Two Plus Two

Feb 16, 2011

 Tomorrow, Governor Rick Snyder will present to the legislature his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The state is currently running a deficit of close to two billion dollars.

The governor also wants to make changes to the business tax system that would further add to that deficit. Keep in mind that by law, a balanced budget has to be enacted by September 30th.

If it isn’t, state government will legally have to shut down. Nobody wants that to happen. But there is vast disagreement over how to balance the budget. And there is great worry over just what the governor is going to propose. So, I’ve got the solution.

The governor should sternly cut any and all programs … that don’t affect me personally.  He should also raise taxes and fees on any services I don’t use. I don’t hunt, so sock it to the hunters. I don’t drink anything other than wine, so tax the heck out of hard liquor.

Oh, and wig shops. Raise the tax on wig shops, I don‘t need one. Does my tax formula sound selfish and absurd? I am only stating what everybody feels. Our philosophy is “don‘t tax you, don‘t tax me, tax that man I don’t know behind that tree.”

That sounds silly. But we are now hearing statements made by people who should know better that are almost as stupid. Yesterday, this happened in reaction to rumors that they might propose ending the total tax exemption on private pensions. John Nixon, the sturdy, solidly conservative budget director the governor imported from Utah, hinted that this might make sense.

Specifically, he indicated that he didn’t see why people who were pulling down six-figure private sector pensions shouldn’t pay their fair share. Well, you would have thought he was proposing making anyone over sixty-five into Soylent Green.

Within hours, I got a hysterical e-mail from a man in Charlotte who said he would leave the state if pensions were taxed.

If so, he will have a somewhat limited choice of new locales. The only other states that exempt most or all pension income from taxation are Alabama, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, newly elected Attorney General Bill Schuette blustered that we shouldn’t even dream about letting any prisoners out early. Milton Mack, the chief probate judge in Wayne County, has studied our prison system. He says we could save many millions if we returned to a system of just locking up those we are afraid of, rather than everybody we were mad at.  We could do that by putting some non-violent prisoners in halfway houses; some on tethers and some on medication.

However, for some politicians, the fact that we now spend way more on prisons than we do on higher education is just fine, as long as they aren’t accused of being soft on crime.

And if that isn’t bad enough, one legislator said we shouldn’t even think about raising the income tax rate, because people who are unemployed can’t afford it. Well, people who aren’t working don’t have an income, and so don’t pay income tax.

Robert Heinlein, the late science fiction writer, was fond of saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” We might do well to remember that, when we see the governor’s budget tomorrow.