5 places where Michigan’s governor and legislature can make deals

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer ran on progressive policies such as universal preschool and $2 billion in state revenue annually for infrastructure. Many in the Republican-led legislature ran on cutting on taxes and limiting the reach of state government. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

For the first time in nearly a decade, Michigan’s government will be divided.

On one side, a Republican-led legislature that over the last few years has repealed the state’s prevailing wage law, weakened the power of unions, eliminated straight-ticket voting and sought to lower the state income tax.

On the other, a Democratic governor who promises a variety of progressive, expansive policies, from implementing universal preschool and two years of debt free college to shutting down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline and finding $2 billion a year in state funds to restore the state’s roads and infrastructure.

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer has touted her legislative experience and ability to reach bipartisan compromises. Beginning in January, Michiganders will see whether their new governor and legislative leaders in Lansing can come together or whether they’ll stalemate on the biggest issues facing the state.


“They’re going to have to do some soul-searching,” said former Republican state Senate majority leader Ken Sikkema. “I think both sides can hold on to their core principles and still search for common ground that can move the state forward.” (Disclosure: Sikkema is a longtime consultant to The Center for Michigan, Bridge Magazine’s parent organization.)

There are some issues on which we mostly agree: Roads need fixing. Education needs improving. Water quality needs protecting. What follows, though, are specific areas where Michigan’s new political leaders might find early common ground, which in turn could lead to further collaboration.  


Whitmer’s major campaign promise was to “fix the damn roads” by investing billions every year in the state’s dire infrastructure. The legislature also hopes to improve the roads, so this may be an opportunity for compromise over a shared goal.

But will a conservative-led legislature be willing to approve the funds necessary to make needed improvements, which will almost surely require more taxes or fees?

It will depend, in part, on whether new Republican leadership (led by Sen. Mike Shirkey and Rep. Lee Chatfield) are willing to take that fiscal dive after Republican vows to cut taxes failed to resonate during the midterms, said Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“Voters just didn't seem to really give the Republican Party or the president that much credit for the (federal) tax cuts, so I don't know how the Republican legislature is going to view the tax issue,” Baruah said. “If they think that just opposing any tax or any fee to support roads is going to be a winning message for them, I don't know how they're going to calculate that.”

Polling is mixed on whether Michiganders are willing to pay for better roads (though they almost universally acknowledge that they despise their current condition.) One poll suggested that the state’s business community is willing to pay, even as a recent business survey indicated little consensus on what form that might take.  

Multiple experts note that Whitmer will benefit from the roads funding plan the legislature and Gov. Snyder passed in 2015, which will continue to kick in new funds for roads as her administration begins.

“There’s going to have to be some new thinking here especially when you’re dealing with still a Republican-dominated legislature that’s probably going to continue to be adverse to any kind of tax increases,” said Arnold Weinfeld, Interim Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

“I’m guessing that the legislative leadership will wait for her to lay her options on the table. They may say, ‘look, we’ve already addressed this.’”

Auto insurance

“One significant policy reform that seems potentially within grasp is auto insurance,” Tom Ivacko, associate director of the University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, wrote Bridge in an email. Michigan has the highest car insurance rates in the country and both 2018 candidates for governor pledged to lower rates.

“If the state needs to find some policy success that helps everyday Michiganians, there are a range of options to lower insurance costs without requiring massive new state revenues.”

Sen. Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told the Associated Press that tackling auto insurance (in particular, allowing elderly drivers to avoid paying most of the fee for unlimited medical benefits) is his top priority for the lame duck session, so there may be movement on the issue before January, when two-term Republican Gov. Rick Snyder leaves office.

Auto insurance is “an issue that’s been out there for a decade without a solution,” said John Truscott, president of Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman and a former press secretary for two Republican governors.

“It’s one that they’ve been close to compromise numerous times and then one group blows it up. So I think if they really tried that could be the great victory that everybody could claim out of lame duck.”

Criminal justice reform

Republicans under Snyder have looked for ways to reduce the cost of Michigan’s criminal justice system by, for instance, finding ways to reduce the state’s prison population. The day after her election, and after voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, Whitmer announced she would consider granting clemency to people convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

That indicates that criminal justice reform, an issue Republicans in other states have embraced in recent years, could be a place for policy alignment between the new governor and legislature, experts say.

“You could see that in the first year here. People are coming to the table for different reasons,” said TJ Bucholz, President and CEO of the left-leaning Vanguard Public Affairs. “Democrats are coming to the criminal justice reform table for human rights reasons. Republicans are coming to the same table because they see the high cost of maintaining prisons.”

Skilled trades education

As one of the biggest buzzwords of the 2018 midterms, jobs training for the skilled trades is likely to be something both Whitmer and conservatives can get behind; what Ivacko of the U-M policy center called one of the “lower hanging fruit.”

“We know many Michigan communities are suffering from housing shortages, and a key challenge there is our insufficient construction labor force,” Ivacko said. “So boosting technical and skilled trades education could have appeal across the state.

Truscott said much the same: “Go for the easy wins where you have agreement and everybody can work together and then that allows you to start building relationships to tackle the more difficult issues.”

Water policy

Whitmer pledged to create a Department of Great Lakes and Freshwater and state infrastructure bank which would, among other things, help fund replacement of lead drinking water pipes. The threat of industrial chemicals called PFAS has exacerbated existing problems with drinking water across the state.

“There’s no way that the state with the most access to fresh water in the country (should have) the water issues that we have. And when you look at message polling, water was polling really high,” Bucholz said. “So I think you’re going to see (Whitmer) come out of the gate really strong on water, and I don’t think the Republicans are going to disagree with her much on it.”

However, Whitmer also promised to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline on the Straits of Mackinac. Weinfeld of MSU said there is “no way” a GOP-led legislature will work toward that goal with her. The two sides may be more likely to stick with the Snyder-initiated plan to build a $350 million tunnel to house the line far beneath the lake’s surface, protecting the line while keeping it functioning.

Bridge reporter Lindsay VanHulle contributed to this report

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Michael Radke
Tue, 11/13/2018 - 8:59am

Who to hold accountable for getting these things done soon? BOTH the Governor AND the Republicans in control of the House and Senate.
Please, please start working together to make progress on the issues that will make Michigan a great place to live and work again.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 11/13/2018 - 9:00am

I wonder what could happen if you didn't preach unity throughout the article, and then draw a red line in the sand in the last paragraph in order to throw meat to the Republican base?

Barbara Stamiris
Tue, 11/13/2018 - 9:08am

The tunnel is an Enbridge scheme to keep the oil and profit flowing:
1. Enbridge profits $1B each year old line 5 oil flows.
2. According to the agreement, Line 5 is to shut down by 2028, but that can be extended.
3. The wording allows and Enbridge to back out leaving Michigan holding the bag.
4. Although Enbridge spent $1.3 B to clean up 40 'of the Kalamazoo River in 2010, their liability is capped at $1.8 B for up to 700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.
5. SB 1197 will change the charter of the Mackinac Bridge Authority to allow them (us) to own the Canadian oil tunnel for 99 years while leasing it to Enbridge.
Need more? It's now or never to keep Snyder from tying Whitmers hands.

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 10:01am

#1 - can you cite your source on this?

#4. The agreement does not cap Enbridge's liability at $1.8 billion, it simply requires a financial surety bond for that amount (the reasonable worst-case scenario estimated by an independent group of university experts). Enbridge would still be responsible for any liabilities exceeding that amount.

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 9:59am

A net full of red herring! As if the profitability of the pipeline (if that can really be measured) has a thing to do with the supposed threat to the Great lakes. You'd think they'd want Embridge to have a big pot of money to clean up the eminent line blow out? Again they don't have the guts to tell the public their aim is to strangle all petroleum development or push for an energy consumption tax . Scaremongering cowards!

Alex Sagady
Wed, 11/14/2018 - 4:09pm

On this...
>>>>>According to the agreement, Line 5 is to shut down by 2028, but that can be extended.
There is no such provision contained in the agreement. Your allegation is false.

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 9:18am

the first things she needs to do is 1. Order a real investagation into the Flint water craises.
2. Stop the state from giving money to privet schools illegaly.
3. Stop the sell/tranfer of the Michigan state Fair grounds.

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 4:22pm

That autocorrect feature on phones really messes some things up

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 11:41am

1. Roads - already done progress underway (as you noted). We don't have the labor/contractor capacity to handle a big influx of money into this without blowing up the construction market!
2. Insurance, we want unlimited coverage but don't want to pay for it. Detroit doesn't like their high insurance costs caused by poor insurance company experience in that market and wants to off load high costs on rest of state!
3. Criminal justice reform, interesting to some extent but will provide great opportunities for a lot of future demagoguery. Do we want to face the fact that crime will inevitably increase when you let a lot of people out? Do our politicians want a future murder around their necks?
4. Skilled trades education? Needed but Good luck! Education establishment and parents too invested in college track, trades seen as booby prize, if all else fails, you're not college material, you can be a plumber! By then it is too late. To be successful, exposure needed much earlier, 4th 5th grades even, too many mandated classes and too little appreciation of craftsmanship. And MEA 100% owns Gretch and unlikely to favor big changes unless adding 2 years onto the 12!
4. Water? We have a DEQ DNR and we want another department? When one bureaucracy fails let's add another! And the infrastructure bank is just another way to shovel monies from out state tax payers to cities who don't want to fix their own lead service lines and communities wanting to run water lines without them knowing it.
All sounds great but little will or should happen.

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 2:13pm

Good luck on the insurance thing. How many times has some proposal come about only to go nowhere?

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 6:02pm

To be successful we must create the Pure Michigan Public Schools Act (PMPSA), the Pure Michigan Schools Student Engagement Act (PMSSEA) and the Pure Michigan Schools Maintenance and Construction Act (PMSMCA). Public Education in the State of Michigan has been plagued with indoctrination for the last 35+ years and the timing is right for Governor Whitmer and the State School Board to select a non-traditional candidate who will work with both/all parties to make Michigan a model for education reform. Our next State Superintendent of public education in Michigan will need to increase in State oversight, resolve foundation allowance disparity, define a basic education, eliminate loopholes, extend Pre-K programming, improve test scores, reward, take-away, increase collaboration and eliminate the duplication of services.

Pure Michigan Public Schools Act
o Tier I State funding
o Define programming required to provide a basic education and move ancillary programming to the PMSSEA
o Cap retirement (final average compensation) for Superintendents, administrators, teachers and support staff based upon the district membership group code
o Cap retirement years of service for Superintendents, Administrators, Teachers and Support Staff
o Cap personal time off and banked hours/days for Superintendents, Administrators, Teachers and Support Staff
o Create a four week July break for teachers, remaining breaks will be defined by the district membership group code
o Elimination of double dipping and retire/rehire
o Define statewide school year as August 1st through June 30th and PMPSA hours of instruction
o Increase days of instruction to 210 days and hours of instruction to 1,200 hours
Increase transparency to include college and professional tickets, food, lodging and conferences registration fees
o Define career paths and provide career specific programming
o If college math testing determines that a B student in high school has to take remedial courses the K12 school district will pay for that class
o Eliminate AP/IB programming and provide college level opportunities for students with special skill sets
o Increase reporting requirements
o Create a school of choice fee to cover community infrastructure costs ($750)
o Kindergarten and GSRP will become essential courses
o Require districts to cut utility consumption by 15% without infrastructure improvements
o Best practices only hit the surface when it comes to school reform and for local school districts to succeed the state will again have to step in and take a critical leadership role by adding additional requirements that will simplify and streamline school operations for local school boards and administrators

Pure Michigan Schools Student Engagement Act
o Tier II State Funding + Local Funding
o Define non-essential programming that local school boards will approve for their community: Art, Music, Career Training Education, Culinary Arts, Computer Aide d Design, Computer Aided Manufacturing, Dentistry, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Marshall Plan
o Create a modified retirement system for PMSSEA Administrators, teachers and support staff
o Cap retirement (final average compensation) for non-essential, administrators, teachers and support staff based upon the district membership group code
o Cap retirement years of service for non-essential, Administrators, Teachers and Support Staff
o Cap personal time off and banked hours/days for non-essential, Administrators, Teachers and Support Staff
o Create a two week July break for non-essential teachers, remaining breaks will be defined by the district membership group code
o Define the statewide non-essential school year as October through September and PMSSEA hours of instruction
o Increase days of instruction to 210 days and hours of instruction to 1,200 hours
o If a district is failing to provide a basic education the state will not have a mechanism in place to reduce funding for ancillary programs in that district and ultimately make the community responsible for the success or demise of that district
o Provide wraparound services and evening classes for interested students in grades 7-12
o Funding for Scouting programs, Club Sports, Culinary programs and Little League
o A school board must annually approve PMSSEA positions

Pure Michigan Schools Maintenance and Construction Act
o Tier III State Funding + Local Funding
o State oversight of construction documents and specifications
o Cookie cutter floor plans for new schools
o Define State funded capital improvements: roofs, windows, boilers and tuck pointing sf
o Building maintenance responsibilities will remain in house and each district will be capped at no more than one FTE per 150,000 sf with no more than 15% of staff working an AM shift, balance working evening when kids are not in school
o Custodial – Every building with more than 15,000 sf and at least 220 students must have one custodial porter from 11am to 7pm on school days
o Food service will be responsible for cafeteria cleaning and cleaning emergencies until swing shift arrives
o Operations and maintenance cannot exceed 8% of a districts annual budget and costs must be categorized into mandated and un-mandated activities

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 10:49pm

Interesting ad popped up on tv this week. Nestle is promoting their good neighbor to Michigan ..Flint. Providing free bottled water. Interesting PR as new gov and some new legislators with water use, quality is on their agenda.

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 10:16am

Good luck on the auto insurance reduction in costs. Oh yes good luck on eliminating the taxes on pensions. Have a nice day. Promises made promises??????????????????????????? R.L.

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 10:16am

Good luck on the auto insurance reduction in costs. Oh yes good luck on eliminating the taxes on pensions. Have a nice day. Promises made promises??????????????????????????? R.L.