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Snyder vs the Legislature

Jan 19, 2015

Last week, Governor Snyder turned some heads by vetoing three things the lame-duck legislature sent him, and by taking on Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof over prevailing wage.

The very conservative Meekhof wants to repeal the state’s half-century-old prevailing wage law, under which construction workers on state jobs have to be paid union scale wages.

Governor Snyder thinks prevailing wage works just fine, and doesn’t want it repealed. And that made me realize something.

My guess is that even though every branch of government is dominated by the Republicans, neither this governor nor this legislature are very fond of each other or feel they owe each other very much.

And that could make a big difference over the next couple of years. Let’s look at it first from the perspective of the legislators. Very few, if any, owe their elections to the governor.

That wasn’t true four years ago. Then, he won by a landslide and carried a number of them to victory with him. This time, Snyder ran behind most of them and behind other Republicans running statewide. Plus, he is a lame duck who can’t run for another term.

As they see it, there’s little he can do to hurt them or help them. Other governors might threaten to recruit someone to run against them in a primary, but that’s not Rick Snyder’s style.

Now look at it from the governor’s perspective.  During his first term, he went along with much of the agenda of his party’s right wing. He reversed course on right to work.

He signed a bill that ended the requirement that motorcycle riders wear helmets.

That was a bill, by the way, that both the medical profession and the insurance industry opposed. And he signed a law pushed by Arlan Meekhof that allows so-called “dark money” donors to political campaigns to keep the source of their loans secret.

But when push came to shove, the lawmakers weren’t willing to do much the governor wanted.

He barely got Medicaid expansion through, and even then, the state lost $600 million, thanks to spiteful lawmakers who wouldn’t give it immediate effect. Nor would they agree to pass legislation increasing funding for what was both his and the citizens’ number one priority: The roads.

The most Snyder could get them to do was slap a sales tax increase on the May ballot.

That wasn’t his, or most economists’ preferred way to fund the roads. Plus, it leaves state budget planners in limbo. They can’t do much until they know if that money will be there. What’s more, the governor will have to spend time, money and energy campaigning to get voters to pass it.

And there is no guarantee they will. So I wasn’t surprised last week when Mr. Snyder pretty bluntly told Mr. Meekhof to take a hike when the senate leader brought up repealing prevailing wage.

Actions have consequences, as does inaction.

Even lame ducks don’t roll over and play dead. Governor Snyder has learned a lot about politics over the last four years. Now, it may be the legislators' turn to learn. My guess is that we may be in for some very interesting times.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. 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