What exactly does your county arts assessment buy? That's a hot legal question these days in Macomb County. Last year voters in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties each approved separate millage proposals promoted as entitling each county's residents to "free unlimited admission general admission" to the financially-strapped cultural gem, the Detroit Institute of Arts.
This is what appeared on the ballot (the Wayne and Macomb language was virtually identical):
The Oakland County Art Institute Authority established pursuant to Public Act 296 of 2010 to allow for continuing support of art institute services for the students, residents and visitors of Oakland County. The law allows the Authority to seek authorization from the electors to levy a tax of not more than 0.2 mill (20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) on real and personal property to provide revenue to an art institute services provider for this purpose. Accordingly, to continue providing art institute services to benefit the residents of Oakland County, shall a 0.2 mill on all of the taxable property located within the County be imposed for a period of ten (10) years, being years 2012 through 2021? It is estimated that if approved and levied, this new millage would generate approximately $9,847,191 in 2012.
Arts supporters were delighted when all three counties passed the millage and were overjoyed when waves of first-time-ever visitors began taking advantage of their free general admission. The fly in the gesso of joy appeared when some of the general admission crowd were told they needed to buy tickets for admission to the DIA's hugely popular Faberge: The Rise and Fall exhibit. A few have banded together to file a lawsuit in Macomb County circuit court. Here's the Free Press story on the lawsuit. The comments to the story are uncharacteristically tame for open online commentary, although perhaps not surprisingly, the anti-free-egg folks use words like "philistines" and the pro-free-egg folks cry "breech of contract."