Prop 1 of 2014 cover
This policy brief is available online at Mackinac.org/s2014-03

In late July I found myself under fire from the Brighton Area Tea Party. They had requested a speaker to address concerns about Proposal 1, a question on the Aug. 5 primary ballot to eliminate the state’s personal property tax. I had written a study analyzing its impacts and the proposal was remarkably positive. Yet the group’s members expressed doubt that this would result in a tax cut and asked pointed questions about the proposal’s mechanics.

Their skepticism was well-earned. This was a complex proposal on a relatively arcane tax, which gets levied on the value of business equipment. Unless you are a business owner or manager the proposal would not directly impact you.

And it was strange. There has not been a general ballot question on a primary ballot in recent history and people thought that such an odd tax question would naturally amount to a subtle tax increase. One of the general beliefs about tax increases is that government managers want them when turnout is lower, like in a primary election.

On top of that, it shuffled around the Use tax — a complement to the Sales tax — between the state and local governments, and it was possible that this could set the state up for future tax increases.

But in researching the subject, we found that the proposal provided three new and broad exemptions to the state’s personal property tax and replaced that revenue without digging deeper into taxpayer pockets. While complex, it was clean of the special favoritism that has riddled the state’s tax code in the past. And by replacing lost revenue for municipalities and schools with a chunk of state taxes, it kept the local governments that received much of the personal property tax revenue from fighting the system.

We had an interesting role in informing the public about how the proposal worked. There were ads supporting it but they only focused on the positive aspects without explaining the mechanics.

This required traveling to groups that were interested in hearing about it, including the tea party group in Brighton. The Plymouth-based Rattle With Us coalition and the Emmet County Republican Women seemed happy just to have someone explain what was in the bills. (I was pleased that my grandparents were able to attend the latter presentation.)

I did radio interviews in Lansing, Battle Creek and northern Michigan, and even made my first appearance on 103 Country with Steve Coston.

The Associated Press included some of my findings in its pre-election report on the proposal, which ran in several newspapers statewide.

I was away at a conference on Election Day. My father texted me the preliminary results that night and colleagues shared the 69-31 passage the following day.