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July 2023

This month I am using this space to ask readers to get involved to help shape legislation now making its way through the state legislature that could result in a special election next May to ask taxpayers to ante up millage to underwrite three museums in the city of Detroit.

So at the end of this piece, I am listing a number of officials who hold office representing local residents in Lansing and in Oakland County, along with their contact information, so you can reach out now to prevent what I view as a “stealth” election next spring when a minority of registered voters will likely cast ballots to determine what the majority of taxpayers could be forced to pay for up to 20 years.

The proposal itself is nothing new. We have seen this once before – 2022 to be exact, although museum backers decided against going to the ballot last year. In the bill sponsored by state Representative Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), voters in Oakland County and Wayne County could be asked to approve up to .4 mill of annual taxes that will go directly to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African History and the Detroit Historical Society which manages the 72-year-old Detroit Historical Museum on Woodward Avenue in the city, along with the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

The tax would generate an approximate $40 million each year, with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African History receiving 60 percent ($24 million) of the funds collected in the two counties, while the other two museums would get the remaining $16 million on an annual basis.

In simple terms, a homeowner with a house having a taxable value of $300,000 would cough up $120 each year to underwrite the museums.

Backers of this proposal, like those in the earlier version of the museum legislation, point to regional support provided by taxpayers in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties for the the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) and the Detroit Zoo. The DIA .2-mill tax generates around $28 million each year, while the Royal Oak-based zoo's .1-mill tax provides $14 million annually. Both of those tax issues run for 10 years and then voters get to decide if they should continue. Museum officials have let it be known that they want the tax on the ballot next May.

As an interesting side note, Macomb County will not be asked for the tax because those visiting the museums are mostly from Oakland and Wayne counties, according to museum officials. Not having seen attendance figures for the three museums leaves me a bit skeptical of that pitch when it is more likely that a regional tax request for the museums which includes Macomb taxpayers would have a tougher time of passing, but that's an issue for another discussion.

At this point in time, Downtown Newsmagazine does not have an editorial position on the worthiness of the tax proposal itself for these museums. But we do have a major concern about when this ballot issue would appear before voters and the possibility of a 20-year term of taxation which is where we are asking readers to focus their concern when communicating with officials. County commissioners will determine when this would go on the ballot, so their names are on the list below. State lawmakers have the power to cap the number of years the tax could be levied before county authorities have their say.

Next year voters are going to be asked to cast ballots three times during 2024. There is a presidential party primary in late February, a slew of offices that will be on the August primary ballot and a November general election in which state, county, congressional offices and the U.S. President will be chosen. This latter election will likely have the largest turnout of registered voters, if history repeats itself, so that is where any tax proposal should be placed before the electorate. A May tax vote on Detroit-based museums? Our publication will not support a May vote which has all appearances of politically orchestrated timing by supporters because a lower turnout will likely help their cause more. Let's also remember that in the last decade there has been a concerted effort in Michigan to consolidate ballots rather than holding multiple and special elections that do not generate as much turnout. Experienced political hands know full well that voter fatigue sets in if you ask the electorate to show up too often to decide tax and political issues, so I have to question the May timing on the museum issue.

If passed in Lansing, the board of commissioners in Wayne and Oakland counties would each establish a museum authority to place the issue on the respective ballots in each county and determine the length of the tax as allowed under the law, which is why pressure must be brought to bear now, given that museum officials will no doubt be lobbying at the county level well in advance of next year.

There are other concerns or questions that will need to be aired in detail if this tax gets on the ballot, among them whether there are hidden retirement benefit deficits that the museums now carry, and whether county taxing authorities in each county should have some say in how this tax money gets spent. As it stands now, they will have no control over the museums, according to a legislative analysis of House Bill 4177, which states that the authorities cannot participate in governance of a history museum. There is also a legitimate question of whether other community assets, like the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, at some point should be given similar tax support.

But those and other issues can be hammered out before any 2024 vote. For now, take the time to reach out to the following officials who represent this area to assure that any such tax is capped at 10 years and that the request appears on the November ballot next year when a larger percentage of registered voters will participate in determining the fate of the museums, which is how it should be.

Michigan House of Reprsentatives:

Sharon MacDonnell –

Natalie Price –

Samantha Steckoff –

Michigan Senate:

Mallory McMorrow –

Oakland County Commission:

Charlie Cavell –

Marcia Gershenson –

Angela Powell –

David Woodward –

David Hohendorf



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