Editors' Notes: MIRS asked a panel of political pundits four questions pertaining to "fixing the damn roads."
Q. Should we expect Republican legislative leaders to put the Governor's 45-cent gas tax hike up for a vote in the House and Senate?
"It's definitely possible," said Vanguard Public Affairs President and Managing Partner T.J. BUCHOLZ. "Given the initial statewide polling that has come out in the last few days regarding negative voter attitudes about the Governor's plan, they may put it up just to demonstrate how far out of reach the idea is for the Legislature to sign onto for a final budget. Putting it up for a vote might also give Republicans leverage in the negotiations process, something you can never have enough of. It's a play they could just make to prove a point -- and that kind of move never engenders good feelings from the other side. It's going to be a long summer if that happens."
Q. When business groups say they're willing to support a "fee increase" (a.k.a. gas tax hike) as part of a legislative package to fix the roads, does it really give Republican lawmakers enough political cover to vote "yes" on an increase even in the face of voter disapproval?
"I think the importance of that kind of support all depends on geography. If you're from a marginal or moderate district in which a business group like SBAM or the Michigan Chamber of Commerce resonates, it may be enough cover," Bucholz said. "Many Republican lawmakers, though, are currently from very conservative districts where some business endorsements look like a nod to Lansing power brokers and the establishment, so that kind of support might be a no-go. I do think business groups willing to support a tax increase does give you political cover among middle-of-the-road voters who might be swayable from an opinion point of view. Then again, it's not those people whose vote matters most in the negotiations process."
Q. Should we expect credible threats of legislative recalls to surface as the possibility of some level of gas tax hike becomes more apparent?
According to Bucholz, a lot of variables would need to come together before any recall threat should be considered "credible."
"A legislative recall is generally difficult to accomplish in nearly any circumstance, but the initial unpopularity of the gas tax hike may give some credence to the notion," Bucholz said. "I also think the Governor has plenty of time left to convince Michigan voters that a fee increase has to be part of a comprehensive solution, provided she's willing to put the work in on a statewide listening tour as an example. A legislative recall is most likely an empty threat and I'd want to see numbers from a district where that happens before making a judgment on how real the possibility is. The point is: you should expect a handful, but they might all be just saber rattling."
Q. Will the eventual legislative effort to fix the roads include measures such as altering truck weight restrictions?
"From a negotiation standpoint, it's still early in the process," Bucholz observed. "Republicans haven't shown their cards, yet, and aren't expected to for a while. I would suspect all items are on the table. The Governor has positioned herself as a leader who is willing to horse trade to get a deal done. Some of that will depend on the willingness of the administration to cut a deal.
"Republicans, I think, are going to try and run down the clock so there's less time to reach a deal on the budget -- preferably one more in their favor. I would bet that 'Fixing The Damn Roads' is going to involve a number of things working in concert together – a partial hike in the gas tax, shifting sales taxes, altering truck weight restrictions, moving some dollars out of the School Aid Fund, building new toll roads, hell, selling state parks and Great Lakes water to Arizona for all we know. And the Governor knew this all along when she first put pen to paper on her budget recommendations during the transition. It's a complicated process when government is divided."