Whitmer’s tax holiday for school supplies is just another gimmick

After vetoing multiple tax relief proposals, Whitmer floats a tax holiday she knows will not pass

Stop us if you've heard it before, but Michigan could already have tax relief. As in, right now. All it would have taken was Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature on any of the three separate attempts at tax relief legislators sent her.

Instead, Whitmer on Monday presented a gimmick: a tax holiday for school supplies. Specifically, the sales tax on said supplies would be paused.

WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit helped the governor float that lead balloon. It crashed immediately upon reaching the Capitol.

“Today’s publicity stunt doesn’t change the fact that the governor whose signature policy is a tax hike has so far refused every opportunity to actually cut taxes,” House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said in a statement to Gongwer, the Capitol news service.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, called the governor’s proposal shameless pandering.

“If press releases were leadership, Michigan might have an effective governor. But they’re not, and we don’t,” Shirkey said in a statement to Gongwer.

Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, finished the trifecta of insult, calling the proposal lazy.

Normally, Whitmer and the Republican Legislature get along just fine. They have the occasional dust-up in the media. But they have worked together well enough to have enacted 900 new laws since she took office in January 2019.

This is an election year. Any tax cut could be credited to both Whitmer, who is running for reelection, and Republicans in the Michigan House, who also will face voters in the fall. A win for one is a win for all.

But a tax cut proposal, floated approvingly in the Detroit press, allows Whitmer to appear as a champion for Michigan’s parents for offering a plan she knows won’t pass.

How much relief would the plan offer, anyway? Michigan’s sales tax is 6%. A family that spent $1,000 on school supplies would save $60 in tax. And what about the people who already bought school supplies?

Whitmer's proposal would not offer immediate relief. Parents would have to save their school supply receipts and get the 6% back retroactively, next spring when they file income taxes. 

William J. Hallan, CEO of the The Michigan Retail Association, whose members will stand to benefit from back-to-school shopping, said in a statement Monday that while it "applauds" the attempted tax relief, "it’s too late into the shopping season to make an impact, even if the law could be changed in time."

Even if Whitmer’s plan did pass, it is Michigan schools that would be deprived of the revenue, as they benefit from the sales tax. James Hohman, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, notes that 73% of sales tax revenue is earmarked for Michigan schools.

Michigan schools constantly say they are underfunded and understaffed. Can they afford any loss in revenue, even a modest one?

Whitmer has described the public school system as Michigan's “greatest need.”

It’s so critical to the success of our future,” Whitmer said when proposing the 2022-23 budget.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.