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In an era of declining municipal revenue, it would appear 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 and neighborhoods 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. Despite Brook Patterson’s perspective, it hasn’t worked in the past and won’t in the future. Tell that to the 3,000 Detroit employees scheduled for layoffs, 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 whose 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.
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 be 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 reduced tax revenue.
After it is all said and done, your vote on the art millage Tuesday should boil down to this: If you want more, pay for it at the door, and if you don’t go, vote no.
The views of our columnists don’t necessarily reflect the views of Motor City Muckraker.