Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Price of Making or Not Making Tough Choices

There is something I never really got around to explaining in full. At first because of the whole 11th Commandment thing as well as just being dead tired. But mostly because I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me. This really has been a disservice, sorry for that. 

You may or may not know this but i am guilty as charged for voting for a income tax increase, in collusion with one Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm in the midst of a government shutdown one October night in 2007. After this vote, I stepped down from my leadership post as Republican Floor Leader. On it's surface, an open and shut case of chronic, incurable RINO. May God have mercy on my soul.

Cell Block D

Well, if you are interested, the truth is I did it for one very conservative reason. I am at heart an extremely stubborn person. It is something I have inherited from my mother. This stubborness was directed at a single minded goal: get out of the budget debacle without a business tax increase in a economically ravaged Michigan. 

Michigan Chamber guru Rich Studley, Detroit Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Sarah Hubbard and others had worked closely with me all through this process and can attest to this single minded pursuit. Of course we wanted reforms to state government, teacher pension and much more. 

Throughout the lead up to the 2007 budget vote everyone knew two things: it was going to be hard and it was going to get solved one way or another. These crisis inevitably do. It's just that most people don't want to be the ones in the room doing it and putting up the nasty votes making it happen. That's why some people get the big offices and committee chairs, because they have to be the adults. This has been this way since legislative bodies have been in existence.

In 2007, my GOP House colleagues were in the minority. Let the people with the committee chairs and the nice offices solve this. Trust me, I was in no rush to get in the crossfire.

As spring turned to summer and summer towards fall the problem was increasingly clear, the House Democratic majority either wouldn't or couldn't get anything done on their own. The fiscal year was running out.

Here is the hitch-Republicans were in the Senate majority and Mike Bishop was the Senate Majority Leader. Everyone was looking to him and to that office for some sort of indication of what the Republican approach to this crisis was going to be. You see, implicit in that job is taking the arrows for your colleagues and being part of the solutions to the crisis any that comes along. It has always been that way. If you don't like that kind of responsibility, you aren't supposed to take that job.

Now you may also say, here I was just another Republican just ready to sell you out and roll over to raise taxes. Let me tell me you, if memory serves i voted for every budget cut that was put in front of me. I was just as anti-tax as every other Republican, in some ways more. You see, we all knew taxes were going to be raised. I was trying to be responsible and make sure they were the smallest with the least impact. To me that's better than blogging and sitting on your hands. 

As a history junkie, it is hard to ignore the basic facts of what has happened in the past-how we imagine our heroes acting and what actually happened. After all What Would Ronald Reagan Do? Again, there is a rather simple answer: What Did Ronald Reagan Do? Faced with a spiraling out of control deficit and massive entitlement outlays into the future with a Democratic House and Republican Senate: He signed entitlement reforms, deficit reduction caps and the largest tax increase in the country's history up until that point. Ronald Reagan was no RINO. Look back further in his career, he did the same as Governor of California. Ronald Reagan was a true conservative in every sense and he certainly winced doing it. Above all Reagan was a patriot and being a patriot means not letting your country or state come off the rails on your watch. The World War II generation of elected officials of all stripes seemed to have that at their core.

So back to that night.

In the negotiations I had with the Governor and her staff I made it clear that I saw a business tax as a job killer and deal breaker. I was completely clear that I meant this in the sense of a comprehensive agreement. When a service tax was thrown in at the 11th hour I voted no in the conference committee and was voting no on the House floor. 

Governor Granholm can running up and got in my face. Now-Senator Shuitmaker can attest that I handled that just fine. The service tax violated our agreement.

With 56 votes up, the income tax had passed and was locked in. It is worth making a special of this very critical fact...the tax increase HAD ALREADY PASSED. Everything was done and the one thing I hated was going to happen....a tax on services....a job killing mess of a tax right in the middle of a long recession....terrible policy. That is when I motioned to Speaker Dillon and asked:

"If I can get the Senate to send back the service tax in exchange for a slightly higher income tax in exchange for my vote will you do it?"

He said yes. I voted yes.

I went over to the Senate. I literally begged Mike Bishop to do it. 

I was told that politically it was better to have a couple Republican Senators vote for a smaller income tax and a couple of other Republicans vote for the service tax. 

First of all, that is crazy. Whether someone votes for a 4.1 or 4.3 income tax, it really does not mean a hill of beans. Second, the service tax was a poorly thought out mess that was a betrayal to the business community and slap in the face to the economy. 

Let us take pause here for angry conservatives...

You say SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT. Fine if you are of that mindset, guess who could have done that?

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop

No, Mike chose a unique path. To keep the job but not to do it. To passively let things happen.

He could have let the people who were going to vote for the solution meet and come to a common negotiation ground for a stronger bargain with the Governor. Nope. He blocked those attempts. 

Outside the Chamber were Mr. Studley and Ms. Hubbard who, if asked, would remember these events.I am sure Andy Dillon would as well.

About a month and half later, the disaster that was the service tax was replaced with the Michigan Business Tax surcharge. (Oh I love thee...guess who voted for this very tax? not Bishop himself)

The surcharge gave birth to the pension tax. Those are all taxes with Republican fingerprints all over them.

Oh that income tax THAT HAD ALREADY PASSED I voted was supposed to be rolled back a long time ago, later on Republicans in Lansing took that out provision out and the rate remains the same.

A couple of GOP Senators could have voted for a few more tenths of an income tax increase that would have been rolled back by now. Alternatively, we could have engaged in a serious budget negotiation sometime before the fiscal year had actually ended that included the tough choices. including the taxes we ended up with. That would have necessitated our Senate Leader, like his predecessor Ken Sikkema and others before, having to suck it up and take those tough positions. 

That's my story. Letters to my parole board would appreciated. 

As it turns out, I did not wake up one morning loving taxes and government. I took a calculated risk for something I care a lot about and have never regretted it. That's why I went to Lansing. My last minute attempt to kill that service tax might have failed but it was worthy of a serious attempt. The consequences speak for themselves. 

There are still dreams of being de-horned and having my trunk returned...


  1. Interesting timing with that story. I knew some of it, but not all of it.

    I remember that vote. I didn't care for it, although Valde's vote was much worse. What's interesting is the unintended consequences that happen 8 years down the road. I wonder if Bob King and the SEIU regret their ballot propositions in 2012.....

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  4. ha....please....leon....please....

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