VICTORY UPDATE: Washtenaw County’s Taxation without Representation


To our liberal, teachers union friends who spouted gloom and doom if this WISD millage failed:

24,114 residents of Washtenaw County voted for the WISD millage for public schools yesterday.  Now, this designated conservative suspects that they were voting for a tax hike on the assumption that other “rich people” would pay the bill, but in the hope that they were willing to put up their share I offer the following suggestion:

If all 24,114 “yes” voters each donated just the $200 per year that they said the tax would cost the average county homeowner, they alone would provide over 80% of the $30,000,000 that this new tax was projected to provide to the schools.  Considering that this voluntary method would minimize collection/administration costs associated with the tax process, I suspect that their voluntary contributions would actually provide MORE funds to the schools than any tax.  Come on “yes” voters – it’s time to get your checkbooks out and support the schools!

THANK YOU!

To all our designated conservative friends in Washtenaw County, thank you for coming out yesterday in overwhelming numbers to say “NO!” to the flawed WISD “enhancement millage!  Thank you to all those that spearheaded the “Vote No” campaign!  Great job.

Now comes the hard part:  It’s time for designated conservatives to step in and lead our local public schools away out of the slow-death spiral the Michigan Education Association (MEA)-sponsored “leaders” have created for our children and grandchildren.

This Designated Conservative encourages like-minded folks to write to your school board members, district superintendents, and elected state representatives and tell them the unaccountable tax-and-spend, “this is the way we’ve always done things” mentality is no longer acceptable if we are to have a strong and vibrant public school system in Michigan:

  • We need to get the union’s sticky fingers out of the public school employee health insurance business. Speaker Andy Dillon’s (D – Redford Twp.) proposal to consolidate all public employees in Michigan under one healthcare umbrella would save the schools $ Millions in benefits cost, and is a great starting point.
  • We need real reform of local public school’s business operations. It’s long past time to privatize all non-academic services, and to consolidate and “share” administrative functions.
  • We need more experienced business people and fiscally-conservative individuals to step up and run for local school boards. The MEA has made a concerted effort in recent years to defeat folks like this while supporting union-friendly candidates.  This just-defeated WISD millage proposal is an example of the results of their efforts.  It will be essential to identify designated conservative school board candidates for school board positions, and to actively support and campaign for their success.

Dusty Diary has a great post this morning entitled Millage Failure=Bloated School Administration? A Look at the Past (excerpt below)

With the failure of the WISD millage last night,… (m)any opined that there are far too many administrative and non-classroom positions (e.g., counselors) in local schools….  Dusty D became curious to see what YHS school administration was like in the past, by way of comparison.

In the 1905 “Ypsi-Dixit” high school yearbook, the administration consists of:

William B. Arbaugh, superintendent

Charles S. Jacobs, principal (and instructor in Greek, Latin, and History)

That’s it.

The YHS also had classes today considered “extra,” such as music, geology, and art.

It is interesting to see that for decades a school that graduated students educated in Greek, Latin, and Art did so with an apparent administrative staff of 2.

Let’s get to work! 🙂

QUOTES OF THE DAY:

The following was posted by “ChuckL” on the ArborUpdate blog post “Should voters give the county-wide school millage a passing grade?“:

“Here is another problem with a 2 mil increase;

we are proposing to raise taxes on people losing their health care, losing their retirement funds, losing their homes

so a lot of bad teachers (and other public school employees) can keep their health care, retirement benefits and homes.”

The following was posted by Patrice Lewis on WND.com in a commentary entitled, “Raising Drones of the State:

“The fact that private schools and homeschools effortlessly surpass government schools in academic standards as well as moral development (for a fraction of the cost) illustrates the absurdity that per-pupil spending or increased hours make any difference whatsoever.”

The following was posted by Rick Olson on Sharing Ideas for a Better Michigan in a post entitled, “Washtenaw County ISD Millage – There are Better Options“:

“As a former school business manager, I can tell you from an “insiders” perspective that there are still ways to cut the spending of school districts that the districts are electing not to choose. Instead, they fear monger with the parents about cutting services to kids, cutting teachers, increasing class sizes, etc.”

“Also, backing a tax increase thinking it will “improve the economy” is a smoke screen we should all be able to see through.”

The following was posted by “EOS” on the ArborUpdate blog post “Should voters give the county-wide school millage a passing grade?“:

“Increased spending on education has absolutely no correlation to improved test scores or better educated children. Extra funds will allow districts to hire even more administrators that won’t have a direct impact on student learning. Parental involvement, better disciplined students, and high expectations would have a far greater impact on educational outcomes and would cost nothing. It should be obvious that with record numbers of foreclosures in the county that this is the wrong time to increase taxes.

UPDATE 2:

Question:  How is the proposed WISD “enhancement millage” taxation without representation?

Answer:

A vote in favor of a local public school millage ballot proposal is a vote of confidence in the local elected school board’s ability to use those additional property tax funds wisely for the direct educational benefit of the children attending those schools.  The school board members are elected by those same voters who voted for or against the millage(s) that fund the schools, and are directly responsible to the voters.

  • If I, as a resident of a school district, a parent of a child in the district, or  a voter, have any question or concern about how that district is operating, I have the right and the responsibility to take my concerns to my local elected representatives on the school board.
  • Those local elected school board representatives have the duty and responsibility to respond promptly to resident/parent/voter concerns, and to seek to make policy changes if needed to fix identified problems.
  • If school property tax funds are wasted, or the voters are otherwise dissatisfied with the performance of school board members, they can be voted out of office.
  • If their personal behavior or actions as a school board member are egregious enough, the voters can use the recall process to remove them from office.
  • Most importantly for this discussion, if the voters in a school district are unhappy with the district’s use of public funds, they can elect to vote down a millage request or renewal.

The school district, the school board, and the school property tax all are connected to the same geographic area and political jurisdiction.  There is a direct relationship between the people being taxed and the elected officials responsible for efficiently using those tax dollars.

This direct voter-elected official relationship doesn’t exist with regards to the WISD “enhancement millage proposal.

Worse yet, there isn’t even a direct relationship between my taxes being collected and students in my district benefitting. Because the tax revenues generated will be parceled out on a per pupil basis, the “elephant-in-the-room” Ann Arbor Schools will receive the bulk of the revenues.  There is a likely potential for taxes generated in one school district to actually go to benefit students in another district elsewhere in the county!

The 1997 law that allows the WISD to be the shill for a property tax that cannot legally benefit the WISD (all funds must be distributed to the individual school districts based on student population) is seriously flawed, in that it unreasonably insulates those local elected school board members from the consequences of their actions (i.e. the decision to vote in favor of a resolution requesting the WISD to put the tax on the November 2009 ballot).

  • There are no locally elected officials at the WISD, and voters have no recourse with regards to voting the WISD leadership out of office or seeking to recall them.
  • It is difficult to explain the decision chain that so indirectly links my local elected school board to this ballot proposal, even though, if passed, my district will receive direct financial benefits from the funds collected.
  • Because of this, local school boards can say, if somewhat disingenuously, “It’s not our millage request!”

For these reasons and more, this Designated Conservative sees the proposed WISD “enhancement” millage as nothing more than taxation without representation, a constitutional violation of the type that our country’s founding fathers fought a war over once.

ORIGINAL POST:

Sometimes even the Designated Conservative is surprised by his friends.   I’m pleased to see this come out – it will be interesting to see if it gets picked up by the local news outlets, who have been VERY QUIET to date about this blatant case of attempted taxation without representation:

Republican Party Decides to Oppose Millage Increase

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Washtenaw County Republican Party has decided that the long-term educational needs of the County’s young people will best be supported by opposing the millage increase proposed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

The proposed 2 mill ($30 million) annual tax increase will push already struggling taxpayers over the edge, causing them to lose their homes, and further weakening the tax base of the county. It will achieve nothing beyond putting a temporary bandage on a fundamentally flawed educational finance and expenditure system,” said Wyckham Seelig, Vice Chairman of the party.

“In addition, it will further complicate the already too-complex system of education funding we now have in the County, making it even more difficult for taxpayers to understand where their tax dollars are being spent.”

“What we need to have is a serious, non-stop cost control effort, including much more privatization of non-teaching functions, vigorous competitive bidding for all school system business, and, most importantly, more cost effective teacher compensation packages.

School officials tell us that labor costs amount to up to 85 percent of their budgets, and, given the economic difficulties which the state now confronts, there is simply no way to fix the system without significant modifications in teacher compensation packages. If this means “impasse bargaining,” then so be it,” he continued.

The Republican Party believes that turning down this millage will force the county’s educators to confront the changes needed to create a stable system, not just for today’s students, but for generations to come.

For more information on the millage proposal, click here to read the AnnArbor.com article, “Washtenaw Intermediate School District board votes to place enhancement millage on ballot.”  Here’s an excerpt:

The Washtenaw Intermediate School District’s school board formally voted Tuesday morning to place a 2-mill enhancement millage on the November ballot.

The WISD’s action followed each of the county’s 10 traditional school districts’ school boards passing resolutions asking the WISD board to take this action.

If approved by voters, the 2-mill tax would raise about $30 million each year for the next five years for the school districts.

The money would be split among the districts based on enrollment, not on how much each district raised in tax revenue, WISD officials said.

The Ann Arbor school district, the county’s largest district, would receive the most, more than $11 million per year.

Not included on the list of those getting the money would be the county’s charter schools, which have about 3,500 students.

UPDATE:

WISD has also posted a downloadable press release and FAQ sheet on their website.

AnnArbor.com has an excellent story on the pros and cons of the WISD proposal, with lots of good comments too.

Citizens for Responsible School Spending also have a website up with more information about why the WISD millage proposal is a bad idea and should be rejected by the voters of Washtenaw County in November.

UPDATE 3:

A new, apparently well-funded advocacy organization called “Washtenaw Friends of Education” has sprung up and already sent out a very snazzy full-color brochure with the tagline,

“We need strong schools to prepare our children for 21st century jobs!”

Neither the brochure nor the website identifies the specific people behind this organization, other than Larry Cokler, Treasurer and President of the Dexter School Board.

However, the above tagline speaks volumes as to who’s likely helping to fund this mailing:  It is the Michigan Education Association (MEA) teachers’ union that frequently uses virtually an identical tagline to buttress their arguments for more and more money.

This Designated Conservative is looking forward to seeing the required campaign finance reports for this committee (which are due to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office on 10/23/2009) so we can find out just how much the MEA members have contributed to this mailing.

LINK TO ANNARBOR.COM ONLINE POLL:

If you’re interested in voting in a poll on this issue, click on this link:http://www.annarbor.com/news/enhancement-millage-to-dominate-washtenaw-county-education-news/

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14 Responses to VICTORY UPDATE: Washtenaw County’s Taxation without Representation

  1. How exactly is this taxation without representation? It seems that property taxes are the best example of of local taxation WITH representation as you will have the highest percentage of people voting who pay the taxes (as opposed to city income taxes which are an attempt to get money out of people who cannot vote on the issue).

    • Great question. I re-read my post and the related news articles, and this issue is not well explained. The 1997 law that allows this is fairly byzantine, but I will work up an addition to this post to make this clear. Thanks!

  2. OK, now there’s an answer to your question, Chuck, plus more new updates!

  3. Okay, I’m just trying to follow the logic here: it’s taxation without representation because the taxing district (the county) is different than the administrative district (the school district). Therefore, voters within a particular school district cannot choose to turn down the funds and get their tax money back. Is that your argument?

    If that’s the case, isn’t that an argument against all forms of revenue sharing?

    In that case, it seems like Prop A is part of the problem. By prohibiting individual school districts from asking voters for more revenue it prohibits the kind of taxation with representation you’re talking about.

    Or am I missing something in your argument?

    • I appreciate your thoughts. I’ll take the issue of revenue sharing first. We in Michigan ensconced in our constitution a method by which a portion of state tax revenues are passed back to local governments to fund local government operations. In this instance, we taxpayers/voters have a direct connection both with our state elected officials who collect and distribute such revenues, and our local elected officials who receive and spend those funds. As discussed above, those elected officials are directly responsible to voters for the use of those tax revenues.

      What’s missing with this WISD millage request is that NO ONE at the WISD is elected, and therefore NO ONE at the WISD is directly responsible to the taxpayers/voters for the use of those funds. Yes, the local school board members receiving and spending WISD per-pupil revenue distributions are responsible to their voters, but the money relationship is indirect and obfuscated by the fact that these funds come to them from “the county” (WISD) and may actually have been paid in part by taxpayers from outside the local school district.

      It is this disconnected, indirect relationship between the taxpayer/voter and elected officials receiving and using the funds that provides a modern example of taxation without representation.

  4. “No one at the WISD is elected.”

    Yes, but the elected school boards of most, if not all, of the school districts asked the WISD to put this on the ballot, as they were unable to themselves. As I understand, the WISD would be unable to put the initiative forward without these requests by the elected school boards.

    Furthermore, according to the WISD website, its board is elected “by a body of electors composed of one member from each constituent school district board of education.” So the democratically-elected school boards elect the WISD board. It is one step removed, but there is still a mechanism of voter accountability in place (though I think there are fair questions about representation, it is one elector per school district, so influence is independent of population or number of pupils in the school district).

    So I still don’t see how this is taxation without representation:

    1. The tax is up for a vote, and most of the would-be taxpayers are eligible to vote in the election;

    2. The vote was requested by the elected school boards of the region;

    3. The millage is administered by an organization governed by people elected by the elected school boards.

    I just don’t see how taxation without representation relates to this issue.

    • At best, you appear to be saying that an indirect (local school board => board approved representative on the WISD board = > WISD board = > millage) connection is adequate to ensure direct accountability to the voters. I say that local schools and locaL taxes have historically had a direct connection, as the voters, the taxpayers, and the elected officials responsible for spending the tax money are all from the same geographic area and political jurisdiction. The indirect relationship is a symptom of taxation without representation.

      As for the November vote, it also reflects this same democratic deficiency. Here’s why:

      In a normal school millage election, a majority “No” vote would cause the millage to fail and not be collected in that school district. In the WISD election, a “No” vote in a single school district could still result in collection of the tax if the millage passes elsewhere in the county. This is why the cowardly local school boards chose this option. All they need to do is campaign hard in the heavily Democrat, union-friendly, and liberal precincts of the county (including my own) to pass a millage that would otherwise likely fail if proposed by some of the individual districts.

      Even with such an unfair process, it’s my prediction that this millage WILL fail in a majority of the districts, even though it will pass overall as the City of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor School District residents never saw a tax they didn’t like. The only way this WISD millage will fail overall is if the western county voters and Ypsilanti voters combine to say “No new taxes!” (as they did with the county jail expansion tax vote a few years ago)

      My own district just received a huge tax boost for capital improvements – this new millage on top of that tax and other local taxes and special assessments will finish off those homeowners who are barely hanging on through this recession. The cowardly school boards and teachers unions know this, but rather than bite the bullet and cut costs and lean out their budgets, they are attempting to get a millage passed that would likely fail if proposed by that district alone. That the school boards can get away with this sort of cowardly behavior (“It’s the WISD requesting this millage, not us!”) is another example of taxation without representation in my book.

  5. John Q. says:

    I’m with Chuck. The claim that this is “taxation without representation” doesn’t make much sense.

    One, WISD isn’t the body spending the dollars, the local school district is, which means you can go down to the school board and complain if they don’t spend those dollars wisely. If I was to follow your logic, your local school board could misspend funds from state or federal sources and you wouldn’t take your complaint to them because the true source of the fund is the state or federal government? Really?

    Two, it’s a bit hypocritical to complain about money flowing from out-county to students in Ann Arbor since under Proposal A, most of the funding that comes to out-county districts, doesn’t come from local taxpayers in the first place. Instead, their funding comes in part from taxpayer dollars from across the state that are collected in Lansing and redistributed to local districts. If out-county district relied solely on their own dollars, there would likely be a lot less of them. Unless you have complained about those districts getting too many dollars from taxpayers outside the community, it comes off as hypocritical to only complain about the system when it doesn’t benefit your district.

    • John Q. – thanks for your comments. I’m glad to be able to have a reasoned and respectful conversation on this tough topic.

      The local school board may be spending the WISD millage funds, but there is a tendency among local elected officials to view such “found” money (grants, federal stimulus funds, etc.) as something like Christmas presents. In other words, because of the indirect relationship created by having the unelected WISD collect and distribute these funds, the local boards may view these funds differently than the property tax revenues they directly collect from within the district.

  6. John Q. says:

    According to this site, AAPS would actually get less than they pay in. So much for that claim.

    http://a2crss.org/

    • John Q., thanks for the link. Demographically speaking, it will be residents of the Ann Arbor school district that will likely decide whether the WISD millage passes, so I’m please to hear that those same voter/taxpayers will at least have to watch $5 Million of their tax dollars wing their way out of the district and into my local schools. Poetic justice, in my book – and another reason why this “enhancement millage” is a lousy idea.

  7. dotdash says:

    AA “yes” voters feel frustrated by the “no” votes of non-AA voters — just as you would have felt frustrated in the AA “yes” voters had carried the day. Maybe both sides should work to get back local funding for schools. Then everyone can have the schools they want or are willing to pay for.

    • Thanks for your comments. Politics is an interesting business. Some people take things quite personally, and can get very emotional. If the WISD millage had passed, I would’ve been disappointed, but not frustrated. Why? Because the election process is what makes our country great. We all have personal and political preferences, and in the public realm sometimes we win the day at the ballot box and other days we don’t.

      What frustrates me is when the minority of political malcontents forget this essential fact about our country. When ACORN or SEIU or others attempt to intimidate voters, stuff ballot boxes, or steal elections, nothing makes me more frustrated as a U.S. citizen.

  8. Pingback: Washtenaw County’s WISD Millage Redux? « Designated Conservative

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