Commentary
11:01 am
Fri May 13, 2011

Now for the Hard Part

Well, Governor Rick Snyder pulled it off. Yesterday, the legislature passed his radical restructuring of the state tax system, agreeing to slash business taxes, eliminate tax credits and for the first time ever, to tax pensions.

The man who was supposed to be a political babe in the woods skillfully guided his agenda home. They will tell you he almost didn’t pull it off. Indeed, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley had to break a tie vote in the senate to get the bill passed.

But to some extent, this was theater. While some Republicans were genuinely opposed, others were really opposed to being defeated when they run for re-election.

So the outcome was skillfully managed to allow some Senate  Republicans in swing districts to tell their constituents that they voted against Snyder’s plan. But were they really against it? Here’s a clue. When they took a second vote on whether to bypass the waiting period and have the bill take effect immediately, the Republicans unanimously voted to support the governor.

And now for the real test: Will it work? After the vote, the governor praised the legislature for, as he put it, “taking the bold actions necessary to put our state on the path to prosperity, and “paving the way for economic expansion.”

The contrast between Democrats and Republicans on this couldn’t be more stark.

State Senator Steve Bieda of Warren said the governor is “shifting the tax (burden) to those who are least able to pay in society.” He called this “unjust, unwise, and certainly unfair."

Maureen Stapleton of Detroit called it “dirty politics,”  a corporate tax giveaway to lobbyists and lawyers,“ and “ the largest redistribution of wealth in our state’s history."

But the governor calmly said. “I believe we are going to get our economy going.” He admitted he couldn’t “quantify all the numbers,” as to job creation. But with an air of quiet confidence, he said “but we know it’s going to happen.” He also has to know it better happen, or his political career may be cut short, and his Republican allies will pay a price too. It will take some time to see if the governor is right on the economics.

What is already clear is that he is a superb natural politician, who has a vision but who doesn’t let ideology get in the way of getting things done. Case in point: The Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. Originally, the governor wanted to abolish it. Then, he offered a twenty-five dollar credit per child, which sounded like something out of Charles Dickens.  Finally, the administration agreed to reinstate the credit, though at less than one-third the original value. That was praised by former senator Gilda Jacobs, who, as head of the Michigan League for Human Services, is Michigan’s best-known champion of the working poor. I’d bet her attitude would have been different if this had been Snyder’s first offer.

If the governor turns out to be right, he may become a national figure and a statewide hero. If he is wrong, it may be hard to find anyone willing to run as a Republican in 2014. I have no idea what the next few years will bring, except this: They are unlikely to be dull.