Legislature fails again — and must try again — on roads
There is plenty of blame to go around in the latest collapse of negotiations in Lansing on a road funding deal, but a large piece of it falls on an unexpected party: Gov. Rick Snyder.
The governor has been the biggest advocate for a transportation package that dedicates significantly more funds to repair and rebuild Michigan’s crumbling highway infrastructure.
Wednesday night, with the Legislature closer than it has ever been to a viable deal, the governor helped scuttle it, and the Legislature left the capitol one more time without getting this critical job done.
Credit House Republicans, who have borne the brunt of the criticism — and rightly so — for two years of stalemate on raising road revenue, with finally stepping up.
The GOP House caucus came into this week’s session still holding to a no-new-taxes position. By late Wednesday, Republican leaders had moved their members to supporting $600 million in tax and fee hikes, coupled with $600 million in spending shifts, for a $1.2 billion package.
Given that the Legislature has already diverted roughly $400 million in current spending to roads, the House bill would have required finding $200 million more in existing funds. Not easy, by any means, but it should not have been a deal breaker.
But it was for Snyder, who favors a solution that raises far more revenue from increased fuel taxes and registration fees. He balked at the 50-50 split.
Worse yet, he sided with Democratic lawmakers in trying to ladle onto the roads bill issues that have nothing to do with roads.
Snyder joined the negotiations late, and when he did, he sided with the Democratic caucus in demanding the suspension of a citizens initiative to repeal the prevailing wage law. He also insisted that lawmakers provide a solution to Obamacare-related business taxes, a necessary piece of legislation, but not one that should have been part of this debate.
Turning a roads package into a Christmas Tree bill, adorned with unrelated issues, is what helped kill Proposal 1; the ballot question to raise roads money was overwhelmingly defeated in May. The governor should have known better.
Democrats are not his ally on a road funding plan because they aren’t looking for a transportation solution. What they want is a campaign issue.
And they’ll get one if Republican lawmakers and the governor can’t come together. Democrats are backing a petition drive that would ask voters to add $900 million to the Corporate Income Tax, ostensibly to fund roads. It’s an economic suicide pact, but may appeal to voters frustrated by Lansing’s failure to act.
Leaders from both parties should not have allowed the session to adjourn with a deal this close. They ought to have been able to work through their differences, and should have stayed until they did.
It’s still possible. When lawmakers return next month, they should arrive with clear understandings of what is possible. Snyder must accept that the defeat of Prop 1 makes passage of a bill that relies solely on revenue hikes unlikely.
Republicans in the House must recognize that not passing a bill, even one with significant tax hikes, is more politically risky than allowing the roads crisis to go unanswered. And Democrats must stop campaigning and start acting in the best interest of their constituents.
With stronger leadership, a roads deal can get done.