Second of two parts
If Proposal 1 has an unofficial tagline, it’s the one that Gov. Rick Snyder and others have repeated over and over since the roadshow to pass the road-improvement measure began:
No Plan B.
To which political observers say, “There’s always a Plan B.”
Even Rep. Tim Greimel, the Democratic leader in the Michigan House, acknowledges there has to be an alternative, barring the miraculous invention of pavement that somehow heals itself.
“If this doesn’t pass in May,” he said. “Either the roads will not get fixed for years to come, or the roads will get fixed under the House proposal.”
That’s a reference to a measure that passed the House in the lame-duck legislative session last December, but failed to advance. It raised the gas tax while simultaneously reduced the sales tax, to ease the shock of a rapid rise in the pump price. A lowered sales tax would necessarily raise less money for schools and municipal governments but the House plan assumes continued economic growth in the state would make up for it. Mitch Bean, former head of the House Fiscal Agency, said at the time that the economic impact would be an $800 million annual loss to the School Aid Fund by 2020.
At the time, Greimel called the House measure “reckless and irresponsible.” He hasn’t changed his mind.
“It would cut schools and revenue sharing” to municipal governments, he said. “There’s no way around that.”
Greimel despairs of the constituency among voters that believes that there exists a “secret pot of money” somewhere in Lansing, in a world where, if only lawmakers budgeted better, an extra $1.2 billion could be found to fix Michigan’s roads.
His colleague Marilyn Lane also believes this will be the alternative offered by leaders in the Republican-controlled House and Senate should Proposal 1 fail, and is confident any solution that damages schools and local governments will not get Democratic support.
“We’ll be back in the same boat we are now. If they’re going to take money from schools and (local governments), they will have to get their own votes. Democrats won’t help. That’ll be time to put feet up on the desks and say, ‘Showtime!’
“If you can’t do it bipartisan, you gotta go solo.”
Bipartisan gloom if Prop 1 fails
Jase Bolger, who as Speaker crafted the House plan and was involved in the subsequent political horse trading that became Proposal 1, said he believes there’s an alternative, too, but it will depend on a public willing to pay higher taxes.
“We were told the public was ready to support higher taxes, and as soon as this passed, the reaction was one of panic. I said, ‘Were (those lobbyists) lying? If the public believes that way, this shouldn’t be an issue.’
“I understand the frustration, but if the public wants to make sure (taxes paid at the pump) goes where it’s supposed to go, to roads, voting yes on 1 is the way to do that.”
Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, said he believes not only will there be a plan B, “there will be 149 different Plan Bs.”
The sorting process and legislative deliberations “will be a setback. But the longer we wait, it’s effectively a tax increase on Michigan residents, because the longer we wait, the more it will cost” to repair crumbling roads, Johnston said.
Wariness runs deep
Polling suggests Plan B should be on Lansing’s mind; Proposal 1 appears to be faltering badly.
John Cavanagh, co-founder of EPIC-MRA, the Lansing polling firm, begins his explanation of the most recent Proposal 1 polling numbers with the caveat that ballot questions can be tricky to measure in the weeks before an election. However, the most recent approval numbers on Proposal 1, gathered in March, are dismal.
Upon first being asked about the proposal, 66 percent of those sampled said they’d vote no. Once respondents were read the actual ballot language, that percentage rose to 70 percent. That echoes the first numbers from January, but the opposition margins are growing.
“Polling on statewide ballot issues is notoriously inaccurate,” said Cavanagh. “But probably not this one.”
Roger Martin disagrees. His public relations firm, Lansing-based Martin Waymire, is running the Safe Roads Yes campaign to build support for Proposal 1. (Full disclosure; Martin Waymire also does communications work for The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. His firm has had no role in Bridge’s reporting on Proposal 1.)
“Michigan political history is littered with ballot questions that polled one way before Election Day and went the other way on Election Day,” he said, saying he can recall four such instances in his own professional experience.
“Voters want a simple explanation, and we’re doing our best to give them one,” Martin said. “Ultimately, there are two choices here: Vote yes and we fix the roads, or vote no and we keep the crummy roads we’ve got.”