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Gretchen Whitmer: Freeze school supply taxes. Tudor Dixon: That’s a ‘gimmick’

school supplies
In 2022, 20 states have had or will have at least one sales tax holiday. Many states offer a pause on clothes, supplies and electronics used by students in late summer before school starts. (Shutterstock)
  • Gov. Whitmer says a temporary sales tax holiday on school supplies would provide respite to parents
  • Tudor Dixon, GOP candidate for governor, slammed the idea as a ‘gimmick to grab headlines’
  • Back-and-forth marks the latest disagreement on tax relief policies between the Whitmer administration and Republicans

School backpacks and binders dragging on your budget? Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday called for a pause in sales taxes on school supplies before kids head back to classrooms — but her challenger Tudor Dixon and other Republican rivals say it’s too little, too late.

In the latest indicator that schools and kitchen table issues will factor heavily into the November gubernatorial race, Whitmer in a Tuesday press release touted her past work on this year’s education budget while expressing support for a temporary sales tax holiday on school supplies.

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“Getting this done would lower costs for parents, teachers, and students right now, and ensure that they have the resources to succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement, citing a recent Deloitte report that found families are paying more per child this year for school supplies.

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According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, 20 states have had or will have at least one sales tax holiday during 2022. In several of those states, for a weekend in early to mid-August, the sales tax is lifted on clothing, school and office supplies and electronics commonly used by students. 

Whitmer provided no details of her idea, and it appears that any tax savings could be modest. The same Deloitte report cited by Whitmer found the average cost of supplies was $661 per child, meaning that a family with two children would save $79 from not having to pay the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Legislation previously introduced by Rep. Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights, proposed a sales tax holiday for the third Saturday of August on clothing items less than $100, individual school supplies costing less than $20 and computers that cost up to $1,000 if being used for home or personal use.

The Michigan Education Association and a handful of other groups supported Whitmer’s tax holiday idea, but Dixon and legislative Republicans labeled it a too-little, too-late election year stunt.

Dixon lambasted the proposal as a “gimmick to grab headlines.” 

“School supply lists came out a month ago,” Dixon said in a statement. “Shopping is done, many shelves are bare. Many schools start in just a few days. Too little, too late from the most out of touch governor in the nation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, called the proposal “shameless pandering” and urged Whitmer to consider more robust tax relief policies offered up by the Legislature.

“If press releases were leadership, Michigan might have an effective governor. But they’re not, and we don’t,” he said in a statement. “The people of our state need real, permanent tax relief. Their governor isn’t just a day late and a dollar short, she’s months late and billions of dollars short.”

The back-and-forth follows months of tax cut proposals that have gone nowhere as Michigan sits on a $6 billion budget surplus.

A majority of lawmakers favor some type of gas tax freeze, but Whitmer vetoed legislation in April to suspend the 27-cents per gallon tax. She advocated instead a pause on the state’s 6 percent sales tax on gas — and is proposing a plan to eliminate the state’s so-called retirement income tax and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for low- and middle-income workers.

She vetoed a GOP-backed plan to reduce Michigan’s individual income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent. That would save a family of four with an income of $63,829 — the median for Michigan in 2020 — $153 next year.

While Whitmer touts the state’s $20 billion K-12 budget, Dixon also has made educational issues a priority of her campaign.

The Republican has  vowed to end liberal "indoctrination" in public schools and require schools to post all information about curriculum and reading materials online for parental review.

Some of these proposals were pulled from the playbook of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who in 2021 won election in a state President Joe Biden had won by double digits in 2020.

The Virginia Republican tapped into culture war fights over school curriculum and framed himself as a champion for parental rights. As governor, he’s signed executive orders barring the "use of inherently divisive concepts" in public schools, including so-called critical race theory.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Republican Party announced that Youngkin would be campaigning with Dixon in Michigan and giving the keynote speech at the party’s state convention later this month. 

“Governor Youngkin’s victory in Virginia demonstrated the political power of parents who want to be involved in ensuring their children get a great education,” Dixon said. 

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Progressive groups criticized Dixon’s alliance with Youngkin.

“I can’t say I’m surprised by Tudor Dixon’s choice to campaign with a Trump-supporting, bigoted extremist, but I’m disappointed nonetheless,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Like Dixon, Gov. Youngkin has repeatedly attacked the LGBTQ+ community and sought to undermine honest education in public schools—and, of course, he’s an anti-abortion extremist as well.”

The Dixon campaign declined to provide any additional details on Youngkin events beyond the upcoming Michigan GOP convention later this month. 

As governor, Whitmer has prioritized early childhood education, teacher and school employee recruitment and closing the school funding gap. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, her administration implemented pandemic-related school closures and mask mandates.

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