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This Is What Compromise Looks Like

Compromise. noun. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement 
reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles,etc., by reciprocal 
modification of demands.  

Here’s a new definition of compromise:  noun.  archaic.  A concept so far removed from our current political ethos, we don’t know how to act when it occurs.

I’ll use as an example Proposal 1, the Michigan ballot initiative intended to repair the state’s rapidly disintegrating transportation infrastructure.  I could reference a national issue like health care, or immigration, or military spending, or, well, forget it.  There is no evidence of compromise in Congress, at least none since the Upper Paleolithic period, or the Tip O’Neilleolithic-Fordian Congressional period, or whatever.

Back to Proposal 1.

Before I start, I’d like to caution those eager to catch a public employee in the act of improper communication about a statewide ballot proposal, that this column is not FOR Proposal 1 or AGAINST Proposal 1.  I’m simply using Proposal 1 as an example of compromise, a potential solution birthed out of a problem that couldn’t be solved by two wings of the same party.

Proposal 1 came about because legislators last year could agree upon the horrible condition of Michigan’s roads and bridges but could not agree on how to fix them.  The Governor and the Senate proposed an increase in the gasoline tax.  The House wanted to fix the roads without raising a tax.  This would have redirected revenues dedicated to schools and local governments to the roads.

Road builders and the Governor balked at the House plan because it didn’t provide a reliable revenue stream for roads and blew a big hole in the budget for schools and local governments.

To break this deadlock, legislative leaders and the Governor decided to compromise by putting together a plan that would fix the roads, spare schools and local governments, and answer other questions as well, like “why do my taxes at the pump pay for schools instead of roads?”

To do this, they had to replace the sales tax on fuel which, like all of Michigan’s sales taxes, was dedicated primarily to providing revenue for schools and local units of government, with a wholesale tax on fuel that would be dedicated to Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges.  To replace the revenue lost to schools and local units of government, they had to raise the sales tax.  To make it a direct, dollar-for-dollar replacement, the sales tax would have been raised by less than one cent.  To make it easy for small retailers to manage, they proposed raising the sales tax by 1 percent, or one cent on the dollar, instead of .76 or whatever the dollar-for-dollar replacement would have been.

But wait, there’s more.

This compromise required three essential elements.

   1. To raise the revenue required to both fix the roads and maintain revenues to schools and local governments, legislators needed a constitutional amendment.

   2. A two-thirds vote of both houses was required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

   3. Democratic votes were needed to place the proposal on the ballot, as Republicans did not possess the votes required to do it on their own.

Proposal 1 was born of these circumstances.  Democrats, like many Republicans, insisted schools and local governments not be harmed in the effort to fix the roads.  Democrats also maintained the sales tax is regressive, meaning that it is a greater burden on the poor than on the wealthy, so they asked for an increase in the earned-income tax credit, which reduces the federal tax burden for low-income workers.

We’re a little more than three months away from the creation of this compromise and just five weeks from the election.  What do we hear from the voters?  From school supporters, from dented-rim pothole dodgers, from Democrats and Republicans alike?

Let’s all imagine one loud, collective whine, aptly described by Dictionary.com:
“To utter a low, usually nasal, complaining cry or sound, as from uneasiness, discontent, peevishness, etc., or to snivel or complain in a peevish, self-pitying way.”

“I don’t understand it.”

“It’s too complicated.”
“Why do we have to raise taxes?”

“Why are schools involved?”

“Let’s just wait and see what happens.”

Many of the above comments come directly from people who identify themselves as Democrats, or people who are employed by schools.  Democrats universally have complained about the GOP’s failure to compromise during this period of Republican majorities, and Michigan’s schools will receive an estimated $300 million more from Proposal 1, plus a prohibition on using school aid funds for four-year universities.

This, my friends, is what compromise looks like.  It’s a settlement of differences through mutual concession.  Nobody directly involved in the negotiations would have drawn it up exactly as it is today.  Everyone gets part of what they want, but not everything they want.  Everyone will have to pay something, as the infrastructure that drives our economy — roads, highways and the education of our children — isn’t free.

Some observers estimate fewer than 800,000 voters will cast a ballot on Proposal 1.  Michigan has 7,271,638 registered voters as of March 29, 2015, per the Michigan Voter Information website operated by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.  If that projection is accurate, Proposal 1 would be decided by just 11 percent of registered voters.

Stop whining.  Celebrate compromise.  For it, or against it, go out and vote on May 5.

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education. Read Ron's full bio

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