By Derek Melot/Bridge Magazine
The smoke is still clearing from the statewide legislative elections, but Michigan residents should not be surprised if Lansing provides a two-pronged response to the voter’s will:
First: A flurry of activity on legislation in the “lame-duck” sessions of the Legislature scheduled through the end of 2012. Hot topics for action include changes to the state’s personal property (i.e. business equipment) tax, revamping state oversight of Blue Cross Blue Shield, changes to auto insurance rules and potentially even a quick vote on a fuel tax increase.
Second: A 2013 legislative session dependent on Gov. Rick Snyder identifying a clear agenda — and on House Republican incumbents with one eye firmly fixed on their next appearance before the voters in 2014.
Tuesday night, House Speaker Jase Bolger got a scare, and House Republicans saw their majority diminished, but, for the rest of 2012 and 2013, the GOP will call the shots in both chambers of the Legislature. The House entered the summer campaign season with a 64-46 Republican edge, counting the surprise switch by Grand Rapids Rep. Roy Schmidt from Democrat to Republican. That switch, and the scheme hatched along with it to make it all but impossible for his former Democratic allies to mount a credible challenge, spawned criminal investigations, laid waste to Schmidt’s own House career and even turned Bolger’s ho-hum re-election campaign into a high-dollar nailbiter.
As of Wednesday, the Gongwer News Service was reporting a net Democratic gain of five seats, which would leave the House with a 59-51 GOP edge. The reinforced Democratic ranks in the House will have a new leader as well, as Gongwer News Service reported Tuesday that Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills has secured enough support to be the new House minority leader.
The Senate, which was not on Tuesday’s ballot, retains a decisive 26-12 Republican margin.
Snyder, fresh off a statewide tour urging voters to turn back a variety of constitutional amendments, will be surveying the opportunities.
“Snyder had a good night. He put his reputation out and argued for yes on 1 and no on others; he won five out of six and lost close on Proposal 1,” said Doug Roberts of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. “I give the governor an A-minus on this. He led on this. That hasn’t always been done.”
The stalled effort to repeal the personal property tax could be revived quickly, Roberts noted.
Samantha Harkins of the Michigan Municipal League, whose members rely on revenue from the PPT, also said Wednesday that a renewed repeal drive may occur in the next few days and weeks even though there’s little indication of exactly what revised bills would do.
“It’s scary when it’s the last night of (lame duck) session and it’s 2 a.m. and it represents a huge, huge issue for our communities,” she said.
Other possibilities for quick action are:
* Altering state oversight of Blue Cross.
* Making changes to Michigan’s fuel taxes. “There are very strong reasons to look at fuel tax and infrastructure and raise taxes,” Roberts said. “They will take a vote count behind doors (soon) and act on the results.”
Outlook for 2013
Coming off of a busy December, a new House will convene in January, which will augur a round of … caution, says one professor of politics.
“Everyone keeps talking about term limits and they’ll come into play,” explained John Kaczynski of Saginaw Valley State University. “Everyone is looking to 2014 already. They’ll posture and position themselves … My assumption is, when we look at the one piece struck down, PA 4 (the emergency manager law) and the House losses, I definitely expect to see leadership work with the caucus to find a more centrist approach that appeals to the populace.”
Kaczynski argued that the results of Tuesday’s ballot prop elections are a call for restraint in Lansing.
“Last night’s vote of ‘no’ across the board was not about collective bargaining on 2 and 4,” he said. “It was people rejecting constitutional tinkering. So, if the GOP were to take up Right to Work in Michigan, I will still have to go with polls that people are unfavorable. Legislators in marginal districts will be very cautious about it because of the 2014 elections.
“This mimics what took place in Wisconsin on the (Gov. Scott) Walker recall — voters didn’t like the recall process used there. It follows the same paradigm; maybe this is a shift in public perception on government, with voters looking for funcational government, not partisan government.”
MSU’s Roberts also said 2013 could be about conciliation in Lansing.
“Negotiations. Compromise. Historically, these have not been good words for some, but can we start breaking (that culture)?,” he wondered.
There also was a sense in some Snyder circles that Speaker Bolger is now significantly indebted to the governor for holding on to his seat in the wake of the Schmidt party-switching scandal. Bolger benefitted from last-minute campaign help from the governor in the face of an advertising wave against him from Democrats.
Snyder may now seek to leverage that result to build House support for a regional transit authority for Southeast and an overhaul of state transportation taxes to pay for more road infrastructure investment.
In the end, Roberts said, the year ahead is going to boil down to one person: Snyder.
“One of the advantages of one-party control is it’s up to the leadership of the governor to give an indication of where to go and urge the Legislature to adopt it,” Roberts said. “He’ll get the hearing he wants, whether he wins, I don’t know.”
Gongwer News Service contributed to this report.
Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.