Schuette opposes Proposal 1 sales tax hike

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday he opposes the Proposal 1 sales tax increase on the May 5 ballot, making him the latest Republican politician to buck Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to raise $1.2 billion in new road funding.

Schuette told The Detroit News that the proposal’s $700 million in added taxes and spending on schools, municipalities and a tax break for low-income families are a bad policy prescription for fixing the state’s roads.

“On a policy basis, Prop 1 has a lot of potholes,” Schuette said in an interview. “There’s too much under the Christmas tree that goes beyond roads.”

If voters approve Proposal 1, it will trigger a series of 10 new laws that also would generate $300 million more for public education, $95 million for local government revenue-sharing and $260 million for a tax credit for low-income residents with jobs.

The Republican-controlled Legislature tacked on those items as part of a bipartisan deal in December to get Democratic votes to place the sales tax increase on the ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment would increase the 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent.

A group advocating a “yes” vote on the May 5 ballot reacted swiftly to Schuette’s announcement Wednesday.

“No matter what any politician says, Proposal 1 is the only solution we have with funding guaranteed for transportation, roads and bridges,” said Roger Martin, spokesman for Safe Roads Yes. “Vote yes on Proposal 1 if you want safer roads. Vote no to not fix the roads.”

Schuette would not say whether he would have supported a sales tax increase that dedicated new money only to roads and bridges.

“I’ve simply expressed an opinion on this issue,” said Schuette, who did not offer an alternative plan.

Proponents contend the complex sales tax proposal is the state’s best option for generating $1.2 billion more annually for repairing bridges and roads after lawmakers could not agree on a more simple plan to raise the state’s gasoline and diesel taxes.

“I think that’s a fatalistic approach,” said Schuette, a former state senator.

Schuette said he informed Snyder and his chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, of his decision to oppose Proposal 1 before making his position public on Wednesday.

“This is not personal; this is about what is the right approach,” he told The News.

Schuette, 61, is widely considered in Republican circles as a potential candidate for governor in 2018.

The News first reported Schuette held a Feb. 23 fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for his attorney general campaign, even though he’s barred by term limits from seeking re-election to his current post in 2018.

Schuette said his decision to oppose Proposal 1 was not politically calculated.

“This is all about the policy, what’s the best approach,” Schuette told a reporter. “Don’t over think this.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, another potential 2018 gubernatorial contender, is actively campaigning for the passage of Proposal 1 on behalf of the Snyder administration.

During a speech last month in Grand Rapids, Calley said Proposal 1 simplifies the way roads are funded and removes the sales tax from fuel, which is diverted to schools, municipalities and the state’s general fund.

“What it provides us is our best shot at a permanent and ongoing solution to an infrastructure problem that has existed for so long,” Calley said.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the other Republican statewide elected official, is remaining neutral on the issue, spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said.

“As the chief elections official, she traditionally has not taken positions on candidates or ballot proposals,” Gendreau said Thursday in an email. “Secretary Johnson does encourage everyone to get the facts on the ballot proposal and to cast their ballot on May 5.”

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