Prop 1 campaigning nears finish

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Supporters and opponents of the Proposition 1 sales tax increase and road funding boost went down to the wire Monday to persuade wavering undecided voters while pushing their own backers to vote in Tuesday's statewide election.

"It's about as big a ballot issue as you can imagine," said Bob Schneider, an analyst at the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan. "If it goes down, it's going to be interesting to see what happens."

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder stood with several Democrats at Detroit's Eastern Market for a rally in favor of the measure, which seeks to hike the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent. The measure, which also changes Michigan's fuel tax system, is expected to raise $1.3 billion more annually for roads and another $700 million for schools, local governments and the working poor.

"We need safer roads. It's that straightforward," Snyder said after the event that included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and several local pastors. "We've been under-investing for years and years. And isn't it better if we put a good investment in our roads than for blown tires and bent rims and other risks?"

Opposition groups such as the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, whose chief backer is Saginaw-area millionaire Paul Mitchell, have continued their efforts including a scheduled Monday night phone town hall that was expected to net 30,000 to 40,000 participants.

Their chief concern is that Proposition 1 isn't focused exclusively on roads and will raise more taxes to fund other issues such as education and public transit.

Mitchell said Tuesday is voter's last chance to "tell Lansing that they are not going to pay a $700 million ransom in order to fix our roads."

"I think our roads are horrendous," Mitchell said. "Unfortunately, Proposal 1 is not the best way to do that."

The full $1.3 billion increase for road and bridge repairs isn't added until the third year because a portion of the money is used in the first and second years to pay down road bond debt. This approach was intended to free up road money in the future by eliminating interest payments on the debt.

Almost every speaker at the Detroit event talked about having a blown tire on a potholed road.

"This is the only chance we're going to get for years and years and years," Duggan said. "If you vote 'yes' tomorrow, the roads get fixed. If you vote 'no' tomorrow, you keep them worse."

Snyder remained optimistic Monday that the more than 150 organizations supporting Proposition 1 — which vary from labor unions to business groups — could turn out enough voters to approve the sales tax increase.

But opponents have been equally adamant that they see popular opinion being on their side.

The Citizens Research Council doesn't take a stand on the ballot measure, but Schneider said staffers who have gone around the state discussing the ballot proposal came away with an impression voters feel that "Gee, it seems like they punted" on the road funding question.

The perception is that lawmakers "would do better to get together and do something on their own," Schneider said. Yet alternatives proposed in the Legislature, to date, only would raise a small fraction of what's needed or dramatically cut funding to schools and local governments by shifting more to roads.

Raising the necessary amount of money through a straight fuel tax increase, as the state Senate proposed last year, would require about a 22-cent-per-gallon hike in the 19-cent-per gallon gasoline tax and 15-cent diesel fuel tax.

It would result in a gasoline tax of about the same amount as sought under the ballot proposal but without eliminating the sales tax on fuel or boosting the sales tax rate, Schneider said. The total fuel tax would be about 41 cents a gallon in the first year, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.

House lawmakers couldn't muster the votes last year to pass a Senate bill to simply raise the fuel tax rate in that way.

Staff writer Chad Livengood contributed.

Issues at stake

Among the issues in some a handful of Metro Detroit communities:

■Oak Park will be asking whether to allow liquor sales by the glass.

■Lake Shore Schools in St. Clair Shores seeks nearly $35 million for upgrades.

■Ferndale has a $45 million local street and park bond proposal.

■Addison Township will ask whether to help fund the North Oakland Transportation Authority.

■Franklin has a police millage renewal.

■Pontiac has suggested revisions to the charter that will make two of the seven council seats at-large and establish a five-seat ethics board to oversee public services.

■Lincoln Park and Wayne want to set up a new retirement system for police and fire workers.

■School districts with bond proposals are Clintondale, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, Farmington, Huron Valley, Pontiac, Grosse Ile, Riverview, South Lyon, Pinckney, Webberville, Armada, Northville, South Lyon and Van Buren.