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Wednesday, February 23,2011

Whitmer leading charge against Snyder budget

by Kyle Melinn

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, had finished roasting Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for the last 10 minutes when I asked about the only question left to ask.


Outside of not cutting Medicaid, is there anything about Snyder’s budget that you do like?


Whitmer paused a second.


"I’m going to sit down with my caucus tomorrow and go over the fine details and maybe, after that, I’ll come up with a few more," she said. "But right now, I can’t think of any."


Whitmer, who leads the decimated 12-member state Senate Democratic caucus, has moved way up the ladder of top Democratic officials.


Who gave the Democrats’ response to Snyder’s State of the State? Who chaired the Michigan Democratic Party convention earlier this month? Whose phone rang when the media needed reaction to Snyder’s budget?


Whitmer, Whitmer and Whitmer’s.


"I do what I do, “ Whitmer says, "which is voice my concerns for my constituents, which I consider to be all of the people of Michigan. The kids, the seniors, the working families of this state."


Her problems with Snyder’s budget: The elimination of the income tax exemption on pensions and the Earned Income Tax Credit, the $470-per-pupil cut to K-12 education, the 15 percent cut to universities, a $150 million cut to local governments, the $180 million in state employee concessions.


To Whitmer, this shifts the state’s tax burden. Businesses will net a $1.8 billion cut from the switch to a 6 percent income tax. Seniors and working families, meanwhile, will choke down larger income tax bills.


"Gov. Snyder’s idea of shared sacrifice seems to mean that working families will do most of the sacrificing while companies continue to reap the rewards,” she said. "Contrary to his rhetoric about ‘moving all of Michigan forward’, this budget picks out who he’s willing to leave behind."


How would Whitmer fill the $1.5 billion hole?


First, the 39-year-old mother of two would make education a priority as the path to an economic renaissance.


The jobs of the 21st century are in information technology, finance/insurance, professional and technical services and health care.


Cuts
to K-12 create unmanageable classroom sizes. Cuts to universities price
too many families out of a higher education. This strategy leaves
Michigan without a workforce that today’s businesses can use.


Axing
the Earned Income Tax Credit — which only goes to the state’s working
poor — only drives deeper into poverty people who are barely scratching
out a living.


"I
don’t need a study or complicated metrics to tell me that slashing
education ... and plunging an additional 14,000 kids into poverty is NOT
the ’right thing’ for Michigan’s kids, or the future of our state,"
Whitmer said.


Savings
in the budget can be found elsewhere. There are numerous specialty tax
credits and exemptions that can be evaluated. State contracts can always
be given another good shake.


Whitmer
agrees the 3-year-old Michigan Business Tax is "broken," but a simpler
replacement doesn’t have to come with a net $1.8 billion tax cut. If
everyone is truly sacrificing under Snyder’s budget, businesses can at
least continue to pay their share.


The Democratic leader said she finds it hard to believe any member of her caucus would put up a "yes" vote for this budget.


Based
on what she’s hearing, the Republicans aren’t a pack of lemmings
jumping on board with Snyder. The governor is working on them, though.
He met with the Senate Republican caucus Tuesday.


Snyder hasn’t addressed the Senate Dems, yet, but Whitmer and the Gov have chatted. He’s no Scott Walker from Wisconsin. He’s willing to negotiate.


"I
think the governor is a nice guy who genuinely believes that he put
some thoughtful proposals on the table," she said. "I don’t know if
they’ll be able to come through the Senate as they are. I would hope
not.


Without any logistical power to stop anything, Whitmer and the Democrats only have their words and their arguments to fight with.


She’s proven in her brief time as the rhetorical head of the Michigan Democratic Party that she’s not shy to use either of them.


(Kyle Melinn is the News Editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)


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