“Michigan’s citizens are counting on us to find a real solution that will finally fix our crumbling roads and damaged bridges.” —Rep. Tim Greimel
Sure, Michigan needs a workable roads plan, but after last week’s rout, where only 19.9 percent of voters gave the nod to the bipartisan mash-up known as Prop 1, it’s going to be one tough row to hoe.
The measure that politicos and policy wonks alike touted as the best compromise, resulted in the biggest flameout of a constitutional ballot question for Michigan in 67 years. Zachery Gorchow of Gongwer News Service offered no fewer than 23 reasons the proposal tanked, explaining “Why 23? Because I couldn’t think of a 24th.” Here’s a 24th to add to the mix: Democrats felt they were being talked down to, like children being urged to swallow their medicine, with the school funding and EITC as the spoonful of sugar.
Lesson: Progressive voters pride themselves on more than just their sense of compassion and fairness — they also place a premium on their relative intelligence. Whether the proposal was good or bad becomes moot when the campaign message takes a swipe at the electorate’s ability to sift the facts.
Nonetheless, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and forge a plan B. Democratic lawmakers seem to be the new standard-bearers for the cause.
Rep. Jim Townsend (D-26) has expressed an interest in floating a 2016 ballot measure for a graduated income tax in the state, premised on the notion that Prop 1 failed because it was a regressive tax — an argument made by many. Townsend told Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio that “People in the middle class are tired of paying taxes into a system that’s not fair. People at the bottom and the middle are paying more than their fair share of taxes, while people at the top are not paying their fair share.” He estimates a graduated tax could bring in an additional $700 million in revenue. To be sure, not nearly enough, but it would be a promising start.
Michigan’s Democratic House Leader Tim Greimel introduced legislation last week (HR-80) calling on House and Senate members to stay in Lansing during their scheduled summer break to work on an alternative fix for transportation infrastructure. The resolution makes it clear that Michigan residents demand lawmakers do their job and find a viable means to repair the state’s crumbling roads. The text is well worth reading:
“Whereas, The Legislature developed a proposal to create a long-term funding solution for roads that would have raised more than $1.3 billion. However, Michigan voters resoundingly rejected this proposal by the largest margin of any Michigan ballot measure since the current state constitution was adopted in 1963; and
Whereas, The rejection of the legislative ballot proposal was not a rejection of the dire need to fix our roads. A recent EPIC-MRA poll indicated that 81 percent of those polled want the Legislature to work on a proposal to fix the roads as soon as possible. It is clear that the Legislature must take action, and soon, to attend to the roads problem; and
Whereas, Legislators were elected to represent the best interests of Michigan citizens and to solve problems on their behalf. A full-time legislature should work full-time and not take eight weeks off for summer “vacation” when urgent problems demand well-thought-out solutions. There is no time to waste as our roads continue to deteriorate at a growing cost to the citizens of Michigan. We must start the wheels of government in motion in the direction of good roads.”
There are some who firmly believe that the public’s failure to acquiesce on Prop 1 will result in a perceived mandate for this (decidedly less than august) legislative body to further rob education funding and municipal revenue sharing to shore-up the state’s failing road system. However, Michigan voters may have an unexpected ace in the hole — surprisingly, in the form of their governor, Republican Rick Snyder.
Since a roads funding victory is at the top of his to do list, albeit for self-serving reasons, he will likely be a discriminating player in the game. As a lame duck governor, and a possible GOP vice-presidential pick, Snyder certainly understands that his attractiveness as a potential running mate lies in his ability to balance-out an otherwise extreme right-wing ticket — something he can’t do if he’s seen to be repeatedly looting the School Aid Fund to service corporate tax breaks, while caving to Tea Party interests, and unable to fix the roads without putting seniors and working poor out on the street. Snyder is very sensitive to criticism on these points, as he should be.
For the governor, a politically digestible plan B is critical to protect both his legacy and his potential future in public office. The FiveThirtyEight blog charted his record alongside other White House hopefuls and found him waaaay too moderate to survive a presidential primary himself, leaving him as the perfect partner for a viable contender fond of using stronger, if not vicious, GOP rhetoric.
Snyder has a compelling incentive to keep the roads issue debate civil and moderate as an example of his moderate statesmanship skills.
In the meantime, Greimel remains more focused on the essential matter at hand. Without scolding voters over their landslide rejection of Prop 1, he is looking for real solutions to the state’s dire roads problem:
“Michigan’s citizens are counting on us to find a real solution that will finally fix our crumbling roads and damaged bridges. They expect us to get to work – not take a vacation – and we owe it to them to stay in session until we create a comprehensive road funding plan that is fair to everyone.”
There has been much talk about how GOP operatives have cleverly leveraged Prop 1 as a means to divide and conquer progressive voters. That may be attributing too much credit to their otherwise sophomoric organizational skills. Michigan’s GOP leadership has been laboring under a greater ideological schism than their erstwhile partners across the aisle.
But, they sure know how to get under the skin of some Democrats. Credit where credit’s due.