LANSING (AP) - A permanent tax cut for individuals and additional short-term funding for road maintenance are among the new priorities for House Republicans anticipating a budget surplus in the new year.
Speaker Jase Bolger and other GOP legislators who control the House on Thursday unveiled their updated "action plan" at the halfway point of the two-year legislative session. Other items added to the agenda this election year include enacting anti-human trafficking bills and legislation to shield gun owners' privacy from public-information requests.
Bolger declined to get behind any specific tax relief proposal but said he is open to ideas, and a state income tax cut clearly falls within his parameters. Some Republicans already have called for gradually reducing the rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, though GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has remained cautious.
Lawmakers on Friday will get a consensus estimate on revenue projections along with an economic outlook for Michigan. At least $1 billion more than expected has been projected to be collected from last fiscal year through the next budget year, and Republicans credit their conservative budgeting and a net overall tax decrease three years ago as factors.
Bolger, of Marshall, not surprisingly ruled out Democrats' continual calls to reinstate a tax exemption on pension and other retirement income and to fully restore a credit for low-income earners.
"It will be targeted, focused towards individuals, and it will reward those who worked hard to pay the bill that resulted in the surplus," Bolger told reporters.
He characterized the earned income tax credit for low-wage workers, which Republicans reduced in 2011 to help offset a reduction in business taxes, as a "check that is written to people instead of refunding money that was paid."
Democrats criticized the GOP's refusal Thursday to reverse course on at least some of the 2011 tax rewrite, which also eliminated a credit for children and made fewer homeowners eligible for a credit.
"The first and highest priority should be undoing the tax increases that Republicans have imposed on Michigan seniors and hard-working families," House Minority Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said in a phone interview.
With Republicans talking about cutting taxes, "it's great legislative Republicans have come around to our way of thinking," he added.
Majority Republicans also anticipate again being able to direct some of the surplus to transportation spending like they did in the current budget. They also plan to set aside more savings and pay down debt.
Another temporary boost in road and bridge funding is not a permanent fix, like the stalled gasoline tax and vehicle registration fee increases sought by Snyder, but it would be a start and a good stop-gap move, said GOP Rep. Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant.
Bolger said the House has approved slightly more than half of the GOP caucus' 2013-14 agenda to date. The plan to exempt information about gun owners from Freedom of Information Act requests stems from a New York newspaper's decision in 2012 to publish the names and addresses of permitted gun owners.
Related legislation cleared a Senate committee last year but is still awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.