Snyder the Tax Cutter?

He has a plan to slash taxes on employers. He should talk about it more than he has so far.

Politicians of all stripes should generally be wary of advice from the media, so Rick Snyder’s supporters should hope that their man takes Leonard Fleming’s report in Monday’s Detroit News with a grain of salt. Fleming finds that conservatives and tea party leaders (the legitimate ones that is) remain unenthused about the GOP gubernatorial candidate. To the extent that Fleming’s article deals with Snyder’s positions, it winds up focusing on social issues, quoting one Kalkaska native’s worries about stem cell research, and then moving on to an interview with the president of Michigan Right-to-Life. The article concludes by citing state Sen. Alan Cropsey’s recommendation that Snyder find “a more conservative running mate who’s good on issues involving guns, abortion, and economics.”

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There are high stakes and deep convictions on all sides of many of these social issues. For Snyder to switch positions on stem cells or gun rights is full of risks. A good running mate will be helpful, but in the end Snyder has to speak for himself. The good news is if Snyder wants to expand his appeal to conservatives he can do himself plenty of good on just the economics part, and doing so involves minimal risk of being seen as doing a flip-flop, though it will mean emphasizing something he hasn’t talked about much up to now.

Among the numerous policy papers that the Snyder campaign has put out is a proposal to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax and replace it with a flat corporate income tax. The Snyder proposal isn’t as good as the Mackinac Center’s proposal for replacing the MBT, which takes in $2.2 billion annually, with nothing, but Snyder claims that his plan would result in a $1.5 billion annual tax cut — a bit better than a two-thirds reduction in business taxes.

Conservatives and tea party supporters may argue over priorities and details, but they do share a sound basic understanding of economics and a commitment to bolster the state’s economy by returning money to the private sector. If you want more jobs, lower taxes on employers. If Snyder’s numbers add up (at this point I can neither confirm nor refute Snyder’s projections), his proposal would do a lot to make Michigan more attractive to business owners. And it would generate a lot of enthusiasm among conservative activists.

But it’s not enough to have a healthy business tax cut in a position paper on your website. If Snyder wants conservatives firmly on his side, he needs to be seen as ready to fight for this tax cut. That means campaigning on it. Running television ads on it. Speaking out about it.

So far it would appear that Snyder has not done that. He has made the typical politician’s generalized calls for tax reform, but the specific call for an overhaul and deep cut in the MBT has not been made in his radio and television ads, nor would it appear to have been highlighted on the stump. If Snyder really wants conservatives and tea party activists in his corner and energized, and if he really wants to reinvent Michigan next January, the next step will be dust off one of his own position papers and show some leadership on business tax relief.