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Politics & Government

When it came time to vote on income tax cut, House GOP unity fell apart

picture of Michigan legislative chambers
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Democrats are trying to push a campaign finance reform measure in the State House.

There’s disarray among House Republicans in Lansing today.

The bill to cut Michigan’s personal income tax was defeated very early this morning.

That income tax cut was a top priority of brand new Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard. But in the end, he couldn’t muster the votes when 12 Republicans voted no, including Representative Jason Sheppard. Sheppard changed his “yes” vote to a “no.”

Speaker Leonard was not happy about that.

To help us understand just what happened, Michigan Radio’s It’s Just Politics team of Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta joined Stateside today.

Pluta said it all played out in a marathon overnight session.

“It took until 2 a.m. before the bill even actually was put up on the board and they started voting on it,” he said.

Lots of negotiation went on.

“You might remember that originally this was a four-decade phase-out of the income tax,” Pluta said, “but a lot of people, including many Republicans and including our CPA nerd governor Rick Snyder, saying it’s too much – that there’s no plan here for cutting spending, for coming up with new revenue. And what’s at stake here is schools, local services, police and fire and those ever-important infrastructure investments that we’re talking about.”

The 13-hour meeting ended with a vote. To the disappointment of Speaker Leonard, the bill ended up three votes short from passing. Twelve Republicans voted “no” while one Democrat voted “yes.”

Clark said a primary talking point for the bill was that middle-class tax cuts would help the average worker.

We’ve done some math, Rick and I though, and actually for an average salary of like $51,000 in Michigan, a tax payer would have saved about $82 a year,” she said. “That is less than $7 a month. But behind all of those waves, let’s go to the calm water underneath and that is 2018 is an election year and Tom Leonard would like to run for state attorney general.”

Pluta agreed:

“A lot of people saw this as the opening line of a convention speech: ‘I’m Tom Leonard and as your Republican house speaker, the first think I did was keep the promise of rolling back your income taxes,’” he said.

Since the vote, disarray among Republicans continues.

First, Rep. Jason Sheppard, who changed his mind and voted no on the bill, lost his position as chair of the House Financial Services Committee.

Then, Rep. Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs planned to hold a press conference today before canceling it.

“He was going to call for an investigation into how Speaker Leonard handled this income tax rollback vote and the negotiations that led up to it,” Pluta said.

Pluta said Pagel is frustrated with how the vote went down.

“I think the vote that I’ve been entrusted with by 90,000 people back home is too valuable to give up unless I’m convinced it’s the right policy,” Pagel said. “I felt pressure. I think all of us felt a lot of pressure to change our votes.”

For more, listen above.

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or with this RSS link)

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