Road tax, sick leave ballot forms get approved

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News
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Lansing -- Michigan’s elections board approved petition forms Thursday for 2016 ballot proposals that would ask voters to approve a $900-million business tax increase for roads, mandatory sick leave for all workers and voting by mail.

It allows the three sponsoring groups — Citizens for Fair Taxes, Raise Michigan and Let’s Vote Michigan — to start collecting registered voter signatures. All three ballot propositions have union and Democratic backing.

“Our ballot proposal is a simple, straightforward fix that will help repair our crumbling roads and bridges,” said spokesman Tom Lutz of the business tax proposition campaign. “It’s simple -- recouping less than half the $2-billion in tax breaks given to businesses” by Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican lawmakers in 2011.

The plan would boost the state’s 6-percent corporate profits tax to 11 percent. The carpenters, operating engineers and laborers unions are involved in the ballot petition effort.

Trisha Kinley, tax and regulatory reform senior director for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said the tax plan would devastate the state’s economy by giving Michigan the Midwest’s highest corporate tax rate and both work-related propositions would hurt the state.

“These union carpenters and operating engineers want to bite the hands the feed them,” Kinley said. “Employers across Michigan, who hire these carpenters and engineers, would have huge consequences. When you nearly double the corporate tax ... that has consequences. This is a reckless scheme.”

Proponents say it’s only fair that corporations be asked to ante up for the road repairs after Snyder and Republican lawmakers gave them a huge tax reduction in 2011.

The tax reduction was offset by extending the state income tax to pensions, reducing or eliminating some individual income tax credits and canceling scheduled reductions in the income tax rate.

Randy Iuliano, a retiree from American Axle in Detroit, said the income tax on pensions is unfair to workers who had counted on the full amount they earned. He said the tax proposal would shift some of the burden for government services back to businesses.

“Common working people have been seeing their wages and benefits cut,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think that’s right and it needs to change.”

Former Republican lawmaker Pete Lund, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said last week the plan would hang a ‘closed for business’ sign back on Michigan.

“Even if the roads get fixed, there won’t be anyone left in our state to drive on them if this proposal succeeds,” he said.

The proposal, similar to one unveiled earlier this month by House Democrats, comes as lawmakers are struggling to agree on legislation to add at least $1.2 billion per year to Michigan’s road repair fund.

Snyder said this week he’s beginning a series of conference calls with legislative leaders in hopes of breaking a stalemate between House and Senate Republican majorities.

The Senate has passed a plan that includes a proposed fuel tax hike. House Republicans approved a plan that relies on shifting money from other state agencies and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for road and bridge repairs.

Democrats complain that the majority party isn’t negotiating with them, even though their votes are needed to pass any plan. Republicans dismissed the Democrats’ business tax proposal as unrealistic and a return to recessionary policies of the past.

The sick leave ballot proposal would require employers to provide paid days off for illness at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked.

Danielle Atkinson, director of the liberal organization Mothering Justice, said it’s a response to Snyder and Republican lawmakers passing a new law that prohibits local governments from adopting higher-cost worker benefit measures than state law allows.

The third proposal would move Michigan to a mail voting system similar to those in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Its proponents say the switch could reverse dropping voter participation.

Backers said ballots would be mailed to all qualified voters, who could fill out and mail them back, turn them in at absentee ballot boxes at clerks’ offices or hand them in until closing time on election day at post offices.

The two work-related proposals call for citizen-initiated laws, requiring at least 252,523 registered voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

The mail voting group seeks a state constitutional amendment, meaning they need at least 315,654 signatures to qualify for the same ballot.

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