Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If You Give a Moose a Millage...

In 2008 I advocated against the zoo tax, not because 0.1 mill was excessive, but because of its inevitable consequences outlined in the definitive treatise on tax policy by famed author Laura Numeroff, "If You Give a Moose a Muffin."

If you're not familiar with the children's story, the story tells of a young boy that gives a moose a muffin, then the moose wanted jam, and when the first batch of muffins were gone the boy needed to make more, etc. etc. etc.  Though the boy and the moose get along famously a cynical moral-of-the-story may be, "If you give a zoo a millage, it'll bring friends."

It's as impossible to feed a single pigeon or seagull--word spreads.

Now the Detroit Institute of Arts wants to double-down on the Zoo's millage and is requesting its own 0.2-mill property tax.  That would represent a 200% increase on property taxes for cultural institutions.  Sure, in real numbers the tax is only 0.2 mills, but will it end?

If we pretend neither the zoo or DIA will request increases (the Zoo already has permission to ask for an increase to 0.2 mills), why shouldn't the Holocaust Museum, Museum of African American History, Detroit Historical Museum, Michigan Opera Theater, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or Detroit Science Center,  get their own 20-year 0.2-mill property tax?  Altogether those taxes would be 1.5-to-1.6 mills.  Which of these cultural centers are less deserving than the zoo, and who will make that argument?

Once increased, do you expect those millages to disappear in 20 years?  How many taxes do you know that have expired?  How many DDA, PSD, or COD taxes do you know that have expired?  Are your school millages expiring or are supporters asking for to extend millages to 2033 or beyond?

As Matt Schonert wrote on WDET's Facebook thread, "If you want to support the DIA, become a member."

Just as many voters believe supporting government welfare spending is charitable (it isn't), so must they believe increasing taxes for cultural institutions makes them patrons of the humanities (it doesn't).

As Mr. Schonert suggested, the best way to feel like a patron is to be a patron.  Buy tickets, take friends, and attend the events.  If those events aren't appealing enough to make time on your schedule or part with your own money, why insist your neighbors part with theirs?

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