Editorial: After tax failure, MSU and E.L. must reopen dialogue
When The State News Editorial Board recommended East Lansing residents vote “yes” on the city income tax proposal, we had the city’s future in mind; we picked long-term prosperity over the short-term negative of raised taxes.
Unfortunately, the people have chosen the opposite, and the City of East Lansing is on the path to ruin.
Rather than having a cool $2 million to spend on infrastructure and services, East Lansing now has to cut $3 million from what it already has just to keep their pension payments afloat. Which is not something they can decide not to do.
After the vote, Councilmember Erik Altmann detailed several changes the city might enact almost immediately: the fire station on campus might close, the Family Aquatic Center and Soccer Complex might be sold off. The Hannah Community Center will have few hours, if any.
The public safety and city services both students and permanent residents enjoy will likely be gutted. Six police officers and seven firefighters might lose their jobs soon, if recommendations from the Financial Health Review Team are followed.
To fill this void in funding, East Lansing might suffer a tax increase anyway through higher property taxes - even though East Lansing already has the fifth highest property taxes in the state.
So, who lies to blame for all of this?
In part, everyone.
On the ballot, two questions were presented: one lowering property taxes, the second levying an income tax. East Lansing voters overwhelmingly approved the first question, at 63 percent, while rejecting the second.
However, the property tax reduction would only come into place if the income tax was approved.
Was this made clear on the ballot? Was it made clear enough? Why was the tax placed second?
Voters might have been misinformed and confused by this bizarre placement and happily voted to lower taxes with no caveats.
That oversight is on the city.
Negotiations between the city and MSU were also starkly unproductive. The main issue behind the income tax is continuing to pay the city’s legacy costs; President Simon’s offers were consistently too low to make the needed payments and Mayor Mark Meadows consistently asked for more than what would have been needed.
From the start, Meadows should have asked for exactly how much the city would need to fund its pensions and nothing more. It goes without saying that East Lansing would not exist without MSU. Meadows has no way of having the university help with payments without just asking nicely. Now that the income tax has failed, the city has no leverage whatsoever. It would not be surprising if MSU, standing victorious, simply washed their hands of the issue.
That’s not in MSU’s best interest, though. A failed East Lansing reflects badly on MSU, as the city is its home and home to most of its students. If East Lansing is not a place students want to live, MSU is less likely to be a place students want to go.
Now that the tax has failed, MSU and East Lansing should reopen dialogue and find a way to cover East Lansing’s pension payments.
The city and university should not feel as if they’re competing entities, one successful and the other failing. They should function as what they are: symbiont.
The State News Editorial Board is made up of the Editor-in-Chief Rachel Fradette, Managing Editor McKenna Ross, Campus Editor Brigid Kennedy, City Editor Riley Murdock, Features Editor Sasha Zidar, Sports Editor Sam Metry, Copy Chief Blair Baeten, Staff Representative Madison O'Connor and Inclusion Representative Souichi Terada.