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Detroit "bailout" bashers target the DIA's millage

Jack Lessenberry

Last week it seemed anything but certain that the package of bills authorizing state money for the Detroit “grand bargain” would pass.

And nobody expected they would pass by margins as high, in one case, as 105 to 5.

Which just shows once again that real life is usually stranger than fiction.

There is lingering bitterness over one bill, however: the one that prevents the Detroit Institute of Arts from asking for a renewal of its millage when it expires.

Less than two years ago, voters in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties voted to enact a very tiny tax to help the DIA. This is a millage that costs the owner of a $200,000 house a mere $20 a year. The tax lasts until 2023, when it expires.

Yesterday, the state House of Representatives voted to prohibit the DIA from asking voters to renew the millage, which gives the museum just over $20 million a year. Every Republican in the House voted to prevent the museum from seeking more money.

Six of the 50 Democrats went along with them.

This left supporters of the museum indignant. State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, called it petty “political retribution.”

Well, don’t worry.

The anti-DIA bill is mostly meaningless, and was just a way for Detroit bailout bashers to vent their spleens.

My guess is that this won’t pass the state Senate. Majority Leader Randy Richardville may not be in love with the DIA, but says he doesn’t support telling local units of government what kind of millages they can or cannot support.

Even if the Senate passes and the governor signs this bill, consider three things before you freak out.

First, not one person in office today is going to be there when this millage expires.

We have no idea what things are going to be like politically nine years from now. Nine years ago, most business leaders thought Kwame Kilpatrick was great, and Jennifer Granholm was hugely popular. Some future Legislature could easily repeal this bill.

Second, you should realize that if they put this on the ballot today, it would be defeated badly. Two years ago, this millage barely passed in Macomb County. It would go down in a landslide today.

Finally, the DIA itself more or less hinted two years ago that they didn’t intend to seek a millage renewal. They sold it as sort of a temporary funding mechanism that would enable the museum to concentrate on building their endowment, instead of constantly scratching for money to keep the lights on.

This bill could even hurt the Republicans more than the museum, by adding evidence to the charge that the state GOP is for local control, except when they’re not – meaning when local voters or local units of government want to do something to which they are ideologically opposed.

However, my guess is that this will all be soon forgotten.

The point is that the grand bargain to save Detroit and its world-class museum is just a Senate vote and the governor’s pen from reality.

And the politics of getting there were a real work of art.

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