Susan J. Demas: Oh, noes. The Michigan GOP tax cut you’d never have noticed just died.

March 28, 2022 3:08 am

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

If you make more than $539,000 a year, well, first of all, congratulations.

You can live quite well on that in a state like Michigan (USA Today recently ranked us third-best for affordability in the country). You also just missed out on an election-year GOP state tax cut averaging $4,900, which Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed this month, warning that the $2.5 billion plan would have caused “deep and painful cuts” to schools, roads and police.

Of course, if you earn less than $23,000 a year — as many essential workers during the pandemic do — your tax cut would have been a whopping $12, which would pay for a nice meal at McDonald’s. And if you make a middle-class income between $41,000 and $70,000, your windfall would be $92, per the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Oh, and many Michiganders with low incomes would see no benefit, including over half of those earning less than $23,000.

But if you are in that elite 1% that banks more than a half-million dollars a year, the tax cut could have bought you a few pairs of red bottoms (Louboutins) — although not if you covet the top-end $6,000 variety.

Sadly, that probably wouldn’t even pay for a year of maintenance on one of Betsy DeVos’ yachts (much less the salary of her yacht scheduler — who knew that was a thing?). But fear not. The matriarch of the clan that built a multi-level-marketing empire with Amway worth an estimated $2 billion (whose brother, Erik Prince, made his money the old-fashioned way with notorious mercenary operation Blackwater) was set to get back far more than a measly five grand.

You’ve got to hand it to the former U.S. Education secretary. The richest member of former President Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, DeVos didn’t let something like ethics (which are for little people) stand in the way of making $225 million to north of $414 million while serving in the administration, per Forbes.

So now that she’s retired from warning us of the dire need for guns to ward off grizzly bears in schools, defending the proposed elimination of Special Olympics funding, and allegedly funneling hundreds of millions to shady charter schools that weren’t even open as Education secretary, it makes sense that she’d be looking for a break on her Michigan taxes.

You can see why House and Senate Republicans were so eager to oblige, as the DeVoses have been nothing if not generous to GOP politicians and right-wing causes over the years. The former Michigan GOP chair and her family donated an estimated $82 million — and that’s just in Michigan between 1999 and 2016, per the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. They also play in races and issues across the country.

A man wears a pin that reads “I’m Rich, I Can Afford To Pay My Taxes” during a Tax Day protest on April 15, 2017 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

DeVos vowed her husband, failed GOP gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos, would stop making political contributions while she was in office, but of course, he kept doing it. The family went on to spend $11 million apiece in both the 2018 and 2020 cycles. This year, the DeVoses and their allies are bankrolling a voucher scheme that you’ll probably never get to vote on because the plan is for their GOP allies in the Legislature to first adopt the measure, which Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can’t veto (democracy is also for little people).

So you can think of the (now-failed) Michigan GOP tax cut as a return on investment. And because the DeVoses are so thoughtful, it wouldn’t just be for them. Think of the other needy Michigan billionaires — Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, Little Caesars founder Marian Illtich, Hank and Doug Meijer of the supermarket chain — and even your struggling multimillionaires like Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and GOP gubernatorial candidates Kevin Rinke and Perry Johnson. They also would have seen a lot more than $12 or $92 from the Republican tax cut.

But with the 2022 midterms fast approaching, Republicans know that tax cuts for the rich just aren’t popular. For some reason, people just don’t care if billionaires get breaks on their tax bills to fund their own private jets or islands. I know, weird.

Alas, that just won’t do. Republicans need you to believe that mean ole Gov. Whitmer snatched away your windfall, even though you couldn’t even pay your monthly cell phone bill with the GOP’s smoke-and-mirrors tax plan.

But like anyone with an army of lobbyists and political operatives at their disposal, the DeVoses and various right-wing outfits launched a PR campaign in earnest to convince you the tax cut for them was actually an act of generosity to us working stiffs.

Republicans need you to believe that mean ole Gov. Whitmer snatched away your windfall, even though you couldn't even pay your monthly cell phone bill with the GOP's smoke-and-mirrors tax plan.

– Susan J. Demas

You can’t blame Republicans for trying. Arguing with a straight face that tax cuts for the rich benefit everyone has been their playbook for 50 years. But the proof is in the pudding. Those tax cuts have failed to trickle down and voters know it.

So the GOP will soon return to their other midterm strategy of fearmongering about things like slavery and LGBTQ people being mentioned in the classroom, because bigotry excites their base more than giving Betsy DeVos a huge check from the state of Michigan.

But if Republicans win the governorship and the Legislature this fall, as most pundits predict they will, you’ll see the speedy resurrection in 2023 of that tax cut for the rich you don’t care about. Not only will it enrich some of their richest donors, but it also has the added bonus of sucking away more than $2.5 billion a year from future state budgets.

That domino effect forcing big cuts to vital programs is all part of the plan. Who needs funding for public schools when the DeVoses have expansion plans for for-profit education ready to go? Who needs money for health care when we’re living through a pandemic that’s killed almost 33,000 Michiganders and 1 million Americans? The needs of the majority and the common good just don’t register on the GOP agenda.

As long as Republicans are in power next year, Whitmer’s tax veto this month is just a minor setback for Michigan’s uber-wealthy and special interests. But as usual, millions of us in Michigan will be left paying the price.


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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more.