Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Minimal Reforms for Massive Tax Hike

The taxpayers of Michigan traded minimal reforms for a massive tax hike this past weekend. A new 6% service tax will apply to the following services:

Astrology services
Carpet cleaning
Consulting services
Investigation, guard and armored car services
Commercial landscaping services
Baby-shoe bronzing
Bail bonding
Coin-operated blood pressure testing
Check room services (coat checks)
Concierge services
Dating services
Social escort services
Fortune telling
House sitting
Coin-operated locker rental
Palm reading
Party planning
Porter services
Psychic services
Rest room operation services
Shoe shines
Singing telegrams
Wedding planning
Wedding chapel services (not churches)
Scenic transportation services
Skiing services
Tour operator services
Personal care (except hair care, including manicure, pedicure, etc.)
Security system services
Mini-warehouse and self-storage unit services
Business service center services (e.g., hire out payroll service)
Investment advice
Consumer-buying services
Discount-buying services
Genealogical investigation
Social introduction services
Numerology services
Pay telephone services
Personal fitness training
Personal shopping services
Coin-operated photographic machines
Phrenology services
Packaging and labeling
Specialized design services
Passenger and ground transport services
Courier and messenger services
Document preparation

Of course, the income tax also increased from 3.9% to 4.35%. What did we get in return? Two reforms, although they are important, they are not worth the tradeoff.

First, the Michigan Education Association (the teacher's union) runs its own health care plan called MESSA. MESSA health care is, by some estimates, 20% more expensive than market-rate health care plans. Part of the problem is that, for those familiar with how health care works, MESSA premiums are the same for single individuals and families. Most health plans today cost employers more based on whether the employee is single, married, or married with children. With MESSA, it doesn't matter, school districts get charged the same family rate, regardless of the employee's status. This translates to much higher costs. The other factor increasing costs for school districts is the fact that MESSA is just repackaged Blue Cross coverage, with a premium attached simply because it is union-run. Basically, MESSA is a money-laundering scheme for the teacher's union.

The bill that passed the legislature this weekend would require MESSA to publish its claims data, so competing health care plans could quote school districts their rate for the same plans. Previously, MESSA has vigorously opposed this because they will do anything to maintain their stranglehold on healthcare coverage for teachers in Michigan. In fact, the teachers union frequently threatens school boards with a strike if they attempt to bid out health care coverage, even though it is illegal for teachers to strike in Michigan. One MEA bumper sticker shows how militant they are - it reads "You'll get my MESSA card from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hand."

You understand why the union is so militant about protecting MESSA? Because it is a union cash cow. Now the legislature has finally stood up and made it easier for school districts to make sure that taxpayers get the best deal by allowing for competition in health coverage. Unfortunately, it only allows school districts to bid out care, it doesn't require it. This means that local school boards will still have to deal with union threats and potential strikes if they want to do the right thing.

Second, reforms to the state teacher retirement system were enacted. This is a very long-term reform because it will only effect teachers who start working after July 1, 2008. However, it is an important reform because it will increase the time in service requirements for teachers to be able to get health and pension benefits in retirement. Currently, teachers can work as little as five years to get free health care for life. Unfortunately, the reform does not include a phase-out of the defined-benefit plan. Nearly all other state workers have been transitioned to a defined-contribution plan, much like a 401(k), which is sustainable and a bigger benefit to retirees. The current defined-benefit plan will continue to be unsustainable and extremely expensive. This issue will have to be dealt with again in the future, so this bill just put the pain off on future legislators.

And that's it! We get those two watered-down reforms in exchange for more job-killing taxes. Only two local legislators voted in favor of the tax increases - Mike Sak and Robert Dean, both Representatives from Grand Rapids. We have heard rumors that the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance will target Robert Dean in their recall efforts. We wish them luck.

The good news is that the media is full of stories of ticked off Michiganders today. Lots of people are talking recalls, not just the MTA.

Michael Lafaive, of the Mackinac Center, put it best in an editorial in the Detroit News today:

"The state Legislature has kicked Michigan while it is down. Government is going to take another $1.48 billion out of the hands of residents and private job providers when they can least afford it -- and do so with a new tax on services, too.

Michigan is already ranked 50th among the states in economic growth. It has the highest unemployment rate (7.4 percent), and our per capita income growth is well below the national average. By one measure, people are moving out of Michigan in near record numbers. And the bad news just got worse.

Lansing's political class has pushed its service tax nose under Michigan's economic tent. Next year, if new revenues do not flow into the treasury at anticipated rates, or if the cost of state government rises, it will be easy to add even more businesses to the 23 now on the state service tax hook.

We should fear for Michigan's future. All the cheerleading by government officials won't overcome the fact that it is more expensive to work, live and invest in the Great Lakes State."

Recall 2007!!


  1. Don't worry - MESSA is going away. School administrators who aren't part of the teachers unions have already been pushed out of MESSA and into health insurance pools. It's only a matter of time.

    I'm no mathematician (or economist either, apparently) but don't the tax increases total about $50/person per year for the average resident?

    Also - aren't there still $440 million worth of cuts yet to be made as part of this budget agreement?

  2. 1.5 billion divided by 10 million residents equals $150 per resident (man, woman, and child). Total household tax increase is about $400 per household. (Using census bureau data from 2007 -