GR roads tax: ‘Temporary’ vs necessary

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Expect yard signs and robocalls leading up to the May vote on an extension to Grand Rapids’ temporary income tax.

The tax to pay for programs that would make the city more efficient was approved in 2010 and set to run out in 2015. But a city-appointed task force recommended extending it until 2030 to pay for repairs to Grand Rapids streets.

“The city needs to look to how it’s spending its money before it goes to the taxpayers and ask for more from them,” Jason Miller of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association said.

Miller said the state, not the city, should be funding streets. But supporters say cuts in state funding are what led them to request local tax support.

And while city officials say holding a May 6 special election will be cheaper than waiting until the August primary or November general election, opponents are upset over what  they call a stealth scheduling of the vote.

“The only reason that one can come up with to spend extra money on a May election is because May elections are likely to have maybe 50% fewer voters than the August election,” Miller said.

This isn’t the first tax hike the city’s put before voters. Last fall, Grand Rapids voters approved a millage hike to support Parks and Recreation.

That millage did not have an organized opposition.

Opponents organized this time around because of the use of the word ‘temporary’ in the 2010 campaign to institute the tax.

“That promise is being broken,” Miller aid. “I think it’s just an outrage to me and a lot of others in town to see yet another tax increase coming through.”

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is supporting the request that would raise just under $10 million annually for road repair — 84% of which would go to streets and 16% of which would go to sidewalks.

“Streets are a valuable asset and they’re essential to not  just our residents and businesses, but to visitors and our overall economy,” Josh Lunger of the chamber of commerce said.

But the chamber of commerce had a much different opinion in 2010, when the temporary income tax was proposed to fund projects that would help the city run leaner. At the time, chamber officials called the tax “a band-aid effort to maintain a status quo that must change.”

But four years of cutting costs and streaming lining government has changed the minds about the way the city is run.

“It is clear to us now that we must invest in our streets,” Lunger said. “The numbers are there. All the data is there that shows this needs to be happen soon or else we’ll have a bigger burden later.”

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