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Business Isn't Paying Enough Dough To State, Coalition Says

Business Isn't Paying Enough Dough To State, Coalition Says

A coalition of roughly a dozen traditionally progressive groups led by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and the Michigan Nurses Association kicked off its public awareness campaign on lobbying reform Wednesday with a visual pointing out how little business pays the state in taxes.

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, introduced Pie Guy on the steps of the Capitol building at a press conference where he called for a ban on all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, including food and drinks. He also called for a cooling off period before lawmakers can become lobbyists and more stringent reporting requirements for lobbyists.

"We see lobbying and revenue reform as issues that are inextricably linked. For too long, wealthy special interests and their lobbyists have run the show in Lansing. Big business has spent untold millions on lobbying to make sure they could make untold billions without paying their fair share of taxes," Scott said.

Scott identified the groups involved as being in support of "good government," but only Planned Parenthood and the Michigan Nurses Association felt comfortable putting their name to the effort at this time.

He contended there was a "massive tax shift" under the Snyder Administration that needs to be rectified. He said the budget debate this year shows the need for more revenue options that require everyone, including corporations and the wealthy, to pay their fair share.

"Frankly, we need more revenue to pay for things that our communities need, not to just fix the damn roads, but to fund our damn schools, and clean up our damn water," Scott said.

Progress Michigan launched the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes as a ballot committee in September.

Scott said that if lawmakers don't pick up some of the reforms being proposed, it could to lead to a ballot initiative in 2020.

"The Legislature could enact this," Scott said. "They could go write bills and move this through the Legislature a lot faster and a lot easier than it would take a citizens' initiative, but what we have seen is a resistance for any kind of positive change coming from the Republican Legislature, so that certainly is a possibility."

Specifically, the Coalition's proposal would be to ban all gifts to lawmakers, including food and drinks.

"You all will probably go talk to (Rep.) Brandt Iden (R-Oshtemo Twp.) about it Wednesday. He is going to be pretty sad about having to spend money on his own lunch," Scott said.

Currently, a lobbyist is limited to giving $25 worth of gifts to a lawmaker within a one-month period. Food for immediate consumption is not included in the cap.

Things like concert tickets and greens fees would be.

Scott suggested a two-year cooling off period before a lawmaker could turn lobbyist would be an appropriate wait.

He also called for lobbyists and lawmakers to be required to report the amount of time they spend with one another. Scott contended that grassroots activists don't have the time or money to court lawmakers by taking them "out to fancy meals and talking to them over the course of time." Grassroots activists typically are limited to a single lobby day to meet with their legislators.

"With this, they are really going to have to report when they are talking to a lobbyist, who that lobbyist is working for, and potentially how much they have been paid to lobby on a specific issue and how much time are they spending with that legislator to lobby them on a specific bill. It will be dual reporting, just like campaign finance, where you can see money in money out. We want to see that the lawmaker is reporting the same thing as the lobbyist," Scott said.

"People should be able to know who is lobbying their lawmakers and on who's behalf. People should be able to know that the lawmakers aren't just in office to take advantage of the revolving door or using their last months in office to find a job as a lobbyist when their term is up. People should have confidence in knowing that their lawmaker is not being bought with free food and booze," he said.

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