Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected a November ballot measure that would have mandated annual increases in funding for public education, in large part because school employee pensions became a major issue.
Proposal 5 lost by a whopping 62-38 margin. (See “Vote Seen as Referendum on Pensions,” page 17, for more on how the pension debate affected the outcome.)
A majority of voters in every Michigan county rejected Proposal 5. In 70 of Michigan’s 83 counties, the margin of defeat was 20 or more points.
Citing decreased state per-student grants and asserting a connection between education spending and economic growth, the “K-16 Coalition” fought for the measure with dozens of glossy mailings, radio advertisements, and yard signs.
Citizens for Education, a political action committee backed by the Michigan Education Association union, received more than $4 million in contributions, including $3.4 million from the National Education Association teachers union. Its other supporters included local unions and union officials.
Those contributions were about double what the groups opposing Proposal 5 received, according to campaign disclosures filed with the Michigan Secretary of State.
State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo), a member of the state House Tax Policy Committee, attributes the defeat of Proposal 5 to the intelligence of voters.
“People are a little smarter than some gave them credit for,” Hoogendyk said from his Lansing office. “They do read and understand the proposals, and Michigan by and large is a conservative state when it comes to fiscal or tax or social policy. It’s more than just the results of Democrats versus Republicans.”
Hoogendyk said the Proposal 5 defeat should not be seen as an anti-education vote. “About the only local [tax increase] you can get passed anymore is for the schools, but only when they believe it’s for the kids.”
The majority of the cost behind Proposal 5, Hoogendyk said, was for teacher pensions.
Opposition Coalition’s Influence
Tricia Kinley, director of tax policy and economic development for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said Proposal 5’s defeat means “taxpayers are not willing to just keep throwing money at the education system without getting a return on their investment.”
Kinley served as spokeswoman for the “Coalition to Stop the K-16 Spending Mandate,” consisting of the Chamber and more than 30 taxpayer, local government, law enforcement, and health care organizations and professional associations. At least four school boards voted not to support the ballot measure.
“I have to give the Chamber credit,” said Ken MacGregor, spokesman for the K-16 Coalition. “The education community was out there all alone while all the special interests were arrayed against it.”
Kinley said the K-16 proposal was “a blank check with no accountability measures.” MacGregor said his group was not avoiding accountability.
“This was not a constitutional amendment; it was a legislative initiative, just like any other appropriations process,” MacGregor said. “The accountability part is already in place through the school codes.”
Ryan S. Olson ([email protected]) is director of education policy and Ted P. O’Neil ([email protected]) is communications associate at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan.