Cut taxes, or fix the roads?
Many Michigan residents were siding with road repairs Wednesday as Gov. Rick Snyder signed tax cut legislation that will save a family of four a little more than $100 a year and cost the state Treasury about $180 million a year, once fully implemented.
"We want to keep our taxpayers happy" and "we've got an opportunity to give them a break today," Snyder said at a bill-signing ceremony at the Capitol.
The change — which received overwhelming support from lawmakers in both parties and essentially increases the state's personal exemption by $600 a year — is expected to save a single tax filer just more than $25 a year and a family of four just more than $100 a year.
Michigan's personal exemption, which is currently $4,000 and would gradually increase to $4,300 by 2021 under current law, will instead increase to $4,900 in 2021 under the legislation Snyder signed.
Once fully phased in, the change would cost the treasury about $180 million a year, with $137 million of that amount coming from the general fund and the remaining $43 million coming from the School Aid Fund, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.
Many Michigan residents say they are so disgusted with the condition of the roads they would gladly give up a relatively small tax cut and have an extra $180 million a year spent on fixing and maintaining the roads.
"I would rather have more money spent on the roads than to have the tax cut," said Dean Bressler, a retired Ford Motor worker in Ida Township who would save $50 a year as a result of the increase in the personal exemption.
"What is $50 nowadays? Take that money and get the roads taken care of. The roads are awful."
Daniel Aistrop, a systems analyst for GM who lives in Grand Blanc, said he is a single filer and would also gladly give up his tax cut.
"The $25 is minimal to me," said Aistrop, who considers himself an Independent voter.
"I'm all for paying a little extra money, if it helps maintain the roads," he said. "We're struggling to find the money to accommodate that."
Ann Arbor attorney John Minock said he wrote Snyder Wednesday to say potholes have cost him several tires worth a total of at least $1,000 since the governor took office in 2011.
"So much for running a government like a business," Minock said.
"You can keep the $100 your tax cut will give me, if you take responsibility for your conduct and reimburse me what your potholes have cost me."
Another voter said she wanted the tax cut, but only because she doesn't trust state officials to spend the $180 million on the roads, if allowed to keep it.
"It's that much more money that they can't waste," said Lori Whitney, a homemaker and part-time sales worker in Rochester whose family will save about $75 a year from the tax cut.
Whitney, who normally votes Republican, said she is disgusted by the condition of the roads and recently had to replace a tire after hitting a pothole. But "candidly, the problem is, I don't think they're going to spend the $180 million on the roads."
Detroit resident Mona Mason, a retired city worker, said the roads must be improved, but she thinks the state can cut taxes and fix the roads at the same time.
"I know they've got the money — that money is going somewhere," said Mason, who considers herself an Independent voter and supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the 2016 Michigan primary.
"We can do both" was also Snyder's message Wednesday. He noted the state has also significantly ramped up road spending and will have an extra $1.2 billion a year to spend, once a 2015 road funding deal is fully implemented. Frequent freezes and thaws have made this a particularly tough year, he said.
Snyder's bill signing followed a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee at which lawmakers advanced legislation to spend an additional $175 million on roads this year, but rejected, in a 10-6 vote, a Democratic amendment to also take an additional $275 million from the state's $889-million Rainy Day Fund to spend on road repairs this year.
"It's hard to argue that it's not raining," said Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, and spending more on roads now will save the state in the long term by preventing roads from deteriorating even further, he said.
"I believe strongly our citizens are tired of paying more and getting less for their government."
Sen. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state is already appropriating significant additional funds for roadwork in 2018 and 2019 and extra funds must be appropriated in such a way that state and local partners are able to do the work and get good results.
"This is a problem that's been 20 years in the making, so it's not going to be fixed overnight," Hildenbrand told the committee in explaining his no vote on the Hertel amendment.
Sen. John Proos, R- St. Joseph, also voted no on the Hertel amendment, but said using money from the Rainy Day Fund to fix roads should be part of the discussion in future budget deliberations.
"It is raining — I don't disagree," Proos said.
Sen. Coleman Young, D-Detroit, who supported the Hertel amendment, said "people's lives are at risk here because the roads are so bad."
The extra $175 million lawmakers want to spend this year is mostly money that departments didn't spend last year.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.