It was a strange week at the Michigan state capitol.
Earlier, we wrote about the proposed income tax elimination plan sponsored by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and championed by House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt). The idiotic plan would have ripped a $1 billion hole in the state budget while saving the average family about $40 a year. In return, funding for our schools, our roads, our local police and health care would have been decimated.
It wasn’t a good deal, and it became increasingly apparent this week that even many Republicans saw through it.
Nevertheless, Leonard who is expected to make a run for state attorney general in 2018, went all in to pass the bill out of the House this week.
First, he failed to find the number of votes (55) that he needed to pass the income tax elimination plan on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Leonard and Chatfield came back with a modified plan to drop the income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, while including a mechanism to reduce the income tax even further, depending on the size of the state’s budget stabilization fund and the rate of inflation.
Yet even this plan was a fool’s bargain, as noted by Michigan Public Radio’s Jack Lessenberry.
This idea is in some ways worse, because it seems more sensible.
Even the current set of ideological hardliners in Lansing apparently realized they couldn’t muster a majority for what would amount to economic suicide – or that if they did, Governor Rick Snyder would veto it. So they compromised.
But death by slow poison is still death. Governor Snyder, who has stood up against the silliness, put it best.
“I still have a billion dollars’ worth of concerns because there has been no plan presented as to how this will affect residents and their communities statewide,” he said.
Lessenberry didn’t hold back on criticizing bill sponsor Chatfield, either.
But in a scene so absurd you couldn’t make it up. (University of Michigan President) Dr. (Mark) Schlissel and the other presidents were essentially told they didn’t know what they were talking about by the tax cut’s intellectual godfather, Lee Chatfield, a 28-year-old state representative from a tiny town just south of the Mackinac Bridge. Chatfield, who has a bachelor’s degree from an obscure Baptist college now out of business, said “I challenge the presupposition that our budget will take a financial hit … I think this is a great way to grow our economy.”
Well, it’s not. An economist from the House Fiscal Agency told a subcommittee yesterday that this tax cut would be too small to produce any significant new consumer spending.
Even rank-and-file Republicans were having a hard time signing on to such a plan, and as hours wore on from Wednesday afternoon into Wednesday night … and then past midnight on Thursday … Leonard got desperate.
No stops were spared in trying to cajole Republicans from signing on to the irresponsible tax plan. Representatives were reportedly threatened with losing committee assignments, or even committee chairman positions. The speaker threatened to cut office allotments, meaning hapless legislative staffers who had no power over the situation would lose their jobs. He even threatened to take away legislators’ parking spots if they would’t cave in.
Well, they didn’t. Inexplicably, around 1:45 a.m. on Thursday, Leonard called for a vote. And in a moment of late-night legislative drama that almost never happens, the bill was voted down as too many Republicans failed to go along with it. (All Democrats but one, Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), voted no.) It was rare because normally, when a bill appears headed to defeat on the floor, the bill will be pulled and the vote suspended.
But as the clock ticked toward 2 a.m., Leonard’s humiliation remained on the vote tally board for all to see. House Bill was defeated on a vote of 55 against and 52 in favor. When all was said and done, a dozen Republicans voted no: Representatives Afendoulis, Calley, Crawford, Garcia, Inman, Lilly, Maturen, McCready, Pagel, Roberts, Sheppard and VanSingel.
So, take a breather for now. The idiotic tax plan that would have rewarded billionaires, delivered the rest of us mere pennies and bankrupted our state is dead. But beware, the Republican love affair for tax breaks for the wealthy is far from over, and we could see this come back in another form in the coming months.