TIM SKUBICK: No good solution in sight
It’s been almost two years since the always upbeat Gov. Rick Snyder told a standing room only crowd that it was time to spend $1.2 billion a year to fix the roads. The applause was thunderous as the road building interests led the cheers for a governor who was going where no other governor dared to go before.
Sure former Gov. John Engler reluctantly embraced a piddly gas tax hike that was eaten-up my infiation before it fixed many roads. This governor was bold. $1.2 billion was a good chunk of change.
So much for being bold.
Just shy of the two year mark, the governor has made little progress toward that ambitious goal and it’s looking more and more like he won’t get there until after the 2014 election, if then.
The key players have not tossed in the towel but some key elements of a would-be package are falling apart as you read.
Take the must bally-hooed proposed sales tax increase part of a complex proposal to create a $1.2 billion dollar windfall for the roads while finding new revenue for the schools.
“It’s on the shelf,” confesses the GOP chair of the House Transportation committee. Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) has labored long and hard with his Democratic counterpart Rep. Marilyn Lane (D-Fraser) but have very little to show for it.
When he says it is on the shelf, that is legislative code for, this is nearly dead or to use his words, “it’s going to sit there for a little bit…the house is not going to move on it.”
He reports if the GOP senate wants to move on it, the house would take a look at it, but to add more doom and gloom to the sales tax, the top GOP dog in the House offers this curb side analysis, “I’m not hearing much hope … it looks dim at this point.”
Thank you House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) who is not giving up but he is also a realist. Having been told it can’t be done, he’s the kinda guy to prove you wrong, but getting a two-thirds vote in the house to place this on the ballot is a mountain maybe even he can’t climb.
As for the $1.2 billion objective, Rep. Schmidt confides it “most likely” will not be achieved.
What happened when weeks ago it felt like something would fall into place?
Two words: Medicaid expansion.
The governor had to fight all summer long and even before that to nail that down and it not only sucked away whatever momentum there was for the roads, but it left the governor with very little political capital to spend to get it moving again.
As one insider put it, after a very tough vote on Medicaid, how could you now go back to the members and ask for a revenue raising vote on transportation and the schools?
You could argue taking tough votes is what taxpayers pay lawmakers to do, but if they don’t want to, they won’t. And right now they don’t.
All this gives rise to the notion that in November 2014, during the lame duck post election session, this has a chance to get done. One nose counter suggests there’s a “50-50 chance” that fixing the roads and schools will be on hold until then.
Yet the governor and four legislative leaders continue to work toward a solution but none is in sight. None.
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.