Michigan House's veto override for PPE tax refunds fizzles

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House tried but failed Wednesday to override Gov. Gretchen  Whitmer's veto of bills that would allow businesses to seek tax refunds for purchases of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Democratic governor vetoed the proposals on Friday. The GOP-controlled House attempted to override her decision but fell short of the two-thirds support necessary. Many Democratic lawmakers who had previously supported the bills opposed the override: The move failed in two 62-47 votes.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's veto of bills that would allow businesses to seek tax refunds for purchases of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic survived override votes in the Michigan House.

The bills aimed to institute exemptions from the state's 6% sales tax and affected purchases of personal protective equipment by businesses with COVID-19 safety protocols in place if the purchases occurred from March 10, 2020, the day Michigan reported its first coronavirus infections, to Dec. 31, 2021.

In a letter explaining her veto, Whitmer said she would support a grant program to help small businesses defray the cost of personal protective equipment. However, the bills would create a tax credit, making the expense ineligible for federal COVID-19 relief dollars through the American Rescue Plan, the stimulus program signed into law earlier this year.

"I encourage the Legislature to send me bills that would allow us to send these federal relief dollars to hard-working business owners who’ve kept their employees and customers safe over the past 15 months," Whitmer said.

Nine House Democrats supported the override: Reps. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette; Alex Garza, D-Taylor; Jim Haadsa, D-Battle Creek; Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth; Tullio Liberati, D-Allen Park; Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia; Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights; Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit; and Angela Witwer, D-Delta Township.

Four Republicans opposed the override. They also opposed the bills when they were considered: Reps. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming; Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers; Steve Johnson, R-Wayland; and John Reilly, R-Oakland Township.

Previously, the bills had widespread support in the Legislature, passing the Senate in 36-0 votes on June 2. They passed the House in 102-7 votes on June 8.

In a statement, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser accused Democratic lawmakers of flip-flopping "on a vote critical to our small businesses recovery from the pandemic."

"This bipartisan legislation would have offered immediate relief to Michigan businesses but House Democrats chose Gov. Whitmer’s political future over the future of our job-creators," Weiser said.

Last week, Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said in a political era when there is very little cooperation across party lines, there was "overwhelming bipartisan support" for the legislation.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said the proposals would impact government revenues "by an unknown and potentially significant amount." Potential revenue loss likely would exceed $18 million per year, the analysis said, depending on how many taxpayers implemented a COVID-19 safety protocol.