TIM SKUBICK: Both parties are ready to play politics
If you were a betting person, you’d be tempted to bet the farm that this GOP governor can not pull this off.
For 18 months, Gov. Rick Snyder has labored hard and has squat to show for his efforts to fix the roads with an infusion of $1.2 billion. Meanwhile the roads continue to crumble at the alarming rate of $3 million a day according to the state’s top bean-counter John Nixon. Gulp.
The naysayers in town can make a strong case for him falling flat on his you-know-what. Nose. Here’s why.
Legislative Democrats still have a trust problem with the GOP governor.
Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer grouses about the fruitless meetings in private with his honor and his two GOP legislative leaders and Whitmer’s house Democratic counterpart.
Asked point blank if the so-called quadrant talks (four leaders and the governor) were making process or standing still, the governor paused, stared his baby blues into the camera lense and offered this ditty, “I’d say we are having discussions.”
Notice no confession that no progress has been made.
The East Lansing Democrat Ms. Whitmer was more blunt.
The talks were basically at a stand-still. “It’s very frustrating,” she confesses while calling this a Republican stalemate.
House GOP Speaker gave some ground the other day when, for the first time, he conceded you could not squeeze enough blood out of the Department of Transportation budget to get to $1.2 billion explaining, “I don’t believe that that is going to solve the full problem.”
So far the Democrats have been reluctant to put their revenue plans on the table. Being Democrats they should be head over heels that a GOP governor wants to spend money on the roads thus creating more union jobs and paychecks for the base of the Democratic party. But so far, they’ve placed “principles” on the table, not a proposal. Principles don’t fill the road ruts either.
The Snyder administration concludes the other guys are “playing politics.”
“No we aren’t,” Sen. Whitmer rejoins noting that the governor can’t get “Republican mass” on his plans so why should she take a risk of showing her hand before he has something to offer her. The game of chicken continues.
The governor asserts he’s willing to talk; he won’t use the word “deal”, but deal he must.
And here’s why this may not be as hopeless as everyone believes.
Two words, prevailing wage.
Once again as is oft the case, an unrelated issue has been linked to the road revenue gambit. Democrats want the governor to say he would veto a repeal of prevailing wages which would be an automatic cut in pay for workers on public works projects. Prevailing wage is son of Right to Work and Democrats don’t like it. Some Republicans do.
Yet given numerous public opportunities to say he would kill such a measure, the crafty governor demurs, “I’m not going to take a position on it at this point.”
The key phrase there is, “at this point.” He’s not going to give that away in public, unless he gets something in return. Hence the stonewall. He knows what he’s going.
However in private, it’s been revealed the governor has given, what one source describes as assurances, that if there is a broad transpo package with Democratic support, the D’s could get what they want on the wage issue.
No one will confirm this.
Adding more gravitas to the notion that he can pull this off, some back room discussions are unfolding as some non-legislators play Henry Kissenger trying to mold a package that both sides can buy. They are not there yet but these are seasoned players and they just might pull it off.
Plus, after two weeks of some unrelated and really nasty brick bats between the GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and Democratic House Leader Tim Greimel (R-Oakland County) that put a damper on talks, they came to their senses and resolved their feud by pledging to take a shot at some good public policy rather than shooting at each other.
How refreshing and high marks to both of them for going there.
Hence the optimist could make the case this can be done so don’t bet the whole back forty just yet.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.