Politics & Policy

Snyder’s Slip-Up

Conservatives warned Snyder that his tepid tax plan would become a political liability — they were right.

Businessman-politicians often pretend that they are above politics, but they do so at their peril.

Take the fine budget mess Michigan Republican governor Rick Snyder has gotten himself into.

In an otherwise impressive first term, Snyder’s refusal to compromise on tax reform in 2011 has come back to haunt him.

#ad#Flush with a landslide victory in 2010 that also blessed the former Gateway Computer CEO with a Republican-controlled senate and house, Snyder introduced a sweeping reform of Michigan’s broken tax code that flattened the business rate to 6 percent and closed special-interest loopholes, including a tax exemption for pension income (which existed in only two states).

But by freezing the individual income tax at 4.25 percent — rather than allowing it to drop to 3.9 percent as previously negotiated by Senate Republicans (in a rare victory over taxaholic Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm) — Snyder needlessly exposed himself to charges that he was handing out tax breaks to his business pals while balancing the budget on granny’s back.

Typical of his style, Snyder’s strategy was to please both Republicans and Democrats by balancing tax hikes (the income-tax surrender) with spending cuts (to the pensions jealously guarded by powerful public-employee unions). But cooperation with Democrats in Michigan — as in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin — is a pipe dream, and he got little in return for meeting unions halfway. By sacrificing boldness for the center, Snyder marooned himself without allies.

Pleased with his economic math, accountant-turned-pol Snyder ignored his own party’s appeals for political sanity. Republicans ultimately capitulated to their honeymooning GOP governor’s plan, but political insiders warned of the consequences.

“By asking lawmakers to impose new taxes on voters’ pensions while minimizing the inevitable confrontation with public-employee unions,” wrote Leon Drolet, head of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, in the Michigan View, “our new governor has invested too much of his political capital into the impossible — and not enough into confronting reality.”

Three years later, Snyder is getting a cold bath of reality: Democrats have made his “granny tax” to pay for “Big Business tax cuts” a centerpiece of their longshot campaign against his reelection. (Snyder holds an eight-point lead over opponent Mark Schauer, a former Democratic congressman, in recent polls.)

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Snyder’s adept management of the state’s budget has left a nearly $1 billion budget surplus — unthinkable just four years ago under Granholm’s fiscal chaos. But instead of further reducing tax rates or using the money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, Snyder is stuck fighting the tax-reform battle of three years ago.

Having made a hash of politics and running scared of the Democrats’ “candidate of the rich” label, he’s had to offer a strained olive branch to those making less than $60,000 a year, a new tax loophole called the homestead property-tax credit.

Huh?

The proposal, which restores a tax-refund loophole that Snyder had trimmed in his 2011 tax reform, has been mocked by Democrats as too little, too late while alienating Republicans, who are still smarting from the broken promise to reduce the individual rate to 3.9 percent. “I understand it,” GOP senator Jack Brandenburg says of Snyder’s proposed tax credit. “But go knock on a guy’s door and try to explain it.”

Snyder the Simplifier has become Governor Loophole. He could have trusted taxpayers with their own money. He could have lowered the tax rate for individuals as he did for business.

He could have listened to his party’s conservatives in the first place.

— Henry Payne is an editorial cartoonist and the auto critic for the Detroit News.

Most Popular

Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his editor, I’m going to have to keep this short. I’ve spent most of every day this week in a studio recording the audiobook version of my dead-tree/pixel ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Religion

Billy Graham: Neither Prophet nor Theologian

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some and there are many "miracles around us today, including television and airplanes." Graham was no theologian. Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said "a prophet hath no honor in his own country." Prophets take adversarial ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More