Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
Earlier today, I was scrolling through some old emails and came across a Google Alert regarding an article by Daniel Howes in the Detroit News regarding the tax credit crisis facing the state’s general fund (GF) budget. Mr. Howes argues that any attempt by the state to renegotiate the close to $10 billion in potential corporate tax credit liabilities would be “no way to do business or attract future investment…even if it blows holes in the state budget for years to come.” Yes, this is the level of analysis that passes for discourse in one of state’s major “daily” newspapers (BTW – check out Deadline Detroit – it seems the DetNews maybe going the way of the dodo sooner rather than later). I will leave aside the faulty logic in Mr. Howes’ argument that the tax credits helped keep these businesses in Michigan after the recovery (a recovery fueled by the Federal auto rescue and nothing Rick Snyder or the State of Michigan did) none of these business were going to leave Michigan. Does Mr. Howes really want us to believe Ford would pack up the Rogue Complex and send it to Indiana?
Mr. Howes asks if State Representative Brandon Dillon is serious in his efforts to renegotiate these tax credits. I ask Mr. Howes and his friends at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce if they are seriously asking the rest of us to continue to foot the bill for their corporate greed? It’s been a pretty good ride for the Chamber and big business in Michigan since 2010 (not that it was really all that rough – at least from a state government perspective - prior to 2010), they’ve gotten a $1.8 billion cut in corporate taxes, the elimination of the Personal Property Tax (PPT), “Right to Work,” and the most docile regulatory environment since the days of the robber barons. But evidently that isn’t enough, nope they must have more – even if it “blows holes in the state budget for years to come” (And I haven’t even touched the tax credits some out of state corporations can now claim on a tax that no longer exists thanks to a ruling by our great Supreme Court). The corporate tax cuts, credits, and changes have created a fiscal mess where one should not exist and threaten the foundation of state government. After all, who needs police, courts, roads (even bad roads), trash pick-up, public health, parks, public safety inspections, and schools? As long as corporations are still making record profits everything will be fine. In the minds of Daniel Howes, Rick Snyder and their buddies at the Chamber public good be damned – corporations are all that matters.
Now before you go thinking I’m some commie, let me tell you that I don’t mind corporations as long as they play by the rules and pay their fair share. I even concede the Michigan Business Tax needed to be replaced but a $1.8 billion corporate tax giveaway was not what I had in mind. Moreover, I live a pretty comfortable life in part thanks to the salary my wife earns at a large corporation. But to what ends are we willing to sacrifice the public good for private profit? And a private profit that is largely derived for just a few at the very top? Would big corporations that struggled in the Great Recession but are making near record profits now really be that hard hit if we asked them, in the name of the public good, to consider a lower tax credit that was more manageable? After all these corporations are now paying less in state business tax and no longer paying the PPT on their equipment. Would that be the end of the world? Would it hurt the CEOs (or even my family) to take 4% less on the bonus so that we could have a functional and stable state government?
Given the current political landscape in our state this is the question and discussion we must undertake as citizens. Do we still believe in a notion of the public good or like our current governor and legislature do we believe that all that is good flows from the river of corporate profits? It would be nice if more than 35-40% of us had this conversation, as something tells me if even 50% of us had this conversation back in November of 2014 we’d be dealing with a different political landscape.