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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Mayor Welsh's Sales Tax Letter

Below is a transcription of the letter sent to Harry F. Kelly, Republican Governor from 1943-1946, regarding the lack of sharing of sales tax revenues with the cities that provided them. In 1946 the state amended the constitution with the “Sales Tax Diversion Amendment” allowing for the sharing of revenues with schools and local governments.

An Open Letter

To the Governor of the State

From the Mayor of a Town

This is a voice on behalf of the majority of the people of Michigan who live in cities—a voice from those cities of Michigan that have gained for this state a reputation as one, if not the greatest, industrial commonwealth in all the world.

This voice speaks for those cities that produced more munitions of war than any other spot on earth—cities that earned for Michigan the title of “The Heart of the Arsenal of Democracy.”

It is the voice of those cities in Michigan that furnished the bulk of the State’s quota of the manpower and womanpower that used those tools of war.

It is the voice of those cities of this great industrial commonwealth that bought the bulk of the State’s quota of bonds that financed the making of the tools of war—the same cities that provide your state government with the major portion of the wealth that is piling up in State coffers.

You, Mr. Governor, your administrative officers and your legislative leaders, should be proud of these cities and the contribution they make that places Michigan high in the commonwealths of our nation. But evidently you’re not proud of these cities. You act toward them as though those people who live in them are enemy aliens.

You and your legislative leaders spurn them; treat them as beggars and slam the door in their faces. You mask this antipathy by attempting to hide behind the uniform of a returned soldier; the skirt of a mental defective or the gown of a college student.

You apparently ignore the fact that most of the problems of the people of the state are met where most of the people are—in these same cities.

It is to the cities that most of the veterans return.

If he is fortunate enough to find a home, he also finds inadequate fire protection for it.

If he finds a job, he finds his nerves frayed at day’s end, seeking a way home through traffic snarls.

If he has children, they go to inadequately staffed schools, unsupervised playgrounds, and go and return from schools across hazardous and unwatched street intersections.

He pours more million of tax money into your state treasury than you can judiciously spend, while he finds the simple services which his city should perform, starved for lack of funds.

He finds the place where he seeks to live, work and raise a family hedged by legislative restrictions that not only prohibit the raising of adequate funds but continuously assess new expenses on his community.

The State wants its streams unpolluted so it orders the community to build expensive and elaborate purification systems, but makes no hint as to how they shall be financed. It passes a law for scavenger property sale that invalidates the bonds that have been issued for special improvement taxes and forces the citizen taxpayer to redeem the bonds while the state acquires the property and sells it to the speculator for ten to twenty cents on the dollar.

The State regulates the hours and wages of some of those who perform municipal services but makes no mention of where their pay is to come from.

It takes millions from the motorist but spends the bulk of his contribution elsewhere than on the city streets he uses.

The great tax collectors for the State, the city merchants, find there is no place to park a car when his customer comes shopping.

Millions of damage to autos result form inadequate traffic control.

The physical plants of these cities, lacking maintenance long beyond the war years, threaten collapse, and the answer of your legislative leaders to all this is the trite command that people in cities increase their own tax load. You, not they, fool no one by your cry that hospitals and institutions of higher learning need your surplus funds. You and your legislative leaders know all too well that millions have already been set aside for these needs and have not been and cannot be spent because of building conditions.

In contrast to your antagonistic and your Scrooge-like attitude toward the cities of your State, the federal government evinces a sympathetic and appreciative attitude toward those communities where the bulk of the people live, and rush to their aid in an emergency. Returning Veterans looking for homes, find your state government contemplating chiefly steel and concrete monuments to your administration, while the federal government appropriates 190 million to help cities help veterans find homes.

Are the cities of Michigan to be denied a fair share of the wealth they create and be allowed to degenerate into slum areas, fire hazards and traffic muddles, while the war-bombed cities of Europe rise Phoenix-like from their ashes into splendid modern communities while our cities that went to their rescue, are forced to hang their heads like poor relation?

What finer ambition could a State government have than to build better cities? What greater contribution could a State make than to help provide adequate grade schools for its future citizens?

This voice from the cities comes to you, not as the voice of a beggar nor a mendicant, but as the voice of a proud people who furnish the wealth you toy with. They have suffered long with an inadequate voice in your legislative halls. They have been patient, but in their own self defense and in the interest of the preservation of their own communities, they come to you demanding financial justice, not unmindful that they can, as last resort, turn to the power and strength that lie in these millions who choose to live in organized communities.

Must we go that far?

George W. Welsh

Mayor of Grand Rapids

From Coll. # 158, History & Special Collection Dept. of the GR Public Library.

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