News Story

How to Get a Property Tax Hike: Spend Big on Democratic Political Consultant

West Michigan taxpayer dollars were hard at work this spring — promoting higher taxes

Dianne Byrum and Mark Fisk. Image from Byrum-Fisk agency.

Kent Intermediate School District paid a Democratic political consultant and public relations firm $123,890 as part of $275,000 campaign to get a property tax hike passed by voters in May. The ISD succeeded winning a 54-46 percent vote.

The public relations firm Byrum & Fisk has deep ties to established Democratic candidates and causes. Dianne Byrum is a former state representative who was the leader of Michigan House Democrats for two terms. Mark Fisk served as the communications director for the Michigan House Democratic Caucus.

Byrum & Fisk was paid $1 million by the Michigan Education Association in 2015 for public relations work.

The act of hiring a prominent political consultancy like Byrum & Fisk, and the number of tax dollars paid for its services, highlights the resource advantages public schools and municipalities have when campaigning for property tax hikes they place on a local ballot. The contract represented more than half the amount spent by the ISD on the measure. Another $133,000 covered the costs of running the election.

The property tax increase, dubbed an “enhancement millage,” is projected to extract around $20 million more each year from property owners. The money will be distributed to regular school districts, which cover most of Kent County.

Neither ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff nor the Byrum & Fisk agency returned emails seeking comment.

“I guess it's fair to say that this is exactly the sort of disappointing expenditure that we oppose,” said Eric Larson, president of the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance. “It is improper for government entities — no matter the cause — to spend so much money creating promotional videos and messaging with tax collections in order to convince taxpayers to authorize even more tax revenue. This is not neutral messaging and simply informing voters of the facts — it is campaigning.”