How does Salem Twp. get away with 5-mill road levy?

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”

— The Beatles, “Tax Man,” 1965

Leighton Township Treasurer Char Troost Thursday evening remarked that she wished Leighton had a tax system like Salem Township to handle roads.

Salem is the hands-down winner of any poll about which of the 24 townships in Allegan County has the best roads. There’s a reason. Salem some time ago had the temerity to ask its residents to pay a five-mill levy so that now nearly all roads in the township are paved.

So Salem doesn’t have that annual wailing and gnashing of teeth exercise over dust control. And some astute observer can say, “You get what you pay for.”

Lt. Steve DeBoer, former commander of the State Police post in Wayland and former Barry County Sheriff, once told me the most surefire way to lose any election is to suggest taxes be raised. If there is anything universally hated in the modern day United States of America, it is taxes.

Tax cuts are very popular with the public. Tax increases, conversely, are not.

Salem Township has the best roads in the county and its residents apparently are willing to pay for them. I hear tell Salem often has millage renewal requests, and they are consistently approved by voters. This led Troost to suggest Leighton learn what kind of marketing and public relations job Salem did.

One of the best examples of tax hatred surfaced in 1983, when newly-elected Gov. James Blanchard spearheaded a temporary state income tax hike, from 4.6% to 5.8%, to handle a severe economic downtown in Michigan. Residents in Oakland and Macomb counties were so outraged they successfully recalled two Democratic state senators in response, thereby flipping the senate to Republican Party control. The GOP has held the senate majority ever since, almost 35 years.

The state income tax rate eventually came back down to 4.6%, but not early enough to salvage Blanchard’s bid for a third term. He was upset in 1990 by John Engler, who promised and delivered tax cuts. By the year 2000, the state income tax had been pared down to 3.9 percent and the GOP was preparing to pass a law insisting it never go any higher.

Of course, the voting public was pleased with the moves. The income tax rate in 1983 was 5.8% and now 3.9%. But there was a cost.

Another economic downtown hurt the state coffers again just as Jennifer Granholm took office as governor and she somehow was able to get it increased to 4.35%, which is where it is today

Though we are so often told we’re overtaxed by the state, the rate actually is smaller than it was 25 years ago.

When it comes to taxes, I do not hold truck with those who want to starve the government beast. As I’ve so often said, I believe government’s sacred duty to the people is to solve problems and be a fair referee. A third duty would be to do for people what they cannot do for themselves.

I alone cannot afford to have a cop or firefighter protect my house or to have my road paved or graveled. If I pool resources with neighbors and others who live in my community, I can have these services provided at a shared reasonable cost. This system is called called taxes, which I view as necessary evils, the cost of a civilized society.

This is why I sometimes take a dim view of tax-cutting enthusiasm and resultant political grandstanding. What’s most important is what taxes are buying for us. I certainly don’t want them used for a military parade to pay homage to our fearless leader. I certainly don’t want taxes to benefit just a few, such as in cases of corporate welfare.

This is a tip of the hat indeed to the taxpayers of Salem Township, who aren’t afraid to pay a high rate for the quality of their infrastructure and quality of living.



1 Comment

  • Very good article, Dave! You did a good job of explaining the “system”. Most people realize, if you want to own a house, you have to pay for it. If you want to own a car, you have to pay for it. If you want your garbage picked up, you have to pay for it. I could go on and on, but apparently, Salem township people have seen what they get when they are willing to pay for it. Dorr township is well on its way to better roads now that they have a clear plan of action and are willing to pay for it. No more 1/2 mile blacktop sections! Congratulations!

Leave a Comment