Surprise! Voters supported taxes

August 16, 2010

Sharon Parks

The August 3 primary election said a great deal about what voters care about, in addition to their preferred candidates for office. The election results sent a clear message that voters value public services, and they are willing to pay for those services.

While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to some of us optimists, an analysis by The Center for Michigan shows that voters overwhelmingly stepped up to the plate to pay for good roads, fire and police protection, services for seniors and libraries. 

According to one analyst, “People are finally starting to really feel the effect of government cutbacks.”

The Center for Michigan’s analysis showed the following: 

  • Voters approved 86 percent of the 623 ballot proposals affecting how much they would pay in taxes or fees.
  • Voters approved 96 percent of the requests to either renew taxes or restore rates that had previously been reduced.
  • Voters supported 69 percent of the proposals that were flat-out tax increases. 

These election results counter the noise from the Tea Party folks that the electorate is fed up, doesn’t value government, and is not willing to pay a dime more for government services. 

Our citizens aren’t stupid. They know what they need; they know what they value.  By in large, they want essential services continued in their communities even though the state will no longer pick up the tab.

There are other services, equally important, which have been cut and are likely to be cut further. The General Fund budget, with a deficit of at least a half-billion dollars or more, depending on whose numbers are used, is not yet resolved. Many more services are likely to be cut if the Legislature can’t agree on revenue solutions.

At that point, voters will be looking at cuts in higher education as they attempt to send kids to college, and cuts in Medicaid as they attempt to deal with their own medical issues or those of parents or grandparents.

There’s more — the state licenses and inspects day care facilities where our children and grandchildren spend time each week; they also license and inspect nursing homes where many of our family members reside. Those of us who eat out occasionally or often should take comfort in the fact that restaurants are also inspected. The parks and forests that we all enjoy are maintained at government expense — taxpayer dollars. 

Considering The Center for Michigan’s analysis, candidates should welcome the opportunity to talk taxes with voters. Let the voters know what’s at stake and ask whether they want to go without the services they are used to having. The answers may surprise more than a few hopeful candidates for state office. 

— Sharon Parks

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High cost of higher ed cuts

August 9, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

Going to college is expensive. It’s also one of the keys to getting out of or staying out of poverty, reducing your chances of unemployment, and attaining higher income.

Unfortunately, with tuition at both two-year and four-year institutions rising faster than the rate of inflation and median household income falling, many students are finding it harder and harder to go to college. (See our new report Pulling the Plug on Michigan’s Future: Why Draining Resources Hurts Tomorrow’s Workforce.)

What’s to blame for the increase in tuition? There are several factors, such as expenses relating to health care, fuel costs and some courses being more expensive to teach than others. However, a lot of it has to do with the state, over a period of years, cutting aid to higher ed. 

Over the last eight years (2002-2010) the state’s general fund has shrunk by 12.6 percent, but state funding to community colleges, public-four year schools, and state-funded financial aid programs has dropped by 15 percent. This lack of state support, coupled with the factors listed above has caused tuition at Michigan’s four-year public institutions to skyrocket. Over the same eight-year period, tuition and fees increased 88 percent at Michigan’s four-year public colleges and 40 percent at two-year institutions.

Overall, Michigan’s investment in higher ed ranked fifth from the bottom in the nation between 2005 and 2009 and our tuition increases rank seventh-highest over the same time period.

Because of these cuts in state support, causing tuition to soar, tuition is representing an ever-increasing share of household income for families at all levels. This especially hurts families at or below the poverty level (which is $17,285 for a family of three) who have the most to gain by going to college.

However, even as tuition rises and aid programs (including many need-based aid programs offered by the state) have been cut or drastically reduced, enrollment has not dropped as more families and individuals understand the need for education beyond high school.

This is causing more students to finance their college education through student loans. In 2008, over half of all four-year graduates had student loan debt, which averaged just over $22,000, and half of all full-time freshmen took out student loans, up from just 40 percent in 2001. 

Michigan cannot afford to have its young people graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in educational  debt due to our cutting aid to the institutions that will ensure Michigan stays competitive in a changing economy.  At a time where jobs are shifting from skills-based to knowledge-based, is it worth cutting off aid to the institutions that invest in our future?

— Jacqui Broughton