TIM SKUBICK: Snyder’s road-repair plans look doomed
If the cartoon charactors Mr. Peabody and his pet-boy Sherman could somehow loan their Way-Back machine to the governor, would he go back in time to scrub his senior pension tax in order to raise more money for the roads.
History will eventually record that he could have had the transportation tax which is now doomed but he picked the pension tax instead.
Recall that in the euphoric first days of the new Snyder administration the governor got anti-tax Republicans to adopt the partial senior pension levy. And even though that was three years ago, that one decision has interfered with the administration’s grandiose plans to raise $1.2 billion for the roads now.
It’s been 26 months since Mr. Snyder unveiled his package with little to show for his efforts. Reluctant Republicans who gave him the yes vote on the senior tax are well aware that the Democrats used that against them in the last house election. As a result a host of Republicans lost their seats and now their margin of control is five lousy seats. And the Democrats will use it again next year.
Consequently many Republicans don’t have the stomach to give the governor what he wants on transportation funding now.
Oh sure, there is the senate GOP leader trying to put a smiley face on this inaction. Sen. Randy Richardville R-Monroe with a straight face suggesting, “We’re still doing some very significant things in transportation. A quarter of a billion which is a quarter billion more than last year.”
A quarter billion sounds like a ton, but despite his effort to puff-up the figure, in reality it is only $250 million which will pave about one road and maybe fix about three potholes.
In reality the number is actually about $350 million which was snatched from an unexpected state surplus but either way it’s not the 1.2 billion the governor still wants.
But there are other factors to explain the inaction.
The governor wants and needs Democratic votes and was willing to deal. But last year at this time, his relationship with the house and senate Democratic leaders was rocky at best and non-existent at worse because of Right to Work.
When the Republicans jammed that down the throat of organized labor, the last thing Senator Gretchen Whitmer D-East Lansing and Rep. Tim Greimel D-Oakland County wanted to do was play nice with the GOP governor.
Hence any attempt at road funding was a non-starter.
Eventually the wounds started to heal and the two Democrats found themselves in the room with the governor working on transportation funding.
But along came the contentious debate over Medicaid expansion for 300,000 of the state’s needy folks who don’t have health care coverage.
That sucked all the air out of the road funding debate as the governor shifted focus to convincing Republicans that the Medicaid issue needed support.
That promptly erupted into a battle between him and them which got ugly and doomed the transportation thing even more.
But once the insurance issue was resolved and road stuff got back on track, it was immediately derailed when new polling data suggested the voters would not pay for it.
And to make matters worse, the heeling relationship between the governor and the Democrats reverted to life-support when he and the Republicans jammed through the Court of Claims bill which Democrats hated. It was RTW all over again. Sen. Whitmer is back to saying she doesn’t “trust” the governor.
Of course the governor had no way to know that the pension tax would cost him an opportunity to fix the roads.
But add it all up. With voters opposed and all the parties unable to talk to each other, road funding is caput for now, if not forever and not even a strong overdose of RPA can
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.