The new legislative term doesn’t kick off until Jan. 9, but Republicans and Democrats in the newly divided Capitol already agree on something: Michigan’s roads need fixing.
And in an apparent show of goodwill, the two parties vowed to work together to fix them.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. The dynamics in the Capitol change this month, as Republicans maintain control of the state House and Senate, but with smaller majorities. Democrats, meanwhile, return to Lansing emboldened after picking up a net five seats in both legislative chambers and sweeping the top statewide offices — most significantly, with new Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
It’s less likely under divided government Republicans and Democrats will be able to achieve policy goals that cater to their respective conservative and liberal bases. To accomplish anything, GOP lawmakers will have to send bills to Whitmer’s desk that she’ll sign, and Whitmer will have to send budget recommendations and champion policies that can gain at least some Republican support.
The hardest work may come on an issue both sides say they’re determined to fix: roads. Republican leaders want to redirect existing funds to roads, including money that now goes to schools, and have shown little appetite for raising new revenue. Whitmer, meanwhile, said during her campaign that she would take the matter to voters if the Legislature remained unwilling to raise the billions of additional dollars needed to repair roads and other infrastructure.
“I think the first few months will be an easy ride for her,” said Tom Shields, a Republican political consultant and president of Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group. He added that when Whitmer’s first budget outlines how she plans to fund her priorities, “that’s when it starts getting dicey.”
The Republicans who will lead the Legislature in 2019 — House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey — told Bridge they want to pursue policies that will help Michigan continue the economic comeback started under two-term Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, including improving roads and lowering the cost of auto insurance by reforming the state’s expensive no-fault system.
Incoming Democratic legislative leaders — House Democratic Leader Christine Greig and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, who continues in his role from last term — say their top goals are updating infrastructure, including roads and drinking water, and improving K-12 education achievement.
“While there’s broad agreement that insurance rates are high, the two parties have got very different ideas about how you address that,” said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic political consultant and partner and CEO of Lansing-based Grassroots Midwest. “The opportunity to at least throw a bone or two to the Republican legislative majorities around some of their priorities … gives you the opportunity to wheel and deal a little bit on either roads or water quality, or some combination thereof.
“Are Republican lawmakers going to be willing to make some compromises to raise revenue to address roads and water quality in exchange for some of those legislative priorities?” Hemond added.
Bridge asked incoming Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, and Whitmer, to share their top policy priorities to tackle in 2019 — as well as their philosophy on bipartisanship.
Their priorities begin below.