Finley: Governor shouldn’t ask lobbyists to do her work
Lobbyists shouldn’t be doing the work Michigan citizens pay their elected officials to do. But that’s what happened last week when aides to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enlisted the Lansing lobbying corps to stand in for her in negotiating a budget deal with the Legislature.
The lobbyists represent interests impacted by her 147 vetoes, which removed $1 billion in spending lawmakers had approved.
Most of those cuts hit programs and constituencies Republicans hold dear. To restore the funds, the lobbyists were encouraged to apply pressure on the GOP lawmakers who control the Legislature, according to a report by Crain’s Detroit Business.
No quid pro quo was promised, say the lobbyists whom Crain's interviewed. They were not guaranteed the spending would be restored even if the groups could prevail upon Republicans.
But the danger of such closed-door sessions raising misperceptions with lobbyists and the public is great.
It’s also inappropriate for the governor to recruit interest groups to twist arms on her behalf. Too much of that goes on as it is in Lansing.
The governor hoped her vetoes would inflict enough pain on Republicans that they’d come running back to the table to give her the massive fuel tax she is demanding from them for road work.
She was wrong. So far, at least, the Republican leadership seems content to live with the cuts.
It’s doubtful dispatching a bunch of lobbyists to bang on their doors will change the dynamic.
Whitmer must do her own job. She needs to signal to the Legislature that she’s ready to start anew with the budget talks, and this time with a better sense of what’s possible.
Lawmakers are not going to approve a $2.5 billion tax increase. She didn’t do the hard work of selling her plan to the public, so she can’t blame the Legislature for its failure.
Lawmakers, too, must deal with reality. Michigan needs more money for road work, and not all of it can come from stripping resources from other programs.
Ideally, road funds should all come from dedicated user fees, such as the fuel tax and vehicle registrations. That’s the most sustainable model.
How much and how it’s raised is a matter of debate. That’s what budget negotiations are for.
But the governor has not engaged in meaningful talks with lawmakers in a month. Instead, she has resorted to political gamesmanship to bully lawmakers into compliance.
In the process, a lot of innocent Michiganians are being hurt by her vetoes, including autistic families and charter school children.
The governor touted her experience as a lawmaker and her skills at working with the Legislature as assets during last year’s campaign.
So far, she looks like an amateur. Siccing lobbyists on lawmakers is not only ineffective, it's sleazy.
If the governor has such swell deal-making skills, now is the time to show them.