House Speaker Kevin Cotter took to the House floor last night to tell us all that they have kicked the can down the road too far on road funding and, by golly, it’s time to get this done. Then he said something that is the most blatant exhibition Orwellian Newspeak that I’ve seen in some time:
This is a plan that we can be proud of, a plan that is protected against time. We have cleared the sins of the 1997 problem so that we will not leave the problem for legislators that will follow us and, more importantly, as the Appropriations Chair mentioned, we will not be leaving a problem for our children and grandchildren that follow us.
This, of course, is a complete and utter lie. The bill that was eventually passed by both the Senate and the House yesterday absolutely passes the problem on to future legislators. In fact, when the hardest decisions come as to how to cut nearly a billion dollars out of our state’s budget, nobody currently serving in the legislature will still be there. That’s the “beauty” of term limits: the party in power never has to fully answer for their lack of leadership and for the damage they do to our beloved state.
The Republican “plan” raises gas taxes by 7.3 cents per gallon and vehicle registration fees by 20% over a year from now (January 2017), raising $600 million annually. The remaining $600 million will come directly out of the state budget in mystery cuts over the next six years so that the revenues it will generate by cutting vital education, public safety, and other essential programs won’t be fully available until much later. In other words, the “plan” raises only $452 million in the first year it takes effect (2017) and $608 million in the second year of the $1.2 billion needed annually for road funding, and won’t reach $1.2 billion in annual funds until fiscal year 2021. On top of all this, Republicans attempted to deflect criticism by putting in a provision to expand the Homestead Tax Credit which blows an additional $200 million hole in the budget.
It essentially ties the hands of future legislators unless they pass more laws to mitigate the devastation it causes. By the time the real pain is inflicted and we are left to slash our state budget by $800 million a year, the current cohort of lawmakers will be long gone.
The increased gas taxes and registration fees falls disproportionally on low income and middle class Michiganders. Meanwhile, corporations which have enjoyed billions in annual tax cuts thanks to their Republican friends in the legislature are untouched, letting them off the hook from sharing in the pain.
It’s a quintessential Republican response to a financial crisis and, as the Detroit Free Press editorial board put it, is “irresponsible, reckless, shortsighted, ill-advised, [and] wrongheaded.”
House Democrats were blunt (via House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel):
Legislative Republicans have failed our state. The Republican proposal raises taxes on middle-class families, does nothing to lower truck weights, and drains funding from education and public safety. Even worse, it doesn’t even start fixing our roads until 2021.
“This is a sham. It’s a joke. It’s pretense,” Greimel told MLive. “This is not a real fiscally responsible solution.”
And it’s not like the Democrats haven’t offered their own solutions. In a statement released yesterday, House Democrats reminded us that they “offered a more responsible plan that would have generated road funding through a mix of reprioritizing existing funding to go to road funding, reforming registration and closing costly registration loopholes and scaling back runaway tax breaks to corporations that have left middle-class families to bear the brunt of the state’s tax burden.”
The Democrats are rightfully characterizing this “plan” as “The Birthday Tax” because when your birthday rolls around and it’s time to renew your vehicle registration, your birthday gift from Michigan Republicans will be a hefty increase in what you pay.
The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Snyder who has signaled that he’s cool with zapping a huge hole in our state budget and putting the burden on the non-wealthy. After all, when the real implications of this failure of a plan are felt, he too will be long gone.
Republicans are patting themselves on the back for taking five years to come to this disgusting non-solution to a real crisis we face in Michigan. Rather than being proud of themselves, they truly ought to be ashamed.
[Photo by Anne C. Savage]