Column: Incentivize talent with lower taxes

Greg McNeilly

Another tax day has come and gone. This week, workers were reminded again just how expensive government can be.

Don’t look now, fair taxpayer, but just this month one of the state’s leading candidates for governor unveiled what she called a “fix the damn roads” plan calling for a staggering $20 billion – with a “b” – in additional taxes (she called them “user fees,” which is a polite way of saying everyday folks will pay the tab) and spending.

Of course, if big government candidates are willing to threaten $20 billion tax hikes in an election year, you can only imagine how much they’re really going to charge you and your family if they’re elected.

Taxpayers are rightly fed up with bigger government budgets, bigger government debt and bigger tax bills, with less and less to show for their investment. Instead of recklessly slashing Michigan workers’ paychecks, candidates should embrace a different approach – let’s call it the “Michigan workers already pay enough damn taxes” plan.

It’s time to get serious about meaningful tax relief. Not only is it the fair thing for working families, it’s just the ticket to attract talent and grow Michigan’s economy.

Under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Michiganians saw their income taxes skyrocket. Jobs disappeared almost overnight, and so did residents. Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population during Granholm’s eight years in office. That is, in no small part, because when Lansing disincentivizes work, they’re going to get fewer workers.

Now the state is scrambling for talent to fill exciting, good paying jobs.

Michigan workers deserve a break on the state’s 4.25 percent state income tax. Lansing has promised it for years, and the Snyder-Calley administration has just flat failed to deliver. The next governor should.

In the last decade, the state government’s budget has jumped by more than $14 billion, and the rate of that growth has outpaced the rate of income growth. For fiscal year 2006-07, state government’s budget came in at $41.9 billion. By 2017, that budget had grown to more than $56.5 billion.

Government is doing just fine. Its bank accounts have never been fatter. And critics who decry personal income tax relief because of its impact on state and local budgets are almost always the same to embrace billion dollar tax giveaways for the dubious promise of a few jobs down the line.

State government wants a “Marshall Plan” for talent? Work to attract talent the way they’ve worked – Republicans and Democrats, from Snyder to Granholm – to attract the businesses who hire talented workers. Offer workers a better tax climate.

Taxes are a gross disincentive for whatever it is they tax. They make it more expensive to buy property, to purchase supplies and equipment, and even to hold a job. Similarly, lower taxes incentivize growth.

When Michigan wanted to lure FoxConn to the state, Lansing offered them $2.3 billion in cash and tax break incentives. When Detroit wanted to lure Amazon, city planners and the state offered to essentially exempt the company from paying taxes for the next 30 years, including real estate, personal property, and city income taxes.

Want to get serious about attracting talent? Want to create a talent pipeline from one corner of the state to the next? Want to grow the state’s budget by injecting it with thousands of new taxpayers, so we can finally “fix the damn roads?”

Then let’s not blow workers away with $20 billion in new taxes. Let’s tell all those families we want to attract we’re willing to let them keep more of their own money.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.