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RGA ad: Bottled water companies should take your property without paying you for it

by: Eric B.

Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 11:46:03 AM EDT

The Republican Governor's Association is out with the newest ad attacking Mark Schauer. It's probably the dumbest ad I've seen in a very long time, based on its core message, because it says that a bulk water tax he supported in 2007 was a tax on your drinking water.

Here's the ad. After you watch it, I'll get into why it's so dumb. If you're a media person, it'd be nice if instead of writing a story explaining what the ad says, what the original proposal was, why it's not a "tax on water" and why Schauer's proposal was actually more like a royalty payment. I realize that's a tall order that might require some book reading and such.

Well, first of all, Schauer's tax proposal was a bulk withdrawal tax proposal. That much is evident in the ad, since it's a per-gallon tax. No one buys bottled water in gallon bottles. The RGA is making this out to be a retail tax when it is not.

Second, it's more akin to a royalty payment. Michigan's water belongs to the people of Michigan. Not whoever happens along and scoops it up. Not the government. Not individual businesses. You are free to use it to irrigate crops, and drink, and put out fires, and travel on, but you are not free to simply sell it as if it belongs solely to you. This is the Public Trust doctrine. A few years go, Dan Scripps wanted to enshrine it as statutory law because it's existed for hundreds of years as common law. That effort was defeated, Ray Franz called the Public Trust a form of communism, and Dan Scripps was voted out of office. Anyway, bottlers currently pay nothing for the water, except for the infrastructure used to get the water out of the ground or, in the case of the city of Evart, payment to the city (at a rate below home owner costs, since the company suggested but never specifically promised jobs that -- ta-dah! -- never materialized). Schauer's tax represented a way to make water bottlers compensate the actual property owners -- you and me -- for taking and property and selling it for private property. That's not a tax. That's a royalty payments.

So, the ad is stupid and ahistorical and paints Schauer's proposal inaccurately. Of course it does. It's a campaign ad. It would be nice to see someone else pick this apart and explain why it's misleading and inccurate, but the claims that are undergirding it are themselves old and simply taken for granted. It also requires a little knowledge of the history of Michigan and our water laws. So, that's probably not going to happen.

Update! ...  Just so we're clear, this was an ad from John Cherry's people back in 2010.

Again, what the RGA ad is arguing on behalf of is a scheme to privatize an already privately-owned resource. It's just managed by the government on behalf of its owners.

Eric B. :: RGA ad: Bottled water companies should take your property without paying you for it
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trust me on this
The public trust is a legal doctrine that's actually thousands of years old, having originated in the law of ancient Rome.  I think it could be plausibly argued that allowing a company to exploit a resource protected by the public trust without charge is an abuse of government's fiduciary responsibility to the public. In idle moments I picture a courtroom scene where ordinary citizens argue that they have  been cheated out of benefits accruing to them as beneficiaries of the public trust and demand an accounting for the lost value of those benefits.  

That's a vivid imagination you have!
This is one of those things where there is simply no "other side" to the story. If it were a tax, they'd have to apply it to every form of water usage that removed it from the watershed, including growing potatoes. But, it wasn't. It was a proposal intended to address one use of it, which amounted to a claim of ownership of public property.

But, you know, these are the same people trying to advance the argument that a government appropriation to fund publicly owned colleges amounts to a subsidy.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
Republicans have no use for the ancient Romans
They didn't speak English and until the 4th century, weren't Christians.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

[ Parent ]

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