LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Capping off a wild day of maneuvering in the Michigan Legislature Thursday, Senate Republicans adjourned and went home for the weekend to stop majority Democrats from pushing through their tax reforms.
“It was really a temper tantrum,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said of the opposing party’s walkout.
“There are ways to talk about things and to work through your legislative differences. This really seems like a case where they are being sore losers,” she added.
Democrats’ proposal would eliminate the pension tax, expand the working families tax credit and send out $180 inflation relief checks. The sticking point is an automatic income tax decrease that by law is trigged by a budget surplus. Democrats have effectively circumvented it by transferring $800 million out of this year’s budget and into the 2022 budget, though the money would pay for the inflation relief checks. Republicans call it a bookkeeping gimmick. Democrats say their plan will give more money back to taxpayers.
“The package that we’re offering up is meaningful and real relief for people that would take effect immediately,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives called a hasty vote on House Bill 4001. Fifty-six Democrats’ votes were posted on the board within 31 seconds and it was then closed, leaving Republicans to vote by voice to the chair. Republicans’ loud nays and shouts of outrage could be heard in the background, but the bill was passed.
“The Democratic majority is doing whatever they can to pass a tax hike onto families and small businesses throughout Michigan,” Republican Floor Leader Bryan Posthumus, R-Cannon Township, and his assistant leaders said in a statement. “(H.B. 4001) was written in secret, efforts were made behind the scenes to strong-arm members, and Republicans weren’t allowed to stand up for Michigan taxpayers and speak against this — violating our right to debate. Democrats did all of this to prevent a permanent income tax rollback that would help make life more affordable for all Michiganders. This is exactly why people across our state don’t trust what is going on in Lansing. Even one House Democrat called this ‘political suicide’ — and that’s exactly what this secret tax hike is.”
When the bill arrived in the Senate, Republicans were ready. Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, too, but when they went into caucus, Republicans were the only ones left on the floor. They adjourned.
“…The Senate Republicans stole the gavel, gaveled out and ran away from their responsibility,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, who is the president of the Senate, said. “It’s really unprecedented, the stunt that they pulled.”
Senate Republicans said they did it in protest of the way Democrats moved the bill.
“Democrats took it upon themselves to carry out the bidding of Gov. Whitmer to raise taxes on every Michigander without committee hearings, without debate, without negotiations, and without Republican input,” Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said in a statement. “To make matters worse, the disrespect that was shown to House Republicans this afternoon by locking them in and denying the opportunity to debate such a consequential vote was an insult to this institution. It is my hope that we can come back, hit the reset button, and legislate through a more transparent process.”
But Brinks, the Senate majority leader, called the move “silly” and “cowardly.”
“It really changes nothing about the actions that we were about to take on a bill that we were going to take out of the chamber,” she told News 8. “They don’t like the bill and it seems pretty clear that there were folks in their caucus that were not eager to vote on it. But this is really kind of cowardly. The citizens of Michigan expect people to do their job when they send then to the capitol. This is really sort of the bare bones of what we are expected to do, is to vote on legislation. We (Democrats) do get to determine the agenda as the majority caucus. I’ve been in their shoes as a minority member for many years and I always showed up to work. That’s the least that they can do.”
Thursday’s back-and-forth does not bode well for the fledgling legislative session, which has Democrats in control of both chambers for the first time in decades while they also hold the governor’s office and Republicans, who are accustomed to being in charge, in the minority.
“We were doing pretty well up until this moment,” Brinks said. “It’s one thing to have difference of opinions in legislation. We can fight those things out through the proper channels, through the procedures that we all have agreed to, through the rules. This was, simply, a petulant act.”
She called the Republicans’ actions disrespectful to the institutions and to the voters.
Asked if Democrats are considering changing the rules to implement immediate effect — which currently requires a two-thirds vote and therefore requires at least some Republicans to be on board — Brinks said there would be discussions about “consequences.”
“We will not allow procedural moves like this to get in the way of doing the people’s business,” she said. “There will certainly be conversations about changes going forward if the rules as they exist now don’t provide an environment where the Republicans are going to cooperate with us when we move legislation.”
Brinks indicated the tax plan will go back before the Senate floor on Tuesday.
“I hope (Republicans) show up to work on Tuesday and do their job,” she said.