DIA MILLAGE, NO CORE SERVICE, SHOULD BE REJECTED
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.
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.
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.
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).