Late Ad Misleadingly Claims Republican Candidate for Governor Could ‘Slash’ State Police Funding
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Tudor Dixon, a Republican candidate for governor in Michigan, proposes to phase out the state’s individual income tax, though she has not detailed how she would cut state government spending to make up for the lost revenue.
Since the tax helps to fund the state police budget, a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association has put out an ad in the closing days of the primary that claims Dixon’s “dangerous budget plan could slash” the state police budget, resulting in “less cops on the street, making Michigan less safe.”
But whatever cuts might be necessitated by eliminating the state’s income tax, Dixon’s campaign website says she believes in “fully funding law enforcement” and she vows to “never reduce funding for law enforcement agencies or public safety initiatives.”
These kinds of political attacks are nothing new. It’s easy to promise to cut taxes without detailing commensurate spending cuts or other revenue increases.
Given that nearly every state, including Michigan, requires a balanced budget, opponents of candidates who propose tax cuts often fill in the blanks. They warn voters of cuts to popular programs that might result from proposed tax cuts — even though the candidate proposing the tax cuts may or may not support those specific cuts.
That’s the case with this ad from Put Michigan First, a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association. The group purchased $2 million in ad time to air the commercial in the waning days before the Aug. 2 primary election.
A narrator in the ad says, “You want to lead Michigan, you’ve got to keep people safe. But Tudor Dixon’s dangerous budget plan could slash up to $500 million from state police across Michigan, threatening funding for thousands of law enforcement jobs. The Michigan Association of Police Organizations says Dixon’s approach would have a devastating impact on police budgets, leaving law enforcement crippled. Tudor Dixon’s devastating plan would mean less cops on the street, making Michigan less safe.”
Dixon’s campaign website page on the issue of the economy touts Dixon’s plan to “[d]evelop and enact a plan to phase out Michigan’s personal income tax over time,” but goes on to note, “We will never reduce funding for law enforcement agencies or public safety initiatives. … [W]e believe in fully funding law enforcement and providing them the resources they need to keep our communities safe.” (That last part, vowing not to reduce law enforcement funding, wasn’t included on that page a week ago.)
Dixon has not specified how many years she would take to phase out the individual income tax, but she criticized her opponent in the Republican primary, Kevin Rinke, for proposing to eliminate the 4.25% income tax more quickly — by 2024 — without providing a plan to offset that loss of revenue.
“He’s just planning on cutting that revenue with no plan, so that would obviously do what (the Democrats are) attacking me for,” Dixon said in a meeting with the Police Officers Association of Michigan on July 27, the Detroit News reported.
“The idea that this attack ad has come out and said that I would ever reduce police funding is baloney,” she said at the event with police.
When asked in a July 10 interview with WDIV in Detroit where she would cut spending to allow for the tax cuts she is proposing, Dixon said only that she supports the plan brought by the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature earlier this year. The legislature proposed cutting the individual income tax rate from 4.25% to 3.9% without cutting state police funding. That proposal was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But that’s only a relatively small cut in the individual income tax, as opposed to phasing it out entirely.
According to the Detroit News, Dixon said lost revenue from phasing out the individual income tax would be replaced by new taxes from out-of-state tourists.
Sam Newton, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, emphasized that ad only says the Dixon plan “could” (not “would”) result in state police funding cuts.
“The state income tax that Dixon wants to ‘phase out’ provides more than $7.7 billion to the state’s general fund,” Newton told us in an email. “And the state’s general fund is ‘the primary funding source for the … Department of State Police,’ covering $552 million of the state police’s budget in 2022-2023.” (The state’s total budget is $76 billion for fiscal year 2023, including a general fund total of $15.2 billion, according to the governor’s office.)
The ad, he said, “simply points out the basic math at play: if your plan depletes more than $7.7 billion from the general fund and the general fund provides $552 million of the state police’s budget, then your plan could slash $500 million (or more) from the state police’s budget.”
The qualifier “could” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.
First, the text on the screen doesn’t match what the narrator says. As the narrator speaks, TV viewers see this definitive statement on the screen, “Tudor Dixon cut up to $500 million from state police.”
And the ad’s narrator goes on to say that “Tudor Dixon’s plan would mean less cops on the street.” (Emphasis is ours)
Responding to the ad, Dixon released a statement saying she is the “law and order candidate” and touted her endorsement from the Police Officers Association of Michigan.
Dixon also appeared on Fox News in recent days to push back against the ad’s claims that she would cut police funding. “I’m out here constantly talking about putting more money into policing, making sure our cities are safe,” Dixon told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on July 28. The following morning, she was again on Fox News. “They know that my platform has been to go around and say that we want to make sure that we take care of the police,” Dixon said.
That’s true. For example, during an interview back in April, when asked how Michigan can hire and retain good police officers, Dixon responded, “We have to seriously fund the police. We have to defend our police officers. We have to support our police officers. And we have to train our police officers.”
Dixon’s campaign sent letters to TV stations asking them to pull the Put Michigan First ad. According to the Detroit News, a lawyer for the Dixon campaign said the ad was “false” and told the stations they had “a legal obligation not to air such smears designed to mislead Michigan voters.”
Lawyers for Put Michigan First responded, telling TV stations the ad was factually correct and that “Ms. Dixon does not want to be held accountable for the implications of her tax policy. … Ms. Dixon is free to purchase airtime on your station to explain how she would fill the funding gap that her plan would create.”
The lawyers for Put Michigan First also defended the ad’s claim that the Michigan Association of Police Organizations said “Dixon’s approach” would “[leave] law enforcement crippled.” That was the Michigan Association of Police Organizations’ assessment of a 2017 bill that sought to eliminate the state’s individual income tax.
According to the Detroit News, individual income tax revenues in Michigan accounted for about 16% of the overall budget.
“Cutting that amount of money from the budget would be a dramatic shift in state government operations and would likely mean funding reductions for schools, road work and other services, if the revenue weren’t replaced,” the story states.
But again, we don’t know how Dixon would cut the budget if she phased out the individual income tax. We reached out repeatedly to the Dixon campaign asking about that, but we did not get a response.
It may be tempting for opponents of people proposing tax cuts, without also spelling out spending cuts or other revenue increases, to suggest what kinds of specific programs could or would be cut as a result. But in this case, Dixon has explicitly said state law enforcement funding won’t be affected.
Dixon is one of six Republicans competing in the Republican gubernatorial primary on Aug. 2, and she has been leading in most of the recent primary polls. The winner will face Whitmer on Nov. 8.
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