Oct 15, 2007

Garcia defends his tax vote

HOWELL – State Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, faced voters for the first time at a townhall meeting last week after being only one of two Republicans to vote for implementing a sales tax on certain services.

“I believe in accountability,” Garcia said. “That’s why I’m here. If at the end of the night you still don’t agree with me that fine; that’s how representative government works.”

The legislature voted in the early morning hours on Oct. 1 to implement the sales tax and to raise the state income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.45 percent that helped close the $1.8 billon deficit in the state budget, and it put an end to a brief three hour government shutdown. However, many voters across Michigan are extremely upset about the tax increase, and some 50 people came out to voice their disapproval with Garcia at his townhall meeting.

“If I was going to run for office again I might as well forget it,” Garcia said. “I also faced the threat of a recall.
“It was the toughest vote I have faced in my eight and a half years in the Legislature,” he said.

That recall threat became a reality a few days later when Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-26 District - the head of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance – announced he was launching a recall of Garcia and nine other legislators. That recall may be a tough row to hoe in predominately Republican Livingston County, as well as conservative Shiawassee County and parts of Ingham County. Garcia is term-limited, and he had little trouble in his last two Senate elections. Last November he won the seat with almost 60 percent of the vote and in 2002 he won with 68 percent of the vote.

Garcia said he is a conservative who supports small government, and his track record has been one of fiscal conservatism. However, he said it was common knowledge in the legislature that it was going to take cuts, reforms and raising taxes to balance the state budget. Garcia was the lone Senate Republican to vote against the cuts the Senate proposed, saying they were excessive. Few Republicans voted for the same cuts in the House, and even if the cuts were approved it left a $798 million gap that still had to be made up.

“I hear people say why don’t you do it with cuts,” Garcia said. “I’m going to be blunt with you; we can’t do it all with cuts.
“Even the Senate Republications knew they were going to raise taxes,” he said.

Garcia said many of the costs of government are beyond control of the Legislature, and Medicaid is the fastest growing cost in the budget. He said he proposed cutting legislator pay and benefits that did not get any approval. However, he said even if the entire legislature and their staffs were eliminated that would account for just 1 percent of the $42 billon budget.

“I believe government should live within its means,” he said. “The problem is government is not like a business. We are charged with providing some essential services, like public health, public safety and public education.”

Garcia said compromise is not a bad word, and the solution was a good compromise because Republicans got some reforms they have been trying to crack for years, including when the GOP controlled both the House and Senate and had a Republican governor. Those reforms included pooling of health insurance for teachers and other public employees, creating a commission on government efficiency, creating a common public school calendar, Medicaid reforms and eliminating so-called "double-dipping."

“You can disapprove on how I govern, but I have to find common ground with my fellow legislators and the governor,” Garcia said. “I will not compromise my position on pro-life or moral issues.
“I see no problem with finding common ground on the budget,” he said.

Garcia voted no on the income tax increase, but he said if his vote was needed he was willing to vote for it because it was the right thing to do.

“I was prepared to vote for the income tax to be consistent,” but they did not need my vote,” he said. “I’m not going to be dishonest and say I was not going to vote for it.”

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