We thought the state budget was finalized. We thought Lansing learned from its mistakes after its bickering led the state to the brink of a shutdown. We were wrong. Last week, members of the Republican-led state Senate voted to suspend the implementation of the 6 percent service tax, one of the key provisions in the 2008 fiscal year’s budget agreement. By unnecessarily blocking the only viable solution to the state’s massive budget deficit, state Republicans have proven that they are still not ready to set politics aside for the welfare of the state. They deserve to face the consequences of such failures of leadership.
After months of squabbling leading up to the Oct. 1 deadline, a compromise seemed impossible and a shutdown inevitable. Thankfully, that crisis was averted when the legislature reached a late-night budget agreement that included the service tax to raise money for a state deeply in the red. The agreement wasn’t perfect, but it did get the job done.
Since Oct. 1, pieces of the budget have gradually been passed in productive but long overdue motions. Some of the provisions directly affecting the University are woefully insufficient. For example, the 1 percent increase in higher education funding is not nearly enough. Also, the provision to fund Michigan’s research universities separately from other public universities is encouraging, but the measure’s delay until next year’s budget raises the question of how serious legislators are about actually implementing it. Putting off that provision until next year leaves it vulnerable to reversal in the uncertainty of the next state budget.
Worst of all, the state Senate is threatening the entire basis of the budget agreement by voting to delay the Dec. 1 start of the 6 percent service tax. The Senate obviously has designs on ultimately repealing the service tax – which Republicans have railed against for months – and simply wants more time to manipulate public opinion.
The vote to delay the service tax is the most reprehensible in a series of irresponsible actions regarding the budget in the legislature. Even when the service tax was passed, backroom deals gave exemptions to businesses represented by strong lobbies, like lawyers and accountants. The state is in desperate need of revenue to sufficiently fund its services and programs, and it is only right that all goods and services in should be taxed equally.
The fact that some businesses were nefariously exempted is bad enough, but if Republicans get their way and the entire service tax is overturned, an enormous revenue shortfall would be created, leaving the state back at square one. The rampant partisanship that brought about the budget standoff and now this unnecessary hurdle is unacceptable under any sensible notion of the common good.
It seems that even the close call that the state had on Oct. 1 has not taught all legislators a lesson. There are strong lobbies in the state that are pushing to recall any legislator that voted in favor of the service tax, and it seems at least some in the state Senate are bowing to that pressure. Perhaps it’s time that they felt some pressure from the side of common sense too. Any legislator who votes to repeal the service tax, the one workable solution to Michigan’s deficit, must be held accountable. A recall is a fine way to deal with such irresponsible behavior.