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If you want to understand why the Republican Party is such a disappointment nationally, you ought to come to Michigan and watch our governor, Rick Snyder, and the Republican regulars in the state senate and the state house who follow his lead. It is almost as if they all came from Central Casting – I mean, the Chamber of Commerce.
As I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, the Republicans in last year’s lame-duck legislature, at Snyder’s behest, scheduled a ballot initiative for May 5 of this year aimed at adding a penny to the state sales tax and at putting some (but by no means all) of the revenue gained into a kitty for the fixing of roads.
In Michigan, the Republicans have since 2010 controlled the governorship and both houses, and they have not been able to summon the courage to trim some parts of the state budget in order to reallocate funds for the roads (which, everyone agrees, are a disgrace). In fact, in the four years prior to May 2015, the state budget increased by $4.7 billion under Republican stewardship. But we still spend less per capita on roads than any other state in the union, and the results are exactly what you would expect. To someone driving through, Michigan in 2015 makes West Virginia in 1955 look like a paradise.
So, just as if they were Democrats, the Republican regulars pushed for a tax increase aimed at bringing in an additional $2 billion, and they did not even have the gumption to design the increase in such a way as to allocate more than half of the new revenue to repairing our roads.
Nor was it the case that Michiganders were undertaxed. As things stand, our taxes are high. Had Rick Snyder and his acolytes gotten their way, Michigan would have had the second highest state sales tax in the nation.
And, on the 5th of May, Snyder and his merry men got what they deserved. As I reported the next day, although the proponents of the initiative outspent the opponents more than twelve-to-one, the voters rejected it by a margin of four-to-one.
That should have ended it. That should have forced Snyder and the Republicans to rethink – to take out their scalpels, cut, and reallocate. But it did not have that effect.
Instead, they are now on a crusade to raise the tax on gasoline. As things stand, Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in its gasoline taxes. Only California, New York, Hawaii, and Connecticut take more. We have an excise tax of 19 cents a gallon, a sales tax of 6 percent, and an environmental regulation tax on gasoline. All in all, at current prices, it comes to 39.4 cents per gallon. To the excise tax, Snyder and his supporters within the Republican Party want to add another 15 cents per gallon. If this goes into effect, Michigan will have the second highest gasoline tax in the country. When one adds in the 18.4 cents per gallon that currently goes to the federal government, by 2017, if prices were to remain stable, we would be paying almost 73 cents in taxes on every gallon of gas we buy. Given the sales tax, which will vary in the dollar amount it generates as gasoline prices wax and wane, if prices were to go up, we would be paying even more than that.
The pertinent bill passed the Michigan state senate by a 20-19 vote on 1 July with 18 Republicans and one Democrat voting for it; with nine Republicans and 10 Democrats voting against it; and with Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley casting the tie-breaking vote.
Next week, it goes to the state house. Perhaps there Snyder and the Republican regulars will have another comeuppance. I certainly hope so. But I am not holding my breath. The Republican Party in this state – which is, thanks to Barack Obama, in a commanding position in state government – seems to have a death wish. Given the rebuke delivered to them on the 5th of May, if they go forward with this they are apt to be demolished in 2016 and 2018. Why vote Republican when there is little or no difference between the two political parties?
There is a way to deal with our roads without raising our taxes, and some Republicans in the state house have identified it. One could increase the excise tax on gasoline and eliminate the sales tax entirely. The money raised by the latter goes entirely to education; that raised by the former is supposed to go to roads (though it is often diverted for other purposes).
The size of the school-age population in this and other states has gone down dramatically in recent years as the baby boomlet passed. There is no reason at all not to reallocate state funds to roads, and there are a great many reasons why raising taxes in a state where taxes are already high is a very bad idea. Unfortunately, the wing of the Republican Party that takes direction from the Chamber of Commerce has not a clue.