Jennifer Granholm

Susan J. Demas: The Income Tax Cut Could Come Roaring Back

The dramatic collapse of the Michigan income tax cut last month really was something to behold.

In their first big policy push of the new term, the House Republican leadership announced what looked like a surefire winner to (gradually) scrap the state’s income tax, a longtime priority of groups like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Americans for Prosperity.

Conservative bitterness over the tax rate stems from the 2007 government shutdown when the state was staring down an almost $2 billion deficit. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), who’s now a congressman, agreed to a deal with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to temporarily up the 3.9-percent income tax rate to 4.35 percent.

The tax rate was supposed to roll back, but it never fully did. That’s because in his first year in office in 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder had bigger plans for the tax code. He wanted to cut business taxes by $2 billion a year. One of the ways he paid for that was to keep the income tax at 4.35 percent for the first year and then freeze it at 4.25 percent thereafter.

That was a hard pill for the Republican right flank to swallow.

So to kick off 2017, new House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) and his team hatched their plan to whittle down the income tax to nothing over the course of 40 years. This had the added benefit of giving the GOP something to run on in 2018, which they know could be a rough Republican year if President Trump’s approval ratings keep dropping.

Their messaging was simple and effective for voters.

“This is the people’s money, not ours,” Leonard declared in a January press release announcing the plan.

But things quickly skidded downhill from there. Snyder let his displeasure over the tax cut be known. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, either.

It soon became clear that a majority in the lower chamber wouldn’t sign off on killing the tax completely, so it was retooled as a partial rollback.

However, that didn’t solve the huge stumbling block of the first-year $1.1 billion sock to the budget, which several Republicans worried would hit education and infrastructure particularly hard. And future tax projections are running so red that they look like they’re ripped out of a horror movie.

Republicans have controlled everything in Michigan state government for the last six years. But as all comic book geeks know, with great power also comes great responsibility. And that means that it’s completely on the GOP to balance the state’s $55 billion budget (unlike the feds, we can’t run a deficit).

Chopping more than $1 billion from the budget would probably mean worse schools and roads (which voters probably wouldn’t understand after being slapped with huge gas tax and fee hikes). So 12 Republican representatives refused to walk the plank, which torpedoed the bill during a late-night session, a rarity this early on in the year.

Leonard took his share of slings and arrows for putting up the bill without having the votes. But it’s doubtful that too many voters will remember that rookie move when 2018 rolls around. (I took a lot of grief from politicos when I wrote that the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat sex scandal would have zero impact on the 2016 election. But I turned out to be correct, as nobody cared once Trump barrelled onto the political stage).

Leonard is also doing a juggling act between leading his caucus and looking ahead to next year when he’s term-limited. He’s interested in running for attorney general, which means he has to be nominated at the state GOP convention that’s dominated by conservative activists. Needless to say, the speaker’s hard line on taxes will be wildly popular with them.

And despite this initial setback, I don’t believe the income tax cut is dead this term. Some may be being lulled into a false sense of security.

Don’t forget that Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Twp.) has been working on his own plan. This isn’t a new cause for the Macomb County small businessman, who was a vocal “no” vote in the House during the ‘07 increase. Anyone who knows Brandenburg knows he’s never going to give up.

And consider this scenario. Let’s say that a Democrat is elected governor in 2018, which even many Republicans acknowledge is a decent possibility.

It’s easy to see the GOP-controlled Legislature mustering up enough votes in lame duck to slash the income tax. That way, they can brag to their constituents in the next election that they fought to put more money in their pockets.

And the best part is they can stick the next governor with the bill.

Let the Democrat how to figure out how to pay for their tax cut. If s/he struggles to do so, Republicans can argue it’s clearly a case of liberal economic incompetence (like we got from Granholm for eight years). And if the new governor wants to get rid of the tax cut, s/he’s a typical liberal tax hiker.

Sure, that would all be wildly fiscally irresponsible. But why let good policy get in the way of good politics?

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.


Susan J. Demas: A Déjà Vu Debate: The Trump-Clinton Slugfest Has Echoes of DeVos Vs. Granholm

During her final debate in 2006 against billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, then-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm unloaded a memorable zinger that ended up defining the race.

“You’re an expert yachtsman,” the embattled Democratic incumbent tartly began, adding that his philosophy was “each man for himself.”

But the effectiveness of Granholm’s attack wasn’t just slamming DeVos as an out-of-touch rich guy. The key was moving on to framing the election. The governor called herself the “captain of the ship” and declared, “We are all in this boat together.”

This wasn’t even Granholm’s best debate performance or her best line. But it summed up the stakes of the election for voters. Granholm would go onto to win re-election a few weeks later by a whopping 14 points, even though the state was suffering through its sixth year of recession.

And on Monday night, she was in the audience for a different slugfest between her longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, and another billionaire (at least, allegedly), Donald Trump. Granholm, who was termed out of office in 2010, is now co-chairing the Clinton transition team and a favorite for a cabinet slot or Democratic National Committee chair.  

Trump has bragged that only he has the business acumen to fix the country. And while we’re not in recession, the Republican nominee routinely describes an America that resembles a dystopian hellscape.

So Granholm must have had some sense of déjà vu as the debate unfolded.

Now Trump was a much more aggressive and disrespectful debater than DeVos, interrupting her 51 times in his quest to be Mansplainer-In-Chief. His rambling, ranting and raving was so over-the-top at times that “Saturday Night Live” writers are probably flummoxed as to how to parody it.

And Clinton isn’t nearly as polished a debater as Granholm, as her early stumble through the canned line, “Trumped-up, trickle-down economics” shows.

Trump fired off his share of attacks, such as, “You’re telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.” Of course, none of this is true, starting with the fact that the Islamic State isn’t 50 years old. But it probably fired up supporters who routinely shout, “Lock her up!” at his rallies.

The problem is alpha-male performance art, punctuated by frequent falsehoods, only holds appeals for his most loyal supporters. Undecided voters and soft Clinton supporters didn’t buy what he was selling, as the CNN poll showed.

The primary challenge in debates is to come off as presidential. Voters need to be comfortable waking up on Nov. 9 knowing this will be the person in the Oval Office armed with the nuclear launch codes. It’s usually not about issues –– the way a candidate talks about issues is largely just telegraphing his or her values.

Donald Trump failed the commander-in-chief test in Round 1 in such a way that it will be hard to bounce back –– and look authentic. More importantly, Hillary Clinton easily vaulted over the high bar set for her.

She didn’t do it with clever quips. She did it by serenely smiling through Trump’s attacks and interruptions. She did it through demonstrating her policy expertise. Voters may not recall her answer on cybersecurity, but they know she grasped the issue as a president should (and didn’t tout her 10-year-old’s computer skills like Trump).

Clinton was the Iron Lady, our own Margaret Thatcher. And she did manage to distill the election, not through a zinger, but in her own steady, wonky voice:

I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

Somewhere in the audience, you can bet Jennifer Granholm was smiling.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: A tale of two governors: Jennifer Granholm got the blame, Rick Snyder gets none

Let's say that as governor, Jennifer Granholm had pushed a massive tax increase and voters killed it by a 4-1 margin.

Do you think she would have gotten the blame? 

Would newspapers have editorialized that it was a failure of her leadership? Would political observers blame her team for the poor messaging? Would there be jokes circulating around the Capitol that that's what happens when you put a woman in charge?

Of course. And aside from the sexist cracks, I would have been right there with them (Folks with long memories may recall I wasn't Granholm's biggest fan).

Read more.


Susan J. Demas: If she runs for California governor, which Jennifer Granholm would the state get?

Will former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm be governor of California?

Well, that's probably about as likely as current Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder becoming president.
There hasn't been much news about Granholm lately, but the San Francisco Gate plunged in with a recent speculation piece.

When Granholm was first elected in 2002, she was considered a rising Democratic star. There were even murmurs about a presidential run, although, of course, she was born in Canada

Read more.