Last year, ninety-five percent of Democrats and seventy percent of Republicans in Michigan’s legislature voted to place Proposal 1 on the ballot. Normally, that would indicate broad bipartisan support for the measure, which would increase the sales tax by one percent to fund improvements to the state’s roads and trigger ten other laws if passed. A survey of current Michigan legislators and the conflicting endorsements of Washtenaw County’s Democratic and Republican parties suggest a strong partisan division instead.
As reported by WXYZ on Monday, April 27, only thirty one (21%) of Michigan lawmakers contacted by the Associated Press responded to a survey of their stands on Proposal 1. Crain’s Detroit Business calculated that twenty-three of them were Democrats, all but one of whom announced their support for the constitutional amendment, while only eight were Republicans, five of whom opposed the measure.
Washtenaw County’s state legislators were more forthcoming in their responses than for their colleagues as a whole, but they still mirrored the partisan trends. Four of the county’s five Democratic legislators responded to the survey, all announcing their support. The response of Adam Zemke, State Representative from Ann Arbor, was typical of the group. WXYZ quoted Zemke as saying “I support Proposal 1 because it is a good solution to raise the funding needed to fix our infrastructure that simultaneously holds education, local government and the working poor harmless. It also constitutionally further protects transportation and education funding, both things that I continue to hear from constituents about.”
The other Democratic legislators who voiced their support were State Representative Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, State Representative David Rutledge of Ypsilanti, and State Senator Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor. State Representative Gretchen Driskell of Saline did not respond to the survey, but she voted to place Proposal 1 on the ballot in December.
The county’s sole Republican legislator, State Senator Joe Hune of Hamburg, who represents the western portion of Washtenaw County in addition to Livingston County, also failed to reply to the questionnaire. He voted against placing the measure on the ballot during the lame duck session.
The disparity between the parties is even more apparent at the grassroots level, with the Washtenaw County Democratic Party supporting the measure but the Washtenaw County Republicans opposing it.
In a press release sent by email, the Washtenaw County Democratic Party (WCDP) Executive Committee announced their decision to support Proposal 1. The press release quoted WCDP Chair Chris Savage, who explained the party’s rationale for its decision.
“While we would have preferred that the state legislature had provided more leadership on this issue, Proposal 1 will provide the essential funding needed for road repairs,” said Savage. “We understand that the sales tax increase is a regressive tax that impacts low-income families more acutely. However, the members of our Democratic caucus in the state legislature were successful in negotiating a compromise that restores the Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families which more than makes up for the hit they will take on the increased sales tax. In addition, Prop 1 preserves and ensures funding for our schools and local governments and that’s why the WCDP leadership supports Proposal 1. We urge all Michigan voters to vote “Yes” on May 5th.”
The press release concluded with the announcement that the WCDP would organize a get out the vote campaign effort throughout Washtenaw County to ensure its passage.
The Washtenaw County Republicans came to the opposite conclusion. In their press release, the county party’s executive committee was emphatic in their opposition, writing “Washtenaw County Republicans want to make it clear to voters that they believe the current pro-tax advertising campaign is misleading and that there are options other than increasing the sales tax and permanently amending the State Constitution. Those alternatives can provide the needed funding to fix our roads without imposing burdensome taxes on the hard working citizens of Washtenaw County, who already have to stretch their paychecks on a daily basis.”
On their Facebook page, the Washtenaw County Republicans urged a No vote on the measure and directed people who wanted No on Proposal 1 lawn signs to a location where they could pick them up.