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Recent scandals may move roads plan forward

Aug 17, 2015

I may be the only person who felt this way, but when I was watching Cindy Gamrat’s sad little press conference Friday, the first person I thought of was Oliver Cromwell.

I’m not sure that even Ms. Gamrat or Todd Courser or State Senator Virgil Smith ever heard of the 17th century British statesman. 

But more than 360 years ago, Cromwell famously said to a bunch of legislators he didn’t like, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.”

Those guys did depart -- Cromwell had his New Model Army at his disposal -- but Michigan’s infamous three show no signs of going voluntarily, though the odds are pretty good that conviction or expulsion or plea bargaining will free us from most or all of them.

But it might just be that the latest tawdry scandal could be of some minor help in finally getting a roads bill. The House comes back this week, and there are signs there might be a chance for a compromise to fix the roads, one that would include $600 million a year in new revenue – tax increases -- and $600 million a year in cuts from the already stretched general fund. Getting this passed will require threading a very delicate needle.

Republicans have sixty-three members, and need fifty-six votes to pass any bill. They are unlikely to get any Democratic votes, except perhaps Harvey Santana, who often votes with them. Democrats rightly fear that any general fund cuts are likely to come from areas their voters most care about, like education and social programs.

But though Republicans have a solid majority, some of their members are on record as opposing any tax increases, no matter what.

Two of the most bitter tax opponents have been Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, who might have been counted on two weeks ago to furiously denounce any such deal. But these days, they have no credibility, and it’s far from certain they will even show up to vote.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this will actually pass, but I think the Republican leadership is making one big mistake. They’ve indicated they aren’t very interested in cooperating with Democrats, that they want this to be a purely GOP plan.

Well, that makes no sense given the importance of the issue and that the roads affect every citizen regardless of their partisan leanings. So here’s a suggestion for our elected leaders: Republicans should appeal to Democrats by pledging to work with them to see that as much as possible of the money to be cut comes out of corrections.

Everyone not too stupid to see it or cowardly to admit it knows we have far more people locked up than safety requires, and the corrections budget has exploded in recent decades.

Huge savings could almost certainly be realized by taking a bipartisan look at every aspect of corrections, including how many prisons we have and where they need to be.

My sense is that most people in Michigan don’t give much of a damn about party labels these days. They just want to get things done.

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.