The DIA on the DIA bill: Why voters, not legislators, should decide the future of the museum’s millage

The DIA on the DIA bill: Why voters, not legislators, should decide the future of the museum’s millage

Among the 11 bills passed today by the Michigan House Committee on Detroit’s Recovery and Michigan’s Future was HB 5571, a measure that prevents the Detroit Institute of Arts from renewing its existing millage. That’s the 0.2-mill property tax, levied in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. It provides about $23 million annually, about 70 percent of the museum’s operating budget, and is set to expire in 2022.

The DIA, judging by the statement it released this evening, is not happy. “Whether or not the local communities and the DIA return to those voters upon the expiration of that tax should be decided by the voters, not by Michigan House members who are surprisingly willing to limit the citizens’ right to decide,” the statement read, in part. (The full text appears below.)

As part of the bankruptcy’s “Grand Bargain,” the museum has committed to providing $100 million for the city’s underfunded pensions in exchange for protection of the museum’s artwork from sale to pay creditors. Other terms of the proposed Grand Bargain, as detailed in the city’s court filings, include $350 million (over 20 years) of state money and $366 million of foundation funds going to help fund pensions. All the funding is dependent on a “yes” vote from the city’s retirees on the city’s post-bankruptcy financial and organization plan. The state funds, now proposed to be a one-time payment of about $195 million, are provided for in the package of bills passed out of committee today.

Like the city of Detroit, the museum has seen its level of state funding reduced over the last few decades. In 1990, the museum received about $16 million in state funding, but that fell to nothing by 2012, the year the millage passed. Mark Stryker, who covers the DIA for the Detroit Free Press, authored a comprehensive history of the museum in a September 2013 report titled “DIA in peril: A look at the museum’s long, tangled relationship with Detroit politics and finances.”

 Here’s the full text of the museum’s statement: 

As a partner in the “Grand Bargain,” the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is pleased that the Detroit’s Recovery and Michigan’s Future Committee of the Michigan House has passed the legislation needed to ensure state financial support. Today’s vote is a strong statement that the future of Michigan’s largest city is important to all state residents and the DIA is pleased and proud to be a part of the solution to Detroit’s fiscal crisis. We are, however, deeply concerned at the move by some House members to deny Michigan residents their right to vote. In August 2012, thousands of individuals in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties voted to approve a property tax to support operations at the DIA. Whether or not the local communities and the DIA return to those voters upon the expiration of that tax should be decided by the voters, not by Michigan House members who are surprisingly willing to limit the citizens’ right to decide. House Bill 5571 prohibits voters from deciding whether to support continued funding for arts services from the DIA, and will place similar limitations on other museums across the state that are not “municipally owned.”   House Bill 5571 has nothing to do with the Grand Bargain. The Detroit Institute of Arts looks forward to continuing its work in support of the Grand Bargain and Detroit’s revitalization.

-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

@WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org