News Story

Nessel tries to raise taxes through ‘interpretation’

Law’s framers challenge attorney general’s effort to redefine 2015 tax-cut provision

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an official opinion Tuesday that the state’s mandated tax cut, taking the income tax rate from 4.25% to 4.05%, is one-time-only reduction. In an opinion dated March 23 but released to the public nearly a week later, Nessel claims the conditions that triggered the reduction must be met every year the tax cut is applied.

Opinions by attorneys general do not have the full weight of law but are often treated as guidance for state officials. Nessel’s opinion came in response to a request from Michigan Treasurer Rachel Eubanks, whose department handles tax collection.

Nessel admits her opinion turns on an interpretation of the Income Tax Act. And in Nessel’s interpretation, the tax cut is an annual, not a perennial, event. It’s a situational matter, not a from-this-day forward one. Nessel writes:

In 2015, the Income Tax Act was amended to provide a mechanism by which the income tax rate would be reduced in circumstances where a percentage increase in the general fund-slash-general purpose revenue for the preceding fiscal year exceeded the inflation rate for that same period and the inflation rate was positive....

It is apparent that the legislature intended any income tax reduction ... to be for that tax year only.

In Lansing, Nessel’s interpretation is novel.

Read it for yourself: Dana Nessel’s AG opinion on the 2015 Income Tax Law

As The Detroit News wrote, “Nessel’s legal opinion runs counter to that of the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency and the Republican architects of the 2015 tax cut trigger.”

While Nessel says she studied the language and intent of the 2015 bill, she emerged from that study with a reading distinct from what its authors say they intended. Some are still in Lansing, and several spoke up in response to Nessel’s opinion.

Rick Snyder was governor in 2015 and signed the tax law into effect.

“The income tax trigger was intended to be a permanent reduction activated when state government had a large surplus,” Snyder said in a joint statement with Republican legislative leaders from that time.

“I was there in 2015, and it could not have been more clear what the language said or what our intent was,” said Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt.

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.