Opponents use old-fashioned politicking to try to beat Proposal 1 tax hike
Paul Wilk says he doesn't get passionate about much, but higher taxes and Proposal 1 rev him up.
The 58-year-old Allen Park resident is so determined to defeat the measure that would raise the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent that he has for months been leaving glossy Vote No placards on doorsteps — and occasionally engaging likely voters.
Wilk is one of hundreds of volunteers among Proposal 1 opponents who are using old-fashioned, door-to-door politicking in neighborhoods, along with sporadic television ads and radio spots, to oppose the statewide ballot proposal that would raise $1.2 billion extra annually for roads and bridges. They also have held eight consecutive weeks of telephone town halls to spread the message.
The opposition campaign is a loosely organized effort primarily waged by Republicans opposed to a package that includes $600 million to $800 million more in taxes to fund education, an expanded tax credit for the working poor as well as more aid to fire and police. Proposal 1 supporters have raised more than 40 times as much money as opponents — $8.1 million compared with less than $195,000 combined for opponents, mostly from a Saginaw area businessman.
"Everybody agrees that the roads need to be repaired, it's just a matter of how do you pay for them," Wilk said as he walked recently in an Allen Park neighborhood. "The Yes on 1 folks are saying we need more taxes. The No on 1 folks are saying, well, no, you don't. That's the fight."
At least four major anti-Proposal 1 groups have sprung up to fight the ballot initiative, including two headed by well-known names. Saginaw area businessman Paul Mitchell oversees the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, while political consultant and usual Gov. Rick Snyder ally John Yob heads Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases.
The effort has put opponents in direct conflict with Snyder, a fellow Republican who argues that the ballot measure is the best way to fix the roads and reform the fuel tax system.
Mitchell, who poured $3.6 million of his own money into an unsuccessful campaign last year to succeed former U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Midland, said he respects Snyder as one of Michigan's best governors but insists the ballot measure is "not what he wanted either." Snyder originally proposed raising the state's gas tax and vehicle registration fees, but found little enthusiasm in the Republican-controlled Legislature or the public.
"Snyder will go down history as the best governor Michigan has ever had," agreed Yob, a Grand Rapids political strategist who twice helped the former Gateway computer executive get elected. "I think people can have differences of opinion on issues that are important to them."
Otherwise, Proposal 1 foes have played up their advocacy as a David vs. Goliath struggle. Although acknowledging that the roads need to be fixed, opponents have zeroed in on the complex, 10-bill package the Legislature approved to put the proposal on the ballot. They view Proposition 1 as a payoff to special interests.
"It's a $2 billion tax increase on Michigan citizens," said Mitchell, who has put $160,830 into the anti-Proposal 1 effort through Monday. "It's one of the largest tax increases in the last 50 years. The money goes to a variety of other things. I believe the responsibility of leadership is you tell people honestly what you are asking them to do and the impact it's going to have."
Mitchell said the measure doesn't meet the objective to fix roads.
At an event last week, the governor defended Proposal 1, saying the $1.2 billion extra annually would only "stabilize our system."
"They're going downhill every day," Snyder said of road conditions.
Snyder has addressed claims by critics that there's $1.2 billion that can be cut from elsewhere in the state's $10 billion general fund budget or the $12 billion School Aid Fund.
"We'd have to make huge cuts to other things in our state, which I don't think are appropriate," Snyder said recently.
Yob said he believes the opposition campaigns are winning because the average voter cannot stomach another tax increase.
"They're spending millions of dollars on TV, and yet the numbers are moving in the wrong direction," Yob said about the Yes campaign and a recent poll showing majority opposition to Proposal 1.
State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, favors Proposal 1 but admits opponents are tapping into public distrust.
"I think the important thing here is that people don't have confidence that the money they are spending is being wisely spent," Townsend said.
But he argues opponents couldn't find the money to repair bridges and roads if Proposal 1 loses.
"I think opponents of Proposal 1, they pretend that somewhere there's a bunch of money lying around that would be adequate to fund our roads, bridges and transit systems. Opponents of Proposal 1 are wrong," Townsend said.
During a recent telephone town hall, Mitchell said he recalled one elderly woman up north who gave him a dollar in the effort to fight Proposal 1.
That kind of grassroots revulsion is what opponents hope to tap. On his route on Allen Park's Robinson Street recently, Wilk stopped at the home of Betty Lovely, 86, who was outside washing her windows. He told Lovely he was "pushing for a no vote."
"I am, too," Lovely said, adding that she's tired of seeing her taxes go up and not getting anything in return. "I'm thoroughly disgusted. I was going to vote for it at first. ... Then I thought: If you buy a car, you know, what are the taxes going to be?"
Wilk smiled. "I know," he said.