In his tightly scripted command performance yesterday that purposely avoided questioning from the media, Governor Rick Snyder did more than unveil a budget. Unintentionally, he began unraveling myths he constructed with nearly $11 million in campaign advertising last year.
Ironically—given that Snyder created himself on TV—it was an actor today that began pulling the threads apart of Snyder myth #1. Michigan’s most famous actor, Jeff Daniels, suggested Snyder is just another junkyard dog in the mosh pit we call politics in Lansing.
This is what Daniels, who helped pioneer the Michigan film industry, told the Detroit Free Press after hearing Snyder gutted film incentives from the state budget:
“The sound you hear today is of people packing and leaving the state,” Daniels said by phone, describing the potential impact of Snyder’s budget proposal, which would eliminate the film tax credit as we now know it. Daniels said Snyder told him privately that he didn’t want to eliminate the incentives and discussed reductions in the current rate, which is up to 42%, and asked him what affect reductions would have. “It’s really disheartening,” Daniels said of Snyder’s budget plan. “It’s not what he told me privately, so to be honest, I guess he’s a politician after all. Say one thing, do another.”
You can almost visualize a big “kapow” balloon connected to the punch to Snyder’s political gut delivered by Daniels, who is revered for his unwavering love and commitment to his home state.
But Daniels is right about Snyder. Whether you agree or disagree with him on ending film incentives, it’s hard not to escape the fact that our governor is, after all, just another politician. Yesterday, Snyder tried framing something the opposite of what it is in order to distract us from the ugly truth of what’s really going on.
Snyder said government would no longer be picking “winners and losers.” But it’s impossible to ignore that what he unveiled yesterday in his spending plan does exactly that. Snyder delivered to his political base—businesses and the rich—and stuck it to just about everyone else, including cities, schools, low-income workers and retirees.
Under Snyder’s plan, businesses will get $1.8 billion in tax cuts. But that’s just the start for those winners. There’s more goodies for them to come in the guise of further “reforms”.
Snyder, for example, proposes eliminating state health inspectors at dairy farms as a cost-cutting measure. That may make it easier for those huge animal factories to produce our milk and other dairy products. But Snyder’s easier is a loser for the rest of us who value safe foods. That’s called picking winners and losers.
Moreover, while Snyder made much of eliminating business tax credits, each of his CEO buddies and their lobbyists will get another bite at tax breaks during the legislative appropriations process. Snyder made no promise to veto any business tax break he proposes eliminating from the budget if it comes back to him via legislative appropriations. Expect tax loopholes for businesses to re-emerge as the Legislature takes care of the multi-client corporate lobby firms that actually run things in Lansing.
There is a long list of other losers in Snyder’s budget.
Gov. Snyder’s proposal to cut 15% of state funding for the environment would mean fewer inspections of air and water polluters and fewer cleanups of toxic sites. Anyone who isn’t a corporate polluter is a loser there. State employees will be asked to pay $180 million in higher health care premiums and other concessions.
As for cities, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing—who, like Snyder, is a CEO—says revenue sharing cuts threaten his city’s financial recovery. Detroit would lose $178.9 million in statutory revenue sharing. Almost all communities would lose something. Moreover, the elimination of brownfield redevelopment credits and renaissance zones, which are used liberally by cities to redevelop blighted or polluted areas, strikes at the heart of urban Michigan.
Of Snyder’s proposed tax changes, eliminating the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) hits hardest at those who can least afford it. Snyder will cause 25,000 people, including 14,000 kids, to fall into poverty.
The list goes on and on. Schools get a $470 cut in per-pupil spending. Colleges and universities take a 15 percent cut in operations funding. And then there’s the tax increase for retirees who receive pensions, a move that AARP blasted as a declaration of war on senior citizens.
As Karen Holcomb-Merrill points out in her excellent blog post for the Michigan League for Human Services, not only does the governor’s budget create winners and losers. It misses a key opportunity to modernize Michigan’s antiquated tax system. Moving to a graduated income tax and extending sales tax to services would have been part of a balanced approach to solving our fiscal problems.
But that would have meant that Governor Snyder’s political base—particularly the CEO multi-million dollar bonus babies he hangs out with—would not have been the big winners they were yesterday. And if there’s anything we know now about Rick Snyder, it’s that he’s about picking winners.