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A low, dishonest year for the legislature

Dec 18, 2015

Well, we are ending the last full week before Christmas with two pieces of good news: The biggest is that Washington approved a waiver that will enable six hundred thousand relatively poor people in Michigan to continue to get medical coverage under the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion program.

We barely managed to qualify for this program two years ago after the legislature was dragged kicking and screaming to approve it, even though virtually all the costs are borne by the federal government.

Those now in charge don’t much like helping poor people, and they insisted on a requirement that anyone in the program get out after four years and buy health care though the program Republicans love to hate – “Obamacare” – or, if they follow what are being called “healthy behavior requirements,” pay five to seven percent of their meager incomes to keep their coverage.

Folks like Gilda Jacobs, the head of the Michigan League for Public Policy, weren’t thrilled about these bash-the-poor rules, but desperately wanted the federal government to approve a waiver. Otherwise, all those people would have lost health care coverage on April Fool’s Day.

But fortunately, the federal government gave Michigan the waiver.

The other good news is that our elected legislators, who like to take frequent vacations, have recessed for the year. The poet W.H. Auden called the 1930s a

“low dishonest decade.”

This was that kind of legislative session, and a pretty bad year for the governor as well.

The legislators did manage to pass a bill to improve third-grade reading proficiency, and modified their earlier draconian teacher evaluation standards. But most of what they did was bad, stupid, partisan and harmful, as in outlawing straight-ticket voting in a way that prevents voters, who clearly want that option, from repealing it.

The lawmakers, who refused for years to enact the governor’s sensible program for fixing the roads, also managed to raise taxes now without providing money to fix the roads in any meaningful way before 2021, by which time they will be in such bad shape the money won’t be nearly enough.

By the way, they also are forcing future legislatures to cut the general fund for the roads; look for education funding to suffer even more.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof did suffer one setback; he had hoped to do an end run around the governor and end the requirement to pay decent wage rates to construction workers on state projects. But his buddies who were supposed to deliver petitions to the legislature proved too inept to get enough valid signatures.

But don’t be too happy; they’ll try again. But never let it be said our lawmakers aren’t focused on things they can do something about. Yesterday, freshman house member Jim Runestad, a former insurance salesman, introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to declare ISIS terrorism in the Middle East an act of genocide.

Runestad said that would enable this to be stopped.

Well, if we’d only dreamed it was that easy. Who knew?

He also asserted that until ISIS, Christians had lived in peace and harmony with their neighbors in that region for two thousand years.

Well, there were those pesky crusades. But hey ... Next time, I hope Runestad asks the president to fix our roads instead.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.