June 17, 2013 – We all have some very distinctive memories of the holidays. For me, the one holiday I will always remember was Christmas Eve 1993; not because of some wonderful family gathering that took place, but because I slept through the festivities because of something commonly known as Proposal A. Here’s my story.
Spring 1993: I was working in the Michigan House of Representatives. I served on the House Republican central policy staff where I was assigned to work with the members of the House Local Government Committee. A news report hits: the Michigan Senate had passed a bill that wiped out property taxes during a late-night session. My first reaction was, “Right, like that is going to happen!” I soon realized this was going to be a done deal by the end of the day.
Summer 1993: The highest level of activity by the legislature I had ever experienced. Work groups were meeting continuously trying to reinvent Michigan’s property-tax system as well as the funding mechanism for public schools. The greatest problem was that the legislature was trying to fix multiple issues at one time with one “yes” or “no” vote. It was tough to get the majority to decide on one plan, one direction.
Fall 1993: The clock was ticking towards the end of the year when billions of dollars in revenue would disappear. Discussions were intense, objectives were identified, and alternatives were considered.
December 1993: The push was on to finish by Christmas. Activities were at a fever pitch. No time to shop. My daughter had just turned five, so this Christmas needed to be a biggie. I wrapped presents at my office desk at about five in the morning that year. None of the lights were on in the building except the security lights; luckily one was over my desk.
The ballot proposal was crafted with changes occurring right up to the final vote. Dozens of bills had to be enacted to implement the plan; after Proposal A passed, even more bills were required to deal with the multitude of situations that were impacted by the plan.
Thirty hours before Christmas Eve: I arrived at work in the early morning of December 23, after getting a few hours of sleep that night. I was holed up in a large conference room. Bags of candy were placed every couple of feet along a huge conference table. Wadded up fast food bags were thrown along the far wall. In the room were House, Senate, and Treasury staff members; republicans and democrats. Each was assigned to review the proposed bill language that was being drafted around the corner by a large team of attorneys, known as the bill drafters.
The chocolate scattered on the table helped keep you awake as 3 a.m. turned to 4 a.m. Bill drafts came out on a regular pace; most were quickly declared ready and were copied and sent across the street to the Capitol for action. Others were sent back to be reworked because a paragraph missed the mark. The only connection that room had with the outside world was a phone and a speaker box on the wall that broadcast the House and Senate session.
December 24th, 1993: As dawn came on the 24th, the plan had come together. The biggest problem was getting a copy of every bill printed for each legislator. They didn’t go through cases of paper that night; they went through skids of paper. By mid-morning, most of the work was done.
Around noon I was told to go home. I drove with my window down to stay awake. I crawled into bed, having gotten about four hours of sleep over the past three days. I missed a great meal and conversation on Christmas Eve, but I was up with my daughter on Christmas morning and the gifts for my wife and daughter were under the tree.
Summer 2013: It has been 20 years since a bill was passed to eliminate property taxes in Michigan. I think it is time to take a critical look at Proposal A. I expect to have some of those conversations in future postings on this blog. I think you will find a few surprises in those discussions.