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Republican Gov. Rick Snyder Turns To Voters To Approve Tax Increase


And now, Michigan's governor, Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who's urging voters in his state to approve something that we don't typically associate with the GOP. He's asking them to approve a tax increase to pay for crumbling infrastructure. And he's not alone - several of the country's 31 Republican governors, faced with dire fiscal realities, are advocating some form of tax increase.

Governor Snyder, welcome to the program.

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: It's great to be with you, Robert. This is an important topic.

SIEGEL: You know, in Washington a tax increase is regarded by a lot of Republicans as a form of human rights abuse. What's different in Lansing?

SNYDER: Well, we start with common sense. This shouldn't be about partisan politics, this is about what's doing best for the citizens. And in Michigan in particular, we had been under-investing for a number of years to the point where literally you mention the word crumbling infrastructure - we have cases where, for our bridges we're putting plywood up underneath a number of bridges to keep crumbling concrete from falling on vehicles. We have major potholes in the springtime in particular that create, you know, hazardous driving conditions for people. So this is an important investment that needs to be made and should've been made some time ago.

SIEGEL: But you're putting the question to Michigan voters in a kind of referendum on increases of the sales and gas taxes. Why not just do it in the legislature and approve it, if it's necessary?

SNYDER: Good question. Actually, the legislature was very supportive of this process. What we determined the best way to do it was to increase our general sales tax in the state from six to seven percent. And that's a constitutional change. To show you the legislative support behind it though is to put it on the ballot. It actually required a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate in Michigan and it shows there was strong bipartisan support to get this done.

SIEGEL: Sales and gas taxes are notoriously regressive taxes. That is, rich and poor people drive and they also buy necessities. Why not ask people with higher incomes and more property to pitch in more and pay more?

SNYDER: We actually exclude a number of items from our retail sales tax. Food, for example, is a major exclusion, which helps address that. But also part of this package is we're bringing tax relief onto lower and middle-income people. For example, we're looking to raise approximately $1.2 billion or more for our roads. We're talking $200 million of tax relief to specifically address the question you talked about. And you mentioned other taxes, for example, the income tax in Michigan by constitution is proportional. So it can't be a graduated system.

SIEGEL: It's a flat rate income tax?

SNYDER: It's a flat rate, at 4.25 percent.

SIEGEL: To the extent that you're campaigning for the referendum to succeed - and I gather it'll come up right, as you've described it, during pothole season when people will be made physically aware in their cars of the infrastructure problem in Michigan?

SNYDER: It will. Actually, it's going to be on the May ballot, which is at the later part of pothole season, which because of the freeze-thaw cycle in Michigan that you tend to see it and get people's attention. We had far too many Michiganders, if you ask them, that had a blown tire, bent rim, other road damage. So when you go out and talk to our citizens, no one likes our roads. And again, that's a major public safety issue. If you blow a tire, that's a scary experience, both for you and other vehicles on the road.

SIEGEL: Even so, as logical as all of this is, for you as a Republican governor, is it a little hard personally to find yourself campaigning for a tax increase even if it needs a referendum to be approved?

SNYDER: No. Again, this is the way government should work. We should be above politics. We shouldn't dwell on what party someone's from. We want to do the right answer and serve our citizens. It's about efficient, effective and accountable government. So it's important to give people good service at a great value, and that's what we've been doing in Michigan very consistently for several years. This is another step in that path.

SIEGEL: You sound like such a wild-eyed pragmatist here, an extreme moderate about this. Has the GOP gone too far on a limb taking pledges never to raise taxes in any way?

SNYDER: Well, again, I wouldn't put it in the party context. I think there's always a challenge. That's one thing I don't believe in - signing, you know, the pledges, the no tax kind of pledge because you have to be thoughtful and pragmatic and do what's best for the people.

SIEGEL: Well, Governor Snyder, thanks for talking with us about Michigan and taxes today.

SNYDER: It was great to be with you. Have a great day.

SIEGEL: That's Rick Snyder, who is the governor of Michigan, speaking to us from the state capital, in Lansing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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