Since the ‘tampon tax’ was axed, Michigan lawmakers look to cut taxes on other products 

By: - March 25, 2022 4:36 am

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It took years and multiple attempts to exempt sales tax for menstrual products in Michigan, but a slew of recent legislation aimed at dropping the sales tax for other common household products might have an easier shot at making it through the GOP-led Legislature.

Since the start of 2021, there has been legislation introduced by legislators from both sides of the aisle to cut the sales tax on diapers and other incontinence products, medical marijuana, firearm safety devices, pet food, contact lenses and certain personal protection equipment.

But so far, only the “tampon tax” bill has made it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

In November, Whitmer signed a bipartisan bill package eliminating the state’s 6% sales and use tax on menstrual products. The law went into effect in February. But prior to 2021, similar bills introduced by Democrats in previous sessions struggled to garner support from Republicans.

Now, the majority of other legislation aimed at eliminating the sales and use tax on various products have been introduced by Republicans. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a bill signing in Lansing to eliminate the “tampon tax,” Nov. 4, 2021 | Whitmer office photo

State Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.), who introduced House Bill 5267 cutting the state’s sales tax on menstrual products, says he believes that more products should be exempt from the 6% tax. 

“I think we need to exempt sales taxes on a lot of different items,” Posthumus told the Advance. “When my bill was passed and signed into law, I was actually advocating for every product that’s [federal spending accounts] eligible to be tax exempted. I couldn’t get that through, so I took the tax cut where I could get it.”

Sen. Winnie Brinks (R-Grand Rapids), who introduced another bill in the tampon tax package, said she was intentional in keeping the bill specific to menstrual products so that it would limit the fiscal impact and because she believes a tax on menstrual products is discriminatory.

“One of my big motivations is this is a tax that’s not fair to half the population based on sex,” Brinks said. “It was really important to me to keep it just to those hatches of that category, instead of turning it into a Christmas tree and ballooning it into a huge hit to the budget that would have been too hard for us to compensate without trying to find a different source of revenue. So this kept the revenue loss manageable. It also addressed my concerns about this being a discriminatory tax.”

Laura Strausfeld, co-founder and executive director of Period Equity, a national advocacy group urging state lawmakers to cut the sales and use tax on menstrual products, says it’s common for sales tax exemption bills to follow successful tampon tax legislation, especially when states’ budgets are doing well. 

“The largest trend is dependent on state budgets and whether there is a surplus. Lobbying groups will push for sales tax exemptions when it looks like states could do that,” Strausfeld said. 

Bills that would eliminate the sales and use tax on products:

  • House Bills 56115612, introduced by Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), and Senate Bills 803804, introduced by Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), would exempt the state’s sales and use tax for diapers and other incontinence products.
  • House Bills 40854086, introduced by Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) would exempt the state’s sales and use tax for medical marijuana. 
  • House Bills 50675068, introduced by Reps. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.) and Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), and Senate Bills 551552, introduced by Sens. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), would exempt the state’s sales and use tax for firearm safety devices.
  • House Bills 56835684, introduced by Reps. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) and Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) would exempt the state’s sales and use tax for pet food. 
  • House Bills 57295730, introduced by Reps. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) and Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), would exempt the state’s sales and use tax for contact lenses. 
  • House Bills 42244225, introduced by Reps. Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp.) and Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), and Senate Bills 179180, introduced by Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), would temporarily exempt the state’s sales and use tax for certain personal protection equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), who introduced a bill to eliminate the state’s use tax on menstrual products, said she doesn’t think it’s “fiscally responsible” to roll out a number of new tax cuts until there’s a better idea of how the state’s budget will hold up. 

Currently, Michigan has a $7 billion surplus, largely boosted by federal pandemic relief funds. Now, as the state Legislature and Whitmer look forward to Fiscal Year 2023, they are considering how to use the state’s better-than-anticipated budget. 

“We have to do things in increments. We can’t just exempt all sales taxes all at once. We have to see how the budget will survive one before we go onto another,” Yancey said. 

Earlier this month, the House shot down House Bill 5611, introduced by Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), a bill aimed at cutting the sales tax on diapers. The bill failed with a 49-54 vote and didn’t garner support from enough Republicans in the House.

“I have a brand new grandson, and I wanted very badly to vote yes on this diaper tax bill, but until seeing what the effects will be. … I’m not willing to do anything more than what has been done,” Yancey said. “We want to ensure we stay in the black. We don’t want to put our state in the red trying to exempt taxes.” 

Posthumus said that the current sales tax exemptions that are introduced now are likely the last of their kind for this session because Republicans want to see tax cuts in other areas for FY 2023.

This week, Whitmer vetoed two bills introduced by Republicans, House Bill 5570 and Senate Bill 768, attempting to cut taxes. HB 5570, introduced by Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), would have suspended the state’s 27-cent-per-gallon gas tax for six months. SB 768, introduced by Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), would have cut Michigan’s individual income tax rate from 4.25% to 3.9% and created a $500 tax credit for each child under the age of 19.

Whitmer said these tax cuts would have created “deep and painful cuts” to state services.

“I think we’re going to be focusing more on cutting taxes across the board for people like the income tax cuts that the Republicans introduced that the Governor vetoed and the gas tax cuts that the Legislature introduced and  the Governor vetoed. I think we’re going to focus more heavily on taxes that impact everybody,” Posthumus said.

While the tampon tax did garner bipartisan support, it wasn’t an easy journey. 

State Rep. Tenisha Yancey

Yancey said that House Tax Policy Committee Chair Matt Hall (R-Marshall) said that he felt the tampon tax issue was too “politicized” when she spoke with him about getting the bill through committee, although legislation eventually did pass. 

Hall did not respond to a request to comment. But Brinks said that she believes Republicans politicized the issue. 

“When the Republicans say, ‘OK if you want that, then why don’t we just blow up the whole system? We don’t need any taxes.’ That’s kind of their response and to think that that’s a serious proposal that can actually be a responsible way to operate our government is ridiculous,” Brinks said. “So at that point, they’re politicizing it. They want to put something in front of the governor so they can criticize her for not signing it. So has it been politicized? I would say yes, by the Republicans.”

Yancey said that she’s unlikely to support other tax cut bills at this time until she sees the tampon tax’s fiscal impact on the state.

Now, Yancey is concerned that these other sales tax exemptions could be a ploy to test the governor. 

“Depending on who is introducing these other bills, it could be an attack. It could be a setup, because they want to see how the governor responds to something that may not be her priority necessarily,” Yancey said. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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