Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Conservative Explains His Vote

Normally, I don't print guest columns or press releases emailed to me, but Chris Ward and I go back a long ways.

A Conservative Explains his Vote by Rep. Chris Ward

Many of my friends have been scratching their heads trying understand my vote for the income tax. Let me explain why I consider my actions on the budget consistent with my beliefs and record as a conservative.

First of all let me establish my credentials as a true blue member of the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Some of the proudest votes I have taken in the House have actually been to the right of many in my own caucus. I was one of less than a dozen of members to vote against the 21st Century Jobs program that has proven itself to be a major waste of taxpayers’ money and a pork barrel bonanza that helped fund the Governor’s re-election. I was one of three members of the House to vote against the Earned Income Tax Credit which starting in 2009 will be a major welfare program with no strings attached funded by the taxpayers of this state. I have voted to cut budgets and slash spending when others would not. I voted to take on public employee unions when others would not. I supported Proposal 2 when others would not.

To be frank, there are some who feel that casting conservative votes and being vocal about conservative causes is the extent of their job in furthering our beliefs.

While those are indeed important, more important is to use our positions to achieve conservative solutions for our public policy problems. I will put my record up against any of my colleagues on this test.

In my freshman term, I pushed through Michigan’s Election Consolidation Law. This law ended stealth tax elections and increased the number of taxpayers participating in school board elections. For a dozen years this bill never mustered the votes to pass the House. In the end, Governor Granholm signed it into law despite the fact she had promised groups during the election she wouldn’t. The law isn’t perfect, a lot of compromises had to be made, but it has been a major step forward for protecting taxpayers.

In my last term, I doggedly pursued the enactment of Michigan’s Photo I.D. at the polls law. Against a lot of odds, fighting within and outside of our party I stuck to my guns on the issue and found a way to get the Michigan Supreme Court to act on this issue. Despite being ignored for over a decade, photo now officially the law of the land in Michigan. Any member of my caucus would attest that this simply wouldn’t have happened without my work.

Now, some facts about my income tax vote. Let me say at the outset these were tradeoffs for my vote:

1.An agreement to change our school funding formula to provide for greater equity for the lowest funded schools in our state. Why should this be important to conservatives? The funding disparity has caused a major movement repeal of Proposal A. If that movement were to succeed one of the greatest protections for taxpayers in this state would be gone.

2. Major reform of our school pension program. Quite simply, the pension costs for our local schools are strangling their budgets and there is nothing school boards could do about it. Changes to years if service required for benefits and increasing participants co-pays will save taxpayers millions and put these dollars back in the classroom. This proposal fell four votes short last session because several Republicans refused to support it.

3. Breaking the stranglehold of the MEA on teacher health care. The inability for our schools to pool for benefits purchases have the data needed to competitive bid has cost our school districts hundreds of millions of dollars. This proposal passed the Senate last session but we were at least a dozen votes short in our own caucus and it had no chance of passing.

4. I used my bargaining position to keep the tax increase as low as possible, with a built in rollback and to try to defeat the services sales tax. My final decision to vote yes on the income tax was a last minute attempt to the kill the services tax. If the Senate had failed to pass it, Speaker Dillon committed to me that the service tax would be dead in the House. Working with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber, nobody fought harder to kill the services tax than I did.

It was common knowledge in Lansing that a tax increase was imminent; that experience in other states where government shutdowns have happened has shown higher taxes with no structural reforms; and that the lack of Republicans stepping forward to take a difficult vote meant the likelihood these reforms passing was small. After all why would Democrats vote for and Governor Granholm sign these very anti-MEA bills without some tradeoff?

Serious reforms were left undone because so few Republicans were willing to come to the table. I was particularly disappointed 48-month lifetime welfare benefit cap wasn’t included. Capping the taxpayers’ exposure for the legacy cost of public employee union members was left undone. The taxes ended up higher than they needed to be and we now have a services sales tax that is amongst one of the highest in the country.

Ronald Reagan understood that sometimes feeding the Democrats short term insatiable appetite for taxes meant he could accomplish serious conservative changes. As Governor California he signed numerous tax increases in exchange for support from the Democratic legislature for his policies. As President, Reagan teamed up with Tip O’Neill to raise the social security tax in exchange for raising the eligibility age for retirement. This move gave decades of relief to taxpayers and helped avoid much greater taxes in future years.

I abhor taxes. I only decided to follow this course after I was convinced that the outcome would be much worse than if I didn’t. I will always believe the outcome would have been better if more of my colleagues joined me in these efforts. The reforms signed into law are a major hit to the MEA that has them reeling. These bills are now law, passed by Democratic House and signed by a Democratic Governor-something unimaginable a short time ago.


WCTaxpayers said...

You can never trust politicians to make cuts after they have a tax increase. As far as everything you have done in the past, I commend you for doing what you were sent to Lansing to do. However, your lapse of good judgement has left this state in a pickle. Your failure to insist on budget cuts has left taxpayers with more taxes to pay and convinced business that this is not a very friendly state.

The road to taxpayer hell is paved with good intentions.

Rose Bogaert, Chair
Wayne County Taxpayers Association, Inc.

keithr said...

Good comment Rose.

My two cents worth:

Michigan is in an economic crisis. The number one problem is not the budget, it is our shrinking economy, with businesses shrinking, wages declining, jobs evaporating and our skilled/educated workforce heading south or west. The budget crisis was created by the shrinking economy and the resulting drop in tax collections.

Democrats think that raising taxes will fix the problem. It won't. The continuing decline in Michigan means that the budget crisis will keep popping up again, and again, and again, no matter how much taxes are increased.

When all local, state, and federal taxes are combined Michigan residents are already some of the highest taxed people in the U.S., and all we hear from our leaders is that they want to raise taxes even more. Raising taxes never creates economic growth, and for Michigan they will only serve to scare away even more potential employers.

Unfortunately, Chris Ward was so focused on the short term (getting a budget passed) that he sold out Michigan's future. Most of the Republicans in the legislature understand this. They also understand that Democrats will never make the reforms needed to turn Michigan around unless they are forced to confront the crisis. Voting for the tax increase swept it under the rug for another year or two.

Chris has been a good legislator in many ways. It is unfortunate that he decided to kill his future in politics by making such a bad decision.

Chet said...

With all due respect to Chris, unless he can point specifically what the MEA reforms are, it sounds like someone duped him. The MEA is not "reeling," and my understanding of the "deal," which wasn't finalized until yesterday on the reform end, is that the governor's special interests protected their pocketbooks and that so-called conservative budget interests took the big hit (and they should have taken there share).

Pogo said...

Chris uses a lot of words to try and justify his actions, but this sums up the problem neatly:

From website of Joel Westrom

Granholm quote: I've cut everywhere I can, I need to raise your taxes!"

"Governor Granholm has INCREASED spending from $38.5 billion in 2003
to $42.8 billion in 2007. An increase of $4.3 billion ($4,300,000,000) over
that last 4 years."

Check the website for yourself. This works out to an annual increase of about 2.68%, or roughly the rate of inflation. This would be commendable during good times, but during an economic crisis it just isn't good enough.