Is This Taxation Without Representation?

These opinions are my own, and are not necessarily shared by the other members of Grand Rapids Voice.

The article which I intended to do today had to be postponed, as I could not access the information which I needed to make it credible. In the interim, here is a commentary on another situation which has already been reported on by the Herald Review. The link to their article is: Hearing focuses on future financing of education – Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News.

The main focus of the article, to me, seems to be that residents were upset that the school district levied for funds without voter approval, using the authority of the Omnibus E-12 Education Act, and that the residents were not aware that the amount that they were expected to pay would increase so much.

The board, it is reported, apparently to help solve what they perceived as the problem, voted to approve the posting of a new Communication Specialist.

I must be speaking an entirely different language though, because I really do not see the problem as one of a failure to communicate appropriations levy to the community, I see it as a completely errant law designed to allow school boards across the state to raise money from their communities without allowing the option to the community members to have a say at the polls.

What was wrong, after all, with the system by which a school board was required to lay their case for increased funding to the people, and the funds were only approved if the board was successful in proving their need to the voters? Are we to be content to allow them to extract money from us without being first required to make their case and allow us to vote on it? This seems to me to be not much different than going out to eat at a restaurant, and telling the waiter, after the meal, to charge whatever he wants, and it will be acceptable.

In addition, the decision to install a Communication Specialist as a resolution to the complaints smacks as an insult to the voters. It’s as if we are being told that our opinions are not relevant, and that if things are explained to us by a specialist in communications, we will have to agree in the end, no matter what we really think now. Is this a page out of Edward Bernays‘ playbook?

Yes, in my opinion, this is taxation without representation. When the state government passes a law which gives the local government the ability to raise our taxes, and we are excluded from any opportunity to vote on the increase, we, the people, have been shut out of the process, and can only obey or disobey, but can no longer easily influence the policy decisions.

17 thoughts on “Is This Taxation Without Representation?

  1. Pingback: Bond, Municipal Bond. | Grand Rapids Voice

  2. Stuart Anderson

    In a way, it is not taxation without representation, ins much as we can still have the right to vote the schoolboard members out if disatisfied with their actions. However, it was a great disservice by our legisltators to we individual school district taxpayers though; in giving our school board extremely less control by us. In fact by their actions, they almost gave the schoolboard a direct order to take advantage of this legislative “gift” ,or else they may be restricted in the future. Obviously from the increase in each student’s subsidy per student now (highest in the world) vs. educated quality of graduates (far from highest in the world), the majority of the education money must be alloted to administrative and other secondary non-educational aspects, rather than direct student education.

    One other major concern is that no longer is school referendom expenditure limited to physical plant funding, such that after 30 years or so, when the debt is paid, you have an item of value for those that are the future taxpayers, paying the tax bills. Now, the Board has the apparent questionable right to keep our future taxpayers saddled with a debt for thirty years or so that has no capital value the year after it was bonded, since they are putting us in debt for normal yearly operations budget items and special single yearly budget items (Ipads?) that have no value to the district in the future.


    1. Thank you for your thoughts. You point out yet another aspect to this story. Beyond the questions of whether it is desirable for the school boards to spend without direct voter input, and whether or not we can afford this level of spending, you ask an equally important question. Are we getting something of lasting value with this spending, or just more future debt? A very good question, and one for which we deserve a comprehensive answer.


  3. token liberal

    It is a false dichotomy to say that we have to either eliminate the levy or return to up or down voting by the people. There is a third option, i.e., state funding.


    1. We need to stay on point. The simple fact is that many people are upset, and rightly so, by the fact that they are no longer allowed to vote on the levies. If you are opposed to the people voting on the levies themselves, then that is your right, however, it seems as if the people of this area have been pushed too far with high taxes, and now want more than ever to have a higher level of control over this than to place their trust in a handful of people who have fostered the impression that they are not willing to listen to the people on this matter. If you wish to continue to discuss systems of governance rather than this particular situation, then I suggest a change of venue, such as


  4. token liberal

    By the way, I read the HR opinion piece that you linked to. I think one salient point is that the author argues that policy should not be set by the state, but much of the funding for the Principal’s Academy came through the state via the U of M, with some support from the Blandin Foundation as well.


    1. State funding would certainly lead to an improvement of sorts in the areas which the state cared the most for, but who would be able to ensure that the state would treat the areas for which they cared less with the same measure? Few would be bold enough to deny that elected politicians have a strong tendency to treat the areas from which they will receive the most votes with added favor. Strictly local funding would also disadvantage areas during times of local economic hardship. The system of combining state and local funding is a workable compromise until a better one is found, but this all fails to answer the main question, which is why are the voters in a school district no longer allowed to vote up or down on a levy, based on the voters’ own knowledge of local needs and abilities?


      1. token liberal

        Well, the reality is that the more economically disadvantaged areas of the state have less money to spend on education than wealthier areas, and kids in those regions suffer as a result. State funding would allow poorer districts (including many in “greater Minnesota”) to draw from a larger pot, and it is not that hard to apply objective funding formulas throughout the state. Further, such a funding mechanism would make your question about levies irrelevant.


      2. So by your opposition to the levies in favor of a different funding mechanism, and my opposition to the fact that we are not allowed to vote on levies under the Omnibus bill, we can agree that this bill has created a problem which needs to be solved? Do we need to either eliminate the levies or return to the people the right to vote directly up or down on them?


  5. token liberal

    Well, if anyone really wants to move to Texas, let them go.

    But seriously, when people are in a position to choose where they live as opposed to just living where they can find employment, they look at a number of issues, not just taxation. One of these issues is the quality of schools, and I would definitely take ours over those in Texas. As far as fairness, the way we do things now is unfair. It is already the case that wealthy districts have more dollars for education. I would suspect state funding would lead to an improvement.


  6. token liberal

    Sorry, there might or might not be good reasons to oppose the levy, but taxation without representation is not one of them. The Omnibus Education bill was passed by our elected representatives, and the members of the school board are also elected. Thus, those who oppose the levy may certainly work to defeat elected officials in the next election, but charges of taxation without representation are unfounded.


    1. You are absolutely correct, as far as your comment goes, but it seems as if you may be leaving something out. Granted, they are elected representatives, but did they honestly communicate to the voters their intention to pass a law which would effectively sever the direct link between the school boards and the voters in regards to levies? If the voters who are so upset by their taxes being increased had known that this law would have such an effect, and had they known that these representatives would support this law, would they still have voted for them? The Omnibus bill still leaves us an indirect connection between the voter and the spender, but has eliminated our direct control over the spending of the school boards. Maybe we could say “Taxation Without Direct Representation?”


      1. token liberal

        Well, maybe they do need a communications specialist then. But there is a better solution: fund education 100% from state revenue. This would make it possible to even out differences between districts. We moved in that direction several years ago, but we have regressed, and it is still the case that too much of school district funding is the responsibility of local governments. This puts a greater burden on poorer districts. It also is one factor driving property taxes up, which is something you discussed elsewhere. Of course, 100% state funding of education might require an increase in the income tax on higher wage earners earners.


      2. This leads to even more questions. First, would those at the state level who decide how to distribute the money always act fairly and equitably based on the particular needs of a school district, or might they be unduly influenced by the best and most expensive lobbyists, which are far more likely to be hired by the wealthiest districts? Second, paying for it by an increase in the income tax on the higher wage earners seems at first as if it causes the most capable to pay the most, but in reality, the wealthiest people derive most of their income from sources not touched by the income tax, and will not be significantly impacted by this approach. In addition, If the income tax was raised enough to fully fund the school districts, wouldn’t that encourage many of them to move to a state with no income tax, such as Texas, as so many from New York and California have already done in response to the high taxes in those two states?


  7. Someone asked me this morning if this levy instituted without a vote was what Rep. Anzelc meant when he said that he got us more money for education. Did he mean that he enabled the local school boards to extract money from us without our permission to use for the school districts? I am going to do some research on this, but in the meantime, I wonder what everyone else thinks?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s