Snyder: Lame-duck Legislature ‘set their own course’ on controversial bills

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder gives an exit interview to editorial board and reporters of The Detroit News in the Tony Snow conference room at the newspaper office in downtown Detroit on Friday, December 7, 2018.

Lansing — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder won’t reveal whether he’ll sign controversial bills coming from the lame-duck Legislature but plans to approach the final two weeks of the session “in a dynamic fashion,” he said Friday.

“Largely, they’ve set their own course,” Snyder said of the Republican-led Legislature, which last week sent him bills to weaken minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives while advancing measures to bypass or handcuff Democrats set to take over top state offices on Jan. 1.

“I’m waiting to see what comes to my desk and I’ll review it in a thoughtful fashion,” Snyder said in a 30-minute interview with The Detroit News editorial board and reporters. “I’m going to look at it from what I believe is the best public policy answer for the state of Michigan, just like I have for eight years.”

More: Snyder not at peace with Flint water crisis as he preps to leave office

As Detroit News editorial board editor Nolan Finley reported Wednesday, Snyder is willing to leverage his veto pen as he pushes lawmakers to take up his own top agenda items, including new trash dumping and water customer fees for environmental clean-up and water infrastructure upgrades.

But the governor said Friday he is “proud” of his track record over the past eight years and does not feel pressure to take any steps outside his “normal balance” of reviewing bills.

“I’m going to stay consistent to myself, and if some things get done or don’t get done, I’m going to be okay,” Snyder said.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said Tuesday he is confident Snyder will sign the minimum wage and paid sick leave bills, which weaken initiatives advanced by voter-signed petition drives, because “he said so.”

The governor noted he has 14 days to review the bills. As for Meekhof’s characterization he has already pledged to sign them, “I’m not sure I would agree with that recollection,” Snyder said.

The governor declined to directly address power play proposals that could limit the authority of Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel and Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson. The bills to guarantee legislative intervention in any state legal cases and shift campaign finance oversight to a new commission must each pass a second chamber before reaching Snyder’s desk.

Asked if he has any philosophical concerns with the bills, Snyder said “that’s something that would be a part of the analysis in terms of understanding what are the roles of the branches of government.”

The term-limited Republican disputed that his own push for a new Straits of Mackinac tunnel that would house a replacement for Enbridge Line 5 is an effort to bind Nessel and Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned on a pledge to decommission the oil and gas pipeline. The Senate approved enabling legislation this week that is awaiting action in the House.

“This has been a fairly systematic review starting with scientific research, going through earlier agreements very methodically over the course of a couple years,” Snyder said. “If I started something, and it’s been part of a two-year process, I don’t know why I wouldn’t want to wrap it up.”

Democrats have railed on the flurry of lame-duck legislation by Republicans, who will return majorities to the state House and Senate next year but lose political party allies in the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, has urged Snyder to “get a backbone and say he’s going to veto some of this stuff” if he wants cooperation from Democrats on his own top priorities.

“He’s going to get tipping fees over my dead body if he keeps doing this stuff,” Ananich said Tuesday after Senate Republicans approved controversial minimum wage, paid sick leave and wetland deregulation measures.

Meekhof, R-West Olive, indicated this week that Senate Republicans did not agree to take up Snyder’s trash tipping fee legislation in exchange for his support on other measures.

“I see some difficulty” convicting Senate Republicans to get on board with the tipping fee plan, Meekhof said before echoing the governor’s sales pitch.

“The tool we’ve been using for environmental things, in terms of a bond, really is the wrong tool. So the question is, is this the right tool? We’ve yet to work through that.”

Snyder said he remains committed to creating an A-F letter grade system for schools across the state, a proposal he first backed in 2012. State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, is pushing legislation to establish an A-F system and create a commission that would oversee the process. 

The commission, also proposed in a separate House bill approved Thursday that would create new "innovative" school districts free from state-mandated hour and day requirements, has caused a stir among public education groups that fear it could operate as a "shadow" State Board of Education. 

Snyder said he has not reviewed specifics of the legislation and declined to discuss the proposed Education Accountability Policy Commission. "I'd like to see a good A-F bill, whether it includes that or not, I couldn't comment at that point," he said.

Kelly has expressed frustration with the state board, which Democrats are set to take over this year, and the Michigan Department of Education. He said Thursday his proposed education commission would put a fresh set of eyes on public schools.

Much of the education community, Kelly said, is a “status quo group,” noting that he’s called for the dissolution of the Department of Education before.

“I think it’s an anachronism,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that they seem the least interested in student performance. They get waylaid by some social issues.”

Nonetheless, Kelly said he’s “agnostic” about which administration appoints the 13-member commission and said it is likely Gov.-elect Whitmer would appoint some of the board members.

“It’s not about who sits in those seats,” Kelly said. “It’s just that we’re going to have different people take a look at this.”

Twitter: @jonathanoosting