Figures from the Treasury Department estimate that just since 1994, the changes in tax rates and structures have saved the typical family of four an estimated $1,255 a year. Had changes to the income tax, sales and use taxes, property taxes and gasoline taxes not occurred-and ironically, the sales and gasoline taxes were increased during the Engler tenure-the average family would pay $6,422 a year in state taxes. Now it pays $5,167.
Even if one family member is a smoker who has seen the state's big increases in tobacco taxes, the family pays $833 less in taxes, according to the Treasury figures.
But those figures are not completely accepted by all. Figures from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce argue that since Mr. Engler took office, per capita state taxes have gone from $1,366 to $2,348. While per capita income has of course increased in the same time frame, from $19,311 to $29,788, what Chamber officials argue is a more important indicator is the percentage of taxes to personal income, which has increased from 7.1 percent in 1990-91 to 7.9 percent in 2000-01.
In fact, before the five-year phase-in of the income tax cut was adopted in 1999, taxes as a percentage of income had reached 8.4 percent, despite the state's consistent tax cutting, the Chamber's figures showed.
Mr. Studley said the problem is that the state continues to spend more than it needs. By the 2000-01 fiscal year had in fact spent more, $38.9 billion, than it had in all revenues-taxes, federal funds, fees, bond revenues, interest income, etc.-a total of $37.1 billion.
Those arguments, said Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), miss the larger picture. The state has to provide services and it has to ensure the taxes it charges are not out of line. "We aren't Mississippi," he said. Taxes had gotten out of line, he said, and under Mr. Engler they were put back in line.
The 1994 adoption of Proposal A, the school finance reform, is often cited by Mr. Engler as his proudest accomplishment. The proposal in fact accomplished several goals in one: cutting property taxes, cutting the income tax, and establishing a more equitable school funding formula. At the same time, the voters approved a 50 percent increase in Michigan's sales tax, from 4 percent to 6 percent.
Sales taxes more unfairly affect the low-income sector of society, said Ms. Parks, especially as few services are taxed with sales and use taxes and the well-to-do use more services. But Mr. Roberts said state voters made the right decision to select the sales tax increase over an income tax boost to help pay for schools.
The range of the tax cuts and tax eliminations enacted by the administration is striking-from the intangibles tax to a multi-decade phase-out of the single business tax (while viscerally hated by the business community, Mr. Roberts said he remains one of the few supporters of the concept of the tax).
And when-or if-the income tax rollback goes to the targeted rate of 3.9 percent, it will be the lowest that tax has been since the early 1970s.