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Voters endorse a ‘simmer down’ approach to state’s challenges

By a 47-41 margin, respondents in Marketing Resource Group’s fall poll said Michigan was on the right track. The plus 6-point spread in the biannual survey was the largest recorded by the Lansing firm since March 2003, three months into Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s first term.

Three months into Gov. Rick Snyder’s term in March 2010, MRG’s right track-wrong track spread was negative 67 points -- 13 to 80 percent. In the 600-respondent survey conducted in September, a plurality of 42 percent said Michigan’s economy had gotten better in the last year. Forty-six percent expected it to get better in the year ahead. Only 10 percent said it was likely to get worse.

That, as much as anything, would appear to explain Tuesday’s election results in which a turnout of more than 4.6 million voters collectively endorsed the direction Michigan is now headed and rejected well-financed invitations to deviate from it.

Snyder could have been dealt severe blows in an election that, for a sixth straight time, delivered its electoral votes to the Democratic nominee for president. Constitutional amendments that would have crippled structural efforts to pare the costs of public employee benefits and make further necessary changes to the state’s tax code were soundly defeated.

Proposal 2, which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the constitution, was defeated in counties where President Obama outperformed, including Ingham, Washtenaw and Kalamazoo. The Proposal 5 requirement for a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for tax rate increases or changes to the tax base was thrashed in Republican counties such as Ottawa, Livingston and Hillsdale where anti-tax sentiment might have been expected to prevail.

But perhaps the biggest rejection of constitutional special interest protection was the defeat of the Moroun enterprise’s Proposal 6 -- cost: $19 per "yes" vote -- that now unambiguously clears the way for a new Detroit River bridge to Canada.

Snyder’s obvious defeat with voter repeal of PA 4, the financial emergency manager law, will not improve the underwater balance sheets of affected municipalities and school districts, improve services to local constituencies or alter the reality that Lansing bears the ultimate responsibility to get those sheets in order. But if having to rewrite and likely soften fiscal oversight law was the price of crafting an across-the-board message that the Michigan Constitution should not be amended lightly, it was worth it.

Going forward, Snyder’s job is to build on Tuesday's ratification of not so much his agenda, but the governing philosophy that the old politics of partisan and interest group conflict had rooted the state stubbornly in the past.

As for that agenda going forward, there is plenty of unfinished business on which there is, or should be, agreement from lawmakers in both parties.

Senate Bill 693 establishing the MiHealth Marketplace was approved on a bipartisan 25-12 vote a year ago, eight weeks after Snyder called for it in one of his special messages. The bill has been sitting in a House committee for 52 weeks. First, GOP leaders said they wanted to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the federal Affordable Care Act's constitutionality. Lawmakers then said given Mitt Romney’s campaign vow to repeal the AFA, the issue should wait until after the November election. Republican political rationale for delay has now expired.

Millions’ worth of audaciously dishonest ads cast aside, the election results demonstrate there is neither opposition to major infrastructure investment nor reflexive opposition to new revenue to fund it. Public discussion on the need for a gas tax increase has been ongoing for five years now. If the voters wanted to block an increase by constructing a two-thirds majority threshold in the Legislature for one, they could have, but they didn’t. Democrats who thought they could flip the House by running against tax increases might want to think again because their votes for new transportation funding will be required.

To business interests that might want more from their multi-million-dollar investment in defeating Proposal 2 through the lame duck consideration of Right to Work legislation, Snyder has to be more emphatic about where he stands other than to repeat, as he did Wednesday, that it’s not on his agenda. Friday, he highlighted the “2012 Top States for Doing Business Survey” by Area Development magazine that ranked Michigan fourth among states in leading the nation's economic recovery. Within that survey, Michigan ranked first in the availability of skilled labor and sixth for its overall labor climate.

On Tuesday, Michigan voters were asked to participate in the instigation of more fighting and to accept the premise that the state could prosper from more, not less, division. To their credit, they rather soundly rejected both.

Peter Luke was a Lansing correspondent for Booth Newspapers for nearly 25 years, writing a weekly column for most of that time with a concentration on budget, tax and economic development policy issues. He is a graduate of Central Michigan University.

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