Gregory A. Murray

By Greg Murray 

July 19, 2012

In an era of declining municipal revenue, it would appear that George Orwell is alive and well. How else can you explain the logic of asking for more money from homeowners for the arts when budgets for core services like public safety, schools, and badly needed infrastructure repair are being cut back year after year?

The Detroit Institute of Arts is asking for a property tax increase to, well, uh, depending on the audience it is before, stop it from closing its doors. Oh, wait, it’s to raise new funding so that the DIA doesn’t have to touch its $100 Million-plus endowment surplus. No matter what the reason, this DIA millage proposal should be more like DOA (dead on arrival).

The arts community says this new money is needed because the arts play a crucial role in the marketability of a community. The DIA marketers insist that the promised free admission to the Institute is well worth a tax increase that only homeowners will have to pay.

Homeless man sleeps at base of former Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree’s statue in Grand Circus Park. The plaque on the statue calls Pingree, who served in the 1890’s, the “People’s Mayor,” who warned of “the power of the private corporations.” He was a founder of the public service sector in Detroit.

Well, the word on the street is that a picture will not respond to a home invasion call… a sculpture will not transport you to an emergency room, tea and crumpets are no substitute for feeding the hungry…no, the priority should be on people, not pictures, on services, not sculptures, on roads, not Renoirs, on schools, not elite social gatherings, or at this time, any other function which does not directly prioritize using tax revenue to stabilize neighborhoods or make communities safer and stronger.

Let the DIA marketers tell you, admission will be free at the DIA while you drive through unsafe and decaying roads to get there. Let the DIA tell you, the arts are critical to the region while you fight just to keep your child’s neighborhood school open and your children safe in that school. They will tell you admission will be free while not telling you that the tax they want from you is actually frontloading the admission price.

They will tell you, however, that the arts are essential to the economics of the region…hasn’t worked in the past and won’t in the future. Tell that to the 3,000 Detroit employees scheduled for layoff, or explain it to the Oakland and Macomb County residents who are dealing with reduced services based on deficits the likes of which have not been seen in decades. There are more important things that bring business to a region, like public safety, good schools, viable transportation systems, solid infrastructure, and diverse communities. This DIA millage brings none of that to the table.

Protesters in front of the Spirit of Detroit demand a moratorium on home foreclosures.

The promoters of this tax want you to bail them out; where is your family budget bailout? Haven’t we had enough of bailouts on the backs of hard working homeowners who can’t get banks that got bailed out to help homeowners stabilize and reduce their mortgages and by extension, help the families who taxes bailed out the banks in the first place?

What sense does it make to regionalize the revenue stream for the arts when we can’t even agree on a regionalized transportation system, nor a regionalized public safety system, a consolidated school system, or a regionalized water system? If we are looking at priorities to more efficiently utilize and leverage tax revenue, taxes for arts should be at the bottom of any sane person’s list for sure.

Taken one step further, how fair is it that people who do not own a home can dictate that you have to pay more taxes based on the fact that you do own a home? Why should people like me, who lease or rent property, determine how much a hardworking homeowner should pay in property tax that I and others will never be on the hook for? It would be different if we were talking about a flat sales tax or helping veteran or first responders, fixing streets, or helping to keep schools open and safe.

As much as I deplore Leon Drolet’s and the Michigan Taxpayer’s Association’s abject cowardice as exemplified by their running from the issue of the state and Detroit imposing through the consent agreement a new $137 million debt obligation on its residents, I have to agree with his selective outrage over the DIA’s blatantly misleading media campaign to win over votes for this ill-timed attempt to get at more taxpayer money.

This revenue stream would better spent on core services that affect the quality of life…like police and fire services, local roads, health and human services, etc., all of which are declining at alarming rates due to declining tax revenue.

After it is all said and done, your vote on art millage should boil down to this: If you want more, pay for it at the door, and if you don’t go, vote no.

Gregory A. Murray

I am an independent journalist and partisan-free observer who refuses to become a political indentured servant. I have served as the editor of a Michigan State university minority newspaper (Grapevine Journal), an US Air Force Base newspaper (Nellis Bullseye), and as managing editor of the Atlanta Voice. My service includes serving as a past president of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists; president of Minorities in Cable, and co-founder of MOCA (Mediators of Color in America). My background includes an extensive history in dispute resolution, including a stint as the co-chair of the Community Sector for the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR).

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  1. george dawes says:

    Greg Murray: You are NOT an independent journalist and partisan-free observer.
    If you cannot see that you are biased and have a slant then you are truly blind.
    I agree with you in not giving DIA real estate tax money. But don’t insult everyone saying you are not partisan free.

  2. Mike says:

    That was supposed to say “infuriating” (damn auto-correct).

  3. Mike says:

    Wow. This was the most insulating article I’ve read in a long time. I wasn’t aware that funding the arts comes off the backs of core city service. No doubt that there’s a laundry list of problems that we need to pick up the pieces and fight to repair, so let’s keep adding to that list of problems (I hope you can sense the sarcasm). People are starving so of course our cultural institutions should starve too. Hello?! Have people forgotten that the Science Center is closed? Besides, let’s take a step back and think about who is paying this millage — property owners. This has far more impact on the speculators (that have gobbled up as much property in the city that they can get there hands on) than it does on the typical working family in Detroit. And who wins in this situation? Try the poor man! Holy shit, wait, my homeless brother would be able to go to the DIA anytime he wants. Freezing in February, go to the DIA. What can we do with the kids when I’ve just taken a forced pay cut and my wife is out of a job? The DIA! Finally us working poor might have a chance at having access to the cultural institutions, but only if people vote YES!

  4. Dave Johnson says:

    I think that the Museum is a benefit for all and will help Detroit recover. Saying that though, I would have the current financial manager re-set all of the Detroit Museum staff, including the director, just as he does the city employees The museum is asking for funds from the community, then the community should set the staff compensation. I’d reduce the staff, limit director to $100,000.00 per year and all lower staff members to no more than $75,000.00. If they can’t take a cut themselves to help, then they don’t deserve the support of the community. If the existing staff won’t take these cuts, then replace them with others. I believe that there are many displaced exectives in Detroit who would love to have the job at the figures above.


  5. Christopher Joyce says:

    I live in Belleville, and the DIA draws me to downtown Detroit. I think it’s a treasure that Detroit (and Michigan) needs to keep. After my visits to the DIA, I explore the rest of the city, having lunch or diner in the city, or going shopping. Money that the city needs. If the DIA shuts down, there is another reason for me not to visit. Marketability is a key to a city’s future. I agree that all of Michigan should support the DIA’s funding, not only counties closeby. And renters would pay taxes, through their rent to their landlords, to support the DIA. Detroit cannot afford to lose another treasure.

  6. Dan Elliott says:

    If the DIA has to come to the “public” for money, why are they only coming to Oakland and Macomb counties? Why not Monroe and Washtenaw too?
    If they want my money then they need to move out of Detroit! If I am suppose to support it then I want the revenue to come to my county, not Detroit.
    Also, the fact that the head of the DIA only gets compensated $433K is a sickening one. I make less than 1/4 of that yet they want me to fund them? I’m sure they could get someone to do the same job for half that.
    Quit the comparision to other cities! Sounds like you are a CORPORATE CEO justifying your big pay raise when you have sunk the company.
    The DIA has financial problems of its own doing, CUT the SALARY of the EXECUTIVES FIRST before you ask me to bail out something I had no part of.
    If it can not stand without public support, let it die! Do not force people to support that which they do not want to. Finally, history has shown that once a TAX has started, it usually does not end.

    • james says:

      try county, not just oakland and macomb, also wayne including detroiters

      This article is comparing apples to oranges. He makes to big points.

      1. He says Oakland and Macomb counties are having issues with services do to declining services and that these moneys could be used to help with services. Tell L Brooks Patterson to raise property taxes in Oakland county. THis is a tax for the museum, this has nothing to do with government. The city of Detroit is not involved in the operation. Is murray suggesting we should tax suburban residents to pay for Detroit city and fire?

      He also says how can non home owners dictate what home owners pay…bad argument. with the exception of detroit (it has an income tax) if you rent in oakland county, you do not pay for any of the services you get either, who pays for wayne county police? who pays to run the oakland co buildings in Pontiac? im guessing the home owners pay the bulk of it as property tax is the largest revenue stream. or the revenue stream from services you have to pay for like fees at court etc. that most people dont have, those fees are self contained.

      Please just think about this article more, it is surely a biased piece with an agenda. I am not sure what his reason against the levy is. as he is generally for higher taxes.

  7. Jesus says:

    The DIA is the only art institute without public funding in the US. This millage is very small and for 3 counties. It will cost each home $15-20 per yr., a miniscule amt. The DIA has no endowment. The 100 mil that u refer to is the worth of the land and, building & everything in it. The DIA has suffered more than any art institute in the country from lack of funding, and yet has been incredibly financially managed. Its a miracle that its still open. The DIA creates jobs and brings crucial arts & investors to this area. Once an endowment is established the tax can stop. We are not overtaxed. Just undereducated. The city services havehavehavehhaveaveHavehavehavhave been cut bcuz of mismanagement and bad political leaders. Children will be hurt by the closing of the DIA. Vote yes to keep it open.

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