Finley: No-fault relief in sight. Will Whitmer grab it?
For Michigan motorists hopeful the fast-moving legislation to reform the state's no-fault law will soon give them relief from the nation's most expensive auto insurance premiums, here's a reality check:
No amount of capitulation by Republicans to Democratic concerns is likely to win the signature of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The governor first pledged to veto the reform passed by the Senate last week unless it provided a mandate on insurance companies to lower premiums, removed non-driving considerations such as credit scores and ZIP codes from the rate-setting calculation, and included an option for consumers to continue purchasing policies with unlimited personal injury protection.
So when the bill got to the House, Republicans added the premium reduction mandate, banned non-driving risk factors and expanded the policy choices to include lifetime, uncapped medical benefits for consumers willing to pay for the coverage.
"We added every single thing the Democrats had been asking for," said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, who appeared on my radio show Friday with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
And still all but three House Democrats voted no. Most of the Democratic support the bills received came from Detroit lawmakers backed by Mayor Mike Duggan, who said the House version "would be enormously beneficial. For Detroiters, it's real money."
Real money, as in $1,200 per policy, or more. That would surely help tear down one of the major barriers to repopulating Detroit's neighborhoods.
But Whitmer has other priorities. Backed strongly in her gubernatorial race last fall by the health insurance industry, she's not enthusiastic about ending the lifetime medical benefits, which are unique to Michigan and are the primary driver of the exorbitant auto insurance premiums here.
She's tried to keep the focus instead on redlining and the insurance industry's byzantine risk assessments. Those may add unfair costs to certain policies, but they're used as well in other states where premiums are much cheaper.
The real issue is that the governor hopes to leverage no-fault reform to win passage of the 45-cent per gallon fuel tax hike she's requested for fixing roads.
She wants the measures tied together, under the theory that relief from insurance rates will make the higher gasoline prices easier to swallow for Michigan residents, who overwhelmingly oppose the fuel tax hike.
It's not a bad strategy, and one I've supported, as have some of the state's business groups. But the Legislature wants no part of it.
"I’m sorry, but that just is not going to happen," Shirkey said. "This is going to stand alone on its own merits.”
The calculation for the governor, then, is whether to reject a bill that Republicans have gone to extraordinary lengths to give bipartisan appeal, and provides the relief the public is clamoring for, on the bet she can cram through an unpopular tax hike.
Michigan has watched past hopeful efforts to reform no-fault die in the Legislature. There's finally a bill on the table that represents true compromise and bows to most of the governor's demands.
Whitmer would be smart to grab a victory here, and fight for the fuel tax hike on its own field.
Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.