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Snyder road plans irks GOP rank and file

Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Key Republican activists say there’s significant rank-and-file opposition to Gov. Rick Snyder’s $1.2 billion road repair plan, but don’t expect an opposition floor vote to materialize Saturday at the state party convention.

Proposal 1 asks voters to increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. Approval of the plan triggers a change in road taxes and would boost annual state school funding by $300 million and local revenue sharing by $95 million.

“There’s generally opposition that I would say is at a fairly substantial level and if it were an issue that came to the floor, the ‘no’ vote, I think, would win,” said GOP strategist Greg McNeilly. “But if I were a ‘no’ vote advocate, I don’t think I’d waste my energy on that; it’s a one-day story.”

The issue has gained attention as more than 2,000 party members prepare to assemble at the Lansing Center with the chief order of business being the election of a new state party chair to replace Bobby Schostak, who isn’t seeking another term.

The odds-on favorite among three candidates is Ronna Romney McDaniel of Northville, niece of 2012 GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. Convention delegates also will choose members of the state GOP committee — the structure of governance makes the chairperson the party equivalent of a governor and the committee the equivalent of a legislature.

Party activist Dennis Lennox said his straw poll conducted this week showed an 83 percent disapproval rate for a roads plan-related May 5 ballot proposition that will ask voters to approve a penny-per-dollar increase in the 6 percent state sales tax.

Lennox told The Detroit News, however, the participation rate was 13 percent of the voting delegates — no alternates, no at-large delegates — with a working email address. The Internet-based survey was conducted from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning, he said.

“I’d have to question his poll, not that I haven’t heard there’s a lot of opposition to it in the general public,” said Teresa Mungioli, chairwoman of the Oakland County Republican Party.

Mungioli said she doesn’t expect the governor’s plan to be formally challenged at the assembly, but she declined to say whether she favors or opposes it.

Talk in Lansing political circles suggested opponents might try to force a vote on a formal resolution on the May 5 roads-related ballot proposition and that a floor rejection would politically embarrass the Republican governor.

Snyder said Thursday he will not be attending the convention because doctors have ordered him to limit his mobility and keep his injured right leg elevated. The governor was recently hospitalized for a blood clot in the leg he injured in early January while running on vacation in Florida.

But the Republican Party’s top figurehead sought to head off fellow Republicans contemplating a protest of Proposal 1 in a Thursday interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board.

“This isn’t a partisan issue, this is a public safety issue,” Snyder told The News. “This is an issue about having safer roads and bridges for our citizens. And for people that don’t like that fact, their memory is probably fairly short, and we’ll see how they feel in the spring when they’re out on the roads and potentially hitting a pothole and being at risk because they’re going to blow a tire or bend a rim.”

Chances of a convention revolt are less likely because no Proposal 1 resolution was submitted before the deadline passed. Party spokesman Darren Littell said it would take a two-thirds majority vote to suspend the rules for a special resolution to be offered for a full-convention vote.

“There was some talk, but it seems to have died down lately,” Littell said.

Adam de Angelli, director of the opposition group Concerned Citizens of Michigan, said his group isn’t pushing for formal Proposal 1 opposition at the convention because it’s busy organizing the statewide campaign against the ballot proposition.

“I don’t know whether or not it will be brought before the general assembly,” de Angelli said. “We’re focusing directly on voters throughout the state, but we will salute the Republican Party if they decide to take a formal position against it.”

At least four opposition groups have organized since lawmakers passed the road plan in December, and the party convention provides an opportunity to make their case to prospective recruits and donors. Both de Angelli and McNeilly said they expect some of this activity.

The convention will be chaired this year by new U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland, an ex-state senator who won his congressional seat in November. Moolenaar survived a well-financed August primary challenge from wealthy Saginaw Township businessman Paul Mitchell.

Mitchell, who invested $3.6 million of his own money in the unsuccessful effort, now is funding a roads proposal opposition group called Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals. His group launched this week what he said is a “six-figure” broadcast advertising campaign against the ballot proposition.

Mitchell told The Detroit News the initial ad buy will cover two weeks, but he expects to continue his campaign until May 5 through radio, TV and digital media.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com

GOP convention

Where: Lansing Center in Lansing

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday

What: Meeting of about 2,300 delegates

Scheduled events: Selection of congressional district leaders, other party leaders and a new state party chairperson. Gov. Rick Snyder will not be attending.