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Michigan political and business leaders head to Mackinac Island without a fix for Detroit schools

The week after Memorial Day is when Michigan’s political and business leaders pack up and head north to Mackinac Island for the annual Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference.

Mackinac is a major political event where political fundraisers are as ubiquitous as horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and complimentary cocktails.

The conference also known for wheeling and dealing, talking out the tough questions, and reaching consensus, or at least compromise, in its clubby, chummy environs.

But it looks like that won’t be the case this year.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is full-on behind a bailout plan for the Detroit Public Schools that’s also backed by Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. The plan is a bipartisan effort, passed by the state Senate with support from Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as the Detroit delegation.

But, it landed with a big thud in the Republican-controlled state House. It didn’t help that there was a scandal where Detroit school administrators were found to have taken big kickbacks from a vendor who sold school supplies that were never delivered.  As well as sick-outs by DPS teachers protesting the possibility of payless paydays as soon as July.

The Republican-only House version is much less generous with the money that would go to support the district and is critically different when it comes to handling the proliferation of charter schools in the city.

The Detroit Regional Chamber, Snyder, and Duggan all planned to use the Mackinac Island event to try and make some headway with House Republicans.

Chamber members were being asked to take every opportunity to buttonhole the GOP House lawmakers and argue for the Senate version of the bailout. But, now it looks like, that isn’t going to happen.

Normally the legislature meets in Lansing during the first day of the conference. Then lawmakers head up for the final few days but, this year, the Republican Speaker of the House is telling his chamber to stay put. That votes will take place all week.

“I’m not keeping anyone captive. What I’ve said is that we will be holding votes,” Speaker Kevin Cotter told reporters last week. This keeps his Republican lawmakers in Lansing instead of being cajoled and arm-twisted on Mackinac.

But Cotter says, just maybe, if there’s a deal in hand then he might be open to releasing the House later this week to head up to the island, “If we have a DPS deal done, and we have the budget done, then I would probably be willing to at least reconsider. But, at the same time, we’re not going to jeopardize the quality of the product that we put out as to either of those just for the purposes of trying to get out of town.”

In other words, if there’s any deal-making to be done, it’ll be in Lansing and not over chilled-shrimp and cocktails at Mackinac.

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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