Commentary
2:26 pm
Mon March 21, 2011

Shortchanging the Future

Macomb County Commissioner Phil DiMaria is angry about Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to tax pension income, and he’s doing something about it. He’s launched a statewide petition drive to oppose the tax, which is key to the governor’s proposed budget.

DiMaria, who has been on the county commission for twenty years, thinks the governor is badly out of touch. “He’s rich. He’s never going to be an old person who has to pinch pennies to try and get by, try and buy milk and bread,” he told me yesterday.

“This isn’t any shared sacrifice. This is one more assault on the middle class so he can give business a big tax break.”

The response so far has been overwhelming, DiMaria said. He’s gotten requests for petitions from as far away as Petoskey and Chelsea. His goal is not to put anything on the ballot. He just wants to collect as many signatures as possible and then use them to try and sway the governor and the legislators.

DiMaria, who is a sixty-year-old Democrat, knows the odds are against his being able to change the governor’s mind, but he may have an easier time with some of the freshmen Republicans in the legislature who would have to face angry voters next year.

I asked DiMaria if he realized that the governor’s proposal would exempt the first $41,000 from taxes. He did, but he doesn’t  think any pension income should be taxed.

But what DiMaria doesn’t usually tell people is that he is not exactly a disinterested party. He already collects one pension from the Oakland County city of Troy, where he was a police officer for thirty years. When he leaves the county commission, he will be eligible for a second government pension, on top of the first.

In other words, whatever other motives he may have, he  doesn’t want to pay taxes on his income. I asked DiMaria how he felt about the governor’s proposal to drastically cut education funding, and he said he was against that too.  “How’s he going to get new business without people properly educated to run these jobs?“ he said. But you don’t see DiMaria, or anyone else I know about, trying to get people to sign petitions to save education.

And that disturbs me. DiMaria and I grew up in a Michigan where our parents had survived the Great Depression and World War II, and in many cases were struggling to get by. Yet they voted to tax themselves to build new schools so their kids could get a proper education. They wanted us to have more chances than they had. Today, adults seem more selfish. It’s as if our slogan was, “we’ve got ours, and we’re hanging on to it. If you are trying to get through school today, that’s tough, kid.”

I suppose I should be on Phil DiMaria’s team, since I am getting steadily closer to pension age myself. But I don’t understand why pension income should be treated differently from any other income. And I am pretty sure that if we think our comfort more important than the next generation’s future, Michigan isn’t going to have much of a future, no matter what sacrifices any governor’s budget should happen to bring.