Republican Party gets foul in House 91 race, Truth Squad rules

MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: House 91 (Collene Lamonte vs. Holly Hughes)

Who: Michigan Republican Party, Committee to Elect Collene Lamonte, Friends of Holly Hughes

What: Mailers, website, video

Truth Squad calls: Foul on Republican mailer; No foul on other materials

"Taxpayer pockets are already feeling a little light." (GOP mailer)

Questionable statement: "Lamonte says she still hasn't ruled out a change in the way property taxes are assessed. How does this affect you? It could remove the cap on property taxes. It also allows taxes to rise faster than the rate of inflation."

Democrat Collene Lamonte is running against freshman Republican Rep. Holly Hughes in the 91st House District, which includes most of Muskegon County outside of the city of Muskegon. This assertion about property taxes relates to a response Lamonte made to a Michigan League of Women Voters questionnaire. Candidates were asked what changes they would support to ensure adequate funding for K-12 education. Lamonte said she supported dedicating the School Aid Fund for K-12 schools, rather than using some of it for higher education. Republicans, who control the Governor's Office and Legislature, began using the School Aid Fund for higher education (see page 30 of this Senate Fiscal Agency Budget Overview), which resulted in less funding for schools.

Lamonte also said, "Proposal A needs to be re-examined. It has not succeeded in ensuring equitable funding for schools throughout the state." Proposal A of 1994 was a comprehensive school finance reform that shifted funding for schools primarily to the state by raising the sales tax, lowering local property taxes and establishing a state property tax for education. It was designed in large part to lower the property tax burden and reduce funding inequities between school districts. It has done both, but critics say it has not done enough to reduce or eliminate disparities.

There is nothing in Lamonte's response to suggest that she would change the way that property taxes are assessed. Proposal A limited increases in the taxable value of homes to the rate of inflation until a home is sold, even if the market value goes up faster. Changing that probably would not achieve Lamonte's goal of reducing inequities since property values in affluent areas tend to fare better than those in low-income communities, such as Detroit or Flint. And even if it would, there's no hint that Lamonte is suggesting it.

Questionable statement: "Lamonte wants to eliminate taxes on taxpayer-funded public pensions — even those in Detroit and Wayne County, which are in excess of $100,000.

The Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder enacted tax reforms that increased taxes on retirement income. They made the change to offset reductions in business taxes, a shift that they said would improve the state's business climate and encourage businesses to retain or create jobs in Michigan. This is a Senate Fiscal Analysis of the tax changes. The changes were strongly opposed by most Democrats, and many, including Lamonte, are vowing to fight for repeal.

The mailer seeks to reframe the issue of repealing a tax increase on both public and private sector retirees as a plan to give public sector employees a tax break. It fails to mention that rescinding the tax increase benefits private sector retirees as well. The private sector exemption in 2010 was $45,120 for single filers and $90,240 for joint filers.

The reference to the Detroit and Wayne County pensions relates to a Detroit News report that at least 40 retired Wayne County employees and 23 retired city of Detroit workers receive pensions exceeding $100,000. The statement is accurate, and to many taxpayers outrageous, but the exorbitant pensions represent a tiny fraction of public-sector retirees.

Foul or no foul: Foul. The mailer attempts to do two things: scare voters about property taxes, and create the impression that Lamonte is more interested in protecting government employees and retirees than those who work in the private sector. It falls short on both counts. There would be many ways to change Proposal A to reduce funding disparities without changing the cap on property taxes. And even if the cap on property taxes were removed, raising property taxes would require a vote of the public.

Lamonte website www.ColleneLamonte.com

Questionable statement: "In order to fund $1.8 billion in tax breaks for corporations, Republicans imposed a new tax on retirement income for seniors. After working hard, playing by the rules and being an important part of our communities all their lives, seniors in Michigan — many struggling to get by on fixed incomes already — were rewarded with a painful new tax that many can't afford."

The impact is felt most by the youngest senior citizens. Seniors who were 67 and older in 2012 weren't affected by the elimination of tax credits on pensions, but they are reduced for those who were 60-66, and they are eliminated for anyone younger. You can read a Q&A from the Detroit Free Press here.

It is also true that prior to the enactment of the tax reforms, Michigan's senior citizen tax burden was among the lowest in the nation. In 2010, for instance, money.msn.com rated Michigan's senior taxes as third lowest. Kiplinger.com's 2012 analysis, which you can find here, begins: "Bottom Line: Mixed Tax Picture. New legislation makes Michigan less tax-friendly for retirees."

Questionable statement: Republicans offered huge tax breaks to big corporations because they said that would lead to jobs. The huge gift to corporations was made without securing a promise that a single job would be created as a result. And not surprisingly, there is no indication that these tax breaks to corporations and special interests have put anyone in Michigan back to work."

Republicans did in fact tout the tax cuts to businesses as a strategy for bringing jobs to Michigan. The strategy was designed around broadly reducing taxes, rather than giving tax credits to certain businesses that agree to create jobs or keep jobs in the state. Republicans said that strategy, used over the past three decades, had been ineffective and created an unfair tax policy that picked "winners and losers." Although it may be difficult to specifically tie a new job to the tax changes, Michigan's employment totaled 4,282,000 in September 2012, an increase of 82,000 from a year earlier.

Foul or no foul: No foul. Lamonte's website provides brief descriptions of her position on key issues. She provides an accurate account of the tax changes that have shifted from businesses to individuals. It is clear that she believes Republicans have moved the state in the wrong direction by cutting education funding, cutting business taxes, and raising taxes on individuals, especially retirees. She would work to undo those changes.

Lamonte's Facebook page

Questionable statement: "The roundtable will allow residents of Muskegon to voice their concerns with the current Republican agenda in Lansing to deny women essential health care services while further harming middle class family budgets."

Lamonte and four Democratic women serving in the state House held a roundtable discussion in Muskegon to rally opposition to House Bill 5711 and other bills designed to restrict abortions. Among other things, HB 5711 would prohibit the mandatory physical examinations preceding an abortion from being conducted online, and require abortion clinics to be licensed, freestanding facilities. Here is a House Fiscal Agency analysis. Other bills would prohibit certain forms of birth control. This is the mlive.com account of the forum.

Foul or no foul: No foul. Lamonte's Facebook page is a fairly standard approach to reaching voters through the social media. It describes her positions that are important parts of her campaign.

Holly Hughes for State Representative (YouTube video)

Questionable statement: "Every day when I am asking people for their vote, I look at it as a job interview. We started our company with six people and with hard work we have grown to be 160-people strong, right here in Muskegon County, without ever outsourcing a single job."

Hughes and her husband, Richard, are co-owners of Master Tag, a company founded by Richard's grandfather in 1949. Master Tag began by making horticultural care tags and has expanded to offer other products. You can read a brief history here. According to Muskegon County First, the county economic development corporation, it is the 20th largest manufacturer in the county.

Questionable statement: "I will hold the line on taxes and spending and create an environment to grow jobs."

Hughes and her Republican colleagues cut some taxes, such as the business tax, but raised taxes on individuals. The most notable increase was on retirement income, but there were also tax increases through the elimination of deductions for certain charitable gifts and a sharp reduction in the state Earned Income Tax Credit on low income workers. The state's business tax climate has improved has improved from 18th in 2011 to 12th in 2013, according to the Tax Foundation. The state general fund budget increased by 0.8 percent in 2011-12 and 6.1 percent in 2012-13, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. The School Aid Fund appropriation rose by 2.6 percent in 2011-12 and 1.4 percent in 2012-13.

Foul or no foul: No foul. The video, created during for her successful 2010 campaign, portrays Hughes as part of a family business that, through hard work, has created jobs in Muskegon County, kept work in the United States. Whether she has "held the line" on taxes or spending is a matter for voters to decide.

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