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Snyder, lawmakers sort through Proposal 1 wreckage

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Voters said no Tuesday to Proposal 1 by a margin of almost four-to-one. But, as unhappy as people were with the ballot question, they’re still unhappy with the state of Michigan’s roads. 

So Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers say they’ll go back to work on finding money for roads – and they will heed the lessons of Proposal 1.

As soon as they figure out what those lessons are.

Snyder made his annual visit today to Holland’s Tulip Time Festival humbled by the resounding defeat of his ballot plan to raise money for roads. He told a lunch crowd that, now, at least, he knows what voters don’t want.

“We saw democracy in action, and we’re older and wiser and we just go back to work,” he said, and, apparently couldn’t resist one more road metaphor. “Although I’m in a pothole several feet deep, we’re just digging our way out. We’re going to get back to work to serve you, the people of the state of Michigan.”

The governor says he does not see Proposal 1’s defeat as an expression that voters won’t accept any sort of tax increase to pay for roads. But he says the job now is to try yet again to find something that’s acceptable to the Legislature, and acceptable to the public.

One option that’s not acceptable to state House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, is going back to the ballot.   

“I think that would be nearly impossible even if we wanted to go that route just because we would be re-decorating the tree,” he told reporters. Cotter says he expects to roll out a new roads proposal within days.

Cotter says going back to the ballot wouldn’t address the immediate need since the cost of repairing the same stretch of road increases as time goes by. Cotter says he’s planning to look for money inside the state budget instead of seeking new revenue sources.

But that won’t be easy, says Eric Scorsone. He’s a government finance expert at Michigan State University.

“Given the size of what we’re talking about, you would have major reductions in other programs,” he said. “And I guess if people feel that road priorities are more important it could be done, but it would be a massive impact on – and let’s be realistic, the only real options are prisons, universities, local governments – you know, where the real money is.” 

"Voters sent a very clear message to the Legislature and the governor – do your job."

Some lawmakers are also looking to raid funds that are legally designated for other purposes like buying land for parks and nature preserves, or paying the medical bills of people catastrophically injured in car crashes.

“So that means robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Craig Thiel with that the non-partisan Citizens Research Council. “Or there’s the go back to a net tax increase through some mechanism, either the sales tax, or the gasoline tax, or the vehicle registration tax.”

All those options have already been rejected by lawmakers, but could now be resurrected.

Many lawmakers – Republican and Democratic – say they’re willing to forego the Legislature’s traditional summer break to work on a roads package.

“Voters sent a very clear message to the Legislature and the governor – do your job,” says House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Pontiac. “Don’t kick the can down the road, or pass confusing ballot proposals for voters to sort out.”

One of the opponents of Proposal 1 joked there is a silver lining to the fact that it was so soundly rejected – and that is whatever the governor and lawmakers come up with next will look good by comparison.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.