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MI Voters Show Willingness to Pay More for Services



May 13, 2011

LANSING, Mich. - Many politicians insist that constituents want lower taxes, but results from recent millage votes across Michigan paint a different picture.

Michigan communities increasingly are adding millage proposals to local ballots. More local governments are asking voters to approve millages for everything from mosquito control to new swimming pools and libraries. This trend comes at a time when state government is continuing to cut funding for communities.

Some politicians claim that residents want lower taxes - but recent millage votes across Michigan have been overwhelmingly approved. Dan Gilmartin, Michigan Municipal League chief executive officer, says that's because people are willing to pay for what they care about - and they trust local government above state government.

"When you get the state continuing to break the traditional partnership between state and local governments providing services, more falls onto the local level. I think when we see when a community government goes out and talks to its citizens and makes a case, and is able to do that effectively, the citizens will vote 'yes' on those things because they want the communities in which they live to be great places."

Recent millage proposals across the state included capital projects, recreation programs and funding for public safety and public transit.

Politicians focus on the tax rate and regulatory environment as keys to jobs creation, Gilmartin says, but desirable communities are the most important factor.

"We see the cities, the regions, the states that are working well. They're investing in their communities. They're investing in education. They're investing an entrepreneurial economy. We know now what some of those leverage points are as we move forward. So, it's not simply a budget issue. A budget should be a tool for an ultimate goal - and that's what sometimes I think we miss."

Voters across Michigan approved 16 out of 20 recent millage proposals. Additionally, voters in Saginaw, Jackson and Harper Woods said "no" to proposals that would have consolidated police and fire-department services.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI