To paraphrase Shakespeare, a rose by any other name is still a rose. In December 1998,
the Michigan Supreme Court agreed that a tax is still a tax, even when some municipalities
choose to call it something else.
The issue before the court was a 1995 Lansing ordinance that levied a so-called
"user fee" on all property owners to help pay for a new $176 million storm water
The problem was that the city did not first ask for the voters approvalas
required by the Michigan constitutionbefore imposing the hefty new surcharge.
Residents soon dubbed the surcharge the "rain tax," and one citizen challenged
its legality in court.
The city maintained that the surcharge was a user fee and that citizens were not
entitled to vote on user fees. But the court ruled that the "rain tax" did
need to be put to a vote, explaining that user fees are voluntary payments in exchange for
services, and there was nothing voluntary about the Lansing "rain tax."
The Michigan Supreme Courts decision upholding the state constitution sends a
powerful message to municipalities throughout the state: Disingenuous word games are no
substitute for honest and accountable government.
For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.