Vote looms on confusing Proposal 1

May 1, 2015

Credit Peter Payette

On Tuesday, Michigan voters decide whether to raise taxes in the state to pay for roads and bridges. A 'yes' vote on Proposal 1 would raise more than $2 billion in new taxes in 2016.

A 'no' vote would send legislators back to the drawing board.

But while most people in Michigan agree the state needs more money for roads, they aren’t likely to vote yes next week. And the result could be more frustration with state government.


Proposal 1 is so complex it took an hour-and-a-half for officials to explain it at a meeting last week in Traverse City.

That’s because beyond changing the constitution it would trigger a bunch of new legislation. The old gas tax would go away – but a new one would begin. The changes would result in more than $1 billion for roads and bridges next year.  

“I’m going to go home [from the meeting]] still thinking I don’t understand it very well,” John Ellinger says. He lives in Traverse City.

Ellinger says the majority of people will never understand this proposal and many won’t vote.

“I’m getting real frustrated and resentful that the legislature would put all this on us.”

Susan Demas is the editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

“I think the fact that this question has been plopped down in voters laps instead of lawmakers dealing with it themselves has increased hostility to Proposal 1,” Demas says.

That hostility she’s talking about is evident in the polls. Proposal 1 was down big among likely voters in late March – and another poll released this week showed very little change.

Demas says there were other options considered by the legislature before it passed the proposal, but nothing attractive.

“There was no solution that was particularly palatable for the legislature, which didn’t want to be responsible for raising taxes,” Demas says.

Proposal 1 came out of last minute negotiations in the state Capitol last term. This followed months of talk about just how bad the roads had gotten.

Michael Wood, a regional planner with Networks Northwest, knows intimately just how rough the roads can be.

That’s because Woods actually judges how bad they are in northwest Michigan by driving all the roads in a car.

“You’re literally driving around all day from sun up to sun down,” Woods says.

Woods has been doing it for the last eight years and he says he’s seen the roads decaying for a while now. He says it’s especially bad in northern Michigan, where the freeze-thaw effect rips up pavement.

Susan Demas does not think Proposal One will be the measure to fix Michigan’s roads, and she expects the measure will fail by a wide margin.

“I think the bottom line is voters just don’t trust our current politicians to solve the problem,” Demas says.

That issue is probably tougher to fix than even the roads.