Michigan Business Taxes: What's a Legislator to Do?


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For several years Michigan businesses lobbied hard for the elimination of the state's corporate tax and they ultimately proved victorious. Their efforts were so successful that the elimination of the Single Business Tax (SBT) was accelerated and the tax was eliminated two years early, despite the enormous two billion dollar hole that this would leave in the state's budget. When the SBT was on the chopping block business groups celebrated, but now some businesses are unhappy with the amount of taxes they pay even under the new Michigan Business Tax (MBT).

The legislative fight over a replacement tax was hard fought, but even many in the business community were realistic that the revenue had to be replaced. The Detroit Chamber of Commerce outlined guiding principles for the creation of a new revenue stream including these: "The state should proceed in a thoughtful and deliberate way. The state legislature and Governor must build consensus within the business community before adopting a new form of business taxation. Any replacement tax should not generate more business tax revenue than business taxes being replaced."

In July 2007, Governor Granholm signed legislation enacting the MBT, which includes a tax based on modified gross receipts and business income. While the Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposed the legislation, the Detroit Chamber ultimately endorsed the MBT. In 2007, Sarah Hubbard, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the chamber supports the legislation and while the new MBT may not be perfect, "it provides the stability and certainty we need for economic development. I think philosophically this is a good bill. It rewards investment in Michigan."

Now fast forward. According to a survey by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, businesses are up in arms about the MBT and nearly one-third of responding businesses saw their taxes more than double. What is a policymaker to do? The tax that businesses desperately wanted off the books is gone, the replacement tax that was endorsed by at least some businesses is on the books, and yet many still aren't satisfied. Perhaps this shows that businesses and legislators were too quick to accelerate the repeal of the SBT, especially given that a carefully studied alternative wasn't in place.

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