Nobody likes taxes, including me. I also do not like going to the dentist, getting medical tests, or paying for new brakes for my car. But those are all part of the price we all gladly pay in return for living in a modern civilized society. We have to pay taxes to fix the roads, run our prisons, and educate our children.
But while I cheerfully reserve my right to complain about taxes, I am also basically a conservative, not an anarchist. And that is why I really don’t like the idea of repealing the Single Business Tax without knowing how we are going to make up the lost revenue.
Now before you start talking about cutting all the fat in government – there isn’t any. Five years ago, there were some things that could be cut. But they’ve all been cut; people have been laid off, jobs eliminated, programs scratched.
The rainy day fund is dryer than the Sahara Desert. Thanks to downturns in the economy and a long series of tax cuts, the state is having trouble funding its major research universities well enough to keep them in a position to help attract and grow the jobs of the future.
Incidentally, if Michigan once was a high tax state, it isn’t any more. Tom Clay, a longtime non-partisan state budget director, says that compared to other states, we are a little lower than average.
So the question really is, if we repeal the Single Business Tax, then what? Actually, this is the wrong question. What we need to ask is: What kind of state do we want? What kind of a state can we afford – and what things can we not afford to be without? And then, how should we pay for them?
You have to answer all those questions together. To me, what is happening now – repealing the SBT without any clear indication as to how they are going to replace it -- is the height of irresponsibility.
Many of the lawmakers who are blowing this hole in the state budget now – including Senator Sikkema – won’t be in Lansing when it’s time to clean up the mess. Thank term limits for that.
What I think we need is something like a state constitutional convention, convened specifically to consider the twin issues of what the state needs to do, and what is the best way to get government the money it needs to do what we need.
Naturally, there will be a lot of different ideas. But such a convention could hold public hearings, get attention and hammer out agreements and compromises. That’s what legislatures used to do.
What we badly need is to construct a rational state budget with underpinnings and pillars that make sense. And we need to feel that we have a stake in the process. Otherwise, we can look forward to a future where we feel more and more alienated. And Michigan will feel more and more like a state that is falling apart.