Editorial: Keep tax asks off the primary ballot

The Detroit News

Michigan voters who just aren’t into the presidential election this year may decide to skip the March 10 balloting that will determine who gets Michigan’s partisan delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer.

That would be a mistake. Even if you couldn’t care less who the nominees are, while you’re sitting at home important decisions will be made that will impact your pocketbook.

Communities across the state, smelling opportunity in what promises to be a low-turnout election weighted toward tax-friendly Democratic voters, have larded up the ballot with proposals to raise or renew taxes.

Sixteen local proposals will appear on the ballot in Wayne County, mostly involving tax levies. Macomb County voters will decide on five local proposals, including a county-wide request from the Macomb Intermediate School District to jump taxes by 1.9 mills. Oakland County will weigh 14 local ballot issues.

Sixteen local proposals will appear on the ballot in Wayne County, mostly involving tax levies.

And all three counties will see on the ballot a proposal from the Detroit Institute of Arts to renew — two years early — its .2-mill regional tax to support operations.

You can’t blame taxing authorities for cherry-picking the electorate to maximize their chances of winning approval of their proposals. Michigan law allows them to do so.

It shouldn’t. The Legislature should put an end to this bad government practice by banning proposals from appearing on presidential primary ballots.

Turnout in these elections is too low — typically below 20% of the electorate — and often skewed toward the voters of one party. This year, with President Donald Trump assured the GOP nomination while Democrats are locked in an intensely competitive race, Republican balloting is expected to be much lower. 

Tax matters should be decided by the maximum number of voters. They shouldn’t be slipped onto the ballot in elections in which voters might not expect to see them. 

While it might be appropriate to keep proposals affecting public schools on the May school election, all other tax and governance issues should be decided at the November general election.

This spring, a number of local entities are trying to game the system. It should be the last time that’s allowed to happen.

Keep tax proposals off the presidential primary ballot, and ideally limit them to November to assure that if they are approved, it is with the broadest possible community support.