Mark Ouimet looked as if he couldn’t lose in the election for state representative from the 52nd District in northwest Washtenaw County. Not only was he well known as a three-term county commissioner, but he’d also tied himself to the coattails of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder.
As predicted, Snyder won handily and the Republicans took over both sides of the legislature. Ouimet won, too, but just barely—in large part because Democrats accused him of bilking the county out of $16,000 in ineligible reimbursements.
“Coming out right before the election, the timing was purely political,” Ouimet says. He also stresses that “each time I filled out the per diem [expense] list and turned it in to the office, I made it very clear: if it’s not allowable, it should not be paid. And they were approved and paid.”
The county appointed an independent auditor to investigate the accusations. That was still ongoing in January when Ouimet went to Lansing to join Snyder and their fellow Republicans in reinventing Michigan.
The GOP plans an audacious combination of spending cuts and tax shifts. To eliminate the current deficit, Snyder’s proposed two-year budget calls for $1.4 billion in spending cuts, in “education, revenue sharing, and some reductions in public safety,” summarizes Ouimet, including a $470-per-pupil cut in public school funding.
Yet at the same time Snyder would slash the corporate tax rate to 6 percent and the small business rate to zero—a $1.8 billion overall tax cut for business. To replace the lost revenue, Ouimet says, the Republicans “will do away with the [business] tax credits, and there’ll also be some tax shifts.” Those shifts include taking another $358 million from the lower classes by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, $700 million from the middle and upper classes by phasing out their personal exemptions, and $900 million from seniors of every class by taxing pensions.
“In order to grow as a state, we’ve got to grow the business environment,” Ouimet says in defense of the changes. “Right now, large businesses are holding onto their cash and waiting to see what state and federal will do. With lower business taxes, we can get them to invest and create jobs here … It’ll take some time, but if we have more people working and paying tax, that’ll solve our problems.”
The budget also cuts revenue sharing payments to local governments by a third—from $300 million to $200 million. Ouimet admits that will hurt cities and counties across the state, but says it won’t be quite as rough on Washtenaw County. “That $200 million [in revenue sharing] will be given as a reward to those cities and counties that use shared services, and here in Washtenaw County we already do an awful lot of those. For example, there’s the sheriff’s patrol, and some of the schools do shared busing programs. A lot of counties are behind the curve on that, and this will have more impact on them.”
Speaking of the county, when the auditor finished looking into per diems, it turned out that Ouimet wasn’t the only commissioner who’d received more than he should have. Though his total was by far the largest, ten other commissioners also owed the county money.
The review determined that Ouimet had received $14,386 in ineligible reimbursements. He immediately repaid the full amount, but says he hadn’t kept the money in the first place. “The money I received I just passed on to charity,” he says. “Most of it went to the United Way—but I paid the income tax on it!” Though Ouimet declines to discuss “my personal income tax return,” it appears the former banker doesn’t itemize deductions.