Whitmer vetoes latest GOP tax-cut plan, says it violates the Constitution

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the keynote address at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, Sept. 22, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

By Jon King, Michigan Advance

Saying it was constitutionally “invalid and unenforceable,” Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have lowered Michigan’s personal income tax from 4.25% to 4%.

House Bill 4568, introduced by Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall), was one half of a Republican-sponsored $2.5 billion tax cut plan called the “MI Family Inflation Relief” plan. It was tie-barred to Senate Bill 784, introduced by Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo).

Together, the bills included:

  • A $500 per child tax credit for those under 19.
  • Increasing the personal income tax deduction by $1,800.
  • Raising the personal exemption for seniors 67 and older to $21,800 for individuals and $43,600 for couples and tying subsequent increases to the rate of inflation.
  • Lowering the state income tax from 4.25 to 4%.
  • Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit from 6% to 20% of the federal credit.
  • Ensuring 100% disabled military veterans and the spouses of those killed in action receive a 100% property tax exemption and setting a $2,000 cap for veterans more than 50% disabled but less than 100% disabled, while holding local governments harmless.

However, in her veto letter Friday, Whitmer said House Bill 4568 had been passed in violation of Article IV, Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution, which states that “n]o bill shall be altered or amended on its passage through either house so as to change its original purpose as determined by its total content and not alone by its title.” 

Whitmer said that in this case, the bill being presented was a broad change to the tax code that did not reflect its “original purpose,” which was to extend a tax filing deadline.

“The constitutional defects of this hurried process are both glaring and obvious,” stated Whitmer. “The bill was passed in open disregard of the constitutional rules that are meant to protect Michiganders’ rights to evaluate proposed laws and make their voices heard before those laws are adopted. As I said in 2012 when I was a senator and the Republican-controlled legislature pulled a similar stunt, ‘our Constitution requires us to follow certain rules and processes and subject your actions to the voters and not just ram things through by entirely replacing bills with new content.’ That position was later vindicated in court.”

Whitmer then cited the case of Toth v. Callaghan, which involved the unionization of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) at the University of Michigan in 2011. The following year, the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate took up previous legislation that hadn’t been signed into law and substituted language that excluded GSRAs from the definition of “public employee.”  A federal district judge subsequently ruled the bill was unconstitutional as it violated the “change-of-purpose clause” as defined in Article IV, Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution.

“Because this bill would be subject to a similarly strong legal challenge, signing it would sow uncertainty about the legality of much of the tax code,“ Whitmer said. “Therefore, I am returning House Bill 4568 to you without my signature.”

Hall, noting a previous veto by Whitmer of similar legislation, expressed exasperation at the latest veto.

“We keep trying to provide relief from record inflation and high prices at the pump, but the governor keeps turning it down and denying the people we represent the help they need,” said Hall. “We actually took her suggestions from her previous veto and included things she said she wanted in this plan, but apparently it wasn’t enough to change her mind and convince her that Michigan families shouldn’t keep falling further and further behind with each monthly bill. I don’t know if she will ever change her mind and allow hard-working taxpayers to keep more of their own money, but I do know House Republicans will continue to fight for tax relief and continue to give her the chance to finally do the right thing. This isn’t over.”

Friday’s veto could be a setback to a budget deal being negotiated between Whitmer and GOP leaders as the deadline for Michigan’s next budget year looms on Oct. 1. The state has a more than $5 billion surplus.

Whitmer has her own tax relief proposals of eliminating the tax on pension income, which she says will save half a million seniors an average of $1,000 per year, and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working-class Michiganders from 6 to 20% of the federal credit, which she contends will “put nearly $3,000 in the pockets of 730,000 working families.”

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