With a less-regressive overall tax structure possibly years down the road and Whitmer’s plan facing tall hurdles from legislative Republicans and the public alike, Democratic legislative leaders have come up with a plan of their own. The $1.2 billion proposal from state house Democrats would raise the funds by increasing the state’s corporate income tax, creating a new tax for heavy trucks, and charging a toll to tractor-trailers crossing the state’s bridges. (While Michigan has the heaviest truck weight limit in the country, in March Crain’s Detroit Business reported that only about 8% of trucks on the state’s roads are licensed to exceed the federal limit of 80,000 pounds.)
Legislative Republicans have “come out and said that the governor’s proposal is dead on arrival. They are not willing to raise real revenue to fix the problem,” Greig said. “So, given that, the House Democrats said, well, listen, we’re coming to the table with some additional ideas.” Greig added that the House Democrats’ funding proposal was based on feedback the group of legislators solicited from their constituents.
During former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, the state’s Republicans oversaw a massive shift in the tax burden from corporations to individuals. The House Democrats’ plan aims to shift some of that burden back where they say it belongs.
“We heard a resounding rejection of the notion that businesses shouldn’t share responsibility to solve this problem,” Greig said.
While Democrats work on a long-overdue raise in revenues and Republicans focus on robbing schools to fund roads, one big question remains: How did the state’s Republicans become anti-tax hysterics in the first place?
“You just have to look at the history of who’s been in leadership and who folks have been playing to in terms of their base,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. Jacobs, a former Democratic legislator, served in both the state House and the state Senate from 1999 to 2010. “We had an Engler administration that was there for 12 years.” Even when Gov. Granholm was in office, Jacobs added, Republicans controlled the legislature, “so that same (anti-tax) playbook was still alive even during her administration, even though she was the chief executive.”
Greig blamed the revenue roadblock on polarization due to gerrymandering, the state’s strict term limits, and groups including the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. “I think that has all contributed to less courage and (not) voting for what is right to make sure that our state is running smoothly,” she said.
Jacobs explained that the Engler administration funded road repairs by issuing bonds—in other words, putting the state into debt—rather than raising taxes. “but if you fund something through bonds, you still have to pay for it. We (still) pay for it every year,” she said.
As for the Republican plan to take money from schools to pay for the roads, Jacobs said, “Those are the kinds of things that negatively affect our schools and how well they’re doing, so we really need to figure out how not to be stealing from one to fund another.”
That solution could take awhile, as the Republican legislature has only scheduled a total of eight “tentative” legislative sessions in the entire month of July.
Dawn Wolfe is a freelance writer and journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.