Discussion Schedule, State Budget, Legislative Update, Free Help to Quit Smoking

Monday, July 22, 2019

Dear Neighbor,

I am glad to write to you once more as your representative in Lansing. In order to represent you and your priorities, I rely on feedback from constituents. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at yousefrabhi@house.mi.gov or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. I will keep you updated on developments in Lansing with this monthly e-newsletter. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at yousefrabhi@house.mi.gov.

I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.

Sincerely,

Yousef Rabhi

Discussion Schedule

I hold two “Yousef and You” forums each month to provide anyone in our district an opportunity to get an update on legislative issues, ask questions and participate in open discussion. I hope many of you will be able to join me there.

The next Yousef and You forums will be:

Saturday, July 27 - Joint Coffee Hour with State Sen. Jeff Irwin
10 a.m.
Community Room, RoosRoast Coffee, 1155 Rosewood St. in Ann Arbor

Monday, August 12
6 p.m.
Dominick’s Pizza, 812 Monroe St. in Ann Arbor
(21 and over)

Michigan’s Budget

The House and the Senate have each passed different versions of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1. Now the budget is in the hands of a conference committee made up of three representatives and three senators (two majority and one minority member from each chamber). Because of some technical legislative maneuvers, the conference committee will be free to essentially re-write the budget rather than reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions. The big question at hand is whether they will agree that the state needs to raise more revenue to fund infrastructure repairs and support our schools, or whether they will continue the trend of shifting inadequate funding from one crucial purpose to another.

Once the conference committee reports out their recommendation, both chambers will need to pass identical versions of the budget to send to the governor. The governor has “line-item veto” power for the budget, which means that she can reject certain items but not add anything. If you are interested in the mechanics of the budget process, the House Fiscal Agency has a detailed guide that you can read by clicking here.

Earlier this summer, I voted against the House version of the budget because it fundamentally fails to provide for the wellbeing of the people of our state. Rather than acknowledge the hole that years of corporate tax cuts and underinvestment have left in our state’s finances, the House budget sticks to the status quo and fails to raise the new revenue we need to permanently fix our roads and our schools. There is no question we need 2.5 billion in new revenues to fix our budgets, and repair our transportation infrastructure to reverse the damage to Michigan's roads and bridges from decades of underfunding. Additionally, Michigan’s support of K-12 schools has fallen more than 30 percent since 2002, more than any other state. Without ambitious new solutions our state will fall further and further behind.                                        

Instead of exploring new revenue, the House budget would implement sweeping cuts across all state agencies by instituting a 3 percent reduction in administration on top of a 25 percent cut in information technology. Information technology is a key part of our state’s infrastructure and such drastic cuts will impact Michiganders in countless ways. For example, the cuts could cripple upgrades to the Secretary of State’s databases and affect the implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services already unwieldy Medicaid work requirement. As information systems across the country are threatened by ransomware and other cyber-attacks, now is not the time to skimp on securing ours.

To partially fund road repairs, the House budget would divert funds that should go to schools and local governments. Michiganders pay three kinds of taxes on fuel—the federal gas tax, state gas tax and a 6 percent sales tax like that on any other consumer good. The House budget would convert the sales tax on gas to a gas tax devoted only to roads. But currently, 73 percent of sales tax revenue is constitutionally guaranteed to go to schools, 24 percent goes to local governments for basic services and public safety and just over 1 percent goes to public transit.

Altogether, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) would lose $1.5 million in transit dollars, affecting 300,000 rides, and rural paratransit services in other communities would be hit hard. Converting the sales tax to a gas tax only diverts funds to roads at the expense of education, public services and transit. And, at current gas prices, it would raise only a third of the total revenue needed for roads.

Because the sales tax to gas tax conversion and the cuts to state agencies combined still wouldn’t be enough to come close to fixing the roads, the House budget also proposes to sell public assets including the Blue Water Bridge, several highway welcome centers, airports and a rail line. This tactic makes no sense. Funding our roads is an ongoing need, a one-time fire-sale will not raise enough money to fund even one year of road improvement.

The House’s school budget is also deeply flawed. As proposed, some of the lost sales tax revenue from gas purchases would be offset by diverting School Aid Fund money away from higher education, a recent practice that has gouged a huge hole in the K-12 budget. Under this proposal, many K-12 schools would not get enough funding to keep pace with the rising costs of things like energy and staff healthcare, so some would be forced to lay off staff and cut programming. Schools with the highest-need kids would not get the supplemental funding the governor recommended in her budget proposal.

I was proud to stand united with all of my Democratic colleagues to vote against the House transportation and School Aid budgets. I hope that the process of discussions with the Senate and the governor will produce a better proposal for a budget that is in the interests of the people of Michigan.

Alternative Options for Funding Transportation

Since the governor’s initial budget proposal, my colleagues and I have heard from many constituents who want the roads fixed but do not think we should fund it entirely with additional gas taxes. Although a gas tax has the advantage of being related to miles driven, consumption taxes like the gas tax tend to be regressive—they fall relatively heavier on those who can least afford to pay. When we asked constituents about how they would prefer to fund the roads, one of the main concerns people had was making sure that everyone pays their fair share.

In response to this feedback and the inadequacy of the majority transportation funding plan, I have joined several other Democratic representatives in introducing a set of bills that would raise revenue to fix our crumbling infrastructure. The legislative package includes:  

  •  HB 4779 Commercial Truck Miles Traveled Tax: Every year, commercial trucks that weigh more than 13 tons drive more than 7 billion miles in Michigan. This bill would require them to pay six cents a mile for the incredible wear and tear they impose on our roads.
  • HB 4480 Bridge Tolling for Large Commercial Trucks: Large trucks also put extra strain on bridges, so this bill would set up an electronic tracking program to collect tolls from trucks that cross eligible bridges.
  • HB 4781 Corporate Income Tax Reform: Businesses depend on publicly funded roads and bridges for their success. I introduced this bill to raise the corporate income tax rate by 2.5 percent and set an equitable tax rate for flow-through entities to ensure parity for all business types. Many small businesses would be exempt. The bill would also repeal the pension tax so that seniors get the tax relief they deserve.
  • HB 4782 Fixing Michigan Roads Fund: The bill would ensure transparency so that Michiganders know where their transportation tax dollars are going. It would also direct funds where they are most needed—to the local and state roads that get the most use.

I believe elements like these are the way out of our current revenue dilemma. We have offered proactive options for fair revenue generation to address our crumbling roads and infrastructure, and that’s good news for our state’s future.

Legislative Update

Although the budget discussions have understandably dominated the Legislature, I have been working with colleagues on a number of bills to address other issues of importance to our state. These include:

Preventing Tax Hikes for Solar Panels

I am glad to say that my bill, House Bill 4465, has passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. This bill, along with House Bill 4069, will prevent tax increases for homeowners and businesses who invest in renewable energy systems up to 150 kW in capacity. Under these bills, renewable energy systems would not add to the taxable value of a property until it is sold. The legislation also prevents personal property tax from being assessed on small businesses and farms, which usually applies only to industrial equipment. These bills will remove tax barriers to small-scale energy investment and kickstart a transition to renewable resources in Michigan. Because related bills have also passed the Senate, I expect the governor will soon have a chance to sign these measures into law. I am glad to have played a role in this bipartisan effort to make our state more energy independent.

Requiring Financial Disclosure by Elected Officials

I sponsored House Bill 4649 as part of a bipartisan bill package to increase transparency and accountability for public officials. Unlike candidates for Congress or every other full-time state legislature, statewide candidates and elected officials in Michigan are not required to disclose financial ties that may present a conflict of interest. This package of bills is intended to help restore trust in the integrity of government and the democratic process by requiring comprehensive financial disclosures.

Providing In-State Tuition to DREAMers

I introduced House Bill 4798 as part of a package of bills aimed at expanding civil rights in Michigan. This bill would provide qualified undocumented immigrant students the same right to in-state tuition at public universities as other Michigan residents. Students must meet certain immigration criteria and would be eligible after graduating from a Michigan high school they attended for at least 3 years. These students are part of our communities, they and their families contribute to our schools and local economies. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure they have the opportunity to access higher education.

Enabling Electric Vehicle Charging on Public Land

As part of a bipartisan package to build a network of charging stations for electric vehicles, I introduced House Bill 4787. Electric vehicles are a key part of transitioning to renewable energy. In order for electric vehicles to become practical replacements for gasoline vehicles, we must have infrastructure for charging statewide. HB 4787 would solve part of this challenge by enabling charging stations at state-owned Park-and-Ride lots. The chargers would be operated by either the state or by an EV charging company. Together with the other bills in this package, my bill is part of an integrated plan to encourage small businesses, residents, park and rides and state parks to install EV charging stations, giving people the opportunity to get from Detroit to the UP with ease. Furthermore, these bills encourage the state to create a collaborative and coordinated plan, working with private companies, small businesses, utilities and various state departments to build out the state’s EV charging infrastructure, making Michigan the first fully networked state.

Free Supplies to Quit Smoking

As part of a nationwide push to end smoking, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services is offering free nicotine patches, lozenges and gum for Michigan residents who want to quit smoking this summer. Tobacco kills more people in our state than AIDS, alcohol, drug overdoses, auto accidents, murders and suicides combined. Smoking is one of the most preventable causes of disease, disability and death in both Michigan and across the entire United States.

With proper use, nicotine replacements such as skin patches, nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges are highly effective in reducing cravings which helps people quit smoking. All Michigan residents can get up to 8 weeks of nicotine replacement medication for free until September 30. Additionally, Medicaid plans usually cover nicotine replacement medication. For more information about quitting smoking or getting free nicotine replacement medication, call the Michigan Tobacco Quitline at (800) QUIT-NOW (784-8669) , or go to their website at https://michigan.quitlogix.org/en-US/.