Its taken a while, but we’ve have had a chance to research and ponder the upcoming special election ballot that would increase the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) local millage to pre-Headlee amended (1978 sec 31) levels. A request that will add $40 of expense per $100,000 of property valuation if approved by voters.
Upon review, there are a few things which should concern the casual observer.
First, the scheduling of the election for a time when it is the ONLY item on the ballot is irritating. It is how such measures are passed when they cannot stand a general election challenge, and only off cycle attempts will work. The excuse that a 45 day certification window, and a November election would not allow the Dec 1st tax bills to include the new amount is convenient, but its still an excuse. The fall elections nearly always produce poorer results for those with their hands reaching into taxpayer pockets through millages and bonds. Making things extra special is that the cost of this election which might not otherwise exist, is also born by taxpayers.
Then there is a thing about transparency. In an April 23rd Record Eagle article, the college president Tim Nelson is noted as remarking that
“the millage would help NMC transform itself for the future, but state law bans him from saying exactly how the money would be used.”
What state law might that be? We REALLY want to know. Seriously, how is it that such a statement can be made, and no follow up given?
It seems that when a public body looks to relieve property owners of their earnings, it might consider letting them know where the money will be used. Of course the excuse that NMC will eventually (within 4 years) be running a yearly $1.8 million deficit without the help is a serious concern to many. However, the inflation argument that is being made to support this claim still does not account for the increase of cost ALL taxpayers face. Its ok that the private sector has faced historic lows in income when adjusted for inflation and WITHOUT adjustment for many, the institutions STILL game more than DOUBLE the local assessed revenue than they did in 1999. $2.1 million in 1999 has grown to $4.3 million today.
The admission that the college has ‘aspirations’ of attracting overseas students also seems a bit out-of-touch. Using new programs to attract those foreign students still comes at a cost to those of us who pay the bill, and provides a means under which we literally funnel through subsidized education, our resources to those around the world via what appears to be like the oft-scoffed at conspiracies of United Nations’ A-21 redistribution schemes. Its not a real high priority in my book to be a benefactor to other nations’ kids, ya know?
And somehow, the production of all of this which could not have waited for a November vote has raised another question. What’s the rush?
SURPRISE!! NMC is NOT broke.
In fact, the college has a 38% fund balance remaining. the annual budget is $42.6 million and it has a $16.1 million general fund balance. The projected deficit for 2014 is just over $400,000, which if carried through for 40 years MIGHT run the balance out. Even if the projected annual deficit of $1.8 million happens on schedule, it is 10 years of shortages that the college can endure before its ABSOLUTE cutting time. And that is under the assumption that property values are remaining flat.
Seeking economies is harder than asking for a millage I suppose. However, the standard excellent credit rating result MOST local governments operate under is 15-18% of operation budget for a reserve. NMC could deficit the maximum projected amount immediately, and continue for 5 years without breaking that lower threshold. It doesn’t make sense that they would ask for more when they have enough, and then some. It seems axiomatic that when taxpayers have given more, there is then a growth that requires exponential concurrence of funding.
And for what?
This is not at all about being anti-school. I might not automatically openly oppose such a measure but I have a consistent philosophy that will not allow me to vote in favor for it. Fundamentally, I believe that adult pursuits (college/higher ed) should not be financed by those who pay taxes and have no stake in the cost they perpetually bear. I don’t agree in the ‘investment’ sales tool that certain interests promote as a means to separate us from our diminishing wealth.
Having said that, I realize that we fund through, and that the constitution of our state creates a framework under which state lawmakers provide for such things. So for the time being, it is a reality that we must control until (if ever) there is a more broad public sentiment that sees the light of more individual ADULT responsibility. And part of that control is placing roadblocks in place of those who grow such programs. Limiting the growth and asking for responsible governance should not be too much of a responsibility to bear for most voters.
If they remember to get to the polls.