Bridge Magazine’s “Truth Tour” made a stop in Dexter a few weeks ago at the Dexter Forum to get the group’s opinions and thoughts on taxes, education, and life in Michigan. The results were somewhat eye-opening.
Bridge Magazine is the publication of The Center of Michigan, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded by Michigan media mogul Phil Power in 2006 to engage Michigan residents statewide in pertinent political issues and concerns. “Bridge” in the publication’s title refers to the Center’s vigilant efforts to engage people in a reality beyond partisan ideologies, labels, and prejudices.
I sat in attendance as Bridge Magazine’s moderator for the Dexter Forum, Duane Barnes, explained to the group the purpose for the morning’s meeting, “So this year we are on what we are calling the ‘Bridge Truth Tour.’ We are going across the state and engaging Michigan residents in the information we feel they’ll need going into this election season.” He described the meetings as “a statewide Michigan political discussion.”
The format of the Truth Tour is straightforward – a question is asked, the Forum votes, and then we discuss the outcome. Voting is anonymous through the use of hand-held “clickers.” While the format may have been simple enough, the technology wasn’t cooperating. There was an almost 20 minute delay as Duane worked on getting an unexpected glitch out of the system.
Once everything was working, we were asked to consider the Michigan state tax trends, from Bridge Magazine’s Facts & Issue Guide, our roadmap for the morning’s meeting, with the thought that Michigan voters often hear much about taxes during state political campaigns. Promises to cut, promises to invest more in public priorities, both sides are difficult to understand when pressed for the details of exactly which taxes to raise, which to cut.
The Forum clicked in their votes on the first question with the following results.
Two-thirds of the Forum felt taxes were too low, surprising many of the group in attendance. But when it came to discussing as to why people voted the way they did, criticism of property taxes were the only comments put forth.
“I voted that taxes are too high because from last winter to this winter there was a $5,000 jump in my property taxes, one jump,” stated one attendee.
Another observation offered was, “One of the problems with property taxes is that it does not reflect your ability to pay the tax. The ultimate remedy of non-payment is seizing your property and selling it. I think it would be better to find a way to fund government other than property taxes.”
Yet another person said, “One reason property taxes remain popular is that they are visible and easy to assess. The other ways of taxing income and sales tax have way to circumvent the system.”
The group was then given the chance to play state legislators and choose where they would increase and decrease state revenue.
Since its launch in 2011, Bridge has earned more than 100 state and national journalism awards and is a two-time defending Michigan Press Association “Newspaper of the Year”. Throughout 2018, Bridge is providing watchdog coverage of statewide political campaigns, actions at the state capitol, and big-picture coverage of major issues ranging from the state economy to public education.
The Center for Michigan strives to make citizenship interesting, convenient, and meaningful through interactive, small-group community conversations, large policy conferences, phone polling and online engagement tools. More than 45,000 diverse, statewide residents have participated in the Center’s public engagement programs since 2007.
After dealing with taxes, the Dexter Forum was asked which potential ballot proposals they most support. Choices were:
- Legalizing marijuana
- Repealing prevailing wages
- Redistricting – reforming how legislative districts are drawn
- Required sick time for workers
- Increasing the minimum wage
- Banning crude oil transmission in the Straits of Mackinac “Line 5” pipeline
- I don’t support any of these
Putting an end to gerrymandering received the most support.
This is a big election year in Michigan. All of Michigan’s representatives for state and federal governments are up for reelection except for U.S. Senator Gary Peters. Michigan voters have the potential to radically change the nature of their government this November if they so desire. With that in mind, Duane asked us the Forum the final question of the morning; “If Michigan leaders could solve one big issue over the next four years, what should it be?”
Choices to click on were:
- Fix K-12 – produce better educated students
- Make college more affordable
- Fix infrastructure – roads, water/sewer systems, etc.
- Lower taxes/decrease regulation to help the economy
- Raise taxes/ invest in public goods (education, cities, safety net, etc.) to help the economy
- Fix hyper partisanship – Republicans and Democrats working together to govern and solve problems
We clicked in our responses.
Improvements in education and infrastructure are top priorities for many in the group. A fair number of people also believe that the government should be given the funds to make the needed improvements by raising taxes.
One attendee observed, “The people, in this room at least, see the solutions lie in raising taxes. Yet, we have a current government that believes that lowering taxes will solve the problems.”
There was a murmur of ascent until someone wryly commented, “People who want to pay more taxes can do so right now. They don’t have to wait for the government to pass a law to pay more into the government. They can begin immediately.”
After clicking on a few more questions to fill in the demographics of Forum, the meeting concluded, too soon it seemed no doubt due to the technical difficulties at the start. Feedback from the group was generally favorable with the possibility of doing it again maybe in a larger venue with more people involved.
The Center takes the survey results and compiles them into a statewide database which they then present to our leaders in Lansing. A few examples of positive change that have resulted from such efforts by the Center include, 1) the nation’s largest expansion of public preschool, 2) some $250 million in taxpayer savings from prison system reforms, 3) stopping the erosion of the traditional 180 day school year, 4) education reforms like more rigorous teacher certification and evaluation, and 5) reform of state business taxes.
The Center, via Bridge Magazine, is on a mission to inform Michigan citizens through fact-based, nonpartisan journalism that identifies critical issues and helps citizens navigate the challenges of our civic life. Their goal is simple: To better inform Michigan’s private citizens so as to encourage a vibrant state in both the private and public sectors.
You can learn more about Bridge Magazine and sign up to receive their emails at their website https://www.bridgemi.com/