For a while yesterday, it looked as if we might have some hope of better things from Lansing.
New Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, seems to be a genuinely well-liked man, who has talked about reaching across party lines.
He was elected Speaker unanimously, with support from even the Democrats. State Representative Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, formally nominated him, saying “Our state and nation in these times … require a leader who is willing to set aside partisan politics,” in order to tackle the problems of our entire state and the many local communities that make up Michigan.
Well, you couldn’t ask for a better attitude than that.
Unfortunately, the two Republicans then combined to do something absurdly stupid.
Chatfield introduced a bill to completely eliminate the Michigan Income Tax. Not right away; he would knock it down from the present 4.25% to 3.9%, then shave off one-tenth of one percent every year, till the tax reached zero, in about 2058.
Speaker Leonard supported this, saying "this is simply the right thing to do for Michigan families," and, "this is the people’s money, not ours."
Meanwhile, in the state Senate, Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, is preparing to introduce his own bill to eliminate the income tax.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with a pleasant fantasy, and taxes are one of the few things we’ve been told are socially acceptable to hate. Except that the idea that we could or should completely eliminate the income tax is not only nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense.
These politicians know better, or at least Leonard does.
The state income tax is how we pay for those unnecessary little frills like education and our prisons.
It generates about $9 billion a year. We already don’t have money to fix our roads and bridges. College and university students are having a harder and harder time because the state doesn’t support their education nearly as much as it did years ago.
The state would literally not be able to function if the income tax were eliminated, and any major income tax cuts would make things worse for the majority of our citizens.
Chatfield’s bill doesn’t say anything about how the lost revenue would be replaced. When asked about this in the past, Brandenburg has muttered about maybe raising the sales tax.
What’s really going on here is an attempt to lead us into a tax-cutting mentality. The Michigan Income Tax is, by the way, not a graduated tax like the federal one.
Our state constitution requires the same rate to be levied on both the wealthy and the poor. If you are working a lower paying job, you are barely going to notice any difference in your check if they cut the tax to 3.9%. Those making huge salaries, however, will get back quite a lot. Meanwhile, we’d see services deteriorate even more every year.
“Eliminating the income tax would mean that Michigan couldn’t pay for even the most basic public services residents rely on,” said Rachel Richards, a lawyer and tax analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy.
As the new Speaker of the House said earlier, we don’t need partisanship and ideology; we need common sense solutions for improving life in this state. However we get there, this isn’t it.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.