Groups form over sales tax increase
Lansing — Two competing ballot campaign committees have been created for the May 5 statewide vote on hiking the sales tax that would help increase funding for roads and public education.
A group that intends to advocate for increasing the 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent formed last week called Michigan Citizens for Better Roads and Schools.
A top official with the state’s road-building trade group said Monday he expects the campaign to convince voters to agree to a 17 percent increase in the sales tax rate will cost between $10 million and $15 million.
“It’s always easier to say ‘no’ than it is to say ‘yes,’” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association. “We’re going to go into this full force ahead.”
The group was formed just before Gov. Rick Snyder signed a 10-bill package Monday tied to the sales tax vote, including the repeal of the 6 percent sales tax on fuel and an increase in tax relief for low-income families.
When coupled with other bills Snyder signed Monday, the proposed sales tax increase is expected to dedicate an extra $1.2 billion in new revenue toward roads, $300 million more for education and $70 million for local governments.
Snyder said the state cannot pay for needed road repairs within the existing $52 billion state budget.
“We do need this $1.2 billion-plus over time and that’s not within the current budget that we have,” the Republican governor said. “Now is the time to invest in our roads and I don’t say that lightly. ... This is a smart investment.”
The Legislature narrowly approved asking voters to decide whether to raise the sales tax through a constitutional amendment in the early morning hours of Dec. 19 at the end of a marathon end to its lame-duck session.
Later that day, an opposition group was launched called Protect MI Taxpayers.
Keith Allard, spokesman for Protect MI Taxpayers, said a “war council” is forming to oppose the sales tax increase through an opposition campaign that’s also likely to cost millions of dollars to wage.
“This plan was passed literally at the very last minute of session,” Allard said Monday. “We feel like roads are an essential part of the budget, and we feel it should have been funded as a priority, not a last-minute decision to kick it back to the taxpayers.”
Howard Edelson, a Democratic political strategist, is listed as treasurer of the Michigan Citizens for Better Roads and Schools ballot committee on the Secretary of State’s website. He said Monday the ballot campaign is in its infancy stage and that a coalition of financial and political supporters is being formed.
“We’ll be talking about (creating) better roads and better schools for Michigan,” Edelson said.
Snyder said Monday he would be meeting with the boards of business groups across the state to solicit their political and financial support of the sales tax increase.
At a bill signing ceremony Monday in Lansing, Snyder was joined by leaders from both political parties, the superintendent of Grand Rapids schools and a representative of UPS, the package shipping company, all speaking in favor of more money for roads and schools.
“I think we’ll have even more people standing together to support this,” said Snyder, who was seated at the press conference nursing a ruptured tendon injury in his right leg.
Edelson ran the successful Proposal 1 ballot campaign last August to repeal the Personal Property Tax on certain business property.
Allard is chairman of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association and a legislative aide to incoming Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell.
Allard said Monday the opposition campaign also remains a work in progress and he was not ready to disclose the names of any financial contributors or groups supporting a “no” vote.
“There’s a lot of people trying to see the lay of the land — who’s going to be behind pushing this and who’s going to be opposing this,” Allard said.
The “yes” campaign also is expected to garner the support of advocates for the working poor because the package of bills includes a higher Earned Income Tax Credit to offset the cost of higher sales taxes for low-income families.
Lawmakers budgeted $260 million in new tax credits for the working poor starting in 2016 as part of a deal to get Democratic votes for the sales tax increase, which required a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to be placed before voters in May.
Legislative leaders who forged the multifaceted agreement on road funding with Snyder have acknowledged the campaign to get voters to approve the first increase in the sales tax in 20 years could prove difficult.
That’s because the increased sales tax revenue will be used to replace revenue schools and cities will lose through the repeal of the sales tax on gasoline.
The new wholesale gasoline tax of 14.9 percent would be entirely dedicated to maintaining and repairing roads and bridges. Currently, the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline does not go to roads, while the 19 cents per gallon gas tax does.
“I think the biggest hurdle will be getting (voters) to understand the dollars aren’t going to the roads, they’re going to the local schools and the local communities,” said Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland. “... It isn’t a 15-second soundbite.”
Felony DNA bill signed
Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Monday that allows police to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for any kind of felony. It was among 21 separate bills Snyder signed Monday.
DNA samples currently are collected only from those arrested for violent crimes. Samples only will only be for testing in cases where the individual is arraigned, according to the new laws, and a DNA sample can be disposed of if charges are dropped or the suspect is acquitted of the charge.
Michigan joins 28 other states that have such laws, according to the governor’s office.
But Oakland County attorney Neil Rockind argued Tuesday the law requires time-consuming and expensive testing compared with fingerprinting and contended, “It is being gathered as a further invasion of our privacy.”
Snyder signed another bill that will allow people convicted of one nonviolent felony or two misdemeanors before age 21 a new chance to get their records expunged.
Public Act 463 allows previous offenders to petition a judge five years after completing their sentence to have their conviction removed from their record.
Snyder also signed a two-bill package authorizing the creation of a Criminal Justice Policy Commission to study sentencing guidelines and explore alternatives to incarceration.
There 105 bills remaining on the governor’s desk from last month’s lame duck session, most of which he’ll take action on by week’s end, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Monday.
— Chad Livengood