Graduated Income Tax: Making our system fairer while raising needed funds

As the issue of “tax fairness” continues to arise and the state faces a significant budget shortfall, perhaps it’s time to seriously consider changing Michigan’s income tax structure. Michigan is one of only eight states with a flat income tax rate, and, because of this structure, low-income taxpayers pay the 9th highest personal income taxes for their group in the country, while the top 1% actually pay at a slightly lower rate than their counterparts in other states. A graduated income tax structure, where those who earn more would pay more, makes the income tax system fairer and generates new funds.

With the recent defeat of Proposal 1, which would have raised funds for roads, schools, and communities while protecting low-income families, the state faces a difficult task of coming up with the funds necessary to make Michigan a thriving place to live, work, and play. According to Rep. Jim Townsend, who has introduced graduated income tax legislation, replacing the current flat tax with a graduated tax rate could raise new revenue, and in a way that makes the income tax structure fairer for low- and middle-income families.

Even with a move to a graduated income tax system, if lawmakers eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to help pay for road improvements, Michigan’s bottom earners would experience a tax increase. According to an analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the tax shift would be more severe for individuals with children, stressing the significant role the state EITC has in assisting low-income working families. A proposed repeal comes after changes in 2011 that reduced the state EITC from 20% to 6% of the federal credit resulting in low-income working families shouldering a tax increase of $275 million. However, the analysis also shows that if the state EITC remains in place and the flat income tax rate is replaced with a graduated system, then low-income workers would experience an overall tax decrease.

However, aside from the politics, a barrier to putting into place a graduated income tax structure is that Michigan’s constitution prohibits such system, and, therefore, would require a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature followed by voter approval. Although, a voter-led petition drive could get around this. The last three times it was on the ballot—most recently in 1976—it failed, but current polling suggests otherwise with over 65% of voters supporting the change.

While Michigan’s income tax structure is somewhat progressive given the state EITC and the Homestead Property tax credit, it is somewhat proportional with those making between $26,000 and $47,000 paying almost the same share of their income in income taxes as those in the top 1% of earners. As income inequality grows and low- and middle-income families experience tax increases from tax restructuring that took place in 2011, moving to a graduated income tax system would make the tax fairer.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

 

Voting yes on Proposal 1 is voting to improve our communities

We all agree that we need better roads in Michigan, but we don’t agree on how we pay for them. With the various strains on the state budget, including a shortfall due to outstanding business tax credits and an increasingly overreliance on federal funds, it’s hard to imagine a proposal that fixes our roads, invests in our schools and local communities, and protects Michigan’s lowest earners.

Vote yes on Proposal 1 to once and for all guarantee funding for safer roads

Proposal 1 meets these objectives while any “Plan B” likely would increase road funding at the detriment of our schools, communities and vulnerable families.

Next Tuesday, voters will decide whether to back Proposal 1, a comprehensive, bipartisan plan or to take a chance with the new Legislature. There is a lot of frustration surrounding Proposal 1 for several reasons. Some people say “it’s too complicated” or “the Legislature punted the issue.” Yes, it is complicated and for good reason: A long-term, structural fix to fund our roads into the future has a lot of moving pieces that must be addressed. It can’t be simple.

But no, legislators did not punt the issue. They devised this plan that must be approved by voters. Raising Michigan’s sales tax requires a ballot proposal.

While Proposal 1 may not be perfect—no policy is—this is pretty good, and quite possibly, the best solution to all of our problems. Proposal 1 contains many benefits:

    • It removes the sales tax from gas purchases while increasing the gas tax to ensure that all of our taxes paid on gas go to support the roads.
    • It changes our flat tax rate to one based on the wholesale cost of gas helping it keep up with inflation so that the tax doesn’t lose its purchasing power and making funds more stable in the long-run.
    • Eliminating the sales tax on gas, which primarily supports schools and communities, means the sales tax must be increased to prevent cuts to schools and local governments.
    • Increasing the sales tax has the potential to hit the lowest earners the most; therefore, with the passage of Proposal 1, the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit would significantly increase from 6% to 20% to help offset the sales tax increase.

The Legislature has given the public a voice in deciding how to fund improvements to our quickly deteriorating and unsafe roads. We cannot sacrifice the possible for the perfect. Every day we wait to find a road funding solution, the costs go up for taxpayers.

Support for Proposal 1 is support for better roads, better schools, and better local communities to create a state where people will want to live, work, and play.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

 

 

Promoting Early Literacy in Michigan

 

We all can agree that children should be provided the supports they need to become literate by the end of the third grade. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone fall further behind and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. Low-income students are at higher risk of low literacy skills than their peers from higher-income families and well-resourced schools.

INVEST: States that have seen the most dramatic improvements in early literacy have made substantial investments in early interventions. Without additional funding, schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students are hampered in their efforts. For example, the substantial gains in reading proficiency among Florida students were aided by $165 million to support reading specialists and summer programs.

CURRENT SITUATION IN MICHIGAN: Roughly 40,000 of the state’s third-graders did not demonstrate proficiency in MEAP reading in 2013, and 10,000 of those had scores at the most elementary level (4)—NOT proficient.

 

EARLY INTERVENTION IS PREVENTION: Let’s begin by strengthening existing systems for maternal and infant health, child lead poisoning prevention, early intervention for children with disabilities or developmental delays and improved access to subsidized high quality child care. Expanded access to preschool for 3-year-olds and dental care for Medicaid-eligible children would also enhance readiness.

POVERTY: The clear connection between poverty and academic achievement must be addressed. Raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening family supports will improve achievement. Parents in low-wage jobs with minimal benefits need family-friendly policies at work and in government programs.

 

Child poverty in the 21st century

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (more…)

‘Yes’ on road funding is right direction

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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It’s a pivotal time for Michigan public policy. Decisions made in the next few months will determine the path Michigan takes into the future.

In three short months, voters on May 5 will decide Proposal 1, the road funding package. There’s no doubt that this is Michigan’s single best chance to raise sorely needed money to pay for road repairs and put new dollars into school classrooms all while protecting families earning the least. (more…)

Celebrating good public policy in Michigan

Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, part of the bipartisan compromise on road funding approved early today, will be a boost to struggling families across Michigan.

If voters agree to the package, it will put extra dollars into working households where families have the hardest time making ends meet. It’s designed to offset additional costs from an increase in the state sales tax and wholesale gas tax to pay to fix Michigan’s battered roads. (more…)

Oh Michigan!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference. (more…)

Holy smoke Batman! We can reduce poverty

Like Batman and Robin, raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and minimum wage are best when working together, a new report concludes.

The two strategies are better than one, according to State Income Taxes and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (more…)

If there’s a will, there’s a way

A new video and visually engaging report out today strongly makes the case for rebuilding the state’s education system, protecting Michigan’s abundant natural resources and investing in roads and our communities.

The project is called The Michigan Dream at Risk, from the Michigan Economic Center, an affiliate of Prima Civitas, a nonprofit organization that works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, the League’s president and CEO, and board members Charley Ballard and Bob Kleine were interviewed for the project. (more…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

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