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Back to the campaign trail for Governor Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder ended the lame duck session closer to his goal of more money for roads. But, we’re not ready to put this one in the ‘win’ column for the governor. Not yet, at least.

 That’s because the state won’t see a dime of this money unless voters approve the package in May.

If voters reject the ballot question, the deal falls apart and the governor is back to square one.


If the governor wrapped up his November reelection assuming he was done campaigning, he was sorely mistaken. We know voters say they want the roads fixed, but they don’t necessarily want to pay for it.

In order to get voters to actually go to the polls in May and vote themselves a tax increase, it will take a strong message and serious finesse. It will also take money.

It’s all about the Benjamins

If Governor Snyder and legislative leaders want this ballot question passed, they’re going to need money. Upwards of $20 million dollars is just one estimate. Whether that’s the amount or it’s a little more, or a little less, we absolutely know this: the number will be big.

We also know that money does not grow on trees. Someone is going to have to pay for this campaign.

Where does ‘Business’ stand?

Up until now, business groups with deep pockets have been spearheading the effort to get more money for roads. They believe better roads will lead to a better economy and so, they’ve been persistent and vocal about their message.

But they’ve been looking to raise money from user fees like fuel taxes and registration fees. Putting the question to voters to decide on a sales tax increase was not on their list.

Last night (and early into this morning) as lawmakers were voting on the measure to create a ballot question, the business groups sat out.

Governor Snyder was trying to wrangle the votes; business groups – his normal allies - were not.

To be clear, they didn’t oppose it outright, but they certainly weren’t lobbying for it either.

No Plan B

The fact that there is no back-up plan is part of the reason why the business community is not sold on this roads package.

They were hoping the deal would be modeled after Proposal A (the school funding proposal from the early 1990s). With Prop A voters had the option of choosing between the sales tax or the income tax to pay for schools. But, that was not to be this time around.

Even Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said yesterday that she didn’t want to think about what would happen if voters don’t approve this plan.

Support for Snyder

So, the question remains: Will the governor’s closest allies – the business community – bail on him? Or, will they decide, begrudgingly perhaps, to support the  roads plan? We suspect, in the end, they will decide to back the governor. But, first, their lobbyists will need to go to their boards and their membership for a temperature check.

But, let’s be certain: if they don’t jump in and pony-up, then the prospects for this road plan get a little darker.

Education lobby

You can bet that the Michigan Education Association and the teachers unions are groups that the governor can get rely on. In order to get Democrats on board, the proposal includes $300 million dollars for schools (that’s about $200 per pupil) and a promise that K-12 education funding will not go to higher education budgets.

So, with those sweeteners, there is little doubt that these groups can get away without throwing big bucks at the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign.

A Name and a face

There’s also the issue of who will be the ‘face’ of the campaign. It would be a huge tactical error to just assume that the public will vote themselves a tax increase without some prodding.

Have no doubt: this will be a campaign, professionally managed. And Governor Snyder will almost certainly be a prominent part of it. Just like in 1993 when then- Governor John Engler aggressively stumped for Proposal A.

Winter 2015

Meantime, all of this could very well hinge on the type of winter that is in store. A harsh winter, a lot of freeze-and-thaw that brings on the cracks and potholes, could be Rick Snyder’s best political friend in 2015. If we all come out of hibernation in the spring with minimal road damage, it could just be that much harder to sell more money for roads at the polls come May.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.