Michigan is struggling for its economic life. So, like a drowning man, we are quick to grab onto the first rope thrown to us. So along comes a petition supporting an initiative called Stop Over Spending (SOS). SOS is a project that comes from an organization called FreedomWorks, chaired by Dick Armey, a tax-hating, big-government-hating Republican who came into power during the Reagan administration. Overall, a lovely man.
In a nutshell, the goal is to put a constitutional amendment on this fall’s ballot that limits the growth of state and local budgets. How will this be done? By linking state and local budgets to a very restrictive formula–the annual change in population plus inflation. (There is apparently no mention of who will pay for the yearly surveys of population shifts.)
On its face, this sounds like a good idea. SOS is modeled after an initiative that passed in Colorado in 1992, called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). What the supporters of the Michigan drive will not tell you is how Colorado has fared since 1992. In that year, Colorado ranked 35th in the nation in expenditures for K-12 education. By 2001, they ranked 49th. “That’s great,” you might say. “Get the government out of the education business. Let the schools, particularly the universities, figure out how to stay in business without taxpayers subsidizing them.”
Let’s look at higher education. Who will pay the costs of higher education that the state cannot cover? Throughout Michigan, middle-class families are squeezed to fund their sons’ and daughters’ educations. In Colorado, TABOR has resulted in a 31 percent decline in higher education funding per student. Higher education in Michigan could become the prerogative of the wealthy. The middle-class would effectively be shut out because they have too much money (by Federal standards) to qualify for aid, and not enough money to cover educational expenses on their own. But that does not concern SOS: they just want to keep taxes down.
Taxes are not only about money: they represent the moral values of the State. The taxes Michigan collects are not only for support of education and numerous other necessary programs that support a state and governmental infrastructure, a sizable percentage of the money goes to care for the citizens who are unable to care for themselves due to age, health, or poverty. How has Colorado fared?
• The share of low-income children with health insurance fell to 50th in the nation.*
• The percentage of pregnant women having adequate access to prenatal care declined from 23rd to 48th in the nation.*
• The share of children receiving their full vaccinations plummeted from 24th to 50th in the nation by 2003.*
Yes, Colorado is saving on taxes, but the youngest citizens of the state, the ones from middle class and poor families, will suffer; and the educational divide between rich and poor grows bigger.
(*source: Michigan League for Human Services)
Apparently this is okay with Dick Armey and SOS. They might even profess to having high moral values. But as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Their actions say that taxes are only about money: people be damned.
The Michigan initiative of the SOS comes at a time when the state has been hit with a double-whammy: a declining economy, and a seven-billion-dollar debt brought about by a Republican governor, John Engler, who spent the last years of his administration playing a shell game with Michigan’s future while, at the same time, cutting every tax in sight. Imagine where Michigan’s economy might be now if the billions in debt and commitments did not exist. But John can thump his chest: he cut taxes.
Dick Armey and SOS want you to believe that freedom comes with no taxes and a government that exists solely to keep the trains running on time. Children, education, pregnant women, health care, veterans, the environment, these can take care of themselves, or so SOS would have us believe.
So if you are asked to sign an SOS petition, stop and remember Colorado. Stop and remember what Engler did to us. Stop and consider what it will do to Michigan. Then walk away.