Labor Voices: Vote yes on Prop 1, fix our roads

Steven Cook

If you believe our schools and safer roads are important to the quality of life in Michigan, circle May 5 on your calendar. On that day, voters will be asked to vote on a proposal that would raise over $1 billion to repair Michigan’s dangerous roads and bridges, while raising $300 million in new revenue for Michigan public schools, funded by a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax.

No one in Michigan can deny the need for additional funding targeted for road repairs and public education. Neglecting the transportation infrastructure has hurt our economy, damaged our vehicles and endangered the safety of our state’s drivers. The $1 billion cut in education funding over the last five years has led to an historic number of school districts facing financial disaster.

Even with one party control of state government, the process that led to the Legislature placing Proposition 1 on the ballot was a struggle. In an ideal world, policy makers would prioritize infrastructure needs and education funding within the existing state budget. That did not happen. But as Otto von Bismarck said, “Politics is the art of the possible,” and this proposal is the result of compromise on all sides.

Critics contend that the burden of a sales tax increase falls more heavily on low-income residents. While this might be true, passage of Proposition 1 is tied to legislation that would fully restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families, which was slashed by 70 percent in 2011. Restoration of the credit would amount to a $260 million tax cut for low-income wage earners.

The sales tax increase would not put Michigan at a competitive economic disadvantage compared to other Great Lakes states, whose rates range from 7 percent in Indiana to 5 percent in Wisconsin. However, all Great Lakes states with the exception of Indiana have additional city sales taxes on top of the state sales tax. Most of these states have higher, graduated income tax rates as well.

While the sales tax increase and the additional funding for roads and schools are the primary features of Proposition 1, there are many other aspects of this ballot proposition that voters need to consider.

The sales tax would be removed from gasoline and the gas tax would be increased. Under Proposition 1 all state taxes paid on fuel are guaranteed in the Constitution to be used for transportation, including safer roads and bridges. Online sales would be taxed for goods purchased from companies with a presence in Michigan. Local governments have also suffered severe funding reductions in recent years. With the passage of Proposition 1, local governments would receive nearly $100 million in additional revenue. These funds will help hard-pressed communities pay for police officers and firefighters.

Clearly, passage of Proposition 1 will help fund a wide array of vital services. Underlying the need for this proposal is a simple fact: The national economic recession hit Michigan especially hard and resulted in a lack of revenue to support many basic functions of our government. These are functions that Michigan citizens depend on, which have provided the quality of life we have come to expect living in the Great Lakes State.

The primary beneficiaries of Proposition 1, Michigan’s transportation and public education systems, were once the envy of our nation. More revenue is needed to sustain them.

Proposition 1 is supported by leading law enforcement groups, business and labor organizations and the leadership of both political parties. On May 5, join us and vote yes on Proposition 1.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.