Senate votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

Finley: Ringing in Year of the Tax Hike

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It looks like 2020 will be the Year of the Tax Hikes in Metro Detroit.

Several entities plan to ask voters for tax levies to fund a variety of new programs or beef up existing ones. Most are for worthwhile endeavors that would add to the quality of life of the region, and a good argument can be made for their adoption. And for the most part, the cost is relatively small for each.

But if they all pass, it will add hundreds of dollars or more to the annual tax burden of residents of the most highly taxed communities in the state.

The planned tax requests include:

Detroit Institute of Arts

►The Detroit Institute of Arts, which convinced voters in 2012 to set up a 10-year millage to support operations, wants to be on the March 10 presidential primary ballot with a proposal to renew the 0.2 mill tax two years early. The ask comes despite a promise from the DIA when the tax was established that it would use the revenue to build an endowment to make a renewal unnecessary.

►Also on March 10, voters in Detroit and Wayne County will be asked to pass a 1 mill, 5-year levy to fund after-school programs. The tax will help fill a $55 million hole in funding for current initiatives. 

►The Detroit Historical Museum and Charles Wright Museum of African American history are also exploring first-ever tax requests to make up for shortfalls in funding from the city of Detroit and donors.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is one of eight Midtown cultural institutions promoted in a new short video from ad agency Doner.

►Mass transit advocates hope to be on the ballot this fall with yet another tax proposal to fund the Regional Transit Authority covering Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw counties. Macomb County has opted out.

►And somewhere out there this year, if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hopes to deliver on her promise to “fix the damn roads,” will be a large tax hike to raise the $2 billion to make that goal reachable.

Again, good cases can be made for all these proposals, although any tax requests on the March 10 ballot should be treated as non-starters by voters. Trying to sneak tax hikes through on what will be an extremely low-turnout election, weighted toward Democratic voters, is a sleazy tactic. 

As they consider these proposals, voters should do what policymakers seem incapable of doing — set priorities.

What does Michigan and Metro Detroit need most? Are after-school programs a bigger need than repairing worst-in-the-nation roads?

Does pouring more money into cultural institutions that have failed to build a sustaining network of donors and patrons bring more value to the region than a bus system that gets workers to the employers who need them?

This is not a low-tax region. Property taxes in Detroit are among the highest in the nation and work to make the city less competitive for development and residents. Too many Detroiters are already struggling to meet their tax bill.

The folks bringing these new tax requests should recognize they aren’t operating in a vacuum. The same residents who will pay the arts taxes will be paying the bus and road taxes.

Voters here aren’t stingy. But they only have so much to give.

Catch Nolan Finley on “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.