How Michigan Republicans Are Still Screwing You Out of Tax Relief

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate on Jan. 25, 2023, at the state Capitol in Lansing. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

By Kyle Kaminski

March 7, 2023

Michigan Republicans promised families tax relief on the campaign trail—but after Election Day, they’ve done everything they can to stand in the way of meaningful action. The latest scheme: Screwing every taxpayer out of $180 inflation relief checks. 

LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed legislation into law that will provide relief for retirees by phasing out the retirement tax, and help lower-income families by quintupling the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to a 30% match of the federal rate.

But because every Republican state senator refused to support the package, that relief will face delays—and taxpayers will not receive $180 inflation relief checks to help pay the bills and keep food on the table, as Whitmer had proposed this year as part of her “Lowering MI Costs” plan.

Wondering how that’s still possible with Democrats in control of both chambers of the state Legislature? Here’s the story of how a few Republicans are still managing to stand in the way of progress in Michigan—and how their latest votes effectively screwed every taxpayer out of cash.

Relief for Families

The Lowering MI Costs plan that Whitmer pitched in February was designed to “put money back in people’s pockets to help them pay for the bills,” her office said—namely by phasing out the state’s pension tax and expanding an existing tax credit for low-income families.

Rolling back the retirement tax is expected to save a half-million households an average of $1,000 a year. Expanding the state-level Working Families Tax Credit from 6% to 30% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit will kick back an average of $3,150 to 700,000 Michiganders.

The third rung of Whitmer’s tax relief package was much more broad—and it proposed sending $180 checks to all taxpaying Michiganders to help residents with rising inflation costs. That provision also came with a clock: The legislation needed to go into effect by April 18, 2023. 

The idea, Whitmer said, was to provide immediate relief for families pinched by inflation. 

How Republicans Blocked $180 Checks

With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the legislature, the tax relief easily passed last week—and Whitmer finished the process by putting her signature on the legislation Tuesday. 

But that doesn’t mean that tax relief is coming quickly—and Republicans are largely to blame.

In Michigan, laws signed by the governor do not take effect until 90 days after the end of the current legislative session—which for this session would be in March 2024. Lawmakers can bypass that 90-day delay by triggering a mechanism called “immediate effect”—but that requires the supermajority support of at least two-thirds of the legislative body, or at least 26 senators.

In the state Senate, Democrats are in the majority, but it’s a slim, 20-18 majority. Enacting the legislation in time for Michiganders to actually receive the checks this year would’ve required support from every Democrat and at least six Republicans. Instead, every Republican senator voted against the plan—and now none of the legislation will become law until next spring. 

“We were hoping that we would be able to get Republican support for that. But unfortunately, they were unwilling to do so,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids).

Instead, state officials now expect to use the $800 million that would’ve been spent on those relief checks to keep state revenues high enough to trigger an income tax reduction from 4.25% to 4.05%. Brinks said the automatic income tax reduction was “likely” after last week’s vote.

The other tax relief components—without the Republican support needed for immediate effect—will also be delayed, and won’t take effect until it’s time to file taxes again in 2024.

“I would love to be able to say the $180 checks are flying out now so we can give people relief right now,” Whitmer said. “But the Republicans in the Legislature… decided not to take action.”

‘A Slap in the Face to Voters’

For some Democratic lawmakers, the disconnect between sentiments from Republican lawmakers on the campaign trail and their actions after Election Day were too much to bear. 

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) took to Twitter to call out the “hypocrisy” on Friday.

Among those who voted against immediate tax relief for Michiganders were state Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), who promised voters on the campaign trail last year that he would focus on “efforts to fight inflation,” and Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) who had previously stood in support of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit before rejecting it last week.

Sen. Roger Hauck (R-Mt. Pleasant) still has “taxes and inflation” listed as a key priority on his campaign website—including a commitment to “making sure you keep more of your paycheck.”

Other Republicans—like Sens. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) and Kevin Daley (R-Lum)—had previously voiced support for the tax relief package, but flipped against it on the floor. Bellino labeled a previous iteration of the tax relief as a “huge step forward to using some of our historic budget surplus to help Michigan families keep more of their hard-earned wages.” Daley also threw his support behind “meaningful and immediate tax relief” after Whitmer released the plan.

“It’s a slap in the face to the voters, to all of the people of Michigan—especially for the people who actually believed them on the campaign trail,” Geiss told The ‘Gander this week. “Republicans weren’t interested in protecting the bottom line of most of the people in Michigan by denying immediate effect on this. It’s really sad. We’re supposed to be public servants.”

She added: “Believe people when they show you who they are. I think it’s quite possible that this could be the type of stall tactics they will utilize. I would love to be proven wrong, but so far, we’re not even 100 days in and this is what they’re doing. It’s important for residents to know.”

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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