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Deja vu: Snyder begins (yet another) week pushing for road money

This week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference gets underway on Mackinac Island. This is when Lansing, political Lansing at least, empties out of town and heads north to rub shoulders – and click cocktail glasses – with Michigan’s movers and shakers in businesses, finance and philanthropy.

Governor Rick Snyder, of course, is one of them; something that’s always been reflected in how warmly he’s been embracedduring the conference. Last year, in fact, Snyder’s Democratic opponent for governor wasn’t even invited to take part in the event.

A fairytale

For Snyder, since the very beginning of his first term, the conference has been this way.

Four years ago, his first time attending as governor, all was lovely and good in the center-right business nerd’s kingdom. He was greeted like a political rock star. The state budget was wrapped up in record time. The loathed Michigan Business Tax was on its way out, and the replacement was a net tax cut for business.

As long as you weren’t a progressive or a Democrat, Snyder had brought business people happy times.

A bumpy road

But, since then, darker times have fallen.

Yes, unemployment is down, way down. Detroit is out of bankruptcy. But governing has been messy.

There have been intra party fights over the state’s Medicaid expansion, Common Core, and, most recently, the disastrous defeat of Proposal One.

The governor, as the ballot question’s main cheerleader, got a big ole raspberry from voters and so, now, he has to pick up the pieces and start anew.

Mission impossible?

The goal for Snyder and his business allies on this island trip is to convince the Republican lawmakers in attendance that they can and should put more than a billion dollars into roads and infrastructure; even if it means raising taxes.

We’ll be watching for a push for an increase in the fuel tax, something that hasn’t happened since 1997, and user fees.

The message from the governor last week that we’ll likely be hearing again on the island: “We can find a lot of polling and other information to say that people are open to some tax increase particularly if it went to roads.”

We’ll see if lawmakers will buy what he’s selling.

Meantime, we’ll also be watching for what Democrats might ask for as part of a roads deal. Dems will be critical, as they were back in December’s lame-duck legislative session, in any serious negotiations because they’ll be the ones to provide the votes to make up for Republicans who won’t – no matter what – vote for a tax hike.

The question for the week: can a little island sojourn smooth over relationships… and those bumpy roads.

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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