construction companies, has spearheaded the effort to secure more money for road repairs over the past several years.

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