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Do Democrats secretly want Proposal 1 to fail?

One month from tomorrow, voters in Michigan will decide the fate of Proposal 1, the ballot measure that would raise more than a billion dollars in new money for roads.

The voting begins

For some, voting has already begun. Absentee ballots for the May 5th vote have been out for more than a week. And, along with the absentee ballots, political pollsters have been in the field, too. They’re trying to figure out just where voters stand on the issue and for those pushing Proposal 1, it doesn’t look good.

But, just because public opinion doesn’t seem to favor the ballot question, it doesn’t mean it will go down. That’s because it’s really hard to predict outcomes of elections that typically have really low voter turnout. It’s hard to predict who is actually going to vote.

Who shows up?

And, that is exactly what Governor Snyder is pinning his hopes on, “Ultimately it comes down to the May election, who turns out to vote and so I think, that’s why I’m really making sure that, even if you have an opinion, the important part, that opinion really only gets registered if you show up and vote on May 5th and I think we’re going to have a strong turnout on May 5th in favor of this.”

Snyder is counting on institutional support - business groups, not-for-profits, and unions - to turn out their members because institutions don’t vote, people do. And if that doesn’t happen and Proposal 1 goes down in defeat, Snyder will have to go back to the Legislature seeking both a short-term and a long-term fix.

Politically wounded

Democrats and Republicans will be looking to extract a high price from a ballot-damaged governor. Legislative Republicans are in no hurry to increase taxes to raise money for roads. We saw that late last year when, even with the deadline of the lame-duck legislative session, Republicans who wanted to raise more money for roads couldn’t do it themselves.

Cue the Democrats

Republicans who want a roads-fix will need Democratic votes on any new solution. This will put Democrats who, of course, are in the minority in every branch of state government in Michigan, into a position of power.

This will mean the Ds can begin to negotiate for things they want, or don’t want, to happen. This is similar to 

Democrats and Republicans will be looking to extract a high price from a ballot-damaged governor.

what happened last year when, in order for Democrats to go along with this May ballot proposal, Electoral College reform was killed and, supposedly, Governor Snyder said he would not sign prevailing wage legislation.

Is failure all that bad?

So, are we saying that Democrats want Proposal 1 to fail? Not necessarily. But, politically speaking, if the May vote goes against the proposal, it’s just not all that bad for them.

And, considering budget negotiations for the next fiscal year will heat up after the ballot vote - negotiations that Democrats have very little control over - it will make all of the political dynamics even more interesting to watch.

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.
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