GOP rep cancels call for Michigan House speaker probe

Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein,

Lansing — Republican state Rep. Dave Pagel on Thursday called but then abruptly canceled a press conference where he was poised to call for an investigation into allegations of “improper pressuring” by GOP House Speaker Tom Leonard on an income tax cut proposal.

In an interview with The Detroit News, Pagel said he may have acted too hastily in calling a press conference following an exhausting overnight session. He plans to discuss his concerns with Republican colleagues next week in a closed-door caucus meeting rather than in public.

“There were accusations going around about some improper pressuring for votes to change,” said Pagel, R-Berrien Springs. “It was disturbing, and I’d like some answers within our caucus. I’m not calling for anyone’s head on a platter. I just don’t like some of the things that were floating around last night and this morning.”

Leonard spent much of the 12-hour marathon session pulling individual legislators behind closed doors and urging their support for a plan to cut the state income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent. The measure failed in a 52-55 vote.

Rumors spread across the House floor that GOP leaders were threatening members with various punishments if they did not vote for the plan, including revocation of committee assignments and even parking spaces, accusations Leonard denied.

“As the speaker said, no conversations like that happened,” spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Thursday afternoon. “Everyone who was in the room for those conversations agreed that nothing like that happened. We’ll talk with Rep. Pagel about his concerns.”

Pagel, one of 12 Republicans who voted against the tax cut plan backed by Leonard, said he was not personally pressured ahead of the floor vote.

“It was pretty clear to everyone in our caucus I was not going to go ‘yes’ under any circumstance because I was strongly opposed,” he said.

Pagel said some of his concerns centered around Leonard’s decision to remove Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Leonard accused Sheppard of lying about his position on the income tax plan ahead of the floor vote.

“The representative from Monroe County looked me in the eyes, told me he was going to be a yes vote, and voted no,” Leonard told reporters early Thursday morning.

Sheppard, who could not be reached for comment by The Detroit News, confirmed with the Gongwer subscription news service that he told Leonard he would support the bill if it came up for a vote. He had second thoughts.

“I don’t have any issues with the speaker or the leadership on the decision they made after the vote,” Sheppard told Gongwer. “I fully understand consequences of actions.”

In a statement released later Thursday, Sheppard said he gave “much thought” to the bill but concluded it “would have placed the state’s budget in peril.”

“My decision was based on the lack of details for the plan, as well as the speed at which the bill was moved,” he explained, noting he had worked with the House Fiscal Agency and others to figure out what type of spending cuts the tax plan could have forced.

“When all was said and done, I could not support a plan that puts the cart before the horse — without identifying which cuts were going to be made, I couldn’t support this plan in good conscience,” Sheppard said.

Leonard’s office stressed that Sheppard was not stripped of his committee assignment because he voted against the tax cut plan, but because he misled the speaker.

“The people of Michigan need someone they can trust working on their behalf,” Leonard said in announcing new committee assignments.