Inmates in Michigan correctional facilities have been exempt from the state sales tax since 1971, but that may soon change. A piece of legislation extending the tax to prisoners passed the state House of Representatives by 93-13 in late January and is facing a vote by the state Senate.
Rep. Anthony Forlini (R-Harrison Township) sponsored the legislation, House Bill 4658, and estimates it would generate about $500,000 a year.
"It simply is not fair that law-abiding citizens in Michigan should pay sales taxes and those who are serving time in prison do not," Forlini said in a statement.
Michigan's sales tax is 6 percent. Forlini noted he is "not asking prisoners to pay any more than you or I pay on products and services."
American Friends Service Committee spokesman Peter Martel told Fox 2 prisoners only make $15 to $20 a month and can't afford to pay taxes on top of other costs, like covering supplies.
"Inmates have been paying their fair share for years," he said. "Their costs have gone up. They're getting hit with court fees left and right. They've got to pay more and more for their health care. They simply can't make ends meet anymore."
Martel added that prisoners do not have the right to vote, making the proposed law a case of taxation without representation.
Concerns about wages for prisoners delayed an effort by state officials to privatize the state's penal system last month. A review from state Attorney General Bill Schuette's office found private contractors would have to pay Michigan's $7.40 minimum wage to inmates performing certain duties, about 10 times what the state currently pays for prison labor, the Associated Press reports.