Engler's Parting Shot Proposal A – Chicanery for Michigan Property Owners

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Pressure
is already mounting regarding the financing of public education.
Each week brings more tales of woe from administrative representatives,
and the situation is probably the same in every state of the union.
The economy is in decline while the costs of public education never
shrink without being forced to do so. All states will be scrambling
for any remaining, albeit shrinking, funding sources.

As
governors begin to panic, especially those in states like California
which are tethered to rigid educational demands without the school
finance structures necessary to support them, these politicians
will begin the search for alternate methods of finance. The solutions
of choice will certainly be those that shift the burden of public
education further onto the backs of property owners. Officials may
look longingly at the finance reform passed in Michigan, so it would
be well for property owners to educate themselves regarding the
actual outcome of that Michigan reform, and prepare to defeat similar
suggestions in their states.

Michigan
property owners actually became victims, rather than beneficiaries,
of Governor John Engler’s infamous “Proposal A” — the plan which
was supposed to a.) assure all Michigan children equitable educational
funding while b.) lifting the education portions of property tax
burdens from homeowners. Schools were to be financed from the state
coffers, and from increased sales tax rates.

A
document from the Michigan government site reminds us that, “After
12 failed ballot proposals and many efforts to improve equity through
various appropriations measures, the Michigan Legislature made national
headlines in July 1993 when it eliminated local property taxes as
a revenue source for school operations.”

That,
however, is not what Proposal A ended up doing for us. When our
new tax bills arrived, we saw that we were still expected to support
education with property taxes: we were still stuck with the Intermediate
School District operating expenses, and we were billed for something
called the “State Education Tax.” Of course we had expected that
‘school operations’ meant all expenses to operate the schools, but
it appeared that we had either misunderstood, or had been misled.

Our
property taxes were lowered that first year, but that action only
served to prolong the moment when we would realize that the reduction
did not make up for the increased sales tax rate. Proposal A increased
the rate from 4% to 6%, and we found that the higher rate was especially
punishing when we made major purchases. The new rate noticeably
raised the cost of automobiles, and our family joined others in
buying used, rather than new cars; in keeping cars longer; in buying
used parts and doing our own repairs. These personally sensible,
financially conservative, decisions gave Michigan’s economy NO
financial boost and certainly did nothing to balloon the fund
from which the new schooling finance costs would be drawn.

Taxpayers
next learned that Proposal A would not provide equity in educational
support for all children. Districts were reimbursed based on the
per-pupil allotment they had been receiving under the old system,
with a ceiling to limit the amount of new gain. Restricted gains
meant small increases for small districts, while larger districts
still had their greater per-pupil, pre-Proposal A financing.

Proposal
A did allow us to vote additional tax monies
back onto our property bills if we wanted better schools — but that
would negate the need for Proposal A, as well as for the 6% sales
tax. The bitter irony of it became clear — low taxes meant few additional
dollars for local schools; poor school districts were still poor;
rich school districts were still rich. We had relinquished local
control in order to gamble on small, undependable, state handouts
for operating budgets, and we still had to pay educational expenses.

Property
owners soon noticed the next ‘benefit’ from Proposal A: the state
ordered the townships to reassess homes and properties, and of course
they raised the values. Soon our property taxes began to climb —
first to the levels where they had been prior to Proposal A, and
now moving to even higher with each yearly bill.

For
14 years we have owned the same 28′ x 32′ 130-year-old simple, aluminum-sided,
farm cottage with a partial, unfloored cellar. However, the state
now considers it a very fine property, taxes it accordingly, and
we have completely lost any benefit we ever gained from Proposal
A.

We
learned to not make improvements to our property, and the state
coffers again lost money as we refrained from buying paint and lumber.
When we tore down an unsightly wall and replaced it with a simple
railing, the township raised our property appraisal before we could
even paint the one-inch spindles! When we replaced an aging garage
with a rough pole building — steel walls and roof, no electricity,
no floor, no insulation, three tiny windows and handmade doors made
of crossed 2×4′s covered with leftover pieces of steel siding, the
township assessed the building at $12,000, and raised our taxes
accordingly.

At
the Board of Review we explained that we had only put $4,300 into
the structure. The board agreed that we had the right to appeal
— but verbally warned us that if we asked for reassessment of the
pole building, our entire property would be rated higher, and our
tax bill would go up even further. We left in disgust, blackmailed
into dropping our appeal. We also dropped all plans to enlarge the
house, so Michigan lost the sales taxes we would have paid on products
to add two rooms and a second bathroom.

This
year I noted, directly on our tax bill, that we were paying under
protest because the ever-increasing appraisals have undone the promises
of Proposal A, but we are still stuck with a higher sales tax rate.
The receipt came back with a small typed note:

“Dear
Taxpayer, For your information — in case you didn’t catch the newspaper
articles or see on TV — Gov. Engler mandated, beginning in 2003,
all townships will collect the State Education Tax (ST ED) portion
of your taxes in the summer. You will receive a statement for that
amount in late June. The taxes are due July 1, and delinquent September
15. For 2003 only the millage will be dropped to 5 mills.
In 2004, it will go back to 6 mills. The November tax statement
you receive will be minus that portion. If you have any questions,
please feel free to call me at…Treasurer”

I
phoned to ask why we would be paying both Summer and Winter taxes,
and why we are paying ANY “State Education Tax” when Proposal A
was to remove educational costs from property taxes. The official
said that she had never thought about that and honestly could not
answer the question. I asked when Governor Engler had “mandated”
this new summer school-property tax, and I was told that he had
signed it during in the last session before he left office. I was
not surprised at the timing; a final burden for property owners
who had been promised so much under the dishonest and unreliable
Proposal A.

Do
not be fooled into supporting a ‘Proposal A’ in your state: We now
pay a 2% higher sales tax rate. State assessors have inflated the
values of our properties so our property taxes are higher than before
the ‘tax relief.’ We still pay state education taxes. We still pay
Intermediate School District costs. We still pay the debts accrued
by the local school districts. We pay four (4) different county
taxes, and a township tax. We no longer improve our properties because
of the punishing township officials with their lightning-fast appraisal
rate hikes; and now, for the first time ever, we will have a summer
State Education Tax bill. We expect that once we become used to
paying property taxes in the summer, the state will increase our
winter taxes to ever-higher levels, and we will be forever stuck
with double tax bills which actually do, despite the promises of
Proposal A, support educational expenses from the property tax base.

We
hope that your governor does not decide to ‘gift’ you with such
ideas for reducing the burden of taxes for homeowners; for finding
alternate ways to finance schools. We cannot afford another round
of Engler’s type of conservatism and tax cuts, and we doubt that
you can, either. We will never recover from the damage caused by
Proposal A, and we dread the long-range outcome of Engler’s parting
shot — mandated summer tax bills for "State Education Taxes.”

February
11, 2003

Linda
Schrock Taylor [send
her mail
] lives in northern-lower
Michigan, where she is a special education teacher (in Room 18),
a free-lance writer, and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where
real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.


     

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