By Jeff Winston, MichiganLiberal.com
It should be no great mystery that the secret right arm of the Republican Party is… the Chamber of Commerce. Most legislation introduced by Republican legislators is actually written by the Chamber, not the actual elected legislators or their staff members.
The theory here is: If it is good for the businesses or corporations; it is good for Michigan. This is a concept which has always seemed to elude me. Democrats like myself have a different ideology, ours is: What is good for the people and families of Michigan is good for Michigan.
The Republican-led Michigan Senate has not only shot down the Governor’s budget plan and her 2% service tax; but they have failed to responsibly negotiate or accept a compromise to settle the differences in budget funding. Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R- Rochester) has emphatically stated that the entire budget crisis must be repaired with cuts and cuts alone; no tax increase would be acceptable to generate revenues.
However, as soon as the Chamber of Commerce chimes in with their idea of raising the gasoline tax (not diesel); Bishop and gang slide in lock-step with the idea. Republicans have not yet replaced the $1.9 billion Single Business Tax, as promised. Instead, Republicans are now proposing (as written by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce) to raise the state gasoline tax an additional nine cents. There is no talk, however, of raising the 15-cent tax on diesel fuel (used mostly by businesses) to the same level as the 19-cent gasoline tax, let alone the national average of about 22-cents. The GOP's gas tax hike could actually cost taxpayers, especially families, more than the service tax, which was estimated at $16.80 per taxpayer per year. The Chamber’s plan would cost a family $45 per vehicle, driving 10,000 miles a year at 20 miles per gallon.
Once again, the GOP under the direction of the Chamber of Commerce is shifting the tax burden from businesses and corporations to the individuals and families of Michigan. These businesses depend more on the infrastructure (roads, rail, etc.) of the state than the average person; trucks and service vehicles cause more wear and tear on our roads than cars or even SUV’s could ever cause. Yet, the Chamber is insistent that the people provide for the welfare and benefit of the corporate and small business needs by shifting the tax burden away from the businesses and placing that burden on the people.
This disconnect is really damaging Michigan. For nearly 25 years, Republican Legislators have chopped-up the Single Business Tax. In 2006, when the SBT was repealed, only 39% of all Michigan businesses were responsible for 93% of the SBT tax burden. The rest of the businesses have been given special exemptions by a multitude of bills over the years which are mostly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the SBT. Don’t get me wrong. I, like other Democrats and Republicans, agree that the SBT was an albatross on Michigan business and job growth. However, when the tax was repealed, it was supposed to be replaced with a fair and equitable business tax to replace the revenues that the SBT generated. The ‘bait and switch’ by the Republican legislature is irresponsible. Refusal to regenerate those lost revenues is to give all Michigan businesses a pass on paying their fair share to do business in Michigan. Meanwhile, the average folks like us; families who are already stretched to the limits will be responsible for funding Michigan through a gas tax or whatever else the Republican Legislators can throw at us on behalf of the Chamber.
The Michigan House Tax Policy Committee heard testimony back in February regarding the budget crisis. Testifying, were two former budget directors who served in the Engler Administration; alleging that budget cuts alone will not resolve the state's fiscal problems. Don Gilmer, currently Kalamazoo County's Administrator and Doug Roberts both prepared Executive Budget proposals for former Governor John Engler and served on the Governor's emergency fiscal advisory panel. In their comments, both men indicated that it is imperative for the two parties to work in unison to develop a solution to the uncertainty that exists in the state's tax structure. They went on to claim that the current tax policy is stunting the state's economic recovery.
Both witnesses stressed it is virtually impossible to resolve a projected $900 million deficit in this fiscal year by implementing spending cuts alone. They also noted the cuts enacted this year will not address the looming fiscal deficit facing the state in the coming fiscal year. To the claim that a tax increase is a "non-starter" within the Legislature, Mr. Gilmer, a Republican and a former Chair of the House Appropriations Committee stated, "To sit here and say we absolutely will not raise taxes defies reality more than anything I've ever seen."
However, one needs to put things in to perspective. The Chamber of Commerce is a member organization which only exists to lobby on behalf of their member businesses and their needs. It is sad that their lobbying power far exceeds that of the average person or typical family. But the pure fact of the matter is that as long as the Chamber of Commerce ‘OWNS’ their legislators; the people will be pushed to the wayside for the benefit of more corporate growth at the expense of individuals and families. The only way for the people to fight back is to pay attention and watch their legislators. Those who do not properly represent their constituents needs to be voted out of office in the next election. The people need to remember that they hold the power to chose their legislators and to hold them accountable for their actions in office.
The bottom line here is simple. Democrats in Lansing have been asking for a dialogue with the Republican Senate. They have been trying to work toward a fair and equitable solution to the budget crisis. This crisis is not the fault of either party. The crisis is a result of outsourcing and a reduction in manufacturing state-wide. However, one cannot negotiate with someone who is unwilling to talk. Mr. Bishop has offered his plan, ‘all cuts, and cuts alone’. This emphatic outlook is not a means to a dialogue, it does not offer a way to compromise, and it does not serve the people of Michigan. By definition, a compromise is a system of gives and takes. If Bishop is unwilling to allow for any give, a compromise cannot be made. Regardless of which political party you subscribe to; the goal of each side should be the same… to do what is best for Michigan, not just the members of the Chamber of Commerce.