History, as we all know, is written by the winners. And in Michigan, Republicans have been on a nearly seven-year winning streak, controlling all three branches of state government.
So Republicans, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the likely 2018 gubernatorial nominee, have been spinning a pretty convincing horror story about the diabolical Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm tax hikes a decade ago. The only way to destroy them is to elect Schuette and Republicans next year, of course.
This is a very smooth talking point. Plenty of people will believe it just because everyone knows Democrats are tax ‘n’ spend fiends while Republicans despise taxes more than venereal disease.
There are just three big facts that annihilate this premise: The 2007 tax hikes were a bipartisan affair; Republicans under Gov. Rick Snyder raised taxes even more in 2011 and again in 2015; and the GOP has been in power for seven years and could have chopped your tax bill at any time.
If any of this is news to you, that may be because most of Michigan’s political reporters didn’t cover the ‘07 theatrics and plenty weren’t even there for Snyder’s ‘11 tax hikes. Most lawmakers from those sessions have been term-limited and even many knowledgeable staffers have departed the Capitol.
But facts are stubborn things and shouldn’t be forgotten. And as someone who has been around for all of this tax drama, I’ll volunteer to be the annoying voice of intellectual honesty.
Let’s start in 2007, a frenzied time of a short-lived government shutdown and all-night sessions when lawmakers (and even a few reporters) were reduced to sleeping on the Capitol floor. Michigan was dead broke, thanks to a recession that actually started on the watch of GOP then-Gov. John Engler.
Granholm struck a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) to temporarily raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. As the Senate was GOP-controlled, the plan had to have R votes to pass, and it did. So Bishop, now a congressman, can truthfully state he wasn’t one of them, but he certainly did sign off on the tax hike deal.
They also made a mess of the sales tax and eventually fixed it with a Michigan Business Tax (MBT) surcharge. Fun times.
So when Snyder was elected three years later, the Republican’s first order of business was to slay the MBT. Most economists agreed it was a terribly structured tax, so that was all well and good, but Snyder’s plan for a $2 billion corporate tax cut did have a rather big problem.
You see, unlike the federal government, Michigan can’t run a deficit. So in order to make up for the $2 billion hit to the state budget, Snyder proposed budget cuts and — get this — a $1.4 billion tax increase on individuals. The income tax stayed locked at 4.35 percent the first year and then would stick at 4.25 percent.
But the real hit to taxpayers’ wallets was getting rid of tax deductions for basic things like owning a home, having kids, donating to charity, saving for retirement, and paying for kids’ college. Suddenly, plenty of people used to receiving tax refunds in April were socked with bills for thousands of dollars.
That was fun, too.
But because Snyder and Republicans weren’t ready to quit their tax-hike addiction, they followed all that up in 2015 with the first gas tax hike in 20 years. By upping the tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents, Michigan vaulted into the top five states, per the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.
In return, we were supposed to get better roads and bridges. Now maybe you’ve met someone who thinks they’re driving on fewer potholes now; I’ve yet to interview anyone who does.
Since Jan. 1, 2011, we’ve had a GOP governor, House, Senate and Supreme Court. The GOP could have cut taxes for folks at any time. But even this winter, the Republican-led House failed to pass an income tax cut.
Now Schuette wants us to believe that Democrats somehow are to blame for all these tax hikes and only electing Republicans in ‘18 can save us.
Republicans have failed to protect taxpayers time and time again in the last decade. That’s their record. They can’t rewrite history.
If they want us to believe that things will be different this time around, they should have to answer for their record.
But they’re probably banking on a weakened and neophyte media and a demoralized Democratic Party to save them from tough questions. And to be honest, that’s not a bad bet to make.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.