Friday, August 18, 2017

Initial thoughts on an Ann Arbor income tax

City Staff will make a presentation about a local income tax to a special session of Ann Arbor City Council on Monday, September 11th. My understanding is that idea behind the income tax is two-fold. First, the U of M owns a lot of property in Ann Arbor and does not pay property taxes. So, every time the U buys a new property, it shifts the tax burden onto the remaining property owners in the city. Second, lots of folks commute into Ann Arbor to work. These people use some city services, but don't pay for them because they don't pay property taxes in the city. As per state law, the income tax would be 1% for Ann Arbor residents and 0.5% for people who work in Ann Arbor but don't live there. It would also reduce the city's operating millage, which is 6 mils. This would broaden the city's tax base and reduce the tax burden on property owners.

In some discussions of the proposed city income tax, it's framed as a way to make U of M (or at least its employees) contribute a fair share to the city's fiscal health. It's also framed as a way to make high income folks who work in the city contribute to the city's well-being. Here's my fear about the proposed income tax: it would shift the tax burden from property owners onto workers. I worry specifically about: 1) people who rent in Ann Arbor and work in Ann Arbor; and 2) people who cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor but commute to there for work. It seems immoral to me to shift the tax burden from property owners in Ann Arbor to people who work in Ann Arbor. This assumes that by and large, people who own property in Ann Arbor are generally wealthier than those who rent in Ann Arbor and those who cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor but still work there. If the income tax passes, it will result in a reduction of the city's 6 mil operating millage. Do you think any any landlords would reduce any of their tenants' rent if their property taxes go down? How would one justify this tax to a low wage worker who commutes into Ann Arbor?

I'll admit that this is a pretty hot take and I have not done due diligence. I'm interested in hearing what you think about an income tax in Ann Arbor, gentle reader. Does the ability to tax high income individuals who live outside of the city outweigh the taxes on low wage workers and renters? Perhaps some of my concerns could be ameliorated if workers earning under say $50k were exempt from the income tax.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Voter turnout up across all wards in Ann Arbor City Council primary

Gentle readers, the last odd year #a2council primary has come and gone. Voter turnout was up across all 4 of the wards that had contested primaries last week. The Fighting Fifth maintains its position as the Ann Arbor ward with the highest turnout. Interestingly, this pattern of higher turnout runs against the pattern of lower turnout in the May 2017 election. You can check out all of the data for yourself on the Washtenaw County Election's website.

Ward 1:

2015: 6.05%
2017: 9.94%

Ward 3:

2015: 10.61%
2017: 12.17%

Ward 4:

2015: 10.08%
2017: 11.50%

Ward 5:

2015: 14.09%
2017: 17.00%

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Water Street millage passes in Ypsilanti

With 64% of voters in favor, the Water Street millage passed today. A total of 1544 voters voted in favor, while 867 were opposed. This means the city will be able to pay off the debt on the Water Street property more quickly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Please vote tomorrow

Gentle readers, as you know, we take local elections very seriously here. This is especially true for the August primary, which in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor usually decides who will win the general election for the city council and mayoral races. Tomorrow there are important races in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.
In Ypsilanti voters will be deciding whether to adopt a 2.3 mil millage to retire the debt owned on the Water Street Property. This would cost someone who owns a house values at $100,000 an additional $115 per year in property taxes. WEMU has a good piece on the Water Street Millage here. Full disclosure: I support the millage and was interviewed for the WEMU story.
In Ann Arbor there are contested races in Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5. Here's an earlier Damn Arbor article looking at the campaign finance data for the election.
The August primary usually has tragically low voter turnout. That means if you do vote, your vote counts for even more, relatively. So please, take time to vote tomorrow.
Personally I am really interested to see what the turnout numbers will be tomorrow. I'm interested in seeing how tomorrow's voter turnout will compare to past odd-year primaries. For last May's school funding millage, the voter turnout was lower than previous odd-year, May elections. I am interested in whether the interest in politics at the national level will trickle down to the local level resulting in increased voter turnout in tomorrow's elections in comparison to similar odd-year elections.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ann Arbor Stories remembers the Ann Arbor Zoo

From 1929 to 1963 U of M had a very small zoo on the corner of Geddes and Washtenaw. I remember my dad telling me about it when I was a kid. There was a fondness in those memories, but also some sadness as the zoo was quite small. Though University briefly flirted with expanding the zoo to a 40 acre zoological garden, those plans never came to fruition. Ultimately, the U of M's small zoo was disbanded. You can hear all about it on toady's Ann Arbor Stories.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Whittaker the Turkey gets obituary in The Atlantic

Whittaker the Turkey died doing what he loved: standing in the middle of the road. Atlantic writer, Julie Beck, became fascinated by Whittaker while home visiting her family this winter. She has a touching obituary for our region's most famous galliform. If you were a fan of Whittaker, you will want to check the article out. I never knew there was so much Whittaker fan art.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Election 2017: campaign finance edition

July pre-election campaign statements are in! I'm still digesting the information, but here's a glance at the numbers. The hyper

Ward 1

Anne Bannister - Donations: $6,675; In-kind donations: $365; Expenditures: $2,969.55; Campaign Finance Filing

Jason Frenzel - Donations: $11,217; In-kind donations: $400; Expenditures: $4,886.12; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $17,892; Total expenditures: $7,855.67

Ward 3
Zach Ackerman - Donations: $12,698; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $9,046.50; Campaign Finance Filing

Steve Kunselman - Donations: $6,119; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $4,303.50; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $18,817; Total expenditures: $4,303.50

Ward 4
Jack Eaton - Donations: $5,805; In-kind donations: $197; Expenditures: $3,891.65; Campaign Finance Filing

Jaime Magiera - Donations: $4,280; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $1,043; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $10,085; Total expenditures: $4,935.38

Ward 5
David Silkworth - Donations: $9,949; In-kind donations: $1,248.07; Expenditures: $3,730.37; Campaign Finance Filing

Chip Smith - Donations: $11,510; In-kind donations: $1,329.65; Expenditures: $6926.94; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $21,459; Total expenditures: $10,657

Assorted observations: while the campaign to represent the Fighting Fifth has received the most donations, the candidates in the race to represent Ward 3 have outspent those running for the Ward 5 seat by almost $4,000. Ward 4 appears to be the least expensive ward to run in. The combined expenditures in that race were just more than a third of those for the most expensive race. In total across wards, there have been $69,253 in donations and $37,751 in expenditures. I don't have the data on hand at the moment, but it would be interesting to track the change in donation volume and expenditure over time. I imagine there is general upward trend.

If I had more time, I think a really interesting next step would be to enter all the donations into a more user friendly format and do a more in-depth analysis. Specifically, I'd like to do a clustering analysis across candidates to analyze the networks of donors who are donating to multiple candidates. Also, I'd love to do something like the Chronicle did in 2014 where they looked at the geographic distribution of donations in each race.

In closing gentle readers, I encourage you to look at the campaign finance filings for each candidate. It's an important part of being an informed voter. It's really wonderful that the County Clerk puts this information online in such a timely manner.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Should landlords be able to limit the political speech of their tenants

An interesting discussion popped into my Facebook stream this week. A supporter of the Water Street Millage initially thought their yard sign had been stolen, but upon further investigation, it turned out their pro-millage yard sign had been removed by their anti-millage landlord. I am not too concerned about the specifics of this event, but rather this question: If there is nothing in a lease forbidding yard signs, should a landlord be able to forbid placement of political yard, or window signs with which they disagree?

I asked Damn Arbor's in-house counsel for their thoughts on the matter and our three attorneys gave me four different answers on the legality of a landlord preventing a tenant from placing a yard sign: no, yes, maybe, and it's complicated. The crux of the issue seems to be whether a tenant's ability to place a yard sign of their choosing would come under the protection of a quiet enjoyment clause. Our legal team did agree on one thing: they would not advise the tenant to challenge the landlord in this case because 1) the landlord has deeper pockets for a court case and 2) landlords have usually have much more power than tenants.

I know there is some precedent for limiting someone's ability to place yard signs. For example, condominium associations and co-op boards can forbid placement of signs in yards as well as windows. Gentle readers, I wonder what you think about this. I know the ability to place a political yard sign in one's yard is just a small component of political speech. Nevertheless, it seems like an important avenue for political engagement, especially at the local level. Personally, I think tenants should be able to place yard signs of their choosing, especially overtly political ones. I realize this could lead to a tenant placing signs the landlord disagrees with, or even morally repugnant signs (say for example a sign endorsing AG Bill Schuette for Governor). Still, I think the ability to freely place yard signs is an important, if small, component of one's speech. Just because one does not own the property in which they reside, should not keep them from exercising their speech.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Twenty Pound Carp announces candidacy for Ann Arbor Commission

Ann Arbor's perennial city council candidate, the Twenty Pound Carp, announced his intention to seek a seat on the city's Elizabeth Dean Trust Fund in a tweetstorm last night. The fund supports public trees in the City of Ann Arbor.

Beyond bisecting Main Street with trees, the carp has also proposed establishing an Ahistoric District Commission. It remains to be seen whether the carp will be able to curry sufficient support to gain a seat on the Dean Fund.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Skatepark fundraiser tomorrow in Ypsi's prospect park

If you're looking for something to do this Saturday and want to avoid Art Fair come on over to Prospect Park. The event is a fundraiser for the Prospect Park Skatepark. There is going to be food and live art. Also, if you've never had a chance to see the Prospect Park Skatepark, it's a great opportunity to see this super cool DIY project.