While tax collections in February were expected to fall below last year's level, due primarily to the impact of the economic recession, the decline was much worse than expected . . . In addition, tax collections fell short of the estimate for February by almost $100.0 million. Combined with the equally weak level of collections in January, tax collections so far in FY 2008-09 are about $200.0 million below the January 2009 consensus revenue estimate.
Interestingly, tax collections in the current fiscal year (which began in October 2008) were doing fairly well, until now. Last month, however, state tax revenue was down 31% from last year's February level. Sales tax revenue, a good proxy for economic strength, was down 17% year-on-year in February, while real estate transfer tax revenue was down 41%. Stunning. This indicates (along with Michigan's highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate of 11.6%) that the economic downturn is actually accelerating.
This sets the stage for several possible outcomes. Although the structural budget problems aren't as bad in Michigan as in California, we are heading in California's direction in terms of budget meltdown, if the current trends continue. The politicians are in a tight spot here. They will almost certainly have to propose additional tax increases as well as budget cuts. The question becomes how does the Republican-majority State Senate react? They caved to last year's massive tax hike - will they do it again? How do they sell a tax increase when over 1 in 10 Michiganders doesn't have a job? When the Detroit Three continue to contract and lay people off in massive numbers? When house prices continue to decline, making it more and more attractive to simply walk away from mortgages?